CL – The Downfall Continues

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Hardly a day passes without some
people-pusher emerging to propose
yet another intrusion upon the
liberties of people to control
their own lives. A California
legislator has proposed legislation
that would make spanking a child
under three years of age a crime,
subject to a $1,000 fine or one
year in prison. This measure follows
in the trail of such offerings
as prohibitions upon smoking,
the criminalization of parents
who allow their children to get
sun-burned, the banning of trans
fats in food preparation, the
regulation of eating habits to
prevent obesity, penalizing motorists
who express anger while driving,
and, well, the pattern is doubtless
already familiar to you. Not to
be left out of the collective
mania, the mayor of a Texas town
has now proposed making it a misdemeanor
to utter a racial slur.

Such statist programs have elicited
the expected responses from rational
minds: they intrude upon matters
which, whether one approves of
the targeted actions or not, are
best left to the determination
of individuals or families. That
these efforts violate the free
speech, liberties, and/or property
rights of people — interests that
government officials took an oath
to defend but now scurry to violate
in the most detailed manners —
is beyond question. But there
is a deeper meaning to these intrusions
that is overlooked, the implications
of which portend the continuing
collapse of vertically-structured
institutional systems.

It is part of the nature of conscious
beings to focus attention on events
that are immediately before us,
and to overlook the more distant
consequences of our actions. Frdric
Bastiat addressed such tendencies
in his essay on u201Cwhat is seen
and what is not seen.u201D In a lesson
long since lost on modern minds,
Bastiat informed his readers of
how the immediate benefits of
a government program masked adverse
consequences that get lost in
the allure of the moment. Thus,
do we now understand how minimum
wage laws increase unemployment,
the prohibition of alcohol and
drug usage generate more consumption
of the banned substances, and
the coercive nature of American
foreign policies have produced
the reactions of u201Cterroristu201D groups
that the institutional order tries
to explain away as nothing more
than hatred of our virtues and
lifestyles.

It is becoming increasingly evident
from the study of complexity that
what our dualistic minds have
learned to separate into mutually
exclusive categories conceals
an u201Cinterrelatednessu201D essential
to the well-being of each. Thus
does the police system depend
upon criminals, just as lawyers
require disputes, the morally
self-righteous need sinners, and
orthodontists need overbites.
Such interconnected relationships,
I believe, help to explain the
current frenzy to have the state
micromanage every conceivable
expression of human behavior.

The institutionally-structured
world we have been conditioned
to regard as essential to both
our individual and social well-being,
has been in a state of collapse
for a number of decades. The unexpected
end of the Soviet Union has been,
perhaps, the most dramatic example
of this centrifugation of authority.
But the decentralization of social
systems has also found expression
in such areas as the education
of children, alternative health
care practices, and the development
of technologies that place more
decision making in the hands of
individuals. The Internet now
threatens the influence — if not
the very existence — of the long-established
u201Cmainstream media.u201D Broadcast
and print journalism — premised
upon the top-down model in which
an authoritative few communicate
to the rest of mankind what it
is in their interests to have
others believe — now face a horizontal
system in which hundreds of millions
of people exchange information
over tens of thousands of independent
websites, such as the one you
are now reading.

All of this foreshadows what
appears to be the breakdown of
traditional social systems that
operate on the pyramidal model
of the vertical and bureaucratic
direction of mankind. The presumed
capacity of those at the top of
the pyramid to gather information
imagined to be otherwise unavailable
to ordinary people and to promulgate
policies and practices that would
lead to predictable and favorable
results, has been the central
article of faith in society. The
premise is virtually synonymous
with all forms of political behavior,
but also finds itself generally
expressed throughout the business
community, organized religions,
and school systems. Its underlying
assumption has never been more
clearly expressed than it was
by former Defense Secretary Robert
McNamara, who employed it to help
engineer the slaughter of hundreds
of thousands of human beings during
the Vietnam War: u201CVital decision-making,
particularly in policy matters,
must remain at the top. This is
partly, though not completely,
what the top is for.u201D

As institutional authority continues
to collapse into decentralized
networks of autonomous individuals,
those whose conditioned mindset
is unable to imagine a world functioning
without formal direction and control
experience a chilling fear. To
such people, social systems that
run themselves without superintendence
is not only disturbing to their
ambitions for power, but a form
of fanciful thinking. At what
is no doubt an unconscious level,
such persons seek to revivify
the dying model by its endless
reiteration throughout the realm
of human activity. Such people
bear a sad but frightening resemblance
to brain-injured people described
by Abraham Maslow as wanting u201Cto
manage to maintain their equilibrium
by avoiding everything unfamiliar
and strange and by ordering their
restricted world in such a neat,
disciplined, orderly fashion that
everything in the world can be
counted upon.u201D

There is a compulsiveness to
such behavior; a faith that the
rote repetition of a familiar
pattern will reconfirm its vibrancy.
I have often used the metaphor
of a chicken that has just had
its head chopped off: it reflexively
flails about in a wild, noisy,
and bloody display, but its fate
is sealed. Such, I believe, helps
to explain the reactive mindset
of modern people-pushers who see
their world of vertical power-structures
being enervated by life forces
over which they are losing control.

Those who wish to criminalize
the spanking of children, or the
uttering of racial slurs, or eating
the wrong foods, are being driven
by the same energy that now leads
the United States into an obsession
with conducting wars. It matters
not who the momentary enemies
happen to be: Afghans, Iraqis,
Somalians, or Iranians. As we
have seen, war is a way of revitalizing
the authority of the state. The
crumbling foundations of vertical
power systems can be shored up
– temporarily – by making
people fearful, for fear restores
the herd impulse. I wonder whether
previous civilizations whose collapses
were preceded by expansions of
the war system, were playing out
the same dynamics one sees in
modern America.

But as we have learned so painfully
since 9/11, war itself has become
decentralized. American soldiers
— whose behaviors and modes of
organization represent the centralized
order as much as did the British
u201Credcoatsu201D during the Revolutionary
War — continue to die at increasing
rates at the hands of decentralized
Iraqi u201Cinsurgencyu201D forces. The
interests of the American political
establishment — both Republican
and Democrat — are grounded in
the perpetuation of the dying
model, which leads its political
voices to continue advocating
centrally-directed solutions grounded
in the presumptions of power.
The statists need the problems
they seek to overcome in order
to rationalize their appetites
for authority over others. If
such u201Cproblemsu201D were to disappear,
new ones — such as fattening foods
or parents who spank — will have
to be fabricated. This is why
Republicans and Democrats continue
to read from the same script:
to propose a fundamental change
in direction would be to abandon
the state's vertically-structured
model altogether.

President
Bush has proposed sending an additional
20,000 troops to Iraq, a move
grounded in the political assumption
that resistance to state violence
can be overcome by increasing
the level of violence! Such an
effort can only reinforce the
destructive consequences — to
both Iraqis and Americans — of
a desperate policy driven by a
desire to reverse the inevitable
decentralization of human society
and the dismantling of power structures.
As with all political action,
such thinking suffers from the
failure to ask the right questions
and, when the answers continue
to be self-defeating, to respond
with the same thinking.

Both President Bush as well as
those who want to send parents
to prison for swatting their children's
behinds, are each seeking to reconfirm
the validity of an antiquated
system that no longer satisfies
people's expectations. Such statists
are trying to ride the same dying
horse, whose failure to respond,
they believe, can only be overcome
by a stronger whip.

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