Emma Goldman is commonly misquoted as having said this wonderful line. According to the Anarchy Review she never said anything of the sort, but she did come close by expressing that ultimately preaching to the cause soon becomes a drag, and that a movement devoid of liberty, dance, expression, and celebration is nothing worth fighting for.
I can’t agree with anyone more wholeheartedly than Ms. Goldman. And yet, in giving this some serious thought I have to examine myself, and inspect my lazy mind’s desire to point fingers, spout platitudes, generalities, and essentially make everyone else the cause of my problems. With a mind like this, how in the world will I ever amount to anything more than a capitalist pig?
Human nature, it seems to those who acknowledge the existence of human nature and consider it a substantial influence within any given society, seems to be a natural advocate against clear thinking, right action, and liberty. That’s a mouth full isn’t it? Well think it through, as I am currently attempting to do, come with me for a minute.
My hopes and dreams and desires would have me free, working hard on meaningful causes, doing good work, and working for change in the world. I would use all of my skill set, music, art, writing, communication, and organization to bring a better life to everyone (or, anyone who was interested.) I have a lion’s heart, and my appetite for political, social, intellectual, and spiritual things is insatiable.. I make little time for the mundane, quickly shuffle off all hassles, and oppression, strive to keep my mind free of worry, fear, doubt, and the neurotic types of self reflection which can so easily occupy the human mind completely, thus removing all capacity to actually be effective.
What she actually said:
At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha, a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.
I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business. I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from convention and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to became [sic] a nun and that the movement whould not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things… Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world … prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.
I do this by treating the symptoms of my mental shortcomings. this means that I “trust my heart” or use my emotions as the guide to my self-repair. While there’s nothing more tedious that an emotional pulse taker (am I ok? am I ok now? ok, now am I ok? oh my god I’m not ok!) in order to be present, and honest with myself regular, and orderly periods of reflection and meditation are essential.
For example, it’s easy for me to go off on a spending spree. I have, more than once, felt myself a little down in the dumps. Without serious reflection I begin to snack a lot, or drink more coffee than is healthy. Quickly I become irritable, and simply can’t work. Then I realize that I haven’t attended to my shopping, and instead of calming myself, or investigating what I’m actually thinking, feeling, or doing, I am magically transported to some electronics, art supply, or hardware store where I’m grabbing at things which seem affordable, and are valid parts of potential projects. Perhaps this begins with buying milk, or fruit. Perhaps it is practical at first. Perhaps… But it always seems to end with me broke, considerably more irritable, and feeling pretty bad about myself for putting all my hopes onto objects.
What’s really the problem here? Am I an idiot? Am I a lazy, selfish fool? (Do you see? That’s the self abuse as a means of placation in action baby) Am I a victim of the human condition? No. None of these things are true. I have treated the symptoms of my condition, and not paused for a moment to consider the actual cause. But what’s the actual cause? (And who are you to be telling me anything about what to do after all that shameless behavior you just copped to?)
There are many rules of thumb, handy guides, and helpful tips on how to live a more practical life. It’s been said often that it is far easier for a creative mind to tighten up than it is for an unreasonably uptight mind to loosen up, but that’s usually been said by people with extremely uptight minds, and so I’m sure it’s not true. We are all at a relative disadvantage in my opinion, and our nature has a way of overcompensating for itself, which may be a potential cure for our cause, but in the end seems to do little more than produce the same effect (in force, or in reverse, it almost doesn’t matter.)
Guides like Time management for Anarchists are amusing and fun. but if you’re anything like me, either your mind has wandered off and you are again thinking negatively before you’re half way through the article (Oh God! Not this article?) or you are in the other room by the time the flash movie is done playing. Perhaps worst of all are the many books bought in hopes of taking the time to undertake the self-improvement suggested, only to grow bored and set the book on the shelf where it serves as a beacon of shame until you put it out of sight somewhere. Last of the great efforts are the ones begun, and then abandoned. woe is the flabby mind of the ordinary human being.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you can relate to what I’m talking about then you are in excellent company. I’ve found some degree of effective growth has come from serious reflection and meditation. Yes, I meditate in the morning and in the evening and throughout the day I am willing (at least) to reflect in any moment and strive to accept myself as I am, in a moment, while I am being that way. So rather than “improve” myself, which suggests that I am bad or somehow imperfect or less than other people, I practically seek to accept myself. Now I’m no buddhist, I don’t believe for a moment that the injustice of the world is something to lay down and accept like a tank crushing my torso, I believe in proactive, and assertive revolt. I want the world to break free of oppression, domination, and self destructive forces, popular as they are.
Now that’s all well and good, and awesome, and neat-o and everything, but doesn’t this begin with me? As soon as I say that my brain screams “Oh Noooo! Dude!” Not because it’s unthinkable that I might have to change, of course I have to change, but because nearly 100% of the people I have considered my comrades throughout my development and experience as a man in the world have, at one time or another said something like “You know…” and sadly it always starts off with a long, breathy, and quite whiney you know… “I can’t really do anything about that right now…” Here you can see the brain of the speaker searching their resources to recall the encouragement of their therapists, and remember the exact words she told them to say “I need to work on me first.” Well, the work we do on ourselves is never done. Thus, the comrade has departed from the cause, and it’s over. Nothing I have ever been able to do or say, or which has been said to me, or done to me, has re ignited the flames of movement. These are the last words, parting comments, the end.
And so what of dance, liberty, relaxation, celebration? If the work we must do on ourselves never ends, and preaching to choir is not an effective means of maintaining one’s self discipline, and shopping sprees only seem to serve as self-destruction, then isn’t opting out and stopping for a non-fat, decaf mochachino the only logical conclusion?
I say that if your cause is so oppressive that you have no room to dance, then you may want to pack up your ballet slippers and head west. I’ll be at ocean beach on warm evenings in time for sunset, I’ll be at the cafe table, writing, smoking, laughing and talking with friends, I’ll be walking down the street with a song cluttering my head, and hanging out in the park feeling the sun on my face. West is where it’s at. Sure, sure… but what of my cognitive distortions? And what about yours?
Let’s talk about them, shall we? Let’s admit them first, and then watch for them with love, like beauty or distant balloons in the cloudless sky. Let’s live effective lives of joy and leave the quiet desperation to the capitalist dogs, shall we?