THE STATE IS OUT OF DATE
We can do it better
By Gregory Sams
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC Copyright © 2013 Gregory Sams
All rights reserved.
What Would an Alien Think?
Imagine for a moment that you are an intelligent alien on your first visit to planet Earth, coming from a planet as richly developed as ours, but with freedom, instead of top-down state control, underpinning its culture. Your alien civilization may have little in common with Earth's, but could include any of the things we enjoy, such as music, dance, literature, sports, architecture, engineering, science, art, fashion, and so on. After all, none of these things were conceived, planned, or developed by the state, though at times it may seek to regulate some of them for the declared benefit of us all.
Most people today would assume that this alien must have a central commander and head of state. They assume this because central command is all that we have in our own limited frame of reference, and is the stuff of a million science fiction stories.
Central command is certainly NOT the natural state. We have only to look around us to realize that every other life form sharing this planet has operated successfully for millennia without any form of central controlling structure. The dinosaurs dominated for thirty-five times the period that we have been on the planet, as far as we know without the need of parliaments, kings, or ruling bodies.
I know of no voting council of trees which determines the specific proportions and varieties of trees in a given forest. In many cases, such as the oak tree, the long-term successful species has figured out how to cooperate with as many other species as possible (up to three hundred, in the case of the oak). This ability to cooperate with other forms of life is a far more intelligent long-term survival strategy than is that of domination and control by rulers and ruling bodies.
Why do we assume that any intelligent alien species, even more advanced than ours, will have the same sort of flawed structures as ourselves, with powerful leaders, military forces, and lawmaking bodies? Why is it inconceivable to us that any other advanced civilization could be operating, as does every successful structure in the Universe, in a state of freedom? These aren't deep questions—they just reveal the deep rut in which our imagination is trapped.
We assume that any intelligent creature capable of space travel will come equipped with plasma guns, ionic blasters, phaser bolts, and a full arsenal of high-tech weaponry with which to kill and destroy. Why? We humans have experienced a dramatic and possibly unique evolution of methods to kill each other. A mainstay of our chosen cultural entertainment involves depictions of us killing each other in countless war and confrontational movies. Are we to assume that this is a normal or natural element of any highly developed civilization?
Is mankind alone in the Universe? Or are there somewhere other intelligent beings looking up into their night sky from very different worlds and asking the same kind of question?
Carl Sagan and Frank Drake
Our alien may have learned how to travel along the fractal patterns of hyperspace and be able to outmaneuver a missile or fighter jet. But it is quite possible that its civilization never figured out how to split the atom. Maybe it never had the fear of a Hitler to inspire its scientists to tap such a destructive force. The consequences of this discovery have been extremely negative and continue to pose an ongoing threat to the very survival of our species. Yet we assume that a higher alien intelligence will have even greater means of self-destruction at its disposal. This is a basically illogical assumption. More destructive power is neither the hallmark of higher intelligence nor the route to long-term peace and stability.
We assume that our highly developed alien will have a highly developed state overseeing a well-regulated society. Yet what does the central controlling state actually give us—not one specific state here or there, but the beast in general—the totality of states running their own big and little nations throughout the world? They primarily came into being for one reason alone—to protect us from other versions of themselves. It is difficult to find anything else they do that we treasure, or are satisfied by. They take vast sums of money from us and send back a little here and there, sprinkling it on the poor and hungry if they are left-wing, or subsidizing the unworthy and unnecessary if they are right-wing. The majority of it though, whichever wing of the bird the center tilts toward, is wasted and squandered in useless, unproductive, and often downright damaging activities.
Probably 80 percent of what the state does is unnecessary or unproductive, things we are quite capable of sorting out in society without resorting to one ruling body, supported by police, the military, nuclear arsenals, parliaments, dictators, presidents, and vast armies of bureaucrats. I refer to things such as which side of the road we drive on, what size food packaging must be, how we generate electricity, what constitutes an acceptable dwelling or house, how two people make a commitment to each other, what types of medicine we use, or how many hours we work in a week. Don't imagine that we would live in some disordered mess without a central command issuing all these rules. Wherever they do not exist in our society we seem to have developed real order.
