The Rules for Them and the Rules for You

This was originally posted on April 29, 2015. It's the most important thing I've ever written and as part of my one-year anniversary celebration, I wanted to re-port it.

Before we go much further down the path of PMPM and Sustainability and trying to mitigate Black Swans, I have to take a bit of a segue and talk about something important. I believe that understanding the following is critical for not only making magic, but also living in the world.

Thanks to Gordon's recommendation, I've been slowly reading The Forest Passage (note, I didn't pay that price and don't know what's up, I hope the book is just between printings or mis-listed on the site and not completely out of stock). It's slow going, not because the book is hard but because it's so very dense. There's a particular quote that I've been stuck on for some weeks. I felt like I could not move on with the book without coming to some peace with this statement:

“...we cannot limit ourselves to knowing what is good and true on the top floors while fellow human beings are being flayed alive in the cellar.”

Junger is talking about Nazi Germany, but this quote resonates even more strongly today. Let me be very clear -- our current global economic system and "modern" society are entirely reliant on countless masses being flayed alive in the cellar.

It's not a side effect...    it's a necessary component.

We cannot sustain our current system without this reality.

Everything you do, everything you buy, every bit of carbon energy you use. All on the backs of multitudes. And that's just the people. It doesn't include the animals and trees and environment. In the "first world," no one's hands are clean.

So why is this important? Because it's impossible to discuss both practical magic and sustainability without either massive hypocrisy or a more nuanced understanding of the reality in which we operate. I gave this a lot of thought and finally realized that the key to dealing with this is something I've known for some time now. There are rules for you and rules for other people. These rules are not the same.

The Rules for Them:
  • Our society* victimizes the weak. People of color, women, children, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the homeless, the elderly the different. This is wrong and people cannot be blamed for being victims and acting as victims.
  • Our society* hides the truth. It requires a consensus reality based on falsehood to function. People cannot be blamed for not seeing or being able to see the truth. You can argue that the truth in this context can drive a person mad, which is why we have so very many mentally ill people to victimize.
  • Our society* is inequitable. There's little social mobility. Small hope for anyone trapped in poverty. Few options, less real choice. We hate and fear the poor and blame them, and when they get justifiably angry at this, we label them as criminals.
  • Our society* strips away personal responsibility. The few systems we have to help people also serve to remove their autonomy. People are taught in schools and through the media not to take responsibility for themselves. Our children are raised with little independence and sense of freedom.
  • Our society* entrenches the status quo. It makes change extremely difficult. And it proffers up options that help the individual feel good, without really doing or expecting too much. You can't blame people for being uncomfortable with change.
  • We live in a consumer society* and society is what the system consumes. People are being eaten / devoured / digested by the system all the time. Human beings flayed alive in the cellar. You can't blame people for walking around as empty shells. You can't blame them for being afraid.
* "Society" here isn't just US society. It's the global society that we all take part in. I realize there are pockets of equity and truth, just as there are pockets of horror. The US (where I live) is the harbinger of a terrible future for the developed world. We are tearing down three and a half centuries of improvement and replacing it with environmental destruction and unsustainable oppressive systems. We're the worst of the first world countries and we export our corruption to other nations like we export Hollywood and Coca-Cola. Europe shouldn't feel too smug nor complacent.

I was going to link bomb the bullets above, but it was too much. You don't need links to know that this is all true. People deserve help and compassion. People deserve respect and care. People deserve better and they aren't getting it.

However before you let yourself off the hook, remember that the rules for you are very different.

The Rules for You:
  • You are not a victim. You are not weak. No matter your race or gender or age or health. You will not be victimized and you will not deliberately victimize others. You will not place yourself in the victimizers' clutches.
  • You are a seeker of the truth. You force yourself to look under the surface and past the false face, even if it brings you shame and guilt. You face these feelings in order to remain sane. You will not be deceived about the nature of the world just because you also live in it. 
  • You find your own hope and create your own choices. The ladder may be broken, but you will climb with bare hands if necessary. You don't confuse society's definition of success with your own but you pursue your own with complete focus. You make options and make things happen. You share what you have, but resolve to have what you need.
  • You take personal responsibility. You think independently. You teach your children to do the same. You can't save all the people in the cellar, but you do what you can and you at least acknowledge that they are real. You know that you could be one of them but for accident or luck. You take responsibility to not be one of them, just as you take responsibility for them.
  • You understand that change is both necessary and inevitable. You make change for yourself and others if you can. You understand that it's hard to change the sheets while lying in the bed, but if nothing else you can at least change your dreams.
  • You will not be consumed. You are too prickly to be eaten. You are poison to the system. You may have one foot in the filth, but you have your head among the stars. You might decide to play the game, but win or lose you know it's just a game. You might decide to follow the rules, but you also know how to twist them. You know this isn't all there is.
  • You are not afraid.
I'm not always 'you.' Sometimes I'm 'them.' I'm fearful and tired and complacent. But I want to be 'you' all the time. I want all of you to be 'you' all the time. I want the whole fucking world to be 'you' all the time. But until that time, you can't apply the same rules.

I will tell you to put on your big kid pants. I'll tell you to grab your bootstraps and pull like hell. I'll tell you to hang on to the wheel and steer for gods' sake. I will tell myself. But I will not tell that to them. I will not limit myself to knowing what's good and true for those of us lucky enough to still be clinging to the top floors. I will not close my ears or heart to the noises from the cellar.


  1. Beautiful. I have been wrestling with all of this lately and your words are a balm. A prickly balm.

  2. Thanks, this is good stuff, helpful for breaking out of the cycle of guilt and despair.

  3. I am late to the party,( as usual!) but, this is really solid stuff!
    Especially this:
    "It's not a side effect... it's a necessary component."

    I have been pointing out the true cost of stuff to my family for a few years now, and they are thoroughly sick of it, but, I have notice small changes.
    One you point out the people in the cellar, very few people have the ability to un-see them, which is a very good thing.

    The best way I had it pointed out to me was to be shown the terrible things "my" government was involved in, and then told,"... that isn't them; that's us!"

    Thank you for this.


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