Tricksters of the World, Unite!

How going crazy will help save America


| May / June 2004


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.