I haven’t talked much about the point in life I was at when I first remembered my life as John.
The fact is, not only was I dealing with an extremely tense roommate scenario where it was possible we could have all gone to jail at one point, and the prospect of losing my home, but I had recently made a foray into radical politics.
Up until July 2012, I was active in a small local anarchist movement. I’d even written a book that a number of established members of our particular community liked and personally promoted. I was on my way to becoming a prominent figure in our movement. If I’d kept going the way I was going, I could have been a real leader;* here I had the right ideas for the right audience, and they liked me. But I suddenly felt all wrong about it. I began to wonder if I was really ready to take on a political cause whole-heartedly like that, or to take on the risks involved in being front and center in a movement disliked by both the right and the left.
I realized that maybe I was biting off more than I could chew, and for all the wrong reasons. The thrill of possibly having influence scared me, and I knew I had to back down and think about my life for a bit. As they say, anyone who wants political power doesn’t deserve it.
It was in that period of asking myself what I really wanted that the memories came, almost as if by way of an answer. To this day I’m not sure what exactly triggered them except a great deal of stress related more to the housing situation than anything.
The memories made me realize that if I defined myself by a cause and showed myself willing to die for it, then I would surely get what I asked for, and in the end it wouldn’t make much difference for the cause.
I began to be honest with myself for once. People talk about how the revolution’s going to come, or how the government’s just going to collapse under the weight of its own irony, but if it is, could the new regime be any better than the last one? Won’t we still be plagued by all the same problems because we’re essentially the same culture as the people we’d be pushing out of power? That’s how all revolutions end up, really. More of the same, from a different batch of assholes.
If I was going to devote my life to something, it would have to be better than a revolution that may or may not come and will probably have all the same problems as the people it replaces.
I’m pretty much apolitical now. I still see a lot of merit in left-anarchist values, but I don’t consider myself a left-anarchist any more and I’m put off by militant language. I’ve been trying to think of the world outside of the framework of politics or religion or even my own culture, which is probably the hardest thing of all to deconstruct from the inside because we kind of need it to have meaningful relationships with others. And yet, outside of that framework, I began to see how easily we human beings could walk away from so many of our troubles without a whole lot of effort if we’d only just think about what we’re doing and why we do it. The energy we expend being judgmental and opinionated could be better used in other ways that make people happy.
And although a lot of people just respond with cynical straw-men about how “that’s life” or “people suck,” I saw enough people who shone among them that I knew we could all be better than what we are, people who deconstructed culture and everything else and yet, far from leaving us as undignified naked apes, they gave us the dignity of knowing the questions to ask before forming our beliefs rather than telling us what we ought to think.
There are ways we can all be happy. If we live authentically and open to the truth, whatever it may be, we can be not only happy, but wise. Jingoism and fanaticism for any cause, though, are not among them.
*Not that there are “leaders” by that title in any anarchist movement. The social dynamic there is a bit like a wolf pack, where the one with the most ideas and initiative tends to shape the views and policies of everyone else.