I took a walk with a friend the other day. A relatively recent emigree to the east bay, her life was in the midst of a down-shift; she had gone recently from holding down two jobs and attending school to just the one and, without much connection to a social or artistic or political scene in her new home, all the unfilled time in her life was beginning to intimidate her.
She said that everything was fine, but that something was missing, that her life was too placid, that it had nothing at the center of it. Other friends of hers, she told me, particularly the ones who’d been in AA, had advised her to look for a Spirituality to help guide her into the next part of her life. She said that she couldn’t relate to a word, an idea, like “spirituality”. She said that she had tried but it felt like faking.
I told her I couldn’t relate to it either, but that I understood what those more woo-woo friends were trying to get at-they just chose bad, loaded words to say something that’s in a certain way more simple. Part of what “spiritual” people get out of their faith is an Organizing Principle, something that gives meaning and value to their actions and decisions, something that informs everyday life.
Everybody needs an Organizing Principle. Everybody in fact has an organizing principle. For most people in the United States it is a relationship to buying and having. For a lot of people the world over, it’s one religion or another. For some it’s capital-A Art. For others it’s radical activism.
“I just don’t really know what to do with myself”, she said, “now that I’m not an anarchist anymore.”
Her words struck a bell in my head. I realized, with perfect calm, that I wasn’t an anarchist anymore either. I just hadn’t known it until someone else articulated it for me.
If you are a mentally awake person, if you live a self-aware, examined life, it may happen that as your life changes, the ideas through which you have organized your life-your reasons for living-may also need to change.
I would have told her “me, neither”, which would have been at least a little true, but before I spoke I corrected myself-I realized that I still believed in human freedom, in the necessity of the elimination of centralized power, and in the essential capacity of humankind for self-governance. I still believed in anarchy and anarchism. I just didn’t want to be an anarchist anymore. My life had changed and my reasons changed with it.
Anarchism, in my experience, is two parts social milieu to one part political activism. There is a constant tension between these aspects, which often work at cross-purposes to one another, and in that tension I was able to find a kind of Praxis for most of a decade of my life. I butted my head over and over against the restrictions imposed by Anarchism’s central contradiction. The meaning I found in anarchism was not in being one-I am too suspicious of the mob, or too selfish, (or both) to ever be anything other than what I am-but in trying to make changes (improvements, from where I stood) to how anarchism worked internally. My investment in the whole thing came from my fundamental agreement with anarchism’s essential values. I believed in human freedom then and still do. I just wanted the practice of anarchism to be worth more to non-anarchists.
I can no longer find any meaning or satisfaction in trying to make changes to the state of anarchism. And I cannot now, as I could not before, find satisfaction or meaning in participating in the anarchist social milieu as it is, on its own terms. I have engineered better things for myself to do. The anarchist project for human freedom will have to continue without me, at least until they devise an auxiliary Anarchism For Adults, in which we put at least as much energy into reconfiguring the society outside of our peer-group as we do fighting or trying to fuck each other.
I knew I was done a year or more ago, as I watched the scene run yet another one of its own through the infighting-rumors-ostracization wringer. Anarchism eats its young, and it would have eaten me long ago (I tend to make myself an easy target) if I’d ever given myself to it fully.
My poor friend was not like me. She was not so sure. She was not so sure what she wanted next, what could be possible next; she hadn’t yet, perhaps, separated her activism from the personal values that informed it. In a way, she’s lucky. It’s very exciting to be Born Again, and even moreso when you are privileged to help decide who you might become. Hopefully she is not one of the majority, one of those who lose their sense of themselves and never find it again (those ghosts who drift through life looking backwards, to the illusory surety of adolescence); hopefully the transition will be kind to her.