Discover more from A Quiet Practice
What if we just questioned things more?
(Trigger warning: discussion of abortion)
“Well, anarchism is, in my view, basically a kind of tendency in human thought which shows up in different forms in different circumstances, and has some leading characteristics. Primarily it is a tendency that is suspicious and skeptical of domination, authority, and hierarchy. It seeks structures of hierarchy and domination in human life over the whole range, extending from, say, patriarchal families to, say, imperial systems, and it asks whether those systems are justified. It assumes that the burden of proof for anyone in a position of power and authority lies on them. Their authority is not self-justifying. They have to give a reason for it, a justification. And if they can’t justify that authority and power and control, which is the usual case, then the authority ought to be dismantled and replaced by something more free and just.”
Noam Chomsky in interview with Michael S. Wilson — May 28th, 2013
You know what really grinds my gears? People or organizations telling me what to do. People or organizations telling me what think about my body, my art, my parenting, and my worth. Yet, that’s what our society is inundated with: a lot of people, corporations, religious organizations, and governments with opinions on how you should live your life. You got advertising agencies just taking shots at you all the time. On instagram, I can’t go two posts without someone telling me that I need to work out more, clean out my ears more, and eat fucking lean cuisine. I shit you not. I report all ads as spam, and yet, they still keep coming for me like a horde of the undead. Just now, I rewarded myself for writing four sentences by logging onto my favorite hellscape. WHAMO, right when I opened the app, someone was trying to sell me overnight oats. Like, my literal brother in gaia, all I gotta do to make overnight oats is put them in a jar in my fridge. Why would I buy them from you?
This experience of an authority I hold as illegitimate forcing ideas I abhor into my mind reminds me of scenes from the “Ice” X-files episode (episode eight of season one). After authorities lost contact with the Artic Ice Core Project and received a chilling video that depicted a shirtless man, covered in blood and holding a handgun saying, “We are not who we are,” Scully and Mulder were called to Icy Cape, Alaska, 250 south of the artic circle, to investigate. Upon arriving to the project HQ with a team, Scully and Mulder find that the project researchers were infected with a parasitic organism unearthed from a meteor that the project inadvertently infected themselves with when extracting ice cores. The parasitic organism feeds on the spinal column of its hosts and causes violent behavior and leads to death. Unfortunately for our x-files protagonists, some members of their team became infected with the parasite. Thus, much ballyhoo ensues with attempting to discern who is infected and what the cure is. Germane to our topic at hand, dear reader, were the scenes when individuals were held down and the parasite was allowed to crawl into someone’s ear. That’s what instagram’s, and many other multinational corporations, approach to marketing feels like to me. It feels like collectively we are allowing a parasitic organism from an unearthed meteor to burrow into our brains through our ears. Dramatic? Maybe, but the point still stands.
However, this is not new, this attempt to try and use ideas, stories, and images to influence and control people’s behavior is as old as human culture. One look to the catholic church provides an instructive historical example. For centuries, the catholic church would establish colonial control in lands they had no business being. They would inundate people with clerics spreading the “good news” under the threat of eternal damnation or the sword. Sounds like a good deal to me. I love to be told that I must accept a certain set of spiritual beliefs or I will be damned or killed. That’s a whole high stakes mood for you. Once in the church, you were given a set of rules (the ten commandments) and appointments (mass and confession) to organize your time and behavior that were expected to supersede any previous rules or appointments you may have adhered to. This was a very successful strategy that brought the catholic church followers and the ear of monarchs across the world.
Nowdays, however, the church’s attempts to influence people and politics seem to fall flat on their face as old-fashioned orthodoxy. A recent Colorado Public Radio article chronicled the Colorado Catholic Conference’s chagrin at the robust abortion protection in Colorado and their desire to change the hearts of Coloradans:
“That's really heartbreaking for me to think the state I live in is a place that people are coming to end the life of their unborn child. So, that's a very sobering thought. And again, it isn't just about changing the law. It isn't just about overturning Roe versus Wade. We have to actually change people's hearts.” A representative of a local catholic high school said.
And yet, the executive director of the Colorado Catholic, notes that all their “life bills” (aka abortion ban measures) will die in the current Colorado House with a “progressive majority that is radically pro-abortion.” How curious that a democratically-elected body in a supposed swing state will vote this down. Its also interesting to note that over 58% of Coloradans voted down a 22 week abortion ban in the recent 2022 election. One piece of advice, it might be hard to win over hearts when you are calling people “radical” and “abortionists” for supporting woman’s autonomy over their own body. Like, get outta here with this garbage. Your time of influence has ended.
I have a real soft spot for attacking christianity related to their position on this issue. I remember being forced to go to these sorts of events where we discussed the pro-life movement when I went to catholic schools. I also remember how hypocritical catholic members of my family were on this issue. Like my dad signing letters, “may god bless you,” but encouraging my mom to get an abortion before we all went to disney world. Shoot hoss, I don’t think you got the ability to be doling out blessings. I don’t want any part of that orthodoxy that makes all the exceptions in the world for people to be hypocrites as long as its convenient for them.
