Many years ago, more than forty now, I gave a talk at Hampshire College in South Amherst. My theme was the relative unimportance in the struggle for social justice of disquisitions on the philosophical subtleties and niceties of Marxist theory. Invoking an image I had used before and would use again, I said that social change was not like brain surgery, where the slightest misstep could lead to death, but rather like a landslide, with huge boulders and uprooted trees sliding down a mountainside, accompanied by countless branches, clods of dirt, and even little pebbles. The important thing in life was not how big a boulder you were, but rather that you were tumbling down the right side of the mountain.
During the discussion period after the talk, a student asked, “If that is what you believe, why do you write books about the subtleties and niceties of Marxian theory?” I replied, “Writing books is a quite minor contribution to the struggle, but I am good at it, and I enjoy it, which means I will keep on doing it even when there is not much excitement in the struggle. Not everyone can be a boulder, but I think my pebble is rolling down the right side of the mountain.”
At times like these, when my world is exploding and I am sitting in my study, self-quarantined and offering my opinions to a world otherwise occupied, I remember that talk and comfort myself that at least I am bouncing down the right hillside.