NOTE: Following is the latest draft of the Preface for a booklet, tentatively titled “Transform the System,” which is a work-in-progress. I welcome feedback. To review the projected contents, click here.
Imagine. Forty adults enjoy a picnic on a riverbank. They see small children floating downstream and dive in to save them from drowning, but can rescue only half of them.
A man on a raft passes by and reports that one mile upstream a giant monster is throwing children into the river. He estimates it would take twenty adults to subdue the monster.
The party proceeds to discuss what what path to take through the thick jungle alongside the river. Unable to agree, twenty return to rescuing children, five meditate or pray, five return to eating and drinking, and ten go after the monster. But when the activists find the monster, they can only slow him down.
That scenario is a metaphor for our current situation. If we, the people, united, we could improve national policies and greatly alleviate suffering and injustice. But we’re fragmented, without the power we need.
At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Elizabeth Warren brought the crowd to its feet when she declared, “People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here's the painful part: They're right. The system is rigged."
During the 2016 election, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump echoed that theme and received strong support. Clearly, there’s widespread concern about “the system.” Advertising and popular culture often refer to “the system.” Following are some images that reflect that perspective.
Does that “folk wisdom” have merit? Does “the system” exist? This booklet is based on the proposition that it does.
When most writers discuss “the system,” they only talk about the government and the economy. Other writers only talk about “systems” and propose “systemic reform” in terms of those specific systems.
This declaration takes a more comprehensive, or holistic, view. We assert that “the System” includes all of our major institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals who are conditioned to fit into the System and reproduce it in our daily lives.
Our society is stable because the System, which is self-perpetuating, provides ongoing coherence and stability. The various elements of the System are interwoven. They overlap and reinforce one another. That underlying consistency is what the popular wisdom refers to when it talks about “the system.”
If we understand the System, expose root causes, connect the dots, and clarify how the pieces fit together, it will help us correct injustices that the System inflicts on the disinherited, reverse the dehumanization suffered by the powerful, and eventually restructure the System.
A widespread commitment to that goal could help unify a broad array of forces into a “transform-the-system movement.” Various organizations could fight for specific causes while doing so for the sake of the larger cause. We could affirm both/and, within a shared commitment to systemic transformation. We could build momentum by occasionally supporting one another on timely priorities when victories are near. With that approach, we could inspire discouraged, inactive people who want to have a short-term impact. And we could also inspire idealists who are concerned about the need for long-term fundamental reform.
Toward that end, this booklet analyzes the System, proposes basic principles for how we can move forward, and presents a step-by-step plan for how we can restructure the System and transform the United States into a compassionate community.
A variety of social-change strategies will always be needed. That’s a good thing. This work is neither the final word nor a blueprint. But hopefully it will offer a sensible, useful direction and spark new, better ideas.