Saturday, March 17, 2012

On Systems

Instead of doing my Food Politics reading today (Michael Zis gave us a whole book over spring break... not cool), I started thinking about what I have learned-- first from that class, then from college, then from almost all my education in general.  It can be summed up in a sentence.

Systems are flawed.

It started in my mind from the food system.  Lots and lots of flaws.  Guess what?  Even our national school lunch program is flawed, and I'm not talking about the fact that the pizza is sub par.  It was flawed even before they served "pink slime" and had standards so outdated they contributed to obesity.  In fact, one may argue that the system started out flawed, being designed to get rid of agricultural surpluses more than to feed hungry children.

But I knew systems were flawed long before I got to Food Politics class.  In 10th grade, I decided to stop being Catholic.  Afterward, I went on a little soul search and explored my options.  I was still very Christian and simply had some issues with what essentially came down to systemic hypocrisy.  But I discovered that little issue was going on in every church, and really every organization.  So, while the Catholic Church, and any church, is a great idea in theory, in practice, religion is at least partly responsible for most of the conflict, violence, and hatred in this world.

The school lunch program, in its idea phase, was meant to feed undernourished children and was proposed by strong women of the Progressive Era.  It ended up, in its early stages, reinforcing other systemic inequalities based on things such as race and gender, and in its later stages, did not provide proper nutrition to children.

I could go on with the examples, but this is rather simple.  People see it every day.  It is what makes my fellow college students stand up, get involved in activism, try to fight the system, and generally complain about norms and hegemony and all that jazz.

The thing is, I'm into policy.  I want to create lasting change.  Lasting, systemic change.  Or I did.  Until I had this little epiphany so simple I can't believe I didn't discover it long ago.

We who want to change the world, we the idealists, we who might someday have the power to employ the ideas we have, we will create new systems, even if we don't want to.

How can we be sure those systems are not riddled with hypocrisy?  How can we be sure the impact of the changes we make are positive?

I don't think we can.

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