My first work toward social justice, sports equality, was completely self-centered: this girl was going to be allowed to play sports with the boys. I succeeded by being good at combat. This worked for several years until sexual dimorphism convinced me my personal safety was better protected if I competed intellectually, rather than physically.
In my 20s I began formal training as an activist working with 9-5: National Association of Women Office Workers. I tried to understand the larger social context in which we worked (and in which we were discriminated against) by reading leftist publications. I was completely put off by the anger, cynicism and hopelessness of writers I encountered in the ’70s and early ’80s. Alcoholism demanded my attention, so social justice causes outside 12-Step work were then relegated to the “academic left” Tom Robbins mentions below.
The 2000 coup d’êtat, sealed with ‘legitimized’ secret vote counts, refocused my priorities, and I began plying my skills as a writer. Though not always successful, and ever-mindful of my early readings, it is usually my aim to deliver the truth with humor. Robbins is a writer who achieves this without parallel, and one of my favorite sources of comfort.
When I came upon his compilation of nonfiction short pieces, I was delighted to find an essay entitled, How Do You Feel About America? In its entirety, from the original seriocomic response to his sober 2005 postscript, I am again enamored of this writer’s wisdom and style.
From Wild Ducks Flying Backward: The Short Writings of Tom Robbins, Bantam, 2005 (sampling of travel articles, speeches, essays, and tributes to actors published in various magazines and books) How Do You Feel About America? (Anthem, Avon Books, 1997):
America is a nation of 270 million people. 100 million of them are gangsters, another 100 million are hustlers, 50 million are complete lunatics, and every single one is secretly in show business. Isn’t that fabulous? I mean, how could you fail to have a good time in a country like that?
I could live literally anywhere in the world and do what I do, so, obviously, I live in America by choice – not for any patriotic or financial reasons necessarily, but because it’s so interesting there. America may be the least boring country on earth, and this despite the fact that the dullards on the religious right and the dullards on the academic left (the two faces of Yankee patriotism) seem to be in competition to see who can do the most to promote homogenization and institutionalized mediocrity.
It won’t work. In America, the chronically wild, persistently haywire, strongly individualistic, surprisingly good-humored, flamboyant con-man hoopla is simply bigger than all of them.
(2005) NOTE: The preceding was written several years before the military-industrial complex first seized and then cemented total control of the U.S. government, a coup d’êtat that would have failed without the active assistance of a rapidly growing population of fearful, non-thinking dupes: ‘true believers’ dumbed down and almost comically manipulated by their media, their church, and their state. So be it. Freedom has long proved too heady an elixir for America’s masses, weakened and confused as they are by conflicting commitments to puritanical morality and salacious greed.
In the wake of the recent takeover, our prevailing national madness has been ratcheting steadily skyward: the pious semi-literates in the conservative camp tremble and crow, the educated martyrs in the progressive sector writhe and fume. It’s a grand show, from a cosmic perspective, though enjoyment of the spectacle is blunted by the havoc being wreaked on nature and by the developmental abuse inflicted on children.
We must bear in mind, however, that the central dynamic of our race has never been a conflict between good and evil but rather between enlightenment and ignorance. Ignorance makes the headlines, wins the medals, doles out the punishment, jingles the coin, yet in its clandestine cubbyholes (and occasionally on the public stage) enlightenment continues to quietly sparkle, its radiance outshining the entire disco ball of history. Its day may or may not come, but no matter. The world as it is! Life as it is! Enlightenment is its own reward.