In advance of the 12th Ginsberg Poetry Marathon, I’m presenting excerpts from my 1994 interview with Allen.
2. The Politics of Self-Responsibility
PN: How would you describe your politics at this time in your life?
AG: Well, as before, somewhat of an anarchic pacifist. I think politics begins at home, that you, if you’re gonna do any reforming and revolution, you make a revolution in your consciousness to begin with. To become conscious of your own aggression, or my own aggression and ignorance and grasping . . . before I can point the finger at others. Then once having developed some small sense of connection with the world and compassion, maybe, getting outside of the shield of anger and resentment and whatever it is one resents. Being born for that matter is . . . I don’t wanna get born. I’m gonna die. Once you get over the complaining, and relate to the situation as it is, you realize that everybody is suffering and some kind of compassion rises to see what you can do to help to alleviate that massive suffering. And from that you could have some kind of community action or political action or relationship with other people, that’s not just predatory and exploitative or manipulative. And it seems that most capitalism and communism is based on conning other people and getting something out of them and enriching . . . one’s self at the expense of the pain or labor of others.
That was a . . . insight that W.E.B. Du Bois, the great black philosopher had way back in 1903. He was saying that the problem . . . then he thought the great problem of the century was the color problem. And 60 years later he wrote a little preface to his great book, The Souls of Black Folk, saying that he had to amend that. That it was . . . and he felt that the great problem that was connected with race, but it was the ability of smaller groups of people to live in luxury and power at the expense and pain and labor of weaker groups who were being manipulated and pushed around. And this was connected a great deal with race. But the main thing was that inequity, not from natural balance, but from force and violence. Until war had become universal, as a way of obtaining advantage.
PN: The book, Cosmopolitan Greetings, covers poetry written in the years 1986 to 1992.
PAUL NELSON: In American, the end of the Reagan years and the end of the Bush years, for that matter.
PN: How do you think history is going to judge the Reagan / Bush era?
ALLEN GINSBERG: Well, I, you know, they got into such an enormous debt. After . . . the interesting thing is that Reagan, the conservatives or the new conservatives, for years, when I was a kid, we were always talking about conservation. Conserving, meaning conserving, and also balancing the national debt and not getting into bigger debt, living within our means. And yet, the astounding thing was that under Reagan, the Democratic debt building exploded enormously and got in . . . not from billions, into trillions and trillions and trillions. And according to that . . . who was that guy that was Reagan’s economics manager of the budget or . . .
ALLEN GINSBERG: . . . David Stockman. According to Stockman, I remember him saying that Reagan deliberately bankrupted the Treasury, to build up the military and to make it impossible to continue any kind of welfare state. And so this trillion and trillion and trillion debt is a deliberate political maneuver on the part of conservatives who are supposed to be living within a budget. And that’s the mind-blowing thing. That they didn’t do that at all. And nobody noticed it. Or I don’t think people, that people seem to think it was, you know, some inevitable result of cosmic growth or something like that, rather than a complete abrogation of every principle of free market and economy that conservatives have been boasting about since I was a kid in the ‘30s. So they left a debt which can never be repaid, as far as I can see, and which has exhausted American energy, both for war and military, and energy and money that might have been used for reconstruction of the environment. And so I think it’s put the whole planet in a hole, and I don’t think we’ll ever get out.
PN: I see . . .
AG: And I think that’s one of the reasons that Clinton is having it so hard because he’s presented with problems that are basically insoluble at this point. And American public has allowed it to go on.
You can hear highlighted excerpts from the interview here: https://www.paulenelson.com/allen-ginsberg-june-12-1994/ and know that you can always find this page by looking at the American Prophets main page.