Contempt of State

Adrian Lamo, former hacker and inadvertent state stooge, says he is not sorry for reporting heroic Army Specialist Bradley Manning to the feds. He believes, "I put the interest of many against the interest of one."

Beyond the unrecognizable "patriotism" and incorrect math of Lamo’s perspective, and FBI pressures on young Adrian notwithstanding, the Manning case illustrates how the state will come tumbling down, and how wars and how empire, must ultimately end.

When we watch the devouring state, day in and day out, raging and salivating over the weak and the silent in the name of high-sounding newspeak and doublespeak, we are shocked, saddened, often angered, and sometimes defensive. Over time, we become inured to the inhumanity conducted on our backs, in our names, on behalf of various elite factions who create and control American policy.

In times of war and other indefensible state obscenities, one often sees reference to the famous poem that begins, "First they came," referring to group inaction against state excesses in German communities prior to World War II. This poem in particular is often invoked to scare people into action against an unjust situation, or rule, or king’s command. It fact, it doesn’t work, because it is an admonition based on inculcating a fear that, among other things, we will be the next set of victims. With fear, there really is no "we." There is ultimately only "me" and maybe, in some cases, "mine." Whether we begin to understand how fear is useful to and promoted by the state from the great political minds of George Carlin and Bill Hicks or from Dave Lindorff at Counterpunch, or from conservative politico Pat Buchanan — all of us will eventually understand, if we have our eyes open.

Of course, those who celebrated Independence Day by re-reading the Declaration of Independence were clearly reminded of how government-promoted fear feeds social, economic, and community division, and so serves the state.

The hubris of empire contains the seeds of its destruction — because instead of creating fear and awe, state hubris eventually breeds citizen contempt. Contempt as we watch a sunny afternoon of mass murder by our good soldiers in desert camouflage. Contempt when we read about "unintended" slaughters of innocents. Contempt when we hear about accidents of targeting our high-tech killing machines. Beauty queens inarticulately bemoan the lack of maps, and we feel contempt for the state, coming and going, at home and abroad.

There are those who call themselves patriots, as defined by state-spokespersons like the curiously employable Charles Krauthammer and the curiously unemployable Bill Kristol. These summer flag-wavers aim their contempt not at the state, but at the victims and critics of American empire, hoping to perfect the world before they take a closer look at themselves. But most of us naturally develop calluses of familiar contempt for the state, wherever the state rubs us the wrong way — whether we recognize it or not.

And contempt is not fear. Contempt, like calluses on our feet or hands, is both earned and necessary for the hard work to come.

Contempt for the incompetent, bloodthirsty and covetous state (its titular head ensconced in Washington, DC with hourly flights to its codependent sister city to the north) is increasingly displacing the state-preferred emotions of citizen fear and awe. Open expression of this contempt might today be called foolhardy, and as we see in Bradley Manning’s case, or the WikiLeaks project itself, it can be dangerous.

Contempt for the state is not fear of the state, and contempt is, in fact, powerfully unifying. The one third of British subjects who fought for independence in 1776 — whether for a Hamiltonian vision of a competing kingdom, or a Jeffersonian vision of a law-limited republic — shared a confidence — not in ultimate success — but in the rightness of their cause. They shared contempt for red-coated minions fighting for pay and spoils and a sick, crazy, tax-hungry tyrant across the ocean.

Bradley Manning, and others, in and out of the halls of power, who have offered a bit of truth to the citizens who pay for the state, suffer the state’s appetite and whims, and send their children to fight and die in its wars, are heroes. They did what they did not out of fear, but of righteous contempt.

To show solidarity with Bradley Manning, we should support his defense and laud his actions, but know — with great contempt — that his government trial will be no less a show trial than that of German patriots Sophie and Hans Scholl, as portrayed in the movie Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.

A better and more immediate way to support Bradley Manning might be to work on developing within ourselves and our families a more finely honed sense of contempt for the state, and a deeper understanding of one of the state’s favorite tools of control, the misapplied idea of utilitarianism.

Scorn the state! Get used to that feeling, because you’ll need to exercise it repeatedly in coming months and years, and you’ll need to embrace it without guilt. Embrace that contempt, and when you are ready, go a step further and rediscover your internal Mencken, your own George Carlin, and your personal Bill Hicks. One of the most powerful things you can do as an American patriot is to laugh at and ridicule our presumptuous and lawless government.

When we contemptuously laugh at our government, it not only enrages the bureaucrats and state apologists, it unifies us as free and peaceful people. When we laugh scornfully at our government, the whole world laughs with us, and this larger community may indeed prove helpful to us as the American empire spasmodically crumbles. Let’s move on to a brighter future where FBI-compromised computer hackers like Adrian, and ethical and nimble truthtellers like Bradley Manning are both free to live their lives out from under the cloak of state-defined crimes. A future where any respect for our government is wholly and completely earned, where the state quivers in fear at the fire in our eyes, and worries that at any moment, and for any reason, our consent will be withdrawn.

As we reflect on this month’s symbolism of fireworks, and the very real and colorful disaster that is modern never-ending American war and occupation around the world, it seems clear to me what the founders would be thinking about now. No doubt, with contempt.