There have been few elections as decisive to America's future as this year's, which is why we are devoting pages in coming issues to the questions of electoral politics. But come November 3, win or lose, the cause of making a better world will continue. That's why Bradford Keeney's message that political organizing is not just about practical strategies and earnest endeavor seems important to keep in mind. Keeney, a psychologist and adventurer who has spent many years studying the healing traditions of traditional peoples, details how seemingly crazy ideas can sometimes make all the difference in the world. -- The Editors
Millions of people around the world are standing up for social reform. Now more than ever, the causes of justice, ecology, peace, and common decency need support from citizens everywhere. But many of us are feeling weary and uninspired about activism as it's practiced today. Our spirits long to be lifted by a radically fresh perspective on tactics and strategies. We need to bring a new sense of imagination and hope to modern-day politics. I propose we do this by going crazy.
I am not joking, although I do think we need a lot more jokes and a lot less somber rhetoric in our political movements. Subversive humor, pointed satire, and crazy wisdom have long been recognized as effective political tools, that, in the right hands, are capable of changing the world. Abbie Hoffman, the clown prince of the '60s Yippie movement, offered America a clear lesson about justice by turning a Chicago courtroom into a theater of the absurd. The usefulness of crazy wisdom is seen all through history. Look at the Trickster character, a charming conniver and truth teller found in the rituals and tales of many indigenous people. He's known to many Native Americans as Coyote, to African Americans as Br'er Rabbit, and even to several generations of young Americans in a watered-down form as Bugs Bunny. Tricksters and other rebels of the mythic realm have helped oppressed people survive one invasion and calamity after another yet still keep their spirit and soul.
Let us, activists and dreamers and citizens, rediscover this universal archetype -- the shamanic rascal who is capable of juggling realities and transforming fantasy into something powerful. This Coyote spirit can help guide us in many ways: by mixing up all our rigid assumptions, by instilling in us the hope of an underdog, or simply by making us laugh when we most need it.
Crazy wisdom, at its essence, is about tripping ourselves into seeing, hearing, and feeling the world with a different awareness. It offers everyone the chance to have accidents of enlightenment and transformation.
Holy fools and jesters through the ages have always known that the first step toward liberation and enlightenment is to escape from lives that are overgoverned by the ideals of efficiency, predictability, control, and rationality. The essential ingredients of being human are always upside down, mirror-imaged, and reversals of common sense. Do not trust anyone, for example, who says 'Trust me.' Crazy wisdom helps us question leaders who lazily invoke metaphors of patriotism, law, and duty to fight a war or lock up alleged troublemakers. Crazy wisdom lets us tune in to the sounds of unknown prophets who dare us to love our enemies, take care of the planet, and dance wildly in the streets.
Most cultures around the world have always valued the wild ones -- those who flirt during a solemn ceremony, laugh at a funeral, or weep at a joke. The ancient Chinese text known as the Tao Te Ching was onto this when it advised:
To remain whole, be twisted.
To become straight, let yourself be bent.
To become full, be hollow.
Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Jackie Mason, George Carlin, and Lily Tomlin, among others, have continued the tradition of teasing out the big truths that can never be heard from the sober voices of clergy, academics, pundits, and politicians.
Here are some of my own holy foolish ideas for sparking political, cultural, and spiritual change. I don't mean to suggest that you give up organizing rallies and get-out-the vote drives, but only that a refreshing new spirit can sail into all that you do in the world. Crazy ideas of your own will soon arise, and you can pass them on to others.
- Hang a photograph of George W. Bush over your dresser. Then for every person you meet who promises to vote for anyone but Bush, place a small sticker over the photo until his image has completely disappeared. Repeat with John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Gale Norton, and Dick Cheney until you feel optimistic about the election.
- Once a week, choose a heavily advertised product you already have in your home that is not essential to your existence. Move it to a spot where it looks completely out of place. For instance, you could put your hair dryer inside the refrigerator or hang a box of junk food over the fireplace. Think about how easy it could be to part with these consumerist items by recognizing their real lack of value.
- Write to your local library or literature teacher to ask which books are most likely to get banned if we end up with more narrow-minded Supreme Court justices. Publish this endangered-reading list in your local newspaper.
- Encourage (or even commission) local musicians and composers to write songs that pay tribute to the way local industries have polluted the environment. Send a tape of the songs to every public school teacher in the area.
- Organize a fund-raising campaign to annually appoint and support a local trickster. Teenagers and senior citizens might be particularly suited for the job.
Consider the patriotic playfulness of our country's founding gadfly, Benjamin Franklin, who dared to tap lightning in a reckless experiment using his famous key and kite. What would happen if you tried to channel a similar wild, unpredictable bolt of energy into your politics -- on campus, in the streets? That is what the holy fool can do for us. The result could be the thunderclap that jolts us out of our somber concern for the world into a new state of energy and purpose that just might serve us better.
Bradford Keeney is Distinguished Scholar of Cultural Studies with the Ringing Rocks Foundation (www.ringingrocks.org) and author of the book Bushman Shaman (Inner Traditions), coming out later this year. See the profile of Keeney in Utne (July/Aug. 2003).