Sunday, June 30, 2013

Anarchy in the Streets

Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.
—Henry Adams

How often do discussions on the prospects of a stateless society produce the response that, without government, there would be “anarchy in the streets”? To many people, the streets are symbolic of society, and with good reason: they are the most visible networks through which we interact with one another. They are much like the major arteries (we even use that word to describe streets), veins, and capillaries that transport blood throughout our bodies. Each can be thought of as the carrier of both food and waste to and from individual cells.

The thought that city streets—upon which we depend for daily functioning—could ever become disorderly, leads most people to accept, without much questioning, a governmental policing function of such avenues. We imagine that without speed limits, traffic lights at busy intersections, and all of the varied warnings plastered on tens of thousands of signs that encumber streets in our cities, driving would become a turbulent and destructive undertaking.

For a number of years now, various cities in Europe have been experimenting with the removal of all traffic signs—including traffic lights, stop signs, speed limit directives—and with surprising results. Towns in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, New Zealand—even the UK!—have joined in the experiment. Contrary to the expectations of those who might expect multi-car pileups throughout the cities, traffic accidents have been dramatically reduced (in one town, dropping from about eight per year to fewer than two). Part of the reason for the increased safety relates to the fact that, without the worry of offending traffic sign mandates, or watching for police speed-traps, or checking the rear-view mirror for police motorcycles, drivers have more time to pay attention to other cars and pedestrians.1
The architect of this experiment, the late Hans Monderman, attributed its success to the fact that “it is dangerous, which is exactly what we want.” “Unsafe is safe” was the title of a conference held on this practice. Monderman added that this effort “shifts the emphasis away from the Government taking the risk, to the driver being responsible for his or her own risk.” Equally significant, drivers now focus more of their attention on other motorists—taking visual cues from one another, informally negotiating for space, turning into an intersection, etc.—instead of mechanistically responding to signs and electronic machines. Monderman stated: “When you don’t know exactly who has right of way, you tend to seek eye contact with other road users. You automatically reduce your speed, you have contact with other people and you take greater care.” He added: “The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate. We’re losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior.” In words so applicable to the rest of our politically-structured lives, he declared: “The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people’s sense of personal responsibility dwindles.” Monderman expressed the matter more succinctly in saying: “When you treat people like idiots, they’ll behave like idiots.”2
We have too many rules governing us. Formal rules divide us from one another; the more rules that are imposed upon our conduct, the greater the distances among us. Of course, this is the logic upon which the state always acts: to insinuate itself into our relationships with others, substituting its coercively-enforced edicts for our interpersonal bargaining. We become conditioned to look upon strangers as threats, and to regard political intervention as our only means of looking after our own interests. Imposed rules not only generate disorder, but deprive us of the autonomy and spontaneity that help to define life; they dehumanize us.

One sees this mindset of social impotence expressed throughout our lives. I am fond of asking my students why they do not negotiate with retailers for groceries, clothing, and other consumer items. They look at me as though I had suggested they attend movies in the nude. “You can’t do that,” they instinctively respond. I then offer examples of persons I have known who make a habit of such bargaining, managing to save themselves hundreds or more dollars each year. Incredulity still prevails. On one occasion, a student raised his hand to inform the class that he had been an assistant manager of a major retail store in Los Angeles, adding “we did this all the time.”

How easily we give up on our own social skills, and at what costs. These experiments with traffic-sign abandonment remind us how much we rely upon informal methods of negotiating with other drivers, and the socially-harmonious benefits of our doing so. My own freeway driving experiences provide an example: if another driver signals to move into my lane, or I signal to move into his, more than a simple lane-change takes place. From that point on, there is nothing this other motorist can do—short of intentionally crashing into my car—that will cause me to feel anger toward him. He’s “my guy,” and I will feel a sense of neighborliness to him that will generate feelings of protectiveness toward him. “Neighborliness” is a good word to use here: how many of us could honk our horn or make angry hand-gestures at another driver we recognized to be someone that we know?
This is one of the unintended consequences of taking the state out of the business of directing our traffic: we regain our sense of society with others; strangers lose their abstractness, and become more like neighbors to us. If you doubt the pragmatic and social benefits of these experiments, try recalling those occasions in which a traffic light goes out at a major intersection. Motorists immediately—and without any external direction—begin a “round-robin” system of taking turns proceeding through the intersection. One of my seminar students related her experience in this connection. She was parked at the curb, waiting to pick up her mother. She noted that traffic was flowing quite smoothly, and without any significant delays. Then a police officer showed up to direct the traffic, with gridlock quickly ensuing.

A number of years ago, an op-ed piece in a Los Angeles newspaper reported on a major Beverly Hills intersection where some six lanes of traffic converge. There were no traffic lights governing the situation, with motorists relying on the informal methods of negotiating with one another. The writer—who lives in the area—commented upon the resulting orderliness, going so far as to check police records to confirm just how free of accidents this intersection was.

How counter-intuitive so much of this is to those who have become conditioned to think that the state is the creator of order in our lives. In much the same way that people are discovering how widespread gun ownership reduces violent crime in society, putting power back into the hands of individuals is the most effective way of fostering both the responsible and harmonious relationships we have so childishly expected to arise from our dependence upon, and obedience to, external authorities.

What if the idea of living without coercively imposed rules were to spread from the streets into all phases of our lives? What if we abandoned our habits of looking to others to civilize us and bring us to order, and understood that obedience to others makes us irresponsible? As government people-pushers continue their efforts to micro-manage the details of our lives—what foods and drugs we may ingest; how we are to raise and educate our children; the kinds of cars we may drive and light bulbs we may use; the health-care we are to receive; our optimal weight levels; how we are to provide for our retirement; ad nauseam—might we summon the courage to end our neurotic fixations on “security?”
Might the quality of our lives be greatly enhanced by the transformation in thinking implicit in these traffic experiments? Might they offer flashes of insight into how the individual liberty to assess our own risks and freely act upon the choices we make provide the necessary basis for a life that is both materially and spiritually meaningful? As our institutionalized subservience and dependency continues to destroy us, can we learn that what we and our neighbors have in common is our need to negotiate with and to support one another as autonomous and changing people in a changing and uncertain world?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

What Is Anarchy?

I have mixed feelings about the use of labels to describe philosophical views, whether of myself or others. It is difficult to avoid doing so because our efforts to understand and communicate about the world necessarily involve the use of words, and words are, as Alfred Korzybski warned us, abstractions that never equate with what they are meant to describe. His insights offer a caveat whose implications for confusion are further compounded when addressing such unsettled topics as political philosophy.

One philosophical abstraction that seems to befuddle most people is “anarchy.” To those challenged by complexity—such as radio talk show hosts and cable-TV “newscasters” who seem convinced that all political opinions can be confined to the categories “liberal” and “conservative”—the word anarchy evokes an unfocused fear of uncertain forces. Images of bomb-throwing thugs who smash and burn the property of others are routinely conjured up by politicians and the media to frighten people into an extension of police authority over their lives. “Disorder” and “lawless confusion” are common dictionary definitions of this word.

That there have been some, calling themselves “anarchists,” who have engaged in violence on behalf of their political ambitions, is not to be denied. Nor can we overlook the provocateuring often engaged in by undercover policemen—operating under the guise of “anarchists”—to justify harsh reprisals against political protests. But to condemn a philosophic viewpoint because a few people seek to exploit it for their narrow advantage, is no more justifiable than condemning Christianity because a man murders his family and defends his acts on the grounds “God told me to do it!”

As long as a president continues to rationalize war against the Iraqi people as “operation freedom;” as long as the Strategic Air Command insists that “peace is our profession;” and as long as police departments advertise that they are there “to serve and protect,” intelligent minds must be prepared to look behind the superficiality and imagery of words to discover their deeper meaning. Such is the case with the word “anarchy.”

