Cars are stolen, grannies are mugged, grand mansions are raided, goods are shoplifted, the police are ignored because they're corrupt, elections are ignored because all politicians are liars. These actions and attitudes are justified by many people with the rationale that they are 'fighting the system'. Images of a hidden piece of human machinery otherwise known as society bearing down on weak and powerless individuals are conjoured up in order that those individuals can legitimise doing whatever they like to make a living. In the context of this all consuming 'system' actions of the individual are no longer defined in terms of wrong or right, but in terms of pro-system or anti-system, where anti-system actions are defined as everything that the individual does (remember if the system is against him or her then his or her actions must by their very nature be anti-system).
The question is, does a 'system' really exist and if not then is the rationale that 'certain actions can be legitimised by the fact that they are anti-system' merely a facade explaining away certain actions as necessary or right when in actual fact they are wrong?
So what is a system? Well let's look at it from the point of view of those who would have us believe that there is one overarching system. Those who are most aware of the brutal consequences of the selfish emphasis of capitalist western society. The losers in the real life game of Monopoly. To them, the system is capitalist society legitimated by government. But are capitalist society and government a system working in a particular way across time, or are capitalist society and government concepts which simplify the reality of a complex of interrelated and sometimes conflicting systems?
For example the unemployed may claim that the government is against them. But isn't the government responsible for giving out billions of pounds of money to the unemployed every year, aren't they responsible for the police who act as a slight deterrent to crime in inner city areas and, aren't they responsible for providing NHS care to the poorest sections of society? The same applies to capitalism. As previously stated, unregulated capitalism has a vicious edge to it as the inequalities that result from it reduce the life chances of certain people (the poor). However it also provides the poor with a living. Transnational corporations may be more and more powerful as the years go by, driving down the wages of the poorer further and further, but as a result goods are becoming more and more numerous and affordable to the poor.
It would seem then, that the argument that there is one big system is an oversimplification. And so it would seem that those who carry out anti-system actions are doing something else. Now let us turn to the nature of systems to help us find out what those actions labelled as anti-system are in reality. When we talk about systems we are talking about organisations of power. Organisations of power and thus systems permeate life. Power exists in people and between people. Power can take a myriad of different forms. For example, a doctor will have a lot of power in the system or organisation of medical power known as the BMA. Here the power is to decide how medical care is given to people, who is given what medication. Here a doctor has a lot of power, but in another field, say the field of social policy, the doctor will have little power relative to a social policy adviser or an expert in the field who will not have the power to prescribe drugs, but will have the power to determine the distribution of income between certain groups of people.
So whether we believe it or not (and the ability to believe you have power is a power in itself), we all have certain powers. Thus to say that the system is against you can be revealed for what it is, as a moment of gross self-pity which distorts the fact that there are many systems, some for you and some against you, some of which you take advantage of and some of which work to your disadvantage. When people don't vote in elections because they believe of politicians that 'they're all the same', they are actually losing the little power they had in making sure that politicians are not the same. In this case the belief that you have no power becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And when people carry out actions because they are anti-system or because they can be legitimised as anti-system what they are in fact doing is hiding from the fact that they are furthering their own lives at the expense of others. If the system that they are against is in essence one of purely selfish behaviour then responding to it by legitimising their own selfish actions as a means of fighting the system is in reality, strengthening that very system.
The question then should not be how do we fight the system because that is quite meaningless. Instead the question is how do we get the power to do what we want to do? How do we create and position ourselves within systems which work for what is right and how do we avoid systems which work for what we believe to be wrong. We can reduce the power of those systems we dislike by ignoring what they can offer us and turning our attentions elsewhere. For example, if you think that capitalism as a system is a source of pain and poverty in your life, then look for other routes to happiness than the great Autobahn of material possessions and money. All systems of power work on wants and needs. Capitalism works by creating wants and desires in individuals so that they become transferred into consumers first and citizens second. By reducing the want to consume, you weaken the power of capitalism over your life. By building other systems, such as becoming involved in recycling, voluntary work, community organisations, art, philosophy, physical development, ecology, communal living you can enrich your life in ways that result in your need for consumption being further reduced.
Revolutionaries should take heed as well. Revolution is not the answer. Scrapping systems wholesale will not work. They have to be replaced and there is no guarantee that smashing one system will automatically be replaced by the system you want. Instead you have to work with the system that you already have. Such an appraisal of the nature of systems has consequences for revolutionary activity. Being negative about a system achieves nothing in itself. Being negative can only achieve something when it is used as a reason for performing a positive action. Capitalism may be a system which operates to exploit one group of people to the advantage of another, but abandoning capitalism in itself will not make things any better. Instead it is far better to be at first critical of aspects of capitalism and then use this as a reason for forwarding ideas about how one can deal and transform those aspects.
The same applies to attitudes toward government. Certain people in government may be corrupt but it is no use to write off the whole government as a result, abandon any interest you have in politics and voting, hoping for a complete revolution or minimal interference from politicians. Instead, one should criticise those who are doing wrong, praise those who are doing right and look forward to new ways of working that will prevent corruption. A negative perspective will not achieve anything in itself. Life should be approached in both a critical sense, where systems working to the detriment of mankind are identified and explained, alongside a positive sense, where new systems are encouraged to develop.
So take the bull by the horns and realise that as an individual you have a certain amount of power invested in you anyway. If there are things you don't like, identify them, explain them and instead of wallowing in self-pity and hopelessness, press forwards for positive action never fooling yourself that you will reach an idyllic endpoint. Individual circumstance is the result of how the individual acts in the circumstances that prevail. So a good way of making your own life and the life around you into a better one is is by exploring yourself as an individual as well as the context in which you live your life.
There is a lot of work and thought to be done before people on the harsher end of life let go of their victimised status. There is a long way to go before people in poverty and depression realise that the route of their anguish is their close-mindedness in assuming that there is only one system of living, a system in which they were born to be losers. Until people take a grip of their lives and realise that they have the potential to work themselves a better life without having to destroy others and until people stop wollowing in a self-pity which allows them the right to screw others then as the title of this article suggest, 'Looks like a lotta suckers gotta learn the hard way'