Thanks to a five decade association between the two in the West, environmentalism and liberalism seem to be joined at the hip. This was not always so, and the original “green” movement would never have approved of what liberalism has converted it into.
Green criticisms of liberalism start with the realization that liberal policies create results contrary to green interests. Liberalism, based in appearance of intent more than consequences, will counter that it wants to help green interests by adding them to its agenda. Unfortunately the rest of the agenda contradicts those green interests.
If we are serious at all about reversing ecocide, our thinking will direct itself as keeping population low so that most of the land can remain in its natural state and not be over-exploited. Since pre-technological times, humans have exterminated species and created wastelands by the simple presence of too many humans. Overfishing arises from a need (and a financial opportunity) to feed more people. The same is true of cutting down the forests which absorb most of our pollution and return to us fresh oxygen.
Even the global warming debate entirely misses this point. What could reverse the presence of atmospheric carbon? Millions of acres of trees absorbing it, for starters. But we as humans follow our individual desires, which means that if we can sign the dotted line for the loan to get the suburban house, developers will bulldoze another thousand acres and make a subdivision. Then, since those developers need to stay employed, they will find more people who might want such housing and offer it to them at a lower rate. Like most things human, our tool has now become our master.
Ideally — from an environmentalist perspective — humans would view nature as an equal partner because we depend on it for air, water and food. Creating nature as an equal partner however would require us setting aside half of the land for nature alone and leaving it in its pristine state, much as happened when aristocrats owned exclusive hunting preserves. This would require humans to leave half of all of the continents in their natural state in all ecosystems and climactic types, not just the ones we cannot use for suburbs. This alone would reverse alleged global warming and ecocide. It would also directly obstruct leftist objectives such as immigration, welfare and social mobility.
Naturally this offends our tail-wags-dog modern myth that (economic) growth is essential. Instead of creating growth by creating new opportunity, like space travel or new technologies, humans have opted to create growth by population surge which produces more dependents and thus strengthens our ability to enforce control through public opinion. Against this I raise an example from literature.
In The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien writes about a mysterious ring that essentially dominates the minds of those who possess it. Many theories have been written about the ring and what it symbolizes, including that it is a metaphor for technology or even language itself. I suggest that Tolkien told us exactly what the ring meant: it is referred to as “the ring of power,” and power is what it wields. We might describe power as meaning the ability to control without a natural parallel, or power for its own sake. This separates the type of power the ring wields, which is a freedom from natural consequences, from the might of a king which involves nurturing what exists and improving its prospects. The ring allows a person to detach from the rules of nature and in secret — because its power hides them from view — doing what they wish for themselves alone.
Power is the ability to control others, to grow civilization and to have wealth and money. By going down this path we enter into an age of things for their own sake: economy for its own sake, military strength for its own sake, control of citizens for that purpose alone. This detaches power from its objects and makes it an isolated commodity that can be sought to fill the void in our souls rather than to create that which might do so. This power represents a fundamental truth of civilization as a managed, directed process: it’s a trap.
Civilization kills populations. Where the reign of kings provides a stable life, civilization inevitably advances for its own sake. Almost no one will be willing to argue against “benefits” to society at large that come from expanding its power. And so people stop pursuing quality of life and start pursuing power itself. They can be wealthier and stronger by expanding civilization and so they do it; they can control nature and others with technology and so they exploit it. Civilization leads people into power at which point they become reckless because the only standard is what pleases other people by telling them what they want to hear. But that, too, is power; the oldest form of power is the nocturnal mob assembled to force a single issue on others and retreat in anonymity before daylight makes the consequences known.
By the nature of trying to please its citizens in order to create power, civilization becomes oppressive. Success at manipulating others is a salesman’s game, a merchant Reich. And yet it improves nothing, but the human ego prefers feeling strong to knowing that life will turn out well. What humans need is not growth but stability, safety not chaotic but “interesting” social life, and freedom from worry instead of liberty to engage in self- and socially-destructive behaviors. Power contradicts all of these needs because it must make people subservient, much as the forces of Mordor do in The Lord of the Rings, and thus compel them to need their leaders. This enables leaders to use these people as fodder for power, whether growing industry, war or simply making them neurotic and automatically obedient.
