January 23, 2012

Relocating Original Sin: The State Is Not Your Friend

I wrote last week about the SOPA-PIPA controversy. My major point -- in a post written before the Megaupload raid occurred -- was that this discussion is essentially an irrelevant distraction given the massive powers already held by the federal government. I argued that we appear to possess some small remaining slivers of liberty only because the State has not chosen to utilize and consistently apply the powers it already has -- at least, not yet. Then the Megaupload story broke, an event I briefly referenced in a post mainly about other matters.

Much of the commentary about SOPA, and concerning the allegedly significant "victory" of the legislation being set aside for now (none of which matters for the reasons I set forth), continues to be wildly out of touch with the realities of State power -- and with the nature of the State itself. This article offers an interesting discussion of the nature of the evidence the government relies upon to demonstrate the persuasiveness of its indictment. Many of the writer's contentions are valid and valuable within the narrow limits of the argument, but I must repeat that I consider all such discussions to be sideshows, while most people don't even see the main attraction.

After a detailed discussion of highly questionable and suspect aspects of the government's approach, the final paragraph states:
But the bigger overall issue is why this action and why now? Companies in the US have filed civil cases against Megaupload in the US and the company was willing to come to the US and deal in US courts. Taking it up to a criminal "conspiracy" and racketeering charge seems like overkill, with tremendous collateral damage and chilling effects.
Everything was working fine! Companies that felt they had been damaged had legal recourse, and Megaupload made itself available to those legal proceedings. So, aw, gee, why would our nice government, a government solely committed to justice, fairness and proportionality in all matters, decide to make such a big deal about it? And why would our nice government do this especially when it leads to "tremendous collateral damage and chilling effects"?

I could simply say, "Talk about the missing the point," and the comment would be entirely accurate. But I urge you to consider the premise underlying this approach. Most people -- and I dare say, many of you reading this -- commit the identical error in different forms. During the long nightmare of the Iraq occupation, one of my constant themes was the unforgivable inaccuracy and moral blindness of those who maintained that the United States had committed a terrible "blunder," that the invasion and occupation of Iraq represented a failure of judgment, or a monumental "mistake."

It was none of those things. It was a hideous crime, in fact, an unending series of crimes. It still is. When commentators ask, "Why is the State doing this?," in the manner of the article about Megaupload, their question assumes that the government is making a mistake in some form, that the government has "bad" information or has failed to appreciate the consequences of its actions. (You'll find a detailed examination of this topic in "'Regrettable Misjudgments': The Shocking Immorality of Our Constricted Thought.")

I should mention here another hugely costly variation of this error, one that continues unabated today. Most people still argue that the "mistake" of Iraq resulted from "faulty" intelligence, that if only the intelligence had been correct (or if those in power had paid attention to the accurate intelligence), the invasion and occupation would never have occurred. This, too, is completely wrong. I've written about this at enormous length, and it has made absolutely no difference (even, I deeply regret to note, in the case of writers who I know have read some of my articles on this subject, and still argue about the importance of "getting the intelligence right"). You can start with "Played for Fools Yet Again: About that Iran 'Intelligence' Report," or "You, Too, Can and Should Be an 'Intelligence Analyst'," and follow the numerous links. To state the argument very briefly: "intelligence" is always irrelevant to major decisions of policy. If you're arguing about the intelligence and what it allegedly shows, you're going to lose. This matters so crucially because the precise error is now being repeated with regard to Iran. If the U.S. Government decides to attack Iran, it will not be because of what the "intelligence" shows. It will be a decision of policy -- in brief, as still another means of attaining and consolidating American global hegemony. The "intelligence" will not matter.

The correct view of the problem, and events that occur every day continue to prove it is correct, asks a very different question: What if actions that you might consider a "mistake," or a decision that you think results from incorrect information and/or analysis, are precisely what the State intends? What if all the consequences that you view as so negative or even horrific are exactly what the State wants? The article about Megaupload excerpted above notes the "tremendous collateral damage and chilling effects" of the government raid and indictment, and implicitly says: "Oh, the government can't possibly want any of that to happen!"

Think again:
The shock waves of the case appeared to be spreading among Web sites that offer file sharing. FileSonic, which provides online data storage, said in a statement on its site that it had halted its file-sharing services.

