Are We Having Fun Yet? America in the Age of Paradox
Throughout the fast-driving, cocaine-laced, profit-driven 1980s, Bill Griffith's comic-strip character Zippy the Pinhead kept asking us, "Are we having fun yet?" Here we are, in the middle month of the middle year of the 1990s, and his question seems more poignant than ever. Are we? "That Zippy is a little devil," remarks Spalding Gray, one of the fun-loving folks we sought to answer the question. "As soon as you have the concept of 'fun,' well, you're not having fun. Zippy is an anti-guru. He's waiting for someone to punch him in the head and say, 'Hey, you just wrecked it.' " We spoke to 16 people with intriguing perspectives to help us take the pulse of America at this moment, when history appears to be building toward some kind of crescendo. Not surprisingly, the Oklahoma bombing was on many of their minds, if not hearts. Two of our panelists (interestingly, the two who have run for political office in California), Gore Vidal and Jerry Brown, both used the term "fascism" to describe the encroaching order. Others still, such as etiquette expert Quentin Crisp and political consultant Mary Matalin, say we are more free than we have ever been, and we ought to stop whining. Technology, obviously, played a role in the thoughts shared by our panelists, as did consumerism, which is running as rampant as ever, as folks gobble up more and more of the earth's resources in pursuit of "fun" -- but seem to be having less of it. Television took a major hit as a leading source of un-fun. Columnist Joyce Maynard notes that her home has been having lots more fun since she persuaded her kids to trade their cable TV for a puppy. Hip eroticist Susie Bright, cyber-Deadhead John Perry Barlow, ageless Yippie Paul Krassner, and eco-sensualist Terry Tempest Williams each used the word "paradox" to describe our collective zeitgeist. "This is the age of paradox," said Barlow, "the age of confusion." He concludes that if you're a control freak, the kind of person who needs all the hatches battened down, these are very tough times. But if you're the sort of warped personality, like many of our panelists, who balances compassion with a penchant for finding perverse pleasure in watching the ironies stream by, then this is, indeed, a time to be having fun. How ironic. How, ahem, paradoxical. Guess it goes with the times. -- Al Giordano JOHN PERRY BARLOW has one of the best jobs in the world: writing lyrics for the Grateful Dead, a band that puts out an album every five years or so. The author of Deadhead classics like "I Need a Miracle," "Hell in a Bucket," "Victim or the Crime," and "Mexicali Blues" is also a major player among civil libertarians in cyberspace. Barlow co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It seems like people are in a kind of grim condition. A lot of people are apprehensive and fearful. If you pin them down, they seem to hallucinate about danger. They are in the grip of television. When I talk to people who don't watch TV, they are not in the same condition. Those who turn it off are having a good time. There is a nameless dread finding new manifestations. The dread name of the week: kiddie porn, hackers, terrorists, child abductors. Today's dread-of-the-week is militiamen. Paranoia is a life form. It's self-propagating. There's this huge ecosystem of paranoid enhancement in the media. You've got a special paranoia incubator in every living room in America. TV makes its living by selling your attention to someone else. The best way to get your attention is to scare the shit out of you. That, or give you a hard-on. It's an addiction. It's hypnotic. It's one of these stuck loops. The more frightened you are, the more inclined you are to stay home. If you're home, what are you going to do but watch TV and become more frightened? We're becoming a nation of agoraphobiacs. I really think this is a serious problem. We have turned our nameless dread into public policy, responding to crises that don't exist: crime, drugs, terrorism. We're in a period of absurdly accelerated change. This is a society in which technology is about to drive us over the cliff. There are a number of technological curves we're riding at the moment. The Internet is doubling every nine months. The speed of information is doubling every so often. The number of computers is growing exponentially. If you distrust that whole technology, if it makes you feel inadequate and stupid, all of that is gonna make you paranoid. Then why am I having fun? I like change. I like being confused. I like irony. I like paradox. I don't know why. I just do. The good thing about liking being confused is that you don't have to know why you like it. This is the golden age of paradox and confusion. I view confusion as an opportunity. I don't try to control things. I try to dance with it. If you're trying to be in control these days, when everything is becoming so rapid-moving and unpredictable, you've got yourself a hell of a problem. We are right at the onset of the greatest technological event since the capture of fire: the virtualization of everything. The digitization of knowledge. The connection of every synapse in this planet to every other synapse. The hard-wiring of the global organism. The creation of a giant mind. This is a big deal, make no mistake. If you are blindly faithful by nature, it's a great time to be alive. But if you are cautious and control-oriented, or if you fear ambiguity, it's just going to be a nightmare. SUSIE BRIGHT is America's leading X-rated intellectual. The author of Susie Sexpert's Guide to Lesbian Sex and Susie Bright's Sexual Reality, Bright has just published Sexwise (Cleis Press), in which she does Dan Quayle's dick, Camille Paglia, Madonna, the Black Panthers, and the GOP. She lives in San Francisco with her five-year-old daughter, Aretha. Fun can mean a few different things. Sometimes it sounds like such a childish word. You put those things away when you're a certain age, and now grown-ups don't