When I was a teenager, I was heavily influenced by Crass (a U.K. anarchist band). And by anarchism, I’m using this definition of it: It’s the organization of society on the basis of voluntary cooperation, without political institutions or hierarchical government. I was the only one in my group of friends to read the booklet in the record Christ—The Album by Crass written by Penny Rimbaud, the drummer. He was outspoken. He’s still alive and in his late seventies. I don’t remember much of the booklet except the story of Wally who got institutionalized then died. Also, there was an anti-computer rant. It was before the internet made its public appearance. I was shocked by this rant because I was into computers and BBS (Bulletin Board System).
But the lyrics to songs like “Have a Nice Day”: “It’s cos the game the system plays is still the same old game. Senile idiot in their seat of power” from Christ—The Album and “Big A little A” from Best Before really made an impression on me: “The system might have got you but it won’t get me/ External control are you gonna let them get you?/ Do you wanna be a prisoner in the boundaries they set you?/ You say you want to be yourself by christ do you think they’ll let you?/ They’re out to get you get you get you get you get you.”
I always questioned authority, even as a young child. My mom told me she had to justify the things she wanted me to do or to obey. I was not doing simply what I was told to do. I needed to understand the purpose of my act and if I did not understand, it then I needed justification. I know I was not the easiest child. However, my mom told me it took time, but she was able to convince me and she made me accept her rules.
I’ve always thought the government was not needed so we can be free and do whatever we want while respecting the freedom of others. And by this, I mean the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. But it gets complicated quickly because my understanding is that my freedom ends where other people’s freedom begin. To me, being free is also being responsible for your actions and to be mindful of others. In my opinion, total freedom doesn’t include the right to do harmful things to others.
As I grew older, I realized there are people who will do anything to make their way, including suppressing the freedom of others. I think of the well beings of others but I knew some guys who love to make others suffer. That’s where I realized the importance of adopting my own set of ethics, the moral principles that govern my behavior and how I conduct myself. For me, an ethical person will not hurt others, will use violence defensively as a last resort when attacked, and will try not to impose their beliefs on others.
Freedom can work fine in a commune—a group of families or single people who live and work together sharing possessions and responsibilities—but at a level of country I have my doubts. In a commune you can assemble a group of individuals that largely thinks the same way. I’m talking about a commune because it was the way the members of Crass were living in the late ’70s and early ’80s. I think the more people who live without laws there will be a segment of them who will abuse their freedom. They will harm others in the name of their own personal freedom. As is readily apparent, not everybody has the same ethics as I do. Conflicts will arise.
On the scale of a country, there are people who have vastly different ethics and ideas about freedom. For me, the absence of law is not a reason to cause chaos, but for some it is. I remember a brother-in-law I had in the ’90s and a story he told me: He was making fun of punks who were very high on dope. He would not hit them but do sudden movement around them to make them fall. He thought it was funny. I didn’t share his fun and thought, “How can you feel great doing harm to others?” I think people like him would make a nightmare for a country without laws.
Thirty-five years ago, I considered myself an anarchist. Not in the Sex Pistols way to cause chaos, but to be free. I always considered the Sex Pistols to be a boy band organized by Malcolm McLaren to sell rebellion to make money. I dressed like I felt, which was punk. My parents were very open to let me live my own experience. At sixteen, I got the permission to sleep outside our home without having to ask beforehand. I made my own choice of what I was listening to, who I was friends with, going out to bars (the legal age is eighteen so it is not rare to find teenager in bars) and doing drugs (I stopped at eighteen). I knew punks who did not have a loving or open family like I had. They got rejected by their family younger than I could imagine. I consider myself lucky to have great parents (they are still alive). In the late ’80s when I was a teenager, I was living in the suburb of the suburb of Montréal. Our group of friends was all punks. We had mohawks, spiked hair, leather coats, and combat boots (we were too poor to buy ourselves Dr. Martens at the time). We were the first punks in town, except for the guy who did the PiL graffiti downtown in our suburb—the only trace that some people before us were in punk/alternative music. We got harassed by the police often. A lot of crime was pinned on us even if usually we didn’t do anything criminal. It started my hate relationship with the police. At the time we didn’t know it, but if it was happening nowadays, it’d be called profiling.As I had reached twenty, I was dressing less punk (no more spiked hair, leather coat with band logos, torn jeans). Usually, I had long hair, a band T-shirt, bomber jacket, and Dr. Martens (I could finally afford it). I also moved to Montréal where punks are more common. So, this was thirty years ago and I’ve had four encounters with the police since then. I must reiterate that I’m Canadian and I think that the Canadian police are not corrupted as the U.S. police. There are corrupt cops in Canada but it is not as generalized. Canadian cops do not kill as many people as cops in the U.S. (rate per population of ten million: Canada: 9.7; U.S.: 28.4). I don’t say it does not occur but it is very rare.
