Anarchist Geese

When I graduated High School my classmates predicted that at ten years out I’d be found bra-less riding a skateboard.  I liked it.  It spoke to my relationship with both what I then saw as my activist roots, the no-bra 1960’s, and my rebellious current associations (in 1991, skateboarders were radical).  It also meant that my peers hadn’t been fooled by my cover story as President of the Honor Society.

I have always been good at playing the game.  It’s my strategy for being left alone.  When I did everything required on the surface to be a good student, good employee and good citizen, I earned freedom.  Then, I could truly live.  And I do believe that in the living, I’ve subverted the game.  I believe that it is a solid strategy to learn to play the game to beat the game.  But I am in my thirty-ninth year now and I’m tired of it.

When I began this project, I initially thought my intention was to prove to my mom that the seeds of the 1960’s were indeed alive and well; flourishing plants.  Many are, with sweet music and locally grown food at the top of my list.  But many other seeds have been modified and their current offspring bear no traces of their anti-authoritarianism genetics.  In fact, they are the authorities and damn good at making sure they remain so (1).

Art Credit: Bread and Puppet Press.

My path these past weeks through the contemporary political landscape has been an interesting one.  I have confirmed that I am not a conservative, nor a liberal.  I am not a democrat, nor a republican, nor even a libertarian.  I am, rather, what I’ve always been: an anarchist.  I am troubled by the concentration of power in any arena, be it religious, political, economic, environmental or commercial.  It’s that simple.  What a relief to come home.

This does not translate into a desire to blow everything up.  Though a clean slate certainly appeals, the means of getting there do matter to me.  And it harm none, do as ye will.  In my book, anarchy is an approach that holds a tremendous amount of love, and most definitely an ultra-high regard and respect for the sanctity of the individual.

In fact, I’d argue that what the world desperately needs right now are many more anarchists of the Michel Bakunin variety.  Check out this marvelously insightful discourse from his essay, “What is Authority?”

“Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. I do not content myself with consulting a single authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognise no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others . . . . I receive and I give – such is human life. Each directs and is directed in his turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination” (2).

Right on.  What could it be like if our society was populated by individuals who lived like that?  Paradoxically it is the anarchist accused of being resistant to all authority who delivers the vision of the most powerful authority dynamic possible.

In magic we say: “be your own authority.”  And what that means to me is what Bakunin has described.  It means going through the world with a heavy load of individual responsibility.  It means a constant critical thought process that weighs the experience and wisdom of others with one’s own inner wisdom.  It means applying a healthy dose of skepticism, even to the examination of one’s own agenda and thoughts.

We use an exercise in teaching magic called Flocking Geese.  Students are asked to arrange themselves in a V-formation and then take turns being both the lead goose and part of the following formation.  Each student will be the authority and then can willingly step out of that authority.  Flocking birds conserve energy by drafting off of the bird in front of them; and their V-formation provides visual assurance and clear communication lines.  Birds back in the formation aren’t only along for the ride, they are there to offer encouragement to the leader and to descend to earth in small parties to protect brethren downed by fatigue or a hunter’s gun.  Each and every one is ready to be the leader when required (3).

It is hardly worth mention that geese have developed this method of shared power absent any formal government structure.  It’s quite simply exhausting to be the lead goose and a stubborn clinging to that power would ultimately prove fatal.

So when I say I’m an anarchist, please think first of those dear, honking geese.  Know that I’m coming from a place of deep concern, from the viewpoint of evolutionary survival.  I’m not playing the game anymore, I’m playing The Game.

And that Game requires each and every one of us.
Present in the power of our own authority.
Wise in the power of our own authority.
Graceful in the power of our own authority.
Free in the power of our own authority.
Together in the power of our own authority.

In this Game, we must follow the paradoxes.  In this Game, to receive, we must give.  In this Game, to save the whole, we must empower the individual.  We must trust that even with the individual fully present in her own power, the natural instinct for survival will render our V-formation intact.

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.


(1) via The New Totalitarianism by Keith Preston.

(2) via What is Authority?.

(3) via Why do geese fly in a V? (Everyday Mysteries: Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress).


6 thoughts on “Anarchist Geese

  1. Love this post! Another quote I just saw:
    Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson


  2. I remember that prediction – yet can’t remember my own – and look at you living the best possible version of that.. happily skating through the garden of your life…


    1. How funny that the predictor forgets her prediction! Two kids, boy and a girl, and a black lab with a red bandana? Or was that a dream a girl on King George Road shared with me long ago?


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