have any fun anymore. Part of it is about laughter. My sense of humor is very dark. I'm laughing as I wipe away the tears and the bomb debris. I'm usually laughing about the things that I feel distrust about. It's a miracle that people share a laugh or an orgasm or a tune together. We've now got the Ebola virus, racism in our neighborhoods. We all would have killed ourselves years ago if we didn't have this playful, countercultural unconscious that insists on pushing our joy button whether we like it or not. I think the work ethic is anti-pleasure. I think capitalism turns pleasure into a commodity -- if you have enough money, you can buy a few moments of it. Then you have all these ideologies, religious and political, that make a church out of renouncing pleasure. A dull, lifeless population is much more malleable than one that is excited and thrilled. A lot of people think that by denying pleasure you get to go to heaven. You get a coupon from God because you didn't have sex or listen to rock 'n' roll! If someone picks up Sexwise and reads a chapter and says, "Who the hell is she to be having a laugh at Dan Quayle's expense? What nerve, having a chapter about how to pick up girls!" They don't understand the campiness. How to pick up girls is really about how you connect to another human being. Speculating on Dan Quayle in bed is laughing at a sacred cow. Some people out there think I'm so busy jilling off that I can't be bothered to see that someone is dying next to me. Every time I turn on my vibrator, somebody's shivering out there. I always rejected the idea that sexuality was not a revolutionary activity. Sexual liberation is the cornerstone of a new order of gender and sexual equality. If we esteemed sexual connection and intimacy the way we esteem money, it would be another world. The Oklahoma bombing made me think a lot about men. I don't even need to hear Timothy McVeigh's background. The story's the same all around: his wife left him. His teenage kids are rude to him. He can't get laid. Women have a very different reaction. They think, "Hey, I'm not getting laid. I have big financial problems. My husband left me. I have children to feed. But you don't see me buying big packages of fertilizer!" SPALDING GRAY, master of modern-day American monologue, has packed theaters with productions like Swimming to Cambodia (made into a film by Jonathan Demme) and Gray's Anatomy. Three years ago, at the age of 51, Gray discovered downhill skiing, which he approaches with his trademark combination of New Age spirituality and well-humored neurosis. Gray, who lives in Manhattan, turns 54 this week. If anyone's having fun now, it's desperate fun. They think, "How much longer can we afford the new rollerblades?" The fun factor has been reduced to almost a sublimation because so little of it is permitted. Out of the '60s came this enormous market for fun. Black sneakers were all we knew, the only sneakers available. All of a sudden, the marketing thing happened, the planned obsolescence, the Nikes. Within this comes this huge backlash: loss of the Vietnam War, the assassinations, the embargo, and now AIDS and all these cutbacks. So it's a squeezing feeling I have. I'm paying attention for the first time in my life to the outside world. This thing that happened in Oklahoma caused people to do a wonderful big thing: that is, to go outside of themselves and shoot all the signals in the direction of the Fertile Crescent terrorists. But the signal came back and we're seeing ourselves in the mirror. It was a horrible thing that happened, but this is an important time. The bombing opened up the guts of America. The building is literally the intestines and they blew them out. All of a sudden, we're starting to see the federal government versus the individual, all this stuff that's now flooding the talk shows. The bombing polarized people, but it's making them reflective, coming at this time of cutbacks. It's generating a lot of thought and feeling in a way that is ultimately isolationist but makes for dialectics. Isolationism has required an outside force to engage the dialectic. But now, the dialectic is within us, we can't remove ourselves from ourselves anymore. I'll be 54 this week. I discovered downhill skiing at 51. I threw my back out crashing into a glacier in a snowstorm. I've finally found a sport or activity that is not competitive. It's empty-headed. It's the fear factor. This has been fun for me. There's been laughter involved, and also pain. It took me that long, being a New Englander. But where do I go? I don't enjoy skiing in Vermont. It's Utah! Who could tell it would be Utah? Americans will never be a fun-loving people. Essentially, they're puritanical. The fun-loving people who come to America are boat people; they're Cubans, Latin Americans. It is a cliche, a racist cliche, to say that I notice huge big jolly black women in Manhattan laughing as they come out of work at the telephone company. I get, like H.L. Mencken, the sneaking suspicion that someone else is having fun. There's no more fun in fucking. Think of that one. No one could fuck for fun. They could say they do, but underlying that now is death. Being out of control, that falls into it too. Skiing is literally falling down the mountain. You're doing the opposite of what you would do to resist the fall. It's losing control in a way that I used to associate with sexuality. The mountain is a great white breast. It's very much about being out of control and falling into the West - into the light. TERRY TEMPEST WILLIAMS, a liberal Mormon from Utah (she's a distant cousin of Massachusetts politician Mitt Romney), is the author of Refuge (Vintage, 1991) and An Unspoken Hunger (Pantheon, 1994). Her next book, Desert Quartet, will be published by Pantheon this autumn, and returns to her regular theme of the erotic nature of planet Earth. I'm having a great time, but it's not without its struggle. Maybe we could call it "deep fun." Maybe we could call it passion. Are we engaged in