Recently by Butler Shaffer: What Was Left Out of the Analysis
[In reference to feminist groups in Iraq]: They are very strong. Their approach is unique because they have no leaders. They do not have a head or branch offices. . . . This movement is made even stronger by not having leaders. If one or two people lead it, the organization would weaken if these leaders were arrested. Because there is no leader, it is very strong and not stoppable.
~ Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize recipient
The 1960s generated important questions whose pursuits were unfortunately abandoned in favor of a return to the status quo. From a variety of social perspectives, inquiries began to coalesce around the core issue: why are the lives of individuals dominated by an institutional order whose interests are enforced by state power? The civil rights movement, college free-speech campaigns, the resurgence of feminism and libertarian thought, and the anti-war demonstrations, were the more prominent expressions of this concern.
What was initially encouraging about such questioning was the emphasis on individuals asking themselves: why have I allowed myself to become exploited by systems that do not serve my interests? One saw this particularly in the feminist and libertarian movements, with people asking themselves such questions as: "what attitudes and beliefs do I embrace that have led to my loss of control over my life?"
In the cosmic sense of time, such inquiries generally lasted anywhere from five to ten seconds. Exploring how one's thinking has contributed to his or her downfall is particularly discomforting. When one becomes aware of the presence and influence of "dark side" energies within, the desire to rid oneself of such traits often leads to projecting them onto others, and then taking punitive actions against the designated scapegoat. It is this tendency — which Carl Jung so thoughtfully analyzed — that underlies Ron Paul's difficulties in explaining to the boobeoisie how American military aggression in the Middle East led to the 9/11 attacks. By repressing our own dark side ambitions for coercive power over others, it becomes easy for Boobus to fall for the line that others wish to dominate us; that those upon whom we trespass want to destroy us because of our virtues!
These habits have been within us for centuries, and provide the foundations for the divisions and conflicts upon which all political systems depend. Thus have Americans succumbed to the Civil War fiction that the inflated power of the state over people's lives was occasioned by the desire to end slavery. Likewise, many post-World War II Germans were convinced that "they were free" under Nazi rule.
In much the same way, the self-awareness explorations undertaken in the 1960s, and which spanned race, gender, political dispositions, and often age, quickly deteriorated into a reinforcement of the divisiveness and inter-group conflicts upon which state power depends. The civil rights and feminist movements began turning to the state to use its powers to rectify past wrongs; a split occurred among libertarians, with many continuing to insist upon a transformation of individual thought, while others turned to electoral politics and/or moving their organizations to the Washington, D.C. area which, to their minds, was the meaningful setting for change.
These efforts reflected rudimentary inquiries that too often lacked a central focus. For the same reason that recent converts to a political cause or religion become eager proselytizers — out of a felt need to shore up their own thinking — those who had a brief glimpse of a world better suited to their interests became impatient for change. This lack of focus was nowhere more evident than in the anti-war movement of the u201860s and early u201870s. Reactions to the Vietnam War — responses that could be either increased or diminished by the intensity with which that war was conducted — had little to do with exploring the conditions that generated peace. More recently, anti-war sentiments have taken on a partisan tone: wars conducted by Bill Clinton received scant attention, while those begun by the George W. Bush administration evoked vigorous reactions that continued until Barack Obama took over their management.
Our divisive, contradictory, and irrational thinking has been a major contributor to the demise of Western Civilization. Most of us have lost a principled center to our lives. We have conditioned our minds to look to institutions — particularly the state, schools and universities, organized religions, the media — for our identities and direction, a theme I explored in my Calculated Chaos book. We have, in other words, bought into Plato's pyramidal model of society run, from the top-down, by "philosopher kings."
In recent decades, we have experienced the fallacy of the idea that complex systems could be organized and managed by elites of "experts;" that social order could be mandated by the few, if only they enjoyed sufficient coercive powers to enforce their edicts. The failure of one group of authorities to accomplish such ends has generally led only to demands to replace this group with another, and rarely to a questioning of the model of formally-structured order itself.
But as the failures of collective thinking continue to pile up; as systems of centralized economic planning are outperformed by free markets; as political systems — to which people looked for the protection of their lives, liberty, and property — expose their savage, plunderous, inhumane foundations; as wars, looting, and police brutalities come to be seen as the raison d'etre of the state; and as other institutions were unable to make any principled responses that might rehabilitate the avowed purposes of governments, societal turbulence arose. Such qualities as respect for life, liberty, contractual obligations, and property; the inviolability of the individual; and the insistence upon voluntary as opposed to violent relationships among people, went into free-fall and were sucked into an existential black hole dominated by the collective energies that bring down civilizations.
