May 15, 2013

For All the Deluded and/or Stupid People (which is most people), and a Second Iron Law

[UPDATE: I added a few brief comments toward the end of this post in an attempt to avoid one possible confusion. You'll find them in brackets immediately following the Second Iron Law.]

I may have some more particular comments about the various unfolding "scandals" when I feel slightly better than terrible physically, which is how I feel at the moment. I heard some of Limbaugh's comments on the IRS business this morning. Limbaugh's typically penetrating wisdom caused me several minutes of uproarious laughter. He went on and on about how "mean" the IRS and the Obama administration were to go after their political enemies. This is "unAmerican!," Limbaugh screamed. "America is about fairness," he intoned, "about the idea that everyone has an equal shot."

Along those lines, my favorite comments to date might be from a letter to the NYT:
I believe that all Americans, and not just the Republican Party, should seize on the issue of the Internal Revenue Service’s focus on conservatives. We should all be very concerned about a government agency using its power for political ends.
This is genuinely impressive. It is stupidity refined and shaped into a weapon of massive destructive power, stupidity that is positively metaphysical in its reach. Idiocy on this scale obliterates universes.

To use "its power for political ends" is what any and all government agencies do. That is the reason they exist. The State itself, including its various critical appendages (such as "the law"), is a weapon forged by the ruling class to protect and increase its own power and wealth. The State and its appendages are used against everyone else. Thusly, as explained by Albert Jay Nock:
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."
The same is true of the United States, and it has been true since the time of the founding. As set forth in that article, one of the ruling class's chief weapons in the founding of the United States was the Constitution itself.

What is notable about Limbaugh's comments regarding "fairness" and "everyone" having "an equal shot," and regarding the letter to the Times, is the universality of these particular delusions. In different terms (and sometimes in the same terms), every politician and almost every commentator now wailing and whining about how "outrageous" these abuses are offers the same perspective. This is true whether the politician or writer is conservative or liberal, or libertarian, or supposedly "radical." And as detailed in the concluding section of my article about how the Constitution betrayed the very brief and genuinely radical impulses behind the American Revolution, even writers such as Chris Hedges and Glenn Greenwald appeal to "the rule of law," and the "original" understanding of the law's purpose. In Greenwald's case, it should be emphasized that what he hails as an ideal -- "law has been completely perverted from what it was intended to be – the guarantor of an equal playing field which would legitimize outcome inequalities – into its precise antithesis..." -- tracks perfectly the rationalization and distortion offered by America's new ruling class to justify the Constitution. As stated by Terry Bouton:
[T]he governments that emerged from the Revolution often fostered massive inequalities of wealth. At the same time, they redefined "democracy" as an ideal that could be reconciled with those disparities. By transforming democracy into a concept that encouraged uninhibited wealth accumulation rather than wealth equality, the founding elite (and subsequent generations of elites) tamed what they could not defeat. They turned democracy from a threat into an asset by making it into a concept that supported their own ideals and interests.
In this manner, Greenwald not only misses the point entirely: he adopts and advances the State's own propaganda and heralds it as a noble goal toward which we must strive (or to which we need to return). When a well-known "dissenting" writer absorbs the State's propaganda to this extent, we are in very deep trouble. As, indeed, we are.

I want to mention briefly one other aspect of the all-too-familiar charade now playing out. Everyone, beginning but hardly ending with the asses in Congress, is demanding investigations! We must get to the bottom of this! We must fix these abuses, and make certain that nothing like this ever happens again! Every time we go through this routine, I'm reminded of something I wrote just before the midterm elections in 2006. Yes, my friends, almost seven bloody years ago. After setting forth the reasons for my conclusion that it wouldn't matter a damn whether Democrats won or not -- and who was right about that, hmm? -- I wrote a passage which applies to any investigations, any time, conducted by Democrats or Republicans (or anyone else in the national government and, at this point, in government at any level):
Ah, but the Democrats will investigate the Bush administration's endless crimes. The investigations will restore honesty, decency and "true" American values to government. All the universes will be saved! Do people actually believe this nonsense? All such investigations will be exactly like all other government investigations of itself. People seem congenitally incapable of grasping that all politicians are now part of the same corrupt system, which aims only to protect itself and its existing prerogatives, as it simultaneously seeks to expand them. (The exceptions in the political class are so few that they don't matter.) In the end, all such investigations and committee hearings will conclude just as the 9/11 investigation concluded (and any other investigation you care to name): some criticisms will be made, general fault will be found but no one in particular will be condemned in terms that might cause distress, and some new guidelines and regulations will be proposed and enacted. Neither party wants to judge the other too harshly or cause irreparable harm: they don't want to, because they count on the same consideration in return. Both parties are happy to accede to this deal, for it is precisely how their system continues on its merry course, guaranteeing their lives of immense comfort and privilege, together with their hold on power. Many of the rest of us, both here and abroad, will be screwed, maimed or dead -- and just when exactly did that concern the governing class?

And then, in a year or two or five, and as on every other similar occasion, inventive ways will be found to circumvent the brand spanking new guidelines and regulations -- and the corruption and dishonesty will continue pretty much as before, via new routes and avenues. It's all a charade, by means of which politicians, the major media, and "serious" commentators (and bloggers) can convince themselves of their own virtue, that this time they really mean it, and that everything will be different now. An interesting question is how many times people can fall for such complete bullshit, and still be regarded as serious, credible or intelligent to any degree at all.

