A Thousand Mile Journey: Reflections on Being the Alternative

“A thousand mile journey begins with a single step” – Ancient Chinese Proverb

By Guy Evans

journeyIt may be a New Year, but age-old problems and issues still plague our Western societies. While there are many that gravitate to fire-and-brimstone negativity, rejoicing in the idea that a total planetary collapse is imminent and that they may get to observe it, what cannot be denied is the gradual and radical shift in consciousness that is happening all around us.

On a fundamental level, the same struggle has always existed: freedom vs. control.  In this 21st century however, we find ourselves at an extremely important moment in human history. Aided by a revival (at least in terms of visibility) of political activism, the continued scholarly activity regarding the not-so-trustworthiness of the mainstream media, and the impact of the Internet, there are extraordinary opportunities to challenge systems of control in a way that previous generations could only dream of.  We must never lose sight of this – despite the constant wave of depressing headlines and disheartening developments we can clearly see at every level.

Look at the Occupy movement. For all the efforts on the part of the corporate-owned media to dismiss, demonize, and denigrate its message, it succeeded in drastically challenging many of the general public’s previously held assumptions about the capitalist system that they live under. As political scientist Michael Parenti and others have recognized, Occupy turned the tables on the establishment through its dissemination of a formula that was essentially propagandistic in nature (1% vs. 99%), that while overly simplistic, brought to the fore the rapidly rising inequality of the past three decades. This is a huge victory – imagery is powerful, and to borrow from Paulo Freire in his seminal text Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the struggle truly begins with men’s recognition that they have been destroyed.

A push-and-pull transformation of our society is occurring. As with any action, there is of course, an equal and opposite reaction, and this has manifested itself in those that enforce antiquated forms of oppression becoming ever more desperate and radical in their attempts to wear down those of us that don’t believe that say, killing innocent civilians with drone strikes in Pakistan is a good idea. The constant attack on our civil liberties is by no means incidental – the self-proclaimed ‘elites’ simply know that the game is up. As Hilary Clinton put it, the establishment is losing the information war, as evidenced by the numerous and looming threats of widespread Internet censorship through legislation.

At every chance, we must prevent ourselves from complaining without action. This serves no real purpose other than to create more feelings of being disenfranchised, disempowered, and disillusioned. It causes a vicious cycle by expressing to ourselves and others how bad things are, watching them get worse, doing nothing, and then reacting even more negatively to the downward spiral that has now accelerated. If we don’t like big banks paying no income taxes, getting in bed with drug cartels and looting the coffers of nations worldwide, we should look to transfer our funds to credit unions and community banks. If we are aghast at constant war and perpetual conflict, perhaps we should not stand back so easily when our friends and family enlist in the military. If we begin to throw our hands up at segments of our society that just don’t, well, get it, then we need to critically and honestly examine the ways in which we help to educate, and be educated by, our fellow man and woman in the art and science of our oppression.

It’s vital that in order to get ‘the masses’ to come along for the ride, the delivery of the message we spread to wider society is just as imperative, or perhaps even more so, as the message itself. Never was this more evident than in this week’s ‘debate’ between the former criminal news editor turned talent show judge turned CNN front man Piers Morgan, and radio host Alex Jones. On the surface, the appearance of an independent media member on the global news network promised the possibility for millions of people to sample information and opinion from a non-mainstream source. Whatever your stance on the highly serious subject matter, what has been striking is the almost consensual condemnation of Jones’ out of control performance. Love him or hate him (and many fall on both sides of that fence), the Infowars founder is an ambassador of sorts for alternative media, but has unfortunately opened the door further for the apolitical and apathetic ones out there to internally categorize and label any news website which doesn’t have major financial backing as being in the same vein. It was no slip of the tongue when Piers Morgan cleverly began a question with “when I have you guys on…”.

So it’s clear that a passionate but rational approach is needed. Getting others to see for themselves the injustices that we see is a tall order. A system of indoctrination that was established generations ago is still at play today, and starts to affect us more or less from the time that we learn to think. Social conditioning involves, by definition, inheriting ideologies, norms, and modes of behavior, and therefore, we don’t really get to have a say in any of it. Submission to authority figures is established and reinforced via the schooling systems that we attend, and the mass media that we consume. Once our world view is questioned, we enter a kind of psychological disequilibrium, which essentially results in two options. Either we can believe that everything is fine, close ourselves off to the evidence that there are power-hungry human beings that don’t give a damn about us and take solace in the arms of the system, or challenge the entire process and move to a new stage of awareness that Marx called ‘revolutionary consciousness’.

