I am striving . . . to discover whether man still has a place in this tangle; whether he still has any authority among these colossal masses in movement; whether he still can exert any force whatever on the statistics which are slipping from his hands into the abstract and the unreal. Can he have a place, authority, and possibility of action on a better basis than ill-founded declarations of hope or blind acts of unreasonable faith?
~ Jacques Ellul
A friend of ours has observed that one of the consequences of having children and grandchildren is that "they give you more people to worry about." As both a father and grandfather, her observation is correct. I have long been of the view that a parent has a moral obligation not to allow his or her children to live under tyranny. My adult life has been preoccupied with this duty but, while I believe my efforts have produced some marginal benefits, Leviathan still reaches out to devour all within its grasp. My continuing focus on this danger has, at least, helped my daughters — and hopefully, in time, my grandchildren — to develop an awareness of the threat to their well-being posed by political systems and the uncertainties that lie before them.
It is interesting — albeit not pleasant — to witness the collapse of Western civilization. A vibrant system that once was productive of the material and intangible values supportive of human well-being, has reached a terminal state. Civilizing principles and practices that found sufficient — albeit inconstant — expression in Western societies, have deteriorated into an acceptance of corruption — provided it is carried out in high places — and the celebration of violence — provided it is directed against plausible categories of wrongdoers. In such ways has the multi-trillion dollar looting of taxpayers on behalf of an entrenched corporate-state plutocracy combined with the ongoing conduct of endless wars against endless enemies to send a morally, intellectually, and economically bankrupt culture to an awaiting black hole.
As I watched politicians, members of the mainstream media, and selected academicians discuss the self-styled "stimulus" plan designed to confer trillions of dollars to the establishment’s favored institutions, I found myself recalling those early days following the Bush administration’s bombing of Baghdad, with thieves engaged in the wholesale looting of artifacts from the National Museum of Iraq. How fitting that Americans, with their insistence upon procedural due process, should content themselves with watching Congress carry out such pillaging on C-SPAN, with the regularities of Roberts Rules of Order being faithfully observed.
The desperation with which presidents Bush and Obama urged this grand-scale despoliation was breathtaking, with Mr. Bush going so far as to threaten a declaration of martial law should Congress not accede to his plan. Even the terminology underwent a rapid transformation: what began as a "bailout" quickly took on a bad name, and was changed to "stimulus." But who or what was to be "stimulated" remained open to question. The more uncertainty that underlay this program, the more Boobus suspected something untoward. In an effort to allay such fears, Mr. Obama spoke — in the haziest of words — about some "plan" being put together to save America from the effects of Newton’s third law of motion. After all, if Ozymandias is to have credibility among the dupable, its wizards must appear to be capable of designing and carrying out effective "plans." That the "plans" under consideration are but photocopies of the previous programs that created our present difficulties, is to be overlooked. The study of economics or history might inform Boobus of the vicious circle within which he is ensnared. But Mr. Obama has cautioned against listening to "ideologies," or focusing upon the past!
To characterize this so-called "stimulus" as a plan that can rectify decades of programs and policies against which free-market advocates had long warned, is to corrupt the rational and informed nature of intelligent planning. At best, the supporters of this program have offered little more than a hodge-podge of guess-work that boils down to "let’s try this and see if it works." Neither is the undertaking an "investment" on behalf of taxpayers, as politicians insist on characterizing it. I recently saw a figure that the total cost of the many "bailout" packages given to corporate interests, totals some $9,700,000,000,000. If my math is correct, this so-called "investment" comes out to almost $33,000 per American. Do you expect to receive any dividend checks from these corporations, or be allowed to attend annual stockholder meetings to vote on new management?
There is no doubt that the corporate recipients of this booty are "stimulated" to get as much money as they can. But even the stumbling and bumbling uncertainty as to how the program will work, what criteria will be employed to determine recipients, or how the money will be used, illustrates that this program is not so much a rationally-based plan, as it is a scheme. Any pretense of this being a carefully calculated solution to a ubiquitous problem clouds its sordid reality: a last-ditch effort on the part of institutional interests to ransack the governmental treasury before the entire system collapses. The prognosis for a restoration of the economic health of the country resulting from it is no better than your submitting to brain surgery at the hands of a college freshman who has just received a B+ in a first-year biology course!
This "plan" — like the wars whose costs have so greatly contributed to our economic woes — is but another expression of the moral, intellectual, and economic bankruptcies that are destroying Western civilization. A productive, free, and peaceful society cannot be held together by violence, surveillance, torture, SWAT teams, lies, and prisons. Neither can it countenance governmental policies of plundering the fruits of the labors of an entire population, and redistributing it to the institutional friends of those in power.
I apologize to my children and grandchildren for failing in my moral duty to protect you from the ravages of tyranny. I shall continue in my efforts, of course, recognizing that only peaceful methods can produce a peaceful world. In the meantime, I offer you this advice: (1) never believe anything the government tells you; (2) never believe anything the mainstream media tells you; (3) pay attention to — but be skeptical of — those whose ideas do not conform to consensus-based definitions of reality; (4) master the art of contrary thinking, and learn to stay away from herds as well as from those who insist upon herding others into destructive, lemming-like stampedes; (5) do not put your trust in those who offer you "hope," but seek out those who will help you develop understanding; (6) be prepared — as were your ancestors — to move to new frontiers that are better suited to both your liberty and material well-being; (7) find, support, protect, and defend like-minded friends, being mindful of the shared origins of the words "peace," "freedom," "love," and "friend;" (8) avoid being drawn into the black hole to which our civilization is destined; whose vacuuming force is made possible by the collective energies of your neighbors; and, (9) mindful of all the above, avoid all sense of despair by combining your intelligence and emotions to help in the creation of a new civilization grounded in peace, liberty, and respect for the inviolability of the individual.
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918—1938 and of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival.