Lesley Karsten-DiNicola Interview Transcript

MJ: Ok, just as a start can I ask you to say and spell your name? LESLEY KARSTEN-DINICOLA: Lesley Karsten-DiNicola. L E S L E Y K A R S T E N dash D I N I C O L A. MJ: Thank you. OK. When I have been speaking to people around the country, all different sorts of people, when I ask about this current moment that we're in, in the United States, everyone seems to have very strong feelings about it being a very particular, or even peculiar moment in certain ways. But there isn't necessarily a consensus on what's important about it or what's peculiar about it. So when I say the phrase our current moment can you just talk about how does that resonate for you? What do you think is most important about this moment that we're in? LKD: Well I do think it's a signal moment for us to determine what kind of democracy we actually want, what kind of society we want to maintain and build for our children, what kind of values we want to pass on. And I think between the financial crisis and the extraordinary violence done to the constitution under the previous administration. And the way in which we've allowed something like torture to be an acceptable idea as part of our democratic ethos. This is a real moment for us to stand up and ask what we're about. On the other hand, I will also say, we elected an African American as President of the United States. And we did so with the kind of impassioned participation of young people, people from all walks of life, all socioeconomic backgrounds. So clearly there's a deep yearning to fulfill these principles that are embodied in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, which remain astonishing documents. Astonishing documents if we could only live up to them. But they're remarkable. And they still remain a beacon. I think one of the reasons we became the target of so much animus and such hostility, even though these other nations that have treated us with so much contempt have a history that's highly suspect themselves. The British after all not only have an empire, had an empire, but a gulag. And their behavior, in what we now call Burma, was shocking and violent, and explosively abusive. And that's just the British. But still in all we represent something. Those documents represent something. Those souls that came together to create them represented ideals. And without ideals it becomes very difficult, I think, to live a hopeful life. MJ: OK I want to come back to the election season and your experience of that. But first let's back up a little bit and just talk. If you can give me kind of a thumbnail sketch of your own life. Where you're from, and you can narrate it any way you want. Actually I'm kind of interested in your own kind of coming to political consciousness. When that was, how that was. And the we can kind of work our way back towards Obama. LKD: Ok well coming to political consciousness. One, my father was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. So-- MJ: At what point in that? LKD: --with the first group. MJ: That's a heavy legacy. LKD: It's a really heavy legacy. MJ: And at what point did you kind of understand what that meant? LKD: Very young. Even though he didn't talk about it. It's very interesting because I was the first child. And so four years separated me from the second. And my father would read to me all the time. I was privileged in that way because I had concentrated time with him. So and he would read to me all the time. And then he would talk to me about principles and things from a very, very early age. I was determined to read you know I think partly inspired by him. He would read to me and I thought OK I want to read too. So I learned to read very young. And my reading trajectory goes something like this: The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys because I had to have that kind of wild thing in me. Because I grew up in the country. So it was Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and then The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich . It's as though I got the basic vocabulary and then I leapt into-- And I really did do that. I mean I sat there, I was this tiny kid, holding this huge volume. William Shirer. I remember it. And I also remember peering through it trying to find is there any moment in this book where we learn that Hitler was capable of love. And as a child I remember being preoccupied by that idea. MJ: How old do you think you were? LKD: I was, I couldn't have been more than nine or ten, I think, when I was reading that. And then of course the Diary of Anne Frank. Then the biography of Harriet Tubman. So for me what evil represented and the - and I remember reading even as a kid after that this book of heroes. And I was obsessed by this book of heroes. People who could stand up and did stand up. There were only a couple of women. I think one was Florence Nightingale and the other was Edith Cavell in World War II and she was killed by a firing squad. And they stood up to power. So standing up and taking a stand to me in the face of evil. It's not just power it's also in the face of evil. And evil can be quite banal. It can be bullies in the playground. It doesn't have to be genocide. Genocide is the height of, apotheosis of all. But anyway so I came to political consciousness very early. MJ: So at the time that you're reading The Rise and Fall of Third Reich the reading comes from your father. But at the point that you're reading that book do you understand his place in that history? LKD: Well, that's a wonderful question. Because