We should look at our human needs first and then make our methods serve those. We need less time at the job and more time making our families stable and happy. Kids need mothers at home and safe neighborhoods. These do not happen with political objectives which are the root of power. They happen when culture values sanity over power and we put leaders in charge who can restrain us from our own impulse control issues. Otherwise, like fat people with gift cards at a donut shop, we become our own worst enemy.
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” they told me in high school, with stern expressions to let me know I had been exposed to profundity.
I have a different supposition: Power is a virus. If not taken out of the hands of individuals and directed toward some abstract but realistic goal like the growth of a civilization, power serves only itself — but it does so through the individualism and self-importance of unorganized people.
This is where politics leaves politics itself, because now we’re talking about the nature of power, not values (right, left) or manipulation (compromise, spin, ideology). We’re talking about how the human herd organizes itself, and not what it intends, but what corrupts its intention.
Now, all of this is out the window if power has a goal. Power with a goal is a three way switch — did it: (a) come closer to achieving the goal, (b) move farther away from the goal, or (c) do nothing? For all practical purposes, #b and #c are so close together that they get measured the same way. This is what holds power in check; comparison to the objective.
However, where there is no goal or only a vague maintenance-style goal like we have in the modern west, power has nothing to check it. Like a government employee or non-profit, it has no measurement of its success or failure; it just is. It keeps meeting its own internal goals, and so it assumes it is OK.
Wherever this kind of power goes, it expands. This can be a volunteer group, a friend group, a government, a non-profit, a corporation or even one aspect of your own mind. Once power exists, and has no outlet (goal), it starts working to further itself — because if it doesn’t do that, or stagnates, it declines (options #b and #c above).
Bureaucratic institutions never get smaller, only bigger. When a need arises, a bureaucracy is created. It begins addressing that need. Unless it can fix the situation immediately, it sets in for the long haul. At this point, it starts working to perpetuate itself. The situation is removed, and replaced by internal goals and external appearances.
Each year, the bureaucracy needs to find a way to justify itself. It can almost never do that by pointing to what it has been doing all this time and saying, “Yep, we’re just doing the same stuff, year after year.” People mistake that for option #c, stagnation, even though for most non-immediately-solvable problems the answer is to keep doing the same stuff that is known to ameliorate them, or do nothing about them and design around them (this is difficult).
As a result, the bureau must come out with a new initiative ever year. It’s doing that to defend the jobs of the people who work for it. A consequence of this however is mission creep, or the tendency to keep tacking on new goals as “sub-items” of whatever ostensible goal it was founded to have.
This means that every year, the bureau gets bigger, hires more people, and does more stuff. This is a form of entropy because it is becoming less organized, less effective, and more likely to be internally “gamed” by people who are fulfilling its internal demands, which are a step removed from actually addressing the problem. If the managers are check-writers are happy, the organization has succeeded; the actual problem is a secondary concern.
You might then ask, why does government turn leftist over time, and why are most government agencies leftist in outlook? The answer is that barring agencies which deal with specific reality-based concerns, like economics or the military, government agencies need to perpetuate themselves.
Conservative politics favor results over intentions, and as a result, will never expand government or give infinite job security to its employees. Conservatives are neither pro-government or anti-government, but favor the right tool for the job. The minority of problems are best served with permanent government agencies, hence most people see conservatives as “anti-government,” even though that’s illogical in a government-based system.
The result is that government turns leftist because leftists favor intentions over results. Intentions are what bureaus do best; they announce the new initiative, hire more people and spend more money, and when the problem goes unsolved, they haul out their mission document and show they’ve met their internal targets, even if their external ones went unaddressed.
Leftism builds more government. It allows government to justify itself by intention, and thus to grow itself. Power is a virus, and it is expressed by finding more dependents that require it so that it cannot be removed. This is a fundamentally defensive strategy.
Think about government welfare programs. When does the number of welfare recipients decrease? Never, if the welfare program can help it. If the number drops, so does the number of employees, the budget, the perks, and the job security. So any welfare program will find new dependents every year and if they aren’t there, it will invent them by expanding its mission. If society ever runs out of poor, the welfare agencies will quickly expand to covering people with mental stress, exhaustion, compulsive masturbation, etc.
Power likes to be leftist and have good intentions because that lets it expand. This seems to be why all governments except monarchies quickly plummet into oblivion. Even the totalitarians come to love their dependents, and soon they have converted society into a trough with no visible means of support. Shortly after that, the bill comes due, and it collapses.
