Here is a fact that most well-meaning citizens simply don’t want to face: There is an epic, inescapable, high stakes battle brewing in our society. History has handed us a job to do that will require a whole new word for courage before we are done.
Some readers of The Jailbreak Journals who agree with that assessment have questioned the relevance of my focus on the interior landscape of our habitual thoughts and beliefs at a time when the exterior world is in clear and present danger of coming apart at the seams. They’ve asked:
“Really? Another New Age canard?”
“What part of emergency don’t you understand? It’s time to act, not meditate.”
Well, let’s put that to rest: I get it. I’ve preached it, written it, marched it through the streets, and purposely leaned into this rising emergency for over 20 years. I’ve lived off the grid in a house I built out of discarded tires and other reclaimed materials. My family has carved an urban farm out of a forgotten field of weeds that amply provides our vegetables for the year. We’ve consistently chosen real resilience over financial “security”—often by means of civil disobedience and non-cooperation.
After all that experience, I’ve concluded that there is, indeed, an epic battle coming that we can’t avoid and will test us beyond any limit we can presently imagine. But more importantly, I’m convinced that we cannot fight it, much less win, until we take back vital territory that has been in enemy hands our whole lives. Strategically speaking, nothing else matters. No other campaign can succeed if we fail in this.
Yes, I’m talking again about the interior landscape of thought and belief. That’s because this is where our will is formed. It is where we are outfitted with the moral, spiritual and philosophical armory we must possess to have any hope of standing up to the forces presently arrayed against us. Many have wondered why Americans appear to be willing to suffer blatant criminal abuse from systems of power gone berserk with little complaint and almost no meaningful resistance.
The reason is that our minds are presently occupied by exceedingly effective propaganda and agents of social conditioning—our own thoughts and beliefs about how the world really works, who we are, what we are capable of, what we deserve, what we must do (or endure) in order to survive, entitlements due to the wealthy and powerful, the intrinsic value of our earth community, and on and on. This unseen web has dampened our instincts for self-defense and consistently caused us to act against our own self-interest.
We have not yet stood up because we don’t believe we can—or should. We are conditioned to prize expedience over justice, comfort over conflict, access to “security” over principle. We continue investing in thoroughly and obviously corrupted social and economic systems because we lack the courage and conviction to accept the consequences of saying the only word that matters: No.
There is a battle brewing because all the traditional ways we had for saying no—and standing behind it—are gone. The ballot box, for instance, is useless to force anything more than marginal change, never coming anywhere near the centers of so-called power. While individual causes may occasionally plant a flag on their particular legislative hill, whole continents of injustice and inequality remain untouched.
If we are able to imagine a better world, we rarely go on to visualize the price we may have to pay to make it real—a price that is always denominated in personal, individual risk and hardship. What is required now—all that is left to us, in fact—is action that cannot be outsourced to a non-profit group with a membership and check, a petition signature, a strongly worded letter, or even an appearance at a rally.
The need for civil disobedience and non-violent non-cooperation has never been greater. But we must be clear: A “no” that does not put you at risk will never, ever move the frontlines by so much as a micron. That’s because you are the frontline, and all resistance is done at arm’s length.
To engage in earnest, you must place yourself under a microscope and ask: What do I believe in? Am I willing to live by it, no matter what it costs me? Inconvenience? Financial loss? Social isolation? Physical harm? Jail? Death?
Surely these are the questions that went through the minds of civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama before they decided to cross the bridge and take the brunt of racist fear and anger; United Farm Workers struggling against de facto slavery in the fields of 20th century America; British “subjects” in India who followed Gandhi into beatings and jail cells for what they believed.
And what did they believe?—that liberty and justice do not belong to a privileged elite to dispense as they please, but are the inalienable right of any human being, at any time, anywhere on the planet.
If you believe that in your bones—and if you are willing to live by it—then meaningful action will arise by itself.