CXV – What the 'Struggle' Is All About

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Ever
since our resident emperor announced his u201CWar on Terror,u201D
I have insisted that this campaign had less to do with confronting
u201Cterroru201D — an effort that would have implicated the United
States' use of the practice — than with forcibly resisting
the peaceful decentralizing processes that threaten the established
institutional order. (See, for example, here,
here,
here,
and here.)
Social systems are moving from vertically-structured to horizontally-networked
models, a transformation that bodes ill for the political
and economic establishment.  Some three years ago I suggested
naming this conflict the War for the Preservation of Institutional
Hierarchies.  If a shorter name is preferred, how about
the War for the Status Quo?

The Bush
administration has finally confirmed my point.  Showing
the same irresoluteness that kept shifting the rationale for
the war against Iraq, the White House has now changed the
name of the conflict that was, according to Mr. Bush, to last
forever.  The u201CWar on Terroru201D is now redesignated the
u201CGlobal Struggle Against Extremism!u201D  No announcement
has been made as to who won the war that was as magisterially
ended as it had begun.  Nor is there any explanation
as to why the administration has deviated from White House
Chief of Staff Andrew Card's previous political marketing
advice: u201Cyou don't introduce a new product in August.u201D 
The War on Terror has been meeting with increased consumer
sales resistance, leaving those who trade in death and destruction
to come out with new and larger repackaging.

Neither
the people of Iraq nor American soldiers will notice any change
in their daily lives, of course.  The killing and destruction
will continue, but under a different rationale.  Have
you observed how quickly the media and politicians incorporated
the new terminology into their public liturgies, substituting
the word u201Cextremismu201D where u201Cterrorismu201D was once employed? 
Well-trained actors are quick to adjust to script changes.

But does
this amount to nothing more than a semantic change, or is
a substantive transformation occurring?  u201CTerrorismu201D
has historically been tied to the use of violence – whether
threatened or carried out – in order to intimidate people
into meeting certain demands.  The u201Creign of terroru201D
during the French Revolution was distinguished by its repeated
use of the guillotine to carry out executions.  Most
Americans are too cowardly to acknowledge that their government
engages in the use of terror, but they will at least recognize
the interconnectedness of terror and violence. 

But what
is meant by u201Cextremism,u201D against which the government announces
its current u201Cstruggle?u201D  One prominent dictionary offers
the definition: u201Cexceeding the ordinary, usual, or expectedu201D;
with an additional meaning u201Csituated at the farthest possible
point from a center.u201D  Extremism, in other words, amounts
to a pronounced deviation from an established norm or point
of reference. 

You will
note, at once, that neither violence nor destructiveness —
which go to the essence of terrorism's meaning — is implicit
in the concept u201Cextremism.u201D  In terms of destructiveness,
Joseph Stalin represented an extreme deviation from ordinary
human behavior.  If creative genius is being considered,
Thomas Edison was likewise an extremist.  Without knowing
anything more, the concept of u201Cextremismu201D tells us absolutely
nothing about the desirability of a particular course of conduct.

But it
is just such ambiguity that makes the government's campaign
against extremism so terribly dangerous.  Who or what
will be looked upon as significant deviations from the u201Cordinaryu201D
to justify intrusions by the state?  And what meaning
are we to attach to the government declaring that this is
no longer a u201Cwaru201D but a u201Cstruggle?u201D War conjures up systematic
violence, although Americans have a penchant for labeling
many government programs u201Cwarsu201D: the u201Cwar on poverty,u201D u201Cwar
on drugs,u201D or u201Cwar on domestic violenceu201D being but a few. 
u201CStrugglesu201D are more unclear as to meaning.  Who hasn't
struggled to lose weight, maintain a household, or learn to
operate a computer?  A u201Cstruggleu201D sounds less forceful
than a u201Cwar,u201D but if the state is involved, is one any less
brutal than the other? If we call something by a different
name, does it become something different?  Did
we derive nothing more from George Orwell than being amused
by talking farm animals?

