Resist Psychic Death: 250 Anecdotes


  • In Bikini Kill’s early songs, vocalist Kathleen Hanna tends to repeat lines many times. She had a reason for doing this. The sound equipment Bikini Kill played live with was very bad, and she worried that no one would understand the words, and so she repeated them over and over so that the audience would hear them. Some of the lyrics deserve to be heard over and over — for example, she repeated these lines from the song “Resist Psychic Death” over and over: “I resist with every inch and every breath / I resist this psychic death.” By the way, near the end of his life, the heart of Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco grew weaker, and his cardiologist, Dr. Ignacio Chávez, recommended that he stop the strenuous work of painting huge murals and instead concentrate on the less strenuous work of creating easel paintings. However, Mr. Orozco refused to take this advice. Instead, he remarked to his wife, “I’m not going to do as the doctor says and abandon mural painting. I prefer physical death to the moral death that would be the equivalent of giving up mural painting.” So how does one resist psychic death? Some ways include practicing an art, doing good deeds, paying attention to your soul as well as your body, staying angry at the things that should anger us, and being aware of the fabulous realities that surround us despite the presence of evil in the world.[1]

CHAPTER 1: From Activism and Activists to Comedians

 Activism and Activists

In 2007, while standing in line in Victoria station in London, a man named Gareth Edwards, who describes himself as a “big, stocky bloke with a shaven head,” noticed a well-dressed businessman cutting in line behind him. (Apparently, Mr. Edwards is so big that the businessman did not want to cut in line ahead of him.) Some people politely remonstrated with the businessman, but the businessman ignored the protests. So Mr. Edwards asked the elderly woman who was behind the businessman line-cutter-in, “Do you want to go in front of me?” She did, and Mr. Edwards then asked the new person standing behind the businessman line-cutter-in, “Do you want to go in front of me?” Mr. Edwards did this 60 or 70 times, so he and the businessman kept moving further back in line. Finally, just as the bus pulled up, the elderly woman whom he had first allowed to go ahead in line, yelled back to him, “Young man! Do you want to go in front of me?”[2]

In November of 2010, tens of thousands of students protested in England over cuts in funding for education and higher fees for tuition that could keep them from getting a university education. Some students in London even attacked a police van, but a group of schoolgirls stopped the attack by surrounding the van and linking hands. Guardian journalist Jonathan Jones wrote, “Some who were at the student protests this week accuse police of deliberately leaving a solitary van in the middle of the ‘kettled’ crowd to invite trouble and provide incriminating media images of an out-of-control mob attacking it.” (According to <>, kettling is “The practice of police surrounding a hostile mob (usually of protesters) and not letting them disperse.”) By stopping the violent students from attacking the police van, the schoolgirls helped prevent negative publicity about the student protests.[3]

In 1977, future punk critic Steven Wells and some other punks wanted to go to a Mekons concert. However, the student rugby player who was at the door did not like the way that the punks were dressed and so refused to let them inside. The punks formed a picket line and informed everyone who came by what had happened and asked them not to cross the picket line. No one did. Twenty minutes went by, and the person who had organized the show came outside to find out why no one was going inside. The punks explained to him what had happened. The organizer then fired the rugby player and the punks enjoyed a good concert. (Rugby in England is class conscious. In the South, Rugby Union is played by the posh. In the North, Rugby League is played by the working class. The Mekons concert happened in the South.)[4]

In 1969 at Akron University, activist, artist, and musician Paul Mavrides and some of his activist friends announced that they were going to use their own homemade napalm to burn a puppy to death. Of course, this was a protest against the use of napalm to kill human beings in the Vietnam War. They planned to announce to the crowd that they had no napalm and no puppy, and then they planned to say, “How can you people justify showing up to save a dog, when there’s an actual war going on and this napalm is being used on real people?” Unfortunately, the crowd that showed up was so angry that Mr. Mavrides and his activist friends had to be rescued by Akron University police, who smuggled them through underground tunnels to get them safely away from the angry crowd. And the use of napalm in Vietnam continued.[5]