I think I'm trying to understand his place in history. And I'm trying to understand, because I'm the only Jewish girl in my class at that point too. MJ: Where are you? LKD: Owings Mills, Maryland. MJ: Which is? I don't know where that is. LKD: Well, it's like 20, 30 minutes outside of Baltimore. MJ: OK LKD: And I went to-- My parents believed in public education so I went to the public elementary school. And there was a Jewish boy in my class but he left. And so I'm the only Jewish child, girl in the class. And I'm teased. I have too big a nose. And my father reads to me. So I speak with a vocabulary. And I'm interested in things. And it's threatening. So I'm isolated. And I'm aware of this isolation. And I'm trying to understand why as a Jew I'm not only different, I'm an object of vilification. And then to try and grapple with also in my own work I know that kids wrestle with questions about good and evil at a very early age. We dismiss this. Oh isn't that cute. Or we think they can't conceptualize large philosophical issues and questions and questions in morality. They are wrestling with them from very early on. And I was no different. I wasn't unique. I was really no different. And so I was trying to understand my father's place but I was also trying to understand my place. Understand my place as a Jew. And understand my place as a woman. I'm trying to understand how I can, without having the vocabulary for it, how I can find the strength to stand up in my life. And as a woman what that means. It was a contract I made with myself from very, very early on to stand up. MJ: So what are some of the stages that you went through from that point. Like how would you narrate getting from there to here? LKD: Would that it was an equation, like a geometric equation, a euclidean one that I could say, okay, this plus this equaled this. MJ: Well another way to ask it is what are the moments that are most vivid to you when you think about your own kind of sense of political being? LKD: I think the Vietnam War was a watershed kind of moment. A struggle for me too. I wasn't in college yet. I was younger than that. I was in high school. Because I haven't thought about my life in this way. There are moments. When Kennedy was assassinated and I remember my mother weeping, sobbing. And I remember the country coming to a halt. And trying to make sense of that. And I had been trying to make sense of the Holocaust, which could never be made sense of. And I had wanted to be a rabbi as a child. I think because the spirit, the trying to understand how evil could exist and finding tools to strengthen the soul in the face of it. And also trying to understand something like the Holocaust. And why people didn't stand up, why they rolled over, why it was possible. And then after it happened, why no one wanted to hear. And why even in the displaced persons camp, the British soldiers were so cruel and so full of antisemitic hatred in the face it. What was it? And there was just this program on PBS the other night, it was-- I knew I didn't want to watch and of course I couldn't help but watch it -- on Leo Frank. And The Diary of Anne Frank I thought was one of the most remarkable documents. MJ: Well that's where I though you were going when you to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I was sure that Anne Frank was what you were going to mention next. LKD: Well it was. I read it after that. Isn't it interesting that I went to the big book. I think it's because my father had the book. And he was reading it and I went and got it. MJ: Well so now did you have a religious or spiritual upbringing? LKD: No, I mean my father knew Hebrew. We went to Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. There was wonderful rabbi there. I thought I wanted to be a rabbi. But it was a neutered experience as so much of Reformed Judaism was at that point. Because I think we were so shell shocked too by what occurred. That we wanted to take anything that wasn't Episcopalian out of the service. But my mother wasn't-- Assimilate, assimilate, assimilate was the kind of guiding principle. MJ: And yet you have this very heavy kind of political story that had to have been a real presence in the household? LKD: Well it was a real presence. My parents were very active in civil rights. And marched. I'll never forget my father one day later in his life. We were driving and he pulled the car over to the side of the road. And he said to me, I hope the ideals that I've lived with haven't been a burden to you. And I thought, No. Actually, they're the greatest gift you ever could have given me. Though they are a burden. They are also a burden. It was a wise question. MJ: Yeah. But what do you think was on his mind specifically at that moment? LKD: I think he had lived a rigorously principled life. And it was not an easy life to live. And that he was very successful. But he had paid -- but he had a lot of personal pain as a result of having been so principled. My father didn't lie. My father, when he died people came to that memorial service I had never seen. The window washer. The janitor. Everybody was treated with the same respect. And one person after another would eulogize him in saying he was the most principled man. What a gift? What an amazing gift to bestow. But I know that it took a toll on him. And in a variety of ways. And I think that part of what and I think he saw in me-- he loved all his children but I was his first --I think he saw in me someone, and it was prescient of him actually, who would make principled choices that would then lead