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?
12 thoughts on “Am I An Anarchist?”
This is just brilliant!!! You my friend are one of the greatest writers/bloggers of our time. Thank you.
That is a very nice compliment. Thank you 🙂
You ask good questions, Randall. If pursuing licensure is a factor that calls your anarchist self-identity into question, I get it. The licensed professional path indeed requires enormous amounts of personal concession from a non-conformist to (let’s face it) absurd levels of regulation. Regulation that is more designed to filter out the one bad seed therapist out of 1,000 than to “protect the public” as Ann Bernhardt so adamantly insisted. (And my more cynical suspicion is the keep the bar of entry high.)
I, too, identify (philosophically at least, as your point about daily concessions is well made) as an anarchist. And, I have decided to skip the licensure path as I found it simply too constraining and unpalatable for a variety of reasons. What identity does that choice support, I wonder? Anarchy? Conformity to an anarchist model? A new model?
Nice to read your writing, again. I was always a fan! I hope you are well
~ your old friend from Saybrook, melanie (now known as angela)
Angela! Good to hear from you. Thanks for the insightful comment. I should post your words above my desk since they really get to the core of the dilema that I am speaking of in this post. I find it interesting that you have decided against the path of licensure and I would like to hear more about that sometimes.
I have this policy that I like to stick to when i am unsure about certain decisions. One of my heroes is Thom Yorke who is the front man from Radiohead (I also do this with Henry Miller, Tom Waits and Jack Kerouac). Anyways, any time I buy shoes, or pants or get myself involved in other situations that I am not sure about I ask myself “Would Thom Yorke do this?” It tends to be an effective guidepost. So I find myself asking this question with regards to my current dilemma, “would Thom Yorke do it?” And I got to say- I really don’t know.
Sending you my best old friend.
Hey Randall! I’d love to have that “to license or not to license” convo with you sometime; do you still have my email address? The decision, while 99% made, still intrigues (okay, exasperates) me on pragmatic, philosophical, political, financial, and heck, existential levels. Eh. Going it on my own.
I love your community-based decision making process; it’s good to get a variety of opinions. Like having your own mystic council. Thom Yorke sitting at your right-hand side, cryptically whispering in your ear, guiding your fashion choices one sky blue note at a time. One of my absolute all-time favorite wise voices is Anais Nin. (Henry Miller’s lover as you likely know.)
Funny, though. My favorite person to consult with, at least, on the larger dilemmas, is 90-year-old me. She seems to know a lot more than I do.
Give my love to your beautiful wife! ~ angela
Yes! Lets have that conversation. Could you send me your 90 year old self’s email? I do not believe I have it. I would like to go into this deeper with you. Would be helpful. P.s…..there is an Anais Nin book sitting next to my bathtub:)
Hi Randall. One of my fave Aussie poets – Pi O (or TTO) – is a self-described ‘anarchist poet’. For that reason alone I have spent some hours over the years from time to time studying the anarchist model and puzzling over the problem of how to extract oneself from the all-pervasive hierarchies of kinship and the global state. I’ve only had Pi O to look to as a self-described anarchist role model that I could identify with. As is typically the case, a single exemplar is hardly enough to work through complexities with. Your reference to Thom Yorke struck me as a revelation. Perhaps ‘a way of being, a way of existing in a conformist world’ in the anarchist mode would be like becoming a multi-instrumentalist in the ‘lead vocalist’ and ‘principle songwriter’ roles. Granted, he’s not a self-described anarchist from what I can see, but he’s self-described, which is close enough for me!
On the problem of professional regulation (the way I see it):
1. “For anarchists, anarchy means “not necessarily absence of order, as is generally supposed, but an absence of rule.”” [Benjamin Tucker, Instead of a Book, p. 13]
2. “Someone needs to tell the truth, but it shouldn’t be my job.” [Thom Yorke]
I/ came/ to a ward of horses,
bloated on cake, relaxed in front of, t.v.s
the king of kings, their therapy
wax horses, wax horses
the city is burning its horses.
I don’t think one’s appearing “in a fairly standardized, conservative and professional manner” need be in conflict with anarchism or authenticity so long as one chooses one system or other and functions within it voluntarily. I do hope I used the HTML tags sufficiently properly to make the italics and format of the extract above from Pi O come out properly.
Hi Brad. Thanks for your comment. I think I need to mull over it for a bit since there is a lot in it. I need to discover Pi O. Sounds great.
Just curious. Are you thinking that an anarchist can function within a circumscribed, conservative, rule based system and still maintain their anarchist way of being? Maybe there is deep revelation in your insight because the multi-instrumentalist could be similar to a professional who is also an anarchist, writer, artist, carpenter, etc. Maybe what anarchy is about is not becoming confined to the roles that we need to fit into in order to survive economically but to wear many different hats so to speak? Or better yet the professional anarchist who functions ethically within a system of laws, regulations and rules does so with integrity and authenticity toward their own anarchistic values/beliefs. In other words they dont pretend or play a professional false self role, they dont sell themselves out- instead they remain true to who they are and are not afraid for others to discover that.
Just thinking out loud. Maybe I am interpreting this too much from my own experience. I will meditate more on your comment and check out the poet you speak of.
Hi Randall. I’ve been thinking–longishly and hard–about this. Can an anarchist function within a circumscribed, conservative, rule based system and still maintain their anarchist way of being? I do believe one can. One needs to make a distinction between functioning accordingly, or being accepted(able) within any one given profession.
The standard response given to me would be to hyperlink in right about here and now to the post in my blog (today AEST) where I submit to a gun blast while addressing one of my heroes. The abovesaid TT.O.
You are spot on, sir. I am interpreting this from my own experience. And the word ‘too’ has so many unjustified negative connotations wrapped up in it–don’t you think–when it’s used to precede anything much?
Have you considered anarcho capitalism?
Tell me more….
Thanks for the comment Brad. Good points. I just don’t know about all of this. My mind is in a kind of quagmire around it. I do function accordingly within the parameters of my profession and then when I am not in “professional” clothing I like to challenge the system as much as possible (such as tap into my inner teenager and give a cop the finger). But my anarchist efforts are paltry in comparison to those real Bradford Cox characters who seem to live, breathe and eat anarchy. I think our professions most often narrow our minds, trap us within a kind of respectable comfort. And after all, all animals forget about the traps when things seem good, right? Especially anarchists.