Prompt – It was a truth that was difficult to believe.
I am a seeker after truth and by that I mean to listen to anything that anyone asserts as their truth. Yes, anything! I will listen and make a sincere effort to put myself into their world view and their present point of view and for a moment or a few minutes get into their world. Their reality becomes my reality for those moments in time. Over the years it has taken me to some fantastic places and most of the time I have chosen to depart. Perhaps many of those departures turned out to be big mistakes, but some of those departures probably saved my life and others probably saved my sanity and others saved those things for my friends.
Here are some of my departures, and as I look back over them the primary motivating factor was a belief in the moment that to continue in doing what I was on course to do would be to violate a more fundamental truth than the one I was believing and following at the moment.
My biggest and most life-influencing moment for me was when I was a pilot in the United States Air Force. As a military pilot I refused to accept the H-bomb the United States Air Force was offering me to fly around in a B-47. It was a risk of going to jail for 10 years for refusing to obey direct orders, which I never did. After some contentious conversations with my superior officers about the ethics of killing millions of innocent people, and the obvious fact that doing so would surely bring similar destruction to the American people I was supposedly defending, finally after one of those conversations with the base commander, I was sent down the road to a new life. He decided I would be of more use to our country as a civilian. But my life was forever negatively influenced by that decision. Or perhaps not, as some of my friends got killed in Viet Nam. My truth was that the Mutually Assured Destruction policy of the time was MAD.
A couple of years later I was involved in the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, where in one event I slid down a rope from a high window on the front of Sproul Hall to the cheers of thousands. I had been in the administration taking photos of the students involved in the protest sit-in. The police would probably have let me depart from the front door, but it was said they were taking the film out of cameras, so I went out over the high balcony on a rope with my camera. My intention was to publish the truth of what a peaceful sit-in looked like. It looks like people sitting.
Another exploration into truth was my involvement in helping the radical newspaper the Berkeley Barb get going. I helped Max Shearer lay out the strategy, which he apparently valued, and I had a few articles in the first few editions. I was one who took the first bundle of papers and sold them on the soon to be famous Telegraph Avenue. Over the next few years, it became the most radical newspaper in the world. After the Barb was going Max published an article with my byline which I didn’t write, and he refused to put an erratum statement in a later issue. I never had another civil conversation with him. His extreme editorial spin on truth became far too radical for me. His truths were far too difficult for me to believe.
Another time I departed from People’s Park after getting the shovel and turning over some of the very first clods of dirt that set that event into motion. James Rector was shot and died, and some of those shot who lived, like George Pauly, became my close friends. Against California Governor Ronald Reagan’s best efforts the park came into existence and is still under the people of Berkeley’s control. It’s one of the few political battles Reagan ever lost. When people are getting killed by the government it is hard to believe the truth of the law on our side, but five decades later the People’s Park is still a park.
I helped Jefferson Poland set up the Sexual Freedom League, and did their first art work for them. That began in a very strange way when we and Ina Saslow ran on the San Francisco Beach under the Cliff House naked. There’s a video of that somewhere. The next week those two contacted the newspaper and got arrested for doing that same stunt. I realized in the week before I participated in that swim that the truth of their endeavors wasn’t that of personal freedom, but instead was one of libertine excess. That wasn’t the truth I sought, so I departed. In the long run that event was one of the major turning points of that movement and of the furtherance of women’s liberation. Most of that is unknown to the public but it did get some women’s rights things going that otherwise might not have happened.
My girlfriend for only a couple of dates was Joan Blades. I was teaching art at San Francisco Junior College at that time, and was telling her stories of what I was doing in my classroom. One idea I liked, and she immediately started doing, was trying to sell for money every idea she came up with. We didn’t seem to like each other very much so we each moved on, and she may not even remember me. I remember her because she made and sold the Flying Toaster as a screen saver for the first Apple computers. She then created MoveOn.org which became a major political media outlet. That is a major purveyor of truth to this day, but one which I walked away from, as I usually do.
Then there was the Society for Creative Anachronism where I was living in Toad Hall, a house on Alcatraz Avenue where their public by-laws were written. That was a tiny group at the time but now has something like 40,000 members. A commercial enterprise called the Renaissance Pleasure Faire came out of it, which is now a worldwide public event. Once again a spin on truth which I was part of at the creation, but walked away from.
I was a close friend of Kevin Langdon when he created an IQ test that was purported to be for people in the 4th standard deviation above average. It was published in a national magazine and soon led to a worldwide organization of brilliant people. I attended their first conference in San Francisco, but once again I walked away from another spin on truth and reality.
When I come to truth I am overly sensitive to people twisting it, for fun, for profit, for ego. I could come up with a dozen more examples of this truth that is difficult to believe but …
I have made my mental disease palpable.