"What can we do?" is the frustrated question I get in e-mail after e-mail from readers who agree with my assessment of our political and social disorders, but inquire about my solutions for these problems. Admittedly, our politicized world has a complexity to it that gives many of us a sense of futility in being able to reverse its destructive course. But what effective steps can people take in response to our present condition?
The answer to this question depends on what you want to accomplish. If it is your purpose to bring about a fundamental change in the ways in which society is organized (i.e., to move from coercive, political systems to cooperative, market systems) then you must ask yourself what processes can bring about such a change. If the political way of dealing with one another is the problem to be overcome, can we end our attachment to such practices by employing the very system from which we are trying to withdraw? Can we put more of our energies into reforming political systems without making them stronger?
If one simply observes the dynamics at work, one must inevitably come to the conclusion that, since political behavior is grounded in how we think — about ourselves as well as others — only a fundamental transformation of our thinking can bring about a change in how we conduct ourselves in society. It should also be evident that, as you and I change our thinking in such matters, we will likewise begin to develop alternative systems that are more consistent with both peace and liberty. New perspectives will generate practices of which we are presently unfamiliar. In the words of F.A. Harper: "the man who knows what freedom means, will find a way to be free!"
Such an approach frees us from the sense of hopelessness we encounter as we ponder how to change the thinking of millions of others. Focusing upon your own thinking and behavior is most liberating, as you become aware that you are involved in something you can control. You also become aware that, resorting to political action — particularly when others have not gone through the kind of depoliticization you have — can, at best, only bring about cosmetic changes.
The schools, media, and politicians have bewitched us with the idea that significant change can be accomplished through political means alone. We have been raised in a "51%" mindset, being reminded daily — by so-called "opinion" polls — that change is a mathematical function! If only 1% of our neighbors are said to agree with us, we collapse into greater despair, forgetting that 1% of this nation’s population amounts to 3,000,000 people.
Think of the significance of individualized behavior in these terms: what if these 3,000,000 Americans were intent on visiting death, violence, and mayhem upon their fellows? Is it not clear to you that society, as we know it, would come to an end; that there would be absolutely nothing any governmental officials — armed with the most powerful weaponry and pervasive police powers — could do to prevent such destructiveness? If you doubt my assessment, try recalling what nineteen men — armed with nothing more than box-cutter knives — did on 9/11 to bring the world to what may become a permanent state of universal war!
If 3,000,000 people could be this destructive of society, think of what 3,000,000 people, intent on promoting peaceful, free, and creative social practices might be able to accomplish. If these 3,000,000 people were as well organized and focused in their thinking as those of a political mindset are in accomplishing their purposes, do you believe this government would have gotten away with its warring, police-state behavior?
I am not suggesting any kind of violent or threatening confrontation with the state by masses of people. Quite the contrary. Violence is the modus operandi of all political systems, and it is here that the state enjoys too much of a comparative advantage. It would be as foolish to confront the state in its strength as it would be for me to seek to resolve a dispute with Mike Tyson by challenging him to a fist-fight.
What is worse, resorting to violence for the purpose of trying to promote peaceful behavior is not only self-contradictory, but places you in no better moral stance than that of the state itself! It is part of the mindset of our politicized culture that we have forgotten the real strength that comes from a peaceful but firm determination to resist oppression. To those who have forgotten the power of such a resolve, I direct your attention to Henry David Thoreau’s essay on Civil Disobedience; the noncooperative resistance of Gandhi; and the way in which Joseph Welch was able to politely, but firmly, reduce Sen. Joseph McCarthy to a stammering mass of balloon-juice. The martial arts’ lesson of allowing the force of the attacker to work against itself should not be forgotten.
A number of examples of peaceful resistance to the insanities of the state have occurred lately. In one instance, a man in Albany was arrested at a shopping center for refusing to remove a T-shirt — which he had just purchased there — bearing a peace message. The following morning, some one hundred picketers entered the shopping center with signs indicating their refusal to shop there unless the center had the charges dropped, which it did.
The Albany incident reminds us of the importance of coming to the defense of our neighbor who is being mistreated by the state. Pastor Niemoller’s classic lament on the silence of those who stood by as the Nazi regime cherry-picked its victims is recalled. The shopping center example also reminds us of the power of economic boycotts, ostracism, and other refusals to deal, a strategy that has long been useful to the Amish. There are a number of companies with whom I will not do business — including commercial airlines — because of their incestuous relationships with the state.
Two other men have come up with responses to airport police-state practices. One has had the "Bill of Rights" stamped onto a small metal plate — about the size of a credit card — which he places in his pocket. When the metal detector sounds, he removes the plate from his pocket, hands it to one of the "security" people and says: "here, it’s only my rights: you take them!" Another man was removed from a British Airways flight for wearing a small button that read "Suspected Terrorist." He commented, afterwards, that the button only spoke the truth: each one of us is a suspected terrorist! The established order finds no humor in this, but bureaucrats, police and military personnel, flag-waving patriots, neocons, and other inflexible, self-righteous types, have always been a humorless lot.
