I am an Antichrist! I am an Anarchist! Don’t know what I want, but I know how to get it. I wanna destroy passersby! ‘Cause I wanna be Anarchy! – Johnny Rotten
I’ve been presented with a topic. The refreshingly erudite Bojana of Bojana’s Coffee & Confessions To Go recently requested that I write a few words in response to the following query: OK, so I’m really curious about Paul the rebel, who were your role models, and who your opponents. What cause did you believe in? Who or what did you fight against?
As I began pondering the roots of my generalized rebellion against whatever the society in which I live codifies into written or implied law, it occurred to me that my response to Bojana’s inquiry would surely have been far more entertaining had it been written several years ago. That’s not to say it would have made any sense, just that it would have found its expression in an animated and egotistical celebration of imagined contrarian anarchy. Buddhism, while extraordinarily revolutionary and rebellious in the psychological and metaphysical sense, paradoxically achieves such epithets by calling into question every motive and outlook an unliberated person can possibly entertain — including the very premise of social rebellion. It reminds us that this, too, is another ego mask; a role to be played that unwittingly supports an existing power structure. A rebel is simply the Yin to society’s Yang, necessary and indispensable to the very system it hopes to dismantle. If I fancied myself a walking middle finger to the world, I did not understand that a hand needs that central digit in order to function properly.
I grew up in a peculiar household. My parents weren’t intentionally or physically abusive, but their ages and rigid Roman Catholic beliefs combined to create a perfect desperate recreation of the Ward Cleaver home — a modest Colonial in black and white with a picket fence and an apple pie cooling off on the windowsill — standing self-consciously amidst a row of modern Technicolor homes erected to hide the sinful behavior of their heathen occupants. If you wished to enter my mother’s house, you had to acquiesce to taking your shoes off at the door and avoiding an entire antiseptic living room that was “just for show”. Needless to say, I didn’t invite friends over very often.
At an extremely young age, I began to notice that my parents never had any fun. Every aspect of their lives was regimented, from church to meals to house cleaning, and any deviation from the norm was a cause for extreme anxiety. All forms of entertainment deemed inappropriate or immoral (and you’d be amazed what tame and harmless fare found its way into these categories) were forbidden. Not surprisingly, the result of these parental proscriptions was that I became a virtual connoisseur of all things vulgar, blasphemous and offensive. I still am, by the way. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
They told me that I should never question authority, so I set out to do just that at every opportunity. Cops were high on my list of perceived enemies and this disdain for authority eventually turned political with the help of the hardcore punk movement of the 80s. I cannot claim to have had any real understanding of politics at the time, but bands like the Dead Kennedys, Crass, Reagan Youth, MDC and Jodie Foster’s Army (what a great fucking band name!!) alerted me to the fact that Ronald Reagan was evil incarnate and I was happy to believe them.
So that’s how I came to view all things religious, rigid, authoritative or restrictive as societal characteristics not just to be avoided, but destroyed. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that the idea of single-handedly “smashing the State” was patently ludicrous, but this epiphany did nothing to reduce my storehouse of teenage angst. Instead, I turned my rage inward and embarked upon several decades of unadulterated self-destruction. Yeah, that’ll show ‘em!
Therefore, it can perhaps be stated that I was the proverbial rebel without a cause (there are no known proverbs about James Dean, so please excuse my choice of metaphors). My biggest influence in the cultivation of this futile rebellion was Jello Biafra, lead singer of the Dead Kennedys. My perceived enemies were cops, Republican politicians, religious leaders and two people who lived under the same roof as me that bore a striking resemblance to the anachronistic human couples from Gary Larson’s The Far Side comic strip. In short, anyone I perceived (and therefore, accepted) as an authority figure became the object of my impotent derision.
About six years ago, in tandem with a newfound sobriety, I began to seriously pore over every Sutra and piece of Buddhist and Taoist literature I could find. As these traditions found their way to the West – imperfectly understood, of course – books with titles like “Against The Grain”, “Heart of The Revolution” and “Radical Acceptance” found their way onto the shelves of American bookstores, beckoning frustrated upstarts like me to explore what subversive esoterica might be contained between their covers. And subversive it is, though not in the way we proudly jaded Western punks would have liked.
The only real thing against which one can successfully rebel is his or her own delusional mind. This erroneous ego-based view of ourselves as independent entities locked in battle with a cruel and alien Universe is behind every specific self-defeating abstraction in our culture: patriotism, bigotry, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, aggression, pride, envy, greed, depression and religious fanaticism. Playing the role of the rebel only reinforces these questionable drives and ideals by giving their proponents a necessary anti-hero.
Therefore, in recent years, I’ve attempted to nurture a radically different mindset with which to view the fluid present. Ideally, I would like to feel as though I have no enemies, though anyone who reads my page is well aware of the fact that I am quite short of that mark. Though many if not most of the neurotic ways in which I continue to view the world were implanted from the outside, it was I who invited them in and hence, it can only be I who has the ability to vanquish them from my mind stream. The same goes for every sentient being in existence. A skilled therapist or teacher can help to guide a person in such a journey of discovery, but they cannot do the actual work.
So here’s the new rebellion for a new millennium, if I may be so bold as to declare it: gradually negate those neurotic forces of ego within you not by mental aggression but by countering them with truth, or adding the Yin to their Yang, if you will. Good and evil can only exist as parts of the whole and are thus inseparable and indispensable. If and when you arrive at a moment wherein you truly understand the interrelation of all impermanent phenomena – including yourself – you will have inadvertently transformed into the most dangerous of societal rebels: the kind that understands none of it is real. And this realization can only be considered complete when it no longer imbues you with a feeling of superiority or accomplishment. Remember: it’s so simple, even a baby or a puppy can do it – as they prove every moment of their lives. It simply means to become who you are. Yet, in today’s world of cruel capitalist competition, that’s about as rebellious as it gets.