It’s The System, Not The Person

A few months ago I did a brave thing (for me) and finally registered to vote as a Libertarian.

It was a tough thing to do. For one thing Libertarians have a sort of crappy brand. For another they’re a little weird. Thirdly they’re not mainstream, and so they influence rather than win elections.

But I wanted to own my true beliefs publicly. And so I did, after reading the party principles. In essence they boil down to this: Free people, mostly left alone, will thrive and help each other naturally.

What stops people from being free? What makes them tend toward the evil rather than the naturally good?

As a sociologist, marketer, and organizational development specialist, I will always tell you that it is the group. Though Americans are not really skilled at seeing its properties. Though we want to believe so badly that it’s a single individual gone mad that ruined things – the Hitler, the Stalin, the Saddam Hussein, and so on.

Americans have a psychological bent. And we’re empiricists. We want to know which crazy person was beaten cruelly and wound up taking drugs, or being on drugs, that led them to go on a shooting spree.

But I see that bent as just another kind of bias – same as the economist who will tell you that poverty makes people kill, or the biologist who says their body chemicals are off.

So let’s call the filter what it is – a lens – and stay with one of them for just a moment.

Very few people are actually bad. Sit with them; talk to them; most have a sympathetic point of view and a clear-eyed way of thinking. They may make choices that harm other people, but usually not out of any desire or choice.

The overwhelming majority of people, however, are situated within a complex array of circles and systems that leave them unable to act independently as they would wish. Most people are but peons, thrown about by rules they cannot comprehend, held back by invisible hands inscribed with racist, sexist, classist tattoos, normally invisible to their bearers.

And you see the evidence in ways you wouldn’t recognize. How did a guy with a gun and a criminal record get next to the President? How did another jump the fence and run so far into the White House it might have been impossible to stop him from carrying out a deadly attack? What explains the confusing swirl of helplessness among leaders so brilliant, so dedicated, so self-sacrificing and so recognized as having the capacity to lead?

The answer is a prison we have built and hold people hostage to. It’s called bureaucracy. And if we want our children to survive and thrive, we have to find ways to gently dismantle it where necessary.


Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo of Tim Burton’s “Robot Boy” by Gal via Flickr.

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