The Establishment in Crisis

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There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness or disorder, and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served.

~ Jane Jacobs

Perhaps not since Caligula appointed his horse to the Roman senate has the political establishment gone so far out of its way to flaunt its absurdity. The inanity is not confined to any particular factions; it is pure bipartisanship that unites the politically-minded in their efforts to bamboozle the booboisie with terrifying specters and the kinds of implausible explanations of events that recall childhood tales told around a late-night campfire.

The latest entrant in this preposterousness marathon is Hollywood actor Danny Glover, who informed the world that the devastating earthquake in Haiti was occasioned by "global warming" and "climate change." I don’t know whether Glover was trying to overtake such men as Pat Robertson and Charles Colson — among others — who offered their peculiar interpretations of the 2005 flooding of New Orleans as an omen — or punishment — from God for failing to halt legal abortions and/or fight the war on terror. Perhaps Glover — having seen Al Gore’s efforts produce an Academy Award "Oscar" — may have seen an opportunity for his own such trophy.

Such comments, standing by themselves, may be dismissed as the babblings of silly minds. They occur, however, within the shadows of equally nonsensical — and far more dangerous — practices undertaken by political institutions. We live in the terminal days of Western civilization, and the institutional interests that have wormed their ways into the fabric of society — and which have long fed upon the resources and energies of individuals — now desperately work to reinforce their collapsing structures.

Our civilization is overly-politicized; grounded in the principle of violence. The state is the institutionalization of violence. But force is antithetical to life, for it makes life be what it does not choose to be; compels it to act contrary to the pursuit of its self-interests. The state wars against the spontaneity and autonomy that define life and make societies prosper.

This war against life processes has produced nothing of a creative nature, but much in the way of social and economic dysfunction. The "system" doesn’t work as we were conditioned to believe that it would: fostering peaceful, orderly, and productive social behavior. The intellectual, economic, and moral underpinnings of our culture are in a bankruptcy for which no Chapter 11 reorganization remedies are possible. Constitutional principles do not govern the American state any more than the Soviet Constitution — based on the American model — restrained the Stalinist regime. Free-market concepts and practices have been supplanted by government largesse as the source of economic success and discipline. Government schools are in shambles, while America leads the rest of the world in the number of people held in prisons.

A rational, intelligent response to all of this might have been for the political establishment to reduce its coercive impulses and allow the creative life-forces to reassert themselves. Instead, the state has intensified its efforts to control the hundreds of millions of persons subject to its authority. New "threats" (e.g., obesity, nitrogen, under-inflated tires) are concocted with which to rationalize increased police and regulatory powers; definitions of "terrorism" are expanded to include criticism of government, opposition to abortion, and the exercise of Second Amendment rights to own guns. Warfare continues to destroy life, even as military schemers plot to extend their butchery to new targets (Iran? Yemen?). Those who oppose Obama’s policies are labeled by some media babblers and a former president as "racists." Numerous "czars" — defined as "absolute rulers" and "despots" — have been appointed by presidential dictate to rule over various sectors of American life; while auto manufacturers, banks, and insurance companies have been effectively nationalized by fiat.

American civilization is collapsing for the same reason the Soviet Union did: the inability to sustain itself under the burden of its inner contradictions and conflicts. The system is no longer capable of being a catalyst for the production of the values upon which life depends.

One of the governmental responses to all of this has been the creation of a Financial Crisis Commission — or "Crisis Commission" for short. You can be assured that this commission — like governmental agencies in general — will become a permanent fixture, if for no other reason than the fact that the centrally-directed, vertically-structured organizational model upon which all state systems are built, is being challenged by decentralized horizontal networks. The awareness of this transformation of social systems is what has kept the institutionalists so agitated in recent decades. The bogeyman threats with which the established order has kept the booboisie in its obeisant position have, of late, been defined in terms of their supposed permanency. The "war on terror" will last forever, we have been told; the perils of "climate change" will be with us forevermore; even a federal judge — apparently unfamiliar with the lessons of chaos and complexity — has ordered nuclear waste disposal decisions to account for consequences extending up to one million years, a period of time longer than mankind’s presence on the planet! "Problems" of such endless durations will, of course, require the oversight of a commission devoted to the control of such endless crises.