One experience I had with police was a positive one and the others neutral. The positive one was when I was in a psychosis in a Montréal park. The police picked me up and took me to my psychiatric hospital. It ended a couple of wild days living outside and out of my mind. I’m glad they picked me up because I don’t know what would have happened if I had continued without medical treatments. Another encounter with the police is when a guy got shot in the courtyard of my residential building. When I came back from work, the building was closed, and I asked the cop guarding it what happened. So, it was okay. The two other encounters were car tickets (speeding and a yellow light). They were my fault.I think the police services are needed. There are bad people out there who don’t care about others. I believe most people are good but there are exceptions. I don’t believe in doing justice to ourselves. I know it goes against anarchist values, but who am I to judge someone else’s action, be it bad or good? Also, who can determine if an action is good or bad? It depends on the viewpoint. I suppose an anarchist society could do a consensus of which actions are considered bad by a majority of people. It’s what we call democracy. I mean, it’s not because the majority thinks it’s good then it is really good. Different people think differently of what is considered good or bad. I could find something bad and the person doing the action thinking it is okay. It’s one of the circumstances that I did not think thoroughly when I was a teenager.
I think a police force is needed to handle criminal offenses (murder, rape, pedophilia). The police should refer the people in trouble to social workers before the situation becomes a case of criminal offense. I must admit, a cop is not a social worker and they often escalate the situation in a violent manner. In Montréal, we have a new chief of police who wants to reform the police. (See some of his proposed reforms in Longueuil).
I also came across this blog post on Medium, “Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop.” Reading it made me realize some cities are worse than Montréal. By no means are the Montréal police without prejudice, but I would believe that it’s not as bad as the one in the city described in the article. I know, the Montréal police have been accused and are accused of prejudice, profiling, systemic racism and more. (In Québec it seems generalized for the indigenous. See the story of the death of Joyce Echaquan. The prime minister of Québec refutes that we have systemic racism issues.) But the nature of systemic racism is that it’s embedded in the very laws and regulations of a society. It manifests as discrimination in not only criminal justice, but employment, health care, and education.
The person who wants to be in the position of power to play tough and beat the shit of others usually does not want to go through three years of college.
Here in Québec, a college degree is mandatory to be a police officer. It removes some of the bad seeds from the police. The person who wants to be in the position of power to play tough and beat the shit of others usually does not want to go through three years of college. I don’t say that police violence doesn’t happen here but only on rare occasion.
So, my opinion has changed since I was a teenager. The relationship also changed. I don’t dress as punk as much as when I was a teenager. Also, punk has become more mainstream since the mid-’90s explosions that has since quieted down.Also, I came to appreciate the government’s role in distributing wealth in our society, the safety nets that it provides to the people. In my twenties, I was living in decadence. I had a high salary and the things I valued most were drinking Guinness and going out. I did take two one-month vacations in Europe in my late twenties in 2000 and 2001. I visited some museums, which I never did in Montréal. Culture in the day and pub in the evening. I started to evolve from being a drinking man in my twenties to become what I am now.
In my thirties, I used the safety nets provided by the society when my mental health issues started occurring and I had multiple crises—to being cared at Douglas Psychiatric Institute to having public drug insurance. It helped me go through a tough time more easily. After seven years of mental health issues, I’m back on my feet and stable. As much as I thought I paid too much income tax in my twenties, now I’m proud of paying this level of income tax. It helps others when they have problems to take time to get back on their feet. I know there are always some people who abuse the system, but I they’re not in the majority. The benefit provided outweighs those abusing it.I think one of the great purposes of the government is to provide access to public education to all. It’s often something downplayed in our society, but it’s very important to make better citizens. I don’t like to compare to our neighbors to the south, but it seems important to point out their decrease in public education and the rise in power of people like Trump. By no means am I an expert on U.S. politics, but Trump’s speech does not need a high-graduate level of school to be understood. I suppose a politician who has their speech aimed at a grade higher than the sixth grade is seen as a snob or not understood. Is it the problem of the people abusing this or the previous generation of politicians who cut spending on education? Tactically, an uneducated population is easier to manipulate. Cutting spending on education is a method of control for people in power to stay in power.
To come back to Canada, we have Pierre Poilièvre, the leader of the Conservative Party who is mimicking Trump’s behavior. I do not know if many Canadians will agree with his politics. We’ll see in the next federal election. Like Trump, he attacks a lot of the opposition party. He suggests “easy” solutions for complex problems that are easy to be understood. An “easy” solution is not always the best way to address a complex problem, but it seems to be an answer and that a politician is being proactive about an issue. Even if they don’t tackle it.I’m still hoping deep down in me that anarchy will be possible, but it seems unlikely the way it’s going now. Not everyone shares my sense of ethics, and because of that, it seems like my dream of anarchy will remain a teenage dream.