The nurture and care of the radical soul
By an entertainer of ideas – Donald Meinshausen
I have been involved in radical politics for over 40 years. I have studied movements that were left, right and libertarian and green. Single issue, ideological, local as well as international have been areas of involvement for me. My involvement also includes cultural, theological and technological focuses to try to cure social problems. There are many problems in handling any of these approaches. One of the worst is burnout.
Anger or concern will only get you so far. These problems don’t go away because of an election victory as we are finding out now. One way of burning yourself out forever is working hard for something, getting it and it isn’t what you wanted. The system is good at putting their bad solutions wrapped in nice rhetoric packages that end up as traps. So how do you avoid this mistake and not get fooled again? (Listen to the song from the Who: We won’t get fooled again) Or is it worse never seeing a glimpse of what you want to accomplish?
Radicalism to me means having a positive vision and plan that is so clear in your mind that you cannot be suckered out of it. This positive vision is also a way of balancing all the negativity that we deal with. This is the bad news; the inevitable critiques of everything that inundate us that can turn us into cynics and pessimists. Some would call it a balance of yin and yang. This negativity can be balanced in a number of ways. Politics is power based upon a community that shares a vision. Real change is based on communities that are based on this commonality and the nurturance of it.
Culture is a way of doing this. In the 60’s we developed a counter-culture. Out of this vision came new ideas, designs and innovations. This happened in music, literature, all types of entertainment, food, relationships, fashion, design and technology etc. This also happened in spirituality and psychology as well. When people ask me to evaluate an idea, whether political or theological, I ask them to show me an example of its culture as novel, play or film. It need not be high culture. I need not entirely agree with it. But it should be interesting in evoking new approaches, solutions and archetypes.
I remember the Stalinoids that used to try and feed off of our energy and recruit us. They ridiculed the counterculture, which, was a source of our well-being. They had little, if any, culture and what they had was rigidly politically correct and quite boring. This is one of the reasons that they are now an endangered species. This is why that I have no long-term fear of Islamic extremism or fundamentalism in general. Those without creative vision stagnate or grab someone else’s.
But how can you put together a personal worldview that integrates what you like culturally and see it solve problems? How can you see it work its way in the world and play in it as well? The best literature of ideas is science fiction. Many of the technical, political and cultural aspects of the present day were first described in science fiction. Here people learned in technology and social trends explain these factors affecting our future in a new mythology with new archetypes.
I once had an opportunity to talk to someone who did his PhD thesis on utopian literature who was also involved in the Citizen’s Party. While he had to wade through a lot of crap, weirdness and boring rants he found that fictional portrayals of ideas are more widely read than heavy tomes on politics and economics by a factor of 10-1. Therefore these fictional depictions were very influential among average citizen and opinion maker alike as well as those in between.
The two examples that he gave were Looking Backwards by Edward Bellamy based on Karl Marx and Ayn Rand and various works on libertarianism. He said that utopian literature today is almost exclusively green, feminist, pagan, libertarian or anarchist and much of that is a combination of those ideas. Anti-utopian literature was also a part of his thesis. The ratio of anti-utopian novels to utopian ones increased dramatically after the Communists took over Russia.
People also express some of the best critiques of a system through humor. This is more healthy and effective on average than either utopianizing or academic explanations. From Swift to Mark Twain, Lenny Bruce to Jon Stewart, Steve Colbert and PJ O’Rourke have exploded hypocrisies and evil through laughter. Beware of any ideologian or theocrat that cannot laugh, especially at themselves. Humor is tragedy turned inside out. You, as a social critic, can get away with more as a humorist. It also feels good to laugh and is good for you. Humor is a way of deflating egotism with less hurting of people’s feelings.
Of course you can still remain politically active and not read fiction or like humor and not burn out. Then you can run the risk of burning out or boring your friends and acquaintances by talking about nothing but politics. Grimness is a turnoff. That is why the Puritans died out. Even if you read and listen to only political books, music, films exclusively you become too narrow and boring. Is enough of your life enjoyable that has no political context at all? If not, then how can you relate to the many who do not have politics as their focus? How can you study technology and other politically neutral parts of life unless you can enjoy non-political knowledge and the simple pleasures of life for what they are?
There is one answer available for all activists and theoreticians no matter what their talents or inclination. Whenever you get a chance to visit an alternative world, do so. For example live or visit foreign countries. Some parts of the US are like foreign countries to us and travel to them is an adventure. Do this within reasonable precautions for health and safety and observe and ask questions, politely. An activist is an ambassador and an explorer as well as instigator.
Imagination and on line worlds such as Second Life can be interesting laboratories of social experiment. I’m looking for any feedback on what people have learned from organizing in these worlds. Communes are what we did in the 60’s and there are still many of these experimental communities if you want to join or investigate them.
But also consider the world of Temporary Autonomous Zones. This theory by left anarchist theoretician and Sufi poet Peter Lamborn Wilson can put practice in your theory. The idea here is if you put together a temporary and large enough event that you outnumber the Man so that your energy has room to bloom. I have seen several and you can do and see some cutting edge entertainment, art and people.
The most interesting one that I have discovered is Burning Man. There is a good book about it by Brian Doherty called “This is Burning Man”. Here you have radical self-reliance, complete artistic freedom and environmental respect for an invulnerable flat desert environment. This attracts some of the weirdest, creative people in the country and has done so for decades. This is a community of over 30,000 people that assembles a town for about 10 days and becomes the 5th largest city in Nevada. It even has a Department of Mutant Vehicles to handle the safety of the art cars, sailing ships, whales and dragons that operate as its transportation system. You meet some every interesting people here as Silicon Valley closes for this extravaganza.
Also check out Rainbow Gatherings to see a real 60’s be-in with over 10,000 hippies in a national forest. Like Burning Man it has security without a police state and health emergency services without expense. Both events appreciate participants rather than tourists. So when you go be self-sufficient, share and help out where you can. Be an entertainer or a facilitator. After all, these events are a way to build a new community. Yes, these events are an ordeal, to weed out gawkers and others who do not participate. They are quite cheap as vacations and there is car-pooling.
If you want something more comfortable and artsy-craftsy try Oregon Country Fair, which is held around Eugene and is like a Renaissance Fair with a 60’s motif. Unlike the other events mentioned food, arts and crafts are sold here and there are many cool craftsman as well as avant garde entertainment. So it is more of fair although you could go there to sell things.
The state does try to hassle, control or stop these events, which should give you an idea of how important they are in learning new ideas. But don’t let that stop you very few are ever really bothered. At all of these events there are children who are enjoying themselves and are escorted by their parents.
Pagan events are also a TAZ. Some radicals have a strong spiritual life that nurtures them along with other things. Paganism is spirituality with roots in the 60’s as well as ancient ones as well. Here we there are more group ceremonies, more workshops, and more of a spiritual focus. I like the positive and creative aspects to balance and inspire me. There are so many traditions within this world that most pagans consider themselves eclectic and some combine Buddhism and Christianity with their Paganism. Some Pagan events attract 60’s counter cultural figures and people as entertainment as well as attendees.
So holidays and holy days are alike as vacations and vocations are similar. This vacation allows you to vacate the problems and see another world where politics is not so important. Being with fellow visionaries in a relaxed, celebratory mode can allow discussion and experimentation of ideas on a short-term basis. It allows a nurturing, spiritual energy that we politicos need to recharge our batteries. They are also fun. And living well is the best revenge.