Government arose out of social inequality and the need to remedy the disparities (maybe, perhaps it’s the reverse). Those in control of greater resources established government with the aim of balancing the distribution of wealth. (Probably not, but let’s start here.) This they do by establishing the law. Laws are made to protect the public, to set ground rules, to guide the settlement of disputes, to promote equity. However, those in positions of power have a difficult time relinquishing their privilege. They never truly intend to restore equity, but to justify their privileged existence, they feign the appearance of making an effort to restoration. The law partially works to aid the general public—thereby putting on the act of protecting the people. The major part of the law is written to secure the position of the writers, those who are disproportionally advantaged. And how could it be otherwise? The privileged are not going to voluntarily relinquish their power advantage. The paradox of government is its ingrained impossibility to accomplish its own goals, purpose, and function. Pretense is the rule of law, and it starts with the demand for respect. Equity requires mutual respect; government, instead, demands respect without returning it. The only way to get respect without giving it in return is with fear. Police force, military discipline, nationalism, ethnocentrism, religion, are all means to rope the people into submission, to keep them under control, because, “They can’t possibly rule themselves—the people are too stupid and violent. There’d be chaos.”
I challenge that conclusion. I challenge it not because I believe people are smart and peaceful, but because, if the distribution of wealth were reasonably equitable, there’s be no cause to be stupid and violent. I understand the major objection. There will be some cheaters. But step back a moment. Take a look at who the biggest, most dangerous cheaters are. The ones who effect the greatest damage on society are those holding the advantaged position, those currently in power, not the poor people who are “too stupid and violent to get along with each other.”
Tradition is another tool for maintaining the status quo. If it were possible to smash tradition, to take away the established stranglehold of tradition, what would happen? History shows, instead of the equitable distribution of power, i.e., each individual owning their own small share of power, power only over oneself, power that isn’t great enough to overtake and violate others on any significant scale, the power shifts sideways from one small group of mongers to another, usually revolving around and led by the insane ravings of a single person (the hero of the day who will save us). The promise of every ‘revolution’ is a vertical shift of power from the top down towards equal distribution. It’s the promise of the Pharaoh, the Caesar, the King, the promise of democracy, communism, socialism, the promise of politicians worldwide. Until those in power stop promising and start voluntarily relinquishing their unearned, undeserved power, nothing will change. And power in the hands of a minority is comparable to chaos. The famous saying from Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr comes to mind : “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” — “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Revolutions always end in disappointment.
From their point of view, what they called “wage slavery,” renting yourself to an owner, was not very different from the chattel slavery that they were fighting a civil war about. So the idea of renting yourself, meaning working for wages, was degrading. It was an attack on your personal integrity. They despised the industrial system that was developing, that was destroying their culture, destroying their independence, their individuality, constraining them to be subordinate to masters.
There was a tradition of what was called Republicanism in the United States. We’re free people, you know, the first free people in the world. This was destroying and undermining that freedom. This was the core of the labor movement all over, and included in it was the assumption that those who work in the mills should own them.
In fact, one of their main slogans was a condemnation of what they called the “new spirit of the age: gain wealth, forget all but self.” That new spirit, that you should only be interested in gaining wealth and forgetting about your relations to other people, they regarded it as a violation of the fundamental human nature and a degrading idea.
. . . the idea that you have to rent yourself to somebody and follow their orders, and that they own [you] and you[r] work—you built it, but you don’t own it—that’s a highly unnatural notion. You don’t have to study any complicated theories to see that this is an attack on human dignity.
That new spirit is not new any more. It’s standard operating procedure. And it’s not truly selfish; it’s ignorant, shortsighted, just the opposite of one’s best interest.
“He [Noam Chomsky] lacks concision.” [Chomsky responds to this accusation with—] Which is correct, I agree with him. The kinds of things that I would say on Nightline, you can’t say in one sentence because they depart from the standard religion [a.k.a. the party line]. If you want to repeat the religion, you can get away with it between two commercials. If you want to say something that questions the religion, you’re expected to give evidence, and that you can’t do between two commercials. So therefore you lack concision, so therefore you can’t talk. [Thus the reason why Chomsky was never invited to speak on Nightline.]
