LXXIX – The Dysfunctional Society

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Like
the Titanic, the American ship-of-state has hit an iceberg, and
it is not timely to ask the ship's orchestra for an encore of "America
the Beautiful!" A recurring theme in these articles is
that the American branch of Western civilization is in a state of
complete collapse, and that only a fundamental change in our thinking
about the nature and forms of social behavior can reverse our destructive
course. I return to this topic not because I enjoy playing
Cassandra — the "disaster lobby" is already packed — but
because I am unable to count myself among the "ignorance is
bliss" crowd that would prefer such probing questions as whether
Janet Jackson should be fined for exposing her breast on television;
the propriety of Arnold Schwarzenegger's "girly man" comment;
or whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry.

The
hurried enactment of the Patriot Act, the creation of a Department
of Homeland Security, and the wholesale expansion of police powers,
were reactions of the political establishment to the realization
that it had lost the support and respect of millions of Americans.
You may recall, in those pre-9/11 years, the increased interest
in political secession; private militias; and the emergence of systems
of education, health-care, and dispute resolution, that challenged
politically-dominated practices. Even President Clinton lamented
the fact that so many Americans "hate their government,"
while his wife was scheming for ways to restrain the unhampered
liberty of the Internet, which functioned contrary to the establishment's
institutionally-defined and controlled news and information sources.

You
may also recall how, immediately after 9/11, most Americans quickly
got back into line and, emulating members of Congress, fell to their
knees reciting, as their new catechisms, whatever unfocused and
dishonest babbling oozed from the lips of George W. Bush. Flag manufacturing
suddenly became a major growth industry, as the faithful lined up
to purchase and display this symbol of unquestioning obedience to
state power. Fear — carefully nurtured with a steady diet of "warnings,"
color-coded "alerts," and, that scariest of all specters,
those "unknown" forces of which we were told to be constantly
aware — laid claim to the souls of most Americans. Even today, nearly
three years after 9/11, a so-called "independent 9/11 commission"
advises of the need for the state to centralize all of its spying,
surveillance, and other information-gathering functions into the
hands of one agency to be headed up by some born-again Laventri
Beria, perhaps under the appropriate title "Inspector General."

There
have also been trial-balloon news reports that the Bush administration
will propose a national system of psychological profiling of Americans,
to be followed up with appropriate drugs to alleviate identifiable
"problems." The generation with which I grew up — having
read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World — would have treated
such a proposal with alarm. I suspect that the response of most
prostrated Americans today would be that, as long as the drugs are
FDA approved, and no groups are singled out on the basis of race,
gender, lifestyle, or religion for "treatment," there
would be little objection.

Watch
how quickly most Americans — being carefully orchestrated by the
politicians and the media — will respond with the sense of urgency
into which their fear-stricken minds have become accustomed. Any
men and women of libertarian sentiments who question the wisdom
of allowing the American state to proceed along its planned course
toward neo-Stalinist despotism, will be condemned as "America
haters," or insensitive to the victims of 9/11 and their grieving
families. Should the matter arise during what will be laughingly
referred to as the upcoming presidential "debates," both
Bush and Kerry will try to outdo one another in their enthusiasm
for increased draconianism.

These
are not temporary measures — like wartime rationing — that will
be put aside when an emergency is over and "normalcy"
returns. The Bush administration's allusions to the unending nature
of the "war on terror" tells us that the "emergency"
is a permanent one. The "terrorism" against which the
state now organizes itself goes far beyond suicide bombers crashing
airliners into office buildings. It is the "terror" experienced
by a politically-structured establishment that has reached the outer
limits of its efforts to control life processes in service to its
narrow ends. A world that is becoming increasingly decentralized
— whether in the form of alternative schooling, religions, and
health-care; less-structured business-management practices and communications
systems; political separatist movements, etc. — strikes terror in
the minds of those who have created and become dependent upon centralized
systems. The "terrorist" forces against which the
state now mobilizes its most restrictive, punitive, surveillant,
and violent mechanisms of control, is life itself; it is
you and me, as Pogo Possum so insightfully observed a half-century
ago.

"America,"
as a social system, simply doesn't work well anymore, and there
are latent life forces that urge us in other directions. The institutional
agencies around which our lives have been organized are increasingly
in conflict with the interests of people grown weary of increasing
burdens of taxation and regulation, and of seeking ersatz purposes
in life. The political establishment's war against the American
people — in which some 6.9 million are imprisoned or on probation
or parole – is the most compelling evidence for the utter failure
of a society dominated by the state.

But
no system can last long in open hostility to its members. Trying
to hold a society together through constantly reinforced fear, self-righteousness,
surveillance, prison sentences, SWAT teams, expanded police forces,
and increased legal and military violence, is as futile as a family
trying to sustain itself through violent abuse. As we have been
witnessing in the nearly three years after 9/11, such efforts necessitate
an ever-increasing use of lies, deception, and disingenuousness,
for reality has a persistent way of making itself known. Such methods
also eventually trigger a resentment, as even the most fervent flag-waver
is found to have a breaking point. Paraphrasing the words of Star
Wars' Princess Leia — in confronting one of the tyrants — "we
are like sand in your hand; the tighter you squeeze us, the more
of us that slip out."

