My 1981 Came Back

I’m having flashbacks. I have this uncontrollable itch to post something obvious to most. But I must so for those of my readership for whom the following is not news, go back to cat videos on YouTube, or maybe or Charlie Hebdo.

I’m seated across the table from a former coworker and we are talking about anarchy. He is somewhat aware that I lived in the SF Bay Area for 20 years or so, that I was a member of the Taxi Unlimited Collective, and that I’ve lived in his imagined utopia. It wasn’t very idyllic or utopian. What my coworker conveniently ignores is the talent we have for evil. Taxi Unlimited was dominated by tyrants and trolls. The trolls gained control by being contrary. In a governing system where a consensus or unanimous vote is required to affirm a decision the trolls have an easy power move: just say no. Now the whole collective has to politic the trolls so they agree to something. Trolls become tyrants and have the collective by the nads.

The tyrants have the political skill and willingness to be aggressive. They enjoy the fight. So the rest of the collective that just wants routine and peace acquiesces. They are the sheep feeding the troll and tyrant wolves. It’s bad for the sheep and the wolves end up hungry and pissed. So the collective zeitgeist collapses into chaos and darkness. The death of the collective isn’t far behind. Scaled to a nation of 330 million people and you get Mao’s China made American. It would be bad.

No, But This Time We’ll Get It Right.

He tells me that anarchism isn’t a lack of the rule of law or the absence of governance. His flavor of anarchism feels rather socialist. Some vague, big volunteer organizations would arbitrate the use and access to resources. Nobody would own anything. The arbiter organization would assure that everything was fair. No one could have too much and no one would lack essential resources. His idea of anarchy isn’t Kant’s nor Proudhon’s. It seems to be some sort of millennial morph of the narcissistic “Don’t Tread On Me” of some hippies of fifty years ago. He’s ok with servant leaders who won’t tell him what to do. But he’s not ok with a boss who has authority over him. It’s 1981 again and I feel like I’m arguing with Sputnik over how many beers are too many in one shift.

Sputnik, for most of you, was the first successful artificial satellite to orbit the earth. Sputnik (not his IRL name) for me, was a thirty-something son of Swiss F.O.B. Upstate New York dairy farm parents who was getting his wanna-be-hippie cosplay on by being a member of our collective. His most notable attribute was the prodigious quantity of beer he drank. His second most notable attribute is how much time he spent bent over a porcelain throne either pissing or puking what he’d drank.  Last but not all was his beer-fueled rants at all-hands meetings which made getting things done rather difficult. Pretty much, whatever it was that didn’t involve fucking, drinking beer, or acquiring beer and/or women was something he opposed.

Here I am in a rather pleasant coffee house that puts on a faux commie-pinko SF SoMa façade of locovore, severely vegan, caffeine fueled, down for the cause atmosphere talking to another thirty something who was not even a hard-on in 1981 about the better way. My present company in this Disneyesque dramedy set of a café is brunette, lightly bearded, wearing the deriguere thrift-store threadbare black-ish fatigue jacket, tie-dye t-shirt with a big peace symbol on the front and a silver plate chain with an anarchism medallion. I find out his parents are emigrants from Eastern Europe who escaped the большевики. He must of missed the last 20 years when us boomers discovered AA and John Bradshaw.


His idea of orthodox leadership is suspiciously like the oft-trotted out servant leadership so fashunable in some Christian circles. His ideas on governance feel a lot like Anabaptism. A boss who won’t be too much trouble, who will warm up your coffee for you, and doesn’t hassle you on Mondays and Tuesdays because you were out all weekend at a thing. A boss who approves your PTO for therapeutic massage at the KatGurl Adult Spa. A boss who would be cool with your claiming ownership of your classic C10 in a community run as a common pot.

The big thing I hear from the protest community is a conflicted relationship to the way power is wielded. Some of them express annoyance at us boomers who pitched freedom as liberty from boundaries. The plan seems to be a twist on the “my boundaries are non-negotiable but yours are bullshit” rubric I heard from Sputnik. To which, after letting this post sit in the queue for a few days, causes me to want to spit back, “grow up!”

For most of us, it’s a given that governance and the rule of law are crucial to a somewhat sedate life with time for things other than debating whether being limited to only one twelve-pack is fair. It’s not much of an improvement to say that the boomer thing of liberty from boundaries ends up being a shitty plan. Most of us just accept that making a good faith effort at complying with the law and staying off the radar is the better plan.

Guard Rails

So, if you have a day job, have the trappings of a pedestrian life, good. Go away. There are no videos of cats attacking their own reflection. Gone? No? Whatever. Here is the non-epiphanic point of this post. Lots of things about the cops and government suck. We still need it. Doing the Great Awakening thing and tossing out everything to start from nothing with the belief that we can do it better accomplishes three things. Life gets really complicated as settled ethical debates are re-debated. Time gets expensive because something simple like negotiating who does the dishes turns into a behind the looking glass conversation about tradition. In many cases it gets stupid because in fact, the traditional answer is the best answer.

Too, I am amused by those who itch for starting over because many of them reveal that what they want is a benevolent dictator who will force everyone else to behave in desirous ways. The ones who protest the loudest about oppression end up being the meanest sons-of-bitches once they are victorious and in control of the government. What they protest they end up creating. It happened in Central America and other places before we traversed Y2K and arrived at the future. Please let’s not repeat the mistake here.