I Didn’t Choose to be an Anti-Authoritarian

Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority—sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.” — Psychiatrist Bruce E. Levine

People tend to think that anti-authoritarians are know-it-all smartasses or belligerent egotists, too good for the rules, too unwise to trust in the judgments of their elders and betters. But I feel that people who unquestioningly accept authority are throwing away their own brainpower. And anyways, I never had a choice but to be anti-authoritarian. Criticizing an anti-authoritarian of my type is like picking on someone for their skin tone or sexual orientation — you’re bothering someone about an aspect of themselves they never had any control over.

So this is how I came into anti-authoritarianism:

When I was four years old and entering Kindergarten, I looked up to my teacher Mrs. Mitchell as a wise crone figure. Learning to read a clock at Wilson Elementary was as exciting as learning transfiguration at Hogwart’s could have been. One day, Mrs. Mitchell was telling us all we had better listen to her whenever she was speaking to the whole class. Needless to say, I’m paraphrasing her: “I can see everything from up here, so I can tell who’s listening and who isn’t, and if you don’t listen to everything I say you’ll be in trouble.”

Really? Can she really tell who’s listening? Seemed like she’d have to be a mind-reader, and even at four years old I had the feeling that mind-readers were either imaginary or very rare. I had to test her unbelievable claim, even though there was no way I would break that witchy old crone’s wise and just rules. So, I stuck my finger into my right ear, the one facing her, and continued listening out of my hidden left ear. She promptly yelled at me for not listening, aggravated that I had apparently broken the rule just as she was explaining it. I had tested her claim about identifying all the listeners and found it to be false, for which I instantly felt guilty.

Outside of my own parents, Mrs. Mitchell was my first encounter with authority. And now, through a sort of informal science experiment, I knew that even the nicest and most appealing authorities would lie for their own convenience. Every authority thereafter would be questioned; the really sham-ful authorities would be challenged and resisted.

So anti-authoritarianism is an old, old part of me, as ingrained as my attraction to women or my love for cheese. It’s not some rock ‘n’ roll posture or a path of devilish temptation.

Without trying to impose my will on the entire world, I do very much hope that more people will wake up to the revelation I discovered at age four.