The State Attracts Sociopaths (Butler Shaffer)
Wednesday September 11th, 2013
What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It's not good at much else. - Tom Clancy
In the science of chaos, "attractors" are operational principles around which turbulence and apparent chaos are harmonized. What the limited nature of our prior experiences dismisses as randomness or disorder, the study of chaos and complexity is revealing as deeper patterns of regularity. Attractors help to identify the dynamics by which complex systems organize themselves. Thus, it could be said that an earthquake fault line serves as an "attractor" for geologic forces in plate tectonics, just as river systems are attractors for water engaging in its ongoing relations with the forces of gravity. At a social level, an estate sale can be seen as an attractor for antique dealers; dumpsites as attractors for abandoned property; or hospitals as attractors for diseases. In marketplace economics, the pricing system is an attractor for buyers and sellers seeking to exchange property claims.
The study of chaos is helping us understand why all political systems are disruptive and destructive of life processes. Through this new science, we are discovering -- contrary to Plato's hubristic assumptions -- that complex systems produce behavior that is both determined and yet unpredictable. Left to the playing out of the forces operating within and upon it, a complex system will spontaneously generate consequences that are implicit -- albeit unpredictable -- within it.
But we know that many people do not like a world that is unpredictable and indifferent to their particular interests. Thus, a business owner who is unable to effectively compete for customers in a free market, may seek to disrupt the order that does not accommodate his whims. He might begin by pursuing voluntary agreements with his competitors to reduce the pace with which they pursue their respective interests, a strategy that is rarely successful. When the voluntary approach doesn't satisfy all industry members, he and many of his business rivals turn to the state to compel, by force, results unobtainable in the marketplace. My book, In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918-1938, documents this politicization of the business system.
The state is almost universally defined as a system that enjoys a legal monopoly on the use of violence within a given territory. Despite all of the media hype, government schools conditioning, and other institutional propaganda to paint political systems as noble, morally principled agencies devoted to serving the general welfare, the state is capable of doing no more than this: compelling people -- through violence and the threat of violence -- to do what they do not choose to do, or to refrain from doing what they do choose to do. Like the subjugated and exploited proletariat of Animal Farm, increasing numbers of men and women read those opening words to the preamble of the Constitution -- "We the People" -- and discover the identity of "the people" who control and benefit from the system that was created.
If the state is defined in terms of its enjoying a monopoly on the use of violence, what is the character of people who would be attracted to the use of its violent tools and practices? What sort of people would be attracted to careers that gave them the arbitrary power to force others to their will; work premised on the imperative of obedience? It is almost amusing to see legislators conducting hearings on the problem of bullying in schools: I often wonder whether these politicians are projecting their own "dark side" forces onto others; using playground ruffians as scapegoats for the more widespread bullying that is the raison d'etre of politics. Or might these solons simply be trying to eliminate competition, in much the same way that local governments war with the street-gangs that violently dominate urban neighborhoods, a role to be monopolized by the state's police system?
There is a continuum running between "sociopathic" and "psychopathic" behavior separating degrees of antisocial conduct. A Post Office mail clerk, or a receptionist at a DMV office, may not exhibit such traits. But what about state officials whose functions are to enforce some governmental edict or program? The man or woman who is prepared to initiate an act of punishment to compel obedience to a governmental mandate easily segues into the SWAT team member or police brute or one who tortures another. It is the appetite for ultimate power over others that drives such people. We have now reached that most vicious end-point on the continuum, the war system, where the indiscriminate killing of innocent people -- many of them children -- becomes justified by the psychopathic war-lovers on no more compelling ground than that they have the power to inflict death on a massive scale.
During World War II, allied forces engaged in war crimes every bit as vicious as those perpetrated by the defeated enemies. The Nazi psychopaths who ran death camps were matched by the allied officials who bombed such non-military cities as Dresden and Hamburg, and vaporized tens of thousands of civilians along with some U.S. military prisoners of war, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The nuclear bombing of these Japanese cities was done primarily to impress the Soviet Union, while erstwhile beautiful cities such as Dresden were leveled because, in the words of one RAF official, "we didn't have any other cities left to bomb." The RAF Bomber Command chief, Arthur "Bomber" Harris, said, thirty years later, that he would do the same thing again if presented with the same choices. Such is the mindset of the psychopath!
Sean Hannity and many of his neocon brethren embrace the same reasoning as Bomber Harris. With increasing numbers of decent, intelligent Americans able to see the planned war on Syria as being based on the same kinds of lies and forgeries that led to the unprovoked war on Iraq, the war-lovers are trying a different tack. If people are not prepared to "lob a few missiles into Syria," Hannity argued, an attack on Iran would be an even better action to take. His position -- and that of so many other neocons -- comes down to little more than this: if the boobeoisie is not buying into our plot against Syria, then let us go attack someone else before any opposition arises. War is an end in itself, and it matters little who is chosen as the enemy of the year! If you have any doubts as to this, watch the wonderful anti-war film Wag the Dog.
If, as Randolph Bourne advised, "war is the health of the state," those who are attracted to the exercise of violence over others can delude themselves to be health-care practitioners for a system at war with life itself.
No more than we would expect Mother Theresa to operate a brothel can we imagine advocates of peace and liberty to be welcomed into the management of the state. This is why Ron Paul was so persona non grata to members of the political elite. He wanted to reduce -- perhaps even eliminate -- the violent nature of the American nation-state. He was almost booed off the stage at a Republican gathering for suggesting that this country employ the "Golden Rule" as the basis for a foreign policy! He wanted to minimize that which attracts the sociopaths and psychopaths to the state: the opportunity to use ever-increasing levels of destructive violence against their fellow humans.