Contrary
to first impressions, the established order is not simply
playing pointless words games at our expense.  There
is a deeper, singular objective in the u201CWar on Terroru201D that
has now morphed into the u201CGlobal Struggle Against Extremism.u201D 
That purpose lies in the endless challenge to institutionalism
posed by the continuing processes of change that are implicit
in the life process. 

We are
social beings who have learned the productive benefits of
a division of labor that arises from organizing our energies
with one another.  Organizations begin as tools to facilitate
the cooperation of individuals seeking their mutual self-interests. 
As long as the organization remains flexible, creative, receptive
to change, and respectful of the primacy of the individual
interests whose purposes gave it birth, it will likely retain
its life-sustaining vibrancy. 

Having
created successful organizations, however, there is a tendency
for those associated with such systems to want to make them
permanent.  When this occurs, the organization is transformed
into an institution and becomes an end in itself, to be protected
against the vicissitudes of change.  Social practices
that once thrived on spontaneity and resilience, soon become
structured and rigid.  The continuation of such institutionalizing
thinking and practices has led to the collapse of a number
of prior civilizations.

An institutionally-dominated
society is built on standardized practices, goods and services,
and thinking.  In order to restrain the inconstant turbulence
of an energized, creative, and competitive marketplace, established
corporate interests have turned to the state to foster standardized
investment and employment policies; standardized products;
and standardized advertising and other trade practices. 
Schools have contributed to the agenda for uniformity with
standardized curricula, standardized teaching methods, and
standardized testing, all of which combine to produce standardized
people with standardized minds ready to take their places
in a standardized world.

Entry
into various trades and professions is restricted by licensing
requirements — created and enforced by those already in the
trade or profession — that require adherence to standardized
codes of behavior.  Thought and speech are subject to
standardization requirements: u201Cpolitical correctnessu201D being
but another institutionally-serving tool for enforcing a uniform
mindset upon people.  Not even the most private forms
of behavior are beyond the reach of the standards police,
as smokers, fast-food gourmets, and the obese are now discovering.

If one
were to have recourse to solid geometry for analogies to social
systems, an institutionally-dominated society would resemble
a pyramid, with authority centered in the hands of
a few at the top, and the bulk of humanity responding to the
directions issued vertically and unilaterally.  A society
characterized by individual liberty, on the other hand, might
appear as a sphere.  On the surface of a sphere,
there are no preferred locations, no positions from which
power would be more likely to flow than others.  Spherically-based
relationships would take the form of interconnected networks,
with neither u201Ctopsu201D nor u201Cbottoms.u201D

I have
written a great deal about the decentralizing processes of
change that are challenging the centralized authority of institutions. 
In the realm of politics, nationalist and secessionist movements
upset the centralizing ambitions of Leviathan; while centrally-directed
wars are being countered by amorphous guerilla tactics, insurgencies,
and suicide-bombings.  Alternative schools and health
care practices challenge established education, medical, and
pharmaceutical interests. There is an increasing reluctance
on the part of some state and local governments to abide by
federal mandates. The institutional order is, perhaps, most
threatened by what could be called a u201Cbig bangu201D in the information
revolution reignited by Gutenberg. The Internet, cell-phones,
iPods, websites and blogsites, are just the more recent tools
available not only to institutions, but to individuals desirous
of communicating directly with tens of thousands at a time. 
In these new technologies and systems lie the means by which
the vertical is collapsing into the horizontal.

Do you
see the threat in all of this to centralized, institutionalized,
command-and-control systems?  If preserving established
interests becomes a societal value, then anything that threatens
the status quo is a danger to be opposed.  Those who
represent the change essential to any vibrant, productive
society, must be marginalized before they can be destroyed. 
History is replete with examples of men and women being labeled 
u201Cheretics,u201D u201Dseditionists,u201D u201Cterrorists,u201D u201Cradicals,u201D u201Ccounter-revolutionaries,u201D
u201Cpossessed,u201D u201Ctraitors,u201D or u201Cextremists,u201D and then being punished
— or killed — for voicing opinions that deviated from a sacred
center.  Socrates, Jesus, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther,
Copernicus, Galileo, Gandhi, and Wilhelm Reich, are just a
few names that come to mind.  Nor does this list contain
the names of other u201Cwitchesu201D and u201Chereticsu201D hanged or burned
at the stake for offending the established order of their
day.