to immensely difficult situations. And it has. I don't regret a single one at all. And it strengthened me. But this has not been an easy life. MJ: OK so you mentioned your parents involvement in the civil rights movement. Do you know at what point they got involved? Or do you remember anything about that? LKD: Oh yeah I do. I remember marching. Taking little pumpkins with them. I remember them talking about it. It was in Baltimore that they got involved. My mother was always a hot head. And in fact-- I don't want to tell this story on tape but I will tell you some wonderful stories about my parents. But my mother supported Adli Stevenson and she worked for him. And if SDS had been around when my mother was going to college, she would've been an SDS probably. She was real firebrand always. And to this day remains one. So I come by this very naturally. I couldn't escape it. And my father, I know, was seared by Nuremberg. He went over with the first group. And they were in this bombed out city in these kind of barracks. And they couldn't get out. And they were looking at footage. I mean the Nazis were so unbelievable. Filming their own brutality. It's just stunning to me. But most of this footage no one had ever seen before. So they are sitting there on the cusp of an evil that is so huge that no one had ever imagined was possible. And they had to find a justification for the rule of law. The challenge of that was just monumental. And I think it seared everybody who came in contact with it. And it was interesting to me the number Jewish lawyers who were there. From France. And England. I mean of course Jews would go into the law. But still it had to have worked on them on a variety of different levels. And the magnitude of the crime and the inability to adjudicate it in any way that could honor the almost perfect annihilation of a group of people. And attempted annihilation of other groups of people. And he really had difficulty speaking about it throughout his life. I would try. I didn't try hard enough. And it's one of the great regrets I have. That I thought he would never die. He had a hundred illnesses. And I thought a hundred and one was around the corner until he died. It shaped him. And his childhood, a very difficult childhood. And he came from nothing. One of those remarkable stories of Jews who create a life from nothing. And I think that's also one of the reasons why his principles were so important to him. That if you're going to create a life and not inherit a life, but if you're going to create a life, how are you creating that life? What are the choices you make? And that's one of the great gifts he gave me, is what are those choices that you make? You're always at the point of creating or recreating your life. MJ: He grew up in an immigrant household? LKD: I think his parents were born in this country but I'm not exactly sure. But they were-- there but I'm not sure. But their parents weren't for sure. And so were they born in this country or did they come over as very young children, I'm not quite sure. But there were a lot of them and they were very poor. And he had an uncle who owned movie theaters. And he was the only one who made money. And he had to take care of the whole family. And in fact my father's father was an interesting character. I don't really want to talk about it. MJ: OK. Well let's go back to -- you're in highschool. The Vietnam War is roaring in the distance. You're aware of it. How involved did you get in-- LKD: I ended up going to Berkeley. MJ: So tell me about that. LKD: Well so-- well most of my friends were always older than I was. So I would always tag along with my older friends. And they were often very involved in protesting the Vietnamese War. Even then though I was always someone who never felt that I was a group person. Even though I'd kind of honed myself on Beatrice from Much Ado about Nothing. And Elizabeth Barrett. And I was a feminist in some kind of impassioned but always male loving way. But I could never subscribe to-- I found the left often as full of vitriol and limited thinking as the right. I never could find an actual home for myself. And maybe that's what my father also meant. Is that he taught me to always think for myself. But it also meant a kind of isolation. I can never be a part of any one group. So saying that, even when I was protesting this war, I also knew that Lyndon Johnson had done more for civil rights than any single president. And it was a very-- And I also-- It sickened me when, even now I get so emotional when I think about spitting on these boys who'd come home from Vietnam, who came home from Vietnam. Treating them as though they were just dirt. Many kids from privileged backgrounds who'd either not -- escaped the draft or whatever. And treating these working class kids because so many of them were. And children of immigrants. Cause so many were because their parents were patriots. And you had to go do it. And treating them with utter contempt. So I was always tortured because there was no place that I felt was a home. Even though I wanted this war to end. And it was grossly unjust. And I protested this war. And all of that. All the time. I still was appalled at the way so many other people behaved. And frustrated by the limits of the thinking. That to not be able to hold opposing ideas and look at life through a complex lense and realize that -- unlike George Bush for whom I could find no redeeming virtue --Lyndon Johnson was this really complicated figure. Who not only did more for civil rights but took on poverty. No one's taken