Less Dangerous Targets

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by Butler Shaffer

Recently by Butler Shaffer: The Mirror Speaks


If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.

~ Thomas Pynchon

Congressional renewal of the federal Violence Against Women Act is generating a good deal of discussion in the media, academia, and political forums over what sounds like a noncontroversial topic. Is there to be a debate on the question of whether violence should be visited upon women? Are there articulate "pro" and "con" positions to be heard and evaluated on the propriety of brutalizing females? Might this be the time to recall W.C. Fields' answer to the question: "do you believe in clubs for women?," to which he replied "only when kindness fails"?

Owners of the established order insist that their serfs limit the range of their inquiries to subjects that do not disturb the tranquility of their minds. The owners depend upon a select group to be the keepers of the questions to be asked in our world, and woe unto those who dare wander beyond the boundaries of the permitted. Journalist Peter Arnett, television personality Bill Maher, and presidential candidate Ron Paul suffered the consequences of daring to raise unapproved questions.

One of the deadliest practices in which we humans engage involves identifying ourselves with abstractions — such as institutions, belief systems, and other entities — which, by definition, lie beyond our individual selves. In so doing, we not only separate ourselves from others, but substitute the interests and values of the abstractions for our inner personal sense of meaning and direction. In each instance, we generate the psychological and societal conflicts and contradictions that define our world. I explored this topic in my book, Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival.

An all-too-common reaction to such conflict-driven behavior is to unconsciously engage in psychological projection or transference. This involves attributing one's "dark side" feelings or fears to others; or the shifting of long-held emotions from one person to another. In either instance, the person engaging in such practices operates on the illusion that, by transferring the source of the problem to another, the inner sense of discord can be resolved. Modern politics could not exist without such thinking, as groups endeavor to control state power in efforts to punish, reform, or otherwise regulate their respective herds of scapegoats.

As our world becomes increasingly politicized — with the range of state power reaching ever deeper into the details of human action — there is a growing awareness that all political systems are the organization and mobilization of violence. It is not just that such institutions employ violence, but that enjoying a monopoly on the use of violence is what defines them. Persons who identify themselves with a nation-state often find it disturbing to realize, even unconsciously, that the system with which they find their meaning in life might behave contrary to other values they hold. This can cause them to either deny or suppress the evidence of the wrongdoing. This is why — following the end of World War II — so many German people were unwilling to acknowledge the tyrannical nature of the Nazi regime (see, e.g., Milton Mayer's They Thought They Were Free). It also helps to explain the actions of so many Republicans booing Ron Paul for his maintaining that America's militaristic foreign policy has been responsible for most anti-American sentiments throughout the world.

The politically-faithful try to resolve any unconscious inner turmoil by projecting their "dark side" traits onto others. Institutionalized minds are unwilling to consider causal explanations for destructive, violent behavior by looking within the system with which they identify their sense of being. To do otherwise not only indicts the agency with which they have entwined their egos, but condemns themselves for [1] being indistinguishable from the collective wrongdoer, and [2] allowing their thinking to be taken over by such external purposes.

As one's nation-state expands its violence throughout the world, enlarges its use of torture and police-brutality, and operates under the direction of a president who announces his rightful authority to kill persons of his choosing, one wonders if a point might arise at which even the most submissive follower questions the premises of the system? The nature of life — including its spiritual qualities — cannot be wholly repressed, no matter the degree of intimidation, force, and other influences brought to bear on behalf of the proposition "my country, right or wrong." No matter how deeply this life force is suppressed, it will eventually erupt with volcanic force to proclaim its primacy over the institutional sociopaths who want to control and manipulate it for their anti-life purposes.

How are statists to react to the growing expression of discontent and anger over the destructive nature of political systems? Bear in mind that a collective mindset is essential to the mobilization of energies upon which state power depends. Such thinking requires the conflicts that necessarily result from the division of mankind into mutually-exclusive identity groupings. When people organize themselves and their interests according to racial, ethnic, religious, gender, nationality, or other categories, such divisions generate the discord that superficial minds interpret as the confirmation of Thomas Hobbes' view of human nature as a constant struggle of "all against all."

Focusing upon the topic of "violence against women" reinforces the intergroup conflicts upon which politics is grounded. It is as though some transcendent principle is at stake in the outcome of the discussion or legislation. But who could possibly be in favor of such violence? Who might engage in such acts of cruelty? Why men, of course! Feminism has long been based on the proposition that, throughout human history, "men" have suppressed and exploited "women" for their distinct purposes. Without recognizing that it is the coercive powers of the state that systematically allows some to subdue others, many feminists now insist upon the "equal right" of women to be ground up in the machinery of war. Some have gone so far as to advance the illusion that the process of sexual reproduction — a product of millions of years of biological evolution and not male dominance — is a form of rape.

