Sometimes you come across a statement that simply illuminates your self-understanding: it’s like finding a key that unlocks a central part of your life. Here is one of them I just came across in studying Noam Chomsky:
Anarchism is a tendency in the history of human thought and action which seeks to identify coercive, authoritarian, and hierarchic structures of all kinds and to challenge their legitimacy—and if they cannot justify their legitimacy, which is quite commonly the case, to work to undermine them and expand the scope of freedom. (Chomsky, On Anarchism)
I don’t mean to say that I am some sort of paradigm of this, but that as I look back at my life in my interactions with hierarchy and authority I find that this is the idea that drove me. By “idea” I mean something specific: an image of how things ought to be that you strive to realize. In a way, it’s like Plato’s concept of an idea (not the comic book Plato, mind you): In The Phaedo, for example, Socrates talks about how everything is striving to become what it ought to be—to realize the idea of it. In the midst of become we strive to BE what we are (=should be).
And so I think the pattern of my life can be seen in trying to BE but always only becoming. Or to use another metaphor and mix it up a bit: looking back at the pattern of my life I see it as a very crooked and trembling finger geturing wildly somewhere in the direction of the moon (and only on my best day, I suppose, if I’m lucky). I like Vico’s idea of “a metaphysics compatible with human frailty (See On the Most Ancient Wisdom of the Italians). Or as Socrates nicely put it, an anthropinê sophia—a human kind of wisdom. (See The Apology).
Another Chomsky quote to amplify what he said above:
The basic principle . . . is the idea that every form of authority and domination and hierarchy, every authoritarian structure, has to prove that it’s justified—it has no prior justification. For instance, when you stop a five-year-old kid from trying to cross the street, there’s an authoritarian situation: it’s got to be justified. Well, in that case, I think you CAN give a justification. But the burden of proof for any exercise of authority is always on the person exercising it—invariably. And when you look, most of the time these authority structures have no justification: they have no moral justification, they have no justification in the interests of the person lower in the hierarchy, or in the interests of other people, or the environment, or the future, or the society, or anything else—they’re just there in order to preserve certain structures of power and domination, and the the people at the top. (Chomsky, On Anarchy)