When you were a kid, you may have been fortunate enough to have one of those tedious, blown-out old guys down the block who would always compare any current event to some distant dusty greyed-out happening in ancient times. “You know kid,” they’d rasp in those death warmed over voices, “Every time they raise gas prices, it reminds me of the Punic wars!”
Your job as a child was to make fun of them of course. That’s how you do what all children need do, which is differentiate yourself from your parents, because this is how children become self-conscious.They need that self-consciousness so that they can master it, and if they go far enough, discard most of it except the useful factual parts.
When we learn things, we have to go overboard first, and then find a moderate ground, upon which we can then heap more learning. Crotchety old men are on the far side of this cycle, which is that they sit on a heap of learning and are trying to remember back what it was like to be trying to build that mountain of knowledge. They’re upset you don’t understand how the Iraq war re-iterates things we in theory learned as a species during the Punic Wars.
They’re right but presenting themselves badly, because a raspy figure of death does not communicate reliability to the young. It communicates fear. What is missed in this lost chance for communication is a building block of understanding your world so profound that it changes the way you will view politics and society entirely. When children, we view our world like ourselves, as a linear history from birth to eventual death, and presume it to be inherent and unchangeable, a product of nature.When we get more experience, we stop seeing history as a timeline and start seeing it as a cyclic process which occurs in the linear space we call time.
Much like our own lives have birth, life, and then death, history contains similar cycles, but does not itself have them. Time is eternal. But for each entity in history this cycle persists. When we know this, we are no longer fooled by the heady propaganda from our governments, media, and moronic social partners that we are somehow “evolving” as a society. We are advancing through a life cycle which ends in death. The only thing that evolves is the design of individual humans and of course, the design of specific functions within a society.
Left to its own devices, the average civilization will cycle through its lifespan over a couple thousand years and then depart into physical, biological and intellectual ruins that resemble the results of at least a thousand years of dumbing down,compromise, palliative social placation, and of course, commerce dominating values. Is it any wonder the globe is covered with civilizations where dirt-covered people labor in ignorance at the bases of vast, impressive ruins? The original inhabitants are gone, both departed and absorbed into the remainder population.
This is what the old would tell the young if they could. It is also what great philosophers have attempted to tell us for aeons. Before we begin congratulating ourselves on one mechanism or another we have adopted to deal with the ongoing decline, we should ask ourselves: are we experiencing decline? Smart leaders and strong-willed populations can overcome this life cycle or prolong it, just like smart human beings can exercise and eat right and not become walking ruins of humanity before their time to depart this earth.
In movies it is popular to zoom out of a scene, show its larger context,and then return, with the juxtaposition (a product of time) showing how the small events of our lives are both iconic indicators of the larger cycle and contributing to it. Now that we have zoomed out from the events of our day, let us return to the Punic Wars, and the Blackwater scandal currently fading out in Iraq. What the media and government and well-meaning bloggers see is abuse of a system by a rogue mercenary company; what people with historical context (zoom enabled) see is the inevitable product of a declining empire forced to rely on mercenaries, who by definition share few of its actual values.
The real transgressions of the Blackwater people, it turns out, are more than one incident. Where US soldiers tried to blend with the population and reinforce a positive presence, for Blackwater, their contracts are a job and Iraqis are just in the way. Think of the killing of millions of buffalo, the wholesale removal of trees for replacement by concrete, or the billions of pounds of paper not recycled by businesses every year. When you’re on a job,you tacitly recognize it’s a form of control and resent it, because you’re not there as a result of agreeing with the mission. You are there for the money and because, since you’re forced to get money, you picked the least offensive career for you. But resentment is the periphery of that focus.
People at jobs (in my experience) tend to carry that chip on their shouldering a barely-hidden way that makes it even more present wherever they go. They do not act out overt aggression, but instead make thousands of tiny acts of sabotage. They borrow your stapler and don’t return it. They leave messes around the office. They accomplish only what exactly is stated in detail for any assignment, and ignore obvious implications. Job-logic is what gets us people being wasteful, and then running home without a care. Job-logic is what causes sloppiness that reaches epidemic proportions at the big corporations.
Job-logic is someone painting a floor, then storing flammable paint next to a water heater because it’s conveniently close to the door and no one told them not to. We joke at our jobs about how much we like weekends and can’t wait to escape, but under that joke is a simmering resentment which expresses itself in, “I will do what you tell me to, and not a god damn thing more,” which creates a kind of obliviousness. Our product works OK but breaks after a few months, or dumps oil on the floor?Well, we did what it said here in the Working Specification.
