sometimes i want a dictator – personal reflections on toxic love of authority

And that’s not a very easy admission for a feminist, left-leaning person who is getting more and more into anarchism as we move deeper and deeper into the crisis that is the *waves vaguely* … well, 2022.

I think back to August 2018 at the summer school in Utrecht when Rosi Braidotti taught us to beware of our inner fascist, explaining how we have to be on guard against our internal love of authority, as it is not a healthy love, but one that lends itself to codependency.

Thinking back even earlier, I am reminded of something a student in my first-ever class once said to me, after I had set the class a pairwork assignment to critically think about why X character did Y and come up with… idk, something about it, it was a long while back, okay. It was something to try to get them to critically engage with the text, in any case, and interrogate their assumptions and the unreliability of the narrator. The student looked at me from the front row and said, with not a bit of exasperation “Can’t you just tell me what to think?”

It amused me in the moment, saddened me immediately after while thinking back on it, and saddens me still because I keep returning to it; it resonates on a very deep level, at a frequency that disturbs and reminds and will not go away. There is a level of empathy with that sentiment that I feel and am deeply ashamed of.

I tend to seek out others’ opinions of media properties, of social media posts, of news, of opinion pieces, of hot takes, etc, before forming my own response to them, especially if I’m not familiar with the topic. In my mind, I’ve designated authorities of opinion that I will consult or – more likely – wait until I’ve seen a response from them, and then model my own response after theirs.

I’m trying very hard not to do this. It’s gotten easier throughout graduate school, honestly, both because I’ve learned how to research a topic more quickly and because I’ve become more knowledgeable on certain subjects. And possibly it has to do with the fact that I’m in my mid-thirties and I’m very tired of engaging my brain all the time.

The fact is, I like authority when it is presented nicely, neatly, wrapped up in the language of theory, of kindness, of neoliberal promises of rest. I automatically critique and reject information that is presented to me too abruptly; I harbour resentment of bald facts presented baldly, mostly because they are presented to me as: here, do the work of understanding this thing. Tax your already tired brain more.

I started writing this about a week before the invasion of Ukraine and now since the world’s attention is finally on what Putin has done to the people in and around his country, talking about fascists and dictatorship is happening at a much bigger scale in Western media. I’m not an expert, nor am I someone who has ever lived under a dictator or a fascist regime. So I can’t really contribute except in this way, talking about my own lived experience with the fascist in my head, and that vicious kernel of toxic love in my heart that yearns for a leader or parental figure to tell me what to do, regardless of whether I like it or not.

(This has been in my head the entire time I’ve been updating this post.)

I’d like to train myself to want siblings, not a parent. I want to want aunties and uncles and cousins, I want to want a network of kin who will guide me with love and with whom I can live in community – or not, if I choose to go my own way, and they will love me regardless. I want at least for those to be the voices in my head and my heart, not a single perfectionist authoritarian demanding me to live up to a certain standard, against which I judge myself and all externalities. It’s an anxious, fraught, lonely existence.

The times that I want a dictator are becoming fewer and farther between. I am getting better at interrogating my urges for central authority, for parsing the difference between leadership that serves the people and a leader that merely uses people to further their own ends.

It’s a process, and a struggle. I am fortunate to have the support of friends, family, and comrades. I try to extend grace to myself – a grace that has an edge of steel. More on that in a later post; this is becoming a long ramble already.

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