Most of us don’t get much pleasure out of the things we have to do to work inside the system. We’d rather be reading books on our own than writing assigned papers for school, rather be using our skills, energy, and time to work on projects of our own choice than selling ourselves to employers. But we feel like we have to work for them, whether we like it or not. It never occurs to us how much more fun, and perhaps more effective, it could be to take our labor out of their hands and do something else with it. Sure it would be hard at first, but nothing could be harder than to have to put up with this bullshit for the rest of our lives, right? Better we dedicate ourselves to replacing it than just dealing with it.
But, you protest, you’re still going to be fighting the status quo, you’re going to change things from the inside, right? That’s what they tell you, at least. Of course the system has “appropriate procedures” for people with grievances to go through to try to make things better; that’s the safety valve to release pressure when people get too worked up. Do you think the powers that be would really let anyone use their own laws and methods to depose them? If this system provided opportunities for real change, people would have taken advantage of them a long time ago. Countless generations have set out convinced that they would succeed where other had failed. That’s where lawyers and reporters come from, you know. They’re the cynical corpses of idealistic young men and women who thought the system could be reformed.
Besides, can you trust yourself to work “within the system” for the right reasons? We’re all programmed to want “success,” to measure ourselves by wealth and social status, whether we like it or not. Could it be that you want to become a journalist or professor of political science or rock star because you can’t bring yourself to consider any other options seriously, because you’re afraid to try cutting to the safety line that ties you to the security of a mainstream lifestyle? And how can you be sure that it isn’t that dark corner of your heart pushing you to seek success, the part that loves the attention and feelings of greatness your popularity and social standing bring? Sure it feels great to be able to tell your parents what your goals are and have them applaud your decisions… but is that any way to decide how to go about changing the world? Let’s listen to our hearts, trust our instincts, and refuse to participate in anything that bores or outrages us. We need to nourish our idealism and our willingness to take risks, not work out new ways to integrate our frustration and our desperation for change back into the society that engendered them. Remember, every day we spend “using the system” is another day longer we’ll have to wait until new networks and better ways of life replace the old ones.
How do we get out of here?
Yes, it often seems like there’s no alternative to working “within the system” if we want to get things done and not keep our ideas quarantined within the narrow confines of the underground. But why keep the underground quarantined to narrow confines? Surely if we put all our energy into expanding the spaces in which we can interact as free, equal human beings, rather than trying to repair the burning machinery of this doomed society, we could make at least as much of an impact. Imagine what we could achieve if we kept all our potential in our own hands, and refused to waste it ever again working for their system for even a minute. There’s no excuse to let even a fraction of our lives go by doing things we don’t love, or to let any of our talents and efforts serve to prop up a world order we oppose. Instead, let’s fight so hard, and live so hard, that others inside the cages of mainstream life can see us and are inspired to join us in our complete rejection of the old world and all its bullshit. And let’s make our communities something greater than they are; let’s make them more open and more capable of offering life-support, so that others really will be able to join us.
The system we live under offers only losers’ games: economic competition instead of cooperation, popularity contests in place of community, the struggle to measure up to social norms instead of the pursuit individual dreams. The reason we’re working towards something better in the first place is that everyone loses in these games, so why play them? It’s up to us to create new games, more joyful, exciting games to replace the old ones. Let’s not try to beat them at their games, but make them join us in ours!
Don’t be paralyzed by the seeming vastness of the forces arranged against us—those work forces are made up of people just like you, yearning to break free. Find ways to escape from the system of violence in your own life, and take them with you when you can. Seize any free moment, any opportunity you can get your hands on; life can be sold away, but it can’t be bought—only stolen back!