Bryan Caplan

March 1993

Free Water and Other Psycho-Dysfunctional Distractions from Genuine Socialist Empowerment

[Originally appeared in Sad Objects, an undergraduate parody of Bad Subjects (an amateur journal of social criticism produced by some "radical" UC Berkeley grad students).]

Even highly enlightened and committed socialist grad students like myself can easily fall prey to the decadent wiles of capitalist civilization. To take one especially poignant example (which, like the Bill Clinton acceptance speech and the heroic anti-terrorist actions of the Chinese government in Tianamen Square, reduced me to weeping, whining, and begging for spare copies of Marx's Critique of the Gotha Program) consider the most recent meeting of the Modern Language Association at the Fairmont Hotel. Mastered by the iron hand of the market, I could not help but attend this vital center of academic networking. I resolved to retain my socialist virtue at each step of the way, tipping maids and bellhops of color with especial generosity. I am proud to add that even made my own bed one morning, leaving a giftwrapped copy of Marx's under-studied Kritik des Hegelschen Staatsrechts along with a suggestion that the maid use the five minutes I saved her to read this neglected yet pointed refutation of Hegel's dialectic.

Anyway, each day more bourgeois speeches and lectures descended upon us like so many unwanted loaves of bread and circus tickets. Even the scholars of color and gender seemed to be unknowingly propping up capitalist society. But I kept my cool. Just nine more years and I'll have tenure! If I just stay quiet the capitalists won't hound me from their universities, their oh-so- Reagan-Bush-twelve-years-of-Republican-neglect "centers of 'learning.'" But even my Marxist-Leninist-Maoist-Marcusist- Derridean- Hillary&Bill Clintonian poise and dedication to socialist revolution wavered when I saw -- FREE WATER. Yes, absolutely free!

I looked at those sparkling stainless steel pitchers, the dew glistening from base to spigot, and thought, "My Marx! Each drop of dew speaks to me of the fully human denizens of the socialist Utopia, and their harmonious clinging to the pitchers bespeaks the brother love and acceptance of the happy tribespeople that Engels noted in his discussion of primitive communism!" In capitalist society, we expect to have to "pay a price" for such a moment of fantasy - even dreams of socialist revolution have to turn a profit or go out of business. And yet, here was this symbol of the Unattainable Socialist Disneyland, Magic Mountain, and Smurf Village all rolled into one -- completely free. What could it mean?

I confess with revolutionary shame that I let myself daydream for a moment. Perhaps if capitalist society could give us free water -- cold, clean, socialist H2O -- the system could be peacefully reformed to supply all human needs. Just think - free medical care, pollution clean-up, cars, houses, and Derrida tracts - all poured, cost-free, from a sparkling stainless steel pitcher with glistening drops of dew from base to spigot! Oh, my noble dreams! Will they never be realized?

But then I caught myself. These pitchers of free water were nothing other than an obvious plot of the hotel owners to corrupt aspiring socialist revolutionaries such as myself, to dull the edge of my fervor against their merciless capitalist society. The dead rich white male fools! They thought that a few memories of free water would spare the greedy hotel industry from nationalization! They imagined that the horrors of their anti-towel-"stealing" witchhunts could be brushed under the table! They thought that I, the defender of the meek and exploited hotel patrons, would act as if the hotel industry had not shamelessly robbed billions from consumers with their room-service gouging. I rushed to my room and grabbed the room-service menu. "$6.95 for a 3 oz. bag of peanuts?! $1.73 for a small coke?! You capitalist bastards!" I screamed at the top of my lungs.

For the rest of the conference, my throat was raw. Outbursts against inhuman capitalist society can do that to you. But I regained my left-pride (and incidentally, I'm trying to get a Left-Pride Hopscotch Gala off the ground. Any takers?). For I knew that no satanic servant of the capitalist power elite paymasters would swerve me from my righteous quest for truly free water as well as truly free medical care (including dermatology, plastic surgery, and full psychiatric care by qualified Left-Freudians) , housing, socialist books and newspapers, Nintendo, trips to Cuba, manicuring, and hotel stays complete with maids and bellhops of color. Free water in a capitalist society is and must remain a symbol of the glorious revolution that I at this very moment have significantly advanced by writing this penetrating expose; that even Herrn Marx and Engels would have to envy.

--Wesley Mouch, UCB Grad Student (but just as good as any professor, since credentials are but another manifestation of the tyranny of the market)