Earlier this week, I wrote and published an essay entitled “Fools! A Cry of Hope!” that has elicited a response I scarcely could have anticipated. First published on the Northern Rockies Independent Media Network – among the obscurest outposts in cyberspace – to my pleasant surprise, it soon appeared on the much more popular Information Clearing House website. The essay has received dozens of comments from all over the world, almost all of which have been positive. Nevertheless, the majority of commenters have missed at least something of the essay’s essence. Most commonly, people have used the word “resonated” to describe how it made them feel, but then they either have described the commentary as “bleak,” “sad,” “cynical,” as “embracing absurdity,” or as a call for people to be fools.
Briefly, let me paraphrase what I was trying to convey. The social, political, and economic system is dominated by very few people who have made fools of us. They have perpetuated a system where a middle class is kept fat and lazy enough not to notice that there are deep problems in our society that express themselves in a number of artificial hierarchies – classism, sexism, racism, nationalism, and speciesism to name just a handful. Because the system is what it is, it is impossible to reform the system. We actually have no voice in respect to the current system. That is why we have been made fools – i.e., fools in respect to those few who rule as despots over everyone else. The protestor who screams and shouts and recognizes the irony of her own situation is in that sense more rational (by apparently being foolish and crazy) because there is no conversation to be had with power. We have been made irrelevant and voiceless, and thus we speak more honestly by screaming as caged animals than with the false so-called rationality of trying to craft a message to speak or petition the powers that be. The recognition that we have been reduced to fools is the beginning of wisdom, but it is not enough. We also need hope that we may no longer be fools, that the system can be broken. I urged that the beginning of hope is the hard work of making friends, that the system cannot be broken unless we develop the means to break it. Friendship, which is based in equality and freedom, is the beginning of that hope. That hope, at first, manifests itself through ineffectual and apparently deranged screaming in the streets, but it may become effective if the culture of friendship spreads. Screams, then, may be heard; the tower of Babel (babble, Babylonian Empire) might come crashing down.
Thus, the essay was fully intended to be a positive cry of hope. It was a message encouraging us to take to the streets, all while recognizing the futility of change seen as reform of the system. Instead, we should not only take to the streets and scream, but also we should take steps to revolutionize our approach with an aim of destroying that system, leaving in its wake the rubble of babbling friends, who are no longer fools without a voice, but wise with the love of friends. It was a primal scream of desperation, of longing, of recognizing that the human is still there embedded inside of us – that though we have been made cogs in a machine, that we are not merely cogs. As a result, I screamed a desperate cry of hope arising from the dungeon of loneliness, from one who longs for the friendships that can make systemic obliteration an actual reality.
It was not a praise of folly, a call to mere cynicism, existential irony, or a lament.
Rather, it was a primal scream urging us to recognize the essence of a problem and to forge the deep and meaningful friendships that must serve as the basis for any revolutionary cultural shift. It partially came from a deeply personal place; it partially came as a social commentary that gives rise to that personal reaction.
Obviously, I found myself deeply humbled that it reached people at that profoundly personal level, but I am urging something far more than angst and absurdity.
Keeping all of this in mind, I want to frame the same conversation in a different way, though keeping the two threads of the personal and the social together, forging perhaps more clearly the seed of hope that I want so dearly to plant in this inorganic wasteland of us fools who are either pleasantly unaware or desperately desiring something more for ourselves.
So, fellow fools, draw even closer! My voice is not very strong (literally, my voice is very hoarse today), but my heart and mind have much to share.
Today finds me 38 years old and a half year or so of change, but my birth might as well have been when I was 17. That year found me incredibly depressed pining, as so many lonely boys do, for the fanciful notion of a “one true love.” I was convinced in some respects that I was a vile and ugly creature (some things never fully change), though perhaps with some qualities that could be loved by the right person. When I was 17, I developed another in a long string of crushes, and depression ensued because I knew that it would not work out. Even though for the first time in my life, I worked up the nerve against all my timidity to express how I felt, the result was predictably rejection. Nevertheless, the ability to pour open my heart was a birth of sorts – a freedom that I did not know was possible. The possibilities of emotional expression seemed boundless, and the world did not seem so desperately bleak if only … .
I found myself newly born and quite actually taking a bath when I had what I took to be an epiphany. “Dreams,” I said aloud to myself, “should not die.” Then, it came to me, “What if there were a group of people dedicated to making each other’s dreams come true, who were compelled by the nature of the group to work for each other’s hopes and aspirations without question or judgment?” I was influenced by the romanticism of the movie Dead Poets’ Society but was frustrated that the “sucking the marrow out of life” was reduced to the narrow confines of poetry. In these few moments, I dreamed suddenly of people aiding each other out of compassion and duty, sharing their depths in the most soulful and unlimited ways possible. What I would immediately call “The Young Romantics” was born. As one soon-to-be close friend called it, a call for “friends” was born.
