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I Married a Communistby Philip Roth
Ira Ringold's brother, Murray, discusses Ira's tortuous marriage: There were nights I couldn't sleep. I'd say to [my wife] Doris, Why doesn't he leave? Why can't he leave?' And do you know what Doris would answer? Because he's like everybody--you only realize things when they're over. Why don't you leave me? All the human stuff that makes it hard for anybody to be with anybody else--don't we have it? We have arguments. We have disagreements. We have what everybody has--the little this and the little that, the little insults that pile up, the little temptations that pile up. Don't you think I know that there are women who are attracted to you? Teachers at school, women in the union, powerfully attracted to my husband? Don't you think I know you had a year, after you got back from the war, when you didn't know why you were still with me, when you asked yourself every day, Why don't I leave her?” But you didn't. Because by and large people don't. Everyone's dissatisfied, but by and large not leaving is what people do. Especially people who've been left themselves, like you and your brother. Come through what you two came through and you value stability very highly. Probably overvalue it. The hardest thing in the world is to cut the knot of your life and leave. People make ten thousand adjustments to even the most pathological behavior. Why, emotionally, is a man of his type reciprocally connected to a woman of her type? The usual reason: their flaws fit." Murray Ringold on betrayal: All those antagonisms,” Murray said, and then the torrent of betrayal. Every soul its own betrayal factory. For whatever reason: survival, excitement, advancement, idealism. For the sake of the damage that can be done, the pain that can be inflicted. For the cruelty in it. For the pleasure in it. The pleasure of manifesting one's latent power. The pleasure of dominating others, of destroying people who are your enemies. You're surprising them. Isn't that the pleasure of betrayal? The pleasure of tricking somebody. It's a way to pay people back for a feeling of inferiority they arouse in you, of being put down by them, a feeling of frustration in your relationship with them. Their very existence may be humiliating to you, either because you aren't what they are or because they aren't what you are. And so you give them their comeuppance.
Of course there are those who betray because they have no choice. I read a book by a Russian scientist who, in the Stalin years, betrayed his best friend to the secret police. He was under heavy interrogation, terrible physical torture for six months--at which point he said, Look, I cannot resist any longer, so please tell me what you want. Whatever you give me I will sign.' He signed whatever they wanted him to sign. He was himself sentenced to life in prison. Without parole. After fourteen years, in the sixties, when things changed, he was released and he wrote this book. He says that he betrayed his best friend for two reasons: because he was not able to resist the torture and because he knew that it didn't matter, that the result of the trial was already established. What he said or didn't say would make no difference. If he didn't say it, another tortured person would. He knew his friend, whom he loved to the end, would despise him, but under brutal torture a normal human being cannot resist. Heroism is a human exception. A person who lives a normal life, which is made up of twenty thousand little compromises every day, is untrained to suddenly not compromise at all, let alone to withstand torture...
"Betrayal is an inescapable component of living--who doesn't betray?--but to confuse the most heinous public act of betrayal, treason, with every other form of betrayal was not a good idea in 1951. Treason, unlike adultery, is a capital offense, so reckless exaggeration and thoughtless imprecision and false accusation, even just the seemingly genteel game of naming names--well, the results could be dire in those dark days when our Soviet allies had betrayed us by staying in Eastern Europe and exploding an atomic bomb and our Chinese allies had betrayed us by making a Communist revolution and throwing out Chiang Kai-shek. Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung: there was the moral excuse for it all.
The lying. A river of lies. Translating the truth into a lie. Translating one lie into another lie. The competence people display in their lying. The skill. Carefully sizing up the situation and then, with a calm voice and a straight face, delivering the most productive lie. Should they speak even the partial truth, nine times out of ten it's inn behalf of a lie." On McCarthyism and moral disgrace as public entertainment: But that's what happens. Once the human tragedy has been completed, it gets turned over to the journaaaaalists to banalize into entertainment. Perhaps it's because the whole irrational frenzy burst right through our door and no newspaper's half-baked insinuating detail passed me by that I think of the McCarthy era as inaugurating the postwar triumph of gossip as the unifying credo of the world's oldest democratic republic. In Gossip We Trust. Gossip as gospel, the national faith. McCarthyism as the beginning not just of serious politics but of serious everything as entertainment to amuse the mass audience. McCarthyism as the first postwar flowering of the American unthinking that is now everywhere.
McCarthy was never in the Communist business; if nobody else knew that, he did. The show-trial aspect of McCarthy's patriotic crusade was merely its theatrical form. Having cameras view it just gave it the false authenticity of real life. McCarthy understood better than any American politician before him that people whose job was to legislate could do far better for themselves by performing; McCarthy understood the entertainment value of disgrace and how to feed the pleasures of paranoia. He took us back to our origins, back to the seventeenth century and the stocks. That's how the country began: moral disgrace as public entertainment. McCarthy was an impresario, and the wilder the views, the more outrageous the charges, the greater the disorientation and the better the all-around fun." Copyright (C) 1998 by Philip Roth. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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