The other 20 percent of the state's frame of activities consists of valuable and necessary governing functions. Unfortunately, the state often delivers inadequate and wasteful services in these areas—services that are deteriorating rather than improving. These vital functions vary from state to state, but usually include some mix of essential areas such as education, roads, healthcare, power, crime, safety regulation, aid and charity, transportation, or the press. Where the state does not directly govern these areas, it often seeks to regulate them and exert influence upon them.
So what happened to our imaginary alien? Well, I hope that he or she will spend enough time to feel a sense of awe for the beauty of this planet and for many of the wonderful technological and cultural achievements arising from our own unique evolution through the chaos of society. But, if our alien is intelligent, it would not take her very long to recognize that planet Earth is a dangerous place for its own massively armed human inhabitants, let alone a relatively peaceful creature visiting from another world.
We can understand why our visitor might have reticence about "coming out" in our civilization, and want to "hyperspace" it back to a civilization whose free inhabitants had long ago found peace and stability, without the need to forcibly control and kill each other in its pursuit. They will also, perhaps, have found ways to do this without disrespecting and degrading the ecosystem that supports them. And I think it unlikely that our alien would willingly choose to share the secrets of space travel with us.
Disclaimer: Readers are advised not to accept lifts in any unidentified spaceships. The author has no idea who or what is "out there" and simply uses "our alien" as a vehicle for taking a different perspective of our own system—and to discourage the assumption that the way we Earthlings run society is a natural thing.
The Emperor Has No Clothes
We shall get nowhere until we start by recognising that political behavior is largely nonrational, that the world is suffering from some kind of mental disease which must be diagnosed before it can be cured.
George Orwell, 1903-1950
We all know the story of the little boy who not only realized that the emperor was wearing no clothes, but also acknowledged that he saw it, and said so, even though everybody else was acting exactly as if the emperor did have his clothes on. Today it is apparent that the state has lost any of the merit that we imagine it had in "the old days." Deep inside, more and more of us realize that our structure of government is a decaying system; all over the world, we read daily of its latest dire activities against our civilization and of past abuses now revealed. Ever more eyes are opening.
Today the term "for political reasons" is commonly taken to mean that something is not being done for genuine reasons. In this sense, our own linguistic "body language" tells us what we really think of politics. Politicians rate below every other group in numerous surveys that gauge public respect for different professions. The 2011 Transparency International Survey found that worldwide, 80 percent of people regard political parties as corrupt institutions. By this time "Occupy" movements were springing up across the world as people protested the iniquity of big government joined at the hip to big business, treating us as consumers who must be stimulated to continually buy more.
In today's age most of us have greater confidence in our bicycle repair shop, plumber, or the local supermarket than we do in our government (those who profess to be supplying us with the essential need of running our society and protecting our borders). It is sobering to recognize that few of those who claim the right to run our country would be able to successfully manage a small business in the marketplace they have distorted to favor the corporate chains and multinationals. Few of us can look into our souls and really believe that the state is working.
Government is not reason. Government is not eloquence. It is force. And, like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.
George Washington, first US President, 1732-1799
Yet most of us go about our daily lives acting as though the emperor does indeed have on his new clothes, heatedly comparing one politician's outfit with another's. We earnestly wish they would "do something effective" about this or that problem, bemoaning the hundreds of billions wasted on shelved missile projects, bank bailouts, and failed employment schemes—thinking that some new leader with a radical new plan is going to stop it from happening.
We refuse to openly recognize that the emperor has no clothes because the alternatives seem so horrific. If the emperor really is naked, then
Who will run the emergency wards?
Who will pay the unemployed?
Who will maintain employment in the arms industry?
Who will keep our streets safe?
Who will make sure our air is not poisonous?
Who will safeguard the farming industry?
Who will educate our children?
Who will insure the nuclear power industry?
Who will ensure that our banking system is sound?
Who will decide what foods and drugs are safe?
Who will look after us when we cannot look after ourselves?
These may be important and vital issues, but the size of the issue and the need for action should not blind us to the obvious. The archaic/modern state cannot sustainably deliver what it promises when it moves in to control these vital issues. This seems to be the case whether we are talking about Uncle Sam, the Taliban, the former Soviet Union, or presentday Russia. I would be interested to hear of those countries in the world where, in private, a majority of the inhabitants are genuinely satisfied with their government's efforts. There would be a few, I hope.
