THE SALINA JOURNAL OP-ED SATURDAY, MAY 17, 1997 B3 T NONE OF THE ABOVE Volunteer craze can unite ideologues of the left and right Community service shows the sensible side of Marxism, and of capitalism I 'm a geek, always have been. In junior high, I wore the Alex Keaton look before the first episode of "Family Ties" aired. In high school I was on the debate squad. The lifestyle goes on. For fun these days, I argue via e-mail with two professors and a graduate student about postmodernism, social movements and Rousseau. One guy's a neoconservative, one's a Marxist, and another serves as peacemaker. Lately the talk has turned to the evils of capitalism. It's three-on-one with the neocon playing defense. The Marxist keeps talking about quitting his job and organizing the downtrodden masses. "If the people knew the depths of criminality in most huge corporations, every- body'd be a Marxist," he pontificates. The neocon isn't buying: "You want to organize the masses, get them jobs? By eliminating all the job providers?" For my part, I was born and bred an American. What that means is never completely clear. But it's never meant com- JAMES TALLEY far the Salina Journal munism — or so I was taught in school. Still, there may be a place for limited Marxism in this country, and now's as good a time as any. We have to take the good and leave the bad. The good in Marxism is called class consciousness — people waking up to the myriad ways they're exploited by the Big Boys and deciding to do something about it. That's the Marxist diagnosis. The Marxist prescription is something I doubt I'll ever get behind — state ownership of means of production parading itself around as ownership by the people. The Marxist swears I'm being hasty. "You can't look at the USSR as a model of Marxist principles. The Russians turned Marx into Stalin — that's why communism failed." The question's moot for me. I don't see much hope for the American public to abandon private property, even if an alternative might work out. The neocon insists folks won't care for anything they don't have a personal stake in. Renters trash the landlord's property because it isn't theirs. It's a good point. But every truth can be taken too far. Capitalism turned America into an economic giant. We out-earned the Soviets, more or less. But it also gave rise to sweatshops and exploitation, and anyone who thinks the Business Roundtable is not the most powerful entity in the country can buy some bridges off me for a song. Lest we think the errors of capitalism Ticker Tape Parade have all been fixed, just look abroad. Nike workers are protesting. Kathie Lee's clothing factories were twins of 19th century sweatshops. At home, we see downsizing and plant shutdowns right and left. Americans don't trust big government. That's healthy. They also distrust big business. That's healthy, too. We suspect anything big. Americans trust what they can hold in their hands or talk to face-to- face. The trick is to start with a distrust of big business and resist turning to big government as a cure-all. That requires innovative thinking, but history shows we Yanks are good at that once something lights a fire under us. I've lost count of the articles devoted to volunteerism in the past few weeks. Credit USA Today for its Make a Difference Day, but community service is now all the rage for pseudo-events and photo-ops. It even got Bush and Clinton together. If you can wade through the hype and spin, there's something valid and true in volunteerism. It's not a refutation of my neocon's argument about caretaking for what we don't own. It's an extension of that philosophy, a broadening of the concept of ownership and responsibility. People fix up city parks because they've learned that, in a way, they own the parks. People help the elderly because they can see in them the faces of their own grandparents. The greatest danger of capitalism is letting it off its leash. The best leash isn't held by the government, but by the people — their sense of decency, right and wrong. Capitalism unchecked would turn us all into atomized, property-hoarding individuals who care not a whit for anything whose legal title isn't in our hands, A broader sense of ownership — inspired by paying attention to what goes on in the world, not by political decree or exhortation — can limit the ugly side of our immensely powerful profit-making machines, remind us that all that glitters is not gold, and pave the way toward a more attractive society. That society need not wear a Nike insignia. But it also needn't wear a Mao jacket. TO RESPOND TO ADS, CALL : 1-9OO-737-116O $2.19/minute, you must be at least 18 years of age. 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