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When You’ve Lost Faith in the System

When You’ve Lost Faith in the System 2

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… and how do you plan for a future that doesn’t exist?

This post has been coming on for a long time. I’ve been turning these ideas over and over, expanding on them through reading, discussing, etc. I do want to start with a disclaimer though. A Christian’s ultimate faith is not in any earthly system. It is in Christ and His work of redemption on the cross. Period. However, as believers we do have to make our way in this world and interact with the world systems. So that is what I am writing about. Not that the systems of this world should be the focus of our hope, but that we do need wisdom to discern how to interact with them.

So, that being said…

In order to fully understand where I’m coming from, you would probably do well to read When Belief in the System Fades and Perspire to Retire (archived on WayBack Machine). Both of them offers some good background, especially the first one.

Changing Your Views

As I’ve been writing book reviews for Suite101 (now defunct), I’ve been revisiting many of my favorite books on the topics of simplicity and simple living. It is interesting to pick them up now that I am a mother. My life has changed. The structure of my life has been altered. Things jump out at me that didn’t when I read them before.

But not only has my life changed substantially in that I became a mother, it has also changed in that my views on many things have changed or been refined. Perhaps I’ve grown older and wiser. Perhaps I’m a little more critical and cynical. I think our country has undergone tremendous changes over the past ten years and as I’ve observed and been impacted by some of those changes it has quite literally made me a different person.

Charles Hugh Smith writes the following in When Belief in the System Fades:

…today’s elites cannot operate the vast complex structure of the the U.S. economy, government and society themselves. They need hundreds of thousands of well-educated, hard-working people to believe in the system of meritocracy, justice, opportunity, etc., people who will choose to invest their entire productive lives in sustaining the structure the elites influence/control.

The corollary to this structural need for highly motivated, dedicated people to work the gears is that if their belief in the machine fades, then the machine grinds to a halt.

In the Armed Forces, the key layer of staffing is in the middle: lieutenants, captains, chief petty officers, etc. If those non-coms and junior officers leave the service, the Force is essentially gutted, regardless of the generals and admirals and high-tech weaponry and the valor of the recruits.

There is some evidence that just such a migration is occurring.

In a large law firm, the essential layer is the hungry-to-be-partner attorneys who labor insane hours for years, enriching their bosses as they pursue the carrot of “partner.”

In every case, the person takes on the burdens in the belief that their career will be enhanced and they will make more money/gain more prestige. Yes, we all understand this. But they also must believe in the structural fairness, justice, opportunity, security, meritocracy, etc. of the machine they willingly serve–even if their belief is subconscious or rarely in their conscious thoughts.

This belief is far more vulnerable than the Powers That Be seem to understand. You see the alienation, the bitterness, the disbelief, in factory workers when the factory shuts down, and their livelihoods are gone–and all too often, so too are the pension and benefits they were promised.

You see it in the face of an academic who worked long hours for years “on the tenure track,” carrying much of the department’s teaching load, when she/he is ultimately denied tenure. Thank you for working for $40,000 a year for years alongside people doing the same work for twice the salary; good night and good luck.

When the most dedicated servants of the system awaken to the realization that they are not benefitting from their service as they’d once believed, that their near-religious faith in the System has been bruised by the grim knowledge that the few are benefitting from the lives and sacrifices of the many, then they simply quit, or move down the chain to an undemanding position.

I’m a product of the 1980’s in that I went through high school and college through that decade. If any recent decade promoted the idea of work hard and be rewarded with success, I think it was the 80’s. But I no longer believe in the system much at all. I no longer believe that if you work hard you will be rewarded with success. It has been little things and big things that have brought me to this point, but my belief in the integrity of the system as a whole is about zero.

Enslaved to the System?

When David and I started making changes in our lives, it was motivated more by the desire to pursue a different lifestyle than we saw around us. I think we understood the ridiculousness of slaving to the system, but we had not discerned just how bad the whole thing was and is. We still believed the system worked, but we weren’t willing to make the huge sacrifices we saw we would have to make in order to be successful in the system.

For example, my giftings probably would have made it very possible for me to become a principal or other school administrator. But there was no way I was willing to sacrifice my health and personal life to do so. It simply was not worth it. The same went for David. He had no aspirations to work in a prestigious design studio. The stress and sacrifices were not worth it.

We’ve been on this mostly great, sometimes crazy, occasionally really depressing, but always worth it journey of owning our own business for seven years. God literally dropped the opportunity in our laps. We had prayed about it for some time, but God brought it about in a way we could not have predicted. In many ways, having this business has taken us “out of the system”.  We’ve lived what Smith is talking about.

On my mind lately, is how do we continue to work our own business and still find ways to interact with a system that is essentially bankrupt and broken?  What is going to replace the current system and how will that impact us? How do we prepare for a future that no one can even really fathom at this moment?  Social security?  401ks?  Retirement?  Everything people were told to believe has been radically changed in recent months. How do we prepare to work and live for the next twenty to twenty-five years?

