I once had an argument at a bar in a college town with a young man in a red shirt featuring the likeness of Che Guevara. He had a patchy beard that melded into a messy length of hair and had asked me to donate some funds to his political party which, oddly enough, had no basis in Marxism. I refused, so he urged me to listen to him explain his dogma in the hopes that it might change my mind. Had we both been entirely sober, perhaps I could have easily escaped the conversation with some clever excuse but that was not to be the case. He explained to me that anarchy through peaceable actions and persistence was the answer to all of society’s problems. However, I failed to listen to the details because it occurred to me that Che Guevara was a violent revolutionary that championed communism in Latin America. I must have asked him six times, “Then why do you wear that shirt?”
I was legitimately curious too. However, the scruffy young man always seem to be able to dodge the question. He would always respond to my question with a question, but I stayed focused. I have had intellectual debates with homeless people so drunk that they couldn’t even undo their pants before going to the bathroom in front of me, so talking to this guy should have been a walk in the park. But it wasn’t. He loudly declared the benefits of green-living, the evils of eating meat and hinted at the benefits of polygamy before condemning our consumer economy. He said quite a bit and, some of it, I agreed with but he was ranting and so weirdly accusatory that it was difficult to even attempt to refute or approve much of anything.
By my fifth drink, I got really tired of hearing his voice.
He had begun to contradict himself pretty badly and was coming around to explaining why I should support the green party while also abandoning government entirely to live on a commune, for the second time, when I finally stopped him. I touched his arm and used the sort of long slow speech normally reserved for hyperactive children, “Why do you like Che Guevara?”
There was a pause. There was a look of disgust. There was an answer. ”Because he’s everything I believe in, man. I’m a revolutionary.”
My mouth began a sprinter’s marathon of exasperated and confused sounds. It is probably a pretty safe assumption that Che Guevara would be sincerely opposed to people buying mass produced shirts with his image on them, especially since he hated capitalism. I passed that onto him but, when I prompted the self-proclaimed revolutionary with more questions, I was met with a wall of name calling and was told to wait for my paycheck. I’m not going to reveal my own political leanings or attempt to sway yours but I would like to insist that adopting a persona isn’t the same thing as being an activist of anything. I may even go so far as to suggest researching something before supporting it or claiming it as part of your identity. Growing a beard and wearing a shirt doesn’t make you a revolutionary.
However people will still falsely claim to be patriots, activists and experts until after the sun burns out. There are a lot of self-titled experts out there and most of them are well paid to give you very specific advice. Why else would anyone ever recommend brand name products? A real expert would say, “Just buy the brand that works the best and saves you the most money. What are you, daft?” That’s a fancy way for making an inquiry on your level of stupidity, which would be substantial if we didn’t all fall for the same sort of traps. Everyone wants the best stuff and how else can we know which things fall into that category without the experts letting us know?
I once made the expert claim that anyone could claim to be an expert. I could write a book called The Chocolate Touch: The White Man’s Guide to Being a Successful Black Man, and it would be exactly as ignorant, awful and useless as you might imagine. But, if I were an “expert” on the subject, it would be praised as provocative and controversially insightful. Don’t be fooled, nobody has the market cornered on any single subject. We are all just varying degrees of lost and found. Hopefully, we can keep our own eyes open and recognize good advice and knowledge, wherever it might originate from.