XCIX – Violence and the State

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Whenever
a government official is murdered, the media immediately comes on
stage to recite its well-rehearsed script reminding us that the
lives of those who work for the state are more important than the
lives of the rest of us. The killing of a police officer is always
good for two or three days of television coverage, while the death
of a convenience-store clerk goes largely unreported. The recent
murder of a Chicago judge's spouse and mother received many days
of media attention, as did the killing of an Atlanta judge, a court
reporter, a sheriff's deputy, and a federal agent.

As
the well-televised search for the Georgia killer continued, a gunman
went into a Wisconsin hotel and murdered seven participants in a
church service before killing himself. Despite twice the number
of dead compared to the Atlanta shooting, the Wisconsin killings
received only cursory media coverage; a brief interlude between
the many hours spent — even after the capture of the Georgia suspect
— discussing the "what ifs" and "what to dos"
about attacks on judges and other government officials.

While
I do not respect the work done by state functionaries, I
have always regarded their lives as inviolate as anyone else's.
To engage in violence against others — no matter who the target
or what the excuse — is to diminish one's own character. If we are
to live with integrity, our actions must be in harmony with
our enunciated principles.

But
the political establishment — as reflected in the voices of its
media babblers — does not share this sense of the innate worthiness
of people. Those who labor on behalf of establishment purposes —
be they politicians, judges, police officers, military people, or
bureaucrats — enjoy a more elevated status than those with more
mundane interests — whether convenience-store clerks or those who
attend church services in hotel rooms. The same attitude carries
over to entire nations: those who support American establishment
interests are reported upon in tones of respect, while those who
insist on pursuing their own interests are characterized as "rogue,"
or "terrorist" regimes, or a "trouble spot."

In
an age of simplistic thinking, in which criticism of American foreign
policy is regarded by vacuous voices as "America-hating,"
or condemnation of the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians
is labeled "anti-Semitism," one must speak slowly and
with added clarity when offering opinions which many are far too
eager to misconstrue. It is often easier for the intellectually
slothful to distort an idea than to confront it.

To
the media and other state-supremacists, every "problem"
is a call for further extending state power; every realm of individual
liberty is a "loophole" to be excised from a legislative
scheme. Accordingly, statists will remain true to past form in assessing
the causes of these recent murderous acts. The need for more armed
deputies in courtrooms has already been offered as one prescription,
while one can expect the gun-control crowd to go into its knee-jerk
reactions to further disarm Americans. Such responses overlook the
fact that the Atlanta killing took place because an armed
government deputy provided a temptation to an unarmed defendant!
The politically-minded might be better advised to offer proposals
for disarming the state!

One
possible explanation for social violence that will not be
appearing soon on a television screen near you, is that this phenomenon
may have its origins in the state itself. Some thirty years ago,
I wrote a law review article, titled "Violence as a Product
of Imposed Order," in which I developed the thesis that
the regulatory nature of the state – by interfering with and
thus frustrating the goal-directed actions of individuals — produces
aggressive, violent reactions. People have been conditioned, since
childhood, to look upon political institutions as a means of protecting
their lives, liberty, and property interests from those who would
victimize them; what I referred to as the "hygienic" function.
Not only has there been a failure of such expectations, but the
state's system of taxation, regulation, conscription, and warfare
has generated what I called the "structuring" function
of political systems. The combined failure of the state's "hygienic"
function, and the proliferation of the "structuring" role
that increasingly interferes with the pursuit of private interests,
has generated violence in our world. The effort to impose
order, in other words, will produce disorder. (I elaborated
upon this theme in my later book, Calculated Chaos.)

Employing
the "frustration-aggression" hypothesis, one psychological
study concluded that "[a] person feels frustrated when a violation
of his hopes or expectations occurs, and he may then try to solve
the problem by attacking the presumed source of frustration."
Another study found that "we are witnessing at all levels of
our social network a conflict based on dualistic thinking, the polarities
of which are personal or individual freedom as against social structures
maintaining the functions of regulation and control." Such
conflict, the study added, produces "protest and violence."

Study
after study reached similar conclusions. In the words of one writer,
"[v]iolence comes from powerlessness. . . . As we make people
powerless, we promote their violence rather than its control."
That government regulation of the personal and economic behavior
of individuals helps to foster this sense of powerlessness is a
verdict unlikely to be disputed by regular readers of this website.
The increased transaction costs, the restriction or outright prohibition
of opportunities, and the diminution of the liberty to control one's
life or other property interests, are among the more obvious consequences
of governmental action that frustrate the self-directed pursuits
of people.

We
live in an age of politicogenic conflict, wherein any condition
that a sizeable number of people wish to see changed is presumed
to give rise to state authority to redirect people's lives. Farmers
are subjected to criminal penalties for plowing their lands if their
acreage is the nesting ground for some favored species of bird or
rat. Homeowners have had their residences condemned, through eminent
domain, and turned over to private businesses for the building of
a factory or shopping center. Before one can enter various trades
or professions, one must secure a license, to be issued by a state
agency controlled by those already licensed. Prisons are over-populated
with individuals whose only crime has been to choose which chemicals
to ingest into their bodies. Parents are penalized for not educating,
medicating, supervising, or raising their children in accordance
with the preferences of those who presume the state's role of "super-parent."
Individuals are subject to state mandates regarding health care
alternatives, including forthcoming government controls over vitamins
and supplements. The police system expands its surveillance and
weaponry into more and more corners of life. Our world has become
as dystopian as that envisioned by Herbert Spencer, in which "no
form of co-operation, small or great, can be carried on without
regulation, and an implied submission to the regulating agencies."

Taxes
and government regulations continue to escalate, while the contractual
promises of the state (e.g., the Social Security system) or the
quality of state services (e.g., government schools) continue to
collapse. Implicitly — if not explicitly — people are becoming increasingly
aware that every political system and program is a racket, grounded
in nothing but lies and illusions. The expectation that the state
will protect your life, property, and income, so that you may be
free to pursue your private interests, is an article of faith that
no longer fires the social spirit of intelligent men and women.

The
state's relentless efforts to regulate and micromanage the lives
of people frustrates goal-directed behavior and, as a consequence,
produces the anger and violence that manifests itself in so many
sectors of modern society. In the daily murderous events to which
we look for entertainment — be they performed on a world stage,
or in courthouses, churches, or neighborhood convenience stores
– we can see played out the violence implicit in our thinking.
In the words of Arthur Eddington, "our ignorance stands revealed
before us," but only if we choose to look at what we have made
of our world.

State-supremacists
will labor to convince you that the explanation for our violent
ways lies other than in the existence of their agencies of force
and violence. Guns, violent movies and television programs, rock
lyrics, and video games will each receive its share of the blame
for what we have become; and, of course, new governmental
programs will be announced to curb violence by further restricting
individual liberties. And so the vicious cycle continues its revolution,
. . . right back to the same well-worn rut of regulated madness
in which we find ourselves!

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