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On changing “the system”

March 9, 2008

I’ve always believed that the only way to change “the system” is by
changing the hearts and minds of the people who created and operate
within it.  It seems the author of a book I’m reading, Zen and the Art of Motorcylce Maintenance, agrees with me:

“But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to
avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack
effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects
only, no change is possible.  The true system, the real system, is
our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality
itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which
produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce
another factory.  If a revolution destroys a systematic
government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that
government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves
in the succeeding government.  There’s so much talk about the
system.  And so little understanding.”

Today I was looking back at a newspaper column I wrote in 2002. 
In it, I wrote that if we expect our government to change, then we
first must be willing to change:

“The living standard of middle- and upper-class
Americans necessitates that our government has its fingers in everybody
else’s pot
of gold. If we really want out leaders to step back and think
critically
about U.S. foreign policy, we must first enable them to do so by
decreas
ing the demands we make of them. When we are willing to conserve
instead
of consume — when we are willing to carpool or use public
transportation
and our own feet; when we are willing to live in smaller houses, buy
less
clothing and own fewer gadgets; when we are willing to simplify our own
lives
and question our own actions — only then will our leaders have the
freedom
to question theirs.

I call on those critical of U.S. foreign policy —
and, indeed, on all Americans — to demand less of our leaders and more
of ourselves. Anybody can criticize, but it takes a truly committed
citizen to
make the sacrifices necessary in his or her own life to enact change.”

And, thus, to change “the system.”

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