Sorry, there are no neat and tidy conclusions to this post.  Just questions and food for thought.

When You’ve Lost Faith in the System

17 Comments

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  • I don’t know, maybe I’m the eternal optimist, but I don’t think that the system is irrevocably broken. We are going through a major upheaval now, but I believe our civilization and specifically our American democracy is going to be fine in the end.

    There is a lot of scary stuff going on out there, starting with the crash of the financial markets, but this has happened before, and perhaps to a worse extent. Sometimes when I read those doomsday housing bubble blogs, where people are building bunkers and stockpiling food (not to mention guns) and talking that we are heading toward anarchy, I think they are going a little too far to put it mildly. And if it does get to that point, a stockpile of food and guns isn’t going to save you forever.

    I do think that the System can be numbing though. I can’t believe how hard my husband has to work in his job now. He is a high level exec in the “System,” and the demands on his time are unbelievable. And technology hasn’t helped relieve any of them, they only add to them, with constant availability expected now. And then I remember that all work is hard, has always been hard, and life was never promised to be easy.

    Sort of off tangent there, but I think the best thing we can all do is to keep on keeping on, doing our best and adapting. I sometimes feel fortunate that I grew up really poor, because it prepared me not to worry all that much. I take things day-by-day while trying to plan as best as we can for the future.

  • Ann,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. You raised many good points, as always.

    I would agree that I don’t think the system is irrevocably broken and that it will continue to function. I’m not a hunker in the bunker person. If I were, I certainly wouldn’t blog to the world with my real name.

    But I have lost faith in the integrity of the system as a whole. For sure there are great people working throughout it, but the widespread corruption is almost hard to fathom. I do not believe that those in the government or the financial industry have even the slightest inclination to care for those who have put their trust in them and make decisions in the best interest of those people. And the government and financial industry control a great deal of what happens in this country.

    I would disagree with you on the future of our American democracy. Barring divine intervention (and I do mean divine intervention, I’m not using that term flippantly), our country is toast. Without a true, Holy Spirit infused revival where people are radically changed, this country has nothing ahead of it except a steady decline. We are morally bankrupt, financially bankrupt, relationally bankrupt, etc. To be sure, there are still great people here in the US and I would still choose to live here if given the choice. But a Republic can only function with a moral people and we have totally abandoned that aspect of our founding. The decline may take a few generations and we may not live to see the full outcome, but if you read about the decline of the Roman Empire and then consider our own present course of action, the similarities are too numerous to be ignored.

    Wow, aren’t we on a cheery topic today! I need to post a recipe or something! 😆

  • I agree with your comment, even as I try to remain an optimist.

    Sometimes I wish I was one of those people who could just zonk themselves out on celeb gossip and shopping and reality TV. Life would be easier. 🙂

  • You are so very right…there are no clean and tidy answers to this question of “why” when it comes to the system at large, whether we be talking economy, government, politics, education, or whatever system you want to disect.

    What makes it so hard for me *personally* is how much it is out of my control. I have a teaching license. Education is one of the only hiring/stable jobs where I live right now, aside from nursing. I have to work. Period. I have no more luxury years of being at home or on 1 income. I must work. So I teach public school. A former homeschooler turned public school teacher sucks. I don’t believe in the system yet I work for it and send my kids there. It is broken and I think irrepairably so if we’re honest with ourselves.

    Beyond that, what really bothers me about my job/education/government/life itself is that it really doesn’t matter how good of a job you do. No matter how wonderful you might be, how hard you might work, it all comes down to nuts and bolts of money and budgets and in the end, the crappy tenured teacher wins over you because he’s got tenure, and you don’t. End of story.

    I want OUT of this system, but aside from doing check out work at walmart for pennies I have few options. It stinks to feel this helpless—and I do feel helpless. We are a classic family that MUST have 2 incomes right now.

  • Sallie said:

    I do not believe that those in the government or the financial industry have even the slightest inclination to care for those who have put their trust in them and make decisions in the best interest of those people.

    I have been feeling the same thing lately as I’ve been learning more about the new CPSIA law–supposedly it was meant to address the scandal of lead in toys imported from China, but somehow the brunt of the law is falling hardest on small businesses, nonprofits, and consumers in the U.S. Many (most?) of the people that will be hurt by it don’t even know about it yet. As I’ve been working on my letter to my representatives in Congress, it’s dawned on me that this collateral damage to the U.S. people and economy is not entirely unintentional. (Nearly everyone in Congress voted for it last summer.)

    Adding to my pessimism about The System, I’m in the middle of reading Atlas Shrugged for the first time. It’s clear that we’re nowhere near the bottom yet, but heading in that direction.

