• CLIII – The Control Cult

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    What
    an immense mass of evil must
    result
    .
    . . from allowing men to assume
    the right
    of anticipating what may happen.

    ~ Leo Tolstoy

    In
    the aftermath of the murders
    of 32 people at Virginia Tech,
    we are witnessing the collective
    reaffirmation of the article
    of faith uniting all politically-minded
    persons: the belief that the
    state is capable of identifying
    and controlling the factors
    that produce undesirable behavior.
    Even before the killer was identified,
    the chant arose — in unison
    — from political chambers, academia,
    government offices, and the
    media: u201Cthere is something that
    those in authority can do to
    alleviate such problems.u201D The
    mantra often finds expression
    — without any break in established
    meter — in this form: u201Cwe will
    find out what went wrong and
    fix it, so that this doesn't
    happen again.u201D

    This
    mindset is so out of touch with
    the harsh facts of reality that
    The Wall Street Journal carried
    a feature article asking: u201CNext
    Debate: Should Colleges Ban
    Firearms?u201D That firearms had
    been banned on the Virginia
    Tech campus before these atrocities
    took place apparently did not
    inform the judgments of this
    newspaper's editors. Nor have
    I seen evidence of any rethinking
    on the part of a Virginia Tech
    spokesman who, in 2006, following
    the Virginia legislature's enactment
    of a ban on guns on state university
    campuses, declared: u201CI'm sure
    the university community is
    appreciative of the General
    Assembly's actions because this
    will help parents, students,
    faculty and visitors feel safe
    on our campus.u201D This man might
    send such words of comfort to
    the families of these 32 victims!

    Whatever
    explanations or remedies various
    u201Cexpertsu201D offer for the problems
    that beset mankind, the common
    thread connecting them is that
    both human and physical nature
    are capable of being causally
    understood and, therefore, subject
    to interventionist correction.
    Universities are the temples
    of faith in this proposition,
    with students enrolling for
    their stated purpose of u201Cmaking
    the world a better place.u201D It
    is not surprising, therefore,
    that immediately following these
    atrocities, the Virginia Tech
    campus became an attractor for
    the proponents of this Weltanschauung.
    u201CIf the university had intervened
    after this man turned in some
    disturbed writing to his English
    professor;u201D u201Cif we can just
    control guns;u201D u201Cif police had
    had access to his mental health
    records beforehandu201D: these were
    the oft-repeated concerns of
    those who are convinced that
    the world is predictable and,
    hence, controllable. In the
    latter vein, NBC news anchor,
    Brian Williams, reportedly vocalized
    the catechism in proposing a
    new federal program to monitor
    the mental health of all college
    students, in order to prevent
    occurrences such as this one.

    The
    true believers of the dogmas
    of control have insinuated themselves
    into all forms of institutions.
    Being ends in themselves, and
    with people serving as little
    more than resources for organizational
    purposes, institutions provide
    a fitting environment for such
    thinking. Government schools
    — unable to grasp the reality
    that children are, by nature,
    self-directed, spontaneous,
    and exploring people eager to
    devote their energies to what
    interests them — become upset
    when their conscripts refuse
    to suppress their inquisitiveness.
    The children get labeled u201Chyperactiveu201D
    or u201Csufferingu201D from u201Cattention
    deficit disorderu201D (i.e., do
    not adhere to the teacher's
    prescribed agenda) and must,
    therefore, have their energies
    controlled by drugs, counseling,
    and other u201Cbehavior modificationu201D
    techniques that squeeze the
    childhood sense of personally-relevant
    curiosity from them.

    Children
    grow into adulthood, and go
    to work for an institutionalized
    employer who plays this same
    control game at their expense.
    The employee finds himself or
    herself under the thumb of what
    has got to be the most dehumanizing
    and vulgar job description anywhere:
    a u201Chuman resources manager.u201D
    For an individual to be labeled
    as nothing more than a u201Cresourceu201D
    — what one dictionary defines
    as u201Can available meansu201D — is
    a glaring admission of the victory
    of institutions over the human
    spirit!

    Members
    of the control cult have always
    found themselves attracted to
    the agency whose raison d'tre
    is to subdue all of humanity
    to its coercive mechanisms of
    control: the state. What problem,
    or catastrophe, or even fear
    thereof, is not met with the
    aforesaid chant of bureaucrats:
    u201Cwe will find out what went
    wrong and fix it, so it doesn't
    happen againu201D? And what members
    of the boobeoisie — their
    minds thoroughly indoctrinated
    in this mindset — do not breathe
    a collective sigh of relief
    that their managers are on the
    job, looking after their well-being?
    Cho Seung-Hui bought one of
    his guns on Friday the 13th?
    Perhaps — with psychics explaining
    the causal connection –
    gun sales should be banned on
    such days! Cho Seung-Hui was
    bullied and teased as a child?
    Maybe such behavior can be included
    under u201Chate crimeu201D laws and
    made subject to criminal punishment!

    In
    the months following 9/11, the
    control freaks came forth with
    their seemingly endless laundry
    list of additional mechanisms
    of control with which they promised
    to fight the u201Cterroristu201D bogeyman.
    More police powers to enter
    people's homes — even without
    their knowledge; more wiretaps;
    more surveillance cameras in
    more places; more x-ray cameras;
    more background checks; more
    systems for probing into the
    human mind for motives and dispositions
    — an area of research now being
    perfected in England. Any objections
    offered by the handful of people
    who see the dangers inherent
    in police-states were casually
    dismissed by those who regard
    all expressions of individual
    liberty as u201Cloopholesu201D to be
    closed by additional legislation.