the passion of life? I feel deeply engaged in the issues that stir my soul, such as wilderness preservation. Part of the fun of preserving the wilderness is you have to spend time in it. To me there is nothing more wonderful than literally being free in a wild place, and remembering that the source of our power lies, quite simply, in the land. If we lose our sense of play, then we sink into this cultural malaise or cultural depression I see around us, which translates into a sense of powerlessness, which finds its form in anger. It's a hunger that cannot be quelled, because we have forgotten our sources of renewal. We try to mask the depression with consumerism, when in fact it only makes our isolation deeper. We've become a culture of voyeurs, spectators, watching the screen of television, of our computers, cutting off our connections to one another, to where we live, our connection to our wild heart, rooted in the natural world. Here is an interesting juxtaposition. I was listening to the radio and heard that the death toll in Oklahoma was 168. As I was hearing the death toll in Oklahoma, I was reading an essay on the animal toll from the Exxon Valdez -- 580,000 seabirds, 300,000 of them murres; 5000 otters -- and to me there was no difference. It sounds like a sacrilege to compare animals to human beings, but in my life there is no difference. It's the war we are waging on life around us because of our lack of compassion. It's ironic that in this discussion, we end up talking about the death all around us. But I think it goes back to the dance. If we can dance between the paradoxes, which have always existed, then I believe we can step forward with a compassionate intelligence that will bring us together as a people more than it will tear us apart. All of us are saying, "What has happened to the pace of our lives?" We no longer allow ourselves to be patient. It has to be faxed immediately. It's like the ante has been raised. Everyone tells us it's to save time, when in fact it robs us of time. As an environmentalist, I am aware of what we are losing at much more accelerated rates. Our definition of the erotic has been associated with the pornographic. In my mind, it is about play -- passionate play -- not with human beings, but with the Colorado Plateau in Utah. It's a very sensual landscape. I think the erotic has to do with the deep connections we hold in our body in relationship to the land. Our challenge now is how do we learn to live and love with a broken heart? In those moments of play, of deep fun, we can embrace each other and know that we're not alone. PAUL KRASSNER, social humorist, editor of the Realist, co-founder of the Yippies, author of Ravings of an Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture (Simon & Schuster, 1994) is as crazy as he ever was, but notices that he has company lately from the strangest quarters. Krassner, who once pursued left-wing conspiracy theories with a passion, says it's the right-wingers these days who are chasing conspiracy theories of their own. He reaches out to them: "I feel your paranoia." I remember Lionel Barrymore saying that happiness is not a station you arrive at, it's a train you're traveling on. I heard that on the radio when I was a kid. It crystallized the way I was learning to live the game of life, in the sense that I've always known there was suffering going on at every moment. Sometimes it's far away, like in Japan, and sometimes it's closer, like in Oklahoma. Sometimes it's your own family and friends. With all the horror going on, the jokes about the horror are often in the media while the tragedy is still unfolding. Waco was an example of that. There were jokes on faxes and by disk jockeys while the place was on fire. I think that Zippy's question transcends jokes. Having fun, I think, is a way of life. You grieve when it's appropriate because your insides tell you to do so. But fun, to me, is a process, not a goal. I spend most of my time enjoying the mystery. Everything else is subordinate to that. I just appreciate the ironies of watching, say, Ralph Nader and Ross Perot on the same side against NAFTA. And now the ACLU and Rush Limbaugh are on the same side. Even watching the O.J. trial I found myself rooting for the Nazi cop. What was once Black Panther rhetoric is now Michigan Militia rhetoric. I can't decide which of the Nichols brothers is my favorite. I think it's Terry. They got him because they found a six-month-old receipt for manure. But the thing is, he's against paying taxes, so why would he keep the receipt? McVeigh would be scot-free right now if his license plate had not fallen off. And of course, he didn't believe in license plates. So maybe the sentence should not be death but, rather, a life of making license plates. The more repression there is, the more need for humor there is. Paradoxically, I'm having more fun already. It's the human condition to want to have fun. There are clouds of dread in the air. I guess it was summed up best by a friend of mine who just found out she had cancer. She said, "I want to live to see the apocalypse." That's the bottom line. MARY MATALIN is living proof that even a Republican political consultant is not immune to fun. Matalin, who was George Bush's White House political director, married her political nemesis, Clinton consultant James Carville, in 1993. Together they published All's Fair (Random House/Simon & Schuster, 1994), a "he said/she said" report about the '92 campaign. She's now the host of CNBC's program Equal Time. Yes, I am having fun, because finally my age and maturity are in sync, which wasn't always the case. Our nation is having fun in a perverse way. We have become a nation of whiners, victims, and sufferers, and love to complain about it. I think we're perversely happy. Relative to the rest of the world, we have nothing to be unhappy over. We're in a period of recovery, of peace; we're transitioning our economy and are on our way to a new phase in the sweep of history. We're having total