When an empire has to hire mercenaries to do the work that its Army cannot for political or logistical reasons do, you know the end is peeking around that next corner, and he’s winking. You know the game, he says. You fear death and death comes for you, but if you’re so goal-directed and conscientious that you seek an ideal more than you fear death, death cannot catch up to you until you are so old your body simply gives out. Our society has not found such a goal and has instead focused on making its members comfortable via material wealth and social esteem, which has made them fat,neurotic, emotional and ineffective. All they know how to do now is hire others to take care of them.
That old guy in the corner is telling you about the Punic Wars because the same thing happened to Carthage. While Rome was a virile and young civilization bustling with blondes and redheads and auburn-haired people,Carthage had become a marketplace for the dramatic international jet-setters who follow money but have no use for culture. They were a Semitic culture,formed from the intersection of Berber and Asian and Caucasian societies,and according to some accounts dyed their hair and painted their faces to excess. Carthage was like Los Angeles at its worst: ostentatious, but quick to humble someone else by pitying them and tossing aside a pittance of alms,and completely useless except for paper-shuffling, re-financializing money shuffling, desk-bound “earning money” without making anything better. In other words, a society in its final years, when it no longer has any ideals to live for.
Rome called their bluff. Unlike the Carthaginians, called Punic from the Latin term for Phoenician, the Romans were united by a common goal of power according to their ideal, and spreading that ideal through an empire.They were conditioned to practical labor as much as theory, and their theory was not landlocked by social constraints like marketing, as the Carthaginian theory was. They were rising, and Carthage was falling, and over the next three Punic Wars they proved it to the world, eventually laying siege to Carthage and literally erasing it from the map. Of course, that was before their own civilization aged, lost its consensus of ideals, and collapsed.
Despite the cries of media charlatans, Blackwater’s recent Iraq debacle is a small detail. Some guns for hire screwed up because in their job capacity there is no requirement that they care about the broader implications of what they do. So it is with all jobs, and jobs as labor without the context of ideals are a product of dying civilizations. The media is performing its job by whipping a detail into a frenzy, and at the same time, overlooking the inevitable truth of our decline. We’re all just doing our jobs, but no one is watching the overall direction on which we’re going. We can fool ourselves for a little more time by calling this progress, and in that time we can make some money and hopefully get away from the mess, so we will.
What it comes down to, when you look at civilizations as life-forms in themselves, is that there are two stages of society. In one, normally the youthful stage, the society is organic, meaning that consensus of values motivates its people toward accomplishment in accord with the ideal that represents the mental derivation that produced those values. In the other stage, usually the later, the society has become self-conscious but has not transcended that self-consciousness, so it imposes Control upon itself from some presumably absent but always oligarchically-controlled leadership faction. Conservative societies rule with a top-down order, emphasizing the production of a leadership caste, and liberal societies rule with a bottom-up order that seeks to neutralize leadership castes by empowering those at the bottom.
Both are methods of control that because they are imposed,create a job-mentality, and so do not fit the bill for saving a civilization.If we want to thrive, there is only one way, and that is by starting at the origin of leadership in a successful society, which is a mental and moral consensus according to some ideal that transcends self-consciousness. We must shoot for something that is not within the self, and is not defined within the society itself. It must be an ideal. Without such an ideal, we are like the Blackwater people just fulfilling rather frustrating jobs, and sometimes we too will freak out and shoot up the innocent from what might be sheer boredom.
In the common parlance, it is often said that power corrupts, but this generally applies to people who are personally unstable and spiritually undisciplined, and so once they escape the corset of social obligation, they act out their suppressed inner fantasies with deranged results. The flip side of power is that it teaches a form of compassion, a “tough love,” that comes from the necessity of motivating people, because motivating people is both a matter of strict external force and gentler internal reward. If you’re going to lead people into battle or business or a volunteer effort, you need to show them that their task is just and there is no other way, but also make them feel a sense of empowerment and world-remaking importance in their job, so that they see it as not only necessary but beneficient to society and self.