    Not
    to be left in the exhaust provided
    by their u201Cwar on terroru201D brethren,
    the u201Cglobal warmingu201D denomination
    mounted the pulpit to preach
    the sins of human behavior,
    and to promise existential salvation
    if only they, too, be given
    extended control over the human
    species. Mindless of the incalculable
    complexities at work within
    our world — a topic I took up
    in my
    last article
    — there is
    an arrogance of omniscience
    that unites members of the control
    cult. Whatever the field into
    which they wish to intrude,
    they remain convinced that they
    are capable of marshaling sufficient
    information that will allow
    them to create mechanisms to
    prevent harmful acts and to
    generate beneficial ones. If,
    in religious thinking, God is
    regarded as both omniscient
    and omnipotent then, in a secular
    age, such powers must repose
    elsewhere, namely, in the gods
    and goddesses of institutional
    governance.

    But
    recent inquiries into the nature
    of u201Cchaosu201D and complexity are
    revealing the baseless foundations
    of this faith in control. Our
    world — including each human
    being — is simply too complex,
    too subject to a myriad of too
    many influences over which we
    can never have sufficient awareness
    to predict outcomes. If physical
    and human nature are too complicated
    to be predictable, the rationale
    for state control is swept away.
    To the controllists, the expression
    of this fact is a heresy that
    must be exorcised from our thinking.

    Those
    who cling to a faith in their
    dying secular deity remain convinced
    that all that is needed to make
    a complex world more predictable
    is more information. This is
    the essence of much of the babbling
    of tongues disguised as u201Cexpert
    analysisu201D in the days following
    the killings at Virginia Tech.
    What we tend not to understand
    is that the more information
    we possess about anything, the
    more questions and uncertainties
    that arise. Albert Einstein
    understood this quite well in
    saying that u201Cas a circle of
    light increases, so does the
    circumference of darkness around
    it.u201D Bertrand Russell provided
    the social meaning to this when
    he declared: u201CThe trouble with
    the world is that the stupid
    are cocksure and the intelligent
    are full of doubt.u201D

    But
    one need not rely on abstract
    insights to confirm that a complex
    and unpredictable world cannot
    be rendered certain by more
    information. Over many decades,
    the American government has
    spent — and continues to spend
    — tens of billions of dollars
    in so-called u201Cintelligence agencies,u201D
    whose functions are to gather
    as much information as possible
    on the forces at work within
    foreign countries — and, disturbingly,
    within America itself. Despite
    the virtually unrestrained powers
    enjoyed by such agencies, and
    the resources put at their disposal
    to gather information, they
    have been able to predict almost
    nothing of major significance.
    The tearing down of the Berlin
    Wall, the collapse of the Soviet
    Union, the events of 9/11, all
    occurred without any foreknowledge
    of such agencies. And what of
    the predictions that American
    troops would be welcomed by
    Iraqis as u201Cliberatorsu201D in a
    u201Cslam dunku201D war that would last
    only a few weeks? On a more
    comic level, even knowing that
    January 1, 2000 was an event
    certain to happen, the voices
    of what became known as u201CY2Ku201D
    uncertainty were all over the
    lot in trying to predict what
    consequences, if any, were likely
    to befall our computer-centered
    world.

    Apostles
    of the control cult will focus
    their energies on any area of
    human activity that provides
    them the opportunity to advance
    what is central to their lives:
    the exercise of coercive power
    over other people. Whether any
    given issue involves gun ownership;
    global warming; discriminatory
    behavior; tobacco, drug, and
    alcohol usage; eating habits;
    educating or raising children;
    or any other expressions of
    human action that can be exploited
    for their purposes, the overall
    objective remains fixed. There
    is nothing this crowd fears
    more than the specter of ordinary
    people retaining decision-making
    authority over their own lives.

    Those
    who want control over us have
    taught us that they — if given
    enough power — can protect us
    from the destructive and murderous
    rampages of madmen. The Cho
    Seung-Huis and the Saddam Husseins
    of our troubled world will continue
    to be offered up to us as the
    destructive, murderous madmen
    from whom we need the protection
    of state officials. But the
    war system ought to be a stark
    reminder that it is political
    authorities who are the
    madmen; who destroy property,
    ravage economies, and — in the
    20th century alone
    — butchered some 200,000,000
    people in pursuit of their psychotic
    ambitions to control the rest
    of humanity.

    Most
    of your life is — and will continue
    to be — spent in peaceful relationships
    with others. But there will
    be the occasional thug with
    whom you may have to contend.
    Your ability to defend yourself
    will always depend upon the
    actions you take, with
    the resources you have
    available. You are more likely
    to prevail if you have disabused
    yourself of the notion that
    the state — or any other established
    system — will be there to prevent
    such threats to you. To this
    end, if you draw nothing else
    from the terrible events of
    this past week, let it be the
    awareness that there is nothing
    that anyone in authority can
    do to protect you from the unpredictabilities
    and uncertainties of life.

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