Essay:Working within the system

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Working within the system is a supposed means of achieving political reform. In actuality, what usually happens is that the person becomes corrupted by the system, and indefinitely puts off ever making any efforts to achieve reform. There is always more power and influence that must be gained first, in his mind, before he can make his move. Any associates of his who are more radical become a liability that he must distance himself from in order to stay in the good graces of the powers that be. Eventually, the cognitive dissonance resulting from having to parrot the party line while (supposedly) disbelieving in it becomes too great, and he simply converts to statism, justifying it in his mind by believing that his is at least a moderate form of statism.

In some cases, the idea of "working within the system" for change may simply be a way that those who have no intention or desire to effect change deflect criticism for their involvement in and with the government. Their intentions are self-serving; however, they have to also make a few token statements to (disingenuously) address the concerns of those who care about lofty principles. The idea of "working within the system" is well-suited to that purpose.


Consequences of changing one's stance after rising to the top

If one sacrifices one's principles in order to rise to the top, it is usually not practical to change one's position after getting there. A candidate cannot advocate policy X while running for office and then denounce policy X after winning the election without losing credibility for being either dishonest or fickle. Nor can a bureaucrat implement policies that run counter to the agenda of his superiors. U.S. Surgeon-General Joycelyn Elders is an example of a bureaucrat who was fired for the socially liberal measures she advocated after rising to a high position.

Time and effort consumed

Henry David Thoreau hit upon another flaw in the concept of working within the system when he wrote, "What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn. As for adopting the ways which the State has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much time, and a man's life will be gone."[1] A person can spend his whole life patiently submitting his requests through the designated channels and waiting for the wheels of justice to turn. Jon Gettman pointed out that one of the government's secrets for successfully resisting attempts to change the legal status of cannabis through administrative channels is that "They make it take forever to even attempt to change it."[2]

Counterproductivity of serving the State on one's way to the top

Thoreau also notes, "Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support, are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform."[1] If all those who disagreed with government policy would resist from outside the system rather than serving the government from inside that system, change could probably be effected faster.

See also