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was forced to take an examination in order to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper at the University of Glasgow because the Lord’s Supper was restricted to those deemed worthy to take it. After passing muster, participants were given a metallic token to present so they could partake of the Lord’s Supper. Mr. Campbell, however, felt that the Lord’s Supper should be open to all. Following his conscience, he declined to join the other participants, and he cast his metallic token into the plate as it was being passed round. The metallic token made a sound that echoed throughout the church.[6]

Birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger looked shy and quiet, but she was tough and determined. Someone once asked her to take some time off for rest and relaxation, but she replied, “I am the protagonist of women who have nothing to laugh about.” In 1916, she spent 30 days in jail after her birth-control clinic was shut down and she was charged with “illegal activity.” After the 30 days were up, the police wanted to fingerprint her, but she did not want to be fingerprinted. The result: She emerged from jail exhausted and bruised — and triumphant.[7]

Saul Alinsky, an activist in Chicago, was upset when Station WGN decided not to show a film about Martin Luther because it was opposed by the archdiocese of Chicago. Mr. Alinsky tried to persuade Edward Burke, a monsignor of the archdiocese, to withdraw opposition to the film. Mr. Burke remained opposed to the showing of the film, so Mr. Alinsky said that it ought to be shown “with one proviso, that they show it backward so that Martin Luther will end up as a Catholic.”[8]

A notable act of activism occurred in Berlin when some activists painted some barrels to look like nuclear waste containers, filled them with sand, and then drove into Berlin and dropped them off in a place where they would be noticed. The news was filled with descriptions of the dangers of exposure to nuclear waste, and workers in Hazmat suits worked to remove the barrels. The activism created awareness of the risks of moving nuclear waste through populated areas.[9]


 Professor Ernst Schneidler taught many artists and illustrators, including Eric Carle, who creates books for children. He was able to motivate his students to do their very best work, perhaps because he was so gifted at doing those things he taught. Actually, he did not spend a lot of time with the students, simply looking over their work every so often and pronouncing judgment on it. Usually, he merely said “Dumb” or “Not dumb.” When he said, “Good,” which he rarely did, it was exceptionally high praise. He also spoke to the students on occasion. Professor Schneidler was gifted at determining what his students should do and what they should avoid doing: He knew his students’ talents. When Mr. Carle tried to do calligraphy, Professor Schneidler told him, “Herr Carle, not so good. Dumb. Don’t do that anymore. Anyway, we don’t need any more calligraphers.” But when Mr. Carle created some linoleum cuts, Professor Schneidler told him, “Good.” However, Professor Schneidler added, “That’s good, all right. But, ah! You don’t even understand why it’s good.” This Mr. Carle interpreted as meaning, “Go and find out why it’s good,” which Mr. Carle considered and considers very good advice.[10]

[1] Source: Jannika Bock, Riot Grrrl: A Feminist Re-Interpretation of the Punk Narrative, p. 75. Also: Bárbara C. Cruz, José Clemente Orozco: Mexican Artist, p. 101.

[2] Source: Oliver Burkeman, “Politeness enforcement tactics.” The Guardian. 28 August 2010 <>.

[3] Source: Jonathan Jones, “Student protests: the riot girls.” The Guardian. 25 November 2010 <>. Also: <>, accessed on 26 November 2010.

[4] Source: Steven Wells, Punk: Young, Loud, and Snotty, pp. 68, 78.

[5] Source: Andrea Juno and V. Vale, publishers and editors, Pranks! Devious Deeds and Mischievous Mirth, p. 134.

[6] Source: J. Vernon Jacobs, compiler, 450 True Stories from Church History, p. 70.

[7] Source: Frederick S. Voss, Women of Our Time: An Album of Twentieth-Century Portraits, pp. 28-29.

[8] Source: John Deedy, A Book of Catholic Anecdotes, pp. 43-44.

[9] Source: Andrea Juno and V. Vale, publishers and editors, Pranks! Devious Deeds and Mischievous Mirth, p. 135.

[10] Source: Leonard S. Marcus, Ways of Telling: Conversations on the Art of the Picture Book, pp. 44-47.

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