Press news report told of 1,900 sheep following one another
over a cliff in Turkey, resulting in the deaths of 450.
The sheep had been grazing when, without explanation, some members
of the herd began leaping from the cliff. The others followed
the lead, providing an example of “sheepish” behavior.
fitting metaphor for the herd-oriented behavior of humans. Political
systems – along with various corporate interests that have produced
the homogeneous corporate-state – have succeeded in getting
people to organize themselves into opposing herds. These multitudes
are placed under the leadership of persons who function like
“Judas goats,” a term derived from the meat-packing industry.
Judas goats are trained to lead sheep to the slaughterhouse,
slipping safely away as the others are led to the butcher. Political
leaders take their flocks to the deadly precipice, depart to
the safety of their bunkers, and allow herd instincts to play
out their deadly course. With the help of the media, Bush,
Blair, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Rice, et al., perform the
Judas goat function quite well, rousing the herds into a “let’s
you and him fight” mindset without occasioning the loss of their
own blood. You will not see any of these smug, arrogant creatures
in the front lines of battle: that is the purpose served by
the “masses” (i.e., the “herds”).
happens when this herd-hustling game begins to break down; when
the consequences become so destructive as to threaten the herd
itself? What happens when the sheep begin to suspect that
there are alternatives to their present condition; that their
lives might have a greater purpose than to be part of a pile
of corpses? What if they should learn of greener pastures
elsewhere, entry to which is not restricted to a privileged
few, the enjoyment of which requires only a breaking away from
the restraints of the herd? What if word of such life-fulfilling
options begins to spread among herd members?
reference seems apropos to modern society, whose vertical structures
continue their collapse into more horizontal networks.
One cannot grasp the meaning of the established order’s admittedly
endless war on “terrorism” without understanding the much deeper
question: how is a free and creative society to be organized?
Under what sorts of systems will men and women live, work, play,
cooperate, and raise children? The institutionally-centered
forms with their command-and-control mechanisms that have long
represented Western societies are eroding; and the established
interests that have benefited from such systems are in a life-and-death
struggle to resist their demise.
– particularly political systems – depend upon people developing
a collective identity for themselves; associating their very
being with the herd of which they are part and to which they
are subservient. While organized behavior is both natural
and beneficial to us as social beings, institutions invert the
role of social systems: organizations that began as cooperative
tools to foster the interests of individuals, get twisted into
organizations that become their own reasons for being
(i.e., an institution).
become ends in themselves, institutions must resist behavior
that threatens their interests. Once men and women have
been conditioned to accept the supremacy of institutional interests
over their own, it is an easy matter to get them to sanction
the use of state power to protect and promote established interests.
Corporate interests become synonymous with societal
interests; concerns for “security” – whether “national,”
“homeland,” “job,” “social,” or “airport” – justify governmental
restrictions on individual liberty and other processes of change
that threaten the status quo.
firms have been the principal forces behind the promotion of
governmental regulation of the economic life of the country.
Through competitive and trade practice standards; licensing
and other limitations on entry into the marketplace; tariffs
and taxation policies; government research subsidies and defense
contracting; and various other uses of the coercive powers of
the state to advance private interests, the business community
has fostered rigidities that help to insulate firms from the
need to remain creatively resilient and adaptive to change.
My book, In
Restraint of Trade, documents the development of such
behavior between 19181938.
As I have
previously observed, a number of historians have shown how such
institutionalizing practices contribute to the decline of civilizations.
If a society is to remain creative and viable, it must encourage
– not simply tolerate – the processes of change.
At this point, the creative interests of society (as
people) come into conflict with the structuring interests of
institutions (as organizational systems). Whether
the autonomous and spontaneous processes of change will prevail
over the preservation of established institutional interests,
may well determine the fate of the American civilization!
of institutional dominance – with their centralized, vertically-structured,
coercive systems of control – have encountered the decentralized,
horizontally-connected, voluntary methods of cooperation.
Mankind is in a life-and-death struggle not simply for its physical
survival, but for its very soul. The contest centers on
the question of whether human beings shall continue to be servo-mechanistic
resources for the use and consumption of institutional interests,
or whether they shall be their own reasons for being.
Will institutional or individual interests be
regarded as the organizing principal of society?
It is this
confrontation that underlies the so-called “war on terror.”
