Whose Tea Party?

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They plainly
did not know how to treat me, but behaved like persons who are underbred.
In every threat and in every compliment there was a blunder; for
they thought that my chief desire was to stand the other side of
that stone wall. I could not but smile to see how industriously
they locked the door on my meditations, which followed them out
again without let or hindrance, and they were really all that was
dangerous. As they could not reach me, they had resolved to punish
my body; just as boys, if they cannot come at some person against
whom they have a spite, will abuse his dog. I saw that the State
was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver
spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and
I lost all remaining respect for it, and pitied it.

~ Henry David
Thoreau

For decades,
I have maintained that the entire institutional order is in a state
of entropic collapse, and that Western civilization, itself, is
in its final days. I have gone on to suggest that, depending upon
how we respond to all of this, our future may become far more free,
peaceful, and productive than what we have known. Events of recent
weeks reinforce my opinion that Western society is in the process
of a major transformation in how it is to be organized; changes
that portend something far more dynamic than what the Renaissance,
the Enlightenment, and the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions
combined to produce.

The words of
Thoreau keep coming back to me as I watch the fallout, first from
the TSA buffooneries, followed by the second feature: the arrest
of Julian Assange for having dared to reveal the underbelly of the
state's dark side. Though I am close to illiterate when it comes
to computers, even I could see how far out of touch the established
order is from grasping what it is up against. Some have suggested
that the Assange episode is the opening round in "Cyberwars,"
an assessment that only touches the surface in trying to understand
the continuing metamorphosis. Unlike Thoreau, however, I am unable
to engender any sense of pity for the state as it counts its silver
spoons and plots to get more of your silver to redistribute
to its corporate co-schemers.

The political
establishment tells us that we are caught up in a "war on terror"
which, unlike previous wars, is destined to continue forever. As
with all other pronouncements from the state, this characterization
of events is grounded in lies. It is not "terrorism" —
whatever that word may mean — that threatens the existing power
structure, but the collapse of the institutional hierarchies that
have ruled mankind for so many years. The struggles that now consume
the energies, lives, and material resources of the nation can more
accurately be considered as a "war to preserve the institutional
order."

As I developed
in my book, Calculated
Chaos
, the greatest threat to the survival of mankind comes
not just from the political systems that plague us — although
they have provided the mechanisms of destruction — but from that
alliance of institutional interests that invariably finds expression
in collective rather than individualized purposes.
We have long been conditioned to subjugate our lives to institutionalized
systems (i.e., organizations that have ceased being tools for
our mutual interests, but have become ends in themselves). Our acceptance
of the phrase "too big to fail" expresses this premise
quite well.

The more we
allow institutional purposes to preempt our own, the more detrimental
our organized behavior becomes to the processes that sustain us.
There is nothing quite so characteristic of life, itself, as resiliency,
the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. The maxim expressed
by geneticists — "cherish your mutations" — applies to
social systems as well. It is the changefulness of life —
not the permanency demanded by institutions — that is central
to our survival, both as individuals and a species. But institutionalism
makes too many life-threatening demands upon the life processes.
We have learned to absorb costs — whether in the form of taxation,
regulatory intrusions, wars and other physical aggression — that
interfere with our self-interested pursuits. But as such costs continue
to escalate, a breaking point is reached; and pressures for fundamental
change begin to outpace institutional demands for life to submit
itself to their organizational purposes.

An enhanced
understanding of the dynamics of chaos, coupled with the
emergence of sophisticated technologies that allow for more individualized
methods of research and communication, combine to generate environments
in which the inherent uncertainty of what we "know" confronts
exponential increases in information. The emerging synthesis of
such factors has made our world both unstable and resurgent;
a vivid example of Joseph Schumpeter's "creative destruction."

The changes
occurring in our world are not simply marginal adjustments
in the arrangements we have with others, nor superficial amendments
to existing rules or organizational forms. They are, instead, transformations
that go to the essence of how people are to associate and cooperate
with one another. We are in the midst of a major paradigm shift
that is redefining the meaning of society! It is the kind of
metamorphosis that is incompatible with the repressive and unalterable
nature of institutions.

Our world is
moving rapidly from vertically-structured power systems to
horizontally-networked, informal systems of cooperation.
The centralized authority institutions have long exercised
over people, is giving way to decentralized relationships
among autonomous individuals. The ongoing struggle between the forces
of institutionalism whose methods are grounded in fear, violence,
and the quest for security, and the creative processes of social
individualism premised upon personal liberty and the inviolability
of private property interests, will doubtless prove ugly in the
short run; but will soon bring about the total collapse of institutionalized
systems grounded in a war against life itself. Those who doubt that
members of the institutional order share a common interest in fighting
the human energies that are demanding major transformations in how
society is to be organized, need look no further than the treatment
accorded Julian Assange by various banks, credit card companies,
online retailers, politicians, and other established interests for
his ill-defined "crime" of truthfully reporting the dark
side of institutionalism.