There
is a decided shift in arbitrariness in moving from u201Cterrorismu201D
to u201Cextremismu201D as targets of governmental action.  Because
most people relate u201Cterroru201D to u201Cviolence,u201D it might be expected
that a u201CWar on Terroru201D would focus on coercive, intimidating,
or otherwise destructive acts. But u201Cextremism,u201D as I have
pointed out, is a much more abstract concept.  Like such
constitutional phrases as u201Cgeneral welfare,u201D u201Ccommon defense,u201D
and u201Cdomestic tranquility,u201D u201Cextremismu201D can become whatever
those in power want it to become.  This, I believe, is
precisely the reason the word is now being introduced to give
purpose to the further regimentation of society!

In our
vertically-structured world, the institutional order is —
by definition — the u201Ccenteru201D from which to measure the substantial
deviations that represent u201Cextremism.u201D  Because the Internet
allows for the open, unrestrained flow of information, it
provides a challenge to the centralized control of facts and
ideas.  Because people's thinking is thus moved away
from the center, the Internet will become an u201Cextremistu201D system
with which the state must deal.  The clich is already
in place: u201Csince anyone can put anything out on the Internet,
how do we know what to believe?u201D  That major media outlets
have been caught up in their own distorted, exaggerated, and
falsified reports, while a president and his advisors routinely
lie to the public, it would seem appropriate to suggest that
everyone ought to question every bit of information
presented to them, whatever the source.

The free
flow of information and ideas has always been the principal
force for the dispersion of power that defines a free society. 
If power is to be kept at the center — which is where the
established order has always insisted it remain — information
must be restricted.  State officials will tell you all
that they want you to know and that you need to know — which,
in their view, amounts to the same thing.  The government
will expand its means of obtaining information about you
— whether from surveillance, spying, computer records, wiretaps,
RFID tags, etc. — while keeping information about itself
from your awareness (all in the interest of u201Cnational
security,u201D of course). Censorship, resort to u201Cclassified information,u201D
and appeals to u201Cmedia responsibility,u201D will be looked upon
as necessary to the maintenance of u201Csocial order.u201D  Computer
u201Chackersu201D (i.e., those who do unto the state what the state
insists on doing to you); political commentary that deviates
from the Republocratic bipartisan center; and organized opposition
to any form of the u201CNew World Order,u201D will become other expressions
of u201Cextremism.u201D 

Politicians
and the media will remind us that efforts to preserve the
center from outward collapse, and the campaign to defend the
status quo from the forces of change, are necessary to u201Csave
civilization.u201D  The u201Cterroristu201D who drives a truckload
of explosives into a Baghdad police station will gradually
morph into the u201Cextremistu201D who defends the medical use of
marijuana — a health-care alternative that would be contrary
to the interests of a medical establishment with its u201Cstandardizedu201D
treatments. The u201Cterroristu201D who attacks a subway will soon
become indistinguishable, in the popular mind, from an u201Cextremistu201D
journalist who reveals the underside of politics in America.
Given the eagerness of most Americans to absorb government
lies into their definitions of u201Creality,u201D members of the established
order may believe their task will be a relatively simple one.
The question is whether you and I will remain astute enough
to make the clear distinctions upon which a rational life
depends.

But it
is not u201Ccivilizationu201D that the political order seeks to save
in its u201CGlobal Struggle Against Extremism,u201D but its own privileges
of power.  For centuries, institutions have been at war
with the life processes that thrive in conditions of individual
liberty, spontaneity, and creative change.  Inquisitions,
heresy trials, and the persecution of witches, have proven
to be embarrassments to institutionalized systems which, in
the end, were unable to fully repress the human spirit. 
The current establishment's efforts are designed not to preserve
civilization, but to petrify it in antiquated forms. 
As in the earlier cases of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment,
and the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, the life force
will, like a dammed up river, ultimately break through the
barriers designed to restrain the energies against which institutions
have always fought.

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