Thoughts on the Future of Civilization
It is not necessary to prove that something is wrong with the world. Everybody - of any creed, color, or intellectual persuasion, old and young, rich and poor, conservative and liberal, foreign and domestic - senses that something monstrous is destroying civilization. But no one can figure out what it is.
The reason civilization is declining may not be loss of resources, or the uncontrolled obsession to reproduce, or the decline of literacy, or the continuing increase in government tyranny, or any such thing. Those may be mere effects, while the real cause may be a collective subconscious revolt against this steel, concrete and machinery. Since we evolved among forests, do we dare cut down every tree on earth? The thousands of visible stars that defined the night sky for our ancestors are now too washed out for urban eyes to see. Our loss of the velvet night is profound. Not only have we lost the stars, we have lost even the night itself. Here in central Wyoming, I live in one of the least populated regions of the country. Even so, I must trek well up into the mountainous wilderness before I can experience a darkness that is not encroached upon by artificial lights. Along with darkness, we have lost silence. The incessant and inescapable clamor of modern civilization is pounding continually against our eardrums, hammering its way inexorably into our subconscious minds. Surely this must have similar consequences to the Newspeak phenemena that I discussed in Chapter 2.
There has been a social loss also. Many people exist like zombies, refusing to run the risk of interacting emotionally or intellectually with other people, but this leaves them with a vacant feeling in their hearts and minds so they switch on the TV and live vicariously, running no risk of being hurt but experiencing emotions they are otherwise missing. This counterfeit practice fills the need for emotional experience only until the next day when it has to be fed again. Before TV, people had no phoney out. They had to get their emotional satisfaction from relating to other real live people. But today they have become a gum-chewing, bag-rattling crowd of couch potatoes. A crowd that wants its entertainment overplayed so that it won't have to think about what's going on. A crowd whose senses are so dulled that its laughter comes out of a can. A value-deprived crowd that doesn't want to reach OUT for a feeling or a meaning. It wants to be clubbed in the head with the meaning, so that it doesn't have to reach.
Maybe man can survive on earth this way, but his dreams can't. There is too much "civilization" and it has crowded out all the dreams. And there's no LIFE left for anyone. Just day-to-day survival. Average life in America: you're born, you go to school, you grow into an adult and join the rat-race, you get a job to survive and pay taxes, then you die.
Happiness and beauty are psychological necessities. That's why we experience beauty in such natural-world phenomena as sunsets and rainbows, and why we experience happiness in successful value-achievement. But it must be authentic happiness - the brain is a natural, not artificial, organ. Many people have very little authentic happiness. TV watching is not authentic. Nor is the mad scramble to earn a living while focused not on genuine productivity but on extraneous things like keeping up with the Joneses or keeping your boss satisfied.
Nathaniel Branden once commented on "the biological forces deep within our organism that speak to us in a wordless language we have barely begun to decipher." I rather suspect that it is more likely the case that we have forgotten how to decipher their language. The trappings of civilization have cozened humans to sever their direct links with fundamentally important values and "the biological forces deep within our organism" that impel us to the achievement of those values. Thus we live in what Rand has so aptly described as a condition of "cultural value-deprivation."
Principles have Consequences
To understand the state of a society, one must discover the extent to which a given philosophy has been institutionalized and has penetrated the spirit of its citizens. On this basis, one can then explain a society's history - and forecast its future. This is what can make intelligible the fact of Hitler's rise, and the possibility of America's decline.
If you have been taught - and accept - that oppression is proper, then you will participate in a form of gradual social suicide. You will, as a matter of course, help to spread within your society the attitudes that must be nourished in order to accept oppression. (They are, after all, your own attitudes.) As a result, a greater and greater percentage of the population will come to embrace social institutions that eventuate in the self-destruction of society. (Thus the continual victories for collectivist politics.)
For example: Starting with the premise that sacrifice is a fundamental requirement of human existence, it is inevitable that laws will be passed mandating sacrifices. The unwillingness of an individual to accept the sacrifices that "the law" demands will be perceived as a violation of civilized decency. Thus even if a man starts out as benevolent, a consistent application of the collectivist principle of sacrifice will drive him, against all his better premises and feelings, to accept the necessity of violating individual rights. Here you see the indirect - and largely unrecognized - influence of philosophy on human existence.
Imagine passengers riding on a train which, they have been told, is taking them to a distant utopia. At first all seems well, but as the train moves closer to its destination, the scene outside the windows becomes ominously bleak. Finally, the passengers catch sight of the destination. Instead of the utopia, they see starving children, chain gangs, and, in the distance, the barbed wire and sentry posts of a concentration camp. Frightened and angry, they attempt to negate their forward motion by running back INSIDE THE TRAIN. The attempt, of course, is hopeless; to save themselves, the passengers must get off the train altogether. In the same manner, the moral code of altruism will carry society to tyranny, regardless of short-term backpedalling. The only hope is finally, to fully reject altruism and assert man's right to exist for his own sake.