Institutional
systems tend to resist these dynamic processes of change, particularly
those to which their rigid foundations lack resiliency to make creative
responses. The established order insists on maintaining the status
quo because it is the status quo. When cultural, economic,
or political constancies are suddenly disrupted by novel forces,
the institutional hierarchy is quick to react. Wars, the burning
and hanging of witches and heretics, political purges, the persecution
of minorities, torture, the execution of men and women charged with
treason, concentration camps, genocides, police states, and other
institutionalized forms of terror and violence, are among the better-known
examples of existing power structures insulating themselves from
energized influences they have been unable to co-opt to their purposes.
When so confronted, established authorities become desperate, and
resort to any means they deem necessary to reinforce their foundations
of power. The purpose underlying such tactics has been to counter
destabilizing influences by instilling a sense of fear among those
they rule. The subject classes learn to fear not only the external
forces purported to be threats to their well-being, but the
established authorities who demand their obedience.

We ought to
have learned how viciousness is necessary to the exercise of state
power from the vivid revelations of Abu Ghraib atrocities, or the
use of "waterboarding" and other forms of torture used
by American forces in Iraq. As with TSA behavior, these post-9/11
intrusions by the military were also rationalized in the name of
preventing suicide bombings and other terrorist acts. Such, alas,
has been the purpose of none of these indignities and cruelties.
Their underlying purpose has been that of every bully: to reinforce
the power they exercise over their weaker victims through humiliating
and dehumanizing them. Though political systems are often able to
secure compliance through less-threatening means, it is their capacities
to inflict widespread terror amongst a population upon which their
authority ultimately depends. Lest you are still burdened by the
FOX-News, neo-con mindset that "terror" is something practiced
only by others, speak to the survivors of American "shock
and awe" bombing attacks on Baghdad.

Regardless
of the dehumanizing tools made available to government operatives,
both the purpose and the effect of their trespasses
upon us is to reinforce public subservience to the state by demeaning
the inviolability of our sense of individuality. As Nazi concentration
camp survivor, Viktor Frankl, tells us, "under the influence
of a world which no longer recognized the value of human life and
human dignity," people "lost the feeling of being an individual,
a being with a mind, with inner freedom and personal value."
Those who survived the camps tended to be those whose "spiritual
freedom" was what made life "meaningful and purposeful."

It is just
such individual centeredness and dignity with which political systems
are constantly at war, and which the state must suppress if it is
to subject people to its arbitrary control. Like the military practice
of shaving the heads of new recruits, the state must strip people
of any sense of individuality and personality if it is to maintain
its monopolistic power over them. This, not the bogeyman
of the "terrorist," is the purpose behind the very existence
— as well as the current practices — of the TSA and other police-state
atrocities. As the Nazis and Soviets made known to the world, totalitarian
power is achieved only by forcefully subduing individual claims
to self-ownership!

The state is
able to get away with its indecencies because most of us are ignorant
of the fundamental nature of all political systems. The state
is an entity that enjoys a monopoly on the use of violence within
a given territory. Because of this generally accepted definition,
the idea that individuals have any rightful claim to immunity from
state violence would, of necessity, be regarded as a limitation
on such monopoly power. It borders on sedition to suggest that there
are any restraints on the arbitrariness of governmental force. This
is why those who engage in unprovoked wars, police brutalities,
unlawful searches and seizures of property, the tasering of harmless
individuals, and numerous other offenses, are almost never held
to account for their wrongs. In the eyes of state officials — be
they prosecuting attorneys, judges, or elected politicians — such
acts cannot be thought of as "wrongs," lest the state
be deprived of its essence as a "violence monopolist."
The state and the playground bully operate from the same modus operandi:
the capacity to enforce obedience to its inconstant temperaments
through violence. Regardless of the venue, the state continues to
escalate its indecencies to ordinary men, women, and children in
order to forcefully remind us of our subservience to its arbitrariness;
to refresh our memory that the state is entitled to do to us anything
that it chooses. This same principle was carried out in Nazi concentration
camps, in which prisoners were stripped naked, shorn of their hair
and personal clothing, and in so many other ways depersonalized
and dehumanized. I recall seeing a photograph of a group of leering
German army officers watching a group of naked women concentration
camp prisoners running past them. These TSA ancestors did not have
modern technology to assist them, but had to rely on their eyesight,
alone, to perform their "full-body scanning."

We
would not regard as wholesome a family forcibly held together by
an abusive parent who used fear, threats, and violence to enforce
his or her arbitrary expectations upon the rest of the family; a
parent who listened in on the phone calls, or who regularly went
through the clothing or personal belongings of his or her children,
or followed them around on their dates, or subjected them to periodic
urine tests; a parent who felt justified in employing torture as
a form of "tough love" in getting answers to their questions,
or who resorted to the use of electric prods to overcome their children's
resistance to their arbitrary authority. How might we regard the
psychological health and social futures of children raised in such
a brutish environment? How even more despairing the outcome of such
methods directed against a society of 300,000,000 people?

December
28, 2010

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
.

Butler
Shaffer Archives

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