Can Systems Be Changed By Working From Within?
By Dennis Loo (3/10/14)
I remember being told by my mother when I was in my early twenties that some family friend who was older than me by several years had said to her that I ought to “work within the system” to achieve change. This family friend had heard through the grapevine that I was some kind of radical and thought that I ought to get my head screwed on straight and change the system from within.
Had I listened to that advice I certainly would have had a cushier time of it in my life.
I could have parlayed my Harvard degree the way that at least some Harvard graduates do, to put me on a fast track for a powerful position of influence. That way, I could have really “changed things from within.” Right?
That’s what Barack Obama did, liberally borrowing from the rhetoric of those fighting injustice in order to advance his personal goals for the highest office in the land.
And just look how many things he’s changed since gaining the presidency!
Let’s see, after winning the Nobel Peace Prize he’s restored habeas corpus.
Wait, no, he’s not done that.
He’s ended indefinite detention.
I’m sorry. No, he’s not, in fact he’s expanded it to include preventive detention.
He promised to end torture.
Good news, he ended waterboarding. Bad news? He’s still permitting torture by other means at GTMO, Bagram, and black sites (e.g., Somalia); he’s retained extraordinary rendition; and he’s refused to prosecute admitted torturers.
He closed Guantanamo and restored the rule of law.
Sorry, no and no.
He’s surely made sure that civil liberties are protected like the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments.
No, he signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 that allows the government based on merely an accusation to hold someone indefinitely without charges and he’s defended the NSA’s universal spying and persecuted whistleblowers.
He’s defended and upheld due process and the separation of powers.
Not when it comes to his “kill list.”
He’s made it easier for the undocumented to live and work in the US.
He’s deported more undocumented than Bush did.
He’s famous and gets paid lots of money, with much more to come after he leaves the White House.
True, very true. All in all, a bang up job of taking the most powerful insider position in the world and not changing anything that he promised to change.
Had this family friend who was so free with her unsolicited advice said this to me directly I would have told her that she really ought to think about her use of the term “system” because if she did, she’d have realized that systems don’t change from within. That’s why we call them “systems” in the first place, because the individuals within those systems operate according to that system’s logic.
People who say that they’re going to “change the system from within” are really only saying that to apologize for the fact that they don’t have the gumption to fight for real change. They want to have their cake and eat it too. They don’t want to take on the powers that be. They want to be the powers that be.
You can’t have it both ways if you really are serious about your convictions.
This site aims to accomplish two related goals. First, it complements Dennis Loo's book Globalization and the Demolition of Society so that people reading the book can get more deeply into it. (See navigation bar above, labeled "GDS Book Annotations"). We believe that his book is a landmark, providing a solid foundation for politics of a new path. Taking such a path is critical to humanity and the planet's future. As his book's dust jacket states:
[F]ree market fundamentalism - also known as neoliberalism - makes us not more secure or prosperous: it tears the social fabric and undermines security, leading inevitably to disasters on the individual, regional, and global levels.
Neoliberalism is based on the mantra that market forces should run everything. It aims to eliminate job and income security, the social safety net (including welfare and other social guarantees), unions, pensions, public services, and the governmental regulation of corporations. It consequently undermines the basis for people to voluntarily cooperate with authority as almost everyone is increasingly left by themselves to face gargantuan private interests, with governmental and corporate authority ever more indifferent to the public’s welfare.
Those in charge of our collective fates in government and business personify a heartless system based on profit and plunder. They have been relentlessly instituting profoundly immoral and unjust policies even while they insist that they are doing the opposite. We, on the other hand, stand for and are fighting for a radically different system and set of values than this.
Second, in order to get at the truth and because the ways in which humanity's historic striving for understanding and its capacity to wonder and imagine are very rich and diverse, we seek to reflect that richness and diversity on our site. See "About Us" on navigation bar. We intend to be engaging and compelling, as the best investigative journalism and art are, and relentlessly scientific, rigorous, and direct, as those who cherish the truth are. We believe that we can be both accessible and sophisticated. As Loo lays out in his book,
Defeating the empire is not something that occurs only on the literal battlefield. It is also something that is determined throughout the continuum of battles over many issues, including: ideas; philosophy; forms of organization and leadership in economy, politics, and other realms; ways of arguing; ways of responding to and respecting empirical data; interest in truth as opposed to expedience; how people and the environment should be treated; the nature of relations among people (e.g., between women and men, different races and ethnicities, rich and poor countries, etc.); ways of responding to criticism and ideas that are not your own; ways of handling one’s own errors and those of others; and more, all the way up through how warfare is carried out. The contrast between the methods and goals of the neoliberals and those of us who seek an entirely different world is stark. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Pp. 326-7)