It is prerequisite to mental health that a man be in spiritual contact with the knowledge of reality that he has. (See PSE chapter 6.) Thus an ignorant man, whose conceptual view of the world is limited, can live in a successful state of mental health if he will just recognize and act according to the view of reality he does have. However, a man with greater knowledge MUST recognize and act according to that advanced view - or else he will be neurotic - by being out of spiritual contact with the reality he perceives.
A man living under a totalitarian government, who has no real knowledge of what freedom is, suffers a condition of enslavement, but he does not misperceive his situation, thus his only burden is that of being a slave.
Citizens of the United States also suffer a condition of enslavement, but they have been taught that their nation was established in freedom, and that their ancestors were free, and all their lives they have been led to believe that they themselves are free. Devoutly but falsely believing themselves to be free, they refuse to acknowledge the fact of their enslavement. But the reality of that fact is inescapable. Once they are released from the school system and enter mainstream society, these slaves - having been thoroughly indoctrinated by the government with the notion that America is a free society and that they are free people - immediately encounter such phenomena as: selective service, driver's licenses, vehicle registration, income tax, property tax, business licenses, and the myriad regulations that control all aspects of their daily lives. Thus they have a double burden: the enslavement itself and also the psychological effects of the discord between the reality they live in and the falsehood of their beliefs.
Is it any wonder that the subconscious attempt by their minds to integrate a firm belief in freedom with the inescapable facts of slavery should result in massive psychological distress? Enough to drive one to drink - or addiction of an even more self-destructive nature - or even suicide. The victim has chopped himself into pieces which he struggles never to connect - and then he sees no reason why his life is in ruins. Not knowing just what has happened to his life nor who to blame, he sees only that the quality of life has shockingly deteriorated, and that life is now so beset by apprehension for the future, difficulty in remaining solvent, and actual physical danger, that it is hardly worth living any more.
And it is immensely difficult for him to fight this situation: having had his concept of freedom thoroughly depraved, he lacks the derivative concepts needed for active resistance to tyranny.
When I hear someone say that Americans are free, I consciously and explicitly recognize that statement to be false. I also know subconsciously that it is false. Thus there is no conflict between my conscious mind and my subconscious mind. When you hear the same statement, you consciously and explicitly accept it as true. Your subconscious mind, however, knows - because of its inability to integrate its contrary observations - that the statement is false. In order to avoid the psychologically devastating (or at least distressing) process of seeing your most cherished beliefs refuted, you must suppress the knowledge of your subconscious mind - so that it will not conflict with your consciously held convictions - and accept only a selected subset of your observations. You must divide your mind into two parts: the set of observations that you consciously accept, and that disturbing set of observations that contradict your conscious beliefs. As time passes, this alienation process becomes more pervasive, as you come to deny a larger and larger body of your observations, and it becomes more intense, as you force yourself to deny a more and more significant body of observations. Since the fundamental function of a human mind is the process of integration, this continual segregation process results in a growing nervous tension, as your subconscious mind tries harder and harder to integrate these two bodies of knowledge. Eventually there will occur an explicit recognition of this conflict, accompanied by a psycho-emotional trauma proportional to the amount and degree of segregation that had previously occcurred. The rage and frustration resulting from this trauma (and/or from the sudden destruction of your most cherished beliefs) may so seriously derange your mental processes that you drive your pickup truck through the front door of a restaurant and then kill two dozen people.
A man can accept enslavement - after all, most people throughout history have lived in a state of enslavement, and they have accepted this (although in many cases they did not like it at all). But what a man CANNOT do is believe that he is free while simultaneously realizing that he is a slave. It is not possible to integrate a contradiction. Any attempt to do so will make you insane. This is a major reason why half the hospital beds in America contain people who have mental, not physical, illness. Being unable to resolve the conflict between their environment and their upbringing, they wind up in mental institutions. It is also a major contributor to the widespread cultural derangement, and its accompanying violence, that so plague modern America.
Facts are facts, whether you believe in them or not. They are immutable. The thing that depends on your cognizance of them is not the reality of the facts, but the effectiveness of your behavior - and your mental health.
When you manufacture products, you add value to raw materials, and you literally create wealth. But America is turning more and more to a different economic perspective: Americans make money now by paper manipulation, the error of which is bound to catch up to us because paper profits don't reflect real wealth. The fascination with Wall Street and junk bonds is so misplaced as to be crazy.
Instead of goods, services, and work - realities of the physical world -Keynes' economic realities are mere symbols: money and credit.
The advice of economic counselors is usually very good in times of affluence when the game is played with intangibles such as dollars, stocks, bonds, etc. These things have value in the same sense that bubble gum cards have great value among children. but a dollar is no more money than a hatcheck is a hat. Sooner or later people want their hats.