Even
the long-standing political systems and practices no longer stand
in the way of establishment ambitions. Congress has been rendered
little more than a rubber-stamp that approves whatever is placed
before it by its masters. Despite the lies and collusions that underlay
the Bush administration's determination to go to war — a war that
has thus far killed some ten to fifteen thousand people, wounded
tens of thousands more, and cost billions of dollars to prosecute
— I have not heard a single squeak from any member of Congress to
impeach any of the principals involved. When one contrasts this
with the impeachment of Bill Clinton for his lies about sex — lies
that led to the deaths of no one — much is revealed about the bankrupt
nature of modern America.

Even
the Constitution has become largely irrelevant in the political
scheme of things. For the more gullible, it can be said that the
Constitution is what keeps the government from doing all of the
terrible things that it does; that while it is not a perfect system,
it's a whole lot better than what we have! The will of the President
and the Attorney General now seem to override constitutional sentiments
about "due process of law" and a "speedy and public
trial."

Local
governments have taken to further restricting First Amendment "free
speech" rights by designating "protest zones" to
which criticism of the government is confined. On the eve of the
Democratic national convention in Boston, a federal judge recently
upheld such a blatant denial of free speech, even as he characterized
it as "an affront to free expression." The judge admitted
that the zoned area created by Boston city officials resembled a
concentration camp, with a razor-wired chain-link fence surrounding
it, and netting overhead. If he does regard this as such an affront
— which it clearly is, as anyone who bothers to read the First Amendment
will quickly discover — why did he not have the integrity to uphold
his oath of office and strike down the restriction?

The
answer to this question is to be found in the government's long-standing
attitudes toward individual liberty in general, and freedom of expression
in particular. The courts have always given an expanded definition
to powers granted to the government, and a restricted definition
to individual liberties. "Freedom of expression" will
be protected only if the speech is an ineffective challenge
to state policies. Effective speech — no matter how peacefully
expressed — will always be considered a worthy target for governmental
restraint.

The
"freedom of expression" about which even the politicians
like to prattle, has been twisted from a celebration of pluralism
into a demand for a stifling uniformity of thought and action. We
live in a period of rigidly enforced "political correctness,"
a practice containing a glaring contradiction: an alleged belief
in "diversity." But the reality of "diversity,"
particularly on college campuses, amounts to nothing more than the
encouragement of men and women from a variety of racial, ethnic,
and lifestyle groups who advocate state collectivism. If you doubt
this, observe how genuine diversity — in the form of libertarian/free
market opinion, anti-feminist women speakers, or blacks who are
critical of the plantation politics of the Democratic party — is
discouraged (or even prohibited) on many campuses. Freedom of expression
is important to any healthy society because it challenges existing
thought and practices. It is supposed to be disruptive of the status
quo. But as the protestors in Boston have discovered as their messages
are kept imprisoned in wire cages on an isolated street distant
from the Democratic convention, "free speech" in America
is now confined to speech that is comfortable to establishment interests!

The
irony of it all: that such a court-enforced mockery of free expression
should take place in Boston, where the voices of John Hancock and
Sam Adams once made life miserable for the political establishment.
The closest any of the Democratic party conventioneers will get
to the spirit of Sam Adams will be what is handed them by a bartender!

People
cannot get near the Boston convention center without "proper
credentials," although Boston police officers plan on confronting
conventioneers with protests of their own, in support of their contract
demands with the city. Meanwhile, the state capitol building is
surrounded by armed police officers. What better evidence than this
of how distant political systems are from ordinary people, and how
government officials are terrified by the very people they are supposed
to "represent!" But when the state increasingly compels
people to do what they do not want to do, prevents them from doing
what they do want to do, and forcibly takes more money from them
in the form of taxes and fines, why wouldn't government officials
start to worry?

About
twenty years ago, I made a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the government
might — under the guise of promoting individual liberty — enact
a statute mandating people to exercise their "freedom."
People could be required to visit a "freedom exercise center"
in their communities where, under the watchful and protective eye
of policemen, they could express any opinions they wanted. This
would all take place in a small room, from which others would be
excluded — in the name of protecting the privacy of the speaker,
of course. Only the police officers would watch to make certain
that he or she had, in fact, expressed their opinions. Those who
failed to do so would be prosecuted for a failure to "protect
the exercise of American freedom."

I
hesitate to mention this earlier proposal, given the present disposition
of both Republican and Democratic politicians. I can just imagine
John Kerry and George Bush racing to the microphones to be the first
to propose this measure which, I am certain, would immediately be
endorsed by the same gang of fools who fly flags from their homes
and cars, memorize the gurglings of Bill O'Reilly, or write editorials
for major newspapers.

This
is what America has become, and is destined to remain unless either
(a) some major metamorphosis in our thinking takes us in a different
direction, or, (b) like the Soviet Union, the present dysfunctional
system collapses of its inherent contradictions and hostilities
to life processes. While it is impossible to predict the long-term
course of complex systems, events seem to point to option (b) as
the likely prognosis, a suspicion that appears to be shared by members
of the political establishment. The fate of the American civilization
in such a post-collapse period will depend upon whether a sufficient
intelligence and creative energy will be available to transform
the culture into the kind of free and peaceful society it has long
ceased to be.

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