on poverty since. No one. And to throw the baby out with the bath water is something I've never been able to understand either. So I had a really kind of complex -- I remember writing this feverish letter. And apparently this letters circulated. I don't have a copy of it. But friends of mine still remember this letter where I kind of tried to exorcise some of these demons. And challenged them to look at the world a little more. MJ: This was in college? LKD: Yeah this was in college. MJ: Well has there ever been a moment since then where you felt like you have found a political home? I mean when you think about your trajectory from the 60's on forward, have there been-- Have you always been this outsider that you describe in a certain way? LKD: I think so. Even though I've been passionately engaged in working for peace in Israel and Palestine. And that's still incredibly moving to me. At the same time I can't become a rabid anti-zionist. The left scares me to death. And the right scares me to death. Because there's so much hate. And a kind of fury. Anger is a great animating emotion, and I'm all for it. But when fury becomes laced with hatred -- and that goes all the way back to my beginnings with the Holocaust, and all of that -- when it's laced with hatred, it terrifies me. And I don't care who it's coming from. Because just the other side of that is the need to erase, annihilate, and destroy. There's nothing life affirming about it. And there's nothing about expanding our capacity for empathy and generosity. And allowing for more than one victim in a narrative. If we don't create space for more than one victim in a narrative I don't understand how we're going to redefine these stories in any way. Reshape them. Allow for something more to occur. So I don't have a home. I kind of thought I might have a home with Michael Lerner's spiritual progressives. But he gets so hysterical too that it's like there's-- I mean I think he's a really interesting person and he's raised really very important issues. But I wonder, Matt, cause I'm struggling-- I mean I realize I'm so verbose. But I'm struggling to-- I think there's a way -- and maybe that's the part of me that wanted to become a rabbi -- there's a way in which political questions feel so limiting in and of themselves. And there's way in which I was attracted to the spiritual progressives was that there was the spiritual component. But what doesn't attract me is when the politics become so vitriolic that they overwhelm the spiritual element. And by which I don't mean religious dogma. But I mean something bigger, something more generous. Something about-- And language is all we have. So when we use the word love, we all have our ridiculous associations with it. And we think we all share an understanding. And we don't. It's the only word we have. And for the most compelling idea that animates us. And it's the only word we've got. And it's just a hapless kind of thing. So I go back and forth and I make my decisions. And I think I admired Obama for trying to articulate some of these ideas. And trying to create a space for these ideas to coexist. And to do so with a subtly of language and a nuance of intellect that I thought was -- and I still find meaningful and hopeful. I think bringing it into this fractious political scene is really-- Jesus. Really it's brave and it's hard. MJ: Well so I mean you're describing such a really -- or not describing -- articulating such an interesting kind of political and spiritual sensibility. Can you tell me going back say a year, or a year and a half, as we kind of think about the last election cycle and-- the primary season, the election itself and then the first now several months of the Obama administration. Can you just tell me how that slice of time looks from where you're standing? LKD: Well first of all I mean I also want to say that I admire Hillary Clinton a great deal. I think she -- You know to be a woman. And to aspire to something that men naturally aspire to. Baby boys are born and their mothers and fathers are thinking he could be president. But for a woman to aspire to this suddenly she's ruthless. And aggressive. And she'll stop at nothing. And I think she is remarkable in many, many ways. She married a very complex man. And she chose to love him. And I don't question that there's love in that marriage and in that relationship. And I don't need to know what goes on in the bedroom between people frankly. It so offends me that everybody's private life is up for grabs. It drives me nuts in this googlized world. So I admire her a great deal. And I did I think come to think that Obama was a more hopeful and inspired choice ultimately. But I also knew that there was a way in which she had been burned a thousand times that left her with skills that I thought would be immensely valuable. And that he would have to learn. That his learning curve would have to be a really -- it would be a tough one. A big one. I'm not quite sure. When I say learning curve is it big, or small, or. Anyway I think-- now this is from my father again --I think one of the things that was particularly irritating about Bill Clinton was when he would run for cover after taking a stand that was principled. And he got scared and then he'd run for cover. And what I yearn to see with Obama is that he takes stands and he holds them. Not if he feels he-- I mean it's also ridiculous on the other hand to be like a Bush and these other people who do take their own stands and then don't even think through the consequences of them. And don't change their minds. And