Turning the Table on Unsustainable Systems is Like Playing Rope-A-Dope with Goliath.
“Withdrawal in the face of moral complexity is no answer. Withdrawal in the face of atrocity is no answer. Two hundred species went extinct today. When faced with those committing atrocities, it is incumbent upon you to stop those atrocities using any means necessary. If you were being tortured to death in some basement, and I knew this, would you want me to walk away? Would you accept it if I said, “Oh, here’s an answer, I will walk away.” What would you call me if I did that? What would you call anyone else who did that?” –Derrick Jensen
In a world where Goliath threateningly looms over all things, it behooves us to gain the skills, the courage, and the audacity of a David. Goliath is a metaphor for any overreaching authority or corrupt power. David is a metaphor for audacity and courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. But David needs a strategy. He needs a method that can turn the tables on power itself.
One proven method, made famous by Muhammad Ali in his 1974 Rumble in the Jungle match against George Foreman, is the rope-a-dope. Big Brother is the Goliath and we are the tiny David on the ropes strategically waiting for Goliath to “punch himself out” and to make mistakes which we can then exploit in a counter-attack. Of course, this requires speed and cunning, and skill in adapting and overcoming, all of which cannot be understood until we are able to transform apathy into empathy.
Apathy Versus Empathy
“The less we venture out, the weaker and more vulnerable we become. We descend into a spiral that results in us living like a soft white maggot in a dark damp hole. A world we cannot connect to can be seen in one of two ways: either we don’t care about it, or we feel impotent to affect it.” –Len, Adbusters Magazine
Step one of turning the tables on unsustainable systems: turn the tables on yourself.
What happens when we go from being a victim of the world to being the world? The short answer: love happens. The long answer: we gain the courage it takes to defend what we love. Like Lao Tzu said, “Being deeply loved gives you strength; while loving deeply gives you courage.” We grow out of being victims by learning how to love ourselves. By learning how to love ourselves we learn how to love the world. With enough practice, self-as-world and world-as-self becomes one interdependent whole. An interdependent whole that must be healthy in order to survive, and must therefore survive in order for there to be love.
“Man…sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.” –Dalai Lama
The problem in today’s hyperreal culture is that we’re conditioned to love things and use people, instead of using things and loving people. These “things” can be anything from a shiny new car to a political agenda, from an I-phone to a religious conviction, from money to extreme patriotism. When profits matters more than people, apathy reigns. When infinite growth matters more than healthy sustainability, entropy reigns. A culture where things matter more than people, is a culture that approaches spiritual death.
By realizing how we are all connected, and how all things are connected to us, we are able to reverse this spiritual entropy by gaining the faculty of empathy. And it is through empathy where we gain the capacity to act courageously. We find that culture was a carefully constructed façade which, when ripped away, reveals the naked truth of our interconnectedness to all things.
Apathy is for cowards. Empathy is for heroes. A state of apathy is a state of victimization. A state of empathy is a state of heroism. The rope-a-dope strategy toward undermining unsustainable systems cannot begin until this concept is realized. Take Deepak Chopra’s advice, “Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.”
Once the unhealthy, hyperreal skin of the unsustainable culture is peeled away, then the hero is free to emerge. Or, at least, free to enter the cocoon of his/her own initiation into heroism. Even then there is the daily decision of what to do with one’s newfound liberation: continue to be the hero, or slip back into complacent inertia?
Inertia Versus Heroism
“The hope of a secure livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood. The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and spiritual freedom have always been nonconformists. In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
Step two of turning the tables on unsustainable systems: Be more inclined to heroism than inertia.
It’s easy to just give up and throw in the towel when Goliath is pounding our little David-body into the ropes. It’s extremely difficult to proactively maintain the counterintuitive ruse of the rope-a-dope. But maintain it we must in order to achieve victory against great odds. In order for our counterattacks to be most effective, our cards must be played as close to our chest as possible. Even our moments of inertia must be infused with courageous intent. We sacrifice our “bodies” in order to discover our enemy’s weaknesses. And then we “attack” with intelligent, strategic, non-violent civil disobedience.
We hit them where it hurts. But the rope-a-dope is a marathon, not a sprint. We take small shots that add up to a big result: the triumph of life over entropy; the complete victory of interdependence over independence over codependence. Peaceful resistance does not imply pacifism. Likewise, non-violence does not imply non-aggression. The rope-a-dope may seem passive, but it is strategic. It is purposefully deceptive. We want Goliath to confuse our patience for passivity. So that when the time is right, Goliath is reeling from the precision of our power.
It’s easy to stand with the crowd, especially when that crowd is an inadvertent aspect of the Goliath. It takes courage to stand alone, especially when standing against Goliath while also attempting to show others how they are not Goliath. Diane Grant said it best, “It’s better to walk alone, than with a crowd going in the wrong direction.” But it’s even better to point others in the right direction as you go.
When faced with an immoral man-machine that’s hell bent on systematically destroying the environment, the only viable solution is to dismantle it piece by piece while teaching others how to do the same. We need to transform its unhealthy, unsustainable machinery into healthy, sustainable livingry. We do this by moderating our lifestyles despite the immoderate lifestyles that surround us. Indeed, the difference between what’s needed and what’s wanted is never more poignant than in the throes of the rope-a-dope.
Progressive evolution cannot be found in the avoidance of difficult issues. The more difficult the issue, the more it should be faced head-on. There are too many “good people” allowing bad things to happen. We need more Davids with the courage to face Goliath. We need more heroes with the capacity to rope-a-dope unsustainable systems. The more people rope-a-doping Goliath, the closer we’ll get to a healthier solution. If we’re not careful, history will, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “have to record that the greatest tragedy in this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
At the end of the day, it is our responsibility, as members of a would-be proactive citizenry, to rise above the distractions –be they political, corporate, or plutocratic- and discover the truth despite the smoke and mirrors: that Goliath is destroying our health as well as the health of our planet, and that there is most definitely something we can do about it. Call it rope-a-dope, call it “rooting for the underdog,” call it peaceful resistance, non-violence, or civil disobedience. Call it whatever. We the people (David) need to hold the unsustainable system (Goliath) accountable. Like Derrick Jensen said, “We are the governors as well as the governed. This means that all of us who care about life need to force accountability onto those who do not.”
Read more articles from Gary ‘Z’ McGee.
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.
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