Friday, February 20, 2009

The Great Turning: From American Empire to...Drag Show?

© 2009 Karen Van Fossan

It was at a Drag Show, of all things. My introduction to Professor Hal Bertilson's peace ideology came at a Drag Show. I didn't actually spot Professor Bertilson in the Drag Show aisles (or on stage in a sequined dress). But on Sunday morning, as I listened to him speak (in tweed coat and trousers) at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, I kept sensing the connection. What did Saturday's Drag Show have to do with Sunday morning's service? That's what I intended to figure out!

A Drag Show, as you probably know, often features both Drag Queens and Drag Kings. Generally, Drag Queens are men who dress and entertain in an exaggerated womanly fashion. I'm told that the term "Drag Queen" comes from early-20th-century English slang, where "Drag" meant clothes and "Queen" referred to the affected royalty of the performers. By extension, a Drag King is usually a woman who dresses and performs in exaggerated manly (kingly) fashion. Saturday night's Drag Show in Bismarck offered an array of North Dakota Kings and Queens, lip-syncing, dancing, and displaying on the Civic Center stage.

That was Saturday night.

Fast forward to Sunday morning and Hal Bertilson. Title of his talk: The Great Turning -- Evolution of Community. His purpose: To share insights (and hear ours) about transforming our Empire into an Earth-Based Community. Quite a big topic. (Almost as big as Miss Janessa's hair on Saturday night.)

A special guest from the University of Wisconsin-Superior, Professor Hal Bertilson has studied and taught Peace Psychology for much of his career. A quote from Hal:

"One of the tenets of Peace Psychology is that there is both Direct Violence and Structural Violence. Structural Violence includes conditions where people do not have adequate food or shelter, inadequate health care, degradation of the environment, and the hierarchical domination by a few in a society of the many -- something that Riane Eisler in the Chalice and the Blade...calls Domination and David Korten, in his recent books, calls Empire."

Like David Korten, whose work Hal Bertilson teaches, Hal believes that we, as members of Earth's most recent Empire, can indeed turn away from Empire toward true Community. And we must. As the economy, the environment, the supply of natural resources, all face potential disaster -- the lifestyle of the Empire, the culture of over-use and under-responsibility, must be changed.

We can "build a culture of love and peace rather than hate and fear," he says. "We are living in the Empire where life is hostile and competitive, power is loved, the masculine is dominant, and order is imposed via a dominator hierarchy. We have a choice. We can choose instead Earth Community where life is supportive and cooperative. Humans have many possibilities. Order is imposed through partnership. We cooperate, love life, defend the rights of all, and ensure gender balance."

Hal mentions the work of Riane Eisler, who has shown that people co-existed in peace-loving, Earth-loving cultures for many millennia. Surely Earth Community is within our reach as human beings.

But what's stopping us? How do we interrupt our own intentions? Hal sees mega-corporations, perhaps more than any other entity, as purveyors of the unsustainable Empire.

His recommendation for Wall Street? Let it collapse.

"Spending trillions of dollars trying to fix Wall Street is a fool’s errand," says Hal. Let us build our economy at the local level. "Our economic system has failed in every dimension: Financial, environmental, and social."

He quotes from David Korten:

"Our hope lies not with the Wall Street phantom wealth machine, but rather the real world economy of Main Street, where people engage in the production and exchange of real goods and services to meet the real needs of their children, families, and communities, and where they have a natural interest in maintaining the health and vitality of their natural environment."

So what can we do? According to Hal, David Korten "offers concrete suggestions for people in community working together for...a 'political turning.' A move toward local, human-scale enterprises, by entrepreneurs who are members of the community in which they live, who care about their communities. Local food production. Open political processes. Citizen participation. Direct election -- one person, one vote. Open debates. And so much more..."

That's quite a list of recommendations.

Still, Hal didn't mention Drag Shows. If we'd had a little more time, maybe he would have.

Since last weekend, I'm convinced that Drag Shows can model peacemaking in our world.

Jonathan Schell, Peace Fellow at the Nation Institute, writes about peacemaking all the time. In a recent article, he discusses the combined crises of the economy, environment, nuclear weapon stockpiles, and others. "All the crises display one...common feature," he says. "All have been based on the wholesale manufacture of delusions. The operative word here is 'bubble.' A bubble, in the stock market or anywhere, is a real-world construct based on fantasies. When the fantasy collapses, the construct collapses, and people are hurt."

So here's what I love about North Dakota Drag Shows:

Bubbles collapse all over the place. The bubble in which women look like "women." The bubble where men act "manly." The bubble that separates local folk from the glitzy, sparkling wealthy, our modern-day royalty. The bubble that says only famous equals good.

Before our very eyes, Drag Shows toy with deception. They call our own delusions, as members of this Empire, into question. In so doing, they surprise us, and they delight us. Sometimes, they make us laugh. As we watch performers playing with the bubbles of our Empire, we find that we can live without our delusions.

Here's what I love the most:

It's fun.

When we turn away from Empire, it doesn't have to hurt.


JGH said...

You have done it again!! You have made me think of things in a totally new way.

blogslut said...

Love this one--we are all connected, aren't we???

Anonymous said...

This is so good! Thank you!