An Interview with Robert A. Kezer, author of The Boétie Legacy: and a World in Peril

Boetie_cover

Robert A. Kezer is the author of The Boétie Legacy: and a World in Peril. Here is the official book description:

In The Boétie Legacy, and a World in Peril, Luke Canton arrives in Granada, Nicaragua, midlife and dreading having to start over again. Spending the last twelve years as a student has taken a toll on his relationships, and he yearns to settle down. But he knows he has to let the people know what he uncovered—that while humanity has been duped into accepting perpetual war, we now have the ways to expose, sanction, and control the powers that have done so. Somehow the ideas forming in his mind—the way for humanity to claim and enforce its inherent right to direct our governments and corporations—have to be brought to life. And if a more compassionate world is possible, Luke has to do his part regardless the cost; for him, life is that way. He has come too far, sacrificed too many people and too much of life, not to see this journey through. But now he’s struggling, wondering if he’s reached his limit or if he’s as naïve as many people seem to think. At least he is until he meets Jo. She brings clarity and stirs up urges he had put aside long ago. Could there really be someone for him at this point in his journey? Someone who could walk by his side as they wove their unique selves into the fabric of creation? But old fears loom large, testing his courage to love again and threatening humanity’s chance for survival.

Read on for  Robert A. Kezer’s interview, as well as an excerpt from the book.

S.R.: What inspired you to write The Boétie Legacy?

R.K.: In one of the first entries on my blog I went into detail on the initial idea for The Boétie Legacy, and a World in Peril (see “Genesis). I talk about how inspired I was as a young man by Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, and the realization of how powerful the written word could be. This took place twenty-five years ago right after we redirected the course of our family. I was making a two hundred mile round trip to work everyday across the wilds of Alaska, and I used most of that time driving for contemplation, practicing breathing with intention, and re-examining the beliefs that were structuring my view of the world. That’s when I decided that somehow I wanted to grow into a man capable of influencing people with his writing—someone who could craft stories that helped them see through the misinformation being used to manipulate the public, and that gave them the hope, vision, means, and courage needed to transform our world.

S.R.: You seem to have a lot in common with your protagonist, Luke. For example, you both returned to school later in life and received a PhD in transformative studies. And you both aspire to strategic nonviolent conflict, and are writers who are bridging the world of academia with the public. How much of your book is based on real life?

R.K.: The Boétie Legacy is leading my life more than reflecting it, which I will explain in a moment. It is not a memoir or autobiographical accounting, but a fictional story informed by anecdotes, experiences, and academic research from my past that I am using to build the future.

Still, you are right, I do share several major themes with Luke. Aside from those that you mentioned, both Luke and I also experienced violence as a normal and accepted part of our lives when younger and we both made the conscious effort needed to walk away from it (though at least in word and thought Luke has done better). Also, both of us have experienced how changes in our partner’s body resulting from menopause can make sex painful for her, and the confusion, embarrassment, and strain on the relationship that can ensue. And both Luke and I felt the need to leave the United States to find the clarity we needed to write about global issues from perspectives not normally accepted in our country. My hope is that my experiences will lend a realistic feel to the story, and help me to bring forth the social and political ideas I’m suggesting. Finally, writing The Boétie Legacy on scene in Nicaragua allowed me to better convey some of the conditions and hardships that many of the world’s poor deal with every day.

But as for the story itself, which is Jo helping Luke come to the realization that he has to break free from academic work and take his message to the people, never happened. And it was writing that story that allowed me to bring together the ideas supporting The Project for a People’s Global Mandate (PPGM), which were still jumbled when I started The Boétie Legacy. This is the future tense aspect of the book, and the PPGM was launched about the same time as Legacy was published on the first of June.

S.R.: On your website you say that you write “fiction for the informed public” and “occasionally erotica when I need a break from the seriousness of it all.” What other stories have you worked on? And which do you prefer writing (serious fiction or erotica)?