The late Robert LeFevre made one such effort to transcend the popular meaning of this word when he declared that “an anarchist is anyone who believes in less government than you do.” But an even better understanding of the concept can be derived from the Greek origins of the word (anarkhos) which meant “without a ruler.” It is this definition of the word that members of the political power structure (i.e., your “rulers”) do not want you to consider. Far better that you fear the hidden monsters and hobgoblins who are just waiting to bring terror and havoc to your lives should efforts to increase police powers or budgets fail.

Are there murderers, kidnappers, rapists, thieves, and arsonists in our world? Of course there are, and there will always be, and they do not all work for the state. Nor has the state—with its hundreds of billions of dollars purloined from taxpayers—exhibited any magic for preventing such crimes. Ask the ghosts of John F. Kennedy or Lee Harvey Oswald—both murdered in the presence of hundreds of police and Secret Service agents—whether this is so. It is amazing that, with all the powers and money conferred upon the state to “protect” us from such threats, they continue to occur with a regularity that seems to have increased with the size of government! With fear as a primary factor in getting people to sanction political power over them, thoughtful minds are beginning to question whether it would even be in the state’s interests to eliminate victimizing crime from society. Considering the fact that governments have long been micro-managing people’s lives in order to prevent harms (e.g., food and automobile production, investment and banking practices, child safety, the licensing of drugs, etc.) is it not remarkable that injuries still arise despite such regulations, and that the state is able to use its failures as a rationale for extending its powers?

Nor can we ignore the history of the state in visiting upon humanity the very death and destruction that its defenders insist upon as a rationale for political power. Those who condemn anarchy should engage in some quantitative analysis. In the twentieth century alone, governments managed to intentionally kill—through wars, genocides, and other deadly practices—more than 200,000,000 men, women, and children. This figure does not include those who died as unintended consequences of government regulatory systems. How many people were killed by anarchists during this period? Governments, not anarchists, have been the deadly “bomb-throwers” of human history!

Because of the disingenuous manner in which this word has been employed, I endeavor to be as precise in my use of the term as possible. I employ the word “anarchy” not as a noun, but as an adverb. I envision no utopian community, no “Gait’s Gulch” to which free men and women can repair. I prefer to think of anarchy as a way in which people deal with one another in a peaceful, cooperative manner; respectful of the inviolability of each other’s lives and property interests; resorting to contract and other voluntary transactions rather than coercion and expropriation as a way of functioning in society.
I am often asked if anarchy has ever existed in our world, to which I answer: almost all of your daily behavior is an anarchistic expression. How you deal with your neighbors, coworkers, fellow customers in shopping malls or grocery stores, is often determined by subtle processes of negotiation and cooperation. Social pressures, unrelated to statutory enactments, influence our behavior on crowded freeways or grocery checkout lines. If we dealt with our colleagues at work in the same coercive and threatening manner by which the state insists on dealing with us, our employment would be immediately terminated. We would quickly be without friends were we to demand that they adhere to specific behavioral standards that we had mandated for their lives.

Should you come over to our home for a visit, you will not be taxed, searched, required to show a passport or driver’s license, fined, jailed, threatened, handcuffed, x-rayed or groped, regulated, or prohibited from leaving. I suspect that your relationships with your friends are conducted on the same basis of mutual respect. In short, virtually all of our dealings with friends and strangers alike are grounded in practices that are peaceful, voluntary, and devoid of coercion.

A very interesting study of the orderly nature of anarchy is found in John Phillip Reid’s book, Law for the Elephant. Reid studied numerous diaries and letters written by persons crossing the overland trail in nineteenth century wagon trains going from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Oregon and California. The institutions we have been conditioned to equate with “law and order” (e.g., police, prisons, judges, etc.) were absent along the frontier, and Reid was interested in discovering how people behaved toward one another in such circumstances. He discovered that almost everyone respected property and contract rights, and settled whatever differences they had in a peaceful manner, all of this in spite of the fact that there were no “authorities” to call upon to enforce a decision. Such traits went so far as to include respect for the property claims of Indians. The values and integrities that individuals brought with them were sufficient to keep the wagon trains as peaceful communities. Modern-day examples of anarchistic practices are found in such settled communities as the Amish.

Having spent many years driving on California freeways, I have observed informal orders amongst motorists who are complete strangers to one another. There is a general—albeit not universal—courtesy exhibited when one driver wishes to make a lane change and, in spite of occasional noncooperative drivers, a spontaneous order arises from this interplay. A major reason for the cooperative order lies in the fact that a driving mistake can result in serious injury or death—or just damage to one’s car—and that such consequences will be felt at once, and by the actor, unlike political decision-making that shifts the costs to others.

One may answer that freeway driving is regulated by the state, and that driving habits are not indicative of anarchistic behavior. The same response can be made concerning behavior generally (i.e., that government laws dictate our conduct in all settings). But this misconceives the causal connections at work. The supervision of our moment-to-moment activities by the state is too remote to affect our actions. We are polite to fellow shoppers or our neighbors for reasons that have nothing to do with legal prescripts. What makes our dealings with others peaceful and respectful comes from within ourselves—as expressions of our social needs with one another—not from beyond. For precisely the same reason, a society can be utterly destroyed by the corruption of such subjective influences, and no blizzard of legislative enactments or quadrupling of police forces will be able to avert the entropic outcome. Do you now understand the social meaning of the “Humpty-Dumpty” nursery rhyme?

The study of complexity, or chaos, informs us of patterns of regularity that lie hidden in our world, but which spontaneously manifest themselves to generate the order that we like to pretend authorities have created for us. There is much to discover about the interplay of unseen forces that work, without conscious direction, to make our lives more productive and peaceful than even the best-intentioned autocrat can accomplish. As the disruptive histories of state planning and regulation reveal, efforts to impose order by fiat often produce disorder, a phenomenon whose explanation is to be found in the dynamical nature of complexity. Terry Pratchett’s words are recalled.

“Anarchy” is an expression of social behavior that reflects the individualized, self-directed nature of life which, at the same time, is enhanced by our social needs for cooperation with others. Only as living beings are free to pursue their particular interests in the unique circumstances in which they find themselves, can conditions for the well-being of all be attained. Anarchy presumes decentralized and cooperative systems that serve the mutual interests of the individuals comprising them, without the systems ever becoming their own reasons for being. It is this thinking, and the practices that result therefrom, that are alone responsible for whatever peace and order exists in society.

Political thinking, by contrast, presumes the supremacy of the systems (i.e., the state, as well as the corporate interests that control it) and reduces individuals to the status of resources for the accomplishment of their ends. Such systems are grounded in the mass-minded conditioning and behavior that has produced the deadly wars, economic dislocations, genocides, and police-state oppressions that comprise the essence of political history.

Men and women need nothing so much right now as to rediscover and reenergize their own souls. They will never be able to accomplish such a purpose in the dehumanizing and dispirited state systems that insist upon controlling their lives and property. In the sentiments underlying anarchistic thinking, people may be able to find the individualized sense of being and self-direction that they long ago abandoned in marbled halls and citadels.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The New Geometry and the New Math

They [feminist groups in Iraq] are very strong. Their approach is unique because they have no leaders. They do not have a head or branch offices. . . . This movement is made even stronger by not having leaders. If one or two people lead it, the organization would weaken if these leaders were arrested. Because there is no leader, it is very strong and not stoppable.
—Shirin Ebadi 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Recipient

For a number of years, I have been writing and speaking about the decentralizing forces that are bringing about the collapse of our highly-structured, institutionalized society. Such warnings must always be listened to with skepticism, as we confront the often incomprehensible nature of an ambiguous world.

