You’re Complicit, I’m Complicit

But if you hate the system, and you reject what it represents, and you are against the hierarchies and societal organization it perpetuates, and already regret how it affected yourself or how it may eventually affect your own kids — you also have to reckon with how your participation, even your reluctant, conflicted participation, sustains it. Does that mean quitting altogether, or deciding your future family will opt out? Who knows. But it does mean that you start thinking about what’s at stake in leaving — and, more importantly, what’s at stake in staying.

Ann Helen Petersen, Against Kids’ Sports

Her argument is with kids’ sports, but the questions Ann Helen Petersen asks could just as easily refer to a host of other perplexities of modern life, for which we have to ask ourselves, should I stay or should I go?

Do we quit the shitty job? Leave the unhappy marriage? Stay on Facebook? Do we write a manifesto and find a cabin in the wilderness, live like bears or feral cats? Do we blow up our lives — or blow up a dam — because we can no longer abide the way things are?

What’s at stake in leaving? What’s at stake in staying? These might be the only questions worth asking right now, even when the answers themselves are impossible to know.

It’s true that the vast stream of bullshit we wade through in the course of our daily getting-on-with-it is sustained by our (reluctant, conflicted) pulling on of hip boots and venturing out into the murky water of systems we hate and hierarchies we reject. We’re complicit. Of course we are. We buy our food at supermarkets and drive our cars to work, heat our homes with fossil fuels, wear clothes made in dodgy factories, pay taxes that support a trillion-dollar military budget, conduct our business within an economy that devalues women and nonwhite persons, not to mention non-human persons, and send our kids to schools that perpetuate cultural myths and economic fairy tales in order that we may go to our jobs and earn enough money to keep the whole Rube Goldberg machine going.

But let’s be clear: we didn’t start this fire, or build this machine. And the fact that we’re complicit in its continued operation doesn’t mean we’re in charge of much of any of it.

Our complicity within systems and hierarchies is something we share with the vast majority of humans on the planet who didn’t start this fire, either. And I suppose if we all rose up and said “No more!” we could change everything, except for the fact that those who like things the way they are control the armies and the police forces and are not going put up with our shit.

But even if it were possible to undo the systems we have, what would we put in their place? Ask a thousand people, get at least a thousand answers, many of which we would not like at all.

Me, I think a little UBI would help. You?

MLK said that the long arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, and perhaps it does. But the arc of human history is not an arc at all, it’s an entire wheel that turns and turns in the widening gyre until things fall apart and we begin again.

And again.

In which case, our efforts matter not so much in whether they sustain a system over which we have so little power, but in how they affect the people and things we love, in the places where we are. What’s at stake in leaving? What’s at stake in staying?

I’d start from there.

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