    I’ve been asking myself lately why I don’t expect that I will build as much of enduring value as my great-grandparents did.

    Interesting times.

  • Oh, I didn’t even think about the education system.

    We are only half way through public K with our first child and I feel like screaming most days at the stupidity. They don’t teach phonics, proper handwriting, real math…on and on. But my kid knows about composting and saving the earth, so it’s all ok. I would homeschool in a second but my husband is dead set against it.

    But I’m not going to worry, because Obama just appointed the head of the Chicago school systems as Secretary of Education. Even though he wouldn’t even send his own children to the Chicago public schools and that was when he wasn’t even “famous.”

    Argh…

  • {{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{Normal Middle}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}

    Peggy – I have read much about Atlas Shrugged, but have never read it. I think I am going to have to get it and read it.

    Ann said:

    They don’t teach phonics, proper handwriting, real math…on and on. But my kid knows about composting and saving the earth, so it’s all ok.

    Don’t. even. get. me. started.

    Must. walk. away. from. computer.

    Ann said:

    But I’m not going to worry, because Obama just appointed the head of the Chicago school systems as Secretary of Education. Even though he wouldn’t even send his own children to the Chicago public schools and that was when he wasn’t even “famous.”

    Came here to push all my buttons tonight, huh?

    Walking. away. now. 😯

  • Actually, since we have all these teachers on here, maybe I can ask this question. Sallie, if this is off topic from the blog post and you don’t want to go here, I totally understand and you can just delete this topic. I promise I won’t bring up Obama again.

    We started public school this year and I tried to rustle up a good attitude, but as the year goes on, everything seems so crazy. As I said, no handwriting instruction, sending home lists of words to memorize that could be sounded out, not learning phonics, on and on. Then I start reading things about Everyday Math and Whole Language, and I think, this is going to be a long 13 years.

    I would love to hear your opinions on public schools today as far as curriculum, and if this is something I should be really concerned about. And what I can do about it.

  • Ann – It is fine to bring this up. Although I didn’t mention education specifically, it is certainly a big part of the systemic failure. I know there are a lot of women who read here who are teachers or are former teachers or who are very actively involved in their child’s education. Hopefully they will chime in.

    The no phonics would be the big thing for me. The handwriting I wouldn’t be as worried about until first grade. Do they have NO handwriting curriculum in any grade? Or is it just not in K?

    Part of the reason I try not to bring up public school is because it is such a volatile issue and people feel so strongly about it (both ways) that it almost always leads to hurt feelings. But honestly I think most public school curriculum is watered down and agenda driven. And then there is the whole social aspect which I find challenging at best and appalling in many other ways. Did you see this? More teens s*xting n*de pictures.

    I was just looking at a fourth grade reader a blog reader sent me a couple of years ago. It is mind boggling that this is a FOURTH GRADE reader. Most middle school students today and many high school students today couldn’t work with it. And this was for the average rural child going to a one room schoolhouse in the middle of nowhere.

    If you are willing to share… Is private school an option? IIRC, your husband was against homeschooling because of socialization, but correct me if I’m wrong. Does he think the curriculum is bad as well? I would agree that if you are already this frustrated, it is going to be a long 13 years. 😕

  • On the reading, they are sending home lists of words to memorize and readers to read, but they haven’t taught any phonics yet. They did teach what sounds individual letters make, but no instruction in how to start sounding words out. So it looks like your child can read the little reader, but they really can’t, once you take away the context clues, memorization and the pictures.

    For handwriting, they are letting them write letters however they want and telling us we will worry about writing the letters correctly later. My child can’t even write his name properly yet, but she tells him it’s ok. And this is something he writes at least 10 times a day. I don’t know why you would let a kid keep writing something incorrectly.

    They also do this “journal” every morning, so they can “express themselves.” Meanwhile, again, they let them write the words however they want, and they really can’t write any of the words, because they don’t know how to read. The teacher gives a prompt like, “What is something you can do now that you couldn’t when you were a baby?” and most of the sentences are just, “I can…” because they have memorized that phrase. The the teacher helps them spell whatever word they want to stick in there. Again, no focus on even writing the letters correctly. And if you spell the word wrong, it’s ok, as long as the child knew what he wanted to write.

    I distinctly remember learning how to write the individual letters properly before I wrote words. I also remember phonics clearly, although in first grade, not K. I think K was more a preschool experience.

    I don’t have many private school options and I don’t even think the curriculum would be all that different anyway. I was always very hesitant on public school, but we agreed to try it for a year. My DH is starting to come around to the problems, but yes, he does worry about “socialization.” As far as this year, since it is a half-day program, his solution is that I could work with my little student after school. But I feel that is swimming against the tide, because not only am I trying to teach him, I am trying to undo bad habits they are teaching at school now.

