Talking to Strangers

"Black History Month, sometimes called February . . . " Sam Francis's witticism has been repeated ad infinitum, by friend and foe alike, usually with little appreciation of the broader implications. Ever since the French Revolution, Jacobin reformers conceived it their duty to redesign the calendar. If they cannot always get away with dating the history of the world by their revolution or even eliminate traditional religious holidays, they always succeed in glutting the seasons (and street names) with sacred dates like 14 juillet, cinqo di Majo, or the Friday or Monday that falls closest to the birthday of some beloved hero or martyr of the revolution.

The American calendar is increasingly dominated by these artificial feast days, and the annual rhythm is determined by consumerist seasons known as "summer vacation" and "only 90 more shopping days 'til Christmas," which nonbelievers celebrate with the same devotional zeal as the occasionally conforming Christians who established them.

It is the mark of the ideological state that private life and community traditions must take second place to the public good and the national cults. Wherever "the public interest" is concerned, no one is to be exempt. I once caught the end of a World War II propaganda film (Gangway for Tomorrow) in which a loafer (played by John Carradine) is arrested and asked by the local magistrate...

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