People are raw material. They come to you a mixed bag: they have strengths, and weaknesses, and fears as well as ambitions. Most of them do not know how to channel their ambitions, so if not given reason to think otherwise, will become egocentric and either seize power, or disclaim it entirely and retreat into personal worlds of amusements and fetishes. On the other hand, if their ambitions are given a clear path and a reason to exist, they can exponentially increase their productivity and acumen simply by the fact of being inspired toward their task. Among other things, this explains how throughout history small groups of men and women have changed the world radically, and how sometimes a smaller army or business can crucify its competitors: its people are more focused and believe in their task more than the opposition.
Although amplified by the modern world, throughout history most people have spent their day to day existence in a state of slight depression. The simplest reason for this is that very few of us get to live a life where we are a constant focus of attention, and so we labor mostly unknown except to a few close friends and our families, whose praise means a lot to us, yet, we would prefer to be more widely influential. Further, because life is a long and winding road in which it is necessary to make errors in order to learn the foundations of successes, all of us will have some failings and embarrassments lurking in the past. We prefer not to mention them in public, but whenever we consider our next move, doubt arises in the form of these past memories, much like beating a dog with a stick when it soils the carpet will convince it in the future to remember pain and associate it with that act. Our own histories literally condition us to depression.
What amplifies this depression in the modern time is the sheer size of our society, and its general course downward, which even the dumbest among us seem to have noticed. We notice such things on a subliminal level more than an articulated one, since to understand the situation in structure and words requires knowing more of it than most lives will see let alone analyze. Since our society is huge, and seems so far beyond our control or even understanding that it is inexorably going to do what it does, most are slightly depressed by their lack of influence on changing a worsening situation. Among the intelligent, it is recognized that masses of morons will undo whatever they achieve, or worse, turn it into a dumbed-down version of itself, missing meaning but preserving appearance (if you’re thinking of what Metallica did with the “black album” here, you’re on the right track). This keeps even the best among us depressed.
The catalyst of change for this situation can be a seemingly miniscule change in belief. People now believe they cannot change themselves or the world, and that things will continue as they have been; if given the knowledge that not only are things invisibly changing, but that the future favors this change, and that they can be the implements of such alteration, people will become inspired and find belief in the future. The same energy that fuels their depression can propel their hard work and brilliant invention in remaking the world. Another way to view this is that depression is the result of one’s energy having no outlet, thus it works against the individual by creating internal chaos. Give people an outlet that they believe will have positive results, and they will move the world. It is for this reason that stubborn assholes such as this writer believe that as has happened in the past, a small group of determined people will change our world yet again. People of the world, your time is coming.
And time is on our side. Every day we grow stronger and more disciplined, the errors of society bear it and its lackeys further into oblivion, crushing them under the weight of a design which is doomed by its own contradictions to failure. Each day that we do not give in and do not parrot their rhetoric, ours is seen more clearly by others, and more respected. And with each passing day, more of the failures of our current civilization come to light, and more people look for alternate answers, perhaps not to act on directly but to support covertly or simply as vessels for their hope of a better future. When people become inspired, they gain a nearly godlike status in their ability to think clearly, act decisively, and make each choice correctly the first time. In this state, the errors and stumbling confusion that hampers us in daily life is minimized, and replaced with a state of pure function that comes of a lack of spiritual doubt about one’s course. People of earth, your fortunes are changing.
If you’ve got a modicum of intelligence, you are probably depressed, and you were probably born depressed: society is against you, as it wants to dumb down every aspect of its function to the point where you will be a misfit and your best efforts will not be appreciated even when successful. You are surrounded by idiots, and thanks to democracy and consumerism and popularity, they do have greater power than you – for now. You have no faith in the rotted process of our society, or its calcified judgment, or even life itself, perhaps, for it has delivered you to this state. Yet this is changing, and the same force of life – call it nature, God, or chance; your pick – has brought this cycle toward the beginnings of a close. You must have faith in the process of living and the change it can bring, because at that point, you can see yourself as an agent of this change. As a wise man once said, “I don’t know if what I’m doing will make things better, but I feel better working toward something in which I believe.” That outlook requires leaving behind the comfort of feeling you cannot change anything, so contenting yourself with distractions like television, drugs, novelty music and social pressures.