Nonetheless, events of recent years provide confirmation of my prognostications. Alternative schooling, dispute resolution, and health-care practices; political secession and nullification movements; the decentralization of management in business organizations; news-reporting moving from the centrally-controlled, top-down model of traditional media, to the more dispersed, horizontally-networked Internet; individualized technologies such as personal computers, cell-phones, iPods, video cameras, and other innovations that enhance person-to-person communication, are just the more evident examples of how our social systems are undergoing constant centrifugation.

To express this phenomenon in terms of solid geometry, the pyramid is being replaced by the sphere. Plato’s hierarchically-structured world directed by philosopher-kings—long the favored model of the intellectual classes who fashioned themselves fit to sit at the institutional apex—has proven unfit for ordering the affairs of human beings. It is not better ideas that are transforming how we organize with one another, but real-world pragmatism: the life system simply cannot operate on the principle of being directed by centralized authorities!

The pyramid expresses the essence of a world premised on vertical power, in which interpersonal relationships are yoked together in systems of domination and subservience. No more poignant image of a top-down world—one in which institutional violence operates as a kind of ersatz gravitational force—exists than this. Members of the institutional hierarchy—who long ago learned that they could more readily benefit by coercing their fellow humans than by trading with them—have seen to it that others be inculcated in a belief in the necessity of pyramidalism. Our entire institutionalized world—from the more violent political organizations to more temperate ideologies—is premised on the shared assumption that only in vertically-structured institutionalized authority can mankind find conditions of peace, liberty, and order. If you doubt the pervasiveness of such thinking, recall your own learning—from childhood through adulthood—and identify any voices who tolerated, much less encouraged, your questioning of this article of faith.

How foolishly we cling to the belief that the state, for instance, exists to protect our lives, liberty, and property interests, even as it continues to slaughter millions of people, restrain their liberties, and despoils their wealth. The life system, itself, constantly pushes the fallacy of pyramidal thinking into our unconscious and often conscious mind. As we look around our communities and the rest of the world and discover how much better decentralized systems perform in providing what political agencies only promise, faith in the pyramid collapses. Not willing to allow its violence-based interests to decompose due to a change in human consciousness, the state—along with the corporate interests that have long benefited as politically-created parasites—desperately reacts to shore up its crumbling foundations. To do so requires a restoration of the falsehoods and contradictions upon which its power depends. Truth—and the free flow of information against which the state is in constant war—becomes a “security risk” or an appeal to “treason.” In one personage or another, the state calls upon its modern Joseph Goebbels who, as Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, advised:
The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the State.

The demonstrations taking place in such Middle Eastern countries as Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya, carry a much deeper meaning than what the institutionally-serving news media have expressed. When millions of men and women can peacefully come together in the center of major cities to protest the legitimacy of their being ruled by others, one ought to ask whether we might be witnessing what the pyramidalists would most fear: an open expression of the decentralization of our common interests, not as “citizens,” but as human beings. We witnessed an earlier example of this when, on the eve of the American government’s decision to wage an unprovoked war on Iraq, millions of people gathered in cities throughout the world to protest.

I long ago discovered the writings of the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, and the British physiologist, Rupert Sheldrake. Jung did much of the pioneering work in the study of the “collective unconscious,2” wherein he posited that, in addition to the individualized content of both our conscious and unconscious minds, human beings also share an inherited—and identical—content of our unconscious minds. In an inquiry that parallels Jung’s, Sheldrake has developed the study of what he calls “morphogenetic fields,” in which members of given species connect up—both spatially and temporally—to determine subsequent biological forms and behavior.3 If there is validity to their respective conclusions, might their inquiries be expanded to explore the question: is it possible for humans to have unconscious channels of communication that might motivate us to express our common need to resist the forces that war against life itself?

I must admit to having no conclusions in this regard, although I believe, given the destructive and dehumanizing history we humans have thus far generated, it is imperative that we expand the range of our questioning. Perhaps it is reflective of mankind’s capacities for tool-making that, rather than plumbing the depths of our thinking, we have created technologies that allow us to share the contents of our respective conscious and unconscious minds. Our computerized technologies are not only the products of our thinking, but the means for expanding its content to exponential levels of awareness. They have done more than anything else to dismantle the pyramid and give life to the sphere. In contrast with the linear and vertically-structured design of the pyramid, the sphere is a model for social systems that have no top-down locus of centralized authority. Interpersonal connections arise horizontally, there being no preferred position from which people can exercise power over one another. As such horizontal technologies are helping us discover, there is nothing quite so liberating, creative, and life-enhancing as the free flow of information!

Not only is the geometry of our world being transformed, so is the mathematics. Decentralizing information makes it much easier for more individuals to communicate with millions of other individuals. The number of Internet websites in the world has been estimated at 100,000 in 1996 to 1,300,000,000 by 2010. The capacity of the millions to generate information and ideas heretofore confined to the thousands, has proven discomforting to members of the institutional order. Each one of us now enjoys the technological means to communicate directly with every person on the planet, provided (a) they have a computer linked to the Internet, and (b) desire to communicate with us. In other words, mankind enjoys what the political establishment regards as that most destabilizing influence: a genuine marketplace in ideas.

From speech codes, to censorship, to the enforcement of political-correctness, to the punishment of pornography, to government efforts to control or shut down the Internet, the institutional order has long been at war with free expression. Words are the carriers of ideas, and ideas that are not supportive of institutional interests can prove destabilizing to the status quo. The decentralization of what, how, and by whom alternative information and ideas are expressed, keeps the political establishment in a state of constant fear.

What this has done is to unravel the mindset upon which the state has depended to maintain its control over people: the belief that political change could only come about through the so-called “democratic process.” “Democracy”—the illusion that my wife and I, combined, have twice the political influence of David Rockefeller!—is premised on the proposition that any meaningful political reform must secure the electoral support of tens of millions of individuals, a situation most unlikely to occur. How often have any of us given up on the prospects of “working within the [rigged] system” to bring about change, when we are reminded that we must get 51% of our neighbors to vote with us? The difficulties associated with organizing precincts, trying to get ballot-access, and as Ron Paul has discovered, trying to be heard within political parties and the media bent on maintaining the status quo, discourage most people. We quickly discover the truth of Emma Goldman’s observation that “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

To those who cling to the idea that social change can only arise through “majority rule” processes, I ask if they have heard of Plato, Aristotle, Moses, Jesus, Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, Dante, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, et al. And did such more recent individuals as Maria Montessori, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ayn Rand, Mark Zuckerburg, Julian Assange, and numerous others, have to rely on the outcome of public opinion polls to certify the worthiness of their ideas?

The advantages of massive size and numbers that keep the powerful immune from the protestations of the subservient, lose their forcefulness in the face of the unrestrained flow of information. This is why—as Goebbels reminds us—the state has had to resort to such practices as censorship, the crushing of dissent, and the “secret” classification of documents exposing its corrupt behavior. It also explains the efforts of so many establishment politicians to control, if not destroy, the Internet; as well as their resistance to Ron Paul’s proposals to audit the Federal Reserve!

The Internet has changed the mathematics from “51%” to the lone individual as the catalyst for change. Because of the herd-oriented nature of the political mind, the state has always enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with an organized mass of people. In the words of Doctor Murnau, in the movie Kafka, “A crowd is easier to control than an individual. A crowd has a common purpose. The purpose of the individual is always in question.” The truth of Murnau’s observation was seen when Julian Assange—the founder of “Wikileaks”—used the Internet to make known to the world some of the “secrets” the state did not want revealed to its citizens. Assange was allegedly assisted in this effort by an army private, Bradley Manning, who had access to some of this information. Two individuals—not a “silent majority” or even a vocal one—not only “spoke truth to power,” but to the powerless, whom it has always been the state’s purpose to keep uninformed and subservient.

