Those of us on the left have been hearing more and more that things are so dire that civil disobedience is the only way to resist the system and possibly save ourselves. One of the people who says this is a deservedly well esteemed writer and moralist, Chris Hedges. He is one of my favorite writers and, as I have written before, we ignore his words at our own peril. And yet, that does not imply that he is always right.
The idea of resisting through civil disobedience rests on the perception that it is wrong to be well-adjusted in a pathological environment. That the only sane way to exist in such a situation is to be maladjusted. And thus, one should not cooperate to the point of breaking the law to show the system how sick it is. And though our world is becoming increasingly morally insane, and resistance and noncooperation are essential to maintaining any kind of personal and moral sanity, civil disobedience does not have a monopoly on resistance.
Here I would like to use a computer programming analogy. When teaching students to write code, we tell them about two sets of rules. One set of rules has to do with syntax while the other is concerned with convention. Syntax rules are rules that code must adhere to in order to be compiled and run by the computer. If a program, regardless of its size, has one syntax error, that program will not run.
But programs that break programming conventions do not suffer the same fate. Programmers who do not follow programming conventions are simply failing to fully cooperate with other programmers. Their programs will compile and run on a computer because programming conventions are not syntax rules.
So if we say that syntax rules are analogous to the laws of the land and programming conventions are analogous to society's norms and traditions, we find that there are other ways to resist a sick world than to break the law. Certainly, we need people to practice civil disobedience and such people should be greatly respected for their moral stand and courage. But what if the number of those who engage in civil disobedience is not great enough to change our current direction? What do we do then?
In conjunction with civil disobedience, we can resist by rejecting many of our society's conventions. Such a rejection is another way of challenging the status quo. And the first convention do away with can be done by both conservatives and non-conservatives together. That first convention is voting to support the two party system.
The reason why both conservatives and non-conservatives can work together here is that there are some third parties that are conservative and some that are non-conservative. The reason why all should boycott the two party system, as opposed to boycotting the election as some have suggested, is that, for the most part, each of the two parties only work to have us vote against the other guy. Therefore, they offer no compelling reason to vote for themselves other than fear of the other guy. This happens every election year. Yes, many conservatives are not happy with the selection of a flip-flopper like Mitt Romney. But, to them, anything is preferable to the Black "Socialist" President Barack Obama--note the quotes around the word socialist. So, for as long as their base is secure because of a commitment to unseat Obama, the Republicans can run on a vacuous or even venomous platform.
As for non-conservatives, as long as they would vote for any Democrat to prevent another Republican President, Obama and the Democrats do not have to worry about walking the campaign talk as well as being a worse war President than Bush. So the Democrats can fling promises with a flare and without a care that they will have to keep them. Why? Because, of how they have marketed their opponent; anything is better the current Republican candidate.
So, for as long as the base of each party is more committed to voting against someone, because we can't afford to let that person win, or are afraid to vote for a loser who has no chance of winning, the two parties can depend on our support. Thus, neither party has to offer anything significant in terms of performance; they only have to show that they are not the other guy. In the meantime, only cosmetic changes separate the two parties in both rhetoric and accomplishments.
Therefore, voting 3rd party is the only way to either bring the Republicans and Democrats back to their senses or to replace them because both parties are hopelessly lost in their own banality.
But there must be other ways to break convention than what we do every x number of years. And whereas voting for third party candidates is difficult but not impossible to do, the next way of breaking society's conventions will try many a soul. The next convention to break is patriotism. The next convention to undo is holding onto the deeply moral conviction of loving one's country. Here, we are not saying that we should hate one's country, not at all. Rather, this claim of being special by association, the holding a reverence for a set of boundaries, the worship of colors and a pattern on a piece of cloth, and a religious belief in a mythological past in order to insist on being privileged over all others who do not belong to one's national gang is not just irrational, it is immoral.