Such efforts cloud the real "crisis" that the political/corporate establishment does not want any of us to consider: the decline and fall of the coercive, top-down model of social systems. As happened with the collapse of prior civilizations, significant social change took place, and change is incompatible with the institutional needs for stability. Indeed, the "status quo" can be regarded as a synonym for the "institutional order." Civilizations always manage to become infected by the virus of institutionalism, a symptom of which is that we become attached to, and thus learn to value, the organizational forms that once served as tools of cooperation, but were later transformed into ends in themselves. (I have addressed these processes in my earlier books.)

Thus do banks, insurance companies, major manufacturing firms, and even the state itself, come to be regarded as "too big to fail." Their weakened foundations must be reinforced, we are told, by billions upon billions of dollars being given to corporate giants, while the state will be allowed to reverse its terminal condition by an increased ingestion of its principal means of sustenance, namely, the power of violence over human beings. Whatever threatens the status quo becomes a threat against which the established order must mobilize its forces. To such interests, individual liberty becomes a form of entropy (i.e., energy otherwise unavailable for productive use). Change — which expresses the very nature of life itself — generates a "crisis" to which a response must be made. Even "change" in the climate can be used to reinforce — in the minds of Boobus — the "threat" posed by any kind of variation. Have you really thought through the absurdity of regarding a warmer or a cooler environment as a threat to your existence? Our geologic history has pulsated with climate changes to no apparent greater harm than an inconvenience to established conditions.

Politicians and government officials, along with media chatter-boxes and scribblers, continue to preach the gospel of "stability" and "equilibrium," even though productive societies do not exhibit such qualities. A creative world is quite unstable, with existing practices being challenged by the forces of change. Nor does either the marketplace or the life of an individual ever achieve equilibrium, works toward, but never achieves, a steadfast position. But such a world of inconstancy is troubling to the lifeless interests — i.e., institutions — that seek to maintain the status quo.

Our attachments to the established order have been reinforced by our acceptance of the need to introduce more "security" into our lives. We have learned to embrace "social security," "national security," "homeland security," "investment security," "neighborhood security," and countless other expressions of our devotion to making our world safe from the influences of change. To protect such interests, we have allowed — and learned to insist upon — an expansion of governmental power to control and regulate any conditions that might disturb our acquired, child-like need for "security."

It is for the purpose of resisting the centrifugal forces that are transforming the vertical into the horizontal in our world, that such agencies as the Crisis Commission will focus its efforts. There will be no inquiries made as to the causes that have brought Western civilization into decline. The voices of institutionalized verticality will be heard to propose such extensions of governmental power as will be consistent with keeping the general public in a state of contentment. The "crisis" to which this body will address itself will be limited to the threat that decentralizing forces will have to the country’s true "owners" (i.e., the established order).

Civilization — not the institutional order — is in a critical condition, one brought on by the failure of our intellectual and spiritual immune systems to resist the virus of institutionalism. This crisis is not to be found in Washington, or Detroit, or on Wall Street, but in our thinking about who we are as individuals and as members of society. As long as we revere the interests of organizations more highly than we do our own; as long as we continue to invest the lives of our children and grandchildren as resources for institutional consumption, this crisis will continue unto the disintegration of civilization itself.

Human history has seen a repetition of such patterns in the growth and decline of civilizations. Our culture is not fated to such ends, but we must confront the crisis in our thinking — yours and mine, not "theirs" — if we are to reverse the entropic course on which we are now headed. Each of us must, individually, abandon our subservience to the authority of others. In this connection, we might wish to recall the words of the poet Ezra Pound: "a slave is one who waits for someone to come and free him."

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. His latest book is Boundaries of Order.

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