Is it possible to be radical without being crazy? You do have to wonder sometimes — and if you’re fair, I think you have to wonder that regardless of whether you’re contemplating radicals you disagree with or ones after your own heart.
My original plan for this entry was to just sort of review Jack Kerouac’s beat novel classic The Subterraneans, which I noted about a week and a half ago — and toward that end, I’ll say it’s great and that he may do stream of consciousness better than anyone else, capturing the way the mind slides from topic to topic not just in everyday thought but, since he’s depicting a frequently drunk or stoned artist amidst similar mid-century San Francisco artist folk, in thoughts addled by substances, artistic pretensions, and self-deceiving romantic and sexual impulses (very fitting reading for this Month of Sex). Good stuff, and probably an important model for much that came after it.
(Ironically, though, it may end up causing me to put items on my to-read list from still farther back in history, since the book makes me think that instead of reading Kerouac’s often-annoying literary descendants, I should read his antecedents in this stream of consciousness mode, including more Eliot and some Joyce. I was fanatical about doing all the reading in college — word for word, I swear — but I think there were three assigned books I skipped or severely skimmed and that they were — tellingly in retrospect — by Joyce, Proust, and Henry James, all of whom are brilliant but seem perfectly designed to make weary undergrads say “Enough already!” Me being driven farther back in time would be fitting, since my initial inspiration for reading a book by a beat author — a book which ex-mod Dawn Eden gave me after her recent birthday party, I should note — was hearing how important William S. Burroughs was to the CBGB’s scene, as shown in a documentary about Patti Smith. If I keep going backward this way I’ll be reading about ancient Dionysus festivals by 2010 or so.)
Kerouac’s descendants pop up in some odd places (though all the figures I’m about to name have numerous influences, of course):
•Two of my favorite comic book writers, Bryan Talbot and Grant Morrison, clearly owe some of their more stream-of-consciousness moments to the beats — and lest anyone think that’s a purely fluffy, juvenile example, I note that the new catalogue from radical publisher Disinformation Books features a plug for a book surveying today’s “most radical thinkers” and, yes, they include comic book writer Grant Morrison. (Try reading Superman Beyond in 3D and telling me the man thinks like the average joe.)
•My presidential candidate of choice, Republican-turned-Libertarian Bob Barr, apparently got his start as an antiwar Democrat in college in the late 60s, believe it or not, hanging out with the hippies who inherited the counterculture mantle from the beats. Better still, though I first knew of Barr during his religious-right phase in the 1990s, his initial induction into the right wing two decades earlier apparently occurred under the influence of his Ayn Rand-reading mother, not Jesus per se. So his whole antiwar Libertarian turn of the past several years begins to look like a return to his roots, really, which I find encouraging — it suggests sincerity. (But more on Barr — and his tragic spat with Ron Paul — in a moment.)
•I, Todd Seavey, have tended, at least up to the current strange juncture in history, to be a right-identifying libertarian, mainly for fiscal reasons. This did not prevent me going through a mild black-turtleneck-and-goatee phase in the mid-90s, though, and though I had never thought of it as all that fringey, I once found myself introduced to a friend’s girlfriend, only to have her say, realizing that she’d heard stories about me: “Oh! The right-wing beatnik!” I’m really not that hip, though, as you can probably tell. I knew enough to shave off the goatee before the 90s ended, though, realizing such facial hair might be looked back upon as vestiges of the 90s — in much the same way sideburns were seen in the 80s as laughable vestiges of the 70s, before going on to become vestiges of the 90s as well.
Lest I appear to be shirking my duties as a blogger, rest assured this is all leading up to stuff about the Federal Reserve.
Some people no doubt consider Bob Barr crazy and fringey — the sort of person only a comic-book-reading right-wing beatnik would support — but I have to say, he keeps seeming like a more and more reasonable choice to me as I see the other candidates in action — and, alas, I have to include the prior libertarian standard-bearer, Ron Paul, in that negative assessment. (And I should note that I’m not just pro-Barr because he’s the one presidential candidate to speak at one of our Debates at Lolita Bar — not so unlike the one we’re doing about sex this Sunday — nor because he’s the only current presidential candidate to pen a fundraising letter for my employers at the American Council on Science and Health [I say current presidential candidate, though he wrote it well before the campaign, because ’96/’00 candidate Steve Forbes also wrote one -- and I would probably start crying right now if I thought too much about how much better off we'd probably be in multiple ways if Forbes had been elected in one of those campaigns]. Far from me just wanting to reward Barr with my loyalty, Barr was drawn to the debate and to ACSH because the people there were already thinking along similar lines, at least in some ways.)
