In July, I was walking with my parents through the newly constructed Titletown District in Green Bay, Wisconsin, a new community development across the street from Lambeau Field, where the Green Bay Packers play their home games. It features a local brewpub, a boutique hotel, free outdoor games like foosball and shuffleboard and a large practice field, where kids can play football.
At one point, I heard my dad say, "I know who this is." He had picked out the Packers' president, Mark Murphy, hurriedly making his way through the swarming crowd of people. Murphy kindly paused to shake my father's hand and then my mother's and then my own.
As Murphy moved on, my dad's next reaction was interesting to me as a political scientist.
"The Packers are the only team with a president instead of an owner," he said, turning to me. "You know, with every other team in the NFL, all that money the team makes, that goes straight to the owner." Proudly, he continued, "The Packers don't have an owner. All that money goes back to the community, the fans. It builds stuff like this," motioning toward Titletown.
On our ride home, with Packer talk behind us, my dad started to ask me about my job prospects. I'm training to be a political theorist in an oversaturated job market with an overabundance of Ph.D.s, increasing university administration, increasing reliance on – ahem, exploitation of – adjunct instructors, and what feels like an all-time low in the diminution of the value of the humanities.
My job prospects are not good.
Next he asked why I decided on Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, as my dissertation topic.
I explained that I had seriously considered Marx. But I didn't choose him because I thought it would limit my job prospects further.
"Why?" My dad asked.
"Well, you know, because people often associate Marx with communism."
"Communism – no, no, no," he said. "I don't want anything to do with communism. The very idea of it sickens me."
In my head, I thought, "What an interesting cognitive dissonance." Wasn't the principle virtue of the Green Bay Packers based in a communist idea: collective ownership of the means of production? And because there is no owner, doesn't that mean its proceeds go back into its community?
I'm not really interested in the degree to which the Packers are a communist organization. But I am interested in my father's reaction to the word "communism," and how this response conflicted with a real-world example of one of communism's animating ideas.
He has not, to my knowledge, ever read Marx or any genuinely communist literature. But he has obviously adopted a negative attitude to the word.
Capitalist ideology seems to have launched a successful marketing campaign against communism. To be a communist, in my father's mind, is to be against freedom. It is to want total control over the lives and fates of all individuals in society. It is to be a Stalinist.
What he fears isn't communism; it's totalitarianism.
I couldn't bring myself to point this out. I couldn't tell him, "Dad, everything you just said about the Packers – that's communism."