Once, in second grade, I peed myself sitting at my desk. I was too nervous to ask for permission to go to the bathroom, so yellow lines snaked down my white stockings. I put my sweater under me to sop up the urine and pretended it didn’t happen, while my heart quaked and my breath quavered. When the kids around me began to remark something was strange, I kept quiet. American school brainwashes you into being a robot: “Sit in your seat!” “Stay in line!” “Don’t backtalk me, young lady!” Because a teacher has 30 other kids to worry about, she only has time to teach by getting everyone to obey. We learn about rebels like Patrick Henry and Susan B. Anthony while we sit quietly, faces forward to the whiteboard, eyes on the teacher. We revere those who break out of the system while we’re stuck inside it and taught to like it, to appreciate it. Imagining seven-year-old me “pledging my allegiance” to a flag makes me think of heiling Hitler. I didn’t know what “pledging my allegiance” meant, but I was taught to do it. I didn’t know what America really was (except for the good guys!), but I knew I was supposed to love it, and I didn’t question that. I didn’t question that, while we shouldn’t have taken the land away from the Native Americans, now it was ours for-keeps-forever-no-take-backs. I didn’t question that Columbus founded the “new world.” I didn’t question our founding fathers. Liberty Cabbage was delicious and boys who die fighting for their country are heroes (not just low-income minorities). I didn’t question anything because I wasn’t thinking for myself. I sat silently in my desk and absorbed. My teachers always sent my mom report cards that read, “Very mature. Excellent student.” I thought getting good grades, being respectful, being quiet, meant I was a good person. I thought being a good Christian, going to church, confessing my sins to God in prayer, made me a good person. All that made me was obedient. And obedient is a word that no longer has a positive connotation for me.
We think more for ourselves as we get older; in high school, some allowances for having your own mind are allowed (within the boundaries of the school gates). Yet grown students in the system still have the foundations of an obedient primary school experience. I used to write a political column in high school, because I was so amazed by what I was learning in my Government & Economics class. I used to think that voting for a third party was the only way to go. Then, my teacher dropped a bomb: By voting for those third parties, I was throwing away my vote. Only a Democrat or Republican would win, so I should choose the lesser of two evils. He changed my mind, and I shared that new view with the world. Now, out of the bubble of high school, my mind’s shifted back. Yeah, maybe I’m not changing anything. But if more people catch on, it could. It’s not unheard of in our history for a third party to win, we’ve just lost faith in the system. Young people don’t vote rather than put their votes toward either of the party leaders. Voting doesn’t work for us, doesn’t change anything. School from 8 AM to 3 PM, university, full-time work from 8 AM to 5 PM, retirement at 65, Florida, golf, nursing home, death.
Capitalism gave me the wrong idea about what life is supposed to be for. “Making it” isn’t actually how much money you obtain, but the amount of love and happiness you reap from what you do with your life. It’s difficult to remember that when your waking hours are taken up by what it takes to survive. Corporations reward exploiting the lesser man; Wal Mart wastes gas on their traveling trucks, exploits outsourcing, and then gets consumers to support this system because it has the cheapest prices, and we don’t have expendable income. Big wigs get rich by exploiting our plight, and the only way to change it is to change the way we live. Buy local food, live green, live kindly and symbiotically. Growing up, I was taught that commies were the enemy. Now, I see that communism was just another system exploited by the power-hungry. Capitalism is the only thing that has “worked” because it rewards base human needs: greed, comfort, survival. As capitalism and “democracy” take over the world, I can’t help but wonder if it’s really for the best. Trees are cut down to make way for highways, tenements, and skyscrapers. Big Business. That’s not a world I want to live in.
We should all be working to change the world, but instead we’re all trying to get by, to “make it,” so we don’t have to worry about those base needs anymore. We live for our own comfort rather than for making the world a better place. We’ve barely changed anything. Women can vote, maybe homosexuals will be able to get married soon, while we live in a box in a concrete jungle? That’s progress? I read a few days ago that there are plans to put a park over the 101 freeway in Los Angeles. The plans horrified me; it’s a short-term solution to a rapidly down-spiralling long-term problem. Rather than bulldoze some old buildings, or spread people out of the very center of the city, we’re just going to build a park over the smog-producing, carbon-monoxide smoking, car-whizzing, truck-blaring freeway. My mind flashed forward to the year 3000, when Los Angeles is several layers high, with the lower income residents living on the bottom layer, the only light eking out of the occasional skylight that cuts through the layers, parks lit by artificial halogens on the dark ceiling.