"By pursuing his own interest [every individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good." ~ Adam Smith
Cheerful Firebrand: New Job Title
Exclusive to STR STR is home to a pretty rich and diverse range of characters. I read the bios at the end of essays with as much interest as the essays themselves. People living their lives as large and expansive as they can, coping with inner doubts, the loneliness of wayward individualism, emotional disconnections, social constraints, government restraints, and the dozens of daily compulsions that masquerade as necessities, pretty much describes us all. But what are we at that moment? How do we define ourselves? Ah, to live a simpler life, on the shore of some backwoods lake, like Thoreau, beneath a grove of shade trees. Henry, you had it so good. You were a cheerful naturalist, a stoic populist, a genial iconoclast, never quite defining yourself, leaving that for others. When I begin to doubt myself'four or five times a day--I wonder what the heck I'm supposed to be or do. How do I define myself? Good-natured vagabond? Misguided mystic? Supercilious lout? Halfhearted modernist? I've been an award-winning artist in LA, but winning artistic awards, like winning gilded trophies for high school sports, hardly defines a person, even if we make scads of money in our career (I didn't), the apparent, singular, definition of success in America. We who oppose the true louts of society'the self-interested or special interested "public servants" who fashion state policy, must be able to define ourselves outside our bills-paying job. I wonder how Thoreau described himself to others, strangers who wandered down to Walden Pond? Cheerful anarchist? Poetic iconoclast? Domesticated individualist? Self-appointed inspector of snowstorms (his description) and sunset's First Responder? Hardly mattered how Thoreau described himself then, or how we describe ourselves now, in unwieldy words. What we call ourselves matters less than what we are. Any of the above job titles fits perfectly for anyone aligned with the causes of mankind and opposed to the excesses, dictates and devious cruelties of the corpo-state. Watching hurricane Rita trudge ashore this week, I felt far more kinship with those few aging hippies--Cheerful Curmudgeons--who resolutely refused to leave Galveston than those two million Texans who obediently abandoned their homes at the insistence of clueless state officials and frantic TV talking heads. Stuck on the freeways of Houston, these trusting citizens looked lost and forlorn, overheated and running out of gas, unlike the scraggly individualists who refused to go. Scraggly riff-raff, people at home must have thought, upon seeing the stubborn locals who refused to go'or potential looters. The TV talking heads shook their hairstyles in disbelief. Remember when Americans were considered to be Rugged Individualists if they stubbornly stood their ground? Social misfits now, or riff-raff, or maybe even potential "terrorists." Refuse to be classified! Or welcome the worst, most worrisome classification. Call me a terrorist, flake or loser. By modern American standards, I am. But call me a Mischievous Loser if you do--or a Loser Of Unlimited Talent (LOUT), and please capitalize the job title. I'm not rugged, and not an individualist. But I don't want to be stuck on any freeway, going with the flow if the flow feels wrong. Thank God many folks just turned around (and many more would have liked to, if they could have) and went back home. Be of good cheer, Jesus advised his dozen followers. Be a Cheerful Goer-Against-The Flow. Be a Happy Firebrand. Who wouldn't want to be Misguided Genius, like Galileo, or a Misunderstood Mystic, like Jesus, if only we could perform miracles and walk on water but could forego the crucifixion or the interrogation by the Inquisition? Unfortunately, to be anything truly good, truly worthwhile, we have to fill ALL the job requirements'as Jesus, Galileo and Thoreau did--while stoically accepting the dirty work and the consequences. We're the First Responders to an empire in flux, strengthening itself, flexing its muscle. We're the First Line of Dissenters, yet the conditions of dissent haven't changes that much in any age. We're the Cheerful Cassandras and the Genial Galahads; our job is to become good-natured, impassioned fools. Only the wisest of any age, in retrospect, were once the fools at the moment they lived. Be a Wise Fool.