I have always thought of myself as an anarchist. I don’t like being told what to do, I disdain the word Boss (I like to say: “no free person has a boss”), I think that government is a huge failed experiment in the endless possibilities inherent in the human condition, I do not trust people who wear uniforms, when I hear media people or politicians saying things like “Americans believe…” I know they are not talking about me, I am not a big fan of capital, sports, pop culture or competition, I think voting is a scam that the mass of mislead people still think actually matters, I feel that soldiers have been terribly manipulated and indoctrinated by those in power, I don’t watch television or identify with any “leader,” I think the president is a limp puppet and every time I see a police officer I have to hold back from shouting out, “Wake up!”
But am I an anarchist?
The last time I confessed to being an anarchist was over dinner with my Republican father. That was a mistake. Fortunately, I had been practicing meditation regularly at that time and was able to not get caught up in the hundreds of angry thoughts that were steam rolling through my mind as my father told me that I was not an anarchistic and that anarchy was a bunch of bullshit. “Anarchy is an impossible dream, it is violent, misinformed and could never work. You are much more intelligent than that son,” my father said as everyone picked at the cheese plate and Caesar salad that sat in the center of the table. That night was one night that I wise enough to realize it is futile to argue with someone who thinks they know everything but really knows nothing at all.
But now several years later I am starting to wonder if my father was right? Shit. I have been reading a small book that I picked up at a zine fair called, “The Anarchist Tension,” by Alfredo M. Bonanno. In this little book Bonanno speaks of anarchy as having nothing to do with what we traditional consider as political and more to do with a way of being, a way of existing in a conformist world. What threw me into doubt about my own anarchistic identity was this sentence: “Instead, the anarchist is someone who really puts themselves in doubt as such, as a person, and asks themselves: what connection do I manage to maintain each day in everything I do, a way of being an anarchist continually and not coming to agreements, making little daily compromises, etc?”
I like nice things. I like the home that I own with my wife. I am grateful to have a job where I can help others and make a decent income but for the past year or so I have been struggling with one question that I keep asking myself: Am I living authentically, true to my beliefs, true to who I really am? I keep coming up with the same answer: I’m trying but not really.
All throughout my twenties and thirties I wanted to exist as a writer and an artist. I wanted to be my own agent and not have to go outside of myself to earn a living. This was real anarchy as far as I was concerned. I admired the plethora of artists, musicians and writers who were able to build a life out of their true selves without having to compromise their own identity. This is what I wanted for myself- problem was that I was always broke and had to work at various low paying jobs that I did not really like. I had to have a boss.
After working as a high school teacher who also tended bar I realized that I could not do this anymore. I chickened out. I came to terms with the fact that there was no way that I was ever going to be able to support my desired lifestyle as an artist and writer, so I went back to graduate school and became a psychotherapist (a painful process). And now that I am working as a “professional” in a government regulated, very conservative profession- I can not not help but wonder, is this really me?
Bonanno writes that “for the true anarchist the secret of life is to never ever separate thought from action, the things we know, the things we understand, from the things we do, the things with which we carry out our actions.” So many of the individuals who come to see me for psychotherapy are suffering from deep depressions because they are stuck in careers that they want to get out of but can not. They are experiencing what Sartre called, “No Exit.” They are stuck living a life where thought and action are completely separated. For years they have been trying hard to connect the two but it just does not seem to be working out. Is this happening to me also? Is this the fate of the majority of Americans who live in a capitalist system? Could this be the main cause of mental illness in our first world, highly sophisticated and systematized society?
But even more importantly- now that I have a legitimate and professional career that demands that I appear in a fairly standardized, conservative and professional manner- am I still an anarchist? Even though I have gained more cultural legitimacy, credibility from people like my parents and financial security have I lost that way of being that characterizes living authentically as an anarchist? Have I become what I always used to refer to as a sell out? Maybe not. Maybe there is a way to function within the system that keeps a person’s autonomy, truth and freedom in tact.
But if I can’t find that way………..
is it possible that I can at least be an anarchist on the side?