realize that they've made a mistake. That is a sign of maturity to be able to recognize you've made a mistake. But having said that, I -- I think I want Obama to be braver. And to be bolder. And he may have to abandon this let's all get along together kind of position in order to be really bold and really brave. And I do admire them for trying to hang in there with that healthcare. And I do in some way I question the wisdom of leaping into something so huge and so complex so soon after being elected. Because I think it set up what we saw yesterday in some measure. It gave the Republicans ammunition which they were waiting for. They were lying in wait waiting for something to exploit. And I was afraid of that happening actually. And if someone had asked me, which no one would, but if anyone had ever asked me I would have said build a bit before you leap into these waters. You're committed to doing it. And everyone knows you're committed to doing it. And that's great. But make sure that you have built a foundation of Democrats who are strong enough to withstand what's going to come at them. And that when the next election comes up we're not going to lose Democrats. Because you can't afford to lose anybody. And that you build. You just build slowly. Now obviously they felt they had to exploit the momentum. And move quickly. And blah, blah, blah but I wasn't so sure that was wise. Even though healthcare is essential. And I don't get what-- I mean I think one of the things that is so troubling to me too. And this isn't about Obama frankly. This is what he's inherited. Is that we live in world where gossip becomes the currency of the exchange between people. We go to google for the truth. Excuse me? I mean one we don't trust our own ability to arrive at the truth of things. We don't trust our own hearts. But we're so overwhelmed with data that it creates a space for these lunatics to exploit the terrors that people have and the fears. And we do live in a very fearful era. And that to me is the most challenging and most frightening and difficult aspect of this. Is nothing sacred? We don't even use the word respect. We don't teach our children respect. I never hear children saying-- I never hear that-- We don't teach ethics. I'm not talking about morality, I'm talking about ethics. We don't teach civics. We don't teach-- Children don't say please and thank you the way they should be saying please and thank you or excuse me. They aren't giving up their seats on the subway for elderly people. We are not teaching one another. We are not living with respect. We don't understand what respect is. So when we have a political discourse that is so violent. And I'm terrified. I'm terrified of the implications of this discourse. I'm terrified Obama's going to be assassinated. And then I think what will happen this country is beyond repair frankly. And maybe that's why the spiritual thing is also very important to me. Because there are qualities that get discussed there that don't get discussed just in political discourse. MJ: When do you think that change occurred? And how do you understand it? The change and kind of just basic decency that you're describing? LKD: Well I think that's a great question. That is a really great question. And I think it's presumptuous as hell of me to even posit a response. I think part of it was when in the sixties where we challenged all the institutions that existed. Rightfully so in many cases. But it's that throwing that baby out with the bath water kind of thing. Where in an order to create something new we can be so wildly destructive. And lose sight of the historical values. The values of historical weight that were meaningful. That kept a society-- That represented civil aspects of a society. Not just repressive civility. But civility in terms of just how we treat one another. And when anything goes then everything goes. And so there were phenomenal things that happened in the sixties, as you've written about as eloquently as anyone. Amazing transformational things occurred. Essential transformational things. Hillary Clinton could never have even thought of running for president. We have gay legislators. That would have been out of the question. An African American as president would have been out of the question. So where all of those things were essential. But something else happened. And I don't know if the seeds of that frankly didn't actually begin with the recognition of evil. In a way, in a cataclysmic way that was percolating. Which began with World War I in the twentieth century. Which was a fantastically grotesque war. World War II which -- unimaginable evil. And then a possibility of a nuclear holocaust. A complete nuclear annihilation. And so whatever may have held societies together-- also you can't deny the role of television and airplanes and bringing the world closer together so people had exposure to things. We saw a war on TV. So I don't know. It's the more commonplace proximate brutality becomes, the less perhaps those values mean -- the more important they become, but the less they mean. So how do you teach your child to tell the truth when -- and how important telling the truth is. And it's essential to living an honorable life. And then you look around them and the people who are succeeding are lying and betraying and-- it becomes extremely difficult and complex. So I think there are many reasons. But I don't think we can ignore the metaphysical, which is the question of evil. And I think that bedevils people a lot more than we talk about. MJ: So-- LKD: Am I making