Be Epic, Be Something Great, Take Responsibility Part 2: The Meaning and Origin of Large-Scale Social Change

Things have to change, that’s for sure.

A lot of people have come to that conclusion recently. A lot of movements, large and small, have cropped up in response to that conclusion.

People are thinking. They see things like ignorance, apathy, corruption, violence, crime, poverty and desperation. They start looking for root causes and they often whittle it down to one institution or another. Some blame government, others blame religion, some think it’s their society’s approach to education. Maybe it’s the media, or a lack of morality—maybe it’s simply the existence of a certain idea like communism or nationalism or anarchism.

Some see it as an unhealthy combination of all of these things. And they’re right to think systemically. Society is a dynamic, moving, fluid “thing” composed of individuals, social institutions, organizations, governance systems, business arrangements, ideas and more. It is impossible to pinpoint one of those things and say, “That’s the problem. That’s what needs to change.”

Still, things in general within society don’t seem to be going well these days. Things in general seem to be falling apart!

Societies have fallen apart in the past. It’s nothing new. The difference now is that it’s happening amidst a population of aware, educated, liberated people—most of whom are more than capable of seeing, feeling or intuiting that their society, and consequently them, are on a dark, foreboding path. 

Nevertheless, I’ve been seeing a certain approach toward our problems rear its head more and more lately, that approach being: “Tear it all down!”

I hear things like:

“Well, animals don’t send their young to classrooms to be indoctrinated. Education itself is a ridiculous institution.”

OK, animals don’t really endeavor to do much of anything except survive and reproduce. (Obviously, some animals like gorillas and dolphins have slightly more complex social arrangements, but you get the idea.)

Or, I’ll hear:

“Government is immoral. Get rid of it altogether.” 

Well, then you’ve got a bunch of unsupervised people with jet fighters and nuclear bombs running around. Then you’ve got no rule of law and no hope of justice beyond taking matters into your own hands. That’s never gone well.

For societies to operate at all, certain institutions must exist. Government is one of them. Education in some form or another is too. Various moral institutions crop up around everything from a society’s most treasured ultimate values to what they think is acceptable or unacceptable speech. Businesses, even those mean old corporations, provide us with products and services and jobs that are required for the urbanized society we have created over thousands of years. Moreover, they enable large, beneficial projects that would be unfeasible otherwise.

This is not to say that these institutions don’t need to change as well. They do! That’s the whole point. The issue is how they should change and how we can sensibly enable that. Our institutions are a reflection of the society that we’ve created, and as such, are built upon the same values, beliefs and ethical principles that brought us to this unfortunate crossroads. It all becomes so daunting when you start to realize the scope of what we’re up against. It’s not as if we can just take our metaphorical screwdriver, make a few minor adjustments to the social machinery and expect anything substantial to happen. We’re too far gone for that.

What needs to change is us. And that might be the hardest thing to do of all.

In the spirit of things, let’s examine “change,” shall we?

Change implies that some system existed and that a different, new system has emerged out of it. It’s a matter of states. There was a state of affairs, now there is a new state of affairs.

The current state of affairs, in America at least, is the mentality that more stuff is better. It’s the mentality that coercion and force—upon other nations, each other and ourselves—is perfectly acceptable. It’s the mentality that while our politicians are corrupt and stupid, there’s nothing we can do about it and it’s not our fault. It’s the mentality that we deserve something for nothing. It’s the idea that we can have total freedom and total security at the same time. It’s the mentality that other peoples, other ways of thinking don’t matter—or maybe don’t even really exist.

The new state of affairs must be different. That’s the “change” we require. Tearing down the social machinery will only result in new, maybe worse, social machinery. It is only when we become fundamentally different that our thoughts and subsequent actions will permeate and ripple throughout the rest of society, gently molding our institutions into what we will them to be.

Now, you might be thinking: “Telling us that we all need to change really isn’t all that helpful.” That’s true. The real question is how to go about doing that. People and societies change on their own anyway. The difference now is that we have past failed revolutions to learn from. While we know that ideology alone never works, we do have relevant principles that we can apply. So we ought to be able to get some sense of what is possible and beneficial. This investigative work has been done as part of TOP. It doesn’t give answers but it let’s us all think for ourselves, and does offer some sort of general direction that is both feasible and desirable.

Check out the next blog and we’ll talk about how THEE can enable healthy, conscious social change.