It helps to perpetuate the charade -- one that encompasses every aspect of domestic and foreign policy -- that most people know nothing of history, either our own or that of other countries. It's as if none of it ever happened before. For most of these people, it's as if nothing ever happened before. No wonder they so easily believe that this time will be different. For them, there are no other times at all. Everything is new to them, even and especially their own iniquity.
In the case of the present "scandals," it may turn out that some scapegoats will have to be offered for sacrifice. If the scandals prove to be especially nasty and ugly, a few people may be fired; perhaps several individuals will eventually even go to jail. That doesn't alter the dynamics I've described. In fact, I spoke of this phenomenon in "It's not the sex. It's never the sex":
In exceptionally rare circumstances, a member of the ruling class may set aside the rules in a way that draws just a bit too much attention. As a result, all those "ordinary" people may become a trifle unruly; they might begin to wonder if the system is rigged against them in some basic way. Obviously, it is, but it would hardly do for the filthy masses to begin to grasp this central fact. In these situations, the ruling class will have to make some minor adjustments. ... A member of the ruling class might have to surrender one particular plum he had set his eyes on. This is not a matter of great significance for a member of the ruling class; there are many other plums waiting for him, including some of those plums he has enjoyed before. In all its essentials, his life of luxury, privilege and power will go on as before.

The ruling class will never open the door to anything that might seriously call into question its power and its prerogatives.
I will close for the moment by noting two of what we might term Silber's Iron Laws. The first is a principle I've written about for some years:
Any individual who rises to the national political level is, of necessity and by definition, committed to the authoritarian-corporatist state. The current system will not allow anyone to be elected from either of the two major parties who is determined to dismantle even one part of that system.
Although I'm certain I wrote about this dynamic still longer ago, one of my first uses of this formulation will be found here, where I discuss it in detail.

Here is a Second Iron Law. I've become convinced of the truth of this Law over the last several years; I think it is not only true, but that it must be true. This is how I now express it:
When the State's corruption and claims to power are so pervasive that they dominate every aspect of a nation's operations, attempts at "reform from within" will be transformed into "improvements" that are more brutal and oppressive than the particular original abuse the reformers sought to rectify. That is: the "improvement" will be worse than the original problem. Meanwhile, the abuse which the reformers sought to address will most often continue in some form; typically, its operations will be more effectively camouflaged, so it will be easier for both the ruling class and the reformers to pretend that it has, in fact, been '"fixed."

To put it another way: when the State has amassed a sufficient degree of power, expressed in the State's penetration and dominance of all critical aspects of a nation's activities, attempts at reform serve only to strengthen the existing system, rather than weakening or "improving" it.
[ADDED: I should note that, in specific circumstances, a reform within the existing system may be valid and important, and it may even improve some people's lives in significant ways. In that sense, the reform may constitute an improvement, but only in a highly delimited manner. And the Second Iron Law will remain true in that the existing system will be strengthened because of the reform, not weakened. So such an "improvement" still carries significant risks. These are complicated questions, and I'll discuss them in a future article.]

I guarantee you that all "reforms" that come out of the current "scandals" will follow this pattern. By the way, I refer to the current stories as "scandals" with quotes because they are not "scandals" in any manner at all, if we use that term to designate events which are truly shocking and unexpected. Whether we speak of Benghazi, or the IRS behavior, or the AP surveillance, we are speaking of behavior that is entirely typical of the State, especially of this State. And it was only last week that I reminded my readers once again of the overwhelming fact that "the U.S. Government already possesses the power to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, to whomever it wants." I regard those people who profess to be shocked! and outraged! by these recent stories in the same way I regard adults who are devastated to discover that Santa Claus doesn't actually deliver their Christmas presents. I could simply say that that they're idiots, which is certainly what they've allowed themselves to become. It would perhaps be more to the point to observe that they are like profoundly damaged children who have never grown up, and who have never addressed the tragic wounds inflicted on them in their early years of life. I'll return to these issues.

I will soon be writing much more about the Second Iron Law, and I will offer several notable manifestations of this principle. And I will explain why I say it must be true. But one overarching, inescapable example of the phenomenon I describe should be tragically familiar to you: the presidency of Barack Obama. I predicted that this would necessarily be true of Obama -- and I predicted it before he was elected, in May of 2008. Because many people don't follow links, I offer you this description from the beginning of that article:
[T]here is nothing so dangerous as the illusion of opposition, when in fact no such opposition exists. Many of us have seen movies or read books which, in broad outline, tell the following story: a cruel villain inflicts terrible misery and suffering on innocent victims. A brave, fearless defender of the victims unexpectedly appears. The victims rally behind their defender, and they increasingly come to view him as their savior. The battle between the villain and his forces on one hand, and the victims and their defender on the other, rages fiercely. One side seems destined for victory, and then the other. It takes a very long time before victory is assured for either side; the toll of battle is awful for everyone. Finally, the villain defeats the victims and their brave defender, and the villain emerges as more powerful than he had ever been.

In the final scene, we learn the truth: the victims' defender had been working for the villain all the time. The defender had never been on the side of the victims: instead, at every critical juncture, he made sure to misdirect the victims' efforts just enough to make certain that the villain was never seriously threatened. The defender had to do this subtly; he had to lie on every matter of moment, and he had to do so repeatedly. He did all this expertly, and the victims never suspected his actual goal. The defender is handsomely rewarded for his work, for he delivered the victims into the villain's power, making certain that the victims would never again be a genuine threat. And the illusion is complete: even after they had lost and their lives had been destroyed forever, the victims never doubted their hero or the fact that he had fought for them so bravely.
The balance of that essay explains why Obama is the "brave, fearless defender" of that fictional story, and why he will always "betray" the victims he repeatedly proclaims he wishes to save and protect. Of course, it is only a betrayal to those who permit themselves to believe in delusions, and who cannot or will not understand the nature of the State that is increasingly determined to destroy our lives.

Some people will not forgive me for having been correct on this matter of singularly grave importance, or for having been correct for the right reasons. Tough shit.

And I'm not done, not quite yet.