When you begin to realize how central the issue of freedom is to every human soul – and how much propaganda is required to obscure the simple desire of everyone to live a life free of violence – you can easily begin to see the true undercurrents of what is commonly called ‘culture’, and how it serves to obscure State violence. Three major components are required to legitimize violence – the first are the figureheads, the second are the thugs, and the third are the flatterers.
Money generally flows from the thugs to the figureheads, and then back down to the thugs and flatterers. The police steal your money and give it to the politicians, who then give it to the media, so they can praise the police and politicians. Of course, this cash can flow in many other directions. The thugs can steal your money, then give it to the politicians, who then give it to artists, who use it to praise power, ridicule the population, or focus on inconsequential minutiae. Or, the thugs can steal your money, which then the politicians use to threaten the artists with revocation of broadcasting licenses, obscenity charges, funding cuts etc. Or, the artists can take the money from the politicians and use it to praise the thugs, as can be seen in any number of cop-worshipping shows and movies. Or, the thugs can take your money directly for their own use, as in the case of asset forfeiture, property seizures and other types of fines.
What we call ‘culture’ is simply the fog that the sword hides behind. Artists and intellectuals have always served the State – and once you begin to understand what they’re up to, it’s pretty simple to unravel the hidden messages.
The ‘Wild West’
When America was founded, the government – State and Federal – was tiny. During the twentieth century, it grew ferociously. How could such a
radical departure of the founding principles of the country be swallowed? Why, by inventing a myth called the ‘Wild West’ – a wondrous land where villains prey on settlers right at the edge of civilization, and all disputes are solved with guns, until grim noble sheriffs (the State) ride in to clean up the town.
Even a moment’s thought quickly reveals how ridiculous this scenario is. Criminals are drawn to cities, not frontier areas. Cities provide a constant stream of fresh victims, endless hiding places, fences for converting stolen goods to cash – and anonyminity.
Rich victims live in cities, not freshly-broken farmland. Goods gather in cities. People use money in cities, not barter. The idea that criminals spend weeks riding out into the dusty wilds to prey on dirt-poor settlers is laughable. But a growing government always needs to portray the world of smaller government as violent, so that people can more easily accept the increasing violence of expanding State power.
Of course, the government did not make Wild West films, but it certainly spent years educating everyone who made them – and watched them.
The desperate need to believe in a more dangerous past always accompanies growing violence in the present. ‘Freedom was fear – slavery is peace!’ It’s how cowards always reconcile themselves to their surrender.
Cop shows have undergone an interesting evolution over the past few decades. In the Fifties, the pattern was clear – the ‘orderly majority’ of society was disrupted by some chaotic element – a drunk, a drifter, a beatnik – and the cops flexed their muscles to restore that order.
That all changed in the Seventies. Society was no longer orderly, but chaotic and violent. Cops could only hold back the tide a few drops at a time – and they were often as crazy as the criminals. There were
several reasons for this change – the drug war had begun, of course, which meant that cops were always destined to lose. But more importantly, State power grew enormously throughout the Sixties – and so naturally society had to be portrayed as more dangerous than it really was. It was the old cycle of guilt and blame, inherited from communism and fascism. The starvation created by communism was blamed on everything but communism – in fact, communism is portrayed as the only source of food, not of hunger. Similarly, the expansion of State power made society more dangerous – and so the State had to pretend that increasing State power was a response to rising crime – not the cause.
Cop shows are also portrayed as self-reforming, in that corrupt cops are usually apprehended and honest ones take their place. The fact that no government system or program has ever reformed itself internally is naturally lost on the show’s writers, who were also raised and trained by the State. Governments expand, start wars (either against other governments, or their own citizens) and go bankrupt. They don’t ever shrink or reform from within. The fantasy of the ‘honest’ cop exposing a corrupt system is both funny and sad – it’s funny, because it’s so surreal – and sad, since it’s also a hangover of totalitarianism, or the idea that ‘if only Stalin knew how power was being abused out here in the provinces, he would put a stop to it!’ The idea that corruption is some sort of ‘middle layer’ between honest front line workers and honest leaders is a mad fantasy. Always and forever, the higher you go, the worse it gets.
