can be sunk by the weight of buried ugliness.
(NE) JournalStar newspaper has a lengthy article discussing
the problems the State of Nebraska is having administering lethal
injections to condemned prisoners. The difficulties are related
to the apparent shortages and/or quality of one of the three chemicals
used to put a prisoner to death, as well as to legal challenges
brought against the practice. The title of the article asks "Should
Nebraska tweak execution rules?" I have enough to say against
capital punishment without confining my objections to the space
of an article. What grabbed my attention was this title itself.
If the State
of Nebraska is seeking precedent for "tweaking" the
rules that prescribe how it is to go about lawfully killing people,
it need look no further than the content of what passes for "news"
in our world. With the continuing collapse of the pyramidal power
structure with which political systems exercise their defining
monopoly on the use of violence, governments have had to scramble
to reinforce their coercive authority. For a long time, the appetites
of the state – along with the corporate interests that direct
the political machinery to their ends – have been disguised behind
such liberalizing notions as "due process of law," individual
"inalienable rights," and more general allusions to
such principles as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
in early childhood, schools have inculcated young minds in the
alleged virtues of obedience to the centralized authority of the
state, without whose continuing supervision, we have been told,
would render our lives "nasty, brutish, and short."
Lest such teachings be lost in our adult pursuits, the institutional
order reinforces them through its varied systems: the entertainment
industry, political campaigns and elections, and those supposed
organs of information I call the "lockstep media." The
distrust of power that might otherwise exist in the minds of even
the most gullible, is offset – by the chorus of establishment
voices – with assurances that there are inherent limitations on
both the range and methods by which state systems act.
we have been told, provides one such restraint upon the state.
But it takes little time to discover that words do not
carry with them the same meaning as what we use them to describe.
The words "reasonable," "general welfare,"
"common defense," "due process," "probable
cause," and the like, do not lend themselves to the demonstrable
precisions of thought that we find in mathematics. The proposition
"2 + 2 = 4" can be concretely demonstrated to any dullard
in a matter of minutes. The content of what legal "process"
is "due" an accused individual is another matter, inevitably
tied up in the biases, self-interests, fears, and other subjective
forces at work within the minds of those who are to decide such
matters. In any political system, of course, it is the state
itself that makes such determinations. Government officials
– be they presidents, senators, judges, or administrative commissioners
– will interpret the meaning of all the inherently vague
and abstract words under which they act.
Humpty Dumpty expressed this understanding in declaring: "When
I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean –
neither more nor less," to which Alice replied "The
question is whether you can make words mean so many different
things." Humpty Dumpty’s response goes to the essence of
the political dilemma regarding words: "The question is,
which is to be master – that’s all." In far less poetic fashion,
I remind people that the Constitution is what keeps the government
from doing all of the terrible things that it does!
masters desperately react to the decentralization of social systems.
The emergence of alternative information systems, such as the
Internet, and a growing popular awareness that the political systems
under which people are conditioned to subordinate themselves neither
serves their interests nor recognizes any limitations upon the
exercise of state power. Even those who conduct so-called GOP
presidential "debates" have struggled to sanitize the
process from any questioning of the continuing need to preserve
the status quo. The lockstep media continues to warn us of Ron
Paul’s candidacy – indeed, if they deign to acknowledge his existence
at all – to "pay no attention to that man behind the screen."
George Orwell, Thomas Pynchon, George Carlin, and numerous other
thinkers, have advised us of both the power and the danger that
reside in words. The Internet is a reminder of the lesson learned
from the consequences of Gutenberg’s invention of movable type:
the free flow of information is a very liberating influence. The
Internet – accompanied by technologies such as video cameras,
tape-recorders, and cell-phones (particularly those with built-in
video cameras) – has diminished the institutional order’s erstwhile
control of information. Political insistence on criminalizing
the private video-recording of police behavior, Hillary Clinton’s
demands for a "gatekeeper" for the Internet, the persecution
of Julian Assange and his Wikileaks system, are just the more
visible examples of the establishment’s war to preserve its power
structures by preserving the ignorance of its subject people.
