This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
The news story and accompanying photo were quite startling. According to the report, Sony—a dominant firm in the electronic industry—held a party to announce a new computer game it was putting on the market. As part of this soiree, a goat was decapitated, with the photo showing its not fully severed head hanging over the table on which it lay, having been sacrificed to the gods of corporate sales. Party guests were even encouraged to reach inside the goat’s body cavity to remove and eat the offal to be found therein.
All around us can be found the evidence of a civilization in its death throes; a culture that has devolved from the creation of life-sustaining values to the ritualistic celebration of death. Dr. Pangloss’ “best of all possible worlds” has backslid into an anti-life swamp. Sony’s public relations stunt did not generate this collapse, but only reflects it.
Upon reading this news report, my first response was to seek the confirmation of its validity elsewhere. Might this be nothing more than a dark side version of one of my favorite websites, The Onion? Jon Stewart, The Onion, and a few other sources have helped us to appreciate the difficulties associated with satirizing absurdity; only a faithful commitment to reciting the ludicrous details of what we now accept as “reality” will suffice.
Where does one begin to describe—much less analyze—our institutionalized commitment to death? The war system is certainly the most dramatic, having accounted for some 200,000,000 deaths in the twentieth century alone. So insistent is our culture on the perpetuation of this corporate-state slaughterhouse that those who sponsor debates among presidential aspirants have systematically excluded the two candidates—Democrat Mike Gravel and Republican Ron Paul—who have most consistently opposed continuation of the war in Iraq.
And what of the academic and corporate institutions that derive so much of their income from designing and producing “new and improved” weapons systems that reduce the unit costs of butchering others, thus fostering the values of “efficiency” by which the spiritually-bankrupt calculate their bottom-lines?
The state—with its recognized powers of deadly force—manifests this same hostility to life. Its very nature is to compel people to do what they do not otherwise choose to do. Life is a spontaneous, self-directed process; and to forcibly intervene in human action is to make life become or do what it does not choose to be or do. Because uncoerced people will always act for the purpose of achieving their desired outcomes, governmental action will, of necessity, produce lesser degrees of well-being.
And why does the state engage in such life-depleting behavior? Part of the explanation lies in the fact that there will always be some segment of humanity that enjoys the exercise of coercive power over others. As H.L. Mencken observed: “The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.”
But there are others who find the use of force quite useful for their own ends: those with concentrated economic interests wanting to control political machinery in order to restrain the competitive behavior of others. Major business interests and labor unions have been the principal examples of such restrictive desires. My book, In Restraint of Trade, documented such efforts during the critical years in the development of government regulation of the marketplace. Such coercive efforts have both increased the costs and limited inventiveness in the production of goods and services upon which life depends.
This institutionalized war against life permeates our entire culture. Our world abounds with people-pushers who want to use state power to control the kinds and quantities of food we eat; how we raise our children; the language we can use with one another; the drugs we are both prohibited from and required to ingest; whether and where we can smoke; the weights, measures, and prices at which produce can be sold; and the health care services we may use. These are but a few examples of this mania, with additional proposals being offered on a regular basis.
The state insists upon its mechanisms of control, with expanded police powers, warrantless searches, the erosion of habeas corpus, increased government databases of people, an exponential increase in prison populations in America, and a greater domestic military presence. These are among the current practices that go largely unquestioned. In Great Britain, surveillance cameras and recording devices have become so widespread that it is estimated there is one such camera for every fourteen people! This has led at least one critic of the system to grasp the anti-life implications of such practices in saying that Britain risks “committing slow social suicide.”
At this point, in an effort to define the nature of our cultural collapse, one normally hears an indictment of television, motion pictures, rock music, video-games, or that all-encompassing demon: Hollywood. Such is an expression of the superficiality of our understanding. When Cho Seung-Hui shocked us, in 2007, with his slaughter of 32 fellow students at Virginia Tech, the shallow-minded reflexively blamed guns, computer games, violent films, or any other factor that would save them the trouble of looking more deeply. I was reminded of the vacuous responses to the Columbine massacre that sought an explanation in teenagers wearing long coats!