“Terrorism” – like “international communism” that preceded it
– is but another specter held up to a gullible public to enlist
their continuing support for institutional hegemony. “Terrorism”
is a tactic, not a competing political institution; a tactic
that reflects the inability of the state to predict and control
events. Even the British home secretary, Charles Clarke, admitted
that there was no governmental measure that could have prevented
the subway bombings. One former CIA analyst has asserted that
unpublicized US government figures show an increase in terrorist
acts in the world from 175 in 2003 to 625 in 2004, hardly a
ringing endorsement of the efficacy of the “war on terror.”
ways, humanity is slipping out of the grasping hands of the
state, a prospect that does, indeed, “terrorize” institutional
interests. Parents are increasingly turning to home-schooling
and other forms of private education as alternatives to government
schools; alternative medicine and health-care systems continue
to prosper; the Internet – with its myriad and interconnected
web and blog sites – is increasingly relied upon by men and
women for all kinds of information, with a corresponding decline
in newspaper readership and network television news viewing.
These are just a few of the more prominent examples of a world
that is becoming increasingly decentralized, spontaneous, and
we face often arise from our failure to ask relevant questions.
This may help explain the institutional establishment’s apparent
lack of awareness of its apparent fate. A CNN news show
the other day reported on the increased popularity of Internet
blogsites, explaining their growth as a public demand for getting
news out more “quickly,” – then urging viewers to continue watching
CNN for the fastest reports. However, it is not information
speed that attracts people to the Internet, but increased
options in what is reported. When the Iraqi war was on
center stage, television networks trotted out the General Plotnicks
or the Admiral Updikes or the Col. Bogeys (ret.) to explain
– and favorably comment upon the government’s war strategies.
If one wanted to find thoughtful criticism of the war – such
as provided by Bob Higgs, Lewis Lapham, Justin Raimondo, Lew
Rockwell, Alexander Cockburn, John Pilger, Alan Bock, or numerous
other thinkers – one had to go to the Internet.
forces of complexity and chaos, coupled with the adverse consequences
of increased organizational size, will doubtless continue these
decentralizing trends. Secession movements, along with
an increased willingness of state and local governments to openly
challenge federal government policies, reflect a growing interest
in decentralizing political power. Even the Iraqi insurgency
forces and various “terrorist” attacks attest to war itself
order could, of course, try to adapt to such changes.
Many business organizations have, in fact, discovered the enhanced
productivity to be found in the adoption of more decentralized
managerial policies in which day-to-day decision-making is more
widely distributed throughout the work force. But few
have been willing to extend the logic of centrifugence to broader
social environments such as the marketplace. They – and
most of the rest of us – fail to understand that the spontaneous
and autonomous processes that enhance the creativity and profitability
of a firm, also foster the viability of society itself.
has always posed a threat to those who refuse to adapt themselves
to more productive alternatives. Because we have learned
to regard institutions as ends to be preserved, rather
than tools to be utilized, fundamental changes that threaten
the institutional order must be resisted. Such is the
case with the worldwide shift from vertically-designed and hierarchically-structured
systems of centralized control, toward more decentralized, horizontally-networked
social systems. Feudalism – grounded in politically-defined
privileges, rights, and status – was unable to sustain itself
in the face of an industrial revolution that rewarded people
on the basis of exhibited merit in a free marketplace.
So, too, the neo-feudal, politically-structured institutionalized
order will be unable to resist the oncoming liberalizing trends.
Luddites who fought the industrial revolution, the established
order will not give up its privileges without a fight. Efforts
to revive the dying corpse of centralized power structures have
taken on paramount importance. With the demise of the
Soviet Union as its symbiotic partner for the rationalization
of state power – itself the victim of decentralist forces
the United States has had to find a new threat with which to
keep Americans as a fear-ridden herd. The statists believe
they have found this eternal danger in the specter of “terrorism,”
which they hope can be manipulated to justify endless wars and
unrestrained police powers.
you can cut through the veneer of propaganda as “news,” and
begin to ask such questions as how US-supported persons and
organizations (e.g., Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, the Taliban)
could suddenly became threats to America, you will begin to
understand the nature of the herding game being played at your
officials and the media have labeled the “war on terror” has,
I believe, a more encompassing target: the decentralizing processes
that are eroding institutionally-controlled social behavior.
“Terrorism” is the state’s new scarecrow, erected to ward off
the changes that threaten the interests of the rigidly-structured
political establishment. What is now drifting away into
diffused networks of freely developed, alternative forms and
practices, must be resisted by a state system that insists upon
its central control of the lives of us all. As has always
been the case, the life-sustaining processes of spontaneity
and autonomy are being opposed by the life-destroying forces
of coercive restraint.
newly-concocted perpetual war upon an unseen enemy – combined
with greatly expanded police powers – the established order
seeks to force free men and women back into the herd upon which
its violent control over life depends. That we may take
our places in the serried ranks set out for us by the state
so that we remain subservient to the state, is the purpose underlying
the present “war on terror.” As with the sheep in Turkey, the
consequence will be that we will follow one another over cliffs
leading to our mutual destruction. In the tapestry of human
history, it is but the latest expression of the state’s continuing
war against life.