Who is The Man?


Ever since I launched this site, it has contained the tagline “Practical strategies for sticking it to The Man.

But who is The Man?

It’s not who—or what—you might think.

They call him by many names

While the phrase “The Man” has been used in many contexts by many people, I will credit Henry Rollins (a personal hero of mine and an unlikely radical if there ever was one) with my usage of the phrase.

The idea of “The Man” surely conjures up different images to different people, but one that frequently is invoked, especially since the Occupy protests began, is the image of an actual man the Wall Street fat cat, a CEO, the (inevitably older and white) man who pulls the strings behind our society’s curtain.

While there are inevitably people who have a disproportionate control over our society, I don’t buy into any kind of conspiracy theory regarding any Dr. Claw-esque shenanigans. I believe that real sweeping power is banal and not dramatic, as simple as a checked box on a computer screen that allows or denies a person’s ability to do something.

Not The Man.
Not The Man.

We did it

So I would like to propose a different interpretation. I invite you to think of The Man not as a person or group of people, intent on enriching themselves on the backs of everyone else.

Instead, think of The Man as the system we live in. The one that by default keeps us sick and divided and poor and stagnant and unhealthy and unhappy. If we allow it.

It is not a real person, though it is understandable that we would seek to anthropomorphize. I think this is because when we see wrongdoing (or “evil”) in the world, we seek to ascribe it to an Other: someone or something other than ourselves.

But what if we, in our small, one seven-billionth way, are responsible for The Man? That every time we don’t say hello to our neighbors that we have one less human interaction in our day, which makes us just a bit lonelier. That when we don’t travel we make it that much easier to allow false notions of how we are to develop. That in our desire to buy expensive and unnecessary technology we force ourselves to work much more than we would otherwise need.

I’m certainly not saying we need to blame ourselves for anything. But I bring this up because if we have a hand in building something, then we have a hand in altering it.

Stick it to something

We don’t need to “smash the state,” in that we don’t need to think so large (and then get despondent when our meager efforts don’t make much of a dent). Instead we should be sticking it to The Man on a personal level, mano-a-Man-o, as it were.

That means thinking twice before buying that thing. It means getting out of your house and seeing some part of the world you haven’t seen before. It means not staring at screens every once in a while. It means changing one little way that you live. It means connecting with others. It means helping someone.

If it helps you, think about The Man as a real person, an entity worth engaging in an epic battle. But don’t seek to find a real person or persons behind the curtain.

Instead, think like Henry Rollins (quote from his excellent “Spoken Word Guy” CD):

I think that The Man—whoever The Man is, that force—The Man seeks to keep us separated and keep us ignorant and war-like … and the more we go out into the world and spread things like “Hello, how are you, my name is Henry” … then we can all get together and hang out more often and the world will become that green-blue Mardi Gras fun-ball orbiting in space…

…and I really think we can have it, and so until I get it, I’m going to stick it to The Man until he finally relents.

But enough about Henry Rollins. How are you sticking it to The Man?


  1. John Chang

    When we say “the Man,” we’re really talking about a mindset – one not only of greed and self-interest, but rigid adherence to “the Rules” or some vague policy.

    It’s an excuse to turn off our humanity and our minds to other possibilities of helping a fellow being. Instead of the creative route – with conscious intent and awareness that there are always other possibilities – some elegant in their simplicity and some beautiful in their consideration of the human element – we just “do as we’re told” – because it’s easier, it’s safer, it’s the way it’s always been done..

    Soul-sucking cubicle mentality, you say? Nah, it’s the Man.. yeah, that’s it.

    • Mike

      Well said John! I like it. Perhaps “The Man” is when one adheres to the letter of a rule instead of its spirit?

      • John Chang

        Absolutely – loved when someone said “what? you want your cake and eat it, too?” because I found a hack for time off. Come on, what’s the point otherwise??

        That was actually in the Navy – which is less rigid then people imagine. If anything, when I worked in research & development, we were constantly designing to make stuff “sailor proof” because these young guys were sometimes a little *too* creative for their own good!

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