CXLVI – Why Integrity Matters

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Two
news stories arose in the same week,
each illustrating the significance
of living one's life with integrity.
The first involved allegations that
Republican Congressman Mark Foley
had engaged in explicit sexual e-mail
conversations with teen-aged male
pages. The other informed us of the
killing and wounding of a number of
young Amish children by a deranged
man. In the mirror images of these
events are reflected both the pathological
nature of our world, as well as a
vision of how a society might function
when men and women live with principled
wholeness.

By
u201Cintegrity,u201D I mean living one's life
without contradiction or moral confusion;
being integrated — or centered — in
thought and action; expressing both
spiritual and material values without
conflict; and having an uncomplicated
mind with which to function, creatively,
in a complicated world.

The
reaction of the political establishment
and its self-styled opinion leaders
to the Foley matter illustrates the
utter lack of integrity in political
systems. Statists and a bamboozled
public can recite the virtues of u201Cpeace,u201D
u201Cfreedom,u201D u201Cprotection of life and
property,u201D u201Cresponsibility,u201D and other
life-sustaining qualities to be sustained
by the state while, at the same time,
engaging in wars, restraints on individual
liberty, the killing and looting of
individuals, and acting without being
accountable for the consequences of
their behavior.

The
state — which enjoys a legal monopoly
on the use of violence – does
nothing more than steal people's
property, force them to do what they
do not choose to do, and kill millions
upon millions of persons whom it is
convenient to its interests to destroy
in wars and genocides. Such perversions
— far more damaging to young people
and to a nation than are lewd e-mails
— pass without criticism within the
halls of state, academia, or media
studios. That so many of us continue
to see the political system as essential
to u201Csocial orderu201D reflects our intellectual
and spiritual bankruptcy, as well
as providing testimony to the remarkable
effectiveness of the state's propaganda
machinery.

The
state survives on our individualized
lack of integrity. For most of us,
our thinking and emotions are in conflict;
our principles are muddled. It is
our weaknesses that keep it strong.
Not wanting to confront the contradictions
that lie within our unconscious minds,
many of us eagerly project our self-directed
fears onto others, and demand their
punishment, a debilitating practice
upon which the state depends for its
existence. Mr. Foley provides a vivid
example of how this trait corrupts
all sense of integrity in both the
individual and the political institution.
As a man with an apparent penchant
for sexual conversations with teen-aged
boys over the Internet, he was Co-Chairman
of the Missing and Exploited Children
Caucus, and authored legislation –
u201CInternet Crimes Against Childrenu201D
— that may have criminalized his actions.

The
political establishment has circled
the wagons against Mr. Foley, treating
his offense as sui generis. But his
wrongs pale in comparison with those
regularly engaged in by virtually
all members of congress and the executive
branch: including the use of outright
lies, forgeries, and other forms of
deceit to fabricate conflicts with
other nations. On the basis of such
intrinsic and pervasive dishonesty,
the state sends young men and women
off to foreign countries to kill or
maim innocent people, and be killed
or maimed themselves. The use of torture
against anyone the state deems u201Csuspiciousu201D
is now widely accepted in Congress
and, apparently, among the general
public. Such dishonest and destructive
acts continue with only token objection.
But let someone direct lascivious
e-mail messages to teenagers and the
forces of self-righteous indignation
are loosed.

By
contrast, if there is a sizeable community
of people in America who live with
a more centered sense of wholeness
than do the Amish, I have not discovered
it. I have long admired these people,
and spend one class session each year
discussing them in my informal systems
of order seminar. One year, after
a lengthy description and analysis
of their ways, one of my students
asked whether it was possible for
non-Amish people to go live with them.
u201CWhy would you want to do so?,u201D I
inquired. u201CDo you share their religious
views, or have a desire to do farm
work? Are you prepared to live the
austere lifestyle upon which they
insist?u201D

My
student answered u201Cnou201D to these questions,
acknowledging that she was too much
of a Southern California person to
make such a fundamental change in
how she would live. u201CSo, what is so
powerful about the Amish that attracts
you to the possibility of living amongst
them?u201D, I asked. u201CIs there something
about the integrity of their lives
that you find so compelling?u201D I then
urged my students to explore the question
of whether there is a way of emulating
the Amish system in a major urban
setting.

