Termites and Toilet Paper

The System. I’ve spent a lot of time complaining about the system. Lately my thoughts and actions are directed more towards extricating ourselves from the system, as opposed to radically changing or demolishing it.

Do you want to change the system, or do you want to bring it down? The superficial trappings of the system are ever-changing. Examples of this include the institutionalization of lotteries nationwide, and the legalization of recreational marijuana smoking in two states and counting. But the system is more or less the same—the people with the power and money make and enforce the rules. This is nothing new by a long shot.

I know some who advocate a violent overthrow of the system. It sounds nice in theory, but then you’ve got a power vacuum. Power vacuums are filled by those most willing to do whatever it takes to achieve power. After a period of time you find yourselves with essentially the same system, only functioning under a different name. Myself, I vote for no system at all.

Ultimately, the system doesn’t exist if we don’t let it. Bill Gates has amassed billions of dollars because we have collectively gone out and brought the products he sells. Gates seems to be considered one of the “good guys” when it comes to billionaires, I suppose because he donates a tremendous amount of money to various charitable organizations. A more villainous example might be the Wal-Mart heirs, who could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool with thousand dollar bills because we shop en masse at their stores. Reputedly even more insidious are the nefarious, billionaire Koch brothers, who enjoy such great wealth because so many of us average citizens consume their cattle and wipe our butts with their toilet paper.

This brings me to my point. We can collapse the system by stepping away from it, and by taking one small action at a time. I think you can bring down a system like a termite brings down a house. You hollow it out from the inside—you methodically undercut the system’s structure and support to a point where the system collapses in on itself. If you’ve hollowed it out well enough, and taken enough support, the collapse won’t even be that painful—just hollow old wood finally falling down and being consumed by the ground. But then how do you keep the old power structures from reforming in the new landscape left behind? This requires determination, and it requires everyone to step up and act as their own leader. A system of anarchy isn’t based on chaos—it is based on ultimate personal responsibility.

I have written about toilet paper before as an example of the underlying fabric of the system. It’s something we take for granted; the thought being that one simply must use toilet paper. But it’s not true. You could use a bidet to clean yourself, or a washcloth, or a basin of water and your hand. I know none of these ideas seem immediately appealing to our American minds. So assuming toilet paper isn’t going to be outlawed like the disposable shopping bags, how about coming up with an ethical source?


Bob Howard has been living, working, and writing in Northern Califonria since he moved to Chico in early 2000. In January 2011, he and his wife Trish relocated to Los Molinos, 30 minutes north of Chico, where they are the proud proprietors of the Double Happiness Farm. There they grow organic food, ornamental plants and trees, and generally work to enjoy the beauty of this great region.