It was freakin’ anarchy, I tell you. There was NO law enforcement telling people what to do, so they just went ahead and did whatever the hell they though best. It was pretty late Friday night and I stared, slack-jawed, at the completely unexpected behavior that was occurring at the corner of Route 20 and Summer in Lee after a performance at Tanglewood.
As is often the case after the big events at that storied Lenox venue (though still not as storied as the Music Inn…), traffic just sucked. A Mass Pike exit at either Interlaken or Prospect Hill Road would alleviate a huge amount of the problem, but Naumkeag and Berkshire Botanical are, like, neeeeever going to let that action happen, right? So departing concert-goers hitting the highway are forced to funnel their way down either Fox Hollow or Laurel Lake, by way of Old Stockbridge, whichever one feels luckier when they’re shaking dem bones coming up on Frothingham Crossing.
So I’m heading south on 20, within spitting distance of the Housatonic, and should have been, would have been skimming gracefully through Lee center had I been 15 minutes earlier. Now, both lines of cars were at a standstill. I’ve got a PAX in the back who’s not from around here and has no idea what Tanglewood even is, but sure can’t figure out where all this road congestion could possibly be from in the sleepy ol’ Berkshires. They’re getting edgy ‘cause they have somewhere to be and I’m getting edgy because every minute we sit in traffic is another dime or quarter shaved off my already precariously situated tip. But, then the damndest thing happened.
A car about 16 or 18 ahead of me toots the horn and flashes their lights to signal the car at the head of the line coming off Summer to merge onto Laurel/West Center Street. An instantaneous instinct shouted in my head, “NOOoooo! Fuck ‘em! WE have the right of way. Let them ROT for trying to duck the main stream of traffic on side roads!” Definitely the Mr. Hyde aspect of my nature, and I’m not proud of it, but I bet you’ve all had your own moments of unadulterated selfishness, too.
So the car being offered the chance at actually getting home sometime that night accepts the favor and threads its way onto West Center. And then the car who let them in takes its turn. And then the next car in line coming off Summer takes a turn and the NEXT car on Laurel goes, and so forth and so on. One car from our line, one car from theirs. And in this way, with NO governmental imposition, two lines of cars with equal and competing interests managed to agree, wordlessly, to stagger our progress and through a cooperation, woven right there at a congested intersection.
Total anarchy. I don’t know if the agreed-upon system continued until the logjam cleared but that unexpected phenomenon of mutualism lasted for at least the few dozen turns that I witnessed. Moments like those foster a dangerous optimism that the human race is even worth preserving. Also a hope that one day we can stop paying off-duty cops time-and-a-half to stand around and fuck up traffic patterns out of either incompetence or sadism or both.
It’s a small thing, I realize. Maybe one that’s not worth 1,200 words. But I’m telling you, opportunities exist both to recognize and to encourage just such acts of benign anarchy. I was on Tyler Street the other day and an old lady with a walker entered the crosswalk clearly without enough time to make it to the other side before the timer ran out. I sensed that she didn’t give a damn. If it takes her half an hour to walk six blocks to the store, then we can all just sit and wait an extra 60 seconds for her to cross the road. No one honked. No one did the edging up, edging up, edging up thing. We all just waited, even those at the front who could have inched by her as she past waiting until she was WELL out of their lane. Not out of some overabundance of caution or any deference to The Law. No. It was out of respect and it was out of the recognition that some things supersede the written rule.
And that we can ALL AGREE upon an impromptu common code at various points in time without being coerced or compelled.
Can. you. dig. it. Hmmm? Where in your life are there similar opportunities to make your own decision take action in lieu of or in the absence of a representative of the state? Remember, it can be a very little thing. Maybe buy a half-peck of super sweet and juicy peaches and take them with you when you know your commute will place you at intersections occupied by beggars. Some towns have criminalized feeding hungry strangers, but you don’t have to care. The spare-changers are expecting 1) Scorn, 2) Apathy 3) A Quarter. They are NOT expecting the free-flowing peach juice of human kindness! Make someone’s day and life that much better with that one tiny act and who KNOWS where it will lead? Besides, what’s the likelihood that the anti-charity police are going to be watching?
I have a fifteen-year-old lecturing me about the benefits of anarchy lonnnng after I stopped scribbling the defiant A-in-a-Circle on my book covers. Part of why Gen-Z may be more accepting of this much maligned political ideology is that they look around and can’t see much evidence that formal systems of control are headed for anything but complete collapse. Anarchy is coming, they have every right to assume, so why not dig into the nuts and bolts of making lawlessness a positive thing? I tend to agree with them that the human race is about to get supremely and finally hosed, but even if we can last another 20 or 50 or 100 years, I believe that protecting and exercising our sovereignty is our sacred fucking duty. Wherever we can, as often as we can, we need to act in ways that reinforce that we are not owned by corporations, the state, or by political parties and movements that have agenda that may not align with our own. We are individual animals who happen to possess just enough mental faculties to come together to formulate and enact a short or long –term program for the betterment of all, and then disband when the purpose of that program is achieved.
I need to go back to my Rousseau and Locke, but I’m pretty sure they both would back me up. What do you say? Are we ready for a renaissance of Liberty, in spite of (or maybe because of) the looming threat of fascism, both at home and abroad? Are you ready to practice a few acts of benevolent anarchy here and there? Would you come to discussion groups on the subject of Liberty, as it’s been perceived and practiced over the years? Let me know.
What would embracing more positive anarchy in your life mean? Might you develop a more muscular set of crititcal thinking skills? Feel empowered by a newfound sense of self-worth and personal dignity? Maybe even view more of your fellow men and women as true equals, neither greater nor lesser than yourself? The future does not belong to those who would control us to squeeze a little more profit out of a world in crisis. It belongs to those of us who choose to work together and fight to put an end to exploitation of all types everywhere.
I won’t steal Russell Brand’s sign-off, but I’ll pass it along: “Stay free!”
Until next time, stay safe, be good to each other, and go easy on yourself!
Editor-in-Chief, The Greylock Glass