I Was a Teenage Pharisee

I was listening to Against Me’s track, “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” and the first verse strangely reminded me of Paul writing to the Philippians.

Here’s Against Me:

“I was a teenage anarchist, looking for a revolution.
I had the style, I had the ambition.
I read all the authors, I knew the right slogans.
There was no war but the class war.
I was ready to set the world on fire.”

And here’s Paul:

“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:¬†circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;¬†as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”

There is a parallel here looking back on what one’s younger self believed. In both cases it’s interesting to note that the certainty of youthful ideology includes a set of enemies. Actually having a shared set of enemies seems to be one of the more important factors in keeping group cohesion, but I digress. My own teenage ideological leanings were far more pedestrian, I was a teenage young conservative. Yuck. Seriously. Couldn’t wait to be 18 in order to vote for Mike Harris. I remember the slogans too, all the stuff about how privatization and low taxes will fix everything. Lazy people on welfare can go get a job. Of course, as the Against Me track goes on to say, the politics were too convenient. Interacting with people on the bottom rungs of society is very different from listening to what a talk radio host thinks about them.

Maybe those of us who start looking for our ideological convictions while we are still young tend to end up with this kind of zealotry. Kids already think that adults are kind of out of it (before any adults get outraged, be honest, you think the same about adolescents probably) – so to have an ideological grid to focus their contempt for adult cluelessness is probably the sort of thing that really appeals to some.

At some point the choice though is whether to walk back from those convictions and what that does to your epistemology. Some people throw up their hands and claim that they are not ideological anymore. The mistake of youth was to have convictions at all. Here I agree with Zizek that such a move is merely an acquiescence to the prevailing ideology of one’s zeitgeist – a cop-out if ever there was one.

Other people lurch from one certainty to the next: witness the American Trotskyites who all turned into neo-conservatives imperialists while maintaining the worst habits of 20th Century communist thought. You know, the ones about how reality is just going to have to cooperate with some kind of theory regardless of any evidence to the contrary. In this case youthful conviction was the right idea merely pointed in the wrong direction.

I think there are some better options out there, but I’ll save that for another post.