Wallace Shawn_ Why I Call Myself a Socialist



all right Wallace Shawn is in my humble opinion one of the greatest playwrights of our time his remarkable work designated mourner turned into a film by Mike Nichols is one of my personal favorite works of American theater he's written more than a dozen plays appeared in more than 70 films including the now iconic my dinner with Andre which he co-wrote with hundred Gregory his monologues plays in essays constantly forced us out of the comfort of habitual perspective they make us Ricci the world his book essays is out now in paperback featuring the new essay why I call myself a socialist is the world really staged in it he writes the global market selects out a tiny group of privileged babies who are born in certain parts of certain towns and certain countries and these babies are allowed to live privilege lies as for all the other babies the markets sorts them and stamp labels them onto them and curls them violently into various pits where an appropriate upbringing and preparation are waiting for them don't hear that on Sunday morning talk shows much do you all a Sean welcome thanks for coming to see you I love the essay and I so I want you to read from a play that you wrote called the fever which you wrote around 1990 right it's a monologue tell us a little bit about what the play what the setting of the play is because it's it's a really wonderful work and I think the the essay echoes some of the themes that are in the fever okay so basically it's about a traveler who gets sick one night in a poorer country and because he's sick he has some thoughts he wouldn't have had if he was well and you know it changes from minute to minute so it all takes place in his head he's ruminating on sort of his relative privilege and the relative deprivation of the people around him and and the juxtaposition of those two things he becomes obsessed with it in the course of this one night and has strange thoughts about himself would you give us a little bit do you mind is that this is a great honor great except it makes no sense except if you see the whole and you perform you perform this last weekend am I correct here in New York City I did as a benefit for Haymarket books great well give us give us a little bit okay hmm it's the birthday party in the fancy restaurant yes there's the table with its sweet and pretty decorations defensible centerpiece pink and green and they're all the women and bright red lipstick and the men beautiful shirts and all the gifts outrageous unexpected funny gifts and they're the waiters serving the salmon and pouring the wine and there I am and talking quietly with that small pale woman in the red and blue dress about the love affair with the older man the criminals the psychiatrist about that film that disturbed her and the actress about the walks at night through the woods in the country the insatiable appetite for violent sex the suffering of the people who live in desperation in the crowded shelter across the street from the fancy restaurant and as I talked with that woman in the red and blue dress I thought I was a person who was thinking about a party who had so many complicated feelings about it who liked some aspects of the party but not others who liked some of the people but not all of them who liked the pink and green centerpiece but didn't really like that red and blue dress but no no I see it so clearly I see myself with my little fork I wasn't a person who was thinking about a party I was a person who was at a party who said at the table drank the wine and ate the fish koala Shawn reading from the paper thank you so much for that the the play and the essay both are meditations I think on privilege and relative privilege I wanted to know why this is something that so seems to preoccupy you in the work that you do oh you know I grew up in a privileged background by the way I think you introduced me as the wasp but I'm Jewish yes yes so you know I was wrong I said sort of as I realized that will fit that in I mean I was raised as an atheist but and I I'm still an atheist but I that's my background two last names though right that's probably why yeah we'll have more with Walsh on right after we take this break it Mollie Sean here you you wrote this play the fever at a time right after the collapse of the the fall of the Berlin Wall the sort of the collapse of communism writ large obviously there's still some pockets of holdouts the play is sort of reconciles itself a little bit with how to think about equality after the at the end of communism and I wonder how you see the political context of the play in 1990 wrestling with this question of the vastness of inequality that stretches the globe in 1990 and today in 2012 how that political context has changed well I had an interesting experience of doing the play in Poland for a bunch of you could say polish intellectuals in the say around 93 and the play basically the character and the play actually is given the copy of Karl Marx's capital and it even has friendly comments about Karl Marx and the polish intellectuals said well if you had done this play five years ago we would have killed you because of our hatred of communism now that we've had three years of capitalism we rather enjoyed your play so now just as in the real world the conditions of industrial exploitation described by Marx are in England are recreated on the global scale and people all over the world are working in factory conditions that are just the ones that Marx described in 19th century England similarly you know people are more prepared in a way to listen to arguments about the crimes of capitalism today than ever before do you think that's true Christian is going to share I can't resist sharing with you a Russian joke because I lived in the former Soviet Union in most of the 90s and so one of their favorite jokes was around also around 93 92 93 94 everything Marx told us about communism was false but everything he told us about calculus turning us but-but-but I think that this is the core of it right that you know communism didn't work and it was a terrible system economically and also politically right let's not forget about the gulag sure but capitalism is causing problem a lot of problems to it the only thing I would say about the conditions of the Industrial Revolution being exported to say places like China which is true is that the Industrial Revolution worked it was actually a really terrific thing and it's working in China and India as well now the way it works is brutal and horrible but it's also true that hundreds of millions of Chinese people have been lifted out of absolute poverty so it's a contradictory process well I think I would think there's another kind of adding to what might call the confusion or the search for some kind of way to make this work you look at the conditions you describe then you look at Greece which is there's a piece in The New York Times magazine today about about the what's happened in Greece it's incredible decline in the standard of living incredible rise in suicides basically rooted in the fact that they borrowed too much money and live too well without producing which is not a failure of capitalism it's a failure of something else right and then you look at for instance the one country in Europe that seems to be relatively the healthiest and it's Germany which is this weird mix of capitalism but then a very strong safety net very highly paid organized labor my flavor Union members on corporate boards yes and then but to me but then you look at what's happened in to you in the United States with public unions where you have three people like Rahm Emanuel Mayor Chicago Mary Andrew Cuomo governor of New York and Jerry Brown governor California saying all together this is unsustainable so that what a point is whatever whatever model you have in your head about the way things work there are real problems with heathering he wants to respond to that the point of public unions we've gotten from the fever to communism to public unions in about three minutes we're going to take a break I'm gonna let you respond to that just to quickly recap follow the Berlin Wall the Second Industrial Revolution global capitalism the export the exporting of the working conditions similar to like those found in the 19th century now to today's country countries like China were in the Foxconn factory for instance where things are made and and the end the theme of what how we are reckoning with the vision of global capitalism that we now find ourselves with and the fact that it connects us and I think this is the key thing it connects us with everything we own I mean I don't know where this pen was made but I taught in Reuters it's a Thomson Reuters pen but I assume it was probably made in China I think we assume that about many of the things we have the global supply chain connects us through the items every single item in our life everything we touch as we move through the world connects us with a chain of stories of other human beings who are on the other side of it who are absolutely invisible to us completely invisible to us and who live lives that can be quite difficult and whether in the long run that is the best thing for raising living standards and or not the fact the matter is there is a tremendous empathetic gap just a perceptual gap between where we stand and where we do and I feel like that's part of what your work has been trying to address well a lot of the fever and a lot of what I've written is connecting the American and Western attempt to keep the world the way it is through violence to you and me in other words the the system that we that we have is actually not necessarily pleasing to the people who are on the bottom of it they might very well change it if they weren't crushed by the threat of force you could call it revolution you could call it you know change of any kind but most people who are being squashed actually don't like it and they're kept in their positions by the fear that they'll be killed or tortured and we're the beneficiaries of that whether we have liberal opinions or reactionary opinions we are enjoying a privileged life because of the fact that the world is the way it is and maybe in a hundred years China will be more prosperous because of the exploitation of workers today I really don't know but we're having a good time today because of it because the causal link between what is happening in China Jeff Greenville you're skeptical of it I want to hear you respond to that when you come back after this just sleep

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