When you hear the term "New Age politics" -- and believe me, you're going to hear it a lot during the next fiscal millennium -- you shouldn't just think of the channelers, crystal freaks, psychics and Stevie Nicks lookalikes that the entire nation laughed at on Harmonic Convergence Day. Though these people are found in the movement, the political core also consists of futurists, solar- technology buffs, environmentalists and many other groups interested in creating what one New Age magazine has called "a third force that {will} transcend the traditional divisions between Marxism and capitalism, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans." In theory, this third force can accommodate anyone to the left of a nuclear-holocaust- advocating Nazi baby-chimp molester, because the New Agers insist that, even if it's only on a single issue, they can build a working coalition with almost any group, be they right-wing Christians, libertarians or pro-gun lobbyists.

An interesting idea: the ultimate political Big Tent. True, it's hard to imagine fundamentalist Christians working arm-in-arm with a party whose platform includes a plank on "developing androgynous attitudes as an alternative to patriarchal attitudes," but let's forget that for now. I'm more interested in how common schmoes like me will fit into the new everybodyarchy. To find out, I spent two days earlier this month sitting in on a conference called "The Soviet-American Citizens' Summit: Social Inventions for the Third Millennium." This meeting, held in an Alexandria hotel, brought together 100 leading Soviet citizens with 300 American New Agers and "citizen diplomats" for a five-day brainstorming session designed to yield new ideas for better Us-Them relations. Which is nice, but I was there to see New Age politics in action, and the question I asked is one that all of us may have to answer someday: Will I be able to stand these people?

Looking back at the tough time I had doing so, I have to wonder if maybe I'm the problem. Perhaps I'm not yet fit for a holistic global coalition. All I know is that I detected many, many irritants during that night's speeches that could make the New Age/me union very fragile. I'll just mention one here. After the speakers finished, a man came out and talked about his dream of one day converting all the world's weapons to gongs ("This gong on the stage reads: 'Peace on Earth NOW. Ring me. Happiness follows' ") and then played a song during which the audience had to do "universal-friendship gestures" to these lyrics: "I offer you peace/ I offer you friendship/ I offer you LOOOVE." And I offered them the sight of my arms whirring like windmill blades as I fled the room. Later, at home, I chastised myself for being such a cranky butthead. After all, the Russians probably weren't too keen on those atmospherics either, but they went along. I decided: Yes, I would, too. And the next day, when the 18 small task forces scattered throughout the hotel and began their brainstorming sessions, I vowed to concentrate on substance, not style. The basic drill was this: Each delegate had to present an idea in the morning, it would be posted on the wall, and that afternoon the task forces would select the ideas they wanted to pursue. I selected the task force on "Religion, Atheism and Spirituality." One after another, the delegates stood and gave brief descriptions of their brand-new concepts: "Earth AS Church." "Peace IS God." "Theology of Disarmament." "Exchange of Youth and Professors." "Develop Universal, Non-Denominational Religion." Now there's an idea: God Esperanto. Then a man who identified himself as a "forest-dwelling seeker" stood and said, no kidding: "I believe in all religions. I believe all belief systems are ways of validating the truth, and that to arrive at truth is a way of arriving at what is, because I believe God is what is. Because what is is beyond what's right and wrong, because it just . . . is. I believe alllll religions are searching for this knowledge, which I call: The System of Self-Correcting Truth." Did the delegates hoot at this freshman ecumenism? No. They ooh'd and aah'd, bilingually.

During lunch I wandered the rooms jotting down my favorite new ideas. "Peace=Justice, Environment." "SPIRITUAL Defense Initiative." "Encyclopedia of Short Videos About Animals." "Children's Gallery of Peace Art." (I also heard one woman complain that nobody seemed interested in her concept: "Hula Dancers in Moscow.") Then I spent the afternoon at a session on "The New Cosmology for a New Way of Thinking," mainly because someone in this group had made a large poster that said: "NEW GAME! PLAY TOGETHER. CO-METE TO CO-CREATE AN EXPANDING WINNING FOR THE OTHER SIDE (OF OURSELVES). WINNNNN." The leaders of this group, a pair of chipmunky guys, had spent the lunch hour rearranging the ideas under headings they'd devised. "Drama to Symbolize Shift to New Cosmology," for example, fell under Arts.

These two had trouble keeping control. After lunch an older American delegate came back in, squinted at the wall and said, "You know, these topics don't have ANYTHING to do with cosmology as I understand it. From what I see, I can only come to ONE conclusion: We don't know what we're doing." "We'll address that this afternoon," the two leaders chirped. Then one of them shut off the lights and said: "People, I'm going to suggest we do something not on the program." I didn't need to hear another word. I left for a minute, but my tape recorder was still on. "I'd like to ask each of us to go to someone to whom they just . . . feel very deeply energily attracted, and I want you to take that person's hands and silently say 'hello' by looking into their eyes -- "

"I DON'T think that's appropriate." It was the oldster, and as he said it, I saw the alarmed look on the Soviets' faces melt into relief as they received his words in translation. After more arguing, the "love-gazing" motion was tabled, and then much more time was spent on the following tasks: 1) Re-explaining the word "cosmology" to the Russians. 2) Arguing about how many "smaller clusters" the group should break into. The leaders wanted four. Someone noted, loudly, that there were only two translators. "Well," one of the leaders replied, "then we may have to do a lot of communicating with our eyes and our hearts." The two-group faction prevailed. 3) More pointless procedural blab. 4) A chaotic discussion of ideas that ended with all the ideas making the first cut. My favorite was: having the summit sign a Pledge to Overcome the Tyranny of the Mind and sending it to other people around the planet, who could also sign it.

Again, New Agers, I did not come to carp, but to help. In that spirit, here are my suggestions. 1) At every New Age convention, put those two mush-headed group leaders I just mentioned -- their names are in the program -- in the middle of a big room and say, "If anyone feels deeply attracted to these men, please come forward." Purge everybody who does. 2) Find out who that saucy-tongued old guy was and make him dictator. And 3), most important: Fund "Hula Dancers in Moscow" now. ::