The Question...ID: 549
posted: 01 Apr 2002
updated: 02 Apr 2002
I must admit that I was greatly disappointed with Beyond Civilization. Perhaps I am still too entrenched in the philosophies of the Takers, but I was hoping for something more tangible, a path to follow in my life. Writing this now, I feel like a whining child asking a parent how to get himself out of sticky situation but I feel that I must put it down anyhow. You speak of tribes as if they are a dime a dozen, people just waiting around on street corners to abandon the only thing that they know to follow in this endeavor. I am sure that you speak to many people on this subject and you realize that the reason they have come to feel lost in society is because they are disconnected from those who might understand them. Of all the people that I know (some who are the most intelligent and caring individuals that I have ever met), not one is willing to sacrifice the advantages that our culture has to offer for a heightened sense of personal fulfillment. Most believe that they can find everything they need within our culture, and I am not sure that they are wrong. I do not have a tribe, Mr. Quinn, and I would go so far as to guess that most other people do not. It is frustrating for me to read your work and then apply it to my life. I am $20,000 dollars in debt to the federal government (the cost of improving myself through a college education), I work waiting tables while I try (unsuccessfully) to publish my short stories, and I save up money to travel to places around the world where (somewhere in my heart of hearts) I hope to find some kind of real freedom. You have a wife that seems to share your ideals and (I assume) a group of friends and followers, you have had a successful job in publishing, and you are currently a successful writer. Surely you see that your plan is more easily applied to yourself than to those like me. There are no circuses in town for me to join (nor would I want to become a part of them) and I do not wish to live a homeless lifestyle if I cannot help it.
I'm not sure why you mention the circus and homelessness as if they were the two alternatives offered in Beyond Civilization. Rennie and I were not homeless when we ran the East Mountain News. The members of the Neo-Futurist theater company aren't homeless. Ben and Jerry weren't homeless when they opened their ice-cream shop. Rennie and I didn't "have a tribe" before we started the East Mountain News. The members of the Neo-Futurist theater company didn't "have a tribe" before they started their theater company. And Ben and Jerry didn't "have a tribe" until they opened their ice-cream shop. The fact that you don't have a tribe doesn't mean that it's impossible for you to have one.
I've found that people are quite remarkably comfortable with impossible solutions (involving, for example, evolution to a "higher" state), perhaps because there's nothing they can do to make them come about (so they involve no effort). They're also very comfortable with gestures that are largely symbolic (like recycling and celebrating Earth Day). And they're comfortable with the notion that somebody else is going to make everything better. What they're not comfortable with (surprise, surprise!) are solutions that involve personal initiative and imagination.
The alternatives explored in Beyond Civilization are really for people who absolutely can't stand the idea of spending their lives as wage slaves dragging stones to some corporate pyramid. I'm afraid it's true that most people are content with lifelong wage slavery, so long as they have a lifetime supply of drugs to deaden the pain--drugs in the form of television, booze, Valium, cocaine, and Prozak. I wasn't writing Beyond Civilization for people who "believe that they can find everything they need within our culture" but for people who already know that they can't find everything they need within our culture. Diet books aren't written for people who are satisfied with their weight, and Beyond Civilization wasn't written for people who are satisfied with their life in this culture.
I'm afraid a lot of readers were disappointed with Beyond Civilization. Like Jack and Jill in the fable I told in that book, they were hoping I could find a way of translating them off the sinking ship directly ashore, without their having to get wet. I don't know any way to do that. All I know is a way that worked for humans for millions of years (and still works as well as it ever did).
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