Contrast the great fortunes of the early 20th century with those of the late 20th century. Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford made vast fortunes, but these were productive fortunes: they produced steel, oil and automobiles. The great fortunes of the 1980s resulted not from production, but from manipulation of financial assets. Never have so many made so much in return for producing so little.
The world no longer has the patience for long-term investments. The vast increase of government interference in the market has resulted in a general economic thrust away from far-sightedness and the building of capital for the future, and toward destructive short-term looting of the stock of capital. Political Man is narrow-minded and short-sighted. He loots resources for short-term benefit. It is capital ownership in the free market that encourages Economic Man to look to the future, to safeguard resources in order to maintain their long-term value on the market.
The increasing scope of government's control and its associated transfers of property rights from private individuals to government or to interest groups undermines the private property arrangements that support a free market system. This process creates considerable uncertainty about the future value of those private rights that have not yet been taken. When resource owners are relatively uncertain about their continued ownership of those resources, they tend to use them up relatively rapidly and have less incentive to enhance future production capabilities. Resources are then overused and underproduced.
Standard of Living
I recently came across a prediction made by futurists back in the 1950s:
"People in the 1980s will be commuting from their rooftops via personal helicopters, filing flight plans instead of fighting freeways."
I got to thinking about this and said "Why not? There is no technological reason why personal helicopters are not widely available, or perhaps small VTOL aircraft." This led me to a related line of inquiry - a comparison of the American standard of living of the 1950s with that of the 1980s.
Has it been going up? Down? Remaining about the same? Or is this a spurious question? It might be better to ask "Whose standard of living?" Some people do better, some do worse. Is it even possible to measure an "aggregate standard of living"?
And what is the difference between the state of the economy and the standard of living of the people? I think there is a difference. I can conceive of a healthy, robust and growing national economy in which most people have a rather low standard of living (compared with what we have today). This would be true of America in the first half of the 19th century. The country was free, the economy was growing rapidly and uninhibitedly, but the people were starting from a rather low standard of living. On the other hand, during the 1930s most people were materially better off than their ancestors had been a century previously - but the nation's economy was in dismal condition.
I surmise that "state of the economy" could be measured in absolute terms, but "standard of living" is only comparative.
In terms of electronic appliances there can be no doubt whatsoever - a staggering increase in wealth has taken place during recent decades. The same is true for some other industries also: bicycles, fabrics, junk food (but whether this one constitutes a rise in standard of living is debatable).
My tentative conclusion is that people have more material wealth today, but they have to work more to get it. So is their standard of living higher or lower? I don't know.
Think back to the fifties (if you are old enough to do so), when an American family of three or four could live comfortably on the income earned by the father, the sole breadwinner of the family. That father could own a house, raise a family, and send the kids to college, all on a single paycheck. Today, however, one income alone will usually not suffice for a comfortable living for such a family. Both parents must work and still many families can't even afford a house. In a family of my acquaintance, the father, the mother, and the teenage daughter (this is the whole family) all work full-time jobs. And I don't think this is at all unusual. The dollar buys less, everything is more expensive. People struggle just to hold on to what they have, and can't seem to get ahead.
Here are some data from the 1992 edition of the US Statistical Abstract:
Families with working wives 1950:24% 1991:58%
Families with working children 1960:6% 1982:12%
Percent of total population employed 1960:29% 1990:44%
Here is a comment by Harry Browne, from his book HOW YOU CAN PROFIT FROM THE COMING DEVALUATION. (Published in August, 1970):
"Thirty-five hundred dollars for a Volkswagen?! That's an
Can you imagine being asked to pay $3500 for a Volkswagen?
That's stretching your imagination quite a bit, I realize.
And yet that day may not be very far away.
And here is an item from NEWSWEEK magazine, August 29, 1977:
After 28 years in the US market, the homely little
Volkswagen Beetle is on its way out. Last week, after sales
of 5 million models, Volkswagen stopped shipping them here.
Since 1968 the Beetle's base price has raced from $1699 to
No matter how much more wealth per capita improving technology makes possible, it seems there is always something to soak up the surplus and condemn ordinary people to a lifetime of labor. No matter how much productivity increases, people never seem to work less, only differently. So if they don't reap the fruits, who does?
People today have a lot of material goods, but they have a crushing burden of debt and very little equity. In 1950, about one-third of the after-tax income of the average family was used to pay off debts. By 1980 that proportion had risen to three-quarters. America is a nation that has forgotten how to finance growth through earnings rather than debt.
In the early 1960s, interest payments made by American corporations were 5% of their cash flow. By 1989 that had risen to more than 20%. This makes them more vulnerable than in the past to a economic downturn. If falling sales hit their cash flow, and many find themselves unable to service their debts, a wave of bankruptcies could follow in a domino effect as one company's inability to pay reduces another's cash flow even further.