As members of the establishment do their best to destroy the liberating influences of the Internet, others remind us that technology, itself, may have its own immune system to protect this life-serving network from the statist virus. Columbia University law professor, Eben Moglen, advocates a more decentralized Internet technology, in which the mechanics for what has become known as the “social media” are dispersed into the hands of each of us. The current technological forms he tells us, “are too centralized; they are too vulnerable to state retaliation and control.” In words that Shirin Ebadi would welcome, Moglen adds:“It is not hard, when everybody is just in one big database controlled by Mr. Zuckerberg [of Facebook], to decapitate a revolution by sending an order to Mr. Zuckerberg that he cannot afford to refuse.”

As the math changes, so does the geometry by which we organize ourselves. What is almost humorous to consider is that the defenders of the dying order—be they the neo-Luddites trying to destroy the Internet, or those who would confine the Bradley Mannings and Julian Assanges to a modern Tower of London—don’t grasp the reality of what confronts them. The statists operate on the notion that these two men are to blame for the revelations that are inherent in the new technology. For all of their supposed wisdom that they believe entitles them to sit atop Plato’s pyramid, they are in truth as lost as “flat-earthers” sharing their collective ignorance in trying to calculate the sun’s revolutions around the Earth!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Running on Empty

Conservative, n.: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
—Ambrose Bierce

It is not surprising that, when a culture is in collapse, so too is the level of thinking upon which it is based. This is doubtless the social equivalent of the proposition that water can never rise higher than its source. For a civilization to be creative and to thrive, it must have a substructure capable of producing the values that can sustain it. Our present civilization is dying because it no longer has such a base of support.

Western society has become so thoroughly politicized that it is difficult to imagine any area of human activity that can be said to be beyond the reach of the state. People’s diets, weight levels, child-raising practices, treatment of pets, how one can express anger, whether one can make alterations to his/her home, including replacing a lawn with rocks or plants, these are but a handful of private decisions intruded upon by the state. Other than complaints voiced by those directly affected by the state’s intervention, there are few who consistently defend the liberty of individuals to live as they choose.
A culture that has to resort to threats, coercion, and other forms of violence to accomplish collective ends, is having to oppose and repress a great deal of human energy and self-interested action seeking other ends. Political systems—as well as the institutions that pursue their purposes through the coercive machinery of the state—are inherently at war with life itself. A free, orderly, and productive society is held together not by the armed might of the police and military, nor by the dictates of rulers or the edicts of judges, but by a shared sense of the conditions that foster rather than inhibit life. At the core of such thinking is a belief in the innate worthiness and inviolability of each person, an attitude that manifests itself in terms of respect for one another’s property boundaries, within which each of us is free to pursue our respective self-interests. Peace and liberty are the inevitable consequences of living in a society so constituted.

Sadly, as our world has become increasingly infected by the virus of institutionalism—and its coercive agent, the state—men and women have intensified their attachments to these organizational forms. As we see in the repeated failures of government schools and the criminal justice system to meet the expectations so many have of them, people continue to invest heavily in the promotion of such governmental interests. The more such agencies fail, in other words, the more most people are willing to support them, an absurdity that provides such programs with an incentive to fail.

As the business world has experienced the consequences of moving from the self-disciplining nature of a free market system to the mercantilist coziness of the modern corporate-state arrangement, we find the same institutionally-serving impulses to use governmental force to benefit failing firms. Under the mantra “too big to fail,” the corporate-state establishment has been able to bamboozle most Americans into believing that it is in their individual interest to be forced to support business enterprises that lack the resiliency, creativity, and other capacities to respond to competition; that they should be compelled to do what more and more of them would not choose to do in the marketplace.

I went to an Internet site and found a listing of now-defunct American auto manufacturers. Their numbers ran to some fifty-one pages. I am certain that, at their demise, the owners of such firms might have wished for the kinds of government-funded bailouts that their successors now enjoy. I can understand—although do not accept—the kind of thinking that would like to be on the receiving end of such state largess. It is not unlike Linus—in an early Peanuts cartoon—contemplating his death. After declaring “I’m too young to die,” he finally admits “I’m too me to die!”

What I do not understand, however, is the innocence—the gullibility, if you prefer—of so many men and women who have brought themselves to share in the institutional mindset that the organizational system is to be more highly-valued and defended than the marketplace processes that created such enterprises in the first place. Such thinking is a symptom of just how deeply the virus of institutionalism has infected American society.

For various reasons that go beyond a principled criticism of our centrally-directed, vertically-structured social systems, the institutional order is in a state of turbulence. Political, corporate, and educational systems are increasingly unable to meet even the most meager of popular expectations. Our world is becoming more and more decentralized, with vertical systems being challenged—and even replaced—by horizontal networks governed by autonomous and spontaneous human activity. In the face of such changes, the establishment has become desperate to reinforce its crumbling walls. Because its essence is so wrapped up in violent behavior, it is not surprising to see it escalating the use of brute force in an effort to maintain its position.

Because the state depends upon the war system to maintain its support from Homo Boobus, governments find it to their interest to maintain environments of perpetual hostility. Whether wars be undertaken for so-called defensive or preventive purposes is no longer a relevant consideration. The core offense at the Nuremberg Trials was the starting of a war; such aggression now serves, among many Americans, as an occasion for slapping bumper-stickers on their cars with the vulgar message: “support the troops.” The war frenzy brings forth such displays of flag-waving as will cause the statists to give serious consideration to using nuclear weapons against Iran, as well as for John McCain to warble idiotically: “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” during the 2008 presidential campaign!

The general absence of criticism over “preventive warfare” has led the defenders of statism to extend the practice to “preventive detention,” by which men and women can be thrown into prisons and held without trial—or even charges filed against them—and without benefit of the writ of habeas corpus. That such persons might be inclined to engage in criminal acts is regarded as a sufficient basis for their incarceration. While being so held, the captives may be subjected to all kinds of torture, a practice the statists wish to disguise by giving it different names!

In an effort to plumb the shallowness of the minds of most Americans, the statists have reiterated the proposition, first enunciated by George W. Bush and continued under the Obama administration, that American citizens could be targeted for assassination as part of the “global war on terror.” Just who the targeted persons might be, or who would have the authority to authorize their murder, was left unsaid. Again, Pogo Possum reminds us of our “identity” in the political scheme of things.

What’s next in the offing? Shall we soon be hearing of concentration camps, complete with gas chambers, to which Americans—or anybody else—might be sent for the “final solution” to the terrorism problem? Of course, the terminology will have to be cleaned up a bit, just as it was for the Japanese-Americans who, during World War II, were sent to “relocation centers” for the offense of having politically-incorrect ancestors! As a recent bumper-sticker reads: “there will never be concentration camps in America; they’ll be called something else.”

Nor would modern death-camps have to be specialized to the elimination of so-called “terrorists.” What about other enemies of governmental programs? After all, if former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright can rationalize the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children in furtherance of her more mundane policies, how many millions might be sacrificed to such nobler ends as, well, saving the planet?
At last! A project to which Al Gore could be put in charge; one that would allow him to realize his life’s dream: to be in control of all life on the planet. How better to reduce carbon emissions on the planet than to systematically exterminate their contributors (i.e., human beings)? Of course, enough people would have to be left living in order to provide the energies with which to serve the state. But this is simply a matter of careful calculation to be engaged in by neo-philosopher-kings!

Will there be no end to the efforts of statists to keep upping the ante in their quest for absolute control over their fellow humans? Is there any indecency or atrocity that most Americans would be unwilling to embrace? Is there a moral threshold that most would refuse to cross?

