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October 2007

Creating change

It is common knowledge that the peaceful protest can be an effective method of creating change in a democracy.  Representatives are elected by the people, and when those representatives see the people collectively engaged in a statement of disapproval, the thinking goes, they will surely be motivated to make things right for fear of losing the next election or damaging the party.  The non-violent, peaceful protest...and its "virtual" manifestation, the petition...is perhaps the most straight-forward tool available to the average citizen to voice our collective disapproval in hopes of creating change.

But peaceful protest is entirely ineffective without democracy.  What would have been the outcome of a protest in the U.S.S.R.?  What about Nazi Germany?  What about today's China?  Look no further than this week's headlines...what about peaceful protest in Burma?  Peaceful demonstrations of protest taken outside of the context of democracy are, at best, a complete waste of time and, at worst, a death-wish.

Peaceful protest as a mechanism of change is only effective within a democracy that is functioning well systemically and in which a critical mass of leaders actually care about justice, bettering society, etc.  Peaceful protest in Norway or France is often effective.  In the United States, it hasn't been effective for probably the past 30 years. 

I have asserted elsewhere that the U.S. is now a democracy in name and image only.  The biggest problem is that the only two parties which can win an election are both entirely Pro-Corporate and have accomplished absolutely nothing on behalf of The People in at least 30 years.  It is a nation governed by Corporations for Corporations, and The People are only relevant to the extent that they serve corporate interest.  The problem has become entirely systemic and the consequences are plainly visible in every cog of the machine: a military-industrial complex in which military spending is out-of-control, a health care system where costs to the individual and access to care is secondary to corporate profit...to continue with a list of examples at this point is unnecessary.  Any thinking and seeing person who has experienced modern-day America knows this status quo to be true. 

The question for those who don't agree with this status quo is what to do about it.  We analyze and dissect every outrage and every injustice.  We organize, protest, educate our friends and family, write our politicians, and vote.  Yet, eventually, we come to the conclusion that the game is entirely rigged and the system is impenetrable to honest ideas, critiques, and pleas.  The system merely does what the system is designed to do. 

For many years, I've been asking myself what my life means in the face of this reality.  What do I do as a Progressive thinker, a Green, a Social Liberal?  Do I go to the protests on Saturday morning so I feel good that I'm doing something?  Do I reject the high-paying job lacking any sense of purpose?  Do I dedicate my life to improving a village in some third-world country?  Am I to be satisfied merely by consuming less energy and polluting less in my own life?  Following that logic, the right thing for me to do would be to commit suicide; a scenario in which I will pollute no longer and do harm no longer. 

OK, so I've been enlightened and I see what's going on.  I can name dozens or maybe hundreds of causes which deserve attention and fighting for.  But, at least in the U.S., I've seen so little evidence that I can do anything to change anything.

I've come to the conclusion that only one thing can be done to fight a powerful system that cannot be made to change.  We as individuals, and as a collective, can simply choose to opt-out.  We can stop brainwashing ourselves through corporate media.  We can stop killing ourselves with corporate food.  We can stop living in fear at work and stop doing everything the bosses say.  We can stop getting ourselves into debt so that we have to live in fear at work.  We can stop competing with our neighbors on materialistic terms set forth by corporations.  We can reclaim our mind, bodies, and personal lives as something that belongs to a higher order -- life itself.  These actions may not dismantle the system altogether, but it can drastically weaken it while opening our lives to the possibility of alternatives.

The language of art and ideas is the most powerful mechanism to free us from the grip that corporations have on our lives.  The best art can distract us from those countless corporate-fueled distractions...reminding us of those forgotten places deep inside of us which are, in fact, far more authentic than the material world around us.  One line in a song, delivered with authenticity, purity, and brilliance, can over-shadow those countless inauthentic words spoken to us and at us each day.  An honest novel written by an author with character and a life of experience can make us feel, at our deepest levels, connected with that life so far away from and different from our own.  An honest idea, even delivered within an inauthentic, corporate-controlled environment, can spark something in the individual which begins to sever him or her from the corporate-controlled system of thought and action.  I'm talking about reclaiming our minds, bodies, choices, and our time as our own.  I'm talking about minimizing our contact with the corporate world (while recognizing that some contact will always be necessary). 

How can we become inspired to live this way?  The language of art is far more powerful than messages of morality, obligation, or even fear.  The right song, even from a previously unknown artist, can infect the minds of millions overnight.  Art inspires!  What's more, it inspires us to inspire

The language of art and ideas is the superpower which every self-centered and corrupt government, system, organization, and individual has to fight.  Even they always try to use art and ideas to their advantage.  The Church commissioned countless works of art, the U.S.S.R. took socialist propaganda very seriously, and Corporations spend billions of dollars each year on films, programming, music, and other entertainment.  But inauthentic beings, systems, or institutions create really shitty art. Independent, free-thinking artists and intellectuals have a clear advantage here because art which resonates with the human spirit in a deep way has to reflect deeper truths.  Art-as-propaganda can never reach this level.

I'm certainly not suggesting that every artist should expect to have some kind of influence.  Some of us simply aren't talented enough.  Sometimes only after years of perfecting our craft can we inspire.  But the pursuit of honest, meaningful art is always worthwhile, nonetheless.

So I remain in exile as I work on the solo Abscondo debut album, which will be called "Morning Rain and the Midnight Snow".  These are deeply personal songs.  Part 1, "Midnight Snow, illuminates the authentic space of love and desire.  Part 2 reminds us of the inevitable "Morning Rain", the struggle of living a life of beauty and authenticity within an inauthentic consumerist society.

Posted by Mark Manney (mark.manney@infobeing.com).