As the centrifugation
of information continues its outward flow, institutional authority
over the lives of billions of people will continue to erode. Just
as with the rear-guard efforts of post-Gutenberg political systems
to restrain the openness of ideas implicit in printing, the modern
power structure will be unable to un-invent computer technologies
– along with the numerous other information systems that continue
to evolve. I watched, the other evening, as one local television
camera covered the Los Angeles Police Department descending upon
peaceful "Occupy LA" demonstrators, to evict them from
allegedly "public" lands. What was encouraging in this
was the sight of many men and women, video-cameras or cell-phones
in hand, recording and transmitting the event to others, thus
preventing the confiscation of what was seen.
efforts to maintain its authority over people have already gone
beyond the reinterpretation of constitutional language that has
long served its interests. The alleged guarantees of individual
liberty we were bamboozled into believing were the purpose
of the Constitution, were long ago thrown overboard in the
interests of consolidating and expanding the powers of the state.
Since 1942, the power structure has not seen fit to give attention
to the constitutional requirement that only Congress can declare
war. It is now enough that an imperial president chooses, from
his Rolodex list of countries, to attack whom he will. Governments
are now permitted to satisfy the First Amendment liberties of
people by confining their speech and assembly to wired cages out
of public view. The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments have long
been watered down by the political system, most recently a few
days ago when the Senate voted to allow the military to exercise
"battlefield" authority over whomever it or the president
deems to be an enemy combatant. The policy of allowing torture
and/or the assassination of persons considered a threat to American
interests was recently announced – with few voices heard in opposition
– by President Obama.
World War II, a system of "victor’s justice" was inaugurated
under the name "the Nuremberg trials." The stated purpose
of such trials was, foremost, to prosecute persons who
had initiated acts of war against other nations. It was, at least
in theory, to make the initiation of war such a crime against
all of humanity as to justify punishing its fomenters. Intelligent
minds were quick to point out that many of the "victors"
in this war should also have been indicted for war-crimes
(e.g., President Truman for his needless atomic bombing of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, along with those who orchestrated the bombing of
such non-military targets as Dresden, Tokyo, Wurzburg, et. al.)
Despite the failure to include all criminals of war, there was
a long-held popular sense that the Nuremberg principles stood
for something worth embracing.
All of this
changed, of course, when – following 9/11 – the United States
government decided to get into the war-crimes business by interpreting
the word "defense" – what the Nuremberg principles permitted
– into the doctrine of "preventive war." George Orwell
would have understood this trick at once; the lockstep media and
other institutionalists did not dare recognize it. From there,
the processes of reinterpretation metastasized: "persons"
protected by the Bill of Rights did not include foreigners or
"terrorists" (even though a reading of these Amendments
contain no such distinctions). The power of Congress to "provide
. . . for the general Welfare" could be used to transfer
hundreds of billions of dollars to the corporate owners of the
state. The "due process" that must precede one’s loss
of "life, liberty, or property" may consist of nothing
more – at least in the minds of at least one GOP presidential
candidate – than having some government official secretly select
his or her name from a file. Fourth Amendment "protections"
against "unreasonable searches and seizures" do not
prevent the state from entering and searching your home without
your knowledge, and making it a criminal offense for you to tell
anyone about this.
and on go current examples of reinterpreting (i.e., twisting and
contorting) fundamental principles so as to achieve the very opposite
of their import. The Orwellian notion that "war is peace"
keeps most Americans in passive acceptance of governmental policies.
The sense that "freedom is slavery" prevents most of
us from exercising the responsibility that comes from a condition
of self-ownership. And when members of Congress are allowed to
profit from "insider" information that would send the
rest of us to prison, we are reminded of the Animal
Farm premise that "all animals are equal, but some
are more equal than others."
In our present
culture, the aforesaid Nebraska newspaper along with the state
government should have no difficulty finding ways to "tweak
execution rules" that seemingly stand in the way of the state
disposing of members of the criminal class. One could, of course,
resort to the reinterpretation (or "tweaking") of the
legal or moral principles that have heretofore been thought to
constrain governmental action. I hesitate to offer any specific
suggestions, fearing that even an unconventional hypothetical
might, in this environment, speed up the "process" by
which the state of Nebraska could kill a man; thus providing what
is "due" him. But if all else fails, perhaps the state
can send the names of its condemned prisoners to the White House,
allowing the president to select those over whom he – and he alone
– presumes the authority to select for assassination.