Still, there remain those who long for a political solution to our troubles. Such people fail to recognize that voting is only part of the illusion that you are the government. Of course, if the voters get out of hand, and begin voting for referendum measures that the state system doesn’t like, the courts will step in to declare such a measure "unconstitutional," a move that should reveal to any intelligent soul just where the real "sovereign power" lies! When California voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum measure allowing for the medicinal use of marijuana, the U.S. Supreme Court — in a case involving a California group — refused to recognize such an exception, effectively rendering the measure meaningless for purposes of federal enforcement. A more realistic assessment of the insignificance of voting is found in the words of another, whose name I do not recall: "if voting could change the system, it wouldn’t be legal."
Here in California, there is an election scheduled for October 7th to recall the present governor, Gray Davis. Fearing the electorate, Mr. Davis has gone to court to try to prevent the recall from taking place. Assuming the election occurs, I have no illusions that the outcome will bring about any fundamental change. For a few years following World War II, the French government went through a number of changes in administration, with a new president chosen every few months. But taxes continued to be collected, Frenchmen continued to be regulated, and licenses continued to be issued. The French experienced the truth of the proposition that, no matter who you voted for, the government always got elected!
Some three hundred people have submitted their names for inclusion on the ballot to be the next governor, should Mr. Davis be voted out, including enough media and entertainment celebrities to make California a carnival midway for the next two months. What else would you expect in a state in which the word "goofy" is a registered trademark?
Some of the likely candidates are among the more familiar gaggle of political opportunists who never pass up the chance for a front-row seat at the public trough. The "professional" political leeches — including the party hacks who support them — have voiced strong resentment of the electorate attempting to exercise real influence over the political system.
The political class didn’t like it twenty-five years ago when the voters approved Proposition 13 restrictions on property taxes, and they don’t like the current effort of the citizenry to interfere with their cozy racket. It has been said that Democrats want to be your mother, Republicans want to be your father, but that both agree that you are to be treated as a child. To the ruling elites, their "children" are behaving as petulant teenagers who must be punished in some way for their insolence.
From my perspective, it is time for the "children" to grow up and leave home! I recognize that after many years of frustration in getting parents to reduce the restrictions on their lives, the kids may want to take a parting shot in protest as they go out the door. Protest voting serves no functional purpose — the system either ignores the message or figures out ways to circumvent its impact — but it may offer limited entertainment value. The election of pro wrestler, Jesse Ventura, as governor in one of the most statist of all states, did serve as a reminder that even socialistic minds can get their fill of the political process. The possibility that television talk show host, Jerry Springer, might be a candidate for the U.S. Senate, provides the same opportunity.
With that in mind, and for the benefit of those fellow Californians who are frustrated with the "system," but still believe that voting has relevance, let me suggest the following: if you go to the polls on October 7th, vote for the most poignant symbol of discontent on the ballot. Recognize that nothing you do that day will make any difference in Sacramento: the government will continue to grind you down and bleed you of your earnings, so don’t waste your time with the more traditional Republicratic candidates.
There will be a great number of candidates who can be outlets for a protest vote, however. The one who has received the most attention thus far is Hustler magazine publisher, Larry Flynt. Those who are aghast at the notion of a professional "pornographer" in the governor’s chair forget that the federal government not only survived, but continued to metastasize itself, during the Clinton presidency!
Still, Larry Flynt would not work as a "protest" vote. He is taking his candidacy seriously, announcing his own platform and programs he would like to implement. In a word, he is sounding just like all the other politicians.
There is one person who has taken out filing papers who would seem to be a fine protest candidate: Angelyne. For those of you from outside the southern California area, Angelyne is a curvaceous blonde who has had self-promoting billboards of herself in the Los Angeles area — including Sunset Boulevard — for many years, and drives a bright pink Corvette that attracts a great deal of attention. I am unaware of any professional work she has done (e.g., movies, television) being more the embodiment of "being famous for being famous."
Unlike Larry Flynt, Angelyne doesn’t seem to have a platform on which she is running. I suspect that she wants to be governor just in order to be governor, without any expensive visions to foist upon the rest of us. She does have a number of billboards, however, apparently paid for by herself without any special interest backing to which she might be indebted as governor. Since billboards are far less dangerous to our lives, liberties, and property than platforms, she seems a worthy choice.
For you California readers who are not yet prepared to walk away from the system, but want my advice as to "what to do?" in the meantime, you can no longer chastise me for my alleged "impracticality." If you wish to register a protest, this woman is the perfect candidate. And who knows, like Jesse Ventura she might even get elected!
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.