Barrett: We are ‘The System’



Tom Barrett

Throughout its 231-year history, the United States has been the trendsetter with many great ideas – flight, baseball, fast food, nuclear weapons (not so great, but nevertheless impressive). Perhaps the most astonishing and world-changing contribution that this country has made is one that is often overlooked and unappreciated: the protection of individual rights and liberties. Since the creation of the Constitution (the good one, not those silly Articles of Confederation), Americans have been able to say whatever they want, to openly pray and worship whatever they want to call “God” and to look the government straight in the eye and tell them, “Hey, you’re not making me happy right now.”

Never before had such importance been given to individuals who weren’t kings or queens, and for the first time in history it seemed as if all men really were created equal (as long as they were white and, in fact, men, but that’s a whole different story).

Somewhere along the line, however, this American notion of individuals having the right not to be oppressed by the government morphed into Americans believing that they have the right to do whatever the hell they want. Now, instead of protecting the individual, this freedom’s focus seems to have shifted to promoting the individual. While there is nothing wrong with people prospering and flourishing, there is a point when too much is simply, well, too much.

What’s sadly lacking in this country today is a sense of the public good – the overall well-being of the country. Notions of the “common good” seem to have gone out with communism, and as we all know, communism is so post-World War II. We have become so self-absorbed that it is increasingly difficult to see through the bubble we’ve been encapsulated in: instead of seeing others as fellow citizens, we’re programmed to see them as competition; instead of seeing people in need, we see bottom-feeders who are only looking to leech off our success. The world has become reduced to an unfortunate circumstance we have deal with in order to secure our own “happiness.” We are led to believe that our own lives are all that should matter because security is so hard to come by in such a cutthroat society. We are certainly born with the freedom to live this way, but does that mean that it’s right?

Some crazy, long-haired hippie types will say with bloodshot eyes, “It’s the system, man,” and they may just have a point. While there’s no huge conspiracy (at least I don’t think there is) involving a group of individuals manipulating “the system” to make us all live a certain way, there is a system. We are the system. Our choices – how we treat others, what we buy and don’t buy and pretty much every other aspect of how we live our lives – affect the way society is shaped. Whether we like to believe it or not, we are all interconnected. However independent and self-sufficient we want to tell ourselves we are, we all depend on others for most things in our lives: farmers for our food, teachers for much of our education, factory workers for our clothes, etc.

The problem now is that the system is in shambles. Our healthcare system is under the weather, education is failing all the tests and our social safety net is fraying. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer, while thousands of immigrants are crossing the desert with the hope that life will be slightly less crappy here. Basically, this is a time when America needs to pull together, but far too many people are stuck in their little opaque bubbles and cannot see the bigger picture. It’s about time that we exercise the freedom we have to come together as members of the same nation and see it as something we all have a common stake in.

It’s about time that we break free of the shackles we’ve created for ourselves and revamp the system so that it benefits all American citizens.

Just because we have the freedom not to care doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.


Tom Barrett is a junior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].