As America continues to unravel, expect even more intensive efforts by the statists to regain and solidify their power. Look, further, to increasing numbers of your neighbors who sense that something is terribly wrong—quite evil—in America that must be resisted. To whom can we look for an assessment of the problem? Do the conservatives have anything to offer? Sadly, they are still too strongly attached to the kinds of thinking that got us where we are (e.g., the war system and police-state authority). As I read or listen to them, I find little more than name-calling, jingoism, and fear-mongering coming forth from those who lost their passion for liberty once the Soviet Union collapsed.
For the time being, at least, most of the liberal community is still in too much of a stupor over the election of a black president to be of much use in confronting the wrongdoing of the current state. The so-called moderates (i.e., the worst of all “extremists,” who congenitally insist upon compromises between equally untenable positions) are, as in most matters, of little benefit. Nor will much assistance be found within most of academia, so many of whose members are in a terminal state produced by the institutional virus. The mainstream media will likewise prove to be a dry hole for enlightenment. They are the voices of the establishment; their job is to reinforce your institutional commitments. The Internet, by contrast, continues to be the best source of alternative thinking, what with entry into this medium being so easy. It is, perhaps, the best spur to individualized thinking since Gutenberg upset the established order of his day.

How much causation is concealed in the details of events in our lives? Intelligent minds must attend to this inquiry in contemplating the future. I don’t know of anyone—including myself—who has a monopoly on “all the answers” to what plagues us, both personally and socially. What we need to focus on, instead, are those who might have a better set of questions to ask as we try to distill a free, peaceful, and orderly society out of the carefully-organized insanity into which we find ourselves twisted and knotted. Perhaps it would do us well to recall the lesson from an etymological dictionary: that the words “peace,” “freedom,” “love,” and “friend,” have interconnected histories. Might our ancient ancestors have known what we have long-since forgotten as we traipse about in search of one divisive ideology after another?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Slave Mentality

A slave is one who waits for someone to come and free him.
—Ezra Pound

Many Americans are under the illusion that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery. Its words certainly sound as if it did: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The language sounds quite clear. Neither “slavery” (defined by one dictionary as “submission to a dominating influence”) nor “involuntary” (“compulsory”) “servitude” (“a condition in which one lacks liberty esp. to determine one’s course of action or way of life”) shall exist within the United States.1
But words are abstractions, and must always be interpreted. As Orwell made clear to us, unless we pay attention to what is being said, scheming men and women with ambitions over the lives and property of others, will interpret words in such ways as to convey the opposite meaning most of us attach to those words. This is true with the American state—particularly through its definers and obfuscators in the judicial system—in telling us the “true meaning” of the 13th Amendment. This provision was only intended to prohibit private forms of slavery; the state was not intended to be bound by its otherwise clear language. Thus, the 13th Amendment did not end slavery, but only nationalized it. The state is to have a monopoly on trafficking in slaves! Evidence for this is found in the current corporate-state prisons-for-profit system. Some six million Americans are now under the control of the state’s prison/correctional apparatus, most having been convicted of victimless crimes. This number exceeds those imprisoned in Stalinist-era gulags! Those who cling to the myth that the Civil War ended slavery should consider this fact: there are more black men trapped in this prisons-for-profit racket today than were enslaved on plantations in 1850.2
Compulsory systems of military conscription, jury-duty, school attendance, and road-building duty, have long been upheld by the courts as not being barred by the 13th Amendment. So, too, has that most far-reaching form of involuntary servitude, taxation. When the state desires your non-consented services, the courts—consistent with their record of expanding state power while giving very restrictive interpretations to individual liberty—are quick with the “newspeak.”
As the war in Iraq continues apace, and with Massa Bush suggesting a seemingly endless presence in that country, proposals for expanding the present state-slavery racket are being voiced. Bills have been introduced in the House (H.R. 163) and the Senate (S. 89) by so-called “liberal” Democrats urging a renewal of military conscription. What is worthy of note is that a number of the sponsors of this proposed legislation are African-Americans—Charles Rangel, Sheila Jackson-Lee, John Conyers, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Elijah Cummings, and Alcee Hastings, among others. Jesse Jackson has also urged a reconsideration of the draft.
On first impression, one might wonder why blacks, whose identities are so wrapped up in ancestral slavery, would be advocating a return to a system of conscripted labor. But Rep. Rangel and other blacks have expressed another purpose. They have defended this proposal as a way of focusing attention on whether blacks, Hispanics, and low-income people would—as in the Vietnam War—bear a disproportionate share of the burden of military service. If conscription were applicable to all, with no special exemptions or deferments allowed, it is argued, the system could be operated in a “fair” manner.
“Fair” is one of those four-letter “f” words that I discourage in my classroom. Within a few days of being introduced to my strange ways, students learn to omit that word from class discussions. The word “fair” is an expression of teenager justice, carrying no more meaning than to say “I don’t like it.” “If you consider something to be ‘unfair’,” I ask my students, “tell me, specifically, why you think such a state of affairs is wrong.” It is more important to ask whether the state should be impressing anyone into forced servitude than it is to debate the “fairness” of who is selected for sacrifice!
And yet, it is to the doctrine of “equality” that many advocates of the “fairness” argument repair. Those who regard liberty and equality as synonyms—instead of understanding their contradictory, irreconcilable nature—tend to believe that, as long as an oppressive measure is forced upon all, without regard to distinctions, there is no problem. Such attitudes are generally shared by statists, whose responses to a tax, a restriction, or a mandate that is borne by only one group, is to urge governmental impositions upon all. The chuckleheaded branch of “feminism”—whose members cringe in terror at any expression of “liberation”—insist that, as a matter of principle, women should share with men the abuse by the state, including military conscription. To egalitarians, the “equal protection of the laws” is to be furthered by universalizing oppression, rather than ending it as to everyone! Had Hitler not singled out minority groups for his tyrannical practices—had he, in other words, oppressed everyone equally—the egalitarians would have been hard put to find grounds for objection.
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that black politicians are the principal promoters of this renewed system of state slavery. They are not. Nebraska Senator Charles Hagel is also championing a return to conscription.3 While Rep. Rangel and others may be somewhat forgiven for their misplaced strategies in using conscription as a way of focusing on other issues, Sen. Hagel has no such ulterior purposes. In expanding his openness to conscription to include other forms of “mandatory national service”—which might include involuntary servitude on behalf of some other governmental function—Hagel made clear his commitment to state collectivism.
Hagel picked up the egalitarian chant about conscription imposing an equal burden upon “the privileged, the rich,” not being clear whether he intended these as synonymous or separate words. If he means to attack “the rich,” generally, such an appeal to class-warfare rhetoric is rather peculiar from one who, as a Midwest Republican, I assume would not openly count himself a foe of private capitalism. If, on the other, it is his purpose to criticize “privilege,” he might want to begin with a definition of that term. One dictionary defines it as “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit.”4
“Granted” by whom? As a long-standing member of the U.S. Senate, it should be evident to this man that it is the state, of which he is a key member, that involves itself in conferring benefits and immunities upon its well-connected supporters, just as Congress grants to itself and its members special privileges not enjoyed by the rest of society. If it is his desire to end such special dispensations, he might begin by cleaning up his own house. Rather than universalizing state power over people’s lives, Sen. Hagel might consider joining Rep. Ron Paul—and the seven cosponsors of his H.R. 487—in a bill that would permanently end the system of military conscription, for the rich as well as the poor.
To statists, of course, anyone who owns property is regarded as a “rich” target for their plundering pursuits. Collectivists—a word applicable to all defenders of state power—consider all property subject to their preemptive authority to direct, destroy, or consume as suits their preferences. Sentiments for the oft-expressed phrase—“eat the rich”—are not confined to modern Marxist ideologues, but provide bipartisan support to all who harbor ambitions of power over others, be they “rich” or “poor.”
A conservative Bill Buckley,5 and such more “liberal” persons as Robert McNamara, President Obama, former President Bill Clinton, and others,6 have previously clucked the virtues of service to the state, a fact that should help you understand why, in the words of a friend of mine, the late James J. Martin, the political “Left” and “Right” are simply “two wings of the same bird of prey.” All political systems and ideologies have, at their base, an implicit belief that human beings are expendable resources to be exploited on behalf of whatever ambitions those in power might have. If the state needs more money, tax those who produce wealth. If the state wants to conduct a war, appropriate the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people to be slaughtered in its service. If the state wants privately owned land, take it, without regard to whether the owner chooses to part with it.
If we wish to put an end to the systematic exploitation and enslavement of people, we must confront the underlying premise upon which all of this is grounded: that our lives belong to the state, to be consumed in whatever manner and for whatever purposes state officials choose. We must confront and move beyond the delusional thinking that a responsible and meaningful life is to be found in participating in coercive governmental undertakings. Sen. Hagel is but one of many overseers on the state’s plantation, whose entreaties on behalf of enforced service must be resisted with the same determined spirit that led many antebellum slaves to walk away from their servitude.
The first case I have students read in my Property Law class is Dred Scott v. Sandford,7 in which a slave raised the question of whether he ought to be considered a “person” under the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that he could not, that he was the property of his slave master. I then demonstrate to my students how “ownership” is a function of “control” over an item of property; that whoever is able to effectively control property is its owner, regardless of what some document might suggest.
As we saw in Schumpeter’s distinction between owner-controlled and manager-controlled businesses, troublesome consequences arise when ownership is separated from control. This problem is also at the center of the inevitable social conflict generated by political systems. Government regulation of the lives and property of people, taxation, eminent domain, and other acts of state, bifurcate one’s ownership claim (i.e., to be an exclusive decision-maker over an item of property) from the effective control that gives meaning to ownership. When the inviolability of claims is respected—the condition essential to peace—control over the property of another can arise only through such voluntary means as contracts and conveyances of ownership claims. What continues to be hidden in news stories about political, religious, ethnic, tribal, and other expressions of organized violence throughout the world, is that societal conflict will always result when control over property is acquired by force.
I go on to ask my students if they claim “self-ownership.” “Do you own yourself?,” I inquire. I then warn them about their answer to this question, and how we shall have occasion to visit the implications of their answers throughout the school year. “If you do claim self-ownership,” I ask, “how do you tolerate the state controlling your life through various laws? And if you do not claim self-ownership, what possible objection can you raise to anything another might choose to do to you? If you do not want to own yourself—and to insist upon the control that goes with such a claim—should you be surprised that others might choose to assert a claim of ownership over that which you have rejected?”
If Sen. Hagel and his fellow slavers have their way, what will be your response when the roundup of vassals begins? Will you—like the people who watch or babble on FoxNews—rejoice at your good fortune to live in a country where you enjoy the “freedom” to be a slave, or will you exhibit the good sense to reject the system? The state will have its modern version of the Fugitive Slave Laws to hunt down, punish, and return you to the plantation; legislation that Sen. Hagel and most other members of Congress will eagerly endorse.
It is frightening enough to hear proposals for our universal enslavement coming from people who pretend to be representatives of our interests. It is equally disturbing that such dehumanized thinking can be defended by so many out of what can only be regarded as a twisted sense of community. Those who embrace such offerings without giving much thought to their meaning should understand that the most important quality we hold in common with our neighbors is a need to defend one another’s individuality. Being converted into humanoid servo-mechanisms of the state perverts, not fosters, our sense of community. There is something very sad about a society whose members think otherwise, and who acquiesce in the collectivist premise that their lives, and the lives of their children, are the property of the state; that they are to be the cannon fodder, tax-cows to be milked, and inflatable Bozo clowns to absorb the brutal anger of police officers; that they amount to no more, in the political scheme of things, than fungible resources to be collected, counted, catalogued, warehoused, and shipped off to whatever location, and exploited for whatever purposes that serve the interests of their institutional owners.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Saving a Dying Corpse