This returns us, dear reader, to Noam Chomsky and our opening quote. I have presented to you two examples where organizations or people are trying to exert a form of domination over you by influencing your perception of yourself or your spiritual beliefs. Nowadays, there are countless others that we could point to. We could point to the new-age-buffoonery of wearegaia. We could look look to the empty performative displays of the corporate neoliberal democratic party or the outright racist fascism of the republican party. I want to argue that the path of the hermit is the path of questioning these forms of ideological domination in our life. To walk the hermit path is to accept no form of truth as capital T Truth. Much to the chagrin of Frank Herbert of Dune fame, it is not fear that we must worry about. No, its orthodoxy and accepting any idea or spiritual system as the end-all-be-all Truth. That is the real mind-killer. In its stead, we should hold all ideas presented to us as small t truths that we can hold provisionally useful until that point at which they have used up their utility.
Now, embracing the anarchic tendency to throw off the yoke of those forms of authority that you find odious, which Noam Chomsky presented above, can result in you reorganizing how you relate to the world. For me, I don’t touch established politics, religion, the art world, or business with 20 foot poles. I steer clear. In its stead, I build relationships with people whose writing and art I respect. I maintain a correspondence with those folx via electronic mail as if we are in some new Victorian age. I have taken charge of my own development, because no guru is coming to save me. I have decreased the size of my world while still being in and of the world. I am not advocating the sort of Walden Pond Thoreau move away from society. Escapism is its own form of classism, patriarchy, and white supremacy. No, I advocate using our minds as tools to chart our own unique course through the world to aid projects toward collective liberation. I advocate that we critically question everything that has been served to us as accepted truth. I am advocating that we take seriously Have Heart’s counsel to remember that we are “armed with a mind.”
“Armed, armed with a mind.
I'm gonna strengthen my action with thought,
Make use of the gift that I got,
And walk fearless 'cause I'm armed with a mind. ”
One way I navigate this path is taking seriously my own ongoing conversation I have with my own curiosity. Rather than allowing any one person, organization, corporation, or government dictate my beliefs, I am engaged in a lifelong pursuit of maintaining a conversations with my own set of burning questions I want to remain engaged with over time. No, I do not want the firm ground of our dominant orthodoxies that tell us to rest in the mind-killers of "there is no alternative to capitalism," "we have reached the end of history," "the bible is the only truth you need," and "the beatles are the greatest band of all-time." I want to affirm my commitment to the shifting sands of time drawing down on the hourglass that marks my exit from this realm. I want to, as Sharon Arnold adroitly notes, use my own unending cascade of questions, rooted in my own curiosity about the nature of this existence, as “a method of disruption” to “open up a path into the previously unseen—hidden possibilities, declarations, information, wisdom, natures, histories, and futures.”1
You may find this discussion rather abstract, dear reader. For this, I apologize. Let me make it more concrete by discussing the evolution of one of these thought threads throughout my life. My interest in inequality began in my own experience being raised in relative poverty by a single mom. Many of our burning questions we have about why things they way they are rooted in our direct experience. In my undergraduate degree, I became enthralled by the sociological toolkit and its ability to help me understand how my own experience was just one instance of a larger social problem of class inequality. I read widely in power and inequality and ended up getting a PhD in sociology so I could write my own theory explaining race, class, and gender inequality. Finishing my PhD, I thought I had answered the question thoroughly to my satisfaction. However, entering the labor market in social-justice-oriented jobs, I found I was refining my ideas about how relationships of inequality are developed and maintained in real time. In other words, I was partaking in the endless series of questions related to how inequality works that never left me on any solid ground. Some event has always arisen, which has prompted me to rethink my ideas of how the powerful dominate others.
I cannot overstate how powerful this sort of anarchic tendency can be in helping you shape the life you want to live. If we accept the Chomsky quote we opened this essay with as holding any weight, the idea that I can continually chisel away at these big enduring questions and figure out, for myself, who I am, what I believe, and what my values are is fundamentally an anarchist approach to life. It is operating from the assumption that any form of power that wants to hand me an orthodoxy of any kind must be shown to be a legitimate authority. It just so happens that I have yet to find any one group, organization, or government whose authority I view as legitimate enough to have the ability to dictate to me what I should believe. Rather than view this as a crisis of truth, as many have viewed this sort of postmodern approach to truth, one can view it as an invitation to empower yourself to make up your mind about how you will move forward with your life. Yes, dear reader, you get to decide who you will be, what you will value, and what you will believe. No church, government, employer, or social group gets to tell you any different. You hold the power to be part of the entirely magical process of continually building and rebuilding your world in alignment with how you have decided to live. No matter your choices, you will find the people that you can travel that path with.
I know this is a very american way to walk in the world, as a hermit concerned with picking my own path through this existence. However, as I get older, I am more open to rearticulating what it means to be american. Just as with whiteness, america is a frought concept that is steeped in a history of violence and oppression. This is why I have sought to root myself in the ancestral traditions of my family outside the United States. Just like with whiteness, I avoided identifying with what it means to be part of an american tradition because I did not want to be tied with the darkness done in the name of this nation state. And yet, my ancestors have been here for a very long time, so is it any surprise that I am on one about a sort of anarchic hermeticism. That is as american as apple pie. It just so happens that many of those hermetic outsiders in the american tradition, like the transcendentalists, were also real serious about collective liberation and nature-based spirituality. However, that topic will have to wait for another day, because my brain has given out. haha.
All my best, dear reader,
Thanks for reading A Quiet Practice! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.