We live in a world of a lack of absolutes. We cannot “prove” what we’re doing is right any more than those who oppose us can, but we can make a firm stand with statements of personal experience and wisdom such as “I prefer” and “I believe.” Nature takes her time, but our environment has changed to the point where it will no longer favor the foolish with excess, and all of the things that smarter-than-average people have dreamed of as a means to restore meaning and beauty to our world are returning. The forest will reclaim the cities, the wilderness our moral souls, and intelligence will storm the walls of our civilization and plant the banner of “ever upward” over the ruins of contentment, gluttony and placating the crowd. Our time is coming, and our victory is a choice of our hands and our hard work. Our depression is obsolete, and the time of our triumph newly dawning. Where will you stand: with those who give up their comfortable depression and sloth, and take charge toward the future, or those who will through inaction defend the dying? For me, I prefer to believe. And the more I see, the more I realize that the age of great change is coming, and the era that has oppressed all the fine things is life is ending in flames and smothering decay. People of earth, you can similarly be inspired, but you must choose it.
Or How Abusive Authority is Not Authority Itself
Most people like to see the world in two sides, x versus y, a linear equation. They would like you to believe that there’s a right way, and a wrong way, universally, of doing things. They would like you to believe that some people are evil and some are good. They want you to see anyone with money as bad, and anyone without, as innocent and pure. They also want you to see any authority as oppressive, and any anti-authority as being on the side of fun, freedom, and acceptance. This is the oldest trick in the book: they’re trying to lure you into Us Versus Them, and oversimplify the world, so that you can feel good about yourself for joining the “right” side.
Pay attention to both extremist and moderate propaganda. The Republicans want you to think that their position is moral, and anyone else is amoral, and thus lacks the strength to take necessary action (invading Iraq) and will cause society to degenerate. The Democrats want you to believe that those who have money will oppress all others, and that only those who embark on a pity crusade to raise up the lower are correct and moral. Both sides have some truth to them, and if you take their ideas out of linear context, there’s a germ of something compatible between them: moral action must be taken, and some are against it. Because they use oversimplification, however, their platforms become blind dogma and have little relevance to the real world.
Extremists do the same thing. In the environmental movement, there are people who would like you to believe that only those who check carefully for dripping faucets, buy organic food and heat their bathrooms with solar energy are right, and everyone else is “blind” and destructive. Neo-Nazi groups preach exactly the same dogma, except their rhetoric is conservation of race. Only those who adopt a strictly racialist view of the world are right, and everyone else is part of the conspiracy. Both groups suffer for their linear outlook, in that both degenerate rapidly into bigotry. Organic buying hippies versus the mass corporate horde; if we just oppress that mass corporate horde, everyone will live comfortably with water conserving toilets and recycled maxipads. Neo-Nazis tend to preach, in a manner guaranteed to alienate all successful people from them, that if we just eliminate Jews/Negroes (Jews being Asiatic- and Negroid-hybridized Caucasians, historically speaking) everything will be okay. Us Versus Them. Good Versus Evil. Right Versus Wrong.
Life isn’t designed on a single axis.
There are two problems with the Us Versus Them theory, and they are as follows: first, that a universal, single law can apply to all places – universality, because it must apply a single measurement to diverse areas, is by nature absolutist, and increasingly so as those trying to implement it become defensive. Second, that it polarizes between an Elect and a Preterite, e.g. the Us who are ordained to do what is right, and those who are destined to have it done Unto Them. In Platonic terms – and we all know that Plato’s metaphor of the cave was misinterpreted as metaphysical description, in the modern belief “neo-Platonism,” when it was a metaphor for the interpretation of knowledge – in the world of appearance, we see only ourselves and a world opposing us so, because of our entrenchment in the self, we tend to contrast between two extremes. What Plato was hinting out however was that we are enslaved by that perspective, and need to rise up out of the cave of our artificial knowledge and look directly at the world as it is, so that we can understand its structure, which is by definition not linear but parallel in form. Some might say this is itself a polarization, but it’s not Us Versus Them but a contrast between a simplistic way of viewing the world and a more accurate one. Anyone can pick up either method, thus “Us” and “Them” are not descriptive terms.
One place this can be seen clearly is in our responses to authority. By nature, most of us are anarchistic in emotional outlook, but when it comes time to getting things done, we recognize the need for leadership. This leads to the problem of authority, because someone must not know what the plan is and tell people what to do, but must also give a firm yes or no to their actions. Therein lies one of the paradoxes to society: in order to have the freedom to enjoy what civilization grants, through specialization of labor and the corresponding efficiency of scaling, one must have some kind of authority. Leaders. Sergeants. Cops.
