“The power to question is the basis of all human progress”—Indira Gandhi

From the abolition of slavery, to women’s rights and gay rights, each of these victories were hard fought: It took protests, it took overcoming hatred, and in the case of slavery in America, it took a civil war. Each of these revolutions began in the mind, in the acceptance that repression is happening and finding the courage to do something about it. It took courage for Rosa Parks to sit in the front of the bus, when so many others accepted their lower-class citizenship, it took courage for gay people to stand up and be proud in the face of hatred. It has taken the courage of countless women to continually propel them towards social equality. While we may never reach a period of complete victory in these areas, undeniable progress had been made by those willing to stand up. This progress should be kept in mind as humanity faces a new battle that stands to be equally historical, if not more so than all the aforementioned. The new battle against corporatism.

By now, most of us are aware of the pitfalls of the corporation: Massive pay inequity between employees and CEOs, the corporate influence over the government through lobbyists, and the never-ending consumption it encourages that’s destroying the environment. Despite awareness of the effects of corporatism, little seems to be changing. Our lives are still so entangled with consumerism and, in effect, corporatism that breaking free seems unimaginable. By definition a corporation is a “separate legal entity” despite not being an actual person. Given this definition of the corporation, we can’t be surprised that corporations behave in an inhuman way. Author and journalist Chris Hedges gives his take on corporatism in this documentary America’s 2nd Revolutionary War: “Corporatism is about as close to unmitigated evil as you can get, because it has built into it a logic of increasing profits without any regard for the human cost.”

By his own account Chris Hedges was forced to leave The New York Times as a journalist because he was reprimanded for speaking out against the Iraq War in 2003. He would have been fired if he continued to speak out, which he did, just not with the New York Times. This was not the only instance Chris Hedges has been silenced for his views. Hedges literally had the plug pulled on him giving an anti-war speech at a graduation at Rockford College in Illinois. Given the popularity of the Iraq war today, it’s reasonable to conclude that Hedges was ahead of the crowd when he spoke out in 2003. Hedges chose a less certain path, deciding to leave The New York Times to carve out a career in line with his true beliefs. As unpopular as denouncing the Iraq War was at the time, Hedges was not alone. Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore was also vocal in criticizing the decision to go to war. Another mainstream personality who is turning out to be all too right is retired Congressman Ron Paul.

In this 1988 clip,  Ron Paul appears on the Morton Down Jr. Show, to defend his libertarian views of self-responsibility and the decriminalization of drug use. Paul argues that the government’s war on drugs jeopardizes the Constitution and the freedom of personal choice. Paul makes a point to one audience member: “The government can’t make you a better person, they can’t make you follow good habits, why don’t they put you on a diet, you’re a little overweight.” Paul stays on point throughout the entire show, not cowering from their boos and shouting. Today Ron Paul enjoys cheers and widespread Internet popularity. He also outlasted all Republican nominees for President in 2012 with the exception of Mitt Romney. One thing politicians are often accused of (among other things) is wavering in their views, Ron Paul has not. Instead, people have embraced his message of freedom. Ron Paul explains his popularity by noting “freedom is popular.”

Perhaps freedom is popular because many in the United States feel that it’s being threatened. There’s no denying the United States is in trouble, with a national debt soaring past sixteen-trillion, the most expensive health care in the world, and a growing disparity between the rich and the the poor. It’s becoming clear that the United States government is preparing itself for the worst-case scenario with the signing of The Nation Defense Authorization Act or NDAA. The NDDA allows for permanent detainment and execution of U.S. civilians without due process. It was signed into law by Barack Obama on December 31, 2011. There is no shortage of opinion regarding the decline in the United States. Chris Hedges and Ron Paul point the finger at corporatism and unnecessary wars. The increasingly notorious Alex Jones takes a more extreme angle.

An area where most don’t dare tread is where Alex Jones makes his living as a dubbed “conspiracy theorist.” Jones recently and loudly helped perpetuate his name and his gun-loving, constitutionalist views on his recent appearance on The Piers Morgan show. Jones is a polarizing figure. Whether you view him as ahead of the time, a conman, a complete nut, or somewhere in between, you cannot deny his popularity. According to Rolling Stone Magazine in 2011 Jones was more of an online draw than Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck combined, and The Alex Jones Radio show is broadcast on over 70 radio stations. Jones explains the decline of the United States is no accident. He blames the banking cartel, the Illuminati, or simply the super rich, who control everything from gas prices to mainstream news. This secret group, according to Alex Jones and his supporters, is deliberately killing and controlling ordinary citizens slowly and secretly in order assert more and more control over the masses. Alex Jones and a growing movement of “9-11 Truthers” claim that 9/11 was set up by this secret society, as outlined in his book 9-11 Descent into Tyranny.

Speaking out has a way of spreading, whether you’re an Alex Jones “infowarrior” or just a skeptical citizen discussing your viewpoint with friends. Speaking out gives permission for others to do the same. From Ron Paul, to Rosa Parks, to Chris Hedges, and many unsung “little” people who speak out in the face of ridicule and hatred to help drive humanity in a positive direction. There are a rare few who stand for what is good and what is right, even when, or especially when, it’s unpopular to do so. History is full of examples of those who made enormous contributions in the face of controversy. In ancient Greece, the controversial philosopher Socrates was found guilty of both corrupting the minds of Athens youth and of impiety and so was sentenced to death. Time will tell if we’ll ever learn from the repeated lessons history grants us and if we’ll ever be courageous enough to refuse to accept what we’re told.

Corporatism has no shortage of easy answers for our problems, from corporate-engineered politicians fed by speech writers, to the never-ending stream of advertising filled with empty promises.

At what point do we stop buying it? At what point will we summon the courage to wake up from this false corporate reality? 

Change won’t begin by taking to the streets in protest, it will begin by questioning our own beliefs or lack thereof about what’s happening in our world and by taking our collective heads out of the sand. Then and only then may we be motivated to move towards the next stage of human progress—whatever that may look like.

Of course, simply having an opinion doesn’t change anything if we keep it to ourselves. We have to speak out in the face of ridicule as Ron Paul did, we have to stand for it (or sit for it) as Rosa Parks did. We cannot be afraid of being individuals—we’re more difficult to predict that way. Everyone’s life is filled with personal challenges and critical points that determine their future and the same is true for humanity as a whole. Will we surrender to the drudgery and control of the few, or are we going to take a stand—speak out—and help build a brighter future that demands our creativity and individuality?