R.K.: I like writing both, though as any writer will tell you there are phases in the process that are more enjoyable than others. I began submitting erotica—just sex—to magazines around the turn of the century to take my mind off of the problems I was dealing with then. Nothing much came of it other than learning the submission process and having a lot of fun as I honed my writing skills.

Both genres are powerful ways to influence people. I’m a romantic in the classical sense. For me, romance—the feelings stemming from love, the emotions defining our fears, and the sex that results from bringing them together—is the ultimate triumph in life. I’m not saying it’s when we are at our healthiest or when we make our best decisions (often it’s just the opposite in my case), but it may be the state when we can bring forth our highest potential at the time. Romance stories allow an author to push the boundaries while keeping the tale believable. When in love we can do, or think we can do, the impossible. And in this day and age the freedom to write sexually explicate scenes once considered taboo allows us to reflect life at levels before not often breached. So when something as powerful as an erotic romance is informed by political fiction—which in my opinion is the most needed and effective genre we have for countering the government-corporate-elitist propaganda clouding thought in the US—we have one of our greatest vehicles for giving people the hope, vision, and means needed to transform our world.

S.R.: What do you hope readers take away from The Boétie Legacy, and a World in Peril?

R.K.: The most important four points are, first, that anyone trying to tell them that humans are nothing more than smart chimps hard-wired to be violent, that war is inevitable and can never be abolished much less in our life times, and that violence is our most powerful force against which nothing else can win is either misinformed, or worse, lying to them and complicit in trying to maintain our world’s cycle of perpetual war.

Second, that my readers gain a better understanding of what nonviolent conflict is, and how it has been used in the past and can be used in the future to counter violent oppression. Tied to that goal are two other points: 1), that violent insurgency to force change in a Western style democracy or industrial nation has never worked (re: think of the argument that the Second Amendment is a protection against government tyranny. Today, this is no longer true.), and 2) that there is a difference between supporting nonviolent methods to transform society and adopting a pacifist belief system where violence is never appropriate. In other words, people can both participate in nonviolent campaigns for social transformation and still, without moral contradiction, use violence as a last resort to protect themselves and their families from psychotic or criminal elements in our societies.

Third, that the global problems we are facing have to be addressed at a global level—that our world can no longer allow complex decisions affecting all of humanity to be based on personal gain, national interests, political expediency, or maintaining the planetary status quo. We are over 7.2 billion people, and it is our responsibility to not allow ourselves to be controlled, manipulated, and pitted against one another by a miniscule percentage of the population interested more in their power than the welfare of humanity, our future generations, or the sustainability of the planet.

And fourth, that humanity is the ultimate sovereign on the planet, we now have the ability to create a People’s Global Mandate stipulating conduct on our world, and that we can use a locally directed international nonviolent campaign to enforce that mandate against any government or corporation violating the people’s will.

S.R.: What are you working on next?

R.K.: I have several projects going. One is a nonfiction book for the informed public based on the research for my dissertation. I wanted something accessible to the people, yet still able to be cited by students researching the field and useful for activists looking for ways to initiate nonviolent campaigns. I’m also working on the next novel in The Boétie series, but it’s too early to comment on it right now.

Excerpt

Preface 

While much of humanity will always be polarized in their views of the world, people from all nations, cultures, and religions are reaching levels of thought that allow them to move beyond our differences and instead embrace our commonalities. These people are our guides out of the horrors born of fundamentalism and extreme materialism, and they are the leaders who can best steer us through the challenges we’ll meet bringing forth a more peaceful, compassionate, and sustainable world. To this end, The Boétie Legacy, and a World in Peril is offered.

The Legacy of Étienne de La Boétie

(Pronounced: boy–see)

1548: Étienne de La Boétie (1530–1563) writes the Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, or The Anti–Dictator, stating that tyrants can rule only through our voluntary consent and that we can dispose of them by withdrawing that cooperation if we so choose.