Most Americans seem to recognize that something is amiss in a world that no longer meets their expectations. But lacking in what the late Joseph Campbell referred to as "invisible means of support," they remain rudderless regarding the direction to be taken. Like their 1960s' predecessors, their frustrations have led many of them into such cul-de-sacs as the Tea Party or the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, efforts that allow the political establishment to marginalize and redirect their energies to reinforcing the status quo. Such appeasements are offered in the form of politicians who pick up the rhetoric of "peace" and "liberty" but continue advocating statist practices; and legislative or judicial inquiries into peripheral matters that do not challenge the sacred center of political interests.
There are, of course, many others who see through the gossamer fabric of promised change offered by a system that has no intention to change or to tolerate those who seek change. These are the men and women — many of them quite young — who see the sharp contrasts between existing institutional systems and the conditions that are necessary to life; whose minds can distinguish fantasy from realism. They know what others may unconsciously sense (but lack the courage to express), namely, that the entire institutionally-dominated social system is one intricately-connected racket, engaged in at the expense of their lives.
I have long been of the opinion that adults have a moral obligation to protect their children from tyranny. I have failed to meet that duty as to my children and grandchildren, but I am encouraged that so many of the next generation are aware of what my generation has ignored, namely, that peace and liberty are essential — not simply convenient — to their existence. While aged supporters of the old order continue to show up at political rallies on behalf of the dinosaurs who promise to remain faithful to the status quo, and who promise to increase the rain of death upon foreign nations, so many of the young are infusing their energies into the campaign of Ron Paul.
The boiling magma that bubbles beneath the earth's surface and periodically erupts as volcanic activity is part of the process by which the planet sustains and renews itself. By analogy, similar pressures have long been at work within human societies to keep social systems within parameters that sustain life. The collapse of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago was one example of such dynamics. An earlier effort was undertaken in Germany in 1941, wherein several young men and women formed a group, known as the White Rose, to peacefully resist the system of National Socialism. The better-known members of this group, brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl, were medical students in Munich. They, and their White Rose associates, distributed anti-government leaflets, for which they were later arrested and charged with "treason" as "despicable criminals." They were quickly tried, convicted, and immediately beheaded for their "crimes." It is to the memory and spirit of such persons that my soon-to-be-published book, The Wizards of Ozymandias, is dedicated.
I call upon the history of such courageous and principled people who remind us that human civilization has always depended upon the kinds of values and practices with which our institutionalized world is at war. There is a life force beneath the turmoil of events that will continue to insist upon its primacy; an awareness of the interconnectedness of our individualities that is threatened by our collective madness. Such life-sustaining energies are always at risk of being co-opted by institutional interests and being channeled into the maintenance of establishment authority.
This life force finds expression in persons who understand what Albert Jay Nock identified as the underlying principles of "the humane life." Nock called such independent men and women "the Remnant" who, following the collapse of civilization, would help to "build up a new society" grounded in the "august order of nature." No purpose will be served in trying to locate such people, Nock tells us. They will seek those who share in their understanding that the restoration of civilization will not rest on slogans, propaganda, or political programs and posturing; but on principles that transcend fashion, and remain true no matter how many public opinion polls deny their relevance.
I have no idea how the 2012 presidential race will turn out. I do know that, unless Ron Paul should prevail, the outcome will make not one whit of a difference in lessening how the political structure will operate. Whatever the outcome of the elections, it is clear that the political establishment's chosen sock-puppet-in-chief will continue — and, doubtlessly, expand upon — the state power and violence that has been in place since 9/11. In the course of trying to solidify its weakened foundations, the state will waste no effort in trying to harness and redirect the energies of those who understand and oppose its threats to humanity. Great pressures — as well as temptations — will be offered to persuade critics to return to their assigned stalls; to content themselves — in the words of Frank Chodorov — with "cleaning up the whorehouse, while keeping the business intact."
If mankind fails to make a fundamental change in its thinking and behavior — and quite soon — we may be the first species to have engineered its own extinction. How will you and I respond to the opportunities and the necessity for contributing to the intellectual and spiritual transformation of our world? Most of the men and women of my generation will prove as disinterested in confronting this question as they were, decades ago, in failing to see the destructive path upon which institutionalism was taking us.
As is usually the case, the youth of the world — those generally under the age of forty — will be left with the task of cleaning up the collective mess that their parents and grandparents were disinterested in preventing. The young know that it is the fate of every Ponzi scheme — whose logic underlies most government programs — to reach a point where no additional succession of suckers can be generated to absorb the pyramiding costs from which predecessors will benefit. Like the denizens of Orwell's Animal Farm who finally recognized the cozy relationship between the ruling pigs and the human exploiters, our children are learning that the politically-directed institutional order wants neither more nor less than to dominate every facet of their lives; to reduce them to the status of organizational livestock.
