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 Truth To Power: George Carlin’s Gift To Apocalypse

ArtBy Carolyn Baker

This morning as I began gathering Truth To Power's Daily News Stories, I opened Energy Bulletin's site and found a stunning article by Kathy McMahon "26 Things You Can Do Right Now To Manage Your Anxiety." Although she doesn't directly talk about humor, numbers 20 and 21 in the article which refer to protecting one's mental health and cultivating healthy pleasures certainly include it.

References on the internet to George Carlin since his death earlier this week are ubiquitous. All the photos and video clips have taken me back to the early seventies when I first discovered him as "the hippie-dippie mailman with your hippie-dippie mail--Man." More recently he gave us priceless routines such as "The American Dream" and "7 Words You Can't Say On Television". Like all skillful court jesters, George made us take a second look at the insanity of our world and our government, put it in perspective, and see it for what it is-unequivocally absurd. Of course, that does not erase the lethality and horror of it, but it offers another way of looking at and living with it. Humor has always empowered the victims of oppression, even as they know that it cannot make it go away. Not a few holocaust concentration camp inmates were able to maintain some sense of humor, however faint, amid the horrors of their daily lives. Sanity and human dignity are always augmented when brutalized people are able to laugh at their torturers.

It is impossible to listen to Carlin routines without sensing the rage behind the humor. ...

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In fact, humor and anger are inextricably connected, and in some situations, the only means of expressing anger is through humor. One may not be able to obliterate one's oppressor, but one can laugh at him, find him absurd or stupid and thereby exonerate one's resistance to political and cultural tyranny. Moreover, in many instances, the comedian, more than the writer, activist, or visual artist, is able to facilitate cultural awakening through incisive humor.

Over the course of three decades, George placed American capitalist, consumeristic, imperialist culture under the microscope of humor and dismembered its façade. We thought we had it bad during those years, but little did we know what the twenty-first century would bring us. Or maybe we did-maybe somewhere inside of us we knew what the culture wouldn't let us know: that voracious consumption, endless warmongering, and American entitlement would only consign us to the fate of all the empires that existed before ours. Maybe George knew that better than we did. As with so many funny men and women, maybe his heart was breaking, and maybe it could no longer endure. I'm only speculating here; I'm neither a psychic nor a medical intuitive.

What I do know is that while apocalypse will not allow us to laugh our way through it, we need all the humor we can get and create as we navigate the increasingly daunting days ahead. I now live in the Northeastern U.S. as opposed to the Southwest where I spent the last decade. I'm well aware that a lot of people are going to die here this winter because they will not be able to afford home heating or electricity. As I said, I'm not psychic, nor does one need to be. It only takes two or three brain cells to rub together to make sense of the brutal and very "cold", if you will, reality of Northeastern winters without heat. There's nothing inherently funny about that at all, but George with his anger/humor would have probably created an entire stand up routine around it had he remained with us.

So an Associated Press story from June 22 asks "Is Everything Spinning Out Of Control?" with a sub headline: the can-do, bootstrap approach embedded in the American psyche is under assault. I for one am thrilled to see such an AP story disseminated far and wide. This obsessive, myopic, control-freak culture is reeling, and American individualism is out of steam. That lets me know that collapse is more underway than I had even imagined and that the first steps of transformation of human consciousness have begun-even if I don't live to see it-even if it doesn't come to fruition for centuries.

Readers of Truth To Power aren't surprised because they've been paying attention for a long time or they wouldn't be reading this website. Most of you already know that it's going to get much worse, and that in the not too distant future, many of these blindsided kings and queens of denial will be wistfully longing for the good ole' days of June, 2008. But that doesn't mean the rest of us won't be hurting too. It just means that we'll know why and how it all got to be so terribly ugly.

As I've said so many times before, if we don't balance our logistical preparation with emotional fortification, it won't sustain us for long. Our psychological well being must include humor, even in the darkest days of the end of the world as we have known it. We may not be able to just click on You Tube whenever we want and let George put us in stitches. There may be no internet or nothing to power our computers with. Even if he were here, he might be inaccessible.

So we all have to become our own "Georges" and open the channels of our individual irreverent and iconoclastic humor and let it pour forth. In her book Dancing In The Streets, Barbara Ehrenreich explains how empire has robbed us of our collective joy and how we can begin to reclaim it: "People who are working for change need to think about how to make their events draw on the solidarity and creativity of lots of people together. That's been happening ... but it's something we need to address. Bringing art and culture into politics is a way to express what we are seeking, what our vision of the world is."

Ultimately, one of the gifts of collapse will be the demise of empire's barriers to fun, joy, play, comedy, art, dance, music, and unimaginable human creativity. But in order to navigate collapse and hasten the dissolution of those barriers, we must keep George's outrageous humor alive within ourselves and our communities. As he said, the only way you can believe the American Dream is to be asleep. George knew, as we must, that laughing at the emperor's absence of clothes will indeed help keep us awake.


Carolyn Baker, Ph.D. is author of a forthcoming book, COMING OUT FROM CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALISM: Affirming Life, Love and The Sacred. Her recent book, U.S. HISTORY UNCENSORED: What Your High School Textbook Didn't Tell You, is available at her website: http://www.carolynbaker.net
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[25 June 2008]

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