Facing Social Revolution: The Personal Journey of a Quaker Economist

By Jack Powelson; Jim Corbett et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 17
The System and the People

When I was a child, my Sunday School teacher taught me to say: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" ( Luke 2:52). The implication was clear. I should do likewise. I was lord of my own behavior and responsible for it.

Gradually, however, I learned about "the system." The system was a way of doing things that eclipsed my own will, forcing behavior upon me. As a child, I presumed it was benevolent, made by wise people to lead us into righteousness. Only with World War II and conscription did I begin to question that. Suppose my Light was different from what the system required?

I began to think of the system as a private club whose members were beings but not necessarily people. Each one had arms, legs, one body, and one brain. One being was called "the United States," another "Britain," another "United States Steel," another "the military," and so on. They would talk to each other, sometimes fight with each other, but they made up rules for us mortals. If I could no longer decide for myself what was right and wrong, how could I grow in wisdom and stature?

My first serious move to buck the system came as a conscientious objector in World War II. The fact that I would do so caused me to see the system differently. It became both benevolent and malevolent, but in each case it had no mind of its own. I learned that no one can force me to do anything I

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