1908: Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) revives Boétie’s doctrine and influences Mahatma Gandhi’s thought when he asks Tarak Nath Das (editor of the newspaper Free Hindustan) in A Letter to a Hindu, “Do not the figures make it clear that it is not the English who have enslaved the Indians, but the Indians who have enslaved themselves?”

1955: The Urantia revelation, published as The Urantia Book claims that unlimited national sovereignty must give way to the collective sovereignty of humanity as a whole if we wish to end war on Earth. It also affirms yet evolves the traditional idea of enlightenment that states, “all is one,” to recognize that we are each unique selves creating potential eternal souls through the melding of the ultimate personality of Spirit with our temporal personality arising at birth.

1993: Gene Sharp (b. 1928), founder of the Albert Einstein Institution, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of nonviolent conflict, writes the manual From Dictatorships to Democracy, which has been used around the world by people to overthrow dictators and bring forth freer and more democratic societies.

Chapter 1

Luke maintained two slow, deep breaths per minute as the plane descended into Nicaragua. Breathing with intention had become his primary meditation when he broke through the chaos and violence of his twenties, and now it was his automatic response to stress. No matter how many times he had thought through his plan and accounted for all that could go wrong, his stomach was still turning over—the fear clamoring for attention almost making him sick. He was stepping out into the unknown. Again. Cutting off his past and starting over. This should be getting easier, he thought. But it wasn’t. Even if persistence had been the defining trait in his life. Part of him yearned to be immersed in routine and friends and community like most of the people he had known. But for some reason that was not his path, his destiny. If there was such a thing.

Wanting to exert control over the emotions roiling inside him as he waited for the plane to land, Luke recounted what he had learned about Nicaragua. The biggest country in Central America, it is a bit smaller in size than New York State, and the population is spread thin across the countryside. Beautiful beaches grace the Pacific Coast, mountains run north and south through the interior, and lowlands known as the Miskito Coast make up the Caribbean side. Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Belize are to the north, with Costa Rica and Panama to the south. And it’s poor, second only to Haiti in the Americas, with three–quarters or more of its people living on two dollars a day. Which means the country’s main exports—meat, sugar, shellfish, and tobacco—are not affordable to the people producing them. While over three–quarters of the population is literate, only about a third of them finish their primary–level education. And the president, Daniel Ortega, one of the leaders of the revolution to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship in 1979, had the constitution changed to remove term limits for his office.

Just what the world needs, Luke thought, another president for life. And with dictators, keeping the people poor and uneducated is part of staying in power. While Luke hoped to see evidence otherwise, he had the sense that the Nicas still had a ways to go before their lives improved.

“First time to Nicaragua?” the man seated next to him asked.

Turning from the window, Luke took a second and became present. The man looked retired. Mid– to upper sixties. Slacks and a brown sport coat opened over a bulging stomach and short gray hair combed straight across his head in an unsuccessful attempt to cover the bald patch in the middle.

“Yeah,” Luke said. “First time.”

“You down here looking for a wife? That’s what most guys our age are here for. Place doesn’t offer much else. Or are you one of those that like the kids?” the guy asked, looking closer at Luke’s face and seeming to realize that he was talking to a man at least a dozen years younger than him.

“What?” Luke asked, shocked. “Kids? No. And no wife. At least I’m not shopping for one,” he said, shaking his head, aware he was gripping the armrests. He had read that Nicaragua was a center for child trafficking and sexual exploitation, but he put those facts in the back of his mind where everything else unimaginable was stowed.

“Sorry. You never know. To each their own, right? But anyway, it doesn’t do it for me either. Okay? And too fucking risky these days. But you might want to think again about a wife. A guy like you’d do good here,” the creep said, looking Luke up and down in his seat, ignoring his discomfort.

“What?” Luke said again, flustered by the sudden conversation and unsure what else to say.

“The women here are beautiful. Well, not beauty–queen quality, but you can still find some really nice ones. Mine’s a little older than what most guys go for. María Deloris. She’ll be twenty–nine next month. But then I don’t have to teach her everything either,” he said with a grin that suggested things Luke was sure he didn’t want to know. “I met her three years ago, and I’ve been coming down to see her ever since.”