In Romans 2, we understand that God is not a respecter of persons. In Paul's letter to the Philippians, we see Paul eagerly void himself of all national and ethnic pride in order to gain his significance from only one source. So why should we invest so much of ourselves into our national identity?
Those who are full of patriotism will proudly point out that our nation has afforded us privileges and prosperity that no other nation has ever provided for their own people. Thus, because we are blessed with such a special life and set of opportunities, we would be the worst of ungrateful children if we do not show a proper, and more accurately a worshipful, appreciation for the sacrifices made to give us the opportunities and rights we now enjoy. And such an argument carries some weight.
At the same time, what we are blind to is the fact that the pre and post conditions of privilege rests on the abuse of others. And the more we gain our own significance by group identity, the less able we will be to see the hidden costs of our privileges when it is our group that is benefitting rather than paying the price. For most of America's history, its wealth has been built on the backs and graves of those who lived in our own borders. We stole the land from indigenous people and we used slave or near slave labor to produce and sell a remarkable amount of goods with huge profit margins. And when the rights of more and more groups finally gained more recognition, we exploited the labor of more and more foreigners to maintain that luxurious profit margin. And when we were not stealing land and exploiting land here, we are intervening in other countries so that we could rule them through heavy-handed proxy rulers .
And why do we callously abuse and exploit so many others? Isn't it because we believe that our own group is more entitled to a prosperous life than any other group? That sense of entitlement is at the heart of patriotism.
Here, a special word must be given to our troops who have given or risk giving the ultimate sacrifice for our national group. We must acknowledge and respect them for their courage and willingness to risk immense suffering and even death so we can have a better life. But then we must point out the price that abused victims must pay for us to gain such a privileged life. And we should point out that as our troops are on the front lines of sacrifice, they are also on the front lines of harming innocent others whether they shoot up close and in person or from remote locations using machines. It is that willingness to pull the trigger that enables our leaders to live by the rule of force.
We should replace patriotism with a love of mankind. And we should add to our protest of regimes and groups that abuse others abroad, our sharp criticisms of our own when they do the same. Mindless flag waving can never obscure the guilt that one should feel for supporting theft and murder. We can't afford to just "trust and obey" leaders who order the murder of others while lying to us about the two reasons for almost every conflict--ambition and greed. And a funny thing can happen to us on the road to internationalism, we make it possible to experience a reciprocal support when we need help.
The short of it is this: in a world where both proliferation of WMDs has become inevitable because of an ever adulterous technology and sharing has become the only way to survive because of diminishing resources is being met by growing need, we can't afford to not work for the benefit of others regardless of their ethnicity, religion, national identity, and whatever difference one can name. That is because the refusal to share is another nail in the coffin.
Finally, though it is not really finally, we have to address our consumerism. Convention has it that we should buy as much as we can at the lowest price. This is the consumer's version of maximize profits. By reducing all concerns to the lowest price, we become concerned solely about our short-term gain and apathetic to the price others must pay today and what we all must pay in the long run.
So what we should do our best at is to buy not using price as our only or final criteria, but to buy using price and other considerations as criteria.Those other conditions should include the company's impact on the environment and their labor practices. If a company carelessly pollutes the environment or does not invest in their employees, then breaking with convention would mean not buying that company's products even when, because of prices, you could get more for your money. Why? We should not reward companies that harm others through destroying the environment or by abusing employees.
Thus, just as we have more than 2 choices for President, we have more than one way to resist the status quo. This is good news for those who cannot afford or are unwilling to be arrested. The more we break with those conventions that contribute to the abuse of others or our environment, the closer we are to determining our future. But we keep on with the same old same old while visions from the past dance in our heads, we will meet with self-destruction.
So the question becomes are you willing to forgo more and more comforts so as not be well-adjusted in severely pathological world or are you going to turn your back on both righteousness and those in need because you've got yours. One does not have to be a protester who is arrested and manhandled in those in authority to speak up. One can speak up by replacing each norm of society that contributes to the abuse of others with something that is different and individual. I have targeted 3 conventions, there are far more to be considered.