Response to Marshall Berman

Response to Marshall Berman

I love Marshall Berman’s notion of jaytalking. It reminds me of Ms. Frizzle, in the Magic School Bus series, telling her kids, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.” It’s exactly the opposite of the push in today’s culture, to “get it right, pour on the homework, choose your career carefully, don’t rock the boat.” The idea of jaytalking also reminds me of a wonderful notion that was put forth many years ago—only partly as a joke— by the science fiction writer Robert Anton Wilson. Wilson and several friends started the Erisian Movement, named after the Goddess of Chaos, Eris or Discordia. Eris was the goddess who threw out the golden apple that started the Trojan War. In writing about the idea of Eris, Wilson noted that people in our culture tend to split the world into order versus disorder, but in fact, if you understand creativity there are always at least four possibilities, not two: creative order, destructive order, creative disorder, destructive disorder. By emphasizing the creative instead of emphasizing order it is possible to help bring about a culture that understands that creative disorder is often necessary for art, culture and life. The obsession with order at the expense of creativity has created a situation in politics, in our schools, in the workplace, and everywhere else, where people are afraid to honor the juices that ferment in creative chaos, to take chances themselves or to let their kids get messy.

Berman mentions the debt all radicals have to Marx and Freud. Marx in particular gave many of us a framework for our ideas—an order that was at times creative and at times destructive. But given the flaws of our present society and the lack of a critical culture, it seems fitting to mention that both Marx and Freud understood that nothing is as it seems. The seemingly free individual in our market culture is in no way as free as he or she thinks—every so-called free idea is tinged by one’s history, class, race, gender, family history, unconscious drives, and so forth. It’s hard to conceive of a critical culture without some method of imparting the knowledge to future generations that there are always veils to pull aside, and hidden understandings that are not apparent at first glance.

Early in 1999, I spent quite a bit of time with Y2K organizers in Boulder, Colorado. Many of them were grassroots activists who had spent many years doing tenant organizing or health care work. As I listened to these people, I remembered how many years I spent yearning secretly for some kind of apocalyptic moment: If only the revolution would come, then I would know what to do with my life, and my decisions would be as clear and pure as fire, not the messy day-to-day reality I was actually encountering during the late sixties and early seventies.

As I watched these Y2K organizers using this moment in time to create community meetings and neighborhood associations; as I watched them make v...

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