August 12, 2013
For those of you unfamiliar with the stegosaurus, and who have no young children or grandchildren around to explain it to you, the stegosaurus was the dinosaur shaped like a bell-curve, a perfect symbol for the linear, quantified, mechanistic model of our over-sized institutional world.
This creature was so large and cumbersome that it required two brains – one in its head, the other in the tail – to move about. Its nervous system was about as sluggish as that of a mainstream newspaper editor. It has been hypothecated that a stegosaurus could be using its frontal brain to munch on the leaves of a bush, while its rear brain was being attacked – and killed – by a tyrannosaurus rex. Stegosaurus could continue feasting, unaware that it was already dead!
I can think of no more vivid picture of the condition of the modern nation-state. After years of dragging its corpulent carcass about, indifferent to the injuries it caused to those lesser creatures who got in its path, this dinosaur continued to gorge itself on leaves, heedless of the voices from its hinterland informing it that its fate was already determined. My oft-used metaphor of the just-beheaded chicken can also help describe the condition of the modern state: it flaps about in a pattern of automatic reflexes spewing blood in its path, making a mess of whatever gets in its way. It no longer serves any life-enhancing purpose, having become little more than a mass of reactive energy.
How should intelligent people respond to this? Having been thoroughly conditioned in the political mindset of using force as the most effective manner of bringing about change, our initial answer might be to try to reform the state; to make its actions more palatable to its victims. Such a response recalls Frank Chodorov’s wonderful rejoinder about wanting “to clean up the whorehouse, but keeping the business intact.” But recent history informs us that we are far beyond being able to treat the state as an instrument established and controlled to serve our purposes. As an institution, the state is its own reason for being, its violent powers in the hands of the kinds of people attracted to compulsion as the principal method of dealing with others. As Einstein so well-expressed the point: “Force always attracts men of low morality.”
The state serves only the most debased motives through the most destructive means of accomplishing the ends of the most vicious and corrupt members of the human species. By its nature, the state wars against truth and reality, using terror and violence to overcome our more peaceful and cooperative individual dispositions. To think of reforming such a monstrous system makes no more sense than trying to enclose a wild tiger with a tall fence! Such thinking reflects a continuing attachment to power, a force that would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of those who imagined themselves fit to exercise it.
To attack the state through violent means is the most self-defeating measure. To think this way is to succumb to desperation, to give up on life itself. Our beliefs in systemic violence are destroying us. If we are to live peacefully with one another, our means of doing so cannot be found in the conflict that is the state’s organizing principle. Even the most superficial mind ought to recognize that resorting to violence in an effort to rid the world of state-violence, is not only self-contradictory, but would require us to have coercive powers greater than those of the state! Those who might be successful doing this would have to amass the energies of a super-state, and would have to maintain such powers to prevent the “return” of the deposed state. Sound familiar? Do Marx and Engels come to mind, with their promises about the eventual “withering away of the state?” We cannot use the methodologies that have gotten us to where we now find ourselves. Furthermore, at a time when politicized thinking is on the defensive – and, to many, in full retreat – it is far better to focus attention on the development of alternative models of social organization.
We are beyond the place where incremental changes will suffice. Cosmetic alterations – providing the emperor with a new suit of clothes – may modify, but not end, our well-organized destructiveness. To redesign the systems that war against life, or to replace the puppets atop the pyramid, will only keep us spinning our wheels. Nothing less than a fundamental transformation in our thinking as to how we are to live in society with one another will bring about the change that matters.
As we focus our minds on the task of rethinking our basic assumptions, the question of how to end statism may answer itself. Like the stegosaurus and the decapitated chicken, the state clumsily staggers around in a brain-dead condition. At its best, the state may be said to be functioning at no higher level of intelligence than that of its reptilian brain with its reflexive, knee-jerk “see/act” behavior. Its behavior is dominated by contradictions, conflicts, falsehoods, corruption, violence, and other traits that work against a peaceful and orderly world.
Daniel Goleman observed that “[s]ocieties can be sunk by the weight of buried ugliness,” a reminder of how collective power and collective ideas can bring down civilizations. Rather than focusing our energies on trying to rehabilitate or reinvent the state, we would be better advised to direct our attentions to alternative social practices that serve the living, not exalted abstractions. Like the dinosaurs – whose presence on earth was of far greater duration than that of humans – the state’s monstrous size renders it incapable of making creative, life-enhancing responses to the changes occurring within the world.
Leopold Kohr has written of the dysfunctional nature of size, observing that “whenever something is wrong, something is too big.” The study of chaos and complexity affirm the adverse consequences of trying to manage the world from the apex of Plato’s pyramid. The state is a behemoth that stumbles about, ravenously increasing its consumption of whatever resources it deems necessary to sustain its ever-more-bloated size.
In the long run, the well-being of our children and grandchildren depends upon our bringing about a paradigm shift in thinking about what it means to be human. This involves learning how to regain control over our lives, a task that entails expanding the understanding of our own self-directed abilities, and the awareness of how we have given up such personal powers and authority to the state. This is not something we can do passively, but requires the most energized and focused mind.
In the short run, the best answer to the violence that is synonymous with state power may be to just let politicized thinking play out the logical consequences upon which it is grounded; to allow the system to grind itself down. Perhaps, like the attacking Martians in H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, or the final days of dinosaurs on earth, our best short-term defense against the state may be to allow its dysfunctional size and nature to provide the catalyst for its own extinction. The rest of us need to protect ourselves as best we can against its over-reaching into our lives, and to participate in those peaceful, voluntary alternative systems and practices that serve our purposes. But in the meantime, we should take a lesson from our ancestral mammals who were able to wait out the dinosaurs who lacked the resiliency to respond to the changed conditions of an ever-changing world. Instead of trying to prop up and rehabilitate this destructive monolith, let us allow it to collapse of its own dead weight!