Silence of Institutions
by Butler Shaffer
Recently by Butler
Virtues of Smallness
A few decades
ago one could . . . still accept the expression "My Country right
or wrong" as a proper expression of patriotism; today this standpoint
can be regarded as lacking in moral responsibility.
I was startled
the other morning to see a cable television news headline that read:
"Department of Justice studying police officer shootings."
My initial response was to wonder if Will
Grigg’s LRC articles and blogs on the brutalities, murders,
and other criminal acts by police officers had generated so much
attention that the political establishment was forced to deal with
what appears to be a rampant problem. I later discovered that the
DOJ was concerned not with police officers shooting ordinary
people (what Will calls the "mundanes"), but with people
shooting police officers. I felt a bit embarrassed having imagined,
for even an instant, that modern government officials might have
had occasion to regard such police assaults on individuals as the
violation of a moral principle worthy of attention.
There is little
doubt that political systems represent the most destructive, repressive,
anti-life, and dehumanized form of social organization. If one were
to consciously design and carry out a scheme that would prove disastrous
to human well-being, it would be difficult to improve on what we
now find in place. Such entities thrive on the energies generated
by the mobilization of our inner, dark-side forces, a dynamic that
can be brought about only through us, by you and me agreeing
to structure our thinking to conform to the preeminence of such
institutionalized thinking. I explored these processes in my book
But it is not
sufficient for the state, alone, to organize and direct how we think
of ourselves, others, and the systems to be employed in conducting
ourselves in society. Organizations that began as flexible tools
that allowed us to cooperate with one another through a division
of labor to accomplish our mutual ends, soon became ends in themselves,
to which we attached our very sense of being. Tools became
our identities; our shared self-interests became co-opted
by the collective supremacy of the organization. In this way were
In order to
clearly distinguish one form of organization from another, I have
defined an "institution" as "any permanent social
organization with purposes of its own, having formalized and structured
machinery for pursuing those purposes, and making and enforcing
rules of conduct in order to control those within it." In short,
an "institution" is a system that has become its own reason
for being, with people becoming fungible resources to be exploited
for the accomplishment of collective ends.
While the state
is the most apparent and pervasive example, our institutionally-centered
thinking dominates how we conduct ourselves in society. Economic
organizations (e.g., business corporations, labor unions), religions,
educational systems, the news media, are the more familiar forms
of human activity engaged in through hierarchically-structured institutions.
The values by which we measure our personal success or social benefits
arising from such systems are those of particular interest to institutions
themselves. These include, among others, such considerations as
material well-being (e.g., income, employment, money, GDP);
institutional certification (e.g., diplomas and degrees,
SAT scores, professional licensing); and social status
(e.g., fame, wealth, power, and other consequences of achieving
success within institutions). In the vernacular of modern psychology,
institutions are largely driven by such left-brained factors
as linear and logical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and applied
science (i.e., engineering).
highly-structured world, values that do not serve institutional
purposes tend to be regarded as forms of entropy (i.e., energy
unavailable for productive work). These may include feelings and
emotions, the role of fantasy and imagination, risk taking, spirituality,
aesthetics, and spatial relationships. These make up what is referred
to as right-brained expressions of our humanity. At best,
such qualities are tolerated by the institutional order although,
in times of turmoil, may be forcefully resisted (e.g., people being
told "don’t get emotional"; or to embrace "security"
and "certainty" over the risks associated with liberty.
healthy men and women incorporate both left- and right-brained influences
in their lives is not to be denied. The importance of living centered
lives – i.e., living with the integrity that harmonizes
(i.e., integrates) our values and actions without conflict or contradiction
– is what makes civil society possible. But institutionalized thinking
does not allow for such symmetry. An entity that is regarded as
an end in itself – its own raison d’etre – is immediately in conflict
with the idea of individuals as self-owning beings. From a property
perspective, one cannot enjoy decision-making autonomy over his
or her life and, at the same time, respect an institution as its
own reason for being. This is why a system grounded in liberty and
private ownership of property cannot be reconciled with the state.
For such reasons,
the interests of individuals and institutions are incompatible,
a fact that is reflected in the tendency of members of the institutional
order to converge on issues central to the maintenance of centralized
authority over people. Whether we are considering the war on drugs;
police surveillance; government regulation of the economy; state-funded
welfare; the so-called "national defense" industry; support
for government schools, wars and the expansion of empire; or numerous
other state systems premised on the vertical structuring of human
action, one rarely finds major institutions dissenting from established
policy. Institutional entities have developed a symbiotic relationship
that brings them together, as one, when the order, itself, is challenged.
What business corporation, university, major religion, member of
the mainstream media, corporate-sponsored "think-tank,"
international labor union, or other member of the "establishment,"
has offered a frontal criticism of war, defense contracting, the
police system, or government schools?
As our institutionally-directed
world continues to collapse into wars and domestic militarism; economic
dislocations and corruption brought on by crony-capitalism; the
failure of such state-controlled systems as education and health-care;
the increasing resort to police brutality, torture, enhanced punishment,
and imprisonment; increased levels of taxation and inflation; and
other examples of the failure of expectations most of us have had
of "the system," there is an ever-widening disconnection
between institutions and individuals. There is also a growing awareness
that the operational values essential to the interests of each group
are not only incompatible, but beyond repair.
In the face
of such a systemic bankruptcy within the institutional order – whose
power we have been conditioned to embrace as the essence of social
order - thoughtful minds might ask: "where is there any fundamental
analysis or criticism coming from within these established entities?"
What major corporations are heard speaking of the need to abandon
our neo-mercantilist practices in favor of laissez-faire policies?
What churches have denounced the run-away war system, daring to
invoke the name of Jesus on behalf of conditions of love and peace?
What colleges and universities truly tolerate the diversity of thought
that could give rise to the consideration of new ideas and practices?
What members of the major media offer the public anything more than
propaganda useful to the political and corporate interests that
is this institutional group-think that now finds itself threatened
by new technologies that do not lend themselves to centralized controls.
The Internet and other unstructured tools will continue to destabilize
the herds that the institutional order has worked so feverishly
to keep confined to their assigned pastures. There is nothing quite
so liberating as the increased flow of information, and there is
nothing the establishment fears quite so much as a world of truly
liberated people. Julian Assange’s and Wikileaks’ release of state
secrets into the hands of persons political systems pretend to serve,
are not the problem confronting the establishment: they are
precursors of an emerging, life-sustaining social order.
In the meantime,
do not expect institutional hierarchies to abandon their left-brained,
linear, "bottom line" preoccupations with the accumulation
of wealth and power. As George Orwell informed us, institutions
may sense our right-brained needs for emotional and spiritual values,
and will continue to corrupt language so as to persuade the weak-minded
of an alleged commonality of purpose.
To such ends,
"liberty" will become defined as a condition in which
your obedience to the state will keep you out of prison. "Peace"
will be what prevails among nations as long as they acknowledge
the sovereign authority of the American Empire. "Life"
will be a respected value as long as the living act in conformity
with the collective interests of institutions. To expect anything
more from the established order is to fail to understand the fundamental
dichotomy between human beings and the organizations
we have too long revered.
© 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.