Now, the idea captured people’s imaginations, particularly young teenage boys frustrated by life and desperately searching for an outlet of expression. It struck a chord; it resonated.
We didn’t realize just how foolish we were, though. For instance, one friend desired to be an Air Force pilot – a job ostensibly that would put him in the position to kill others. I was a pacifist, and yet the vision I had would bound me to help others on the idea that “all dreams were equal and that all dreams should be possible.” To give another example, my dream obviously was to have “romantic love,” but I did not just want any romantic love; I inevitably had an object for my affection. Thus, whereas love should be a free association, fellow dreamers would be committed to trying to help me win over a particular person, thus to objectify that person as the mere object of an individual dream.
That may go a long way toward explaining why the Young Romantics produced some penetratingly beautiful moments – where people shared things so vulnerable that I do not dare share here – but which ultimately faded away quickly. In all our earnestness and naiveté toward building a community of dreamers aiding dreamers under dreamy skies, we failed to recognize the social context of these dreams. We failed to understand that our dreams were the products of the same social structures that make us all mute and all our aspirations moot. How can we dream to possess the love of another? How can we dream to fly a craft of destruction? How can we possibly aid ourselves as though we live in a vacuum, the space which our dreams must traverse simply a vacuum full of objects for our taking? Dreaming, in absence of context, will perpetuate foolishness. I am sure that Christopher Columbus was a dreamer; are we really bound to help a man who sails the ocean blue for God, glory, and gold – who more to the point, engaged in a genocidal pursuit in the “New World”? Are we to engage in the dream of a nation, of a race, of a way of life that exists apart?
Now, there was something raw about the Young Romantics, something that arose from the deep-seated loneliness that strikes those who become aware that something is amiss in the world. It is raw, human, and well meaning. It sought to find a chorus to wonder melodically within the halls of the most beautiful places. Indeed, some of the greatest nights of my life were huddled with up to four others under the shooting stars of Yellowstone, lodged above the depths of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, hearing nothing but the sound of our desperate voices as the Yellowstone River roared below invisible beneath the enchanting milky skies. Yet, it was ultimately overcome by the tragic flaw that believes we can merely be in a moment, be in ourselves, act in a world apart, and define the circle of friends narrowly at the expense of the “not me.” We held to that belief that we exist as individuals in a nature known simply as the “not me,” which is a tragic flaw in romanticism, in general – in the hearts of Emerson and Thoreau and Whitman that had perhaps permeated us unwittingly. Those dead poets and essayists now lived their tragic flaw through us.
Now older, I do not renounce dreams or friendship per se, but I no longer believe that there is an intrinsic beauty to a dream or to the dreamer. We live squarely in a world where we have all – ruler and ruled alike – been made fools, stuck in contexts where we are at once victimizer and victimized. That is, we live in a community of angst that spreads throughout. The most beautiful place in the world to me – nearby Yellowstone – is not even quite what it was to me. I recognize that Yellowstone is a political boundary set apart and managed apart to serve particular economic and political interests forbidding it from being what it might be. There are no pure places; no sacred ground on which to plant our flags and establish our hopes and dreams.
What I am getting at is to criticize another notion – that the way to social change is simply to set up an alternative community that exists apart, or at best alongside the existing social system. Theoretically, such a world feeds on a mistake, namely that we can set up a society that merely treats the diseased social order as an object of our care, of our aspirations. We think we can act purely apart, and maybe the world will one day come to us, or that we can at least carve out a better space. At 17, that sort of communal living was my dream. Yet, the truth is that we do not ever live apart. Our community is not merely human – we live within a biological and ecological community; we live in a community of land that is surely not as inert as we imagine. We breathe and are infused with a common air, and even if we could get around the notion that industrialization has created far too many of us to live apart, counting who “us” is cannot be so simple. Romanticism and communalism is essentially also a kind of liberal idea, one with the pretense that we simply find our voices in terms of each other as a mere community of equals and that we can create the systems that project outside of our circle which may convince the larger society through our example (or harness the larger world to serve our needs).
How benevolent and paternalistic of us! It is also hopelessly naïve and logically incoherent. All we have done is exacerbated hierarchy. We set ourselves apart as an avant garde, living the good life, pure in our intentions, that the wretches may soon follow our example. Soon, we become like one commune that frequented the streets of Washington, DC, selling t-shirts that read “Stop bitching, and start a revolution!” Perhaps, they should more appropriately read, “Stop bitching, and sell t-shirts.” Maybe, we have found friendship, but we remain as fools. The world is still essentially an object for our action, a world where only our privilege – not to mention a fair amount of luck that the bigger plutocratic fish allow such frivolity under their noses – leaves everyone else behind. This is all while failing to understand the intrinsic notion that society cannot truly live separately and outside a shared context – i.e., our universe.
