CLIV – Civilization in Free-Fall

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This
is the way the world ends
Not
with a bang but a whimper.
~ T.S Eliot

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
soire, 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 evolved
from the creation of life-sustaining
values to the ritualistic celebration
of death. Dr. Pangloss' u201Cbest
of all possible worldsu201D 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 u201Crealityu201D
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
20th 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 u201Cnew and improvedu201D
weapons systems that reduce
the unit costs of butchering
others, thus fostering the values
of u201Cefficiencyu201D by which the
spiritually-bankrupt calculate
their bottom-lines?

The
state in its other varied expressions
manifests this same hostility
to life. All political systems
are defined by their use of
violence — whether actual or
threatened — 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: u201CThe
urge to save humanity is almost
always a false-face for the
urge to rule it.u201D

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: The Business
Campaign Against Competition,
1918–1938
, 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, warrant-less searches,
the erosion of habeas corpus,
increased government databases
of people, an exponential increase
in prison populations in America,
and a grater 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 u201Ccommitting
slow social suicide.u201D

At
this point, 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 two weeks
ago 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 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.

In
my book, Calculated
Chaos
, I explored how
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 u201Ccommunists,u201D
u201Cillegal immigrants,u201D u201Cdrug
dealers,u201D u201Cthe Hun,u201D or the
now-fashionable u201Cterrorists.u201D
As Carl Jung advised us, we
project our u201Cdark-sideu201D fears
of ourselves onto others; define
them as enemies; and then act
to control or destroy them.
Others begin to enjoy power
over us only as we abandon both
the authority and responsibility
for our own lives. As Shakespeare
expressed it:

u201CThe
fault, dear Brutus, is not
in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we
are underlings.u201D

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 u201Cauthoritiesu201D 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 u201Cslow social suicide,u201D
but 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 u201Csocial
problem,u201D 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 u201Cpolitically
correctu201D solution to all our
problems; with Hillary writing
a cookbook; and The New
York Times editorially praising
her for her u201Cboldu201D program to
u201Cserve her fellow man.u201D In that
day, cable news channels may
continue to challenge our minds
with inquiries into the fate
of the teenage girl in Aruba.

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Chapter
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of Contents

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