Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Systems We Create are Us

I've written in another post that I think that #OWS protesters will have to acknowledge that a warped American Dream is part of the reason for the current state of financial distress and discontent, and will, at some point, need to redefine that Dream in ways that have less to do with what material items you have, and more to do with the relationships you create.  I still think that's true, though that idea doesn't seem to be a part of any of the discourse that explains the movement.
I was reading one of Glenn Greenwald's latest posts in which he devotes a long section to why a young activist has devoted so much of himself to the movement at great personal expense.  Jaime Omar Yassi says, "The camp has given my life real purpose, and brought out the best in me and allowed me to befriend the widest breadth of human experience anyone can imagine."  I think what Mr. Yassin expresses is important because it helps to understand what is missing in American society, in general. I think that #OWS happens to be the forum (at this particular moment) in which he has found what is missing, but it really goes beyond the particular message of #OWS. That is, it isn't the message or mission of #OWS that is so important to him, but the solidarity and sense of community and connection between people working towards a common cause. For a long time in America, we've been working, through corporations and capitalism and consumerism, towards a society that is designed to isolate individuals so that they don't have to deal with/rely on their neighbors and communities.
It's an important distinction, and one that hasn't really been a part of the discussions about the significance of #OWS, as far as I can tell: the message is important, of course (the banksters should be jailed), and resonates with many people in this country, but the actual THING that people are hungering for is connection.  I don't think the general sense of malaise and discontent would really be resolved with jailing the banksters, though it would certainly satisfy some of the bloodlust.  I don't even think that reforming the rules of finance and implementing more regulations is going to solve the problem either.  It goes much, much deeper than that.  The state of the economic system is merely symptomatic of the more profound issue. 
'Connection' is instrumental, of course, but it is also political and brings with it power. A consumerist society is designed to keep us separated and isolated and dependent on (i.e. slaves to) the material goods that allow/encourage us to live isolated lives, though we mistake that for 'independence' and 'autonomy.'  That's why this can't just be a wake up call on reforming financial institutions and asking the government to implement systems to re-distribute wealth.  The fix has to permeate every aspect of social life, and it requires active efforts by all of us in our daily lives. Regular people need to make an effort to live more communally,* and to reduce their dependence on such a system. To some extent, that requires withdrawing from the status quo by living locally (e.g. using local banks and credit unions, buying food locally, participating in local politics, going to local businesses). It's profoundly democratic, and doesn't completely eschew capitalism; it just reconfigures it and instills it with something more meaningful than a monetary transaction.  We are the systems we create, and the systems we create are us.  So, who do we want to be?

*Communally is not the same thing as being a Communist.  Just sayin'.


  1. This is the best thing I have read about OWS yet. We all need a sense of commonality and localization creates a common vocabulary that is born from intrerdependence. Excellent read! Thanks!

    "Whatever the problem is, community is the answer." - Margaret Wheatley

  2. Thanks, Kate! That means a lot to me. From everything I've seen, it seems like people don't think anything can change unless they get 'the powerful' to change first, and that's not likely to happen. Better not to wait around, I should think. Lots can be done without waiting for the world to change first.

  3. this is fantastic! that last paragraph is full on the main point. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for reading and commenting, Rocket.