any sense? MJ: Yeah. That was great. Has your opinion of Obama changed in the last year? LKD: No, I knew he would go through this. I mean I anticipated all of this. I still think he's a fundamentally decent, honorable, committed and brilliant guy. I just think it's always so much harder. It's so much easier to make promises than keep them and fulfill them. And that's true of everybody. No matter how well intentioned. So no, I didn't expect-- I mean I wish he were stronger on the issue of terror and Guantanamo. I wish he --I think it's a mistake to vacillate on the public option. I think when you've got people like-- what's his name in Oregon? He's so smart. Wyden? -- Wyden in Oregon, articulating a very, very clear case for the public option. And doing it in a way that can make sense to a lot of people. Exploit that person. Throw him out there all the time. He is -- it-- So there are ways in which I think decisions have been made, or decisions that have been made, that I think aren't ideal from my perspective. But I don't have an expectation of the ideal. And he never promoted himself as a radical. If people on either side of the divide are disappointed but particularly on the left are disappointed, he never promised them their rose garden. I mean he never did. So if they're disappointed, it's because they weren't paying attention. I think. In a way. And I think it's such a cumbersome mechanism. I think this country's essentially ungovernable. MJ: It's becoming so. LKD: Yeah. It's vast. It's so polarized. And you can look at Denmark and Sweden and say well if only, if only. Well it's so homogenized that society and it's so tiny. Yeah, anybody could do that frankly. I don't think that they're that much smarter than anybody else. So look maybe we should divide the union. And we could govern it, you know. But as it stands I think it's ungovernable Essentially. So then it just becomes about protecting what we can protect. And I think. And the states are going to get stronger because it's impossible to rein in this entire country anymore. I think. MJ: The last thing I want to talk about is the economic collapse of a year or so ago. Is that-- I mean that's obviously it's all over the newspapers. You turn on your TV, you hear debates about it. There's the bailouts. There's the this, the that, the policy debates. Does it impinge on you-- I mean-- Let me ask the question this way. How do you live that experience of the economic collapse? Do you see it in certain ways? Does it— LKD: Oh, I bet Bonnie was great on this MJ: Do you experience it in your travels about the city? How would you describe life in New York City during this year of economic crisis? LKD: Well I think it becomes a negotiation between a kind of pragmatic acceptance of the situation and a willful denial of it at the same time. Because it's so difficult. The opportunities seem so diminished. Certainly in the world that I'm in. And finding new ways to recreate myself. And yet at the same time I cannot live looking at it from the point of view of all that's wrong. Because I'll be completely immobilized by it. So -- and that's just my own makeup. So I have to find a way. And there is something remarkable in the American character. If you can isolate such a thing. But my European friends always talk about it. And I think there is something. Whether it's foolhardy, naive or whatever it is. But there is a kind of insistent idealism that just hangs in there. That allows for the possibility of recovery. And allows for the possibility of recreation. It's not that it isn't really difficult. And it isn't as though despair isn't always knocking-- potential despair isn't always knocking on the door. It's just that also around the corner, is an opportunity. And that's there. That's in the ether. Who's affected by the quote recovery that we're currently experiencing? I don't exactly know because it isn't me and it isn't with my friends. But there is-- MJ: Well that's one of the things that Bonnie talked about. Is how, unlike the depression of the 1930s, it's really not out there in the public sphere. So she described being by herself with her computer looking for a job. And you don't see the run on the employment office. You don't see the bread lines. You don't see-- LKD: That's a very interesting point. And that's a good point. MJ: Yeah. It's a very different-- LKD: But what's interesting about that too is that then what happens to people is that they feel that they aren't sharing in something with other people. MJ: Right LKD: It's somehow their fault. MJ: Right. It becomes more easily internalized. LKD: Right. MJ: Because the structural features of it aren't as visible. LKD: That's right. And in this highly psychoanalytic age, where we also have people telling us that if anything bad happens to us, it's our fault. Or if we get sick, it's our fault. We've done something wrong. Poverty as metaphor. But really -- and that can be disabling, and really disabling. That I have to guard against. And I think everybody has to fight against that one. But what's also interesting, maybe it's New York, people -- restaurants are opening all over the place still. Now there are stores that are closing. And I noticed a lot of stores closing. And a lot of places closing. And yet at the same time, there are people in restaurants all the time. There are-- and full --and whether they're drinking their blues away or whatever it is they're doing, the fact is people are still going out and living their lives. And going-- I bought myself a ticket to see Mahler's Ninth. And I got myself the