These days, cop shows also follow a dismally predictable pattern. One aspect of State power that most people have direct contact with is
permits, or a piece of paper that gives you the ‘right’ to open a store, drive a car, build a deck – or even, as I found out recently, put grass in your back yard(!). So naturally, State-worshipping drones have to justify why these permits are so great. No one can appeal to safety any more, not with governments taking half our money – and so now the cops always have the same conversation with the same seedy men:
Cop: I’m looking for Bob Deadly
Seedy Bar Owner: Never heard of him.
Cop: Oh really? Should we come inside then, and check that all of your permits are in order?
Seedy Bar Owner: Ok, ok! He’s out back.
So now permits aren’t just another form of brutal taxation and control – they’re excellent weapons enabling cops to get information just by threatening people! Aren’t we lucky that they’re able to bypass due process this way?
Also, have you ever seen a show where cops agonize about the question: should we really enforce this law? Of course not! Laws are handed down from courts, and just have to be enforced. For instance, recently the Supreme Court of the US ruled that real estate property could be stolen from citizens by local State authorities for the ‘social good’ – I can promise you that you’ll never see a show where a cop quits the force because he can’t stomach dragging grannies out into the mud. Ask any cop you know: what law would you refuse to enforce? You’ll just get the blank stare of a programmable thug.
Another cultural corner where our terror of government is nicely sublimated is in our persistent and generalized anxiety that our technology will someday turn from ‘tool’ to ‘master’. Yeah – at 50% taxation, I really have to worry about my laptop…
Of course, government is nothing more than a species of social technology, designed to serve citizens (government by and for the people) – and governments always turn from tools to masters, enslaving the very citizens they were supposed to serve. What we invent to protect us always ends up enslaving us… Could the media help us understand that we are afraid of our government? Of course not. Instead, they give us killer robots.
This is clearly our fear of State thugs, sublimated into a fear of technology through conditioned cowardice and conformity. We fear that
our machines will end up treating us as livestock – but the violence of State power turns all who tangle with it into machines – parasites, without empathy, who act automatically to retain their power – by treating us as livestock. The ‘battery power’ of the Matrix and the taxation/regulation of modern nanny states is united in our unconscious
People often wonder why the 20th century was so bloody – and the explanation is simple. The genocidal conflicts were the direct result of the intersection of three unprecedented elements: state self-financing, state education and capitalistic technology. After governments took over the money supply and banking system in the late 19th century, they could loan to themselves, print money and perform all sorts of other dastardly tricks. Roughly around the same time, governments took over education, which meant that the young were raised by the State, and as a result naturally viewed the State as a benevolent, protective and all-powerful entity (and really, how could a parent warn a child about the danger of State power while sending him to a State school every day?). Previously, private schools regularly warned children about the danger of the State – all that was now gone, and the State was endlessly praised in State schools – both explicitly and implicitly.
Inevitably, this combination produced over-patriotic young men and near-limitless State funds – the heady brew that was to prove the undoing of the 20th century. The First World War, for instance, required both shallow, hot-headed youths and staggering financial resources – both of which were finally available to governments for the first time in history. Putting those two factors together with the weapons that capitalistic manufacturers could now supply rang the death knell for tens of millions.
The fault does not lie with the manufacturers, of course, no more than with the man who buys a stolen watch unwittingly. The fundamental problem is that freedom makes citizens lazy about protecting liberty – yet the financial and technological fruits of freedom are so powerful that if liberty is not constantly secured, catastrophes such as world wars, universal famines and concentration camps are the inevitable result. Just as when we are freezing to death, it is when we are getting the most comfortable that we have to be the most active in order to survive.
Finally, the one aspect that overshadows all of the above is the relentless inconsequentiality of our culture – the cannonballs of trivia that are constantly fired into our brains. I don’t mean ‘celebrity culture’ – that is simple gossip, wherein we can garner scraps of advice on how to live by learning about the troubles and foibles of pretty people – and where we learn more truth about life than those around us, who lie continually about their successes and failures.
