I had one helluva good time last Saturday at my early birthday party. It was a relatively small gathering by Carbondale party standards, but I like how smaller gatherings actually let me talk to people. It had a good mix of work friends, D&D friends, and political friends. And truth be told, most of these qualifiers are arbitrary since in most cases, our friendship runs deeper than the context we may have met in. With such good friends gathered together, a good time was almost inevitable. We talked, we joked, we made simple music, we ate yummy foods, we played games, and more. We laughed; we cried; we hurled; and a good time was had by all.
For one night, then, I found myself celebrating the joy that is life. In fact, I found myself feeling very happy and fulfilled well into the next day, despite the fact that I had to work. But somehow, some peculiar warp in my consciousness always seems to take blissful experiences and eventually convert them into fuel for my restless, relentless, infamous, almost manic revolutionary impulse. And so, less than 24 hours after the start of a party that gave me a renewed sense of joy and satisfaction in life, I found myself feeling a renewed and more fervent commitment to the question of revolution.
A lot of my less political friends — and even some of the more political ones — may wonder what manner of madness leads me to think such seemingly depressing thoughts after such a wonderful experience. Yes, there are all sorts of problems in the world — but can’t I just have fun for once in my life without worrying about all of that?
Well, that’s actually something I’m learning to do more and more these days. If I talked about politics or revolution that night, it was brief, and I don’t even remember it today. What I do remember — and what I experienced quite fully — is a carefree night of good fun with good friends and little if any concern about the problems of the outside world. even so, I think that there are two reasons why such fun and uncomplicated experiences inevitably end up driving me further and further in the direction of revolution.
First of all, on some level, I think they trigger in me the fear that I will forget about everything I’ve learned and everything that needs to be changed. In Matrix terms, they trigger the fear that I may one day take the blue pill and forget about the need to liberate ourselves and each other from the Matrix. I mean, I don’t seem to have much power in this system anyway… so why not just abandon my deeper aspirations and spend the rest of my life pursuing good food, good games, and other delights of earthly existence?
This is a reasonable fear, and a real temptation that sometimes rises within me. But really, I know myself well enough to realize that I can never really go back to that existence. That fear alone is not enough to explain what’s happening. However, there’s another, deeper reason why all of these moments of joy in my life drive me further in the direction of revolution.
They make the beauty of life itself feel more real to me.
When my consciousness first started awakening to the horrors of the world, I was still just a child. At the age of six, I can remember going to sleep one cold November night with a vague but overwhelming fear that Ronald Regan’s re-election was opening the door for a nuclear holocaust. And I didn’t understand any of it at the time, but no matter how my mother tried to shield me, growing up poor as the child of a single mother quickly exposed my emerging empathic senses to countless examples of a community, a society, and a world in crisis. As my capacity for perception and reflection matured, my understanding of the world’s problems deepened. By the time adolescence had come and gone, my short circuiting empathy had flipped a breaker switch in my heart, leaving me to identify more with the sentient robots and superhuman heroes of fiction than with any living, breathing human beings.
For years, that was the story of my life. For years, I kept my deepest human emotions at bay — always aware of them, always touched by them, never fully succeeding at cutting them off, but always so afraid of their intensity that the only thing I could really feel was a deep anxiety.
At first, this ability to keep my emotions at bay seemed like a blessing — or at least a necessary evil. After all, how could I possibly act against all of the suffering in the world if I found myself overwhelmed with grief and sorrow every time I bore witness to yet another atrocity? I felt as though my ability to disconnect emotionally were the only thing protecting me from going mad as I watched so many people — and an entire planet! — suffering and dying under the yoke of such unthinkable oppressions.
And so, for years I supported revolutionary causes through some impersonal sense of duty, with all of my most personal human emotions held back for safekeeping. But then, a few years ago, I finally started to understand what I was missing. This disconnection and resultant anxiety and depression was not only eating me alive, but also distancing me from the very people and planet I loved so dearly. It left me personally disheartened; it left me ineffective at understanding and organizing with people who actually HAVE emotions; and ultimately, it was a great sacrilege against my deep-held belief that the human heart is a wonder of nature meant to be cherished and nourished.
And now, with the fullness of my humanity slowly returning, I’ve learned at least two important truths. The first is that yes, these human emotions really do bring me an incredible amount of pain when I stay with them in the presence of the world’s horrors. Yes, feeling a deeply personal human love in my heart while bearing witness to the world’s atrocities does drive me to the brink of madness, and I probably couldn’t have handled it as an adolescent.
But you know what? I’ve learned that this human heart of mine, and the love that it carries, is both my greatest treasure in my life and my greatest tool in seeking revolution.
Before, revolution was merely a duty. When I distanced myself from my own human emotions, I felt distant from humanity itself, and the Earth itself. Revolution, then, became some sort of abstract duty — all-consuming, yes, but devoid of real passion or power.
Now, revolution is a passion for me. I see my family, my friends, my fellow community members, my fellow beings on Planet Earth, and I feel a tremendous, deep, personal, human love for all of them. And in our moments of joy together, I have an ecstatic experience of our deepest potential to be happy, to be free, to live together in harmony and freedom and peace. And when the moment passes, I am sooner or later reminded of WHY the moment has passed — why the joy, the friendship, the excitement have all given way to the oppressive mix of boredom, frustration, and sorrow that fills so many of our lives. And I am reminded of the people who never find even a moment’s peace in this life, and the living planet that is slowly but surely being dismembered by the end results of our own inability to discover and stay connected to our deepest potentials for freedom, cooperation, and harmonious living.
Even when I felt like a robot, I felt a devout ideological commitment to helping others, and to making the world a better place. But now, as I reclaim more and more pieces of my broken human heart, that devotion is deepening beyond anything available to a robot. It’s becoming more personal, more passionate, more fierce than ever before. It’s the extreme intensity of a mother protecting her child, or a lover protecting their beloved. Every cell in my body has tasted this passion now, and every cell in my body burns with the deepest of desires to protect the people and the planet that I love.
In those precious moments when I experience true joy, whether it be with friends or alone, my love deepens. And when my love deepens, my passion for revolution deepens. Sometimes, the frustration and restlessness that this brings seems like a curse, because it’s really hard sometimes to see how one person living in Southern Illinois can hope to enact any sort of revolutionary change. But the truth is that I’m not alone, and that this deepening experience of human love is what life’s all about, regardless of how much pain it may sometimes bring me. It’s this love that makes life worth living, and this love that has the power to change the world. It’s the most precious thing I’ve ever experienced — and come what may, I am eternally grateful.
Next time, I’ll have some new and somewhat specific thoughts on how we can actually go about the whole task of revolution here in Southern Illinois and beyond. But in the meantime, I just wanted to set the details aside and express the experience, because these feelings of love and bonds of friendship are at the heart of the revolution I seek. If you do nothing else in this life, do everything in your power to deepen your experience of love and your bond of friendship with others. Do this, and your world will inevitably change for the better.