An Associated Press news report told of 1,900 sheep following one another over a cliff in Turkey, resulting in the deaths of 450.1 The sheep had been grazing when, without explanation, some members of the herd began leaping from the cliff. The others followed the lead, providing an example of “sheepish” behavior.

What a fitting metaphor for the herd-oriented behavior of humans. Political systems—along with various corporate interests that produced the homogeneous corporate-state—have succeeded in getting people to organize themselves into opposing herds. These multitudes are placed under the leadership of persons who function like “Judas goats,” a term derived from the meat-packing industry. Judas goats are trained to lead sheep to the slaughterhouse, slipping safely away as the others are led to the butcher. Political leaders take their flocks to the deadly precipice, depart to the safety of their bunkers, and allow herd instincts to play out their deadly course. With the help of the media, Bush, Blair, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Rice, et al., perform the Judas goat function quite well, rousing the herds into a “let’s you and him fight” mindset without occasioning the loss of their own blood. You will not see any of these smug, arrogant creatures in the front lines of battle: that is the purpose served by the “masses” (i.e., the “herds”).

But what happens when this herd-hustling game begins to break down—when the consequences become so destructive as to threaten the herd itself? What happens when the sheep begin to suspect that there are alternatives to their present condition and that their lives might have a greater purpose than to be part of a pile of corpses? What if they should learn of greener pastures elsewhere, entry to which is not restricted to a privileged few, the enjoyment of which requires only a breaking away from the restraints of the herd? What if word of such life-fulfilling options begins to spread among herd members?

This allegorical reference seems apropos to modern society, whose vertical structures continue their collapse into more horizontal networks. One cannot grasp the meaning of the established order’s admittedly endless war on “terrorism” without understanding the much deeper question: how is a free and creative society to be organized? Under what sorts of systems will men and women live, work, play, cooperate, and raise children? The institutionally-centered forms with their command-and-control mechanisms that have long represented Western societies are eroding; and the established interests that have benefited from such systems are in a life-and-death struggle to resist their demise.
Having become ends in themselves, institutions must resist behavior that threatens their interests. Once men and women have been conditioned to accept the supremacy of institutional interests over their own, it is an easy matter to get them to sanction the use of state power to protect and promote established interests. Corporate interests become synonymous with societal interests; concerns for “security”—whether “national,” “homeland,” “job,” “social,” or “airport”—justify governmental restrictions on individual liberty and other processes of change that threaten the status quo.
Business firms have been the principal forces behind the promotion of governmental regulation of the economic life of this country. Through competitive and trade practice standards; licensing and other limitations on entry into the marketplace; tariffs and taxation policies; government research subsidies and defense contracting; and various other uses of the coercive powers of the state to advance private interests, the business community has fostered rigidities that help to insulate firms from the need to remain creatively resilient and adaptive to change.

As I have previously observed, a number of historians have shown how such institutionalizing practices contribute to the decline of civilizations. If a society is to remain creative and viable, it must encourage—not simply tolerate—the processes of change. At this point, the creative interests of society (as people) comes into conflict with the structuring interests of institutions (as organizational systems). Whether the autonomous and spontaneous processes of change will prevail over the preservation of established institutional interests, may well determine the fate of the American civilization!
The forces of institutional dominance—with their centralized, vertically-structured, coercive systems of control—have encountered the decentralized, horizontally-connected, voluntary methods of cooperation. Mankind is in a life-and-death struggle not simply for its physical survival, but for its very soul. The contest centers on the question of whether human beings shall continue to be servo-mechanistic resources for the use and consumption of institutional interests, or whether they shall be their own reasons for being. Will institutional or individual interests be regarded as the organizing principle of society?