Institutions that either employ, or advocate, the use of coercion are, of course, responsible for the consequences of their actions. Furthermore, the butchery practiced by operatives of the state is quantitatively more destructive than that perpetrated upon a goat in order to kick off a sales campaign. Having said that, I am obliged to look beyond institutions for the explanations of our anti-life, self-destructiveness. Even the state itself, for all its life-consuming viciousness, is of lesser significance in our plight than is the real culprit: our thinking.
Our conflict-ridden thinking has generated the institutions that mobilize our inner divisiveness. The state has expanded its powers over us by playing upon our fears: be it of “communists,” “illegal immigrants,” “drug dealers,” “the Hun,” or the now-fashionable “terrorists.” This scapegoating practice was the critical means by which Hitler was able to exploit various groups of non-Aryans to expand his tyrannical regime. As “Muslims” and “Mexicans” are offered up as modern sacrificial lambs, it is well for us to observe the inner source of our conflicts: others are able to enjoy power over us only as we abandon both the authority and responsibility for our own lives. As Shakespeare expressed it: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Once we learn to look outside ourselves for meaning and direction in our lives, we set ourselves up to be exploited for whatever purposes our “authorities” have in mind for us. Having given up our own centeredness—our own integrity—we become as balls in a pin-ball machine, capable of being moved about by forces over which we have no control. Our conduct becomes guided by those who control the levers with which we come into contact. Over time, the logic of the machine defines our mindset and, like Pavlov’s dogs, we learn to slobber on cue and press the levers that deliver our prearranged rewards.
When our minds become other-directed, we should not be shocked to find our actions reflecting the values and emulating the behavior of external forces. To what extent might Cho Seung-Hui have unconsciously identified the faceless bullies who had terrorized him in his youth, with the faceless schoolmates he ritualistically slaughtered? To what extent might his rage against his innocent victims have found rationalization within a nation that continues to wave the flag against innocent Iraqis made to serve as surrogates for the faceless wrongdoers of 9/11?
Why did Sony undertake its tasteless and grotesque action? Probably for the same reason that it sells video games that appeal to appetites for computerized violence: because there are enough people whose thinking attracts them to such products. That there is a demand for such merchandise provides no more justification for criticizing the marketplace than attends the sale of anything else. Animal-rights advocates who would turn to the state to prohibit such conduct unwittingly contribute their energies to a disrespect for life that generates the wrongs they seek to prevent.
Our civilization is experiencing more than a “slow social suicide.” It is more in a state of free-fall. A vibrant society is one that encourages the production of life-sustaining values—which include a respect for the inviolability of the lives and property interests of one another, a condition that becomes synonymous with peace. America, however, is a nation in a constant state of war, not only with the rest of the world, but with itself. What condition that people-pushers are quick to identify as a “social problem,” does not carry with it proposed legislation to forcibly restrict how others are to live their lives?
For reasons largely explainable as a reaction to the increased decentralization that threatens the institutional order, our formal systems—as well as those who take direction from them—are becoming increasingly sociopathic. The day may soon be upon us when cannibalism will emerge as the “politically correct” solution to all our problems; with Hillary writing a cookbook; and The New York Times editorially praising her for her “bold” program to “serve her fellow man.” In that day, cable news channels may continue to challenge our minds with inquiries into the fate of the teenage girl in Aruba.
Obama Revives a Tradition
I don’t know why so many people are getting agitated over the Obama administration’s acknowledged use of a “secret panel” to order the killing of Americans without any judicial due process. The practice is an old American tradition, one particularly resorted to in time of such economic downturns as the Great Depression of the 1930s. Like the Obama reinstitution, the earlier model operated in secret and without any legislative authority or judicial supervision. The members of such agencies were not made public, nor were the criteria by which victims were chosen for assassination identified. Presumably, the current panel will attract the same kind of “socially responsible” members as did its predecessor: prior to his appointment to the United States Supreme Court by FDR, Hugo Black had been a member of this secret organization.
Like their earlier counterparts, members of the secret Obama death panel will take all necessary steps to hide their identities. Operating under the National Security Council will provide them with many means of concealment. For added precaution—and to reinforce the sense of tradition upon which this new agency rests—they might want to consider using the tool of secrecy employed so effectively in past generations: bedsheets to cover their bodies, and with eye-holes in their percaled hoods to allow them to see!
President Obama will now be able to boast that, in addition to being the nation’s first black president, he has restored an old American tradition for dealing with “undesirables.” At long last, “equality” has come full circle!