Butler Shaffer < email@example.com
January 7, 2003
is interesting to observe so many Americans trying to find
"meaning" in the Bush administration’s war against an endless
parade of "enemies." From Afghanistan to Iraq to North Korea,
the state continues to concoct "threats" for the consumption
of a public that is neither empirically nor analytically demanding.
The media are quick to play their assigned roles, providing
state-generated "information" and self-styled "experts" to
convince the rest of us that everything the White House tells
us is "just so," and that anyone who dissents from – or even
questions – the state’s purposes or policies is likely an
apologist for terrorism!
state’s ability to gull most of its citizens into an acceptance
of politically defined reality has been made possible by
one of the few successful state institutions: the government
school system. Contrary to those who look upon government
schools as failures, I have long regarded them as
shining accomplishments for state purposes: to produce
herd-oriented men and women incapable of making independent
judgments, and who are thus prepared to submit to external
authorities for direction in their lives. In the words of
Ivan Illich, "[s]chool is the advertising agency which makes
you believe that you need the society as it is."
all graduates of government schools share an ignorance of
the nature of social institutions. The study of such fields
as history, economics, and government have long been confined
to a compilation of names, dates, organizational descriptions,
and other disconnected data; but with little genuine critical
analysis that would call into question institutionally
accepted political or social doctrines. I suspect that the
typical government school alumnus is more adept at spotting
politically incorrect rhetoric, or putting a condom on a
banana, than he or she is in explaining the causes or consequences
of World War I. While most haven’t the slightest understanding
of how political systems actually operate, they have learned
their catechisms about the virtues of "democracy" (i.e., the
illusion that they and a friend have twice the political
influence of David Rockefeller)! While the bald eagle does
represent the predatory nature of the state, I believe it
is time to adopt a national symbol that more accurately reflects
the mindset of most Americans: the parrot!
course, it is not in the interests of the state – or of those
who profit from statism – to have the nature of political
systems explored; for to do so, might cause even the institutionally-deferential
students to catch on to the vicious game being played at
their expense. It is not enough to understand that the state
often resorts to war: war is its fundamental
nature. Every political institution – from the local
Weed Control Authority to the United States of America –
depends, for its existence, upon men and women being conditioned
to submit to the force and violence exercised by government authorities.
The state is nothing more than institutionalized violence
that we have become conditioned to revere.
lies the fundamental distinction between the marketplace
and political systems: in the marketplace,
people are persuaded to cooperate and exchange
with one another in anticipation of being rewarded
for doing so. Political systems, by contrast, induce
participation in their schemes through compulsion.
In place of rewards, threats to the loss of one’s life, liberty,
or property are held out as the consequences of disobedience.
I have always found it remarkable that so many men and women
are prepared to distrust any and all businessmen – whose
appeals, in a free market, they are free to ignore – while
trusting even the most corrupt or cruel politician – whose demands
they fail to meet at their peril.
how do political systems secure such servility to force and
violence? Why would otherwise intelligent human beings submit
to such an abject condition? The state operates on the basis
of the most inhumane and anti-social premises – behaviors
that we insist upon criminalizing if done by private parties
– and yet we tell ourselves that we cannot live well without
such brutal practices. Why?
of the explanation, I suspect, is to be found in our sense
of fear: both of ourselves and others.
Having been institutionally trained to distrust our capacities
for self-directed lives, while having unfailing confidence
in the judgments of institutional leaders, most of us have
grown up fearing our own sense of responsibility.
To be free is to be accountable for one’s actions. But it
is not to others that we fear accountability, but to ourselves.
In the words of Epictetus: "It is a man’s own judgments which
disturb him." The state is as eager to relieve us of this
sense of disquiet as most of us are to give it up.
looking to others – particularly institutional authorities
– to make decisions on our behalf, we unconsciously tell ourselves,
they can become responsible for the adversity that
befalls us! We are not responsible. We are victims
of the failures of others! If fifty years of smoking
has given me lung cancer, it is the fault of the cigarette
companies in producing the cigarettes! If our children grow
up to be crude or unfocused adults, it is not due to examples
we set as parents: the fault lies with rock music or television!
We tell ourselves that the state can rectify all of this.
But if the state is to enjoy surrogate responsibility, it
insists upon having control over our activities, an authority
men and women are increasingly willing to cede to political agencies,
lest the specter of self-responsibility reemerge.
we have also been conditioned to have a fear of others.
The state would be unable to exist were it not for our being
frightened that there are other persons in the world who
mean us harm, and that only our submission to the authority
of political authorities can protect us from such threats.