It is this confrontation that underlies the so-called “war on terror.” “Terrorism”—like “international communism” that preceded it—is but another specter held up to a gullible public to enlist their continuing support for institutional hegemony. “Terrorism” is a tactic, not a competing political institution, a tactic that reflects the inability of the state to predict and control events. Even the British Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, admitted that there was no governmental measure that could have prevented the 2005 London subway bombings.2 One former CIA analyst has asserted that unpublicized U.S. government figures show an increase in terrorist acts in the world from 175 in 2003 to 625 in 2004,3 hardly a ringing endorsement of the efficacy of the “war on terror.”
In numerous ways, humanity is slipping out of the grasping hands of the state, a prospect that does, indeed, “terrorize” institutional interests. Parents are increasingly turning to home-schooling and other forms of private education as alternatives to government schools; alternative medicine and health-care systems continue to prosper; the Internet—with its myriad and interconnected web and blog sites—is increasingly relied upon by men and women for all kinds of information, with a corresponding decline in newspaper readership and network television news viewing. These are just a few of the more prominent examples of a world that is becoming increasingly decentralized, spontaneous, and individualized.

The difficulties we face often arise from our failure to ask relevant questions. This may help explain the institutional establishment’s lack of awareness of its apparent fate. A CNN news show reported on the increased popularity of Internet blogsites, explaining their growth as a public demand for getting news out more “quickly,”—then urging viewers to continue watching CNN for the fastest reports. However, it is not information speed that attracts people to the Internet, but increased options in what is reported. When the Iraqi war was on center stage, television networks trotted out retired generals, admirals, or colonels to explain—and favorably comment upon—the government’s war strategies. If one wanted to find thoughtful criticism of the war—such as provided by Bob Higgs, Lewis Lapham, Justin Raimondo, Lew Rockwell, Chalmers Johnson, Alexander Cockburn, John Pilger, Karen Kwiatkowski, Alan Bock, Seymour Hersh, Glenn Greenwald, Chris Hedges, or numerous other thinkers—one had to go to the Internet.

The latent forces of complexity and chaos, coupled with the adverse consequences of increased organizational size, will doubtless continue these decentralizing trends. Secession movements, along with an increased willingness of state and local governments to openly challenge federal government policies, reflect a growing interest in decentralizing political power. Even the Iraqi insurgency forces and various “terrorist” attacks attest to war itself becoming decentralized.

The institutional order could, of course, try to adapt to such changes. Many business organizations have, in fact, discovered the enhanced productivity to be found in the adoption of more decentralized managerial policies in which day-to-day decision-making is more widely distributed throughout the work force. But few have been willing to extend the logic of centrifugence to broader social environments such as the marketplace. They—and most of the rest of us—fail to understand that the spontaneous and autonomous processes that enhance the creativity and profitability of a firm, also foster the viability of society itself.

Creativity has always posed a threat to those who refuse to adapt themselves to more productive alternatives. Because we have learned to regard institutions as ends to be preserved, rather than tools to be utilized, fundamental changes that threaten the institutional order must be resisted. Such is the case with the worldwide shift from vertically-designed and hierarchically-structured systems of centralized control, toward more decentralized, horizontally-networked social systems. Feudalism—grounded in politically-defined privileges, rights, and status—was unable to sustain itself in the face of an Industrial Revolution that rewarded people on the basis of exhibited merit in a free marketplace. So, too, the neo-feudal, politically-structured institutionalized order, will be unable to resist the oncoming liberalizing trends.

Like the Luddites who fought the Industrial Revolution, the established order will not give up its privileges without a fight. Efforts to revive the dying corpse of centralized power structures have taken on paramount importance. With the demise of the Soviet Union as its symbiotic partner for the rationalization of state power—itself the victim of decentralist forces—the United States has had to find a new threat with which to keep Americans as a fear-ridden herd. The statists believe they have found this eternal danger in the specter of “terrorism,” which they hope can be manipulated to justify endless wars and unrestrained police powers.

But if you can cut through the veneer of propaganda as “news,” and begin to ask such questions as how U.S.-supported persons and organizations (e.g., Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, the Taliban) could suddenly became threats to America, you will begin to understand the nature of the herding game being played at your expense.

What government officials and the media have labeled the “war on terror” has, I believe, a more encompassing target: the decentralizing processes that are eroding institutionally-controlled social behavior. “Terrorism” is the state’s new scarecrow, erected to ward off the changes that threaten the interests of the rigidly-structured political establishment. What is now drifting away into diffused networks of freely developed, alternative forms and practices, must be resisted by a state system that insists upon its centralized, coercive control of the lives of us all. As has always been the case, the life-sustaining processes of spontaneity and autonomy are being opposed by the life-destroying forces of coercive restraint.

With its newly-concocted perpetual war upon an unseen enemy—combined with greatly expanded police powers—the established order seeks to force free men and women back into the herd upon which its violent control over life depends. That we may take our places in the serried ranks set out for us by the state so that we remain subservient to the state, is the purpose underlying the present “war on terror.” As with the sheep in Turkey, the consequence will be that we will follow one another over cliffs leading to our mutual destruction. In the tapestry of human history, it is but the latest expression of the state’s continuing war against life.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Bring Back Discrimination!

Hardly a week goes by without a news report of such senseless acts as a kindergarten boy being charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate on the cheek; or a grade schooler disciplined for violating an anti-drug policy by offering a friend an over-the-counter cough drop; or young boys threatened by the state with “assault with a weapon” prosecution for using their fingers as make-believe guns to play cops-and-robbers. The latest contribution came from the criminal conviction of a teenager for shooting a “spitball” at a classmate, hitting him in the eye.

Practices of this sort are usually defended, by school officials, as part of a “zero tolerance” policy for violence, or drug use, or sexual harassment. Unfortunately, what “zero tolerance” often comes down to in practice is an admission that “I am unable to think clearly and to make distinctions between an uninvited kiss and a violent assault, between a cough drop and a tablet of LSD, between boys pointing their gun-like fingers at one another and a full-blown knife fight.” “Zero tolerance,” in other words, becomes synonymous with “zero critical analysis.”

When I was a youngster, the attempted criminalization of such conduct would likely have been met with questions about the competency of school officials to supervise the learning of children. It would have been understood that the process of growing up involves experimentation and testing of the boundaries of appropriate social conduct. It was also accepted that learning how to establish suitable relationships with others came about through trial and error, and the feeling out of the expectations of one’s peers, more so than having one’s conduct constantly micromanaged by supervising adults. Only if conduct morphed over into the realm of viciousness was it thought appropriate to consider the transgression in criminal terms.

The “spitballer” was given a six-day jail sentence—even though prosecutors reportedly sought an eight-year prison term; while the “cough-drop kid,” the finger-pointing “gunman,” and the “kindergarten kisser” may have to spend the rest of their lives acknowledging, to colleges or employers, their respective “offenses” of “drug-dealing,” “attempted assault,” and “sexual harassment.” Again, how does one satirize absurdity?

The underlying cause of such nonsense is not to be found in either wickedness or a penchant for being overly-protective. I suspect that the school administrators who engage in such Draconian measures truly mean to do well by the children entrusted to their care. The problem, instead, can be traced to one of the underlying shortcomings of our culture—one for which, coincidentally, government schools have been the primary culprits—the ongoing war against discrimination. We must remember that most of the school officials who cannot distinguish between a pointed finger and a .38 caliber revolver are, themselves, products of government school training.

