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Recently by Thomas Luongo: The Myotonic Economy
There must be something fundamentally wrong with me. It's the only conclusion I can draw. Maybe I'm a transplant from a different time or parallel universe, brought here borne on a cosmic whim through a rift in the space/time continuum and unceremoniously dumped into this place which makes so little sense. On the other hand, this could just be some vast controlled experiment by vaster powers that have created an illogical set of boundary conditions to falsify some unknown (and unknowable) hypothesis about us, the subjects.
Then again, I could just have indigestion. But, I've given up refined sugar? So, that doesn't track either. It must be something else.
You see, I feel like Charlton Heston, though I refuse to take my shirt off in public lest I scare the natives, wandering through a violent wasteland bereft of ideas, intimacy or even a coherent thought. A ‘brute squad' is in charge of a mass of voiceless people, living in perpetual fear, disrupting their lives arbitrarily for no other reason than because they can. Standing on a hill watching this drama play out, I'm confused as to why anyone would continue to live this way. I understand that we're predators needing to sustain ourselves at some other being's expense and can see the parallels reflected within the behavior of groups of people, though without overt cannibalism. I just don't understand why anyone would put up with it.
Worse, we not only put up with it, we've come to embrace it as fait accompli. As opposed to fighting this small group of sociopaths' tendency towards violence, we institutionalize it, put it on a pedestal and call it government. Moreover, some of us engage in feats of intellectual gymnastics so convoluted it defies metaphor in service of patently false hypotheses about our essential natures just to salve their consciences about what they wish to believe, evidence or logic be damned.
For an easy example, how about that little thought experiment by Hobbes that assumed that everyone was at war with each other before agreeing not to be so any longer, bellum omnium contra omnes, out of which came social contract theory. On its face, this is moronic, and yet, the society I live in is organized around this fundamentally stupid idea. If all humans, before there was government, were at war with everything then how in the hell did we survive long enough to procreate beyond our first generation? In other words, if man is infinitely aggressive towards other men, if that is the basic nature of all life itself, doesn't the existence of that life act as prima facia evidence to the contrary? Maybe I'm weird, there is that whole feeling like Chuck Heston thing, but I didn't sign a social contract with my government before I decided to fall in love with my wife and pledge to spend the rest of my life with her. And I never viewed life as an enormous game of D&D as played by 14-year-olds, otherwise known as "Kill ‘em and Take Their Stuff!" Then again, Hobbes' entire analysis of humanity feels like it was created by a 14-year-old.
Fearful Symmetry that.
Even if you grant that man is somewhat aggressive, and I certainly would, that doesn't justify the use of this idea as a valid organizing principle. If anything, that only makes the argument against it stronger. Because some of us are willing to use violence to achieve our goals, does it make any sense whatsoever to create organizations that will meet that violence with more violence? It seems axiomatic to me, but, then again, I'm weird, that if you don't want a violent community of people you don't organize that community around the idea that some people get to use violence with impunity. Moreover, who is going to be attracted to the violence-wielding jobs? The pacifists or the sociopaths? Hayek, thy name should have been Cassandra.
What I find really disconcerting is the pure cognitive dissonance that emanates from defenders of Hobbes like stink from a 5-day-old fish. Well, maybe more like a 7-day-old fish, but you get my point. If the social contract took us from a state of nature (total war against everything) to a state of civilization (relative peace) then why is it that the proponents of such a philosophy are constantly waging war of one kind or another against every conceivable thing they disagree with? Terrorism, Drugs, Corporations, Smoking, Racism, Fatty-Foods, Carbon, Raw Milk, the New York Yankees, etc.
In short, Other People. Q.E.D.
By contrast, those that defend John Locke's view that rights are inherent and come from our creator (or from our humanity, the secular version of the argument) seem to want nothing more than to be left free to rise and fall on our own merits or lack thereof.
When I look at history, I see a time when the country I live in once got involved in a war against fascists in Germany by allying with communists in Russia to kick them out and hand France back to the socialists. When the war was over we instituted a ‘cold war' with those same communists by enacting a fascist military-industrial state replete with secret police and backyard bomb shelters. And fully half, if not more, of the country's current population still considers this the pinnacle of our civilization. A war fought on multiple continents destroying hundreds of years worth of accumulated wealth, destroying literally incalculable numbers of families and which culminated with the dropping of nuclear bombs on civilians. And I'm supposed to be proud when I watch the History Channel?
And yet, since my view on this is so in the minority I have to conclude that there must be something wrong with me. Did I miss the lynchpin to the argument in favor of fascism? Did I sleep through that lecture in school? I was bored a lot of the time, so there's some merit to that thought. Maybe it was that my parents didn't have enough money during the depression of the 1970's to send me away to Fascist Camp during my summers off from school. Or maybe they didn't drop me on my head enough.
I remember being bored to death at catechism classes while going over in grave detail the 10 commandments. But, then I look around at people who claim to be followers of Christ, otherwise known as The Prince of Peace, who believe it's okay to break the sixth commandment as long as 1 more person votes for a taxing initiative than against it. That, of course, is the least of their sins vis-à-vis government that I can see.
But, since I have memories of growing up within the borders of Fascist-Land, if I did come here from some variation on a wormhole or quirk of relativity, it must have happened before my brain had developed memory. More's the pity, frankly, but I digress. Having been inculcated in the ways of the fascists it was hard not to absorb some of their culture. I'm quick to anger and have a near infinite capacity for wielding verbal violence against those that have done nothing more than slightly inconvenience me while driving home from work. There was even a time when I felt that it was okay to bomb brown people in Iraq because they had invaded other brown people from Kuwait with tanks.
I shudder to think how close I was to giving in to the Dark Side on that one. It was only the prospect of being drafted against my will that opened my eyes to how ludicrous the entire situation was. I guess, for some, enlightened self-interest trumps propaganda. Unfortunately, for many it doesn't. And yet, if you ask nearly anyone you meet, "Should a person be able to peaceably go about his business?" They would say, "Yes, of course." But, if that's the case why is there so much violence and hatred of other people? If nearly everyone wants peace, why isn't there peace?
If we know, for example, that punishing someone for doing something we don't like doesn't reform the person's perspective, it only creates potential obedience as well as anger and resentment, then why do we still persist in using punishment models in dispute resolutions, i.e., fines and imprisonment? If a small punishment isn't deterrent enough, why do we make it bigger and bigger until such point as they're either dead or permanently imprisoned? Three Strikes anyone? Why do we persist in this system where the victim pays the room and board for the criminal, diminishing himself on top of the diminishment from the original crime?
The problem must be that I'm asking the wrong questions; looking at this from the wrong perspective. Maybe I'm wrong in expecting people who live in Fascist-Land to be capable of seeing anything other than fascist-style solutions to these problems. Maybe living in Fascist-Land requires one to cultivate contradictory positions and views of themselves in order to survive? That must be why I'm having such a hard time with this, because I refuse to embrace schizophrenia as a survival mechanism.
I told you there was something fundamentally wrong with me.
October 16, 2010
Thomas Luongo [send him email] is a professional chemist, amateur economist and obstreperous recovering Yankee residing in North Florida.
Copyright © 2010 Thomas Luongo