In order to reinforce the boundaries of collective identities — to keep the respective herds together — it is essential to continually reinforce the idea that other groups of people represent a collective threat to one's own. Racism, homophobia, bigotry, exploitation, terror, and prejudice are the more notable words used by some to describe the threats posed by others. When the eminent political philosopher, George W. Bush, declared "if you're not with us, you're against us," he was articulating the mindset that mature people long ago left on the grade-school playground.

"Violence against women?" What about the problem of violence against people, an issue that might dissolve intergroup identities and bring about a common purpose of men and women to confront the deadly practices — such as war — that are destroying humanity? Ahhh, but concern for "violence against people" implicates the political system that depends for its existence upon war. Randolph Bourne's warning that "war is the health of the state" was confirmed when, in the twentieth century alone, at least 200,000,000 people were killed by this depraved system through which so many continue to seek "meaning" or "purpose" to their lives. To inquire into the deeper nature of violence would raise questions that might soon put the established order out of business. Men and women may come to understand that violence is the very essence of government, and that political systems must regularly engage in its exercise in order to maintain and reinforce their authority over what Erasmus called the "many-headed multitude."

The destructive consequences of violent-driven behavior must be deflected to other causal explanations if the state is to sustain whatever credibility remains to it. This is why transference and projection are so useful to it. The current economic dislocations brought on by government regulatory and monetary policies become attributed to business "greed;" and as most people are totally ignorant of economics, they eagerly accept such an explanation. When a young man killed twenty children at a school in Connecticut, the boobeoisie accepted the proposition that guns were the cause, and that private ownership of such weapons — a long-sought establishment objective — must be eliminated. But when twenty-one children and fifty-some adults were murdered by the collective forces of the FBI and ATF, no voices were heard in the mainstream media, academia, or halls of Congress to abolish these agencies. Indeed, the song-and-dance one witnessed from these institutional voices was a condemnation of the victims for having "strange" religious views.

I believe most of us have an inner sense of the sacred nature of life, such that we are troubled — even unconsciously — when we see it purposefully destroyed or otherwise treated with disrespect. We can sympathize with the suffering of an animal because our ego identities are not drawn into conflict with it; but seek other expressions for — or choose to ignore — the miseries inflicted upon our fellow humans by the systems with which we identify our sense of being. Thus, David Koresh was to blame for the machine-gunning, gassing, and burning to death of the Branch Davidians; Iraqi and Afghan civilians have been justifiably killed for the offense of being, well, Iraqis and Afghans whose presence in their homes was not consistent with American and Israeli political ambitions.

As long as our conditioning drives us to separate ourselves into conflict-ridden groupings that institutional voices advise us are our "enemies" against whom we need the "protection" of the state, we shall continue the societal insanity that now defines "mankind." We must have the intelligence and courage to step outside the restrictive circles into which we compartmentalized ourselves. Only in so doing will we be able to withdraw our individual energies from the systematic violence with which we mindlessly destroy one another as well as ourselves.

The established order is desperately fighting for its survival against the individualizing and decentralizing energies that are causing vertical structures of force to collapse into horizontal networks of mutual connectedness. Its frantic efforts will intensify into an expansion of warfare, police brutality, surveillance, assassinations, imprisonment without trial, torture, and whatever other tools of violence it deems useful for maintaining its power over the rest of us. There is no level of theatrics, propaganda disguised as "news," contrived threats or disasters, or other means that will not be used to reinforce the collective mindset. One need only watch films of Hitler's harangues to stadiums filled with tens of thousands of men and women caught up in the fervor of a frenzied, mob mentality to see such powerful dynamics in action.

There are no limits to what the institutional elite may resort to maintain its power. Your first line of defense is to withdraw your energies from the violent and destructive games upon which the elitists depend. When such people refer to children as "our most important assets" or "resources," they are inadvertently telling you of your status in the political arrangement. You, too, are but an "asset," a form of state-owned property, a "resource" to be used for whatever ends suit the elitists, but certainly not for purposes of your own.

You will be encouraged to maintain your differences with other groups of equally-conditioned people, with the state intervening to referee the disputes it has carefully constructed. It matters not whether your groupings consist of "men" against "women," "blacks" against "whites," "gays" against "straights," "immigrants" against "native-born," "businessmen" against "consumers," "labor" against "management," or any of a seemingly endless supply of paired opponents. It is sufficient that you insist upon the priorities of your group and, in so doing, continue to keep the game going!

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, Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival, and Boundaries of Order. His latest book is The Wizards of Ozymandias.

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