Drop The System Like A Hot Coal (On Being Instead of Doing)

January 1, 2008 at 6:26 pm (proclamations) ()

I’ve been thinking for years now about change. About progress, about reformation. I have been thinking about things getting better. I imagine that you have, too.

There have been whole moments and even the occasional hour when I could see this change. I could see that it was possible. My eyes could see a line, lovely and direct, from here to there. From here to the other world.

My 11th grade history teacher sometimes played at playing devil’s advocate, saying things that infuriated me to the point of tears. One day he provoked us with questions about our generation, the apathy generation. Why don’t you protest this war? Why aren’t you in the streets?

It’s not a bad question. Here is my answer.

Protesting doesn’t do shit. Take to the streets if you wish to, but don’t expect a revolution. You can expect a spot on the local news or in the paper if you’re lucky, if you do something really clever. Maybe you can expect to sleep a little better, thinking yourself a model citizen. You can fancy yourself a hero, if you want to. You can call yourself a radical. I have done each of these things, more than once. I imagine you have, too.

This is not meant as disrespect to my activist comrades. I am one of you, and I admire your energy, I admire your imagination. You are smart and good and hard-working people, unshakably committed to your causes.

But activism is not enough. Activism is an activity — it’s something you do for an afternoon, or a weekend, or a decade, or your whole life. It’s something you do. It’s an action. It’s an action within the system.

Action is taken by people who still believe that the system is somehow good. That the system is salvageable, or worth saving.

This is not meant as a polemic against activism. As long as the system is here, we might as well try to make it more just.

I mean only to say that acting within the system is not enough, has never been enough. Rather than act, we must be. We must live our protest. We must drop the system like a hot fucking coal. Forget the streets; take to the hills!

This is a post along the lines of what I’ve been thinking, which I smiled to read today, to see someone else within my line of thinking. The writer draws a lot on Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn, which we read awhile ago. Both that blogger and Quinn understand what I’m getting at.

Quinn’s idea, and Dave Pollard’s idea, and my idea, is as follows: we must walk away.

I wish I had my copy of Beyond Civilization handy to quote from, but I don’t, so you’ll all just be getting a heavy dose of me instead.

We’re on a crashing plane, basically. The plane is crashing for a lot of reasons, but the most immediate threats, the threats that are sure to destroy it, are peak oil and the climate crisis. The system is going to fall apart at the seams.

And so it should. It’s an unjust, hierarchical, greed-based system. It serves money and avarice and businesses, not art or people or love..

And it’s essentially the same as many other systems we’ve had over the last ten thousand years or so, in that it fucks over entire classes of people for the benefit of the few. After thousands of years of attempted reformations, of countless revolutions, it’s clear that these are incurable, definitional components of this strange masterpiece we call civilization. Pollard’s afore linked post explains all this better than I can here; read it.

As I’ve tried to say before, if we are to survive we must do the opposite of what we’ve done, of what we’re doing. We must reject the dominant values wholesale. Working inside the superstructure is not enough and the Revolution isn’t coming.

The answer, instead, is simply to leave. This is the line I have sometimes seen. We must jump out of the plane. We must walk away from the pyramid we’ve been building (to use Quinn’s analogy). It’s that simple and that difficult. Put down the tools and walk away. Just leave. There is nothing and no one to stop you. Go like a mystic into the wilderness and build something there. Build something better. Do not go alone. Go with your family, your comrades, everyone who is willing.

I know what we will build there. It will be radically new and profoundly ancient.

It will be love.

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17 Comments

  1. Dan (Fitness) said,

    I love your energy. And to a degree this speaks to the very best my rage achieves when it soars up to the heavens, and away from the grime of reality. But I come back down as that anger cools to white and then red. And when I do two problems come to the fore:

    1. This has been tried before. It works for those who leave, but for no one else.
    2. Those left behind still suffer and harm.

    People have “dropped out” before. To the extent that we can do so, its a “so what?” from the elites and their servant classes. It doesn’t change their reality. Or does it? Look at the counter culture of the 60s and 70s. Did that constitute dropping out? Did it pose enough of a threat that it had to be destroyed, or was it an ineffective theater of ego and style?

