7-10 years ago, whilst embedded in what was seen as the necessary destination after completion of high school—college (I can’t believe it was that long ago)—I was a very angry and depressed young individual, aware to some degree that many of my peers were sheltered and unconcerned with problems in our society that existed visibly and blatantly all about them (this was in Los Angeles, a city which provides immediate and stark contrasts between those who have and those who ain’t got). Like many other somewhat intelligent folk I know, this resulted in a lashing out (psychologically speaking) against the structures, edifices, and assumptions of my society. Part of this backlash in my mentality was the rejection of a vanilla cultural identity, as well as a rejection of the standard mentalities of history, economics, politics, progress, and science. I also deliberately sought to detach myself from family structures and their repressive definition of self, as well as reviled the destructive processes of globalization and corporate defined superficiality. Nothing could be more sinister in my mind than a corporation, tied into the political structure of commerce and propaganda, backed by a heavily armed police force and hazily endorsed by a god.
But I’ve undergone some fundamental shifts in perspective since those bitter days of yore, and I’ve come to recognize the bittersweet value in structures, histories, economies, political congregations, and general networks of humanity. I’ve come to terms with capitalism, evolution, and superficial identities. And I’d like to share the reasons for these shifts in my own mentality in the hope that perhaps I can help bring into the fold other similarly angry, deliberately disenfranchised folk.
I know a lot of intelligent people out there who share a lot of the misconceptions I had, and who thus do nothing for themselves nor their society because they refuse to be part of a profit generating workforce—i.e. “becoming a suit“. They are frightened of losing their identity and integrity to commerce—even though they never really had a solid identity to begin with—and they fear structures due to reluctance to be put easily into a box and defined. So instead, they drift laxly from one menial seasonal job to another, growing older but not wiser, allowing all of their personal power to be subverted by “the system,” despite their thinking that they are the ones keeping their power. They fail to recognize that there are many profit generating and non-profit institutions which are working within the system to change it dramatically from within.
I have not shifted my mentality in the sense that I no longer think my society—and the world et al—has any problems. I still see the same problems I did—and more—than when I was angry and detached and bitter. However, I view these problems through a much different lens. I no longer see the solution to these problems as being a matter of attempting to dismantle the greater “system” and all overarching structures, and letting it all collapse in something like a revolution, and starting it all over again “the right way”. A lot of people think this is the answer, either overtly or unconsciously, and they aren’t usually the fist pumping anarchist that such ideology might seem to produce. Rather, they are simply confused, apathetic, and storing pent up frustration, because they don’t see any sure and definite methods of achieving their idealistic visions. So instead, they complain about how fucked up things are, and they do nothing about it, except to abstain from interacting and changing the “system” in positive ways, which only ends up increasing its problems.
An easy example of what this attitude results in is demonstrable in the election process in the US. For a long time, I refused to vote, because I didn’t want to take part in something I didn’t believe in. I used to view politics as an exclusive club run by the super-rich in which my actions had no influence. And then when I finally did start voting, guess who kept getting elected? Exclusive club/dynasty member #1, born again son of the Bush clan. It was disheartening, to say the least. But the reason such politicians keep getting elected is simply because no one who really wants it to change is voting. And this is because they are so idealistic that they are in actuality apathetic.
My argument for voting is simple: pragmatism. I don’t believe that by placing a vote I am going to change much of anything. I don’t believe I’m making the world a better place. I don’t believe that my chosen politician will turn things around, start raising the impoverished out of poverty, start taxing the rich, and refuse to listen to the siren lobbyists for corporate welfare. BUT—if I believe that the system needs to change, whether I believe the system needs to be completely overturned, revamped, updated, or just slightly tweaked, whether I am an anarchist, Libertarian, Green Party member, Republican, or Democrat—then the fact is that voting should be viewed for what it is: a very, very limited tool to implement change from within the system. And as someone who wants to alter this system, I need to use whatever tools I have been given. Starting with voting. Then extending logically into lobbying, petitioning, writing, calling, e-mailing, pamphleting, blogging, networking, and so on. THAT is what democracy is about. It’s about people using whatever limited tools they have been given to enact the changes they want to see. Otherwise, all of their power has been relinquished, and the super rich who abolish all taxes for the super rich and subsidize the corporations of the super rich will continue to be placed into positions of power. And as long as the idealists refuse to get their hands dirty and utilize limited tools to effect limited change, then politics will continue to not reflect their concerns and interests.
So to bring this all back to myself and my evolution in mentality and where I am today: I have subdued my rampant idealism in favor of an optimistic pragmatism. I believe that I can change the world, but that I can most effectively do this by working with whatever means I have—whether it is within established structures, or whether it is outside of those structures. Altogether, any action that I choose to make has a consequence and a power, whether it is part of a “system” or not. I no longer completely reject these systems, these established structures, these histories, these given identities. Rather, I embrace them in order to change them, to enhance them, to re-design them, retrofit them, work within them and outside of them to strengthen them for the future. I can change my identity to suit whatever need I have at the moment: I can be what others tell me I am, I can be what I think I am, I can be what my job function is, I can flit from box to box without being confined in any, because I know where my integrity lies, and I am not frightened of losing an identity I never had any longer. My identity is all these things, my face, my heart, my genes, my nation, my soul. Undefinable and easily photographed.
I no longer believe that corporations are evil, or that capitalism is contrary to human nature. I think that such views are kind of like someone who comes into a plot of land which hasn’t been farmed well, and they decide to level everything, till the earth, hose down the weeds with roundup, apply fertilizer, and start completely anew. It can be done, but it’s not the best way. It’s better to look at what is growing well, and to learn from it, and chop back what is not doing well and mulch it, and utilize knowledge from all sources to enhance and nurture new plantings to add nutrients to the soil. To look at the system as a whole, and seek to balance all components with each other and foster interrelationships that work together, instead of in opposition.
So politically speaking, I’ve come to learn the value of meeting with the “other side” halfway and understanding where they are coming from. And I think a lot of other people are coming to the same conclusions, because if you look at the current run-up to the presidential campaign, you see that there’s a lot of people straddling what were once indivisible walls between left and right. There’s a movement and struggle not simply towards the left, but towards the center. Republican, Democrat, and everyone who is undefined by such categories are all attempting to find a common standard of political understanding, a basis for shared understanding of what we all need to do to move forward into this great evolutionary unknown that is the future.