unprecedented growth. There's no recession, and we're acting like its the '30s again! And you know what else makes us happy? There are so many more opportunities for warped people to express ourselves. It's okay to be warped now. We have really diminished the demand to be closeted. People like James Carville can really shine. That was not so 20 years ago. Living in any age as a control freak is tough, because life is uncontrollable. People die. There's no connection between control and happiness. What cracks me up, the irony to me, is that we are liberated from most physical labor, the hallmark of the industrial revolution, to ponder these great thoughts. Instead of dwelling on the opportunities from this individual creativeness and freedom wrought of new technologies, we are dwelling on the irony, paradox, and pain of our lack of control. In fact, we have more control today, certainly more freedom and liberty, than at any other point in our history. We're so much more free and more tolerant. And what do we talk about? How intolerant and constrained we are. It's simply not true. The freer we get, the more liberated we get, the more self-indulgent we get. Freedom is scary. Self-responsibility is scary. As a generation of Baby Boomers who control the national dialogue, when we have to face maturity, a lot of us, including the president of the United States, want someone else to do it for us. The dialogue is going to be whiny until we say, "Okay, I gotta do my homework myself." I finally got it when I turned 40: that I am responsible for my own happiness, in my marriage and my work. Our age group has always had somebody else doing it for them. I don't pretend to be as familiar with Generation X. I like their M.O. The ones I do know are more pragmatic and fanciful. When our generation went from being dopeheads to pragmatists, we went from wearing sandals to making bad deals on Wall Street. The next generation are products of divorced or broken families. They have gone through these kinds of anxieties already. They are scarred, hardened, and realistic about what happens in life. We are about to go into a new wave. The division isn't going to be class warfare. It's going to be technological, because there are those who are afraid and those who know how to use it. QUENTIN CRISP, a self-described "elderly foreigner of indeterminate gender," has been a beacon of fun throughout the decades, advising his readers on how to function in the modern world. In his chosen home of Manhattan, Crisp wrote Manners from Heaven (1984), The Naked Civil Servant (1968), How To Become a Virgin (1981), and two fiction books. Crisp will shortly publish his diary. At the age of 86, he has been appearing with increasing frequency in motion pictures, including Orlando, Naked in New York, and Philadelphia. I never had any fun until I got to America. Because in England fun is not allowed. But here, fun grows on trees. In New York, everybody speaks to you all the time. An Englishman said to me, "You're the one who lives permanently here now. Why?" I said, "Wherever I go everyone talks to me." He said, "I can't think of anything worse." I think Americans are having fun -- perhaps in the future. They hope they're having fun. Of course, America is bound up with the idea of fame. Fame in America means fame in the world of entertainment. No other kind of fame will do. If you had got together a symposium of all the great generals, teachers, bishops, and Elizabeth Taylor, the papers would report everything she said and no more. I don't know why it is. Maybe it's the influence of the movies. You see, New York is the capital of the world. But Hollywood is the capital of America. When that weird man in Waco was fashionable, the press interviewed two perfectly ordinary people about Mr. Koresh. These people weren't even wearing sandals. They said, "Everything in America is so dreadful. He seems to have something special." The extraordinary thing is that evangelists grow on trees in America, where everything is already wonderful so why do we need a future? In England, everything is terrible, but there are no evangelists. Of course, Oklahoma did frighten the Americans. This I understand. They thought they were in paradise. And now they have discovered that there is evil in paradise. A man called Mr. Koppel stood up in the middle of a town hall in some small country town in America, and indulged the matter of sabotage from within. There were four men there in camouflage with guns and shorn-off hair and hatred on their faces sitting in the middle of it. And Mr. Koppel didn't even scream or run away! The people at the meeting said, well, "We didn't know the government was going to tell us what to do.' What do they think government meant? A governor is someone who tells you what to do. There is no such thing as absolute freedom. Free speech is now all the rage. But if we all said what we really thought, the place would be pandemonium. Civilized society depends on a lie. In personal relationships you can't tell the truth. If someone says, "Will you marry me?" you don't say, "You've got to be joking." You say, "I am not worthy." You mustn't think you have any rights. If you do, you are finished. But if every morning you wake up and say, preferably aloud, "I am nothing, I deserve nothing," after that, everything is a bonus. LAURIE ANDERSON speaks in rhythm and syncopation, just as she sings and performs. Her latest album is The Ugly One with the Jewels (Warner Brothers, 1995), but Anderson is also known for her spoken-word performances. Her high-tech multimedia show, The Nerve Bible, played Boston last March. Everybody's goal is to have fun, but I don't think we've ever really had fun in the United States. I don't think we ever will. I'm in Italy right now, and people are having quite a bit of fun here. It's much, much looser. Every time I leave the United States, I realize how puritanical it is, and how puritanism and violence can co-exist. The model for how to be a man is restricted: salesman, cowboy, rock star. The archetypes. There are, like, three. Here in Italy it's a lot more flexible. There are lots more models to choose from when you're constructing your personality. So, you have the cad, or the patriarch, or the opera lover, and you can be any of those and still be a man. I've watched culture in the last few years get incredibly corporate. Most of the movies look pretty much the same, the music sounds pretty much the same, the clothes look pretty much the same. Look at what's available on TV with all the channels -- pretty much the same thing. But then it's also a country where the main entertainment is Court TV. In a funny way, Court TV is the perfect kind of entertainment. It's on the level of gossip and having fun, but obviously it has all the big questions: fallen hero and revenge, men and women, what is justice, weaselly lawyers, how do rich people get treated, and so on. I do think there's a huge amount of anger in the United States. Anger at having to buy more stuff. Anger at having to fit into your role. Anger at having the same stuff shoved down your throat as entertainment, and so on. And that's our life? That's it? That's what we're supposed to believe in? Plus, a government that we stopped believing in 30 years ago, more or less. When you start talking about puritanism, it's hard not to become one. My puritan ancestors came to the United States from England because they weren't allowed to punish people who played games on Sunday. So they came to America to exercise this precious right to punish people who didn't agree with them. Welcome to America. There are a fair number of plain old cracks in the United States. They go off the deep end. Their government has become so abstract that it's actually this big bureaucratic thing and it's going to attack them. Now they're up in Michigan, and these fiats come in from Washington. It's almost like the Ottoman Empire, and they're the Serbs arming to defend themselves. I don't mean to simplify their problems, because I think that on some level they are acting on what they feel is very good faith. Their reaction to a very outrageous event in Waco was quite real. That was not about the government protecting people's right to worship in their way. That was, in fact, crushing it. The Net is now more or less a kind of free zone where people are really having a lot of fun making their own Web pages. It's my dream, you know, that everybody will have the tools and the time to make art. Even if they don't call themselves artists, they get to have fun in that way. A lot of people are suddenly making their own little movies and pieces of music, and getting them out there without going through any of these corporations. It's an ecstatic thing, you know, this really huge amount of creativity being poured into that. And so at the moment I think it's a very free activity, but I've watched this happen in terms of record production and video. In other words, everyone can make a great-sounding record at home now, but no one will ever hear it, because the record companies distribute about two or three records every year. And on the Net, I think, there certainly will be ways for people to figure out how to charge a lot more money for it and how to regulate it. I just hope that the Net will engender a spirit where some people who really want to learn how to distribute this new art will do so in a more adventurous way than just another product. But then, I'm generally an optimist, so, hey, call me stupid. JOYCELYN ELDERS, whose uncomfortably truthful statements about sexuality, drug policy, and (gasp) masturbation led to her unceremonious exit from the office of surgeon general, is back at the University of Arkansas Medical School in Little Rock. She's teaching and lecturing around the country and says she has become more hopeful since escaping from the Beltway. I really am having fun. I've never worked so hard in my whole life. But I am enjoying what I do and the response of the people. I'm feeling hopeful again. I see the grassroots people in communities, in cities, are getting concerned about the children and asking questions. They want to know, "What can we do?" I'm working on the same things I've always worked on: wellness clinics, sex education, male responsibility, drug policy. I consider it my own real inside mission to make people aware of the plight of children, to get the power brokers mad enough to do something. The fact that people are so upset with me is good, because that's means that they heard me. People are no longer just being polite to Joycelyn Elders; they're really listening. People are asking the questions about drugs, they're talking about it and bringing it to the table. We probably talked more about masturbation in December of 1994 than in the history of the country. The Christian Coalition now says it wants to censor the Internet and the media. I'm one of those people who's very opposed to censorship used in that way. We have a responsibility to educate children, to teach them how to be responsible, and how to use information. But we've been using the solutions of the 1940s to deal with the problems of the 1990s. We see sex on TV from morning to night and we don't say one thing about it. But we don't want teachers to say it in schools? Genital herpes is on the rise, AIDS, teenage pregnancy. Sixty percent of our prisons are loaded with drug-related crimes, and we are doing absolutely nothing to prevent these problems. We feel that if we lock 'em up and throw away the key, then we've done our jobs. Now they're objecting to the legal-defense funds that allow women who are abused to be able to get a divorce. My problem is that I knew the Christian Coalition when they wore white sheets and called themselves the Ku Klux Klan. Then they appointed themselves in charge of women's uteruses and called themselves Right to Life. I think that in some respects they might be having fun. I guess I look at them as a group of adolescent boys dealing with mob rule. Every time