XCVIII – Failure Is the Health of the State

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Serious
students of political systems are aware of Randolph Bourne's observation
that "war is the health of the state." As far as it goes,
this statement offers great insight into the symbiotic relationship
between state power and the mass butchery of human beings. The 20th
century was one of rampant, totalitarian statism which, not coincidentally,
produced the deaths of some 200,000,000 in state-run wars and genocides.
That political systems such as the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, the
United States, China, and Great Britain — to identify the principal
players — expanded their international and domestic powers through
the systematic killing of mass populations, confirms Bourne's proposition.

But
there is a deeper meaning to be found in these words. War also represents
the failure of the state to accomplish the enunciated purposes
for which its staunchest defenders insist: the need to protect the
lives, liberties, and properties of its citizenry. The "Declaration
of Independence" announces the purpose of government as being
to "secure" the "Rights" to "Life, Liberty
and the pursuit of Happiness." The preamble to the United States
Constitution declares the "common defence," the "general
welfare," and the securing of the "blessings of liberty"
as the raison d'tre of this system. If you were to ask your
neighbors why they believe in the need for government, I strongly
suspect these reasons would be their almost universal response.

And
yet, the larger and more powerful any political system becomes,
the more it fails to accomplish these stated ends. Part of the explanation
for this phenomenon is to be found in the study of "chaos,"
which informs us that the more complex systems become, the more
unpredictable are the consequences of their actions. A localized
government that undertakes to manage the streets and sewer systems
of Mud Flats, Kansas will do far less mischief — even on a per capita
basis — than will an empire bent on extending "democracy"
(i.e., its autocratic rule) to the entire world.

The
unpredictable influences that complexity has upon human behavior
are compounded by another symbiotic factor: the interrelated nature
of institutional power and individual identity. Political systems
expand their size and authority not through the conquest
of other lands and populations, but through the conquest of their
own people. The ultimate power of any state system is to
be found in the mindset of men and women who, largely through conditioning,
identify their sense of purpose and being with "their"
nation-state — or, for that matter, any other institutional abstraction.

The
dynamics of the process reflect a willingness of people to think
of themselves and the institution with which they
identify, as virtually synonymous terms. The man who introduced
himself, at a business conference, as "I am Xerox," manifested
this phenomenon. (This is a topic I have explored more thoroughly
in my book, Calculated
Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival
.)
Most people look outside themselves to such agencies as the
state for the transcendence and power they cannot find within.
If their lives are mundane and inglorious, they imagine, perhaps
they can discover a vicarious sense of accomplishment and glory
through their association with state power.

If
people have learned to regard their sense of being as indistinguishable
from the state, what are the likely responses such men and women
will make when the unpredictable forces of chaos generate failures
in the plans and programs undertaken by state agencies? Will such
people be inclined to admit that the abstraction to which they have
attached their very identities is incapable of fashioning the world
into promised forms? Will they examine the assumptions upon which
their thinking has been based, perhaps to discover that the order
they have been seeking in the hallowed, marbled halls of the state
is to be found elsewhere?

The
weakness that causes men and women to abandon themselves in favor
of an "ego boundary" attachment to the state, makes it
unlikely that most of them will suddenly reject their substituted
sense of self. Instead, the failure of the state to accomplish its
avowed purposes intensifies the commitments of its supporters. The
greater the failures of the state, the more personal energy and
resources people are willing to devote to it in an effort to redeem
its legitimacy. The more we commit to the state, the larger and
more powerful it becomes in order to deal with an ever-increasing
range of conditions. As the state expands its reach, the uncertainties
of chaos are iterated back into society, producing even more failures
to which further political responses are demanded. Such processes
contribute to what Leopold Kohr referred to as the "size theory
of social misery."

Few
of us behave in such an irrational manner in the marketplace. If
Lucy's Greasy-Sleeve Diner repeatedly gave its customers food poisoning,
few would return. If Snerdly Electronics produced computers that
failed to perform properly, or if the Belchfire 8 automobile continued
to have defective steering problems that caused accidents, most
consumers would cease doing business with them. We would go into
convulsive laughter if such businesses were to plead "pay us
more money, and we'll solve these problems." But when state
agencies fail in their declared purposes, most of us line up to
support bond measures or increased taxation to be spent on behalf
of the failed systems with their failed programs!