To whom can the young look for self-liberating encouragement and insight? Certainly not to the kinds of adults who plaster their cars with bumper-stickers reading "support the troops" or "proud parents of a soldier." I have never understood the mindset of parents who failed in what is, perhaps, their highest moral duty: to protect their sons and daughters from harm or destruction brought on by others. How any human being can love the state more than they do their own child is beyond my capacities to explain.
There are middle-aged or older men and women who can help to inform and inspire these younger people. Ron Paul has done the most in this respect, serving as both an outlet for the expression of the deeply-held sentiments of millions, as well as a catalyst for a more fundamental understanding of the conditions necessary for human well-being. But others need mentioning: Lew Rockwell and the contributors to the Lewrockwell.com website; Justin Raimondo and contributors to Anti-war.com; readers of both websites who forward writings on to others; everyone associated with the Ludwig von Mises Institute; The Independent Institute; the Institute for Justice; and individuals from a variety of political and social perspectives, including Bob Higgs, Chris Hedges, Amy Goodman, Julian Assange, Robert Scheer, Tom Woods, Glenn Greenwald, Walter Block, John Pilger, along with others too numerous to list. Nor can we overlook those defenders of peace and liberty who are no longer living, such as Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand, H.L. Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, and stand-up philosopher George Carlin.
As has always been true, however, the next generation will have no other source of energy with which to transcend the utterly insane world in which they find themselves, than to look deeply within their own minds and souls. Unlike the limited efforts of so many in the 1960s and 1970s, this generation has far more immediate costs at stake to be able to settle for partial or superficial alternatives. The political system will waste little time trying to seduce the younger generation into embracing some make-believe libertarian or "peaceful-warrior" politician as a substitute for the Ron Paul it could not bend to its will.
In the years to come, those devoted to preserving the kind of thinking and values upon which decent society depends, would do well to consider Nock's Remnant as a model. To move beyond this abstraction, I would suggest Sophie and Hans Scholl and the White Rose, as more vivid images. Consistent with the informal, decentralist processes by which men and women now organize with little or no formal organization (e.g., the Internet, flash mobs, Wikileaks, Anonymous, YouTube, Craigslist, e-Bay, Facebook, Occupy groups, etc.) a modern White Rose might be brought into existence. It might be formless in nature, with men and women coming together more in spirit than in body, and with a shared mindset that celebrates and defends life instead of institutions. It would have no corporate charter over which members would fight for control; no officers, organization charts, membership cards, or secret handshakes; no flags or logos; not even an official website.
As the French discovered in both Algeria and Vietnam; as the Soviets discovered in Afghanistan; and as Americans continue to learn in their efforts to control people on their home soil, resistance to tyranny is most effective when its energies are diffused among tens of thousands of people who insist upon their liberty. Shirin Ebadi's words at the start of this article remind us of a lesson applicable to all forms of social behavior: informal networks are far more effective than structured, top-down corporate systems in synthesizing the spontaneity and resiliency that so expresses the life process.
If we pay close attention to events in our world, we are reminded of the fallacy of the long-standing belief that "in unity there is strength." Formalized, structured systems foster strength for the organization only to the degree it promotes the weakness of its members. Centrally-organized behavior creates a jugular vein of vulnerability, a point which, when attacked, allows the attacker to control or destroy the entire group. The ease with which Adolf Hitler took over so many European nations by causing the surrender of their officials contrasts with the difficulties the French underground movement caused Hitler's armies. It also helps to explain how Switzerland has managed to stay free of wars for so many years.
There are no guarantees that informal, leaderless networks of people intent on maintaining their liberty will always prevail. Sophie and Hans Scholl did end up being murdered by German Bushobama role-models (Sophie at the age of twenty-one). A modern version of the White Rose could increase the opportunities for free minds to discover what it means to live in peace and liberty. Its adherents would enjoy not only independence and anonymity, but access to a myriad of ever-expanding technologies that promote the centrifugation of information and ideas. As F.A. Harper reminded us, "the man who knows what freedom means, will find a way to be free."
As the state continues to insist upon its vicious ways, and as the vision provided by the White Rose continues to inform seeking minds, individuals might draw further inspiration from the poem The Seedkeepers, written by a Palestinian whose name I do not know, but whose sentiments are to be found in Nock's Remnant:
Burn our Land. Burn our dreams. Pour acid on our songs. Cover with sawdust the blood of our massacred people. Muffle with your technology the screams of all that is free, wild and indigenous. Destroy our grass and soil. Raze to the ground every farm and every village our ancestors had built. Every tree, every home, every book, every law and all equity and harmony. Flatten with your bombs every valley. Erase with your edits our past, our literature, our metaphor. Denude the forest and the earth till no insect no bird no word can find a place to hide. Do that and more. I do not fear your tyranny. I do not despair ever. For I guard a seed, a little seed, that I shall safeguard and plant again.
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.