Why I'm Optimistic About the Future
by Paul Krassner
Every act of love is a change in the universe. --Aleister Crowley
Recently, on a beautiful, serene afternoon, I was strolling along the crowded Venice boardwalk, playing my part in God's ant farm. A common spirit seemed to transcend age, gender, appearance, vocation, ethnicity, language, religion. It was like a mobile oasis; as if a truce had been declared, where inhumanity was replaced by empathy. Despite my awareness of unspeakable anguish occurring around the world, a feeling of hope surged through my body. That kind of epiphany had occurred many times before.
The first time it happened, I was seven years old. A fellow student stood in front of the class, unzipped his fly, and exposed his penis. He was sent to reform school. Without having the vocabulary to express it, I thought that the punishment didn't fit the crime. The next morning, I walked to school with a mission. I stood in front of the class, unzipped my fly, and exposed a portrait of my penis that I had drawn the previous evening. While carrying out that self-assigned art homework, I had become engulfed by a blast of pure optimism--I was totally confident that I would not get in trouble for what I planned to do. My parents were called to school and were advised to take me to a psychiatrist, but they knew better. In retrospect, though, I still have to wonder, "What the fuck ever made me do that!" If it were to happen now, I would undoubtedly be force-fed Ritalin through a Pez dispenser.
I never knew when I would experience these flashes of optimism. In December 1960, when I traveled to Cuba, the State Department was financing counterrevolutionary broadcasts from a radio station on Swan Island in Honduras. Program content ranged from telling Cubans that their children would be taken away, to warning them that a Russian drug was being added to their food and milk which would automatically turn them into Communists. In the Sierra Maestra, where battles once raged, there were now under construction schools and dormitories for 20,000 children--to match the 20,000 Cubans who lost their lives, many after torture, under the U.S.-spported Batista regime At one of these educational communities, some young students removed the string that been set up by a landscaping crew to mark off a cement foundtion. Next morning, the school director lectured them about such immorality. "Even a little thing like that," he explained, "does harm to the revolution." The children of Cuba were being programmed for cooperation rather than competition, and it made me quiver with hopefulness.
A recent study concluded that human beings are "mentally wired to cooperate," and I witnessed that concept in action at the shadow conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles during the 2000 presidential campaign. Once, at a benefit, I met songwriter/troubadour Harry Chapin backstage, and I'll never forget his words: "If you don't act like there's hope, there is no hope." Placebos do work, after all. And yet, I in retrospect, I realize that I often acted as if there were no hope. During the '60s, when abortion was illegal, I served as an underground referral service, but I never dreamed that it would become legal in my lifetime. I didn't like to eat in restaurants or fly in planes because of cigarette smoking, but I never thought it would become illegal in my lifetime. I joined protest demonstrations against the Vietnam War and for civil rights, against circumcision and for an end to nuclear testing, never speculating as to how effective we were, but always knowing that the option was to do nothing.
I became obsessed with investigating a government plot to neutralize the countercultural threat to control-freaks and economic-forecasters--the FBI had a special "Hippie Squad" where they were taught how to roll joints, the better to infiltrate--and I eventually freaked out from information overload. A turning point in this psychotic episode came late one night while talking with an old friend. As we spoke, we were rolling billiard balls back and forth across a pool table in the living room, pushing and cathing them with our hands rather than hitting them with a cue-stick and waking up our hosts.
"How long is it gonna go on?", I asked.
"How long is *what* gonna go on?"
"You know, the battle between good and evil, when is it gonna *end*?"
Suddenly I felt a wave of relief. So it *wasn't* all my responsibility. Such a heavy burden had been lifted from my soul. I understood that I could participate in the process of change without becoming attached to it. That I could maintain sanity in the midst of insanity by developing the ability to be a passionate activist and an objective observer simultaneously. That I needn't take myself as seriously as my causes.
Recently, I asked *High Times* editor Steve Hager, who is deep into conspiracy research, how he remains optimistic. He replied, "My rule is: Forget about tearing down the establishment (it'll never happen, the Octopus is too powerful). Instead, concentrate on building an alternative culture and passing it down to anyone who cares. Real ceremonies create positive energy, but when you focus solely on exposing Nazis, you are living in their twisted world."
Or, as Ram Dass said at the Oregon Country Fair in July, "The greatest social action is the individual heart...heart to heart rescusitation."
Hanging around with him renewed my sense of optimism, but of course that may merely be a result of my damaged chromosomes from taking too many acid trips.
Paul Krassner is the author of "Murder At the Conspiracy Convention and Other American Absurdities" (Barricade Books); his stand-up satire album is "Irony Lives!" (Artemis Records).