Paul Krassner has written for most everyone, from Playboy to CNN. A child prodigy on violin, a counterculture icon, stand-up comedian, and FBI-described “raving, unconfined nut,” he’s been lauded by Carlin, Kesey, and Vonnegut. All that aside, there’s not much to say about him that isn’t overshadowed by the things he says himself. An almost manic writer with an important message for America today, Krassner’s newest book, Who’s to Say What’s Obscene, explores the repression of contemporary culture. We conducted the following conversation by email.
Paul Krassner will read from his new book Who’s to Say What’s Obscene at Skylight Books in Los Angeles on 15 September 2009. More information available here.
Your new book covers a lot of ground, from waterboarding to marijuana legalization. What, in your mind, ties it all together?
Dehumanization and hypocrisy—two sides of the same coin. Indeed, waterboarding prisoners is the ultimate extension of the dehumanization behind imprisoning people for smoking a weed. The hypocrisy is evident in the refusal to act on studies indicating the harmlessness of pot and the justification of torture by the use of euphemisms such as enhanced interrogation techniques.
After a campaign season of supposed hope, supposed change, and a Vice-Presidential candidate that could see Russia from her house, has anything really changed in America with the election of Obama?
It’s like a new romance, picking the petals off a daisy one at a time in a he-loves-me. So there’s plucking a petal of hope (Obama’s attempt at legislating the moral issue behind healthcare reform) and there’s plucking a petal of disappointment (troop build-up in Afghanistan, though he proposed that very action during the campaign). One change is that the two taboos during the campaign—racism and assassination—have come out in the open; those elephants in the room are now trumpeting loudly.
You write a lot about fundamentalism. There’s been some talk recently about the reemergence of fundamentalist atheists, writing Dawkinesque tomes on the absolute evils of theism. Any comments?
I was a militant atheist until I realized that civil rights leader Martin Luther King was a Christian and American Nazi Party George Lincoln Rockwell was an agnostic. It no longer made any difference to me what people believed or disbelieved, only what their actions were. So I’m not anti-Catholic, but I am opposed to their trying to foist their position on abortion onto legislation against it. And I’m not anti-Islam, but I see the tragedy and absurdity of conducting wars in the name of deities I don’t believe in: between Jehovah and Allah; Jesus and Muhammad. I no longer argue about the existence or non-existence of God, though I think it’s a good thing that these professional atheists have instigated dialogue.
Does writing satire keep you from getting depressed by everything that’s happening in our world? It seems to me that there is something almost Ecclesiastical about it. This is how things are, and while working toward change I’m going to laugh my ass off at how much things suck…
Satire serves as a catharsis for me. It’s also a vehicle for communicating truth to others—when you laugh, your defenses are down, at least for that moment—but it’s important not to become desensitized in the process. I’d rather be skeptical than cynical. There are more good people than evil people; the latter is what makes the news, even while the former is evolving along with everything else. Ecclesiatical feels too dogmatic a route. Life is a mystery. I mean, if it’s not a mystery, what the fuck is it?