“Do you have any family back in the states?” Luke asked. His nose wrinkled as he made no attempt to hide the disgust on his face. He had turned slightly to better face the man, and Luke found himself cringing back into the corner of the seat as he looked at the guy.

“Two sons. They love to tell people their dad has a girlfriend younger than them. I think they’re jealous,” he said in a lower voice, as if they could hear. “Hell, one of them told me he’s thinking of dropping his wife and joining me down here. But this is where my family’s at now. María has a fifteen–year–old daughter. I’ve been sending money down the whole time trying to keep her in school. Little bitch just couldn’t do it or wouldn’t do it. At least until I gave her an ultimatum. I told her that if she finishes school I’d introduce her to some of my friends from the states when she graduates. She’s not as pretty as her mother, but good enough for some of those guys. Well, at least she doesn’t have the same set of tits her mother does. I know.” The man winked, sending a wave of revulsion through Luke.

This is why women call us pigs, Luke thought. Their conversation was interrupted briefly as the pilot came on the speaker to announce the landing.

“Anyway, here’s my card,” the guy said, pushing it into Luke’s hand. “Send me an email if you want. I could have you hooked up and trying some on by this time tomorrow.”

Luke felt a twinge deep in his gut and his heart beating against his ribs. For the briefest of moments, reality was blocked and all he wanted to do was kill. Luke took his time wadding up the card in his hand as he held the man’s eyes, and then let it fall to the floor between their seats before he returned to staring out the window. Did this guy really say to each his own when it came to sexually abusing children? Luke took a long, deep breath, held it for a moment, and then slowly exhaled, feeling the tension leave his body. He was in that state where emotions gave way to focused clarity, a skill that had helped him survive the violence that consumed the first half of his life. Back then he would have unleashed on this sick bastard right here on the plane, taking whatever consequences there were. Because he would have been sure he was right and sure the other guy was wrong. And he would have been proud to go to jail for thumping him, because that was how he saw life in those years; walking his talk meant taking action, regardless of how wise that was. But now he had grown beyond that point; he knew he couldn’t fight every battle and he had to conserve his resources for those few issues he could influence. And regardless, using violence to do so was no longer an option for him. No, this guy would get his due. At some point. And there wasn’t much Luke could do about him in the meantime.

***

Luke could see little of Managua, Nicaragua’s capital city, in the darkness when they landed at Augusto César Sandino International Airport a couple of hours before midnight. After paying the ten–dollar entry fee at the immigration desk he found the restroom figuring it would be a good hour before his next chance to use one, and then made his way to customs. The agents had the same hard attitude Luke had seen in their peers throughout the rest of the world, but even though they acted like they were studying the screen as his bags moved through the X–ray machine, Luke knew that in Nicaragua the machines almost never worked. Taking his luggage after being cleared, he followed the crowd toward the exit. Through the large plate–glass windows he could see a dozen drivers outside holding up cardboard signs with their clients’ names written in black block letters. Luke stopped for a moment to scan the cards for his but didn’t find it. Not a good start, he thought.

Walking outside, Luke started to sweat as the heat and humidity descended on him. Adjusting his ponytail higher on his head, he surveyed the area. Taxi drivers were hollering for fares, and he turned down half a dozen offers as he looked through the throng of people, hoping to see someone looking for him. At six foot two, he was able to see over most of the Nicas milling about. A shuttle bus pulled up and parked in the middle of the road, and a couple dozen people crowded around it to hand their luggage up to the man who was strapping it onto the roof before they boarded. That might have been the better choice, Luke thought. He had read about this service in the expat forums, but the owner of the apartment he was renting had promised him that his driver would be there, and Luke needed to save the twenty dollars the shuttle would have cost.