least expensive ticket I could get. The place was completely packed. There wasn't a seat available. And you would think in an economic downturn-- MJ: Mahler would go. LKD: Yeah I think that Mahler kind of would be on the short list of things. I mean I think it would just go. And there's Mahler packing the house. And so I don't know. I have friends in the financial sector who say don't be deluded, it's going to get worse. Or when it first happened they said this is going to go on for a generation. Don't even -- And yet there are signs of recovery. And there are signs of hope. I think we're totally naive if we don't realize that not only is China breathing down our neck, and it's going to be there the next week, but that if we don't improve the education in this country, and insist upon quality education for our children, and make our children our priority, there's no hope period. There's no hope, period. There's no hope for our democracy as we like to understand it. And there's no hope for an economic recovery that's meaningful in the end. I think. But then I've always felt that way about putting our children first. MJ: Are you basically optimistic or basically pessimistic? LKD: I am basically an optimistic person. So I always lived that way. And having said that, however, I'm also somebody who sees a pogrom around the corner. I have both sides of this Jewish thing happening in me, which is that impulse to keep creating no matter how little there is to work with. That life is about being fully alive. And making something of nothing. So that is a vibrant part of me. On the other hand, I'm not an idiot. And I read. And I pay attention. And I think there are signs that are very, very troubling in this society. And worrisome for the future. There has to be some way to address these questions of greed. And how this greed keeps growing exponentially, and propels itself into places where lives and institutions are completely destroyed by it. And there has to be ways for-- The government, the health plans, that they have choices, that we should be so fortunate to have the health plans that the government has. Now why-- They should be deprived of those plans. Those plans should be taken away for a year. And let them figure out what they're going to do with healthcare. If you want to pragmatic solution to this, take it away from them. And then let them settle it. We'll have healthcare very quickly. But it's the hate. And what goes on in the objectification of people. In the press. On google. The way people feel they have the license to say whatever they want to say about anybody. They can do it anonymously. Or brazenly. And they don't care about destroying people. We don't care about murdering souls. We think if it's not actually taking a knife and stabbing someone, that we aren't -- it isn't a violent act. And I'm with the rabbis on the nature slander. Because I think slander is akin to murder. We don't take it seriously enough. We want to vent whatever we want to vent. But language is the means by which we communicate. And we can destroy people. We don't value life enough. We don't value life enough. And I think the more I nest these thoughts -- I was sitting outside, and I was having a cup of coffee with a friend. And a woman walked by. And she said oh I've just been on facebook for seven hours. And I think that's the end of western civilization as we know it to be honest with you. This facebook insanity. This tweeting. So you don't even have a complete English sentence. You can't have more than one sentence. You can't even spell out of work. How are we going to communicate? How rich can life be? How can it be rich? And nuanced? And complex? And subtle? And all of the things that-- I don't understand. I don't understand. It is a trivialization of the human experience. And what it does is it anesthetizes people to the reality of human encounter. And what it means. And that to me is more troubling than what Obama is or not doing. It's the erosion of these, kind of, social values. That terrifies me. Really terrifies me. I don't care when I go on Facebook once a month because I did it to plan Gary's thing and I'm just curious. And there are people saying going out for a cup of coffee now. I don't care. I don't care. There's this narcissistic self promotion and involvement. I don't care. Every thought that someone is having they now tweet. I don't care. And why must I? The pollution of-- god -- of this-- But it is about -- But Christopher Lasch was right. Conservative as he was. MJ: Culture of Narcissism? Is that the thing that you're thinking of? LKD: Yeah. He was really prescient. He predicted this. And I think he's right. There's a way in which this narcissistic I can't leave myself alone for one second kind of preoccupation is really dangerous. I mean he was wrong about many things. I read it how many years ago. MJ: He called my college a playpen of self examination. LKD: And you know what? I'm not sure he's wrong. Are you convinced that he's wrong? MJ: Is there anything that you feel we should have talked about that we haven't? LKD: No I'm sorry I went on at such length. MJ: No, not at all. Well thank you. Thank you very much. I enjoyed--

One thought on “Lesley Karsten-DiNicola Interview Transcript”

  1. I knew Lesley at UC Berkeley when I went there. We were in the same COOP. I got to meet Lesley’s father when I visited her family in Pacific Palisades. He was a very impressive man. I admired him greatly for what he had accomplished privately and professionally.

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