#2. The First Time You Feel the Abuse of Authority
Most of my favorite people have been fairly rebellious. I could always breathe easier around them. People who were too quick to say "Yes, sir" and fall in line made me antsy. "What won't they say 'yes' to?" I'd wonder. And then I'd push them a bit until I found out. That would make me feel a little better, but still made for a pretty miserable relationship.
But there often came a time when even my rebellious friends and I would part ways. I write about one such incident in my forthcoming novel Notes from the Internet Apocalypse, when an Ithaca cop stopped me while I posted fliers for one of my band's gigs. He asked me for identification and I complied.
Then he stared at it and asked, "Don't you know this town has an ordinance against posting fliers on public property?"
"No?" I replied, pointing to the literally dozens of fliers already on the wall.
He turned sheepish and shrugged. "Well, we don't catch everyone ..." he said, and let me off with a warning.
When I told that story later, my friend was outraged that I'd given a cop my identification before I was told what I'd even done. I didn't understand. The cop wasn't a bully about it. He was completely professional, and even though he was half-assedly enforcing a fairly pointless provision, I was technically in the wrong. What was the source of outrage?
He didn't even arrest me for impersonating Jesus without a license.
Before this incident, my friend and I were always fairly aligned in our rejection of capricious displays of authority. We had no tolerance for either physical or intellectual bullies, and we sure did hate The Man. So I thought about it until I realized that while I hated the abuse of authority, he just hated authority. Period.
Why? Well, I can only guess that all the early forms of authority he saw were abusive, so that's just what it tasted like to him. Authority no longer had to do with right and wrong and became just some asshole telling him what to do, and it broke him. It deprived him of the ability to see a completely professional cop speaking politely to a law-breaking, long-haired college student and letting him off with a good-natured warning. Good news, though: This difference didn't spell the end of our friendship, as fortunately, many in positions of authority do abuse it.
#1. A Childhood Filled With Sensible Authority
Here's the tricky thing: When it comes to authority, I think it's nearly impossible to get it right. My early life was not filled with tyranny. I had plenty of rules in my house, but they didn't seem pointless: I had to be home for dinner, I had to get all my homework done before bed, I had to study hard for tests, and if someone hit me, I had to hit them back. Those were the big rules, and they made sense. Oh, no drugs, either. At 5, my mom told me if she caught me with weed she'd call the cops. (Again, I was 5.) But you get the point. I have to say that by any standard my parents were accountable and fair, and they did not fill me with a fiery belly of injustice that I then spewed forth out into the world.
Now, I know what you're saying: "But Gladstone, your column is called 'Throwing Stones,' your video series is called 'Hate By Numbers,' and we've read your stuff -- you like to spew fire. Basically, you're an asshole." Or maybe you're saying none of that because you've only read the title and the numbered entries and right now you're just feeling confused and unfulfilled, like your sexual partners. But the point is, yeah, I do have a fire in my belly, and it is my parents' fault, mostly because they were good parents.
I'll get you for this!
I'm not sure if this makes sense, but something about growing up in a loving home with relatively fair parents ... breaks you. It gets you used to the idea of authority being tethered to reason. It gives you an expectation of communication following commands. And it gives you absolutely no tolerance for the failure of the rest of the world to extend the same courtesy.
It doesn't matter who it is: the government, your boss, your friends and lovers. It's anyone or anything that tells you what to do solely because they can, and it doesn't matter if it makes sense or not. It's not about right or wrong, rational or otherwise -- it's about doing as you're told. So yeah, I'm broken in that way, too, because sometimes I just ... don't. I'm not saying that makes me cool (although if you want to swoon now, feel free); I'm saying that's one of the things that's broken me. I've got at least two on this list. How'd you do?
Broken people are big fans of HATE BY NUMBERS. They also follow Gladstone on Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest regarding Notes from the Internet Apocalypse. And then there's his website and Tumblr, too.