People waiting at the edge of the crowd were meeting their families, and after the hugs and greetings, they streamed off to the line of vehicles parked down the road fronting the airport. An older white guy in belted cargo shorts and a tucked–in T–shirt with Bart Simpson’s image emblazoned across the chest grinned at Luke as he walked by holding a young woman, who looked no more than twenty years old, tightly to his side. Remembering what the man on the plane had said, Luke looked around and saw seven or eight similar couples, some with young children in tow, walking away to their rigs. It was odd and would have created a lot of attention in the states, but here no one seemed to care or even notice the forty–some years’ difference in age between them. The women looked happy, the kids were well dressed, and they were all driving off in new cars and trucks, so Luke wasn’t sure what to think. Setting those thoughts aside for later, he noticed that the crowd had thinned out, and he decided it was time to make other plans. It was an hour drive to Granada, and soon the few taxis that were left would go back into the city center in search of other customers. The older man who had approached him several times already for a fare was standing back behind the other drivers and staring at him, well aware of his predicament.

“All right,” Luke said in Spanish after making his way over to the man. “How much to Granada?”

“Thirty dollars.”

Luke had been expecting thirty–five to forty dollars based on his research when preparing for his trip. Now he had to consider that maybe this guy was enticing him with a cheaper price so he could take him to his buddies for a nice thrashing before stealing everything he had. And if that was going to happen in Nicaragua, chances were that it would be on this route from Managua to Granada, which was known for phony cops pulling people over and robbing them at the end of a machete. Putting his thoughts aside, Luke felt into the driver’s energy and decided he wasn’t a danger.

“Okay,” Luke said, making his decision. “Let’s go.”

The driver grabbed the handle of Luke’s suitcase and started pulling it across the street in front of the terminal while explaining to Luke that his taxi was across the way in the visitor parking lot. Realizing that the driver was not licensed to work at the airport, Luke again wondered if he was being set up, and he scanned the area for trouble. But the lot had few cars in it for someone to hide behind, and the only people he could see were a couple of security guards leaning against their booth talking and ignoring them as they walked by. The “taxi” turned out to be an old white Toyota Corolla showing years of hard use. But while the whole situation seemed a bit sketchy, Luke was realizing that this guy was just trying to make a living as best he could with what he had. As the driver tossed his suitcase in the trunk, Luke used the seat belt to secure his backpack in the rear seat. Feeling more at ease, he took his place in the front passenger seat.

The highway seemed deserted, and they didn’t pass another car on their way out of Managua. The darkness thickened the farther they got from the airport, as fewer of the buildings were lit. Electricity is more expensive in Nicaragua than anywhere else in Central America, and the people don’t have the luxury of wasting it.

After fifteen minutes of driving in silence, the driver slowed and turned off onto a single–lane road that seemed to fade off into the night. Luke sat up straighter and looked back and forth between the driver and the darkness outside.

“No problem,” the driver said in passable English, sensing Luke’s concern. “This is the way.”

Five minutes later he turned back onto a newer highway with streetlights at regular intervals.

“Now straight to Granada,” the driver said.

Just as Luke began to relax, someone staggered out of the darkness and walked right into the headlights of the car. Surprised, Luke pushed back hard into the seat. Cursing under his breath, the driver swerved, missing the person by no more than a few inches, never slowing down as he did so. Luke saw the woman’s haunted stare, and he knew that for whatever reason, her mind was gone. The whole scene reminded him of something out of the Night of the Living Dead.

“Glue,” the driver said, anticipating Luke’s question and motioning like he was smelling something smeared on his hand. “Very bad. Thirty minutes to Granada,” he said, dismissing the subject.

Founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, who named it after the Spanish city of Granada where the Catholics defeated the Muslims in 1492 when they reconquered the Iberian Peninsula, this Granada sits on the northwestern shore of Cocibolca, or Lake Nicaragua, as the gringos call it. With a population of somewhere around 125,000 people, it’s one of the country’s larger cities and its most popular tourist destination because of its colonial heritage and architecture. As with most Latin American communities, the main plaza has its obligatory Catholic church and serves as the center of commerce and tourism. Since poverty escalates and the infrastructure deteriorates the farther one gets away from the central park, the mile or two surrounding it is home to many of the city’s expats.