The
government school system has been an unqualified disaster when measured
by the expectations parents have had of it: namely, to produce knowledgeable
students with a capacity for sound reasoning, creative thinking,
and problem-solving skills. (That such schools have served state
interests quite well in generating a subjugated citizenry, is a
topic I have taken up earlier.) As the schools continue failing
to meet these parental demands, they nonetheless remain beneficiaries
of a vicious circle of futility in which more and more tax dollars
are directed toward its support. The more the government schools
fail, in other words, the more resources people are willing to devote
to them!

The
same syndrome appears with the state's police system: historically,
the more such agencies have failed to prevent violent crimes, the
more tax dollars and police powers most citizens are prepared to
transfer to them. I strongly suspect that much of the support for
gun-control legislation comes from the statists who understand that,
if ordinary men and women were free to arm themselves — as police
officers routinely are — the violent crime rate would likely plummet,
depriving the state of a rationale for an expanded police system.

By
far, however, the clearest example of how the failure of the state
to accomplish its expressed purposes benefits the state, is found
in the system known as "national defense." "If we
had no government, what would keep another country from coming in
and taking us over?," is a question at the top of the list
of those confronted by the proposition of a politics-free world.
It is the international equivalent to the domestic question of how
people's lives, liberties, and properties are to be safeguarded.
That America has already been "taken over" by hostile
forces is not the answer such questioners seek. The fear that the
Chinese, or Germans, or some other national power might invade and
take over Washington troubles them more than does the fact that
home-grown tyrants have done so!

Even
taking the avowed national defense purposes at face value, war is
a primary example of the failure of the state. A nation-state goes
to war either because it is an unprovoked aggressor, or because
its defensive efforts have failed. In either case, war exposes the
lives of a state's citizens to death and devastation, which is what
its declared purpose was to prevent. Had the hundreds of billions
of dollars spent by the United States on defense been effective,
there would have been no 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
For those inclined to learn from experience, these attacks stand
as quiet testimony to the failure of Washington foreign policy and
military systems to protect the American people.

Though
the Afghan and Iraqi people had nothing to do with the events of
9/11, most Americans endorsed their government's bombing and invasion
of these countries as a way of restoring their image of the state.
Why do so many of us behave so irrationally — a trait shared by
many in other countries? Whether we are considering the failures
of government schools, the criminal justice system, or the national
defense racket, most of us are inwardly aware that the infusion
of more power and tax dollars into these programs will produce no
more beneficent results than have previous decades of the same thinking.

Most
of us continue to sanction such statist systems because we lack
the inner courage to confront our own thinking. We continue reinvesting
our souls and the lives of our children in systems that define who
we are to ourselves. When those systems fail, we reenergize our
commitments to them, for to acknowledge the failure of the state
is to admit to the inadequacy of our personal identity. If the state
is a failure, we are a failure.

This
is how the failure of systems with which we identify ourselves works
to the benefit — rather than the demise — of such agencies. For
the same reason that the police system prospers by its ineffectiveness
in protecting citizens from crime, the state benefits from its foreign
policy/national defense shortcomings. In each instance, most men
and women are prepared to grant the state more authority and material
resources in a vain effort to shore up their faith in the system.

What
else – other than the salvation of one's ego identity — can
account for the readiness of most Americans to grant, without question,
virtually any demands for increased power made by the Bush administration
after 9/11, a willingness that remains largely unabated even today?
If one accepts that the attacks on the World Trade Center represented
a failure of protection and defense by the American government,
the cui bono question must then be asked: who benefited
from such failure? If you were to compile a list of possible
beneficiaries of these attacks, who — other than the United States
government — would be enumerated?

We
continue to experience American society as a well-organized system
of plunder, violence, warfare, and other dehumanizing attributes,
because of the content of our thinking. As long as we insist upon
loving these systems more than we do ourselves, our children and
grandchildren will continue to be ground down and destroyed in the
process. We need to stop revering and energizing these vicious agencies
that have never been able to deliver on their promises of a free,
peaceful, orderly, and secure world.

We
need to discover a social paradigm that does not depend upon a symbiotic
relationship between individual weakness and organizational
failure. The marketplace — and I do not mean the prevailing
neo-mercantilist, corporate-state corruption of the market — offers
one such alternative. By its nature, the market system is success-oriented,
while the state thrives on failure. But which model are people
taught to despise and which to embrace as the means to their well-being?
Will continuing to empower a system whose well-being is grounded
in failure likely lead to any result other than the further decline
of Western civilization?

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