Authority versus Authority Abusive by Design
This concept of authority, in itself, is not abusive. In theory, authority is granted by tacit contract between citizens and the enforcers so that the enforcers can do what is right for the citizens (a group which must include the enforcers as well). When authority does what is beneficial for the citizens, only those who oppose authority are in disagreement; when authority is either abusive, or is applied universally to citizens with different needs, an abuse of authority occurs. At some point what unifies a society is agreement on what authority must do, but when that breaks down, the tendency of most leaders is to become defensive and to try to replace that consensus of authority’s purpose with greater authority. The thought is that greater strength can replace citizens who have grown apart in values and, like the same principle applied to a dying romantic relationship, it makes active abusers of authority and passive abusers of those who must submit to it. It is a no-win situation.
Bill White’s recent article about speeding tickets brings to mind a powerful example. Speeding tickets are a case of abusive authority because they are motivated by the wrong ideals. Local law enforcement is encouraged to use them as a means of collecting revenue, like a tax, although the original idea was that society could be divided into safe drivers versus reckless drivers. In the first days of traffic legislation, the focus of giving citations was to rack up enough negative points for bad drivers so that they could be forced off the road. Things changed. At the current time, a car is required to get to work, so instead of trying to eliminate bad drivers, the law has mutated to become a bizarre form of taxation on behavior – not the behavior of bad driving, which is open to debate, but a good old linear measurement: speed.
When we say that authority applied universally is defective, we mean in part that not all people are equal. Some can drive safely at seventy miles an hour, where others should drive at fifty or not at all; a driver can be as dangerous driving slowly, and causing traffic pile ups and thus forcing others into bad behavior, as driving quickly. But assessment of speed gives us that good Us Versus Them feeling, where those who drive within the laws are OK and those who go faster are outcasts, amoral and lawless, etc. That the cops who give the tickets are not only taking in money for their departments, but also getting personally closer to promotions and praise, turns this situation of dubious authority into one of predation: cops become predators who find those who, responding to speeding limits designed for the least competent but applied equally to those of all competences, drive faster than the official limit. There is no greater confirmation of this than the tendency of American freeways to have an average road speed of ten to fifteen miles per hour faster than the posted limit.
“In a closed society where everyone is guilty, the only crime is getting caught.” – Hunter S. Thompson
When we see someone pulled over for speeding, we have initial compassion replaced almost immediately by a sense of Better Them Than Us, because we know that it’s a luck of the draw that the person pulled over got caught and we didn’t, since in order to function normally in this society we all speed on a regular basis. At this point, what we have is authority that is of a poor design, and thus is abusive. There are many other examples, but speeding tickets are a daily fact of life for all of us who drive anywhere, and it is small feedback loops like citizens annoyed at being taxed for what others equally escape that will contribute to change in our view of authority.
Authority versus Abuse of Authority
Being careful to separate authority itself from abuse of authority does not blind us to recognizing where authority is abused. Authority is both a power, and a responsibility, in that in the role of authority one is a servant of those over which one presides, and must do what is best for them regardless of its popularity. If it is necessary to do more work in less luxurious circumstances, it is a hard sell to the population, but that does not obviate the necessity of that transaction. We all want to hear that we can have more of what we want without much sacrifice, but life often is not compliant, which is fortunate, as to use a simple example, if we ate only desserts and not main courses, we’d be an unhealthy bunch.
Authority is abused when the person in authority acts outside of the social agreement by which the authority was bestowed, using authority instead for reasons of personal enrichment or emotional response. Probably the best example of this in recent memory is the assault on Branch Dravidians in Waco, where a popular president encouraged his forces to attack religious dissidents who also sold rifles. The excuse was that they were violent; the reality seems to be that those in authority resented people disagreeing with them, and decided to crush them, sending all of them and their children to their deaths. While the Branch Dravidians may have been a bit odd, there was no definitive proof that they were dangerous or even committing criminal acts, and in the intervening years, evidence has emerged that suggests they were set up and wholesale murdered by President Clinton and his cohorts for the crime of not going along with his vision of the world. Even if screwing around with his intern was what in theory brought him down, Clinton lost much of his popular support after he decided to incinerate his own citizens with military force. Like most career politicians, his method was to adopt popular viewpoints but his goal was raw power and personal ego-gratification.
