So… this entry is half book review and half call to action. The book is “Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times” by Amy Goodman and David Goodman. And the action… well, that’s for you to decide. But you’d better make it good if you want to end up in Amy’s next book!
First, a few words about the book. “Standing Up to the Madness” is a must-read for anyone and everyone who would rather not be a pawn of the powers that be. It explores several examples of situations in which “ordinary” citizens found themselves confronted by some extraordinary injustice and chose to take action against it. In most if not all cases, these were David versus Goliath type stories — a lone individual, or a small group of family members, facing off against heartless bureaucracies and corporations in spite of the personal risk.
At times, this book is as disheartening as the dynamic duo’s last book, and the vast majority of other books and other media that describe the situation in our nation and our world today. Many such reports only serve to raise our ire without giving us any sense of what if anything can be done about it. But with this book, they have chosen — quite wisely, I might add — to reframe the narrative by focusing on everyday citizens like you and I who have done what little they knew how to do in an effort to make a difference in the world.
And on a good day, the difference is made.
If we ever hope to live in a land of real democracy and real freedom, we need more books like this, and more people like the ones described in this book.
As I read this book, and consider the positive impact that this “ordinary hero” approach may have on our society, I’m reminded of the work of Joseph Campbell. If you’re not familiar with his work, I highly recommend that you check it out, starting with the interview series called “The Power of Myth” that he did with Bill Moyers shortly before his death.
You can debate all day whether it’s a matter of hardwiring, or social conditioning, or something else entirely. But at the end of the day, it seems quite clear that human beings understand the world in terms of mythological narratives. These narratives have similar themes and aspects that cross all cultural and ideological boundaries with their stories of archetypal heroes who go on a journey to right some wrong, learn some lesson, or become who they truly are within.
I would argue that the quality of life in any society — and the realization of true freedom and true democracy — is largely dependent on the quality of that society’s mythological narratives. Who is seen as having power in the society? What is seen as important? What is believed to be possible and desirable?
Our understanding of these questions can either keep us in bondage or set us free.
The narrative pushed by the mainstream media is carefully crafted to keep us in bondage. Heroes are rare, superhuman, unreal creatures bestowed with great power by some accident of birth, or some divine intervention, or some marvel of science and material might. We are taught to watch these unrealistic archetypal narratives as a form of catharsis so that we will feel more content with the narrative laid out for the majority of citizens: namely, a life of conformity and consumption. If you live by the rules, work hard at your 9-to-5, and don’t ask too many questions, you’ll earn a fair amount of toys to play with and a life of relative comfort and stability.
That’s the story, anyway.
But this story isn’t terribly empowering. It’s understood that most people will never do anything terribly heroic, and most things in our society will never change. This leaves a lot of people longing for something more… but they seldom know why, or where to find it.
Sadly, the narrative told (somewhat unintentionally) by radicals and revolutionaries is often equally disempowering. The world is ruled by supervillains; politicians like George Bush and corporations like Halliburton and Wal-Mart are at the center of the narrative, weaving a path of death, destruction, and global domination in their wake. Ordinary citizens fight against these titans, and sometimes they even win — but in the end, the Big Corps and Big Govts are the main characters of these stories, and the most heroic action that any citizen can take is to flail wildly in the paths of such behemoths and hope to foil their plans by swarming them.
This narrative is at times quite helpful in mobilizing mass numbers of people to flail in the paths of the behemoths. And sometimes, this strategy is effective at taking out a particularly nasty corporation or politician. But you know what? We can do better than that. We can live in a world where we, the people, are the main characters of the story. We can develop our own narratives, and become our own heroes, working individually and collectively in a proactive and creative manner to create the sort of society that we would like to live in.
That’s one minor shortcoming I do see in “Standing Up to the Madness.” In this narrative, the focus is still on the evils being done by people in power and how we as individuals and communities can stop them. But at least they’ve made the quantum leap in thinking that is essential to any real change — namely, the shift from seeing ourselves as helpless victims to seeing ourselves as the heroes of our own narratives.
So let’s do it, then. Let’s reframe the story of our lives so that we become main characters, perhaps even heroes in our own way. Let’s stand up to the madness. Let’s challenge the Big Corps and Big Govt at every turn. Let’s stop waiting for heroes to come along and rescue us, and start taking concrete actions in our lives wherever we feel the pinch of war, of racism, of classism, of sexism, of homophobia, of ecocide, and beyond.
We are the people we’ve been waiting for. We are the leaders we’ve been looking for. We are the heroes we’ve been dreaming of. And that doesn’t mean that life has to become a dry and bitter struggle against the forces of oppression and injustice. Let us take a step beyond any of the blueprints offered to us, and let us tell a tale of everyday heroes who celebrate life with equal measures of righteous rage and loving creativity. For in our hands, we hold the heroic power of both creation and destruction — the power to foil the plans of even the most epic supervillains, and the power to create communities of freedom and cooperation that outshine any mythological utopia that has come before us.
With that said, I’m off to enjoy the happier half of that equation by spending time with friends at the Sunset Concert tonight. If you like this idea of rewriting the narrative of your own life so that you are a main character, then I highly encourage you to explore it in as many ways as possible. If you desire the company of a fellow adventurer on this journey, you know where to find me.