Be Epic, Be Something Great, Take Responsibility

You’re upset. I can feel you seething through the computer screen. And all you’ve been doing is reading the news. You look around and wonder why everyone isn’t as upset as you are. Looking even further, you’re wondering why all of society has yet to erupt in a firestorm of indignant rage.

What got you? Was it your democratically elected government spying on you? Was it bonuses and federal money for Wall Street CEOs who speculated with your money and lost? Was it a friend-of-a-friend who died in one of America’s wars? Or was it someone closer? Was it the sneaking suspicion that your country is really the bad guy? Was it the vague sense that your democracy isn’t working, that your choices aren’t really choices at all? Was it something else?

Do you look around at the people you know, the people you happen upon and want to shake them awake? Do you spit fire with your friends, talking about how everyone is a little lamb, how they are satisfied so long as they can get their ice cream bars at Wal-Mart or put gas in their SUV? They don’t realize that people are dying! They don’t seem to care that they’re being taken for fools, that they are just cattle, the property of some banker or politician and they are being led to the slaughter!

What did you do about it?

Got you there, didn’t I? You know as well as I do that sitting around with your buddies, whining about Obama or the NSA isn’t going to change a single thing. You feel powerless. You’re no less a cog in the machine than the rascal-riding Wal-Mart shoppers, stuffing themselves to the brim with government-subsidized high fructose corn syrup. Your best option is to be some corporation’s robot—work, consume, work, consume. Your worst option is to be cannon fodder in some rich guy’s war. 

Now that I’ve got your attention, you’re starting to get antsy about where I’m going with this. “When is he going to tell me what to do?” you ask.

But you already know. You just don’t think it’s worth it. You don’t think anyone will back you up. You saw Occupy fizzle. You’ve seen how everyone thinks the Tea Party is crazy. Maybe you went to a protest or two and you didn’t fit it, or you thought they were on the wrong track.

Maybe you’ve got the wrong attitude.

You’ve got to fight fire with fire. How do the politicians have power? How do lobbyists get anything done?

They make friends.

As individuals, Obama or Ben Bernanke or General Patraeus don’t have any more power than you do. They must rely on their friends and associates, who in turn must rely on their friends and associates. They all scratch each other’s backs and share the wealth and power. Each has their own group who jockeys for power and influence. Society becomes a kaleidoscope of interests—PACs, political interest groups, think tanks, lobby firms, associations, churches, non-profits, corporations, unions, human rights groups and more. They all want a piece of the pie. It’s part of a system of ethics that underpins the way in which our society currently operates. We can do it too. We’ll have to.

“But they’ve got all the money,” you argue. “They’ve got all the guns,” you fret.

We’ve got all the people.

At some point soon, when there are no more ice cream bars left at Wal-Mart, and no more gas to fuel the SUVs, and no more willing soldiers, when it becomes clear that the cries to upset the system aren’t coming from radical nut jobs on the ideological fringe, when the drip-line that feeds our media addiction, our junk food addiction and our dependence on government “help” runs dry, there will only be two groups: us and them.

Then, when the smoke clears, it will just be “us.”

So where does that leave you?

“Great, thanks for the pep talk Tom. I’m still just sitting here wondering what to do next.”

Start or join a group. Mobilize for results. That’s how it’s done.

Spread ideas. Share this blog or write your own. Wake those people up.

Start taking responsibility for your society. Admit to yourself that you’ve been complicit in every stupid thing your government has done during your lifetime. Can’t swallow that? Click here.

Go to a protest, even if it’s not about your pet issue. Eventually, all protests will be about the same thing anyway and we all would do well to acclimate ourselves to nonviolent resistance.

Don’t buy things from companies you don’t like. Save your money. Become more self-sufficient.

Be mobile.

Make friends. Talk, write, post to your Facebook or Twitter. Rail on and on and on and on. Talking to your buddies over a beer does help. But take it a step further.

The “system” isn’t working for you, but all of your fear comes from not knowing how to operate outside of the system. Learn it. Political work is hard work. But we live in a time where great courage and perseverance is required. From what I’ve seen from this generation, I’ve got every reason to believe that we’ve got what it takes.

In the next couple of blogs, we’ll talk about “change” and concrete ways to bring it about.

And if you are inspired but don’t know where to start, message me and I will brainstorm with you and point you to some great information.