It
is the integrity of the Amish that
attracts most of us and makes us want
to defend their freedom to live as
they do. Over the years, state and
federal governments have tried to
force the Amish into their coercive
systems, such as government schools,
Social Security, military conscription,
jury duty, etc. The Amish — consistent
with their peaceful ways — have always
refused such participation. I recall,
in the mid-1960s, the efforts of one
state school system to force Amish
children to attend government schools.
A front-page newspaper photograph
was about as expressive of the contrast
between these two cultures as you
could find: an armed sheriff's deputy
chasing Amish children through a cornfield
in order to force them onto a school-bus.
The scene was so repugnant to any
sense of human decency that even most
Republicans and Democrats insisted
that the state drop its efforts. There
seems to be a widely-held sentiment
in society — perhaps faint echoes
from our dying inner voices — that
the Amish should be left alone.

Those
who wonder if it is possible for people
to live in a condition of anarchy
need look no further than the example
of the Amish. These people refuse
to have any dealings with the state
— except for the taxes they are forced
to pay — and respect the inviolability
of one another's person or property
interests. Their contracts with one
another are grounded in nothing more
than mutual promises to perform. Their
system of protection and security
is found in one another, not in institutions.
Anyone who deviates from Amish community
standards need fear no jails, fines,
beatings, or confiscation of their
property: the neighbors will simply
refuse to deal with them — to withhold
their approval – until the offender
reforms.

To
the Amish, their work — particularly
as farmers and carpenters — is the
worldly expression of their religious
views. Unlike many of the rest of
us — whose divisive separation from
our work is reflected in negative
bumper-stickers — the Amish find wholeness
in their labors. Nor do the Amish
regard technology as an u201Cevilu201D; they
resist bringing anything into their
communities that will make them dependent
on the outside world. Thus, the automobile
is not looked upon as the u201Cwork of
the devil,u201D but as a tool which, if
brought into their lives, will make
them dependent upon tire and parts
manufacturers, oil companies, and
the suppliers of other auto necessities,
the net effect of which would be to
destroy their system.

The
Amish community provides its members
no more guarantees of protection from
hostile elements than does the dominant
political structure in America. Not
unlike our experiences on 9/11, the
Amish world was terribly disrupted
by the intrusion of a destructive
force from the outside. Though the
innocent victims were at work in a
humble schoolhouse rather than towering
skyscrapers, the Amish shared with
others the painful consequences of
disturbed men from a deranged world
who could find only in their suicidal
attacks the most effective expression
of their conflict-ridden madness.

I
doubt, however, that members of the
Amish community will respond to the
slaughter of their children in the
same way most Americans reacted to
9/11. Even with the holes ripped into
the fabric of their culture, the Amish
will be able to transcend these horrible
events without sacrificing the integrity
upon which their lives are founded.
They will not put aside the principled
nature of their society, but will
find comfort and energy within it.
They have already demonstrated this.

But
for those of us who still struggle
with the meaning and effects of 9/11,
and who do so on the basis of principles
and practices that are a mass of confusion,
conflict, and contradiction, our responses
have proven consistent with the normally
neurotic — and often psychotic — foundations
upon which our social systems rest.
Our alleged principles and values
— which have long found expression
only as empty abstractions rather
than integrated into our sense of
being — were among the first unwanted
cargo to be thrown overboard, lest
they prove a hindrance to the onrushing
sea of fear and doubt in which we
found ourselves. We eagerly jettisoned
our compasses as well, allowing the
politically ambitious to chart new
directions for us, and obeying their
urgings to u201Cstay the courseu201D to wholly
unknown destinations.

The
Amish will survive their pain, bruises,
and broken hearts, but they will do
so intact. Their values will sustain
them, while ours have been lost in
the darkness in which we live our
lives. Such are the pragmatic, real-world,
u201Cbottom lineu201D contrasts — and consequences
— between living with and without
integrity.

Perhaps
my seminar student was on the right
track when she asked whether it was
possible to live in such a community
as the Amish enjoy.

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