What I mean by ‘inconsequentiality’ is that we are certainly within the last decade or two of the Great Western Experiment, or the Mixed Economy, which will come crashing down around us all too soon – and yet so many artists – even the most intelligent – are producing nothing but well-written trivia.
Runway models are understood to be pretty but empty – and the same is true of the prose of modern writers. Striking phrases are wrapped around empty characters – vivid metaphors illuminate hollow souls. The same is true for non-fiction writers. Think of the great herd of ‘nagging pundits’ who think they are doing something important by wagging a disapproving finger at the all-powerful State. ‘Oh, we should really reduce agricultural subsidies’ – ‘Oh, we really should increase foreign aid’ – ‘Oh, we should really find health care more’ – ‘Oh, we should have been more careful about the war in Iraq’ – the list is endless, and an utterly destructive waste of time.
Frankly, the government does not give a shit about what you say. The government is ringed by the police, prisons and military. The guns are
all pointed at us. Politicians like power, sure, but even if they get tossed out, they have gold-plated pensions for the rest of their lives. If you cannot threaten them directly – and by that I mean physically – they have absolutely no interest in what you say. If you want George Bush to listen to you about the Iraq war, then bring charges against him – and I don’t mean impeachment, I mean war crimes. Something that will end up with him being thrown in jail.
Of course, I am not advocating tossing bombs, since that is useless. Simply based on military hardware, the State is far more powerful than any combination of its citizens – and so, like the Soviet Union, or Communist China, or the Weimar Republic, we can only watch, speak and wait for its collapse and possible reform. We can no longer avoid catastrophe – we can only speak the truth about the State, and hope that when it collapses, our just predictions and moral judgments will give us credibility when we say that the State must never be suffered again to exist.
And lastly, think about all the movies and TV shows you have seen in the last year – have any of them talked about the danger of the State? Maybe ‘Farenheit-911’, but that’s just a left-winger complaining about a right-wing policy (I’d use the power of the State differently!) I watched part of ‘Veronica Geurin’ last night, and just rolled my eyes. It’s about a woman who goes about exposing the drug dealers in Ireland, and the dangers she goes through. It’s all the purest nonsense – I mean, if she really wanted to solve the drug problem, she wouldn’t put her own life in danger – she’d just advocate for the legalization of drugs! It’s not like it’s some unprecedented, kooky idea – I’m sure she knew about Prohibition, and the disaster that was. I’m sure she was aware that the drug problem is a new phenomenon which arose directly after criminalization. I’m sure she knew how much money there is to be made in drugs simply because they are illegal. I’m sure she was aware that drug dealers want to get kids hooked on their foul wares because that guarantees them a constant source of money – one of the addicts even tells her as much at the beginning of the film: ‘the first hit is free’.
So she knows all of this, but just wanders about the underworld stirring up trouble until she gets attacked. Of all the idiocies! You don’t fight slavery by nagging slave-owners or exposing their abuses! You fight slavery by eliminating slavery! What’s the point of exposing drug dealers? To eliminate them? To create a market vacuum where great profit can be made? To increase the price of drugs by eliminating suppliers? Gee, I wonder what might happen then?
So even when movies try to deal with any sort of real issue, they get all soft-minded, melodramatic and trivial. I often wonder what artists and intellectuals will say to themselves when the State collapses… Will they wonder why they spent so much time on such inconsequential nonsense? Will Stephen Spielberg wonder why he wasted his talents on aliens and airports? Will Margaret Atwood ponder why it was so important to write about eating disorders and neurotic women? Will Clint Eastwood frown and try to remember why spunky boxers and lonely housewives were so important?
I do consider it unlikely. The fact of the matter is that, when it comes to culture, you can only rise to prominence if your work is a scintillating series of polished inconsequentialities.
After all, we must be distracted as our pockets, souls and futures are picked clean.
Stefan Molynuex, is the host of Freedomain Radio (www.freedomainradio.com), the most popular philosophy site on the Internet, and a “Top 10” Finalist in the 2007-2010 Podcast Awards.