Currently, we can witness abuse of authority in the American crusade in Iraq. At first, it was a war against terrorism; that didn’t pan out, so it became a war against WMD, presumably to take out Israel’s primary enemy (Israel had bombed Iraqi WMD programs before). Finally, with all else failing, it became a war for Democracy and Freedom, both of which mean nothing when they come at the expense of your native culture being replaced by cultureless Product-ism and American-style infestation of malls, fast food, etc. Iraq is at this point as neurotic as America is, since the Americans have effectively divided it against itself. Where one ethnic group ruled, now each group pulls in its own direction, dooming the country to endless civil war. Women are now polarized against men, the poor against the rich, the rural against the urban. Iraq is destroyed much as the Branch Dravidians were, and for what? Well, it’s convenient that, as in Vietnam, American industry can take over and cultivate both new sources of cheap labor and new markets for mediocre products (Coca-Cola, General Motors, Microsoft). The reason for this war is less obvious, but lies within the revenge impulse of George Bush himself: he wanted to best his father, and finally beat back those who defied not only American-Israeli hegemony in the middle east, but also the American way of life and “official” religion, evangelical Christianity. Oil, democracy, WMDs, terrorism, religion are the justifications – the real reason is pure abuse of power, based in the personality of our leader much in the same way it was with Clinton. Maybe being popular forces politicians to internalize so much of their own personalities that when those elements come out, they are by nature violent and revengeful?
Authority becomes abusive when it falls into the power vacuum created by a lack of official consensus, but a powerful majority who will identify with its Us Versus Them rhetoric. Iraqis and Branch Dravidians = bad; Freedom and Democracy and Civil Rights legislation = good. The abuse of authority is enabled by a population that cannot agree on basic values and is willing to be manipulated by such demagoguery, in part from the belief that greater force will compel others to join the “right” and not “wrong” side. It is not a property of authority itself, but of authority placed into an impossible decision and the error compounded by leaders choosing to avoid the actual problem – disunity – and to emphasize force instead. The Iraq problem lies in an ancient division between Jews and Muslims, exacerbated by Christian Crusades, and cannot be solved by force alone. The Branch Dravidian problem arose because America, as a culture and shared set of values, has always been a melting pot and thus has no common ground except basic law and order and money, of course. In each of these situations, misuse of authority has simply hastened the inevitable collapse. The Iraq war came on top of announcements by al-Qaeda that America and Israel would attack Muslim lands, and immediately made prophets of al-Qaeda. The attack on the Branch Dravidians spawned greater divisions in American society and more radicalized dissidents. The only solution that misusers of authority see is greater authority, which they’ll tighten until they force revolution or other extreme social breakdown. Entropy is our future.
Didn’t this column promise to be about cops? Now that we have some understanding of the underlying problems of authority, it is easier to understand why cops are so divisive. There are two major attitudes in America, at least, toward law enforcement. The first are those who out of pure meekness and submission or practical not rocking the boat choose to support law enforcement radically; they tend to fear the lawless, the coming anarchy, and the hordes of impoverished, drug addicted, violent felons that America produces. The other group believes that cops are inherently authority abusers, and paints them all with the same wide brush as consummate bullies and oppressors. The reality of course is that cops must represent a system of law that is, as in the case of profit derived from speeding tickets, abusive by design, and, because of the paradox under which they labor or other personal factors, that some cops are authority abusers. The counterculture would like us to believe that only authority abusers join the police force, but this does not address the fact that some form of authority is needed. The other side is blind to the failings of the design of our authority and the situations in which it places cops that make authority abuse easy. Authority is only as good as its design and underlying that, the will of the citizens to come together and agree on values systems.
There are plenty of good cops out there. Hardworking, they see their job in a transcendent light, which is that it’s their chance for heroism on a daily basis. They look forward to placing themselves in harm’s way so that they can do an act of good, usually saving the rest of us from some deviant. It was cops such as these who spoke up against the Branch Dravidian invasion and the war on drugs and other misguided, abusive ideas, and it’s their counterparts in the military – who view their own roles with the same kind of respect and hope – who are currently voicing the rumblings of dissent with the Iraq war. Much as many of our citizens are either passive bullies or active forces of subjugation of others, some cops are simply screwed up people. Many are not. What makes people fear cops is the system of values behind their authority, which in its absolute and universal application of laws that do not take into account the differences between people, creates an oppressive atmosphere in which both sanctioned and unsanctioned abuse have free reign.