A key to the continued existence of any business is its ability to generate a stream of profits sufficient to finance future capital expenditures for replacement and growth. Small or large, it doesn't matter - this fundamental economic requirement must be satisfied. But the profits of American businesses are more and more being eaten up by interest payments and government regulations. This bodes ill indeed for future prosperity.
Throughout history some nations gain power while others lose it. The evidence shows that nations that pursue policies of respect for an independent economic sphere - private property, the market economy, sanctity of contracts, low taxes, sound money, free trade, and unrestricted experimentation with technological advancements - tend to grow the fastest, establishing national bases of tremendous economic power. But this economic power always tempts governments to seize control over it, so they can pursue policies of military expansion and foreign adventurism or, in general, for the basic purpose of aggrandizing governmental institutions. But these policies become parasitic on the very forces that led to the economic growth in the first place; nations become militarily and bureaucratically top-heavy and overextended, saddled with debt and high taxes, and ever resistant to further change and necessary economic adjustments. In the end, such nations are usually wrecked by a growing disparity between statist ambitions and economic realities.
We can see this happening in America in those areas where there is a growing similarity of life to that of some Latin American republics where all attempts of enterprising people to rise in life and make something of themselves are systematically squelched by the reigning bureaucracy governing all aspects of existence.
For the last hundred years in America, statist intervention tried to preserve and even extend an industrial economy, while scuttling the very requirements of freedom and the free market which in the long run are necessary for its survival. For half a century, statist intervention could wreak its depredations without causing clear and evident crises and dislocations, for the free-market industrialization of the nineteenth century had created a vast cushion of "fat" in the economy against such depredations. But now statism has advanced so far and been in power so long that the cushion is worn thin; the "reserve fund" created by laissez-faire has been exhausted. So that now, whatever the government does brings about an instant negative feedback - ill effects that are evident to all - and what had been a problem solvable by free-market pricing and advancing technology has become a complex puzzle the resolution of which will require the complete dismantling of an all-pervasive system. But can the dismantling occur without catastrophe? Consider just one aspect of it: If all government subsidies were ended tomorrow morning, without any changes in the economy having been effected first, there would be much suffering, and probably starvation.
The government is very cunning, and the economy of America is very resilient. But though the government may be very flexible, the principles it is violating are not - and sooner or later the causes being implemented will have their inexorable effects. The people I really feel sorry for are the little children - who will have to live with those effects as they become adults.
Millions who are now on Valium or other narcotic tranquilizers might go insane if their supply were cut off. They represent a frightening dependency on an outside life-support system. A simple edict of the government (or a terrorist bomb) is all it would take to cut off the supply of electricity, gas, petrol or anything else (even food) which is centralized in its production and distribution and therefore centrally controllable. If the electric power went off in Wyoming in the middle of winter, people would die. (A few years ago it did just that for four days - and indeed, some people did die.) This possibility should scare everybody - but hardly anybody even thinks about it. My idea of anarchism is not just opposition to a centralized State, but the advocacy of as much economic decentralization as is feasible for a civilized life. For example, I would like to see a solar panel on everybody's roof, and the consequent extinction of the power companies. Not that I have anything against the power companies (except, of course, when they have a legal monopolization of utility provision), but I am opposed to the institutionalized centralization of life-support that they represent.
Dictatorship American Style
The Nazis and the Communists achieved their power not by destroying but by subverting the capacity of the individual to implement values. They simply used propaganda to swindle him into implementing values they had chosen. Today in America it is realized that any similar attempt would soon be recognized, by comparison with the tactics of the Nazis, and rejected. So today's American totalitarians must use another means to accomplish their ends - a different kind of swindle: Newspeak. Thus has been taken the next step in philosophical degradation: the individual's capacity to implement values has not been subverted - it has been destroyed.
An understanding of the subversion process leads readily to a comprehension of the Nazi and Communist systems. But what of a system in which individuals are bereft of the motive to achieve any values at all? For their future I can see only degeneracy into total chaos. If a dictator were to rise up and command them, would they obey? This problem is compounded in America, where the "dictator" is not a value-oriented individual but is a bureaucracy itself comprised of valueless individuals. No centralized, cohesive, value-oriented structure can arise from the American populace. I am inclined to prognosticate a future for America not of dictatorial tyranny, but of chaos.
The presently existing political structure does not have the potential to function cohesively in a dictatorial manner such as the Nazi government did; it contains too many disparate and mutually conflicting subgroups.
Through the system of checks and balances the Founding Fathers established a political system whose operation is independent of the moral character of any of its temporary officials - a system impervious to political subversion. There are economic ramifications to this idea also: whereas the Nazis and the Communists channeled their nations' economic power into the lifeblood of centralized government, the American government is merely dissipating the nation's economic power into porkbarrel projects proposed by the myriad of competing federal and state bureaucracies. It is much more likely that all these will collapse from economic anemia than that they will coalesce into a centralized tyranny.