    It’s going to be a very long 13 years if we keep this up. I’m coming to the conclusion that if we stick with this path, that I just have to let things slide and let the P.S. teach him the way they are going to teach him, because I don’t have to energy to swim upstream against it. I certainly can’t change the system, going back to your original post, so I am weighing what choices I have.

    Sorry for this long comment!

  • Ann, your public school experience sounds so familiar…the Mathland curriculum was one of the things that sent us over the edge, along with grades which assigned one grade to performance anywhere between 70 and 96 percent (thus giving parents no idea how their child was actually doing — awesome or near failing?), and much more. My oldest went all the way through public school, and I did the “after school remedial” route, especially in history and literature. My husband was highly skeptical of homeschooling. Matters came to a head when our second-born was a fourth-grader and thanks to my dear grandparents’ help we were able to move him to a private Montessori school, which was wonderful and just what he needed. However, it was not in the financial cards for our third and fourth children — couldn’t afford three private schoolers at once. My husband was swayed thanks to a combination of our particular public school appearances, a couple close friends starting to homeschool, and a look at the curriculum I had chosen (K12.com). We are now in our sixth year as homeschoolers, although my 10th grader did return to public school for high school (where we have found novels he studied as an 8th grader are part of the 10th grade curriculum…).

    All of which is to say: first, “afterschooling” can be done successfully if public school is your only option. Yes, you will have many frustrations, but especially if you have a child who likes to learn/read you can supplement. (Our oldest was highly successful in terms of things like going on to college despite, not because of, her public school experience.) Some days it’s a challenge as your child will often be worn out from an entire day “socializing” (grin), but if you teach them “real math,” real handwriting, keep the good books flowing, expose them to the best in culture (concerts, classic movies, museums, etc.), have a good relationship where they discuss their social life and what they’re exposed to at school openly, it can work. You will want to bang your head on the wall some days — and it does unfortunately suck up energy — but it can work if it must. (In my case, one of many reasons we turned to homeschooling is I wanted to start expending *positive* energy instead of feeling like I was constantly battling the school or remediating their “schoolwork.”)

    Secondly, it’s possible that as your experiences accumulate your husband will change his mind about attending school. My husband was slower to recognize the problems, as I was the “front line” parent dealing with the school, but if the issues are significant he will likely see them as well. When we were given all sorts of materials by the school to “teach” our 4th grader on our own when he was floundering, we thought “If we have to do it ourselves anyway…” (P.S. He was just a typical “late bloomer” boy who wasn’t ready for certain things like writing in lockstep with the rest of fourth grade. He blossomed between Montessori and then 3 years of homeschooling, and is doing fine in public H.S.) My husband also attended a couple school board and school meetings where he was very frustrated at how parents’ opinions were ignored. (Ironically years later the school undid things parents like us complained about, like the grading.) So if you have particular issues or battles you end up needing to fight, or concerns about the assignments your child brings home, I encourage you to get your husband as involved as possible so he understands the issues firsthand, i.e., he will understand you’re not “spinning” the worst in order to achieve your goal of homeschooling.

    You also may want to learn about what’s available for homeschoolers socially in your area. My two homeschoolers are spending this afternoon roller-skating with their homeschool buddies. Over 45% of American families now know a homeschooling family. He may be pleasantly surprised to discover that homeschooling is not precisely what he envisions it to be socially speaking.

    This is very longwinded but I hope it’s of some help.

    Best wishes,
    Laur

  • Private school has it’s very own slew of problems—not as many social ones like public school, but a whole slew of them too. (I’ve taught public and private school and homeschooled my kids for 3 years so I know a good plenty about each “system”) No system is without fail, but it seems if you can sidestep the one-income problem homeschool is the BEST option always.

    private school is usually rich kid problems….drugs, fast cars, fast women, etc. Honestly. Sorry to say, “christian” schools are usually hotbeds for rich kids too and end up carrying the same problems. If not, there are usually doctrinal issues one must work out of the private religious school is NOT your personal church/denomination as well.

    Which in all honesty for our family, is no better than public.

  • Laur: Thanks for your comment, very insightful. Yes, I guess I’ll be heading the “afterschooling” route for now. Very good advice to try to expose my husband more to what is going on. I have definitely made a decision that I am not going to try to “change” the system; a school reformer I do not want to be! Honestly, any energy I expend, I want to expend on my own kids. I went to a few BOE meetings already (they say to get involved!) and left feeling more angry than I have in years. Anyhow, thanks so much for your insight, I really appreciate you taking the time to share your experience with me.

    Normal Middle: I agree, private school is not always the magic answer we want it to be. We are Catholic, so we do have Catholic schools to pick from, which are appealing from a faith perspective compared to public school. As far as quality and curriculum, I am not sure they are any better than the public school offerings.

  • […] do anything that will contribute any more than absolutely necessary.  And as more and more people lose faith in the system, I suspect that they will make similar […]

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