“All sharing functionality of FileSonic is now disabled,” it said. “Our service can only be used to upload and retrieve files that you have uploaded personally."
When the State is intent upon controlling its population, when the State wants to end certain kinds of behavior, it doesn't need to punish everyone who engages in the disapproved behavior. It need only choose a few particularly visible and popular targets, which is precisely what it did when it chose Megaupload. Fear will do the rest.

This principle can be applied to all of the intrusions on personal liberty that are widely discussed at present: warrantless surveillance, detention without charge or trial, and the rest of the awful list. The State doesn't have to keep tabs on everyone; it need only keep a few victims firmly under its thumb. The State doesn't have to ship very many people to detention camps; it need only "disappear" a (comparatively) few individuals here and there. Word gets around; people talk; stories are written (and the State isn't in the least concerned about those stories: those stories help the State). I'm reminded, and not for the first time, of something I read several years ago about the Stasi in East Germany. After previously secret records were made available, some analysts concluded that the Stasi spied "only" on about one in ten East Germans. But no one could ever know who that one person was, if they were among those watched, or if they might be among them tomorrow.

It is not the execution of State power that does most of the work. It is the fear of the execution of State power.

On a deeper level, questions about the State's reasons for acting, when those questions implicitly rely on the view of the State as an essentially benign actor, forget the nature of the State itself, including its origins. On that question, I refer you to "The State and Full Spectrum Dominance." In that article, I excerpted Albert Jay Nock's Our Enemy, the State. Nock wrote:
The positive testimony of history is that the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation. No primitive State known to history originated in any other manner. On the negative side, it has been proved beyond peradventure that no primitive State could possibly have had any other origins. Moreover, the sole invariable characteristic of the State is the economic exploitation of one class by another. In this sense, every State known to history is a class-State. Oppenheimer defines the State, in respect of its origin, as an institution "forced on a defeated group by a conquering group, with a view only to systematizing the domination of the conquered by the conquerors, and safeguarding itself against insurrection from within and attack from without. This domination had no other final purpose than the economic exploitation of the conquered group by the victorious group."
Thus, the essence of the State is domination, oppression, brutalization and exploitation. This is true even of these glorious and free United States of America, as I discussed in "Concerning the American Change in Management" (the phrase which properly should replace "American Revolution").

From time to time, the State may act in ways that benefit, at least temporarily, those who are not members of the ruling class. It is critical to see that such actions are only another means of control. They are the means of momentarily placating those who might threaten the ruling class's hold on power if events were allowed to run out of control. As just one example, I discussed some time ago the "benefits" of the health "care" bill: "Concerning Those Who Manufacture and Eat Shit." As I argued, every law in every regime, even under a totalitarian system, benefits some people. When we analyze the operations of the State, such issues are a distraction and a camouflage. But it works almost every time.

The naive questioning of the State's rationale for acting raises one further issue. Also implicit in the kind of questioning about the Megaupload case discussed above is an odd kind of presumptuousness and arrogance. The idea is that, if only the government understood these issues the way I do, if only the State had all the information I do, then it would act in the ways I suggest (or it would cease acting in the ways I criticize). We see this kind of commentary on a regular basis on most blogs, whether on the right or the left (it's especially popular on liberal and progressive sites). When you think about it, it's a very peculiar perspective. Does the author of the Megaupload column truly believe that he can see and understand with wondrous clarity the "tremendous collateral damage and chilling effects" of the government's action, but the government itself does not? Or, to choose the most extreme of current State policies, do you think that you comprehend how deeply evil it is to murder a human being simply because someone in power decides to do so, on the basis of a reason he need never disclose or even perhaps for no reason at all -- but that those who direct the State's actions do not understand that it is evil?

As for the belief that, if only people like you directed the State's operations, everything would be infinitely better and perhaps wonderful ... well. Keeping in mind even the brief comments on the nature and origins of the State set forth above, that means that everything would be much better, even great -- if you ran what is, in essence, a system of domination, oppression, brutalization and exploitation. That's what the State is. The purpose of the State is power. Full stop. Not the power to provide health care, or full employment, or education, or or or or or or ... Power for its own sake. Power itself.

Do you still want to run the State? If you do, and I genuinely say this with the kindest of intentions, go to hell.