    The other problem with walking away is that, well, there are people who would stay behind, and I don’t want to leave them. Not undefended to the sharks and the demons who stalk boardrooms and k street.

    These two problems give me some doubt. And it isn’t small. What gives me hope is that, maybe, if we could find a way to do this on a large enough scale, we could build a shining example for others. The “city on the hill” Mirth spoke of. I think that’s Pollard’s point, and it is an ok one. I just wonder if it hasn’t been done before. I can think of plenty of examples of small and beautiful communities that could make a great example for us all to follow. Hell, we could just look at Norway.

    I’m thinking if we do act (sorry to use the protester word), that we must meet two points. Our action must be big enough to be noticed, and it must be an upright strike against the system we oppose. We’d take a cue from some martial arts, our defense (dropping out) would become our offense.

    To continue thinking out loud, here is where I am going with this. We need to do something radical. I’m thinking we’d need to secede. We find a single state, overwhelm it with an influx of progressives, and secede from the US. If we drop out, it would have to be enough of us that our leaving would have an impact, and our success would be noticed. What better way than for a whole state to leave at once?

  2. The ’system’ is the best alternative « The United States of Jamerica said,

    […] ’system’ is the best alternative Published January 2, 2008 Uncategorized Daisy thinks we should forget the base, ignore the superstructure, and simply opt out of civilization: […]

  3. Daisy said,

    Hi Dan! Sorry for my late response here, I’ve been away from the blogosphere.

    We’d take a cue from some martial arts, our defense (dropping out) would become our offense.

    I love that.

    Also, and this is what Daniel Quinn is talking about: when I say “we” I don’t just mean tiny handfuls of progressives. I’m talking to activists, yes, but I mean that everyone (or some kind of enormous critical mass) needs to walk away. I should have done a better job of explaining that.

    I mean that people, everyone, need to just outright abandon… The superstructure and its attendant values. I don’t know. I’m not trying to be an anarchist, it’s just that the stranglehold of corruption and greed on government is so massive in the US that I don’t see anyway way out other than literally jumping out of it, and at this point, some kind of way out is necessary if we are to survive.

    We need to do something radical. I’m thinking we’d need to secede. We find a single state, overwhelm it with an influx of progressives, and secede from the US. If we drop out, it would have to be enough of us that our leaving would have an impact, and our success would be noticed. What better way than for a whole state to leave at once?

    Very cool idea. Reminds me of the current Lakota effort.

  4. Daisy said,

    Also, I’m trying to get at the idea that it’s not enough to “take action.” We should make political statements with the way(s) we choose to live and breath. We should protest with what we eat, with our electricity, etc. And the only way to do that, I think, is to step out of the game and create a completely different way of living.

  5. Daisy said,

    As for that ping from Jamelle, I’m happy to discuss anything with him here, if he ever goes so far as to comment on the post he’s, you know, commenting about. Based on the fact that he doesn’t, though, and on the behavior he allows in comments, I’m almost entirely sure that he has no interest in any kind of halfway useful conversation.

  6. Jamelle said,

    Daisy,

    Considering that – when commenting on your writing – my posts are generally respectful and treat your ideas with a degree of seriousness, I don’t see how you can seriously say that I “have no interest in any kind of halfway useful conversation.” If I spent my time insulting your ideas, you might have a point. But polite, extensive disagreement doesn’t seem like a bad thing.

    I’d also like to refer you to the famous case of Pot v. Kettle. Your “About” page seems to suggest a reluctance to engage in constructive discussion. Thoughtless affirmation isn’t a conversation.

  7. Daisy said,

    Hi Jamelle,

    I regretted that comment as soon as I posted it; I’m sorry I did. I read your post — which was respectful and thoughtful — but as soon as I was done, I read the comments on it (okay, one comment, from a very familiar commenter), which were rude and disrespectful, as I’m sure you can see. I’m glad you mentioned the About page — I subscribe the philosophy that bloggers are responsible for the commentary they allow on their sites. And I consider allowing that kind of comment, which was deliberately insulting and made unkind assumptions about my feelings and supposed ignorance, a pretty clear conversation killer. I can’t talk to you if your commenters are attacking me like that.