Of course, so many of the terrible problems that we depend on governments around the world to deal with are caused by governments around the world. It is the state in general, our protecting emperor, that carries out, sanctions, or aggravates the activities that create terrorists, orphans, refugees, wars, the homeless, famines, bankruptcies, bulging jails, unsupported families, the unemployed, and even mad cows, as we shall see. And as the empire approaches bankruptcy, we discover the protecting emperor long ago sold off the entire wardrobe and its contents, including us, now bonded debtors to the banks.
Politicians are, in fact, in the business of getting and keeping power and everything else is subordinate to that. As I have grumbled before, there is no such thing as "good government," certainly not in the sense that some businessmen look for it. There is a lot of government and there is a little government. If you are lucky, you get the latter. We are unlucky.
The State Is Out of Date
The budget should be balanced. Public debt should be reduced. The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered, and assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Rome, 63 BCE
Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.
Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776
Perhaps there was a time when the state was the lesser of two evils—when it was necessary to have strong men willing to kill on command in order to protect us from the bakers, weavers, farmers, and organized marauders living over the hill or across the waters. In most conflicts then and now, the danger arises out of a confrontation between those who have control over territory and those who seek to wrest it from them, and with it the right to harvest taxes and natural resources. It's been going on for so long now that we could easily be fooled into thinking it has always been this way, with somebody in charge regulating from the top down.
For a few thousand years before the first coercive state appeared we human beings were doing what we're good at—working together and creating value. Whether in networks of villages or in the world's earliest cities, we saw trade, culture, and civilization develop and flourish. The great drivers of this advance were not powerful central states but our harnessing of fire, smelting of metal, understanding of agriculture, and gathering for sacred purposes. The simultaneous shift away from hunting and gathering enabled a massive release of human potential, the basic building block of civilization.
If you ever get to the British Museum, make a point of visiting the Ancient Mesopotamia rooms. There are several of them reaching eight and a half thousand years back to 6500 BCE. I have scoured them twice and not been able to find a single artifact representing weapons, warriors, chariots, or conquest—prior to 2600 BCE. That time marked the first record of organized violence, when a few hundred armed men from Sumer vanquished the Elamites, inaugurating the coercive state. Other cities in the Fertile Crescent soon built armies for protection, and these armies got into fights, as they do. Within a few centuries Sargon of Akkad created an army powerful enough to subjugate twenty other prosperous cities thriving in what is now Iraq, "unifying" them. This was, essentially, organized theft on a grand scale, creating the world's first empire and setting a pattern that persisted.
Wherever it appeared, the coercive state concept spread, often carried by men with swords, or prompted by the fear of them. It eventually reached Rome, where it flourished on the back of slavery and conquest. Roman legionnaires brought it to Britain, from where it was shipped to the American Colonies—arriving over four thousand years after that first war in Sumer. By the end of the last century every patch of land on the planet was under the jurisdiction of one state or another.
Whatever the color of today's coercive state, its foundations and modus operandi have changed little since ancient times, though its reach of responsibility has extended. Whether we are being told what to do by kings, pharaohs, priests, presidents, emperors, generals, senates, or democratically elected representatives, the resultant state operates on the same basic principles of managing its dominion with coercively backed laws. The underlying formula of these laws goes: "Do (or don't do) this or we will damage you." These proclaimed laws should not be confused with natural laws such as those of gravity and thermodynamics—laws that need no legislation, just understanding. Instead of relying upon popular paying support for its public service, the state has traditionally funded itself through methods that rely on its creation of the law and ownership of the police and military. As we will see in the next chapter, these principles of state management are flawed and destined to fail whenever and for whatever purposes they are applied.
Maybe civilization did get a boost from some of the stability that early governing states were able to achieve. We certainly know that rulers today and in the past have always taken credit for the achievements of civilization that occurred during their reign. Yet too often we have seen a large part of that civilization's achievements destroyed with the state when it is eventually conquered or collapses under the weight of its own overgrown bureaucracy. This happened dramatically in the former Soviet Union, which ultimately fell apart under the weight of its own uselessness, without any actual penetration or provocation from outside forces or agencies.
Excerpted from THE STATE IS OUT OF DATE by Gregory Sams. Copyright © 2013 Gregory Sams. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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