Why TSA, Wars, State Defined Diets, Seat-Belt Laws, the War On Drugs, Police Brutality, and Efforts to Control the Internet, Are Essential to the State
The title of this article encompasses topics that arouse attention and criticism among persons of libertarian persuasion. The discussion of such matters usually treats each issue as though it were sui generis, independent of one another. Most of us respond as though the woman who is groped at the airport has no connection with the man who is tasered by a police officer; that the person serving time in prison for selling marijuana is unrelated to the men being held at Guantanamo. The belief that one person’s maltreatment is isolated from the rest of us, is essential to the maintenance of state power.
What we have in common is the need to protect one another’s inviolability from governmental force. When we understand that the woman being groped by a TSA agent stands in the same shoes as our wife, mother, or grandmother; when the man being beaten by a sadist cop is seen, by us, as our father or grandfather, we become less willing to evade the nature of the wrongdoing by invoking the coward’s plea: “better him than me.”
The state owes its very existence to the success it has had in fostering division among us, a topic I explored in my Calculated Chaos book. Divide-and-conquer has long been the mainstay in political strategy. If blacks and whites; or Christians and Muslims; or employees and employers; or “straights” and “gays”; or men and women; or any of seemingly endless abstractions, learn to identify and separate themselves from one another, the state has established its base of power. From such mutually-exclusive categories do we draw the endless “enemies” (e.g., communists, drug-dealers, terrorists, tobacco companies) we are to fear, and against whom the state promises its protection. By becoming fearful, we become existentially disabled, and readily accept whatever safeguards the institutional fear-mongers impose, . . . all for our “benefit,” of course!
Look at the title of this article: do you find any governmental program or practice therein that is not grounded in state-generated fear? Each one – and the numerous others not mentioned – presumes a threat to your well-being against which the state must take restrictive and intrusive action. Terrorists might threaten the flight you are about to take; terrorist nations might have “weapons of mass destruction” and the intention to use them against you; your children might be at risk from drug dealers or from sex perverts using the Internet; driving without a seat-belt, or eating “junk” foods might endanger you: the list goes on and on, changing as the fear-peddlers dream up another dreaded condition in life.
It is not sufficient to the interests of the state that you fear other groups; it is becoming increasingly evident that you must also fear the state itself! Governments are defined as entities that enjoy a monopoly on the use of violence within a given territory. Implicit in such a monopoly is the recognition that there be no limitations on its exercise, other than what serve the power interests of the state. In relatively quiet and stable periods (e.g., 1950s) the state can afford to give respect to notions of individual privacy, free speech, and limitations on the powers of the police. In such ways, the state gives the appearance of reasonableness and respect for people. But when times become more tumultuous – as they are now – the very survival of the state depends upon a continuing assertion of the coercive powers that define its very being.
For a number of reasons – some of it technological – our social world is rapidly becoming decentralized. The highly- structured, centrally-directed institutions through which so much of our lives has been organized (e.g., schools, health-care, government, communications, etc.) no longer meet the expectations of many – perhaps most – men and women. Alternative systems, the control of which has become decentralized into individual hands, challenge the traditional institutional order. Private schools and home-schooling; alternative health practices; the Internet, cell-phones, and what is now known as the “social media,” are in the ascendancy. With the state becoming increasingly expensive, destructive, economically disruptive, oppressive, and blatantly anti-life, secession and nullification movements have become quite popular.
Of course, such transformations are contrary to the established institutional interests that have, for many decades, controlled the state – and, with it, the monopoly on violence that is its principal asset. Having long enjoyed the power to advance their interests not through the peaceful, voluntary methods of the marketplace, but through such coercive means as governmental regulation, taxation, wars, and other violent means, the established order is not about to allow the changing preferences of hundreds of millions of individuals to disrupt its traditional cozy racket.