I speak, I'm really asking everybody there to go out and get 10 more people to register to vote. If we are not willing to make the sacrifice to make America what we think it ought to be, well then, we deserve to lose it. We can't afford for Clinton-Gore not to win. The price is to turn America into something very akin to a society that excludes all people who look like me, and all people who think like me. RIANE EISLER wrote the international bestseller The Chalice and the Blade (HarperSanFrancisco, 1987), which has since been translated into 14 languages. Eisler formulated the compelling theory that human history has been steered by the conflict between "dominator" and "partnership" societies, and many scholars say her theory is as significant as Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Eisler has just published Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body (HarperCollins). I know what is happening in this world is not just what we get in the media. At the grassroots, there is a very powerful and ever-deepening awareness that we must change from a dominator model of society to a partnership model, to bring about not only the real sexual revolution, but also the real revolution in consciousness. There are alternatives, and that takes me back to the mainstream media. There are two basic levers for human motivation: pain and pleasure. What does the media focus on? Pain. Their motto is, "If it bleeds, it leads," which makes absolutely no sense. Why do people have such a fascination with pain? It is part of life, there's no question. Pain is what keeps a dominator society going, fear and the threat of pain. Otherwise, how are you going to maintain these rankings of man over woman, man over man, nation over nation, race over race? When the medieval church dealt with sexuality, what did it condemn? It didn't condemn sexual violence. It condemned sexual pleasure. We are coming out of what I call the dominator trance, which keeps us focused on pain and not pleasure. You have parent-child relations where caring touch is associated with coercive tough, and where love is conditional on obeying orders. The far right, which is really the dominators, are not fundamentalists in a religious sense. They're dominator fundamentalists. They "get it" that intimate relations are central to this conflict. And we progressives still haven't got it. We're fighting a defensive battle, rather than saying, "How dare you call yourselves Christians when you debase the values of caring, compassion, and nonviolence? How dare you speak of family values when you're trying to promote a male-controlled family?" Women can manipulate but can't assert themselves, which is a terrific prescription for misery for women and men. And children have to learn to obey orders no matter how unjust or even brutal. What's happening today is truly a time of partnership resurgence. For the past 300 years, in the face of incredible dominator resistance and regression, we have made great progress. There are a lot of people who are waking up. They get it that if we are to make a shift we've got to use our creativity and remake everything. America is on the verge of a psychotic nervous breakdown. The stronger the partnership movement at the grassroots, the stronger the dominator regression. If we know anything from the new-paradigm sciences it's that living systems, which is what social systems are, seek to maintain themselves. Through socialization, we become unwitting tools for systems maintenance. This is making life miserable for everybody. There's an in group and an out group for everything. The "out group" is portrayed as dangerous, the enemy. Like Eve, we blame her for everything. We're never going to have fun in a dominator society; we're just going to be frantic about it. I've had a lot of pleasure in life. I don't have to have fun in an addictive, compulsive way. I've been fortunate enough to have been fulfilled by what we humans really yearn for: caring connections, pleasurable touch. We get chemical rewards, known as neuropeptides, for that. We get those rewards not only for being loved, but also for loving. Isn't that fascinating? Evolution is on our side. TERENCE McKENNA, throughout the drug war of the 1980s, emerged as a courageous and inspiring spokesperson for the psychedelic revival. His 1992 book, Food of the Gods (Bantam), theorized that hallucinogens catalyzed the evolution of apes into humans, and hold a key to the further evolution of our species. The culture has changed. I think the old farts are just dying off. Too many people have come into influence and power for whom this psychedelic exploration is just a given. The technical community is made up of guys with ponytails, many of whom are into psychedelics -- they keep the whole thing going. Never before has the ruling elite been so dependent on a counterculture to understand the technologies they use. Internetters and Web weavers are having fun. Fun is almost too mild a word to describe what they're having. They're ecstatic. I think psychedelic states are going to become the compasses for Internet development. The only difference between a computer and a drug is that one is too large to swallow. The people who are enthusiastic about that are working to solve that problem. In the future, we'll see ever more drugs with specific functions and ever more psychedelic computing experiences. The Net is a bodyless dimension, a mental dimension - and the only experience we have with that is the shamanic experience. The Internet is making the culture into an invisible, enveloping archaic revival. Archaic revivalists are certainly having fun. The tattoos, the body piercing, the emphasis on sexual ambiguity, the music, these are all archaic forces coming home to roost. I don't see Robert Dole or Phil Gramm leading us into utopia. They should be having fun but it seems to have turned to excrement in their hands. When I saw Jesse Helms stand up and threaten the life of the president from the Senate floor, I