    I was also peeved that you decided to drag the post over to your place instead of engage with me here; I perceived that as a reluctance to engage. I acknowledge that perception may have been unfair.

  8. Jamelle said,

    I was also peeved that you decided to drag the post over to your place instead of engage with me here; I perceived that as a reluctance to engage.

    I have a policy about blog comments. If it takes me longer than five minutes to write, then I should probably just post it on my own blog. It’s more about not wanting to waste another person’s space than it is about a reluctance to engage. If I didn’t want to engage, then I wouldn’t have said anything.

    About my commenter’s and about my comment policy. I apologize if you took offense, but trust me when I say it wasn’t personal. In my book, it’s the substance of a comment that counts. Yes, occasionally there will be unfair characterizations, insults, etc. But that’s just a part of the game. I spent most of middle and high school, and most of my college career, in organizations that value debate and inquiry, but also weren’t above insults and attacks. It’s just how I operate. That’s not to say that I think it’s always a good thing, but for me at least, it’s not a conversation killer.

    That said, I’m happy to comment on your blog and add what I can.

  9. Daisy said,

    Thanks for the clarifications; I think we should had a misunderstanding. I’m happy to have your comments here and read your posts, but I’m unlikely to comment at your place, since we have such different standards for what constitutes a reasonable conversation. My background is in doing awareness workshops with middle schoolers — I’m used to very strict codes of respectfulness, creating safe spaces, etc.

  10. Dave Pollard said,

    Thanks for your kind words on my article. There seems to be a groundswell of support, especially among women, for walking away from civilization, and for creating new working models of how to live and how to make the world a better place, models that are not dependent on civilization’s destruction and addiction, models based on love, conversation and community. Nice to be traveling alongside you. ;-)

  11. Daisy said,

    Thank you Dave Pollard! I’m glad to be traveling alongside you as well.

  12. Dan (Fitness) said,

    Daisy,
    Hey!

    Critical mass would indeed be (drum roll) critical.

    Thanks! Of course convincing people on a large enough scale would be a hell of a task.

    I’m a bit torn on the “living” one’s politics. To some extent it isn;t practical. Take for example only buying American made. That is rather hard to do for *everything* one purchases. On the other hand, if enough people were to engage, these things become practical and possible.

    Jamelle is quite awesome, and I can see from the follow up comments you two are getting on famously. I am a bit biased, I friended him on Facebook.

    I think my own approach to comments (my own and others), may be a bit of a help. Other than spam and dangerous info (threats coupled with personal information), I do not censor comments at all. I get long winded religious rants, racist bull, and even threats.

    As for commenting vs posting, I like to engage in a person’s thread and on my site as well. I find that usually it is best to do both on the same post (if I have a lot to say), but I am often too lazy.

    I think you and Jamelle would find much to agree on politically.

    I think Dave Pollard showing up to thank you is beyond cool.

  13. Daisy said,

    ’m a bit torn on the “living” one’s politics. To some extent it isn;t practical. Take for example only buying American made. That is rather hard to do for *everything* one purchases. On the other hand, if enough people were to engage, these things become practical and possible.

    I think I’m talking about something slightly different and much bigger. Like, it’s less trying to buy the right products and more figuring out how to not buy anything at all. I recognize may (most?) people don’t have the resources to do this, but I think I do, maybe, with a lot of effort and planning.

    And I’m jealous, you should friend me on Facebook too. : )

  14. Jamelle said,

    Yeah, this aside, I’m a pretty decent guy and we probably do agree on far more than we disagree.

    Here’s to civil discussion.

  15. Daisy said,

    Jamelle, I have no doubt that you’re a decent guy and that we agree about many important things. I hope we’ll have many successful conversations in the future.

  16. Emily said,

    Fitness, I requested an add on Facebook too…hope you don’t mind!

  17. Dan (Fitness) said,

    Daisy, Yes, much bigger. But I mean even with the small, it can be difficult unless many people take part. So much more so for bigger and better things. If many or even most people don’t have resources to drop out, then to have the impact we’d envision, we need to find a practical solution.

    :) Friended!

    Emily, Double Friended!

    And now I have lazy sunday stuck in my head.

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