I went to my alma mater to see a friend play with his band. The band was great and it was fun being on campus, but the venue was at this place that is, I suppose, meant to be revolutionary and different. It was dirty and there was only one bathroom and people were allowed to write on the walls. There was a library in which people could take the books that they wanted without a charge or without even having to return them. The food was vegan and I had one of the worst donuts I have ever had in my life. The people who worked there were true to their countercultural ethos, with long hair, tattoos, some with missing teeth, and earlobes with giant holes or grossly misshapen. Most disturbing of all was the mouse feces on the books and the floor.
I have always had countercultural sensibilities. Perhaps it is an instinctive response to the excesses of capitalism. It’s why my musical tastes were always a bit different from many of my peers. It’s why I thought, as an 18-year-old, guys with long hair and mystical leanings were fascinating. It’s why homosexuals didn’t offend or shock me as they did many of my peers. It’s why talk of revolution and racism have always been fascinating. It’s why I don’t want to live in the suburbs. It’s why I want to live in a house on the beach.
But I also have limits.
Cleanliness, order, and structure are important. I think revolutionary ideas are fascinating and have their place…as a part of the whole, as a part of the tapestry of ideas. It’s okay to “fight the power,” to consider the ideals (if not the reality) of socialism, to “think outside the box” socially, personally, intellectually, and spiritually. But there are two inherent problems:
The first is that thought, any kind of thought, can lead to excess. How do dirty clothes, unisex bathrooms, animal feces, and intentionally self-disfigured people lead to any kind of viable or meaningful social change? How does the unchecked lust for money or possessions or land create a better world? How does excess in anything lead to anything but self-destruction or material for satire, misunderstandings, and divisions? People often go too far.
The second thought is that people often don’t go far enough. When we go through life with a very strong belief, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, or any other kind, and it becomes seriously challenged, as it almost always does, then we have three choices. We can defend and entrench ourselves further into our beliefs (which may or may not be a bad thing). We can dismiss these challenges as apostasy, Satan, short-sightedness, or evil (which is usually a bad thing). Or we can welcome the challenge as an avenue to correct or confirm our way of thinking (which is usually a good thing). Most people, including myself for many years, choose the second option.
Being challenged is uncomfortable and scary. It makes us angry. We see this anger often in political environments, but it’s not limited to that venue. It is said that we shouldn’t discuss religion or politics. The reason for this is they are deeply-held beliefs and we don’t want to even consider that part or all of them are wrong or misguided or just not appropriate at all times or in all situations. A friend recently told me, “Question everything you’ve ever believed.” Even that is scary and that is the journey I am on now. It’s scary and liberating. And it’s a journey that makes life worth living. It’s a journey that in which we can all Get Started and Keep Going.