For its own well being, the state must generate and nurture
this mindset, something it has done since primitive tribal
leaders warned their fellow tribesmen of the "Nine Bows" who
lived on the other side of the mountain. The current "war
on terror" reminds us of something every child learned while listening
to ghost stories at night around a campfire: threats can be
made even scarier as the fear object becomes more amorphous
and ubiquitous. The hazier the definition of the bogeyman,
the more our mind fills in the frightening details.
would be the likely consequences, to the state, of a condition
of universal peace, wherein men and women no longer lived
under state-induced fears of one another? That question was
the subject of inquiry for a book, published in 1967, titled
From Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of
Peace. This book purports to have been the results
of a secret government study, begun during the Kennedy administration,
on the effects that peace would have on political systems.
It is now generally regarded as having been a work of fiction,
but that should not distract our attention from its importance.
Let us recall that the fictional works of Orwell, Huxley,
Kafka, Rand, and even Shakespeare, have told us more about
the nature of political systems than have most political science
the report informs us, "is the basic social system," and
"the end of war means the end of national sovereignty." Because
"[a]llegiance requires a cause," and "a cause requires an
enemy," the "war-making societies require – and thus bring
about – conflicts." A condition of universal peace, in other
words, would be fatal to political systems. This is the same
meaning one finds in Randolph Bourne’s observation that "war
is the health of the state." But the health of the war-making
system, the report goes on, "requires regular ‘exercise.’"
It is not enough to just have the capacity for such
systematic violence; deadly force must be employed with sufficient
regularity to keep a nation’s subjects in awe of the powers of life
and death held by the state over their lives. This is why,
particularly since 1941, the United States government has
managed to involve itself in one military campaign after another
throughout the world.
"enemies" singled out by a state must be made plausible to
the ovine herds who are to be rounded up and driven by their
political leaders. The Soviet Union served this role nicely
for some four decades but, alas, showed their poor sportsmanship
by dropping out of the game. A new enemy had to be
found, and it was part of the alleged purpose of the Report
From Iron Mountain to indicate some alternative "enemies"
should the then-existing ones no longer be available. From
environmental pollution to threats from interplanetary invaders
to ethnic minorities, the report indicated various "alternate
enemies" that could be employed to maintain political power in an
otherwise peaceful world. It was only essential, the report emphasized,
that the threat be one that could be rendered believable to
the public, even if it be one that the state, itself, would
have to secretly engage in for purposes of plausibility.
may recall the various candidates offered up for our consumption
following the collapse of the Soviet Union: child abductors,
drug dealers, pornographers, Satanists, sexual predators,
rock music (particularly that which purported to have hidden
Satanic messages in the lyrics!), religious fundamentalists
and, the apparent winner: internationalterrorism.
All that was required was to make the threat believable –
which events of 9/11 did – and the state could not only continue
to enjoy its wartime powers over the American people, but
could actually expand upon them far beyond what had
existed during previous wars!
is ironic that, not so many months ago, the present-day fomenters
and conductors of the "war on terror" were parading under
the banner of being "pro-life," particularly as such was useful
in their campaigns against abortions. But the use of state
power – especially in the conduct of wars – is anti-life,
for it is premised on the exercise of force against
people. To compel others, through threats and violence, to
behave differently than they would have acted in the absence
of such coercion, is to deny the self-directed nature of
all living systems. Through the use of force, we
become servomechanisms, objects, the dispirited automatons implicit
in the institutionalized job description "human resource manager."
years ago, I saw a photo exhibit at a museum in which a scientist
reported on his efforts to examine, under a microscope, the
eye of a mosquito. He reported that, for a while, the eye
was ablaze in brilliant shades of orange and green. But then,
the mosquito died, and the eye became black; the fire had
gone out. What a perfectly sad metaphor for what we have allowed
human systems of control to do to the spirit that is innate
within each of us.
We must understand all of politics – no matter in
what nation it is practiced – as a system that wars against
the very nature of life. Politics cannot be eliminated by force
– for to do so would only imply an even mightier amassing
of power than what is in place. Neither can it be reformed,
the effort to do so being as absurd as trying to practice
a peaceful form of warfare, or a humane system of tyranny.
It can only be transcended, a process that can only
begin by each of us ending the divisions and fears that our
political masters have carefully conditioned us to accept. When
we discover peace and order within ourselves, we shall then withdraw
our energies from the sanctified hostilities and confusion
that are destroying life.
January 7, 2003
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail]
teaches at the Southwestern University School of
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