On top of this, voters in America will keep on clamoring for the government to violate the laws of nature. Perhaps the most significant difference between the American government and a totalitarian government is that a totalitarian government has a form of institutionalized intelligence, but the American form of government is absolutely brainless. A dictatorial government at least has the unifying mind of the dictator behind it. A democracy has no mind behind it. For this reason it is unlikely to become a centralized tyranny, for it cannot select and implement a unifying central theme.
Even with the imposition of martial law, could the FedGov station enough troops to control the entire country? And do so without the consent of the local authorities, who control the local police? As a local policeman once remarked to me: "The Lander police are not governed by the Supreme Court, but by the laws of the state of Wyoming. We do not change our behavior until we get a ruling from the state government."
Before a dictator could arise in America, the present political structure would have to be largely or completely abolished.
What would another civil war be like in this country if the participants were not divided into geographical factions? Maybe like the Spanish Civil War? But that was a strongly ideological war, and my contention here is that Americans lack ideology, so who would fight? Real power is institutionally dissipated into a large number of separate foci and there is no provision for its centralization.
There is one, and only one, group in America that comprises a potential totalitarian entity. The police. Their explicitly held goal is to exercise total dominance and control over the citizens. If, in the implementation of this, they can obtain the complete cooperation of the other branches of government, America may become literally a police state, with the rest of government functioning primarily as a supportive substructure for the police.
But it will not be a centrally organized police state.
Since the time of Hitler and Stalin, our age has lacked easily identifiable villains of stature commensurate with their crimes against humanity. No longer the transgressions of exceptionally cruel and notable individuals, evil has been bureaucratized by the twentieth-century State and made the charge of relatively faceless bureaucrats, small in character and comprehension. Who knows the names of those who burned little children in Philadelphia and Waco? Throughout the world, natty figures in suits or uniforms have carried out monstrous suppressions, uprootings, and scatterings without entering the pages of history as striking despots. Considered individually, their outstanding characteristic is their mediocrity. There are no large-scale villains anymore, only colorless bureaucrats competing for common power and common rewards.
They comprise a growing institutionalization of social analysis and social control techniques. An army of cops, judges, jailers, social workers, psychologists, therapists, sociologists, counselors, and other petty bureaucrats have swollen the payrolls of government and public institutions. In order to justify their budgets, they have had to postulate ever newer and more threatening social pathologies from which they can claim to protect us. More and more areas of life have been criminalized at the same time as the techniques of surveillance, interrogation and repression have been extended, refined and made more powerful. For all these groups the "discoveries" of child abuse, sexual abuse and drug abuse have been godsends. And each has benefited from the others' legitimization of an increasingly generalized attitude of repressive intolerance for any non-conformist belief or practice.
From The Anti-Federalist: "If the people of America will submit to a constitution that will vest in the hands of any body of men the power to deprive them by law of their rights, they will perforce submit to anything. Reasoning with them will be in vain; they must be left until they are brought to reflection by feeling oppression - they will then have to wrest from their oppressors, by a strong hand, that which they would have retained by a moderate share of prudence and firmness."
Cultural value-deprivation must inevitably result in a very docile population. Who in America believes in any idea (or any value) enough to fight for it? Certainly not the libertarians, and they are the closest thing America has to freedom-lovers. The totalitarians know what they stand for. The non-totalitarians will stand for anything.
But maybe tyranny in America has a limit. Although Americans will not fight the actual institutions of tyranny, perhaps they will not accept unlimited tyranny without the sort of blind uprising which destroys civilization. Here I speak of uprisings such as that which followed the beating of Rodney King by the LA police - a rebellion directed not against the police but against the very neighbors and neighborhoods of the rioting people.
* Freedom Alternative
In early 1991, Mary Margaret Glennie claimed that she had received over 600 inquiries, about half of whom were serious about moving, and that thirty libertarians had actually taken up her suggestion. Although her idea is, in principle, a good one, I think her implementation of it is specious. The population of Fort Collins is 88K, a number hardly likely to be affected by even a large influx of libertarians. If she could instead get 30 libertarians into Loving County, Texas, they would constitute a substantial fraction of its population of 107.
I first saw this idea for a "gathering of libertarians" in an essay in Reason magazine about 1985. That was the only sensible presentation of the idea that I have ever seen, as it gave an estimate of the potential political impact of such a gathering on several locales chosen for their low population. Every one of the numerous subsequent proposals (including Mary Margaret's) has merely suggested that the gathering should occur at the location where the author happens to reside! All these people expect everyone else to bear the inconvenience of moving - none of them is serious enough about implementing the proposal to be willing to move themselves to a location where such a gathering would have political significance.
