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Contesting the Systems of Power

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In other words, the power elite are imposing austerity on workers and forcing them to pay for a crisis of capitalism they had no part in creating. Thus, working class conservatives like my sister and her husband are unwittingly participating in their own oppression. Their opinions are driven by ideology derived from Fox News rather than by scientific methodology backed by empirical evidence. Accordingly, they detest socialism without knowing what socialism is or what it does. They are, like millions of Americans, conditioned to recoil in horror at the mere mention of the word.

It never behooves anyone to remain ignorant or in a state of false consciousness. The ignorance of the masses benefits those in power, not the disenfranchised workers, or the poor. Systems of power serve the powerful by keeping the marginalized people oppressed. These are not egalitarian institutions, and it is not useful for us to believe otherwise.

As a passionate skeptic, to borrow a phrase from poet Adrienne Rich, one must always be cynical. One must look for the political motivation operating behind policy and the institutions of power. As friend and mentor Ambrose Lane used to say, "Follow the money trail." Otherwise, one is nothing more than a dupe, a chump to be marginalized, disempowered, and exploited by the rich and powerful, discarded like a spent tube of toothpaste in the landfill of history.

Popular culture is yet another means for constructing and managing human behavior. Entertainment requires little of us; it makes us susceptible to propaganda. Conversely, enlightenment demands consciousness and vigilance.

It is imperative that we know exactly where we are in relation to the power structures that govern human behavior. Nothing can be changed from within a position of false consciousness. Collective ignorance, including religious dogma, serves the status quo. Jacques Derrida contended that language conceals ideology. All language is coercive to someone. Yet reason and scientific methodology are superior to blind faith and misdirected trust. Faith and trust must reside within the self's conscience rather than in the external systems of power. Blame belongs to the institutions of culture, capitalism, and government.

Corrupted systems of power cannot be used to reform themselves. Transformation must occur outside of them. Their function is to maintain the status quo, while providing the illusion of reform and thereby dissipating revolutionary energy. It requires courage to assert one's moral autonomy in the face of ridicule and convention. One can and must choose to do what is just rather than what their culturally-defined roles require them to do.

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We Americans are locked in an asylum for the criminally insane with the criminally insane, and they are armed to the hilt. We are in a dangerous place. Yet we continue to call ourselves free. Psychosis and delusion is not freedom.

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Charles Sullivan is a photographer, social activist and free lance writer residing in the hinterland of West Virgina.

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