Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationship with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie, the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie, the standards of thought) no longer exist.
— Hannah Arendt
A few years ago I quit my job and took some time off of work.
My life was undergoing a lot of change, and I needed to get my head straight before determining a path forward.
Some of the conflict I had been experiencing were centered around my inability to articulate my reality, and a lack of understanding how much experience can vary from person to person. I had a fair amount of time on my hands, so I started listening to audiobooks.
I started with philosophy. Plato’s allegory of the cave helped me understand why people seemed to make no sense to me, and why I could not get them to see the world through my eyes. I began to learn that what I saw as truth was often just a perspective.
I started looking deeper into what was wrong with our society through a combination of one on one engagement with dissenting views on Twitter, as well as continuing through a catalog of audiobooks, often recommended after fruitful conversation.
I learned a lot about the nature of Fascism and Tyranny. I learned (at a high level) about psychology, neurology, theology, philosophy and propaganda. I learned about Eastern philosophies like Taoism which seemed to fit better into my understanding of the world than the one I saw practiced around me throughout my life.
I tried to change minds, but I feel like I was rarely successful beyond my own.
Where they saw conspiracies, I saw the inevitable consequences of individuals pursuing self-interest and following established rules without understanding a larger context that includes bad actors.
Where I saw conspiracies, they saw politics working as usual, and they weren’t exactly wrong.
I tried to influence the people in control.
I learned they didn’t exist.
What I found was a nation of hundreds of millions, each with power within their control combined with an expectation of what others will do.
Some people have more power than others, but top down power is an illusion that evaporates when tested. When the government implements the will of the people, they are content. When the government forces its way against their will, they create their own opposition.
“When we attempt to exercise power or control over someone else, we cannot avoid giving that person the very same power or control over us.”
― Alan Wilson Watts, The Way of Zen
As both parties have become increasingly authoritarian, they have incited hate, anger and distrust against them. They become more authoritarian as we, the people, start feeling justified in using more power to “fix” the damage. So, which is the chicken, and which is the egg?
I saw the damage done by greedy people’s influence on politics.
I saw the damage done by government enabling greedy people in some ways, and failing to punish in others.
I saw the damage done by employees enabling greedy companies by choosing to provide labor if they’re willing to pay enough.
I saw the damage done by the people choosing what platforms to use and what products to buy. The powerful are elevated by us.
At the end of the day, what exists in this country is over 300 million individuals with unique perspectives, internalized narratives, and the product of the actions that they take.
The world is shaped by our actions, which is only indirectly related to our individual subjective experience. The complex repercussions of our actions are often invisible in our internal narratives, because the world is infinitely complex.
Changing the world means changing minds, and that is not something that can be achieved in a meaningful way by taking political power.
The corporations who buy the politicians are still subject to the laws, and are vulnerable to the free will of their consumer and employee bases.
There is always the free will of the individual which has the power to stop the exercise of power. What One cannot do, those inspired by the actions of One can.
Now the things within our power are by nature free, unrestricted, unhindered; but those beyond our power are weak, dependent, restricted, alien. Remember, then, that if you attribute freedom to things by nature dependent and take what belongs to others for your own, you will be hindered, you will lament, you will be disturbed, you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you take for your own only that which is your own and view what belongs to others just as it really is, then no one will ever compel you, no one will restrict you; you will find fault with no one, you will accuse no one, you will do nothing against your will; no one will hurt you, you will not have an enemy, nor will you suffer any harm.
We will be stuck until we understand our power. And then we will understand that we were our own victims.
Introduction to “Brand New Ancients” by Kae Tempest