just assumed what that meant was that the US Senate has become utterly irrelevant to the destiny of the planet; a bastion of drunken yahoos and whore-mongering fascistas. When was the last time a president of a multi-national corporation threatened the life of the president? They move more quietly than that. The corporate statists have pressed an agenda that includes some positive things: anti-apartheid and anti-war. The problem is that they want to replace all of this with a global mall society where everyone shops at Liberty House and everyone watches MTV. The end result of its impact on human values may turn out to be just as destructive. The world corporate statists must be clapping their hands. The only place where they may hit a speed bump is Mexico. It may turn into a maelstrom that could suck the US economy down into it. It's basically a mafia state, a drug state. The Zapatistas are now bearding one of the most violent and notorious governments on earth. The Zapatistas in Chiapas have a lot of hardship, but they are definitely having fun. Change freaks are feeling pretty good about things. But if you've got big investments in tradition, rectitude, and in making sure there's a lack of tattoos, you're probably pretty alarmed at this point. BARBARA EHRENREICH, author of The Snarling Citizen (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995), is one of the few left-leaning political columnists in the mainstream press. An essayist for Time magazine, Ehrenreich lives in Key West, Florida. No, it's not a very fun time. There's very little playfulness or frivolity in our culture. We have entertainment, but it's usually things that cost tens of millions of dollars to produce, so they're expensive to see. There's not a lot of public lightheartedness. We don't have fads or trends that come from the people any more. We don't have hula hoops or hippies or punks that decorate the landscape. It's a grim time. We need silly trends. Some people are having fun starring in their own personal Rambo movie, like these paramilitarists in Montana. Quite apart from any political ideology, we have these guys who say, "We don't want to just watch it." They want to star in their personal one. Part of right-wing paramilitarism isn't about politics at all. It's about fun in camouflage clothes. My sort of planetary perspective is that we have a pretty shaky hold on this planet, as the Ebola outbreak shows us. And we're so busy kicking each other around that we haven't noticed our real enemies might very well be microscopic. There's a lot of fun for people who get their kicks from punitive rage as a mood. There must be some pleasure in it. There's gotta be some pleasure in trampling the down and out, stigmatizing women on welfare, cutting all food programs for the poor. It's gotta be fun, but it's beyond me. JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH, Harvard economist and veteran of John F. Kennedy's Camelot, notes that "fifty years ago this week I was in Germany with the interesting job of interrogating the high Nazis." He's seen a lot over the decades, but he is still having fun. Next year he publishes a new book, The Good Society: The Economic Dimension. I must tell you that I've had fun all my life. Surprisingly enough, I continue to enjoy life. But I would enjoy it much more if we didn't have such a massive effort to take the fun out of other people's lives. I have in mind what is happening to welfare mothers, what is going to happen to the old who are without money. The idea of fun today is to save a little on taxes at the expense of the life of other people. We're having a certain divisive tendency that manifests itself, particularly on the extreme right. We've always had a measure of extremism right or left. It happens now that this has taken the form of an attack on government, an attack on the civilizing influence of life, which is the modern state. After people have seen what is happening to the young, to the old, to the ill, and the other people who are desperately in need of some public help and support, we will have a revival of the liberal spirit. I'm not entirely pessimistic about Clinton's re-election. I find myself at the center of agitated liberal discussion for the first time in years. So I think that as people see what happens when we have an attack on compassionate life, that we will have something in the way of a political revival. Newt Gingrich may be better for liberalism than we realize. On the other hand, I never have a clear view between my reality and what I merely wish for. JERRY BROWN, former governor of California and three-time presidential candidate, now produces and hosts a nationally syndicated talk-radio program, We the People. Brown, with his 1-800 campaign number in 1992, gave birth to the style of electronic campaigning that was rapidly embraced by Ross Perot and Bill Clinton. The fact the Phoenix is writing about "fun" now, it's like going to the wine country. It seems like you're caught up in the rather shallow spirit of the time. Fun is a word that applies to jump rope, jacks, and hopscotch. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of fun? Fun in the clothes we buy? Fun in the cars we buy? I guess fun is what the lonely crowd is supposed to be up to. The politicians are jumping all over Oklahoma to advance their own agendas. You have to see Oklahoma in the context of 500 homicides a week in the United States. But it seems to be in a lot of people's interest. Clinton's poll ratings went up. The FBI trotted out its wish list for domestic surveillance. The Fourth Amendment can be eroded. Overall, I'd like to say that the forces of fascism have had a good day. Fun? It's all sort of fashion-driven. So much of the political landscape is just littered with sideshows and diversionary, temporary excitements. The government and the politicians are a sub-category of the media and entertainment. Because it is very competitive, and the ratings determine the advertising dollars, you get scandals, sex, and