Rebel, Rebel

oiva

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.

 

27 thoughts on “Rebel, Rebel

  1. Thank Bojana for asking you to do this. She has an amazing mind, and is always probing.

    Thank you, Paul, for the insights. I love reading these sorts of posts. It reminds us of the shared and the different experiences we all have, and how much greater we become when we do share the differences and not condemn nor persecute.

    May the road rise with you
    j. lydon

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you! And as Bojana tends to greatly enhance all of these comment section conversations, I’m certain she will receive your gratitude directly. Shared and different — that’s more profound than it seems at first glance, no? Three words that perfectly encapsulate why we still misunderstand each other so badly while having the exact same experience of being alive. Anger is an energy!!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yes she does.

        Wow so true. When you distill it we are all truly the same. I hadn’t thought of that. In my hubris of attempting to phrase something I felt was an inclusive statement I actually did the opposite. I could be wrong I could be right never seemed more apropos.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. My sincere appreciation and gratitude to Paul’s Mom and Dad. You probably have no idea what good you’ve done to your son. Without you, he would have probably never become the man we see now. (You’re just adorable with that hair!!!)

      As for your post, you blew my mind (don’t you always!?) And how fast was that? Hats off, my friend.

      Now, this whole rage against the machine made me think, surprisingly (or not) or Kurt Cobain. He explained once that the meaning of ‘nirvana’ is freedom from suffering, pain and the outside world, adding that’s how he’d define punk rock too, which is not only freedom in music and playing what you want, but, more importantly, freedom to say and do what you goddamn please.

      Due to the controversial, radical, and offensive nature of the lyrics, I too was smitten with the Dead Kennedys, the Pistols, Clash, the Exploited, Ramones, GBH etc. I thought we could change the world, or at least one country. We did change it actually but alas! Our happiness didn’t last long since the change turned out to consist of equally corrupt and bribable individuals. History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce, which is what we have in Serbia now with people who initiated the war back in the saddle. As a result, the youth resorted to self-destruction. Not me, it was never my thing. I fled the country instead, to save what could still be saved (of my soul, I mean). I said NO to putting up with verbal aggression, absurd speeches, brainwashing, rudeness, fake diplomas and college degrees, ignorance, and stupidity in any way, shape, or form. I found it all too insulting to the intelligence and detrimental to my general well-being in the long run. Even now, the whole talk of national unity, regional stability and joining the European family (my ass!) is nothing more than a charade.
      So, YES, I stopped fighting. I’m still fighting my ego though. And digging up my soul, which is something they could never do. So I win.

      I love to listen to the Pistols these days, oddly, when vacuuming. I need to vent to someone, or something. Let it be the dusty carpets.

      And you lovely and lovable people, my safe haven and family of sorts have all the love my fragile, and damaged heart could give.

      P.S. Maybe they did win after all…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. First of all, thank you, Bojana. Sincerely. Second of all, I concur with Wulf — I would love to read more about your particular journey and evolution from Serbian strife to the incredibly inspiring person you are today. And finally, the fact that you name-dropped GBH just elevated you to a place of near royalty in my mind. But of all the artists mentioned in my post and your comment, the Clash reign supreme, of course. To this day, I still have moments of epiphany when I suddenly discern what they were saying through the thickest Cockney accents ever recorded, my favorite line being from White Man In Hammersmith Palais: “All over, people are changing their votes along with their overcoats…if Adolf Hitler flew in today, they’d send him a limousine anyway!” You rock.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Lots of high-quality noise.
        As for your and Wulf’s suggestion, I promise to give you a glimpse of our hell SOON. I need to finish sth else first.
        This whole challenge thing is getting pretty amazing, don’t you think?
        In the meantime, if you have nth to occupy your busy mind (which I seriously doubt) I’d like to, when you grab some free time, hear your opinion of Huxley’s Brave New World, which I’m sure you read, not of course as futurology but rather as the false symbol for a (any) regime of universal happiness.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. The last time I read Brave New World was probably when I was in my twenties. Since then, I’ve read several of Huxley’s other non-fiction works, so I will use this as a convenient excuse to re-read BNW to ensure that I confine my thoughts to one book. Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What an amazing overview of what made Paul be Paul; there is nothing I enjoy so much as a story of evolution. Yours was clearly that, beginning with a picturesque middle American upbringing, the kind we teach in old TV shows. Of course, as pop media evolved we came to understand the stifling, and often deviant, nature of the reality behind the mythology. Or, at least, many of us did; those who never fell for the MAGA mantra or the “good ol’ days” revisionism of American history. The growing modern quest for inner truth, as opposed to traditional dogmatic truth, was an intricate part of our generation, eh?