Because the institutional order has become inseparable from the coercive nature of the state, any popular movement toward non-political systems is, in effect, a movement away from the violent structuring of society. The corporate interests that control the machinery of the state may try to convince people that government does protect their interests vis-à-vis the various fear-objects. Failing in this, the statists must resort to the tactic that sustains the playground bully: to reinforce fear of the bully, who controls his victims through a mixture of violence and degradation.
Neither the TSA nor the alleged “war on terror” have anything to do with terrorism. The idea that the TSA came about as a consequence of 9/11 ignores the fact that the state’s practice of prowling through the personal belongings of airline passengers goes back many decades. I recall how upset a friend of mine was – in the early 1970s – when government officials went through his hand-luggage, and ordered him to unwrap a birthday gift he was carrying home to a relative. The purpose of such a search then, as now, was to remind passengers of the bully’s basic premise: “I can do anything I want to you whenever I choose to do so.” It is for the purpose of keeping us docile – an objective furthered by degrading and dehumanizing us – that underlies such state practices.
The groping of people’s genitals and breasts is but an escalation of this premise, and should the TSA later decide that all passengers must strip naked for inspection, such a practice will go unquestioned not only by the courts, but by the mainstream media who will ask ” . . . but if you don’t have anything to hide . . . “ Those who cannot imagine state power going to such extremes to humiliate people into submission, are invited to revisit the many photographs of German army officers at such places as Auschwitz, who watched – as “full body scanners” – as naked women were forced to run by them.
The extension of wars – against any enemy that any president chooses as a target – serves the same purpose. It is not necessary that there be any plausible rationale for the bombing and invading of other countries: it is sufficient that Americans and foreigners alike be reminded of the violence principle upon which government rests. “I will go to war against you if it serves my interests to do so, and any resistance on your part will only confirm what a threat you are to America!” The state directs its wars not so much against foreign populations, as against its own. War rallies people into the mindset of unquestioning obedience because, by engaging in such deadly conduct, the state reminds us of its capacities to destroy us at its will.
You can apply this logic to any of the aforementioned government programs. The state – and the corporate order that depends upon the exercise of state power – is fighting for its survival. Rather than treating this as a “war against terrorism,” it is more accurate to consider it as a “war to preserve the hierarchically-structured institutional order.” There are too many trillions of dollars and too much arbitrary power at stake for those who benefit from controlling the state’s instruments of violence to await the outcome of ordinary people’s thinking. If the survival of the corporate-state power structure required the extermination oftwo billion people, such a program would be undertaken with little hesitation. Destructive violence becomes an end-in-itself to an organization that is defined in terms of its monopoly on such means.
On the other hand, I continue to remain optimistic that these institutional wars against life will come to an end. I believe that the United States of America is in a terminal condition; its fate already determined. But America – whose existence predates the United States – may very well survive in a fundamentally changed form. What is helping this transformation process are innovative technological tools for the decentralized exchange of information; mankind is rapidly becoming capable of communicating with one another in the most direct ways, methods that make traditional top-down forms less and less relevant. The Internet is one system that is the tip of an iceberg whose deeper challenges have thus far not captured the attention of crew members of the ship-of-state.Wikileaks is another step in the evolution of decentralized information systems that will bring greater transparency to the activities of the ruling classes. In the process, men and women will discover just how liberating the free flow of information can be. When the rest of the world has access to the same information that political systems try to keep secret, the games played at the expense of people begin to fall apart.
An awareness of the dynamics of change being brought about through decentralizing forces has not, however, managed to inform members of the established order. For all of their pretended knowledge and expertise about the world, they just don’t get it. They seem to imagine that their decline-and-fall can be prevented by keeping the Bradley Mannings and Julian Assanges locked up; and that the political ramifications can be deterred by distracting attention away from a Ron Paul – who does understand the nature and direction of these changes – and toward a comic-opera Sarah Palin.
In the meantime, in an effort to keep Boobus Americanus and other members of the herd within their assigned stalls, the ever-present threat of force and its consequent degradation of the individual will be invoked as the state works feverishly – and futilely – to shore up its collapsing foundations.
Butler Shaffer teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918–1938 and of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival. His latest book is Boundaries of Order.