No, fellow fools, though we cannot reform this crazy system, we also cannot leave it. We are thoroughly infected by the environmental ills that become our nature the moment we are born. You don’t simply eradicate thousands of years of patriarchy simply by finding some friends who do not treat each other that way – you exacerbate it. I cannot pretend that I am not white or male or straight or human or middle class or American simply out of the knowledge that those categories do not make sense. We have to wear our scars; we have to own up to our place in this society. We have to own up that we are not yet in a place where we can live simply and purely in accordance with our nature – our nature as romantics, as dreamers, as caregivers, as lovers of wisdom. There is no frontier from which we can establish utopia – that place which is nowhere.
Rather, we begin with this mess; if there’s any hope, it must be possible within this inorganic manure. That is no doubt why many turn to various reform measures, though they are so clearly hopeless. They perhaps are guilty of the crime that we can fix things in absence of friendship, that the problem is merely mechanical. They yell, “Vote!” They yell, “Sign this petition!” They yell, “Give money to this cause!” They are fools, but we can see what gives rise to it. They know that there is no new frontier; that frontier attitudes are those of emperors and kings and Andrew Jackson. No, we must find hope in open resistance to this system, within this system, struggling to create friendships in full awareness of the pitfalls all around us. It is not okay to support your brother who wishes to drop bombs on other countries, or your other brother who wishes to possess a girl out of some Disney-esque notion of love. Rather, we must support each other to build the right sort of weapons that we might all live freely according to our natures. We absolutely must take actions against the systems of power all while working on the means to overcome the systems of abuse. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter those in need of shelter, but do so simultaneously with the aim of making friends who are at once sworn enemies of the absurdity that leaves us incoherent before their majesty.
We must necessarily stumble; we must necessarily start from a place where almost by definition we at first go wrong. That is why screaming is more than okay in the short term, why it is a rational response to an irrational situation. The primal scream is the cell from which we grow like cancer on the system, but grow as dreamers and poets among each other.
I guess that is why I am simultaneously working on a project like a bank divestment campaign (in my case, particularly against Wells Fargo) all while organizing potlucks with the scattered individuals who feel likewise in Bozeman, Montana. We do not seek to be mere dreamers; we seek to be builders and destroyers. Revolution requires both; to believe that both are actually not only possible but also necessary is what I take to be the essence of radical direct action. We must fuse our social connectivity and context – that is, our environment – with the individual who yearns to be loved, who so desperately wants to be held and touched and heard.
This also is the hope of the Occupy Movement – the groups that would dare set up encampments in eyesight of the plutocrats in power. Not a commune apart but rather an open community of action within, Occupy perhaps best expresses what I am suggesting. Here hope finds itself like a community eyesore where all the social problems of urban life come to the fore. Nevertheless, within that eyesore, friendships are being forged and voices are being heard, despite many inevitable missteps. No one should fret long about missteps; they are inevitable. The community does not stand on a new frontier but within a swampy “bedrock” of filth and decay and buffoonery. We have to expect that it will always be hard overcoming thousands of years of the impositions of cities over the land – i.e., civilization – and hundreds of years of capitalism over everything else.
The Occupy Movement is merely one form of acting on the program I propose, but for many of us, it is an available form. Nevertheless, we should constantly be engaged in a process of open critique and ready for new organic forms to emerge, like new diseases in nature. Note at 38, I am no longer speaking simply in terms of waterfalls and shooting stars but seeking to find friends among cancers, termites, and wrecking balls. All the same, we cannot simply note our antagonisms; we have to remember that not far beneath our surface is still a young girl or boy – still an infant – longing to be held and for friends to help us through the chaos of sensual experience. We seek family, and kinship, and tribes, and all the things that make us alive. Though we cannot now live only in accordance with our natures, our natures must still find expression in what we do.
In closing, let me say a word specifically to my new friends in Bozeman. Can we be activists who are also friends? As Sasha once said to The Girl, “We are comrades. Let us be friends, too – let us work together.” Let us work inside this world of foolishness that we may all yet be wise, that we may all yet be happy. Your concerns are my concerns, and our concerns are everyone who is not yet and may never be friends. There is much work to be done, but look! Tonight, also those Gallatin Mountains are dreamy dreamers with us! Behold them and each other!
And, to the rest of you, we may never be friends, but here’s to wishing it for you and for all the mutual aid and solidarity that we can muster.
Fools, I have said too much; forgive me, what have you to say among the elk and buffalo trapped on this government farm?
I'm not really one for Monty Python quotes (one of my many neurotic quirks), but this one definitely is appropriate!
I hope you are able to do something similar in Oregon; hopefully, there's already something you can also plug into - it's a lot easier not to have to start completely from scratch.
And, by all means, if you see an essay that should be featured, you're still a part of the editorial working group - by all means do so.
I'll miss our metaphysics discussions; to me, that's really where all these other essays derive.