I have been watching the "new country" and "libertarian enclave" movements for many years and have yet to see any of them get off the ground (or out of the water - with the island-based projects). They have all been schemes requiring mass participation (such as the Fort Collins Freetown): if they can't enlist thousands (literally!) of libertarians, then their time and energy are mostly wasted. I think that this has been a major factor in the failure of these projects, and that if they were focused on individual participation for personal benefit rather than on mass involvement for political suasion they would have a much higher probability of success. They should be arranged in such a way that success does not depend on the number of participants, and should be set up so that an individual can see a personal benefit to be gained by participating. No immediate personal benefit would ensue from my moving to Fort Collins - that's why I won't do it, and that's why that project will never get off the ground: few others will do it either.
The LP has been presented to the American people continually since 1972, but never has it gained the support of more than a tiny fraction of the general electorate. It has been argued that untapped support for the LP lies in the 50+% of the population that does not participate in politics, but the Australian experience belies this. The LP has made no more headway in Australia than in the USA.
Leonard Peikoff claims there is still time and opportunity to save America: "The American spirit has not yet been destroyed.... There is only one antidote to today's trend: a new, pro-reason philosophy." He does not mention the history of the Libertarian movement during the 1970's, when a new, pro-reason philosophy was indeed presented to the American people. They turned it down. By 1990 the Libertarian movement and the LP had been so co-opted and corrupted that neither had any consistent pro-reason presentation to make any longer.
David Kelley makes the same error, claiming that the American body politic is "a public that is hungry for values."
If, as Kelley believes, the public is hungry for values, I wonder how he explains that public's enormous rejection of the LP.
What would it take to convince these men that the American voters do not want a libertarian alternative?
Consider an alcoholic who has been drinking a quart of whiskey every day for the past 20 years. It is not now possible for the alcoholic to come into possession of the health that he would have had in other circumstances. It doesn't matter at all if he now swears off whiskey and takes up gin or vodka instead - these choices would simply continue him along his path into alcoholic degeneracy. His only hope for any health, or even partial recovery in his old age, would be to swear off alcohol altogether.
I view human society as being similar to that alcoholic. The accumulated effects of government institutions (effects which are increasing in intensity at an exponential rate) are reducing society to a state of degeneracy similar in malignancy to that of the alcoholic.
Society can no more save itself by implementing a different kind of government than the alcoholic can save himself by drinking a different kind of alcohol. Society's only salvation lies in the total abolition of government.
In this respect Rand was correct: you cannot have a political change without a preexisting philosophical change. But here too I believe there is no hope. The prevalence of Newspeak and the decline in intellectual caliber of the general population precludes the adoption of the philosophical rationality that is prerequisite to the restructuring of society.
* Cultural Value-deprivation
Rand describes the sensory-deprivation experiments, and then carries this notion further - to the idea of conceptual deprivation - observing that today's individual lives in an intellectual desert, locked in the equivalent of an experimental cubicle the size of a continent - where he is given the sensory stimulation of screeching, screaming, twisting, jostling throngs, but is cut off from ideas. If severe enough and prolonged enough, the absence of a natural, active flow of cognitive experiences may disintegrate and paralyze a man's consciousness - by telling him that no significant thinking is possible. This chronic lack produces a slow, gradual, erosion of man's emotional vitality, which is recorded and preserved by the computer of his subconscious, until the day when his inner motor stops and he wonders desperately why he has no desire to go on living. If a person is deprived of his values, he will have nothing to live for. Such people will trash their civilization with very little incentive.
Another aspect of this conceptual deprivation phenomenon is what might be called principle extinction - the process by which people's ability to think and act on the basis of principles is extinguished.
Visual agnosia is a condition in which the visual association cortex has been injured, resulting in the victim's inability to perceive the world as a whole picture. He sees only bits at a time and has lost the ability to recognize patterns. He is, in effect, a visual illiterate.
A closely analogous effect results from the destruction of his ability to think in principles. Then he will be able to perceive only specific concrete instances of reality. He will have lost the ability to recognize the underlying patterns. Perhaps we could call this "cognitive agnosia."
Americans are taught NOT to think in principles, and then - just to make sure they are thoroughly corrupt - they are given principles that are depraved. Newspeak goes even further, by distorting the very concepts used to formulate principles.
In the long run, a hierarchical society is possible only on the basis of cognitive deprivation. So long as people are not permitted to have standards of comparison they never even become aware that they are oppressed. (This may explain the widespread manifestation of the Fallacy of Relative Privation.) Not only do they lack any impulse to rebel, but they also lack the power of grasping that the world could be other than it is.
They can be granted intellectual liberty, because they no longer possess intellect. They can be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasp the enormity of what is demanded of them. They remain sane, in part, by lack of understanding - in a sort of protective stupidity. The more intelligent they are, the less sane they must be. The prevailing mental condition must be one of controlled insanity.