There was a time when it was considered the highest compliment to tell another that he or she had a “discriminating” mind. Today, such is an accusation. One who learned to distinguish truth from fashion; to critically analyze a given set of events on the basis of intellectually sound criteria; to have both an empirical and rational basis for his or her opinions; to be able to separate fact from fallacy; to have one’s mind well grounded in such fields of study as the sciences, history, economics, the classics, psychology, and the humanities; and, above all else, to have both a sense of humility about what we know and a recognition of the human need for transcendent experiences; that person was worthy of being called a “discriminating” individual.

Not only are such qualities not developed in schools and colleges today, they are actively opposed. One who dares to suggest that the works of Shakespeare are superior to the folktales of some primitive tribe is likely to be charged with cultural chauvinism. To dissent from American foreign policy practices in the Middle East is to invite an accusation of “anti-Semitism” (even though truly discriminating minds would note that Arabs are also Semites). To challenge the legitimacy of welfare programs, “affirmative action,” or any of a variety of other government policies, is to run the risk of being labeled a “racist” or peddler of “hate.” Such absurdities helped to make up the world of “political correctness,” a phrase that boils down to the failure of its practitioners to engage in discriminating thought.

At this point, some may respond that I am only setting up a straw man to knock over; that racial, ethnic, and religious bigotry exist in our world, making discrimination a problem to be overcome. I disagree. The person who uses race as a determining factor in deciding who to hire or otherwise associate with is not, in most instances, discriminating, but failing to discriminate!
“Discrimination” is closely tied to another misunderstood practice: “prejudice.” Whenever we act, we do so on the basis of our prior experiences. We “prejudge,” based upon the past events in our lives, what we believe will occur in the future. Let us suppose that, while walking down a dark street one evening, I am mugged by a man wearing a purple hat. In the future, I might very well be fearful of men in purple hats, believing that there was some connection between hat color and my victimization. This is a common response of small children who, having once been frightened by a barking dog, might thereafter fear all dogs.

But as I encounter more and more people wearing purple hats who do not assault me, I begin to modify the basis for my prejudgment (i.e., “prejudice”) about purple-hatted people. In a word, I learn to discriminate, based upon factors more directly relevant to my being victimized, and may eventually come to the conclusion that purple-hattedness has nothing to do with the commission of violent acts. Focusing upon purple hats becomes a distraction to clear thinking.

Our prejudices can serve us well or ill depending upon how proficient we become at making distinctions that help to further what we seek to accomplish. If, for instance, I would like to find a restaurant that sells pizzas, my past experiences lead me to prejudge that I am more likely to find pizza in an Italian than in a Szechuan restaurant. It may be the case that, in this city, the best pizza is made at a Szechuan restaurant, but information costs being greater than the benefits I might derive from trying to locate such a place, I content myself with an Italian eatery.

When factors such as race, religion, or ethnicity enter into our decision-making, however, there seems to be an enhanced likelihood that such considerations will prove detrimental to our objectives. More often than not, prejudging others on such grounds will fail to predict for outcomes that we favor. The employer who refuses to hire a woman, or a black, to operate a punch press because of such criteria—rather than the applicant’s demonstrated skill at handling the machine—will have to forego the added profitability from having the most competent people working for him.

On the other hand, there are times when being prejudiced on the basis of race or other such factors is quite rational: I suspect that, when Spike Lee was casting for the Malcolm X film, neither Robert Redford nor Whoopi Goldberg were given the slightest consideration for the lead. Lee “discriminated” by casting Denzel Washington. Was Lee “prejudiced” in his decision? Of course: he “prejudged” that Denzel Washington would be a more believable Malcolm X—thus adding to the quality of the film—than would Robert Redford. He made a perfectly intelligent decision; he exhibited the qualities of a “discriminating” mind: he knew when race and gender were relevant factors in his decision-making.
Racial and ethnic bigots, on the other hand, fail to make such relevant distinctions. In their minds, such factors become central to all forms of decision-making. Percaled Ku Klux Klansmen and the most ardent champions of “affirmative action” programs have this in common: for each, another person’s race or ethnicity is a deciding characteristic. The quantity of melanin in one’s skin determines whether a targeted individual will be brutalized or given a preference, depending upon the nature of the group making the decision. It is not that such people discriminate, but that they do not know how to discriminate!

Nor is this problem confined to these more vulgar forms of expression. A friend of mine was a high-level executive for a major American corporation. One of their divisions was having major cost problems, and he was sent to find out what was wrong. His first act was to pull the personnel files on the top twenty or so executives in that division and discovered that each was a retired Naval officer. Upon further inquiry, he learned that the official in charge of hiring within that division was, himself, a retired Naval officer, and when he saw an applicant with such a background, that fact became the basis for his hiring decision. That there was no causal connection between being a Naval officer and a competent business executive led to employment policies that hindered corporate purposes.
The catastrophic events of 9/11 provided what has thus far proven to be a missed opportunity for clear, discriminating thinking. Rather than treating the attack as a criminal act, President Bush and other government officials reacted with unfocused anger against a vaguely defined “enemy” who, upon closer inspection, became “anyone who’s not with us” in a unilaterally declared “War on Terror.” Without any evidence of Afghan involvement in the WTC attacks, the Bush Administration started bombing Afghanistan, and putting together lists of “enemies” and possible nuclear targets—whose identities were both interchangeable and subject to continuing amendment. A number of countries were identified as an “Axis of Evil,” an appellation reflecting an unfamiliarity with basic geometry. Draconian police state measures were also announced that would greatly restrict individual liberties, but only for the duration of the “war” which was, of course, to go on forever!

Those who suggested that the WTC attacks might have been in response to American foreign policies and military actions were lambasted by the boobeoisie who, unable to distinguish between an explanation and a justification of events, accused such critics of defending the attacks! Bill Maher—host of the TV program, Politically Incorrect—offered one of his few genuinely “politically incorrect” observations when he rejected President Bush’s comment that the 9/11 attackers were “cowards.” Referring to American actions, Maher declared that “lobbing cruise missiles from two thousand miles away, that’s cowardly”1 For his honest comments, he was pilloried by those whose inability to discriminate gets expressed in terms of distinctions without meaning.

The failure to make intelligent distinctions among competing choices or explanations is not confined to more newsworthy events. I have observed the practice, in a number of restaurants, of requiring customers ordering alcoholic drinks to present proof of their adult status, even in situations in which the patron is well into his or her sixties or seventies! The implicit notion that a waiter or waitress might inadvertently mistake a twenty-year old for a person who had reached majority and, therefore, require that employee to challenge the age of grandparents, is but one more reflection of a dying culture.
These are just a few examples of the consequences of abandoning the pursuit of critical thinking. Analysis and reasoning have given way to flag-waving, bumper-sticker slogans, and public opinion polls. If you are unable to assess the propriety of a given course of action, then ask other equally confused people what they think. Let us pool the ignorance!

As the study of mob behavior informs us, when self-righteous rage suppresses intelligence, an unfocused mindlessness emerges. Collective insanity has a way of escalating quite rapidly. When top government officials in Washington can casually discuss “first strike” nuclear attacks against other nations, and warn dissenters to watch what they say, you can be assured that discriminating minds are not in charge.

Perhaps intelligent thinking will begin to assert itself over the official madness that now prevails. There may be sufficient remnants of discriminating thought within the life force itself to impress upon even the most rabid of Washington warmongers that, no matter how horrific and inhumane the attacks of 9/11, they do not justify either a massive police state or a nuclear firestorm capable of obliterating all of humanity.

Arthur Koestler suggested that mankind might have been an evolutionary mistake.2 A killer ape with a highly developed brain might not be a recipe for species longevity. That same brain, however, provides us the means to evaluate the nature of our behavior, and to make choices that either advance or diminish our lives. But how does one make choices without discriminating among alternatives? And if we are to make life-fulfilling choices, upon what grounds shall we discriminate? Do purple hats really matter?