violence within the confines of corporate responsibility. Since the discussions are boring and fairly far off the point, when the National Star comes in with something sleazy and titillating, that makes for good media. It strikes me that the pressures are mounting. Poor people are getting poor and the majority is not seeing their life prospects improving in a way that would make them feel secure. The politicians are frozen in the pattern of their antics. I would say that we're in for unusual turmoil. We have to arouse the citizenry while we've still got time. JOYCE MAYNARD, syndicated columnist and NPR commentator, has chronicled the Baby Boomers ever since 1972, when, at the age of 18, she published a cover story about her generation in the New York Times Magazine. Her 1993 book To Die For has just been made into a movie, starring Nicole Kidman and Matt Dillon, with a screenplay by Buck Henry; it's scheduled to open this summer. Maynard's next book, Where Love Goes (Crown Publishers), will be released in August. My first step toward having fun was leaving college, where I never had any. I did not have a lot of fun as a child. And I think probably a lot of people who take fun seriously are in that category. One of the things that made fun more present in my life was my increasing willingness to let go of expectations of where I thought fun was going to be had. I don't have fun at amusement parks. At parties, mostly I don't have fun. Holidays can be a real problem. My best fun comes when I'm not looking around at how much fun everybody else is having. I took a few detours to get here. I thought getting married and having children sounded like a lot of fun and a great idea. There was an enormous amount of pain involved in both endeavors. If you read the literature on parenthood in our times, it really makes the whole thing out to be one big chore and responsibility. But when I think of my kids I think of the fun they give me. Maybe that's because they're the root of the fun I didn't have as a child myself. I would never say it hasn't complicated my existence to have these three children. But on the fun scale, they are high. Because of them, I got my first baseball glove, went whitewater rafting, and did a whole lot of things that I might not have done otherwise. There may actually be a link between real fun and danger. I recently went to Costa Rica with my two boys. It was really an unstructured trip with no locked-in plan. We rented an odd car from the friend of a friend. The roads were bad, the mountains steep, and you'd better get to your destination before dark. The boys had been complaining about how slow I had been driving. At one point they went, "Yahoo!" The reason I was going fast is we had lost our brakes. Charlie tells me I was taking corners on two wheels. The odd thing is that now that it's over, it was so much fun! We almost died. Obviously, the story could have gone a different way very easily. I want my heart to beat faster. That's where fun lies. There's no short-cut Disney way to that experience. A year ago we gave up cable TV in our household. The boys fell in love with this puppy, so I made this deal with them. I would get the puppy if we had the cable disconnected. It was a real metaphor for the change in our lives. The dog is more fun than television. But people are afraid out there. One of the chief ways that mothers experienced Oklahoma is that it was the manifestation of all our fears about day care. Every woman who's left a child at a day-care center feels guilty. You don't expect that they will die. I read that one of those women in Oklahoma got a job the day before. Don't you think she regrets it? That's my number-one experience with Oklahoma. There is this odd sense of the wheel coming round and everything eventually coming back to roost. The virus in Africa that maybe had something to do with cutting down the rain forest. What goes around comes around. There's symmetry to disaster. GORE VIDAL, one of the great iconoclastic writers and thinkers of our time, lives mainly as an expatriate in Italy. His most recent novel, Live From Golgotha (Random House, 1992), features time travel and the hilarious competition by modern-day multinational media corporations to scoop the crucifixion of Jesus on national TV. Vidal is writing a screenplay about the Alger Hiss case, and will publish his memoirs in October. Well, we're headed for a police state, there's no doubt about it. It will be called, I don't know, the Mount Rushmore Freedom State or something. It will have a funny name like that. People are dying. Only nine percent of the American people believe in Darwin's theory of evolution. That means that we are no longer, really, in the First World. And the Europeans have total contempt for Americans in general and the United States as a polity in particular. Not that they're so wonderful, but they do find us ignorant and superstitious, which indeed, in the generality, we are. And this has made the end of my life quite sad. It's worse than when I started out, so I feel rather pointless. It's the race war that basically keeps us alive. And to practically every politician the question is, "What's your position on white and black?" And if you're pro-black at all, or meliorative, you're the enemy. However, they do learn how to euphemize what they mean. But it really means the one who gets elected is the one who wants to kill the blacks more than the others. I love the Gingrich "landslide" though. Heh, heh, heh. I love this mandate. It's the religious crazies who got him in there. I'm afraid he's too ditzy for the American people. But there will come a Lincolnesque figure with a total fascist mentality who wants to really crack down on disorder, make our streets safe again. And he'll go after the blacks first, the fags, the this, the that. Most Americans will probably be pretty content until they find that he's gone after them too. I shall be far gone by then and looking down upon the turmoil. Fun, fun, fun. There it is.