“Where in Granada are you going?” the driver asked.

Luke felt foolish realizing that in the rush to leave the states he hadn’t written down the address to the apartments in case his driver did not show.

“Villa Mombako,” Luke said, uncertain how correct that name was. “Do you know it?”

“No,” the driver said, unconcerned. “But I can ask another taxi when we get there.”

***

Once in Granada proper, the driver pulled up behind the first parked cab he saw and got out to talk with the man leaning against the trunk. Luke was certain he had the name wrong when he saw the confusion on the other driver’s face. After a short conversation in Nica Spanish that Luke couldn’t follow, the other taxi took off ahead of them. It was midnight, and there were almost no other cars on the streets as they drove through the city. Luke’s driver alternated between following the taxi ahead, and then driving up beside him to shout questions through Luke’s open window. This is insane, Luke thought as the car lurched off the sidewalk and back onto the road after one of their back–and–forth yelling sessions. But even though Luke’s driver was giving no more than a foot of clearance to the few people on the street, they didn’t seem to notice.

After ten minutes, they stopped and both drivers got out of their cars to talk. Luke could tell that they were frustrated and that the other driver was saying he wanted to leave. Just then, Luke remembered he had the address they needed on the email confirming his reservation. Reaching into the backseat, Luke took his laptop out of the backpack and joined the drivers in front of the cars.

“Here,” Luke said. He set the laptop on the hood of the car and pulled up the document with the information they needed. “They’re called the Vista Mombacho Apartments. One hundred varas north of the PPQ Bridge,” he said, seeing the driver from Granada recognize the place. In Nicaragua, most addresses are described in terms of distance and direction from some other better known location, and while the length of a vara changed depending on which Latin American country one was in, Luke had decided to round it out to thirty–six inches: one yard. Or in this case, one hundred yards.

It was half an hour past midnight when they pulled up to the apartments facing a T intersection. A single light pole about twenty yards away provided just enough illumination so that Luke could see the bills in his wallet. The driver was rushing, and Luke could tell he was anxious to leave as he yanked Luke’s suitcase from the trunk and set it hard on the sidewalk outside the entrance. Turning to Luke, the driver thrust out his hand to be paid.

“Please don’t forget the tip,” the driver said as Luke took the fare from his wallet. Giving him thirty–five dollars, Luke took the driver’s card with “Alvedor” and a phone number handwritten on it, promising to call him when he returned to Managua.

As the taxi drove away, Luke went up the steps to the apartments and reached through the black iron security gate and knocked on the plain double wooden doors. After he knocked several times, a young man who looked like he had just woken up opened the door. Luke couldn’t understand the guy’s Spanish, but he seemed to know Luke was arriving and had his key ready. He took Luke’s suitcase and led him through the front lobby to his room, where he turned on the ceiling fans and showed Luke how to use the remote control for the air–conditioning.

After he left, Luke went to the fridge and took out a double–sized Toña, Nicaragua’s national beer, which he had asked the owner to have for him when he arrived. At least he came through with the beer, Luke thought as he took a long drink. He was tired and smelly and soaked with sweat; in that limbo that comes after embarking on a new path before gaining confidence in one’s chosen direction. But soon the cold beer settled him, and the day’s travel began to take its toll. The first step had been made, Luke thought, and he knew there was no turning back as he fell asleep still sitting at the small plastic table in the kitchen.

KezerRobert A. Kezer, PhD, bridges the gap between isolated knowledge arising in the academy and its informed integration into the public world. By trade, Bob is a journeyman power lineman through the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). He returned to college in 2002 and earned bachelor’s degrees in international studies and religious studies from the University of Oregon, a master’s degree in integral theory through John F. Kennedy University, and a doctorate in transformative studies with a concentration in integral theory through the California Institute of Integral Studies. He has one adult son, and basks daily in the joys of fatherhood. This is his first novel.

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