Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully
by Robert Jensen · Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015
There was nothing out of the ordinary about Jim Koplin. He was just your typical central Minnesota gay farm boy with a Ph.D. in experimental psychology who developed anarchist-influenced radical-feminist and anti-imperialist politics, and got involved in every major progressive movement of the last half of the 20th century while never losing touch with his rural roots. But perhaps the most important thing about Jim is that throughout his life, almost literally to his dying breath, he spent some part of every day on the most important work we have: Tending the garden.
Plain Radical is a touching homage to a close friend and mentor, taken too soon. But it is also an exploration of the ways in which an intensely local focus paired with a fierce intelligence can provide a deep, meaningful, even radical engagement with the world. “Jim was the most plainly radical person I have ever known” says Jensen. “Radical in the sense of going deep, to the root, to analyze the world and its problems without fudging the facts or hedging one’s bets. Plain, both in the sense that Jim’s analysis was unvarnished and unadulterated, and because in day-to-day life he avoided anything fancy or faddish. (more…)
By Robert Jensen · Published June 13, 2014 at wagingnonviolence.org
Every time I read the latest bad-and-getting-worse news about the health of the ecosphere, such as last month’s report that the melting of some giant glaciers had passed the point of no return, I think back to a conversation 25 years ago that helps me put such news in perspective. In a Minneapolis bakery where my new friend Jim Koplin and I had settled into a Friday morning coffee session to analyze the world, and gossip a bit, Koplin told me that he thought the most important task for human beings — as a species, not just as individuals — was “learning to leave the planet gracefully.” (more…)
by Robert Jensen
“Good teaching is living your life honestly in front of students.”
I don’t recall exactly when Jim Koplin first told me that, but I know that he had to say it several times before I began to understand what he meant. Koplin was that kind of teacher—always honing in on simple, but profound, truths; fond of nudging through aphorisms that required time to understand their full depth; always aware of the connection between epistemology and ethics; and patient with slow learners.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Some background: Jim Koplin was, by way of a formal introduction, Dr. James H. Koplin, granted a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1962 with a specialization in language acquisition, tenured at Vanderbilt University and later a founding faculty member of Hampshire College, retired early in 1980 to a rich life of community building and political organizing. I never took a class from him, though in some sense the 24 years I knew him constituted one long independent study. That finally ended on December 15, 2012, not upon satisfactory completion of the course but when Jim died at the age of 79. He left behind a rich and diverse collection of friends, all of whom have a special connection with him. But I hang onto the conceit that I am his intellectual heir, the one who most directly continued his work in the classroom.
So, with that conceit firmly in place and his death fresh in my mind, it seems proper and fitting that I offer lessons learned from Koplin to the world outside his circle of students and friends. (more…)
Thank you, Mr. Koplin, for everything you have shared with me. Your bumper crop of cherries, sunny Friday afternoons in the garden, good stories, and the news about town. Most of all, thank you for living a deeply good life and showing me what it means to work hard, learn constantly, live wisely with the Earth, and be the connective tissue in your community.
jim is to me what this poem is to the world… he has been my adoptive father, my mentor, my mache’ teacher, my stead fast reminder to look deeper, ask more questions and keep in mind the humus and all that grows … he was the sower of seeds.. and a great, great, great friend….. and i will miss him sliding me another piece of propaganda, or a email to consider… and a good bowl of soup… (more…)
I always enjoyed watching Jim walk the neighborhood with his hands and arms resting behind his back. My son Zo just commented ” he was a nice man ” it is people like Jim who make a neighborhood a better space for all who are part of this place called Powderhorn.