A Tale of Two Bosses

Leadership is very hip right now. All the cool cats are into leadership these days. I imagine them in skinny slacks, sweater vests and bow ties, hanging around the water cooler, bragging about the leadership conference they’re putting on over the weekend—not attending, mind you. That wouldn’t be leadership at all. I’m reminded of a blog that Warren Kinston wrote about this very phenomenon, one great quote about the popularity of leadership today being:

“Is the ratio in real life a thousand leaders for every single follower? Or is it the reverse? All the effort going into being a wonderful leader is rather pointless if you don't have a few followers. One thousandth of one follower doesn't do much for the ego. Is leading worth the effort?” 

I’ll be honest; I don’t have a lot of real-world experience in this area. I suppose I’ve been a bandleader of sorts, but we always tried to adhere to a somewhat anarcho-communalist ideal—very democratic, very anti-authority. It’s just that someone had to do all the work, and that someone was often me. No, most of my experience in this area is from the perspective of the led. But you learn a lot watching others, so I would like to regale you with:

A Tale of Two Bosses 

It was the best of times, 
It was the worst of times, 
It was the age of the knife, 
It was the age of the spatula, 
It was the epoch of heat, 
It was the epoch of grease, 
It was the Christmas season, 
It was the Mother’s Day rush, 
It was the St Patrick’s Day happy hour, 
It was the Thanksgiving feast.

It all began in the year of Our Lord two thousand and four. The king of the steakhouse kitchen noticed the zeal and stamina of a fresh-faced busboy. He was as sharp as a cleaver, quick with a joke and mild-mannered, and he worked with speed and precision. The royal steakhouse court granted him the title of cook, though he had never before wielded either knife or spatula.

This all occurred as the Great War with Christmas was beginning. The restaurant walls echoed with the sounds of assault after assault of company parties and large family gatherings. Amidst all of this, the steakhouse king was charged with many royal duties: delegating, strategizing, cooking, scheduling, ordering and training. But his authority and capability was unquestioned. With grace and skill, he attended to his duties. With a smile and a gentle hand, he guided his men, offering them the perfect ratio of butter to white wine in a buerre blanc sauce, or demonstrating for them the texture of a truly medium rare steak.

The War with Christmas was won and the steakhouse kitchen king garnered unfailing loyalty from his men. For many years, the steakhouse kitchen was blessed with low turnover and posterity forever remembered the king as a visionary leader.

On the other side of town, the less favored on the whole, the kingdom of the brewpub was in shambles. The king entertained himself with fits of rage and dozens of smoke breaks, causing the desertion of many a member of the royal court. The young busboy, now a hardened knight of the kitchen, was obliged to fight many of the king’s battles for him. And despite his best efforts, he watched as the brewpub kingdom degenerated slowly into chaos.

The king could only handle each crisis as they came. Duties were delegated to the person physically closest to him at the time. The inability to plan further than a few days in advance resulted in scores of dissatisfied customers. Profits sank and in response, the king attempted to pass his royal duties on to anyone he could in hopes of recovery. He did not want to sacrifice a single smoke break, but his minions were not loyal. They feigned to please the king, but took advantage of his absence and inattention and cut corners anywhere they could. They were not paid for their administrative work and eventually began to conspire against the king. Ultimately, the busboy-turned-cook threw his apron down in disgust and never entered a kitchen for the rest of his days.

Back in the 21st Century

Are we talking about a “bad boss” here? Both bosses had the same duties, the same challenges and the same tools. One flourished and one failed. Personally, I’m inclined to call the brewpub manager lazy and incompetent—though perhaps he was simply out of his depth—and the steakhouse manager a brilliant leader—though perhaps he was working at an appropriate level of responsibility. Granted, the job of a kitchen manager is all encompassing, something THEE calls “line management,” and very few people can do it. As the brewpub sank into despair, they offered me the position. I refused and I don’t regret it for a second.

We must acknowledge something else. The culture of these organizations was different. The owner of the steakhouse was involved, present and the steakhouse was his source of income. The hierarchy of authority worked. The owner of the brewpub was an absentee millionaire who wanted his own brewery to show off to his posh friends. He never once entered the kitchen in the three years I worked there.

THEE offers innumerable insights into leadership, management, work organization, being employed, authority, working within organizations and more. In fact, professional, work-related frameworks are probably half or more of what’s on the website. It’s not something I blog about very often because, as I previously mentioned, it’s not my natural area of interest. I do like stories, though, and I think you probably do as well. If this is your area of expertise, I strongly encourage you to click the links, open your mind and jump in.