Back in the Summer of 1992 I was working my one, and only, renaissance festival. What is amusing about this is that the show was not, in fact, the one I had grown up around. Despite being closely tied to the Bay Area Renaissance Festival for many years, the only gig I’ve ever actually been an official cast member at was Scarborough Faire in Waxahachie, Texas.
Like many folks who traveled and worked with the renaissance festival circuit, I set up a tent in the woods back behind the festival grounds to live in during the time I was employed at the show. The small section I “lived” in during that time was populated by myself, my friends Holly and Donnie, and a Rainbow Hippie.
I don’t even remember her name, to be honest. She actually went through all the trouble to build a platform IN a tree to set up her tent on so that she could be closer to nature or something. For all I know it may have been so that she could actually elevate herself out of the weeks of mud that we’d have to deal with once the rainy season started. What I do remember is that she annoyed the hell out of me. I don’t recall exactly why, to be honest. Maybe it’s because of that whole “I’m better than you because I care about the Earth” thing. Maybe it’s because she was female and I was in my “girls really suck because none of them want to have sexytime with me” phase. Maybe it’s because she got all pissy when we cooked meat down in the camp site beneath her tent. Maybe it’s just because she didn’t shower all that often. I really don’t know. What I know is that I didn’t really like her, but I had to live with her as a neighbor for the six weeks while we were there.
One night, in particular, my ire boiled over. If you know me at all, you know this isn’t a particularly common situation. I tend to be very easy-going, and for the most part if something annoys me I just suck it up and keep it to myself. The worst thing I may do, these days, is post something bitchy and vague on Twitter about it. If I’m not mistaken I had been drinking a bit on this particular evening, so that might explain why I was less than my usual diplomatic self when the subject of peace came up. It was one night when we were gathered around a camp fire during the Los Angeles riots. Reaction to that event was pretty intense around the camp grounds. I remember one guy in particular running around screaming “Burn it down!” at the top of his lungs. I didn’t take quite the same opinion. While I agreed that things were kinda fucked up in LA in regards to the cops and what happened to Rodney King, I couldn’t help but think about all the innocent people that were getting caught up in that bullshit.
With that particular event hanging over our heads as we warmed ourselves that evening, the subject of whether or not there would be peace in our time came up. Rainbow Hippie piped up and said there would be peace when we had anarchy because that’s when we’d all be free to do whatever we wanted to do. At that point my annoyance with her bubbled over and I could not help but address this lunacy.
“So,” I said, after taking a long pull from the flask of Everclear and Kool-Aid I was holding, “You’re telling me that the only way we’re ever going to have peace is if we have total anarchy?”
“Yes!” she defiantly threw back at me.
“Well alright, Sunshine” I replied. “Riddle me this. (editor’s note – I most likely did not say either of those things. It’s been almost 20 years since this conversation happened and the exact details of what I said are a bit fuzzy. Also, this makes me sound lot more badass and confident than I was at the time. Hell, it makes me sound more badass and confident than I am NOW. What I probably said was something along the lines of a drunken slur that started with “Yeah, well, umm…but…you see…umm…I’m not entirely sure I agree with that…” I’m taking artistic license with this in the name of entertainment. Sue me.) What happens if somebody breaks the law?”
“Nobody will break the law because we’ll all be happy.”
“Wait, what?! What if breaking the law makes me happy?”
“What do you mean?”
“Ok, so let’s say that this group sitting around the fire here represents the whole of society and that we have no law, ok? Now let’s say that, for whatever reason, I decide that it would make me feel REALLY good if I picked up this great big rock here and used it to crush Donnie’s head into a pulp.” Donnie, unsurprisingly, was not exactly thrilled with my argument but kept his protests to a miffed minimum. “Making Donnie dead is what makes ME happy. Clearly, from the look of terror on his face and the fact that he’s now moving away from me, it’s not exactly his idea of a good time. What do you do to me?”
“Do you stop me? Because if you do, guess what? You’ve just enacted a system of laws. Yeah, they may be primitive at this point but they exist. You’ve said that a certain behavior is wrong and that if I choose to act in that way because I WANT to you’re going to punish me. You know what else? If you stick to your ideals and you don’t punish me then I’ve inflicted my will on YOU. Suddenly I’m the guy that makes the laws, because I’m the guy with the rock and if you make me unhappy I’m gonna do to you what I did to poor Donnie over there. Donnie, dude…I couldn’t catch you if I tried please come back to the fire.”
“But…That wouldn’t happen!”
“No, it would happen. Maybe not in that exact way, but it would happen. Someone would kill, or steal, or decide that they don’t want to take no for an answer any more from the pretty girl who they’ve had a crush on for years (ed – I told you I was in a bitter place regarding women). Whatever the case is, someone is going to do something to hurt someone else, and when that happens you’re going to have to set up a system of laws to deal with it. The more people get involved, the more complex those laws are going to get. Eventually you’re going to have something huge, bloated, and unwieldy to deal with…just like we’ve currently got. You want to know why? Because human beings, as a collective, suck.”
At this point she got up and stormed off to her tree where she hid for the rest of the evening. I was pretty proud of the argument I had made, but for some reason everyone was kinda pissed at me for making what had been a pretty chill evening quite uncomfortable.
Come to think of it…I don’t think Donnie has stayed within arms reach of me for more than a few seconds since that day, either.
Ultimately I think the point I was trying to make is that, like them or not, society as a whole needs to have rules in place that are set up to deal with the folks who refuse to play nicely with others. Unfortunately, the very same flaws that dictate our need to have a code of laws in place to correct bad behavior are the same flaws that cause the people who end up in power to twist the law to their own benefit. It’s that whole “absolute power corrupts absolutely” thing. I believe that with very few exceptions most people who end up in politics are convinced that everything they are doing is right and proper because it would be a benefit to them personally, and that’s the only real filter we have in the final analysis. If I think a law is just or that a regulation is fair it’s because I am convinced that, in the long run, that law or regulation will benefit ME.
Idealism is all fine and dandy, but reality is a murky place.
Also…I really shouldn’t drink Everclear.