    But the transition is never an easy one. As you said, ‘the idea of single-handedly “smashing the State” was patently ludicrous’ and so we found ways to adapt or escape. Like you, I did plenty of both.

    And then, in our 40’s, we found a new enlightenment, you and I, a new place of peace. You, in Buddhist teachings, me … well, I guess in just “being Tom.” Or, hell, maybe I’m still escaping. 🤔

    Regardless, the evolution continues.

    Thank you for sharing, Paul… enlightening and entertaining, as always. And, as Wulf said, thank you, Bojana, for prompting this exposition. Paul always seems up to taking on a challenge, and exceeding all expectations of it. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks, Tom, and great point about the sudden resurgence of “good old days” revisionism. You made a distinction between my Buddhist-inspired evolution and your own evolution of viewpoint with an underlying implication that yours is somehow inferior. However, what is more ironic than an alleged Buddhist who jumps at every opportunity to remind people of his oh-so-advanced Buddhist viewpoint? It is quite possible that you “get it” far more naturally — and therefore, better — than I do.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I would never presume as much! My thought was that although our paths may have been dissimilar, our journeys were parallel. That is what fascinates me. I also doubt that either of us can be summarized so simply by what we have discovered this past decade. 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  3. bla bla bla…no way I can write like you…yakity yakity….so, now turning the conversation onto myself: I too, grew up in a Roman Catholic household, and I was so brainwashed now I am seeing Christ everywhere and morphing into him only too discover he never existed as a single person…yaditty…yaddity…none of this is real…that is what you have discovered years ago and I am just tripping over…brilliantly Paul, as usual. I’m not going to say “thanks” because word strokes an ego you don’t have…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Ah, but if more of our self-proclaimed “Christians” actually did use the model of Christ for their lives, we’d be on far less precarious ground as a species. Not to mention, if more of them conducted themselves according to his example, whether that example was historically true or just a cobbled-together ideal of a man, I’d have one less arena in which to express my anger.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. ❤️ I loved everything about this piece, Paul; the photo – adorable – the reflection, the openness, the heart’s desire. I enjoy when you write like this. : )

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank goodness for parents that show us the path, either good or bad. Thank goodness for people like you who make us think ABOUT that path. For me, it wasn’t the Pistols, but Joy Division, Shriekback, and Japan, but you know what they say: Second verse, just like the first.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I know! I thought I was the only person I knew who loved them. Waterbaby is still one of my favourite songs, along with just about everything else they’ve done. I’d give anything to see them but they haven’t toured in Canada since ’87.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ah ok, since you mentioned Waterbaby from the comparatively recent Cormorant, then you are obviously aware of the fact that they are still recording incredible music. I was quite partial to “Life In The Loading Bay”. I get their newsletters e-mailed to me but I haven’t really seen them planning a tour anywhere in North America. Probably not enough demand, I’d guess.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Paul, you are incredible. My brain can’t understand all of the vocabulary, but I do understand the person you are – an incredibly complex and kind individual whose heart shines. What I love about this, is that I picture you sitting across from me or us walking and I can hear your voice, and that makes me extremely happy, and also feel very lucky that I am one of the lucky ones who has gotten to listen to it. A powerful and influential voice is yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As is yours, Tanya. Immediately upon meeting you, I understood why your writing had spoken to me with such magical familiarity — if there are such things as kindred spirits, you are most definitely one of mine. Thank you for being such a great friend and constant source of inspiration!

      Liked by 1 person

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