On top of that, as a species, we have a tendency to display a pronounced confirmation bias when seeking out information. Screaming at the top of our lungs to a restaurant full of diners that there was advance knowledge of 9/11, that the government wants to dumb us down, and that most of the food and drink we consume is poisoning us is not likely to be a good strategy. Most readers will be familiar with the information overload that occurs when trying to explain to someone that perhaps they need to start paying attention to what is happening in the world, as many aspects of this conversation often come across as too outlandish, no matter what the evidence says. As angry as we may be about the attacks on our freedoms, a great deal of wisdom is needed just as much as the intelligence to decipher what is and isn’t happening. There is clearly no wisdom in the actions of our elected officials; let’s not reflect that same flaw in ourselves.

We can see everywhere the growing and substantial political disobedience across the landscape. People are angry, frustrated, and tired of being sold the same bill of goods. Change is coming, and not in the form of an election result, but rather in the hearts and minds of each and every person that has wondered aloud: does it have to be like this? Is this really the best way we could live together on this planet?

Just as an irate, tireless minority can prevail, that long and winding path of being, following, and supporting the alternative can prove just as fruitful.

This thousand mile journey is far past its first step.

Let’s keep walking.

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Comments

  1. This is an excellent essay. If people don’t do anything… or are not active… those who DO do something will prevail. Americans have few options for action… they can vote and the can spend or not spend. We know that voting has become a farce, co opted by money and it’s a completely corrupt process. Our two party system offers no real choices. If we support 3rd parties… we find them locked out. Forget voting for now. The trans nationals own the vote… own the two parties.

    Then there is our spending… where we can punish the corporations or reward those who support the interests of the people and the environment. This is rather ineffective… What choices do we have for cars for example? We need them for our world to work and we can’t resort of horse and carriages. We pass our hard earned dollars to the corporate *villains*.

    Unions which represent the interests of the workers have been targeted by capital… they are being driven to extinction. All collective power has been destroyed.

    The answer is not retreat to self sufficient compounds off the grid. This is not a viable solution for 300,000,000 people.

    The critiques are all there…. they’ve been out there for decades. What we need to effective strategies, tactics and paradigms. We need action plans and organization.

    We need to use the internet to knit the people together… We need to resist… to not cooperate with the corruption, the system which is killing us. We need to Gandhi.

  2. avatar flogchopsuey says:

    Relevant:
    http://crookedtimber.org/2009/08/04/toward-a-larger-left/

    Aaron Swartz died yesterday. The above article speaks to activism:

    “A new media world is emerging. The mainstream media outlets that won’t even bother to print Chomsky’s response when they libel him are fading, while alternative media explodes. Alexander Cockburn publishes not one, but a dozen articles each day at CounterPunch.org. Amy Goodman has a daily television news show carried on over 700 stations. There’s a whole Chomsky Industry, which gets at least a shelf even at suburban chain bookstores. Socialist-feminists like Barbara Ehrenreich write New York Times bestsellers. Hell, we even have a socialist US Senator now!

    Then there’s the whole new generation of political bloggers. DailyKos, Atrios, and so on have a combined readership in the millions and are all consistently venomous toward the bulk of the Democratic Party and the media. Their work is broadcast nightly on major networks by Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow. (The West Wing even made Atrios a character.) Even Scialabba admits (although not in his book) that if he wants to spend time with like-minded friends, he heads to Crooked Timber.

    But while this clearly has a salutary effect on mainstream political culture (witness Stephen Kinzer’s transformation from Noam Chomsky’s bête noire to Amy Goodman’s guest), it hasn’t exactly created an alternative culture of its own. Conservatives, centrists, liberals—they all repeat their fundamental premise: We’ve got a pretty good system going here. Sure, there may be some trouble around the edges (liberals think more, conservatives think less), but, as McCain said, the fundamentals are still strong. The lines are so well-publicized that even college freshmen can repeat them down to the soundbite.

    The left has succeeded in making it sound hollow and unconvincing. Your average liberal blogger is happy to admit all the papers are full of lies, all the politicians are bland sellouts, and the government is run by lobbyists and corporate hacks. And (nothing new here) your average citizen is happy to agree (it takes a lot of education to be dumb enough to think otherwise). But where do you go from there?”

    I think the answer includes the word “community”. Perhaps Ms Edmonds move out west also is speaking of community, as is her recent lament about being exclusively the bearer of bad news. We need to offset the bad news with living a connected life. Somehow, I think food will be involved. Food for thought AND real bread.

    By the way, SanderO, I think you would enjoy some recent comments over at Reddit by a poster named Superconducter.

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