I must now condemn Ron Paul, dubbing him Mr. Fission (that is, a needlessly divisive figure) whereas I once called him Mr. Fusion, in the sense of being able to unite fiscal and social conservatives, along with hardcore libertarians and antiwar leftists (that was before I realized his staff had been a little more interested in reaching out to militias than to black people circa 1990 and before his poor showing in the first primary).
I call him divisive now because history handed him a rare opportunity to help libertarians make the biggest-ever splash in an election, simply by throwing his support to Barr (again, Barr is Libertarian and Paul is Republican) at precisely the time when Americans are looking at the whole two-party system — and the inept collusion of our political and financial establishments — with the greatest skepticism they’ve shown since the Great Depression or perhaps even the passionate battles over central banking that were the hottest issue in the States before the slavery question mushroomed (for years, I said it was strange to think of central banking having been a bigger issue then than the right-left divide is in our own day, but after the past couple weeks, that doesn’t seem so strange anymore).
Instead of endorsing Barr, Paul merely endorsed the idea of voting for a minor party — whether Libertarian (Barr), Green (Cynthia McKinney!), independent (Nader?), or Constitution Party (Chuck Baldwin…). That was bad enough, as if he were seeking to scatter the potentially-unified libertarian vote haphazardly — but since his fans could largely be trusted to figure out on their own that Barr was the most libertarian candidate, I wasn’t too troubled by it.
Then, this week, at exactly the time he might have exited on a high — and relevant — note by saying “See, I warned you about the Fed — now go vote for Barr,” he instead endorsed the (misleadingly-named and hyper-religious) Constitution Party’s Baldwin, a Christian conspiracy theorist. I know at least one Paulite who’s still keeping the faith and is OK with the Baldwin pick, but since Paul has shown a fondness for other black-helicopters-theory political figures before this, as well as 9/11-Truther types — and since in a veiled way Paul seemed to say that Barr’s angry reaction to not getting his endorsement contributed to Paul endorsing Baldwin — we are left, I think, with only two possibilities: Paul is either (a) insane or (b) so petty as to put the avenging of personal slights above his much-vaunted crusade for liberty. Maybe a little of both.
So here we are, about a month and a half before a general election, with perhaps the most prominent libertarian in the country endorsing a man who wants to become president in order to combat the New World Order and homosexual conspiracies, with Congress contemplating socializing Wall Street (and one of my most popular libertarian-blogger acquaintances, Megan McArdle, arguing in her perhaps overly confident and quantificational way that it’s either accept the bailout or see our standard of living decline almost overnight by about a third), and, to top it all off, the conservative New York Sun going out of business this coming Monday with one last bar gathering (that’ll be two nights in a row for me, given Sunday’s Debate at Lolita Bar).
If it all leads to the complete triumph of the left, will I at least be able to console myself with the thought that the world may become less religious and thus less superstitious? Probably not, argues my friend Mollie Ziegler Hemingway (libertarian, religious) in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, in which she recounts stats suggesting that as people drift away from mainstream religion, they usually just adopt other, sometimes even weirder superstitions (the article was pointed out to me by history professor Christine Caldwell Ames, whose impending book on the Inquisition will be one of my December Book Selections). Bill Maher, star of the upcoming anti-religion movie Religulous, Hemingway notes, does not believe in vaccines, aspirin, or the germ theory of disease.
I think I will console myself this weekend by writing a long-overdue letter to my grandmother (vibrant in New Hampshire, despite having been born in 1914, along with World War I and the Panama Canal, at a time when McCain’s beautiful mom, Roberta McCain, was only two — that guy’s surrounded by fabulous babes, isn’t he? And his mom had a twin sister named Rowena to boot). Grandma was in her mid-forties by the time Kerouac’s Subterraneans came out, and, given all of his references to sex, she may well have thought the world was already becoming so bawdy that the culture was on a downhill slide (in 1958). Of course, it was, but not so much because of the bawdiness — there’s always been bawdiness in different forms (as some centuries-old drinking songs show with shocking clarity, despite the fact that we may have compartmentalized the bawdiness more effectively back then). We were headed for trouble more because we’d embarked on the road toward the mixed economy, an unstable and dangerous mix.
And since the capitalists and politicians are now holding hands so tightly, I will once more contend that I’m not breaking my self-imposed right-left ceasefire. Our problems are now too big for us to remain distracted by that petty squabble — and the currently proposed solutions too ideologically-muddled to label easily. As I alluded to in a prior entry, perhaps too abstractly, we may need to rediscover the daring necessary to think outside the current system. That avoidance of path-dependent, incremental thinking may require a new combination of practicality and crazy radicalism, like many of the best things humanity has accomplished. More along these lines in the months ahead…