catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 10 :: 2010.05.14 — 2010.05.27


Stickin’ it to the man

About a year ago, I playfully set my Facebook status to state that I was “engaged in a perpetual search for new ways to stick it to the man.” A friend responded, “How’s that working for you?” My conclusion was, “Some days better than others.”

“We’ve gotta stick it to the man” has become a humorous tag-line for my life, alternately frustrating my wife (who adamantly asserts that there is no “man”), and amusing my friends, who tend to shake their heads and conclude that this is yet another of my idiosyncrasies.

Perhaps I should be troubled by the fact that they perceive me as having so many.

I grew up in a family environment that frequently blamed political and economic issues on the mysterious “them” who are the constant threat to our beloved freedom in every realm. My father continues to insist that the government should acquire all of our opinions directly before doing anything (he apparently never quite grasped this concept of “representative democracy”). Perhaps my tendency to dislike the intrusion of power into my life is a result of being exposed to this mindset at a formative age — that is, my parents’ “them” became “the man” to me. I’m not even sure where I picked up the expression, to be honest, as it seems to pre-date me significantly. Whatever the origin or cause, however, perhaps I just have a rebellious streak in the good old American tradition.

Yet, my political views have become widely fractured in recent years. I insist on the reform of our healthcare system, while simultaneously balking at traffic cameras that seem to pop up like wildflowers around the city in which I live. I become frustrated when I think of how monitored our daily lives are, how our illusion of privacy is barely maintained as even an illusion, and how our daily lives are subject to constant probing even when we’ve done nothing wrong, because there’s a chance that we could. I become angry when some live in opulent wealth while others struggle to afford basic healthcare and food, and are labeled as those who “could do better for themselves.” The idea of Robin Hood always sort of appealed to me.

As I think about my view of the “the man,” I think perhaps my definition would be an impersonal expectation to assimilate into some sort of societal Borg. Critical thinking has long been a rare past time in American culture, and I tend to think that this is just the way “the man” likes it. To question authority seems to have become a sin worthy of losing one’s freedom, especially if it occurs at an airport. “Security” has become the watchword with which “the man” enters our lives and selectively demands whichever freedom he so desires. Of late, we seem all too happy to respond affirmatively, trusting “the man” to keep us safe.

“The man” is also an impersonal ideal of an industrialized culture, one that demands our time in exchange for the monetary compensation that is required in ever-greater amounts to live. “The man” appears to have the right to demand nearly anything he pleases of us at virtually any moment, because he commands our time. When we don’t obey, he takes away our sustenance.

In short, perhaps I’ve grown into the victim mentality that I dislike so much when observed in those around me. Anything that infringes upon my freedom, my time or my passions by forcing me to do something that I would really rather not do, I attribute to “the man” in less than flattering ways. Perhaps I should accept my wife’s insistence that there is, in fact, no “man.” The most difficult thing about this is that I would then have to somehow absorb the responsibility of my frustrations and failures upon myself at a much more intense level than I currently practice. While that may, in itself, be a good thing, what troubles me most is that this disenfranchises those who find themselves a victim of an economy that just doesn’t look out for their interests, a healthcare system that insists upon health being a privilege and not a right, and a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality that, while quintessentially American, is less than helpful when you just need a hand up.

I would like to think that my distaste for what I label “the man” is a scoffing at the ludicrous bureaucracies and mentalities that have led to so many forsaking what is important in favor of what must be done in order to survive. I would like to think that I could accept responsibility for my own shortcomings, and work to change what I can, while accepting my limitations. I would hope that this would not rule out serving those around us, being helpful to orphans and widows in their distress. That would be ideal.

Unfortunately, I just don’t see it as the American way. Of course, if we are truly a government “by the people and for the people,” then that makes me “the man,” and you “the man” as well. Which means that, whatever the shortcomings of our country, we are forced to own them as our shortcomings. Shifting blame, another great American pastime, just doesn’t cut it any longer, nor does relying on “them” to fix the problems we’ve caused. We must work together, with one another, to identify and repair the damages we’ve inflicted to our own humanity, accepting the blame, and reaching for something better.

Here’s to living with “the man.”

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