But sanity is not arbitrary. Rulers of all ages have tried to impose a false view of the world upon their subjects, but they cannot afford to encourage any illusion that impairs military efficiency. In philosophy, religion, ethics, or politics, two and two might make five, but when one is designing a gun or a bomb they HAVE to make four. War is the main instrument by which governments are kept in touch with physical reality.
This thesis has great significance for modern America, not so much as it applies to war, but as it applies to technology. We live in a society that is entirely dependent on advanced technology. If any major aspect of that technology is not sufficiently maintained, our entire civilization may well collapse.
There are many people for whom work is the primary touch with reality. If important functions, such as personal authority and perception of accomplishment, are removed from their work the result will be impaired contact with reality, and a consequent decrease in their job performance. We can see the results in automotive recalls, on Three Mile Island, and other indications that the technological underpinnings of our civilization are eroding.
At the dawn of their lives, men seek a noble vision of man's nature and of life's potential. This view of man has rarely been explicitly asserted in human history. Today, it is virtually non-existent. Yet this is the view with which - in various degrees of longing, wistfulness, passion and agonized confusion - the best of mankind's youth start out in life. It is not even an explicit view, for most of them, but a foggy, groping, undefined sense of enormous expectation, the sense that one's life is important, that great achievements are within one's capacity, and that great things lie ahead. Then all of these vanish in the vast swamp of a culture which tells them persistently that maturity consists of abandoning one's mind; security, of abandoning one's values; practicality, of abandoning one's self-esteem.
Many who cannot dispense with their natural sensitivity turn to suicide: they see too clearly what sort of existence awaits them and, being too young to find an antidote, they cannot tolerate the prospect. If a young person has no real future to look forward to, his choices may well resemble those of a terminally ill person.
People who cannot control their own lives feel either despair or rebellious frustration. This is the situation of the youth of America. What people don't understand is that the children soon learn to detach themselves from these emotions, but in the process they lose a large part of their capacity to feel ANY emotions. We hear of sensational, coldblooded crimes being done by children and youths, yet few wonder how these children and youths became so insensitive to the pain of others.
Here is a letter printed in the Casper (Wyoming) Star Tribune, Sept., 1988:
"I would like to thank the Natrona County Sheriff's Office, and particularly McGruff the Crime Dog, for recently visiting my day-care home and presenting their program 'Stranger Danger.' The children enjoyed the visit and McGruff helped the children understand the importance of staying away from strangers."
Most people believe this sort of thing is commendable, even necessary for the safety of their children. And within the context of the violent society we live in, it is indeed desirable to alert one's children to potential danger.
But consider the inevitable result of this sort of training: witnesses watched from scores of windows in surrounding apartment buildings as Kitty Genovese was murdered, but none of them did anything to help. And everyone wonders why, but the answer is quite simple: from nursery school to adulthood they have been trained to avoid strangers. On their TV sets, from Westerns to prime-time dramas, to live coverage of the Vietnam War, they watch strangers suffer and they remain passive observers.
Viktor E. Frankl, in his MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING states: "At first the prisoner looked away if he saw the punishment parades of another group; he could not bear to see fellow prisoners march up and down for hours in the mire, their movements directed by blows. Days or weeks later things changed....the prisoner who had passed into the second stage of his psychological reactions did not avert his eyes any more. By then his feelings were blunted, and he watched unmoved.... Disgust, horror and pity are emotions that our spectator could not really feel any more. The sufferers, the dying and the dead, became such commonplace sights to him after a few weeks of camp life that they could not move him any more."
Here is a sociologist's description of a family living in an American inner-city ghetto:
"They had got used to the sound of gunfire. Everyone heard shots from time to time. After the first few occasions they had become curiously indifferent to them. Whoever was speaking would pause, then continue when the shooting stopped, just as he might when a jet aircraft passed overhead. It was as if they could not imagine that shots might be aimed at THEM. Surely, they were telling themselves, if we just lie low and hang on, the trouble will blow over."
Just as one can, in the field of economics, analyze the "logic of choice," so one can focus on the "logic of coercion" - on the unintended but entirely predictable results of dishonesty and violence. And it need not be "real" violence. All this violence on TV: if you spend all your childhood and adult life watching it you may begin to believe that the normal, the usual, the only method of dealing with any sort of distress is to start drawing pistols and killing people, or calling on the government to do the coercing for you.
The center of America might be insane. The country has been living with a fiercely controlled schizophrenia which has been deepening with the years. Every person who is devoutly Christian and works for the American Corporation is caught in an unseen vise whose pressure could split his mind from his soul; a state of suppressed schizophrenia so deep that the foul brutalities of the war in Vietnam were the only temporary cure possible for the condition - since the expression of brutality offers a definite if temporary relief to the schizophrenic.
Many common people greet warfare as the first glad sense of great definite purpose dawning into stagnant and unillumined lives, as the opportunity to do something that might shed an interpretative light upon an existences otherwise apparently without significance.
