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.


Ideologies of the Ring

Fascism: Let Boromir take the Ring and name him King. Then Gondor and the chosen Numenorean race will be restored to their former and rightful glory.

Libertarianism: Give Gandalf the Ring. Make him promise to use it only in dire need.

Socialism: Give Gandalf the Ring. Let him use it to preserve and improve Middle Earth.

Marxism: Give Gandalf the Ring. Let him use it to preserve and improve Middle Earth — and make him promise to throw the Ring away after everything has been perfected.

Anarchism: Throw the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom!

So-called Apathetic: As Faramir said: “I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway.”

Non-Aggression Principle, Golden Rule, Wiccan Rede

The Non-Aggression Principle states that initiating force or coercion against others is inherently wrong. Everyone understands this on an intuitive level: it is wrong to hit other people (initiating force) or threaten them with a beating in order to take their lunch money (coercion); however, it is okay to hit someone if they are trying to hurt you or a loved one, since you did not initiate the use of force (self-defense). In politics, the Non-Aggression Principle is espoused by libertarians, who claim that the principle applies to governments and their agents as much as it does to everyone else in all situations.

The Non-Aggression Principle is related to the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Would you have others beat you up or threaten you into doing what you hate? You would not, so you generally follow the NAP. Unfortunately, the Golden Rule calls for treating everyone alike, when we are all different. When a Black person in the neighborhood calls me a “nigga,” I feel glad to be seen a human being rather than an alien “cracker”… however, if I were to call them the same thing back, they might well think I was verbally aggressing against them.

Some people feel that they are doing a productive civic duty by paying taxes, while I resent my money being used to prop up exploiters like Wal-Mart, to lock up victimless offenders and to murder people in other parts of the world. When you go out and vote for your representatives, please don’t pick people who want to do unto me as you enjoy having it done unto you.

Better than even the much-lauded Golden Rule is the short, short version of the Wiccan Rede. The Rede is a poem of counsel, which modern witches heed. The long version outlines the Wiccan holidays and other aspects of worship. The short version is basically the NAP voiced in Renaissance Fair language:

Bide the Wiccan Law ye must,
In Perfect Love and Perfect Trust,
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill
An’ harm ye none, Do what ye will.

I think that the Rede is sufficient, and more precise than the Golden Rule. It is much more applicable than about five of the Ten Commandments (go ahead and engrave images if you want!). The Rede does not explicitly allow for self-defense. However, if we take self-defense as a given, the Rede provides the same foundation for moral reasoning as the NAP. Like libertarians, Wiccans may not use harm, such as coercion and violence. Not to prescribe certain acceptable medicines and sex acts, nor to rear and educate children, nor to enforce their own aesthetic standards on other people’s front lawns (if my lawn offends your eyes, wait until you see how I dress!).

When I was a teenager investigating the Wiccan religion, I was suspicious because the basic Rede does not prescribe any positive actions such as giving to charity or acting modestly. It looked like a statement of selfishness. I now think that positive action has to come from one’s intrinsic goodwill, one’s internal motivations — “do what ye will.” To combine the best of the NAP and Rede, allow me to offer the following:

An’ initiate force or coercion against none, do what ye will

If we can all agree on the rather minimal moral code of the NAP/Rede, and perhaps avoid fetishizing selfishness and greed, we’ll allow cooperation and creativity to flourish naturally. I don’t see any advantage in bullying yourself or others into being “better” people.