Way too many people take strong political stances without having any actual idea about what’s going on. They are either blindly following their friends, clinging to the party their parents belong to, or parroting whatever the cable news network talking head they identify with best just said. Look, it’s ok with me if you’re ignorant – I thought spaghetti grew on trees until I was twelve – but don’t pretend to be informed. I learned this in an embarrassing fashion in high school. Some people never learn this lesson; they are called “boobs” or they go work in politics. They are not hard to find.
When I was a junior in high school, I was your standard issue long haired, leather jacket wearing, anti-establishment type guy. I was coasting along by doing the bare minimum and not bugging the staff if they weren’t bugging me. It was an arrangement that worked well for all parties. Most of the staff members at my high school were riding tenure into retirement, burned out by decades of high school kids and public school money. One of the P.E. teachers had taught my dad how to drive, and the most despised math teacher had taught my mom P.E. My parents’ old track coach was a guidance councilor. It was a perfect blend of apathy and exhaustion, and I could get away with just about anything so long as I showed up to pass the tests. They were phoning it in and I was forwarding the call to voicemail.
Then lucky me, along comes this new guy, fresh from college and ready to change lives. He replaced our old teacher who had to be let go for getting a little too “hands on” with the girls. New guy still had a pony tail and hope. He gave me a what’s up head nod like we were kindred spirits and I could tell I was reminding him of himself at my age…all five or six years ago; the misunderstood kid who sat in the back drawing skulls on his binder and smelling like cigarettes. He probably thought we had similar CD collections. But I was not “the hooker with a heart of gold.” No well intentioned new adult was going to make a meaningful difference in my life. I wrote him off immediately.
On my binder I had the anarchy symbol, a circle with an A through it and “school is a police action” written underneath it. This was a phrase I picked up from some shitty punk band and, as every misfit teenager knows, the anarchy symbol is awesome because cops and authority figures hate it, and it’s easy to draw. Never mind that anarchism is actually a political philosophy that some people take seriously enough to fight and die for.
I thought it just meant that you were against authority which at seventeen is, like, well, “duh”. So there I am, happy in my ignorance sitting in civics class as pony-tailed new guy rambles on about some government bullshit that I’m sure I’ll never care about when I hear my name called out of the fog of high school. I was so used to the classroom relationship of mutual disdain that it took me a second to realize a teacher was actually talking to me.
“Whiskey, since we’re going to talk about Anarchy, why don’t you introduce the concept?” He beamed earnestly, like he thought he was giving a fellow misfit a chance to shine. I looked down at my binder and felt like a complete asshole. I had nothing. In a panic, I muttered some stuff about “chaos, and…no cops,” and basically described a Dead Kennedys album cover. He let me twist in the wind a little before cutting me off and explaining the whole class in a nutshell about Anarchism. All the squares looked at me and smirked. I made a note to sell them some oregano later.
While it was embarrassing in high school (which these days might mean I had to go get a rifle and some black fatigues), it was also an important lesson. I’m glad this guy called me out, even if he did assume I’d know what the hell I was talking about. It was the last time I flew a political flag of any kind without knowing what the deal was.
You should at least be able to explain the basics of any philosophy you claim to adhere to. Or, like Kevin Kline’s character in A Fish Called Wanda, you may find yourself preaching that the central message of Buddhism is “every man for himself.” On the internet. Where millions of people can see the stupid.
So hats off to you, long-hair, new in 93′ teacher guy. Thanks for throwing me under the bus even if you didn’t mean to. I needed it. So I guess you did make a difference, I hope you’re not completely fried, yet.