Feb 13, 2023, 05:55AM

Opt Out

A manifesto for children and adults.

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Many find comfort in feeling they belong to a certain country, a group of people, a religious belief system. It gives a feeling of security, identity, strength that emerges from a group. They follow rules established by the government where they live and in return receive what they feel is a fair return.

It’s difficult to say why some people begin to feel at odds with the society in which they live. Instead of seeing the exchange as a positive one, one of fair exchange, they feel there’s a forced imbalance in favor of the reigning power system and that the price they pay, the loss of a degree of self-determination, is too high. Sometimes they make an effort to define and act upon their desire for independence from the established order.

Problems always emerge from this decision. Those who hold the power and those who willingly identify with it look askance at people who don’t want to participate in what could be called official reality. The intolerance of the power structure and its followers can take the form of direct hostility and outright violence to those who would prefer to withdraw from the arrangement.

The power structure protects itself by refusing to give up its power. It has to attack those who’d prefer not to participate for fear that others might make the same decision, and live independent of the dictates of the power structure. Thus, they call them unpatriotic, idealists or losers, or heretics, criminals or terrorists. No one can say, under any government I know of, the following sentence: “I renounce all the services the government provides me and I refuse to pay taxes.” This leads to incarceration, if not worse. In short, wherever you live, participation is mandatory. Even if you were to buy your own land in the middle of nowhere, you wouldn’t be left alone.

From time to time moments emerge where a certain percentage of the population chooses to opt out. These are usually referred to as countercultural movements. They’ve taken many forms, some have stayed theoretical, others have attempted to be realized.

Here is a short list of ideas of those dissatisfied with the system: the ideal city described in Plato’s Republic, that of Sir Thomas More, early French Bohemians, the Romantics, Utopian Movements in the 19th century, the Communards, the counterculture movement in the 1950s which is linked to the rise of the Beat poets and beatniks, then the hippies, the Black Panthers, and the list goes on. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that the goal of any artist is, if seen in a certain light, to describe his or her idea of the world in which they’d like to exist.

The concept or creation of a Utopia isn’t the important thing. What has meaning is the desire to have control over one’s own destiny and be freed from the ideological constraints imposed by the existing power structure. Freedom from exterior pressure isn’t far from a Utopia. We’re submerged under layer upon layer of pressure, propaganda, manipulation, above all the constant pressure to conform to what are often unreasonable official positions.

Can you imagine being free? Can you imagine deciding for yourself how you feel about different issues? That instead of being constantly force-fed and drowned in the endless false divisive debates forced upon us by the media, television shows, movies, commercial publicity, experts on the payroll of some special interest, social media with its silencing and shaming of voices not in agreement with the status quo—instead of all this, simply living and dealing with other people one at a time rather than imagining them all as being part of one group or another, all of which are propaganda constructs and pitted against each other?

I believe we’d stand up straight and, though at first feel light-headed from the change, look back at what we’d been forced to bear with something akin to a ferocious anger at those who, in their desire to maintain and augment their power, placed these burdens upon our backs. I believe that once this happened, and once we got used to being free, that if someone came up and suggested to us that we allow them to run the show in our place, we’d laugh.

In Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, La Boétie discusses the reasons why people would voluntarily accept rulers. The answer he finds is two-fold, either a perceived self-advantage, or simply ignorance of the alternative, that they can be free. Some people benefit from going along with the power structure, and in doing so they get a small share of the spoils. In the time of La Boétie the power structure meant an aristocratic ruling class.

People always seek an advantage. But what is a real advantage? The irony is that the spoils of the ruling class don’t equal those of freedom even if held by the poorest man on earth. The criteria used to determine value within societies are defined by a small group of people and these in turn are held up as the apex of value in that society. Almost always, calm reflection will show that these things are just show and what they represent is simply the possession of power, the power to control other people. In this case, it’s the power to decide for other people what they think they want. We should not accept their control, for it leads to fighting their wars, thinking what they want us to think, persecuting other people, suffering and making others suffer.

This is a call for people to opt out. Today, nearly the entire world is under the control of a group of rich power-mad people, the idea of leaving, of “going somewhere” has nothing to do with what it suggests. It suggests instead weaning one’s self from the values of the society, just as an addict would wean himself from a drug. The process is simple: first identify our addiction to society’s values and then do the minimum possible when it comes to participating in society. Do what must be done to avoid imprisonment, punishment, and retribution but leave the non-essential things to the side. Whenever you have a choice, identify and exercise that choice.

In any given society there’s always a limit to the field of action of any individual. This range of action is defined by the natural realities of the physical situation where one lives such as climate, local resources, and activities necessary to survival. It’s also defined by group pressure such as social hierarchies, religious beliefs, and social values. Some of these are necessary, others are not.

The logical goal of any capitalistic enterprise is a monopoly, which maximizes profits. In a capitalistic society this translates into marginalizing all possible competition. In other words, you only find so much “on the shelf” when you go into a store. What’s the solution? The only way to fully explore possible options is to inform and educate oneself to the real, and not imposed, extent of one’s options. Who would have ever thought that reading could become a revolutionary activity? Yet it has, as have all forms of intellectual curiosity in mainsteam Western society. Reading books, listening to music other than what’s force-fed us, reading philosophy, poetry, science and math, these are all now revolutionary behaviors. Why? Because they introduce options, and possible dissatisfaction.

The goal is to develop personal critical thought and one’s own space as fully as possible. We must stop defining ourselves through consumption; stop believing that the images and opinions of movie stars and models have some intrinsic value, stop trying to copy the roles offered up by the media and stop believing politicians serve our interests. We must set up individual consciousness as our goal.

Nothing you can buy can help you become yourself. That’s your job. When I was a child I heard the expression “Clothes make the man.” I knew what it was supposed to mean, that how one presents oneself determines how one is seen by others. But it’s a lie. Clothes don’t make the man, the man can only make himself. All the trappings of modern existence are like prison clothes, the various luxuries are like chains around our neck; expensive perfumes, cars and boats are only badges of our bended knees.

Logic tells us that if the products we're constantly bombarded by had any intrinsic value, advertising wouldn’t be needed. No one has to advertise water, healthy food, sunshine or good art. Dissatisfaction is the mode of life in our society, not to be happy with yourself, always dreaming to be someone else. This is an unacceptable way of life. Only those who would keep you a slave would argue in favor of behaviors that keep your mind in chains and against those that encourage your freedom.This manifesto isn’t political, calls for no violence, doesn’t call for group action or demonstrations, it doesn’t ask anyone to do the impossible; it’s a revolution of the mind available to anyone.


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