(This is a long one, and wanders all over the place, but I still think there's a good idea or two in here...)
For the past few days I've been re-reading Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! Trilogy. It's a psychedelic romp chock-full of quotable bits, but there's one in particular that's echoed in my head:
"Freedom won't come through Love, and it won't come through Force. It will come through the Imagination."
This seems to me an important enough idea that it ought to have a name. So I hereby dub it the "First Law of Political-Artistic Liberation" -- FLOPAL, to give it a snappy (?) acronym.
What is the argument for the validity of the FLOPAL? Shea and Wilson explain a little later on in the book, in a discussion between the characters Hagbard Celine and Simon Moon, as they wait for the cops and the tear gas in Chicago in 1968:
"Chairman Mao didn't say half of it," Hagbard replied holding a handkerchief to his own face. His words came through muffled: "It isn't only political power that grows out of the barrel of a gun. So does a whole definition of reality. A set. And the action that has to happen on that particular set and on none other."
"Don't be so bloody patronizing," I objected, looking around a corner in time and realizing this was the night I would be Maced. "That's just Marx: the ideology of the ruling class becomes the ideology of the whole society."
"Not the ideology. The Reality." He lowered his handkerchief. "This was a public park until they changed the definition. Now, the guns have changed the Reality. It isn't a public park. There's more than one kind of magic."
"Just like the Enclosure Acts," I said hollowly. "One day the land belonged to the people. The next day it belonged to the landlords."
"And like the Narcotics Acts," he added. "A hundred thousand harmless junkies became criminals overnight, by Act of Congress, in nineteen twenty-seven. Ten years later, in thirty-seven, all the pot-heads in the country became criminals overnight, by Act of Congress. And they really were criminals, when the papers were signed. The guns prove it. Walk away from those guns, waving a joint, and refuse to halt when they tell you. Their Imagination will become your Reality in a second."
Much of the "Reality" of human experience is created by Authority. And not just the social and legal aspects -- a few hundred years ago, the physical "Reality" that the Earth was the center of the Universe was enforced by putting Galileo under arrest. Eighty-five years ago, the Tennessee legislature and courts used the guns and clubs and cages at their disposal to create the biological "Reality" that Homo sapiens was not related to apes. And just a few years ago, the Bush II administration used its Authority to create a geophysical "Reality" in which human activity is not affecting the climate.
Even though all these Authorities are gone, substantial numbers of people still dwell in the Realities they created.
Authority is hard-wired into the human brain. We are a pack species, programmed to respond to the alphas. As the famous Milgram experiment showed, our natural submission to Authority will get otherwise sane and ordinary people to commit acts of torture. Or consider how in over 70 cases, a telephone caller posing as a cop was able to use his bogus aura of authority manipulate managers and employees of fast food restaurants into performing strip searches and other abusive acts. Authority, like gravity, warps space around it: and like gravity, when concentrated to the extreme, will form a black hole that tears up everything in reach.
What can fight Authority? What can break its Realities, disperse its warp?