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The system functions as designed

February 19, 2014

The System functions as designed
Does just what it’s supposed to do
So you shouldn’t be surprised
From the point of view of those on top
Everything is working fine—
The System functions as designed

There’s a fairly common refrain these days, heard from folks on both the left and the right, not to mention a bunch of folks in the middle, to the effect that “America is broken.” (How common, you ask? A Google search on “broken America” gets you nearly half a billion hits.) Sometimes the declaration points more specifically to one part or another—the schools, healthcare, the immigration system, infrastructure, whatever—but more generally, people seem to feel that it’s America itself that may be falling apart at the seams.

This is, of course, not only a worrisome idea, but one actually worth worrying about. (Particularly where some of those subsystems are concerned—ask anyone who drives a car in Atlanta, say.) But I’ve been toying with an even more troubling notion:

What if the System is, in fact, functioning exactly as designed? (Let me define my terms; when I refer to “the System” with a capital S, I mean the whole kit and caboodle—the government, the economy, societal institutions, the whole sprawling, complex, interrelated mess that we call “America.”) What if the problems and challenges that we encounter in our everyday life, are not malfunctions or deficiencies at all, but essential ingredients? (Or as the software folks say, “That’s not a bug, it’s a feature!”)

So let’s work backwards. Let’s look at the end products and “reverse-engineer” our way from there. What do we see this System of ours, as a whole, actually doing? We see it extracting more wealth than ever before, redirecting it upwards, and concentrating it in fewer hands. We see it demanding more time, labor, and stress from its workers and giving them less in return—except for an overwhelming amount of entertainment and pacifying distraction. We see it stoking more outrage, but at the same time encouraging less civic involvement. It educates less, and imprisons more. It gives us more food choices, but less nutrition. It gives us more information, with less meaning. It doesn’t crush dissent, it doesn’t have to; it swallows, absorbs, and digests it instead. In short, it does whatever it takes to keep itself going, no matter what.

And that System’s not broken at all—in fact, it’s doing just fine.