The Revolution Will Be Hilarious & Other Essays will be published by Norway's New Compass Press in February 2017. This will be the second full-length book released by Adam Michael Krause, the founder of Red Earth Press. It is timely. It is terrifying. It is funny. It is inspiring. And it features Marx and Lennon on the cover. To get an idea of what's inside, here is a preview of the introduction.
This collection of essays came about when New Compass Press informed me that the tiny pamphlet I had written for them, “The Revolution Will Be Hilarious,” had proven just too tiny to publish economically. Rather than take it out of print, they asked, would I add some essays and let them do The Revolution Will Be Hilarious and Other Essays? My first thought was that this would be impossible. The things I have written since “The Revolution Will Be Hilarious” appeared in 2013 are very different in tone and style, and could seemingly never inhabit the same volume as that earlier essay.
“The Revolution Will Be Hilarious” uses the structure of jokes as an extended metaphor to explain the psychology of democracy. My current work focuses much more on the environmental apocalypse we are now experiencing. My tone is more urgent and strident—to such an extent that I have even accepted using terms like “environmental apocalypse.” “The Revolution Will Be Hilarious” seemed like a work from a simpler time, back when I thought we had more time.
Why the change in focus? The mistake I made, if it is a mistake, was adopting the habit of reading scientific journals. And recently, there has been a remarkable shift in tone. Rather than just saying that we have to do something or our environment will collapse, most scientists now seem to say that we have to do something because our environment is already collapsing. It is a subtle, but terrifying, shift. And there is no shortage of evidence to support it. Ice sheets are collapsing. Species are disappearing. Lakes are evaporating, making agriculture impossible in many places. People starve. The oceans are losing fish, but are filling with plastic. Things are not looking good. We are in the midst of something awful and unprecedented. Analyzing jokes to explain how democracy works suddenly seemed like an antiquated concern from a forgotten era.
But as I worked on some newer essays, under the impression that The Revolution Will Be Hilarious and Other Essays would be impossible, those seemingly quaint concerns came rushing back as central ones. In fact, some of the essays I assumed had supplanted “The Revolution Will Be Hilarious” actually precede and prepare the way for it.
The first piece in this volume, “THE END IS NEAR,” was originally released on my own imprint, Red Earth Press. Each copy was hand-made, and there really weren’t that many, so I am very excited for it to appear here, where at least the words can live on even after that limited edition disappears. “THE END IS NEAR” begins by discussing some of the many prophecies of apocalypse humans have heard in the preceding centuries. And since the world has been declared nearly over so often, why should we believe contemporary warnings of an environmental apocalypse? Well, as I mentioned above, because there is ample evidence that irreversible ecological collapse has already begun.
So if that’s the case, how should we react? Do we panic? Stockpile gold? Build an army? Pray? Mostly, we need to get to work, but we don’t need to panic, provided we get to work. And there are examples among those past prophets of doom who saw an impending apocalypse as a chance for transformation, not just fighting in the streets for the remaining crumbs.
In “THE END IS NEAR,” I quote Naomi Klein’s statement that “Mass uprisings of people—along the lines of the abolition movement and the Civil Rights Movement—represent the likeliest source of ‘friction’ to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control.” I agree of course. But this statement requires elaboration. Both the abolition movement and the Civil Rights Movement were full of very contentious debates about tactics. If the time has already passed when we should have started a mass movement, the time has also passed when we should know how to proceed. Who are the targets? How do we stop them? And although these are not topics we typically discuss aloud, is sabotage acceptable? What about violence?
So in “What Is To Be Done?,” I analyze issues of ethics and tactics in political actions, with a special focus on the environmental movement. I did not begin writing this essay with a thesis to explain, but rather, a topic to explore. I had no idea what I would conclude, only that I would write. As such, this second essay took on a very different form from “THE END IS NEAR.” In “THE END IS NEAR,” I present short, often impressionistic explorations of various topics, and let the whole piece collectively present an idea. Sections are short. Topics shift. In “What Is To Be Done?,” I explore the topic as I go, and the reader can follow my thoughts as I unpack a difficult subject and try to figure out how I really feel about it.
Although I began without a destination in mind, I eventually arrived somewhere, and much to my surprise, it was the idea that the revolution would be hilarious. In “What Is To Be Done?,” I conclude that whatever movements we build or tactics we choose, those movements need to be inclusive and broad. So the lessons comedy can teach us about democracy are essential to answering the question of just what is to be done.
And so “The Revolution Will Be Hilarious” not only remains, but has proven itself essential. But for this new context, it was necessary to revise and expand the original text. I have no problem with that. Walt Whitman, who I refer to as the “patron saint” of “The Revolution Will Be Hilarious,” first published Leaves of Grass in 1855, and then spent the rest of his life expanding and altering it in numerous editions of various lengths. So rewriting and revising previously published works is a practice with an impressive pedigree. Plus, an essay that spends so much time urging us to rethink our ideas and assumptions deserves to be periodically rethought.
Concluding this volume is one final essay, containing ideas “The Revolution Will Be Hilarious” dances around but can’t actually discuss without becoming an unreadable mess. That final essay, “Time Is Not Money,” acts almost as an appendix to “The Revolution Will Be Hilarious,” clarifying some of the underlying ideas that essay leaves unsaid.
In the time since its initial publication, various people have talked or written to me about “The Revolution Will Be Hilarious.” In particular, Molly Shanahan utilized it while working on her doctoral thesis and sent me a number of helpful suggestions and observations. In particular, she suggested that “bisociation,” a term I borrowed from Arthur Koestler, would make much more sense as “multisociation.”
I am very proud of what appears in this book, but I could not have done it alone. A debt of gratitude goes to Eirik Eiglad and everyone else at New Compass Press for continuing to believe in me and my work. Endless thanks go to Marielle Allschwang for allowing me to read almost everything I write aloud to her, giving me more suggestions than I would ever care to count, agreeing to spend her life with me, and bringing me to that Shaker museum. I would also like to thank David Ravel and Richard Newman for taking me to meet Dabls. That was amazing.
It was a winding journey of exploration, research, and wildly different drafts that brought me to this now-unified volume. But beyond the surprisingly cohesive whole, I am also struck just by the essay titles in their order. First we discover that the end is near. Then we ask just what is to be done. Finally we learn that the revolution will be hilarious, and that money is one of the biggest jokes of all.