Socially and psychologically repressed, people are drawn to spectacles of violent conflict that allow their accumulated frustrations to explode in socially condoned orgasms of collective pride and hate. Deprived of significant accomplishments in their own work and leisure, they participate vicariously in military enterprises that have real and undeniable effects. Lacking genuine community, they try to discover or create a sense of community, if only that of fighting some common enemy. They thrill to the sense of sharing in a common purpose, and react angrily against anyone who contradicts the image of patriotic unanimity. The individual's life may be a farce, his society may be falling apart, but all complexities and uncertainties are temporarily forgotten in the self-assurance that comes from identifying with the state.
The child knows no other way of life than the slave's way. Born free, he has been laid hands on from the moment of his birth and brought up as a slave. How is he, when he is at last "set free," to be anything else than the slave he actually is? Clamoring for war, for the lash, for police, prisons, and scaffolds in a wild panic of delusion that without these things he is lost. You cannot govern men brought up as slaves otherwise than as slaves are governed. Nor can you expect them to behave in any other way than as slaves and barbarians.
In school, misbehaving students are punished for a host of reasons - but adults in positions of authority (i.e., government school administrators) initiated force against them to make them go to school in the first place. The discipline system the students have been immersed in is basically contradictory. When a child sees this kind of irrationality institutionalized in his social environment, what does this do to his sense of ethical values?
Calling the students animals is unforgivable; it's an insult to animals. Animals generally behave quite rationally, but there is very little rational behavior in a public school. I prefer to call the students barbarians. However, this does great injustice to some of the students. Although there are many children who would be gentle and civilized individuals, they must cope as best they can with their irrational environment, which means many of them finally relent and join the barbarians. The moral and intellectual rot spreads and is handed down as, in several years, these barbarians begin to take part in community activities (what will happen when they get on the Board of Education?) and teach THEIR children the values they have learned. Thus viciousness becomes institutionalized into the social structure of society. Student behavior had better be improved upon soon, or it will be too late, because the new generation won't see the necessity of it when they come of age and join the establishment.
This, I believe, is the basic cause of the decline in American education. The system is fundamentally self-contradictory and thus fundamentally self-destructive. And since causes do inevitably have subsequent effects, those effects are what we are seeing manifested in the schools today.
Blaming the students is unjust. Juvenile delinquents have no 'better natures'; experience has taught them that what they are doing is the way to survive. They have been enslaved and subjected to torment. Now they strike back and subject others to torment. Since they have been taught, and believe, that causes do not necessarily have subsequent effects, they are not able to perceive the real cause of their torment. Thus they cannot identify the justified target of their anger. They vent their anger indiscriminantly, treating people, as representatives of society, in the same way that "society" has treated them.
What schools mostly do is practice rigid age segregation, socialize children into narrow roles, label them into limiting categories, create meaningless problems, compel obedience and compliance above all other virtues, teach that life is segmented by ringing bells, and deeply indoctrinate children with the profound belief that government is an absolute necessity for civilization. School is the first coercive institution most of us endure, and it wears down our resistance to the later ones. It makes them seem normal.
Sure, there are good and decent teachers, but the abstract logic of the institution drowns their individual decency in a sea of wickedness.
One can understand why the contradictions of our society weigh so heavily on the young: no sane mind can integrate the contrast between the righteousness of a Secretary of State and the ruthlessness of a B-52; between the sanctimony of "a kinder, gentler, America" and the savagery of the Los Angeles Police beating Rodney King; between the notion that violence is fine against people 10000 miles away but shocking against injustice in our own land; between the equality demanded by our constitutional structure and the equality denied by our political structure; even between the accepted habits of one generation and the emerging habits of the next, as when a parent tipsy on his fourth martini begins a tirade against his son's marijuana.
The generation that's growing up today has been thoroughly brutalized by the system. It's in their schools, their media, their political ideology - everywhere. It begins even in the nurseries. They're conditioned to the worship of violence and the statist cult - to view the power and strength of the State as the only criteria for establishing right. Their teaching idealizes the right of the strong to subdue the weak and glorifies the triumph of brute force as the expression of natural law.
How do you get rid of a regime like this once it has taken root? You can't reason with it, because all you'll get is indifference, or contempt for what it sees as weakness. You can't bargain with it - a trading relationship implies equality, but all it understands is domination. You can't hope to coexist peaceably because your very existence represents either a threat or an opportunity for exploitation.
One of the things that makes us so different from other animals is our ability to pass on to our children the sum total of what we and our parents have accomplished. That legacy of accomplishments - intellectual, artistic, spiritual, and material - is the content of human culture. To the extent that a society inhibits the transfer of this legacy, it is dooming its children to stagnation or retrogression. Even worse is the future of a society that transfers to its youth a legacy of ignorance and brutality.
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