If you will allow me to paint a stark picture first, I will brighten the imagery later on. Imagine Apartheid South Africa pre-democracy; the tension, fear, and turmoil of a nation tearing at its own wounds even while stubbornly stumbling into the fire of revolution. A young, poor, malnourished South African boy of Italian origin reads about anarchism in the UK.
The appeal of progressive revolutions which could upend the respective hierarchies, in the ‘capitalist’ UK, and in the unjust South Africa, is hard to ignore when life is filled with disappointments and flawed adults. I already realised I could no longer accept Catholicism; I witnessed gross hypocrisy living with my matriarchal, detached grandmother.
At the age of 11, after confession at my Catholic school, my blinkers fell off and I saw the mechanisms of fear and control embedded in most religions. This opened the gates to my mistrust, my justification for detachment, and the defensive isolation I would adopt as a coping mechanism. Anarchism seemed a just and vengeful tribe which I could join with no requirements and no explanations. I embraced it and it became my drip-fed antidote to growth, attachment, and acceptance for the next 16 years. To be fair, I retained the respect for the passions which drive belief in a deity, which create cathedrals and art in the name of a god’s grace. Humans aspire to goals beyond their lifetimes through religions.
Of course, I refer here to the anti-social strain of anarchism, not the nuanced philosophical term which opposed slavery in ancient Greece. The punk movement of the 1980s embraced chaos, ‘deconstructionists‘ of systems they don’t like, cannot join, and feel oppressed by. This resonated with me; I witnessed the moral dissonance of all the adults around me, parents, teachers, nuns, priests, and politicians. Even the current African National Congress ruling party, the so-called ‘liberators’, leave a trail of blood and corruption. This is a moral minefield for even the most privileged of white South Africans. Many, who could, left South Africa; like Elon Musk, who chose to leave rather than deal with the conflagration of ideologies. I was not privileged; I had been raised in varying stages of relative poverty ranging from hunting pigeon for dinner to having no food during school time. I had many reasons to cling to a construct which permitted me to reject society, to condemn it on cosmic moral grounds, to abhor its rites of passage and its pompous role models.
Fast-forward to 2020, I am happily married, a business owner, healthy, and studying psychology full time at the age of 47. I have learned coping mechanisms through struggle, hurt and abandonment. I now know the jargon used in psychology to describe what I experienced and have written about my perspective here. I had a brush with the advertising industry which opened my eyes to the senseless consumerism of unchecked capitalism and the power of media to manipulate our freedoms of choice and association.
My instincts led me to the restaurant industry, where I became my own boss and had to adapt to the demands of newfound power as an employer while discovering the monetary rewards in building rewarding relationships with others. It was in this atmosphere where I began realising the effects of a humanist approach to life. The recovering anarchist must find a purpose, channel his energies, and be productive for those he loves. The anarchistic energies can be useful; we can create cathedrals of human thought fuelled by the passions of the restless anarchist’s heart.
Vincent Deboni is a registered professional counsellor who is based in Sweden.