PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
THE MOST RADICAL ACT: DO IT TODAY
OK, everyone. Time out. You’ve been reading commondreams.org, and everything else you can get your hands on, to keep up with all the latest terrible news. You want to know every detail about how George W. and all the other nefarious characters are screwing up our world. You are outraged every day, because you are paying attention.
Well, time out. I hereby give you permission – in fact I order you – to take off a few hours, or even the whole day if you can swing it. Go out and enjoy the glorious autumn before it disappears. Take a long, long walk to see the trees. If there aren’t any trees where you live, just enjoy the clouds floating across the autumn sky. I hope it is at least half as beautiful where you live as it is where I live. And I hope you can take your walk with a friend.
It’s the most radical thing you can do today. Taking a long walk on a beautiful autumn day reminds us why we do all this political work and make all these efforts for social change. It reminds us of what we are aiming for and working for, why we feel responsible for keeping well-informed about all the world’s ills.
We are utopians. We don’t necessarily think the world can be perfect. But we think it can be much, much better than it is now.
We believe that every person could (and should) be so well taken care of, so well supported, and so well respected that most of the time most everyone’s life could be positive and carefree. We could create a society where most of the moments of everyone’s life are filled with joy, not anxiety. The joyous carefree feeling we get walking through the autumn beauty would become the norm, not a rare relief from everyday woe and worry.
That’s why we take that walk: to experience now the kind of world we want to live in all the time, some day in the future. That’s what makes it a radical act.
If you can, let your walk take you through a busy place with lots of people. Look carefully at the faces. It is painful to see all the anxiety and depression and loneliness, knowing that so much of it is humanly created and could be humanly removed by a better society. But keep watching the faces until, by chance, you meet someone you know, or you see someone meet someone they know. Watch the light come on. Watch their face and their world be transformed, instantly, by the mere fact of human contact. That, too, is a reminder of the new kind of world we are trying to create.
A long time ago, when those of us who believe in a better world proudly bore the label RADICAL, we used to read authors who did more than tell us how badly our world is screwed up. They told us why. They gave us deep explanations, in dense abstruse theories. The most popular of these authors was a philosopher named Herbert Marcuse.
Marcuse said that the economic and political injustice of our world is only a symptom. The deeper underlying disease is repression. What makes us truly human – our ability to imagine, to feel beauty, to take pleasure, to love – is systematically repressed by the global capitalist system. The system keeps us pacified by feeding us digitized substitutes like TV sit-coms, web porn, and internet dating. The true revolution would be to throw off those substitutes and fill our lives with the real thing.
Marcuse’s theories were based on a simple radical truth, which we can re-discover on a long autumn walk. Imagination, beauty, sense pleasure, and love are all related to each other. Each one can trigger, enhance, and reinforce the others. In the world we radicals want to create, carefree joy would be the norm because life would be all about imagining, loving, feeling beauty, and taking pleasure. Every social institution would aim to promote and enhance those most basic human experiences.
Today that new world already exists. Occasionally, we are lucky enough to be somewhere that it is being put into practice. Mostly, though, it exists only in our imagination. That is why we must go out and see the beauty, take the pleasure, and do it (when we can) with someone we love: to feed our imagination, to bring our imaginings of a better society back into our homes, our offices, our factories, our schools, even our banks and shopping malls. Every improvement in the world began when someone first imagined it. As the French radicals of Marcuse’s day wrote on the walls and sidewalks: "All power to the imagination."
So time out. Take a long walk on a beautiful autumn day. It is more than just a brief vacation from the harsh reality of our world. If you understand the full meaning of what you are doing, it is the most radical act you can do today. It is an act of faith in a truly better, truly alive, truly human world. Every step you take is a step into that world, a step that turns imagination into reality. Every step reminds you that imagination can be the most real reality of all.
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