Seeing Power

“After Vindman’s testimony, he was ousted from the National Security Council, and his twin brother Eugene, a senior lawyer and ethics official for the NSC who had not been involved in the impeachment hearings, was also fired, escorted off White House grounds “suddenly and without explanation,” according to Alexander’s lawyer David Pressman. The two men were fired on the same day Trump told reporters that he was “not happy” with Vindman’s testimony.”i

This is how power works. At every level. In this case, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman is a decapitated head on a pole planted on the road to the castle. His and his brother’s are lined up with others to remind us all of the terrible price that is required to continue participating in our broken system, even when you are at the bottom of our food chain.

When we are afraid of losing our income, that supports our families, we hold back our words, our concerns, our complaints. When we are afraid of losing our reputations that will assure that we can rise up from a lower-class or find a different job, we measure our words, our concerns, our complaints. When we see our words, our concerns, or our complaints can cause damage to to our family and our friends we begin, usually incrementally, showing support for the system if not the people, that have authority over our agency, or removing ourselves and remaining silent.

This isn’t only about participating in Washington politics, statewide, or any political office anywhere. This is how the current systems of power work in every aspect of our lives. It can work this way in our relationships in our homes and where we work. Our assembly line jobs employ these threats, as do restaurant jobs, private housekeeper jobs, your HVAC job. It is relevant to your small business when clients have the all-important word of mouth advertising power.

This is why speaking up about a lack of safety or injustice at work is dangerous. It is why members our community refuse to stand to publicly call out injustice unless or until they can blend into a crowd unseen as an individual. Survival and the security of our families and associates are always under threat in a system that has been entrenched to sustain power for a few and whose power depends on the labor and obedience of many.

When this has been true for generations, we stop seeing the problem. We were introduced in utero to “how things work” and as we watched as toddlers and children we assumed it was the way. We went to school and were thoroughly persuaded to participate so that we would find approval. Horace Mann designed modern education to meet the needs of industry and our ancestors gladly got on board. By the time we got to primary school we already were well practiced in how to wield power and how to be submissive. They started early letting us know that ideas could be dangerous, that thoughts that challenged the status quo were evil until we now have convinced ourselves that this system represents something innate in humans and we tell ourselves that these behaviors are unchangeable and inescapable.

Once upon a time, maybe not so long ago for some of us, our ancestors saw the powerful for what they were and they made choices. Some fought back and were denied participation in the illusion that they could aspire to power themselves and so they made their own way subsisting on the land until later generations finally succumbed to the ranks of factory workers, office workers, coal miners, and assorted middle managers. Some ancestors immediately signed on and though they saw how they were being abused they kept quiet and swallowed their anger, at the humiliation telling themselves it was necessary so that they could provide for their families. Sunsequent generations assumed that these impositions of power were right and that our misery was uniquely our own. These ancestors may even have become champions for the system and told themselves and others that we only needed to change our “mindsets” our outlooks, our attitudes.

Unquestioning acceptance has been passed along for so many generations now that we think a system controlled by a very few that sustains only their power and wealth and which requires our suffering is who we are as a people. It has by now even been absorbed into our religions so that questioning the system is a threat to our eternity. Christianity, used for centuries (long after it was a dangerous ideology threatening Roman power) as a tool to keep us passive with the promise of great joy when we died, has now been reframed as a threat to our afterlife should we challenge the worldly power system before passing to our reward.

Finally, we find ourselves no longer able to ignore the “man behind the curtain” and we once again we are being forced to make a decision. Right now it’s time for some personal honesty and nothing less is acceptable. Do I pretend I can’t see the suffering this outdated system has caused and will continue to cause, or will I work with others to create new systems with potentials to sustain our species (and others) in ways that perpetuate well-being?

Would you be willing to make a sacrifice to alter this outdated system of power? What would you be willing to do for that change. Would it cause you to do more if you understand that only incremental change realistic and the changes you put in motion would only be seen by your children and grandchildren? How inconvenienced would you be willing to be if you knew you could send out a ripple into the river?

iFrom Heather Cox Richardson, daily newsletter, July 8, 2020

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