I think that’s a terrific technique of propaganda. To impose concision is a way of virtually guaranteeing that the party line gets repeated over and over, and that nothing else is heard. [A roundabout way of censorship. Instead of shutting someone off, don’t engage them.]
But suppose I should meet a man so much superior to me in strength, and so wicked, so lazy and so barbarous as to oblige me to provide for his subsistence while he remains idle; he must resolve not to take his eyes from me a single moment, to bind me fast before he can take the least nap, lest I should kill him or give him the slip during his sleep: that is to say, he must expose himself voluntarily to much greater troubles than what he seeks to avoid.
. . . it is impossible for one man to enslave another without having first reduced him to a condition in which he can not live without the enslaver’s assistance; a condition which, as it does not exist in a state of nature, must leave every man his own master, and render the law of the strongest altogether vain and useless.
The first man, who after enclosing a piece of ground, took it into his head to say, “This is mine,” and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, how many wars, how many murders, how many misfortunes and horrors would have been saved the human species if another man, who pulling up the stakes, or filling in the ditches should have cried to his fellows: Be sure not to listen to this imposter; you are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong equally to all, and the earth itself to nobody!
They [primitive hunter-gathers] now begin to assemble round a great tree: singing and dancing, the genuine off-spring of love and leisure, become the amusement or rather the occupation of the men and women, free from care, thus gathered together. Every one begins to survey the rest, and wishes to be surveyed himself; and public esteem acquires a value. He who sings or dances best; the handsomest, the strongest, the most dexterous, the most eloquent, comes to be the most respected; this was the first step towards inequality, and at the same time towards vice. From these first preferences there proceeded on one side vanity and contempt, on the other envy and shame; and the fermentation raised by these new leavens at length produced combinations fatal to happiness and innocence.
. . . but likewise as to genius, beauty, strength or address, merit or talents; and as these were the only qualities which could command respect, it was found necessary to have or at least to affect them. It was requisite for men to be thought what they really were not. To be and to appear became two very different things, and from this distinction sprang pomp and knavery, and all the vices which form their train.
It is thus that the most powerful or the most wretched, respectively considering their power and wretchedness as a kind of title to the substance of others, even equivalent to that of property, the equality once broken was followed by the most shocking disorders. It is thus that the usurpations of the rich, the pillaging of the poor, and the unbridged passions of all, by stifling the cries of natural compassion, and the as yet feeble voice of justice, rendered man avaricious, wicked and ambitious. There arose between the title of the strongest, and that of the first occupier a perpetual conflict, which always ended in battery and bloodshed.
The rich man, thus pressed by necessity, at last conceived the deepest project that ever entered the human mind; this was to employ in his favor the very forces that attacked him, to make allies of his enemies [the masses], to inspire them with other maxims, and make them adopt other institutions as favorable to his pretensions, as the law of nature was unfavorable to them.
With this view, after laying before his neighbors all the horrors of a situation, which armed them all one against another, which rendered their possessions as burdensome as their wants were intolerable, and in which no one could expect any safety either in property or riches, he easily invented specious arguments to bring them over to his purpose. “Let us unite,” said he, “to secure the weak from oppression, restrain the ambitious, and secure to every man the possession of what belongs to him; Let us form rules of justice and peace, to which all may be obliged to conform, which shall not except persons, but may in some sort make amends for the caprice of fortune, by submitting alike the powerful and the weak to the observance of mutual duties. In a word, instead of turning our forces again ourselves, let us collect them in a sovereign power, which may govern us by wise laws, may protect and defend all the members of the association, repel common enemies, and maintain a perpetual concord and harmony among us.”
Much fewer words of this kind were sufficient to draw in a parcel of rustics, whom it was an easy matter to impose upon. All offered their necks to the yoke in hopes of securing their liberty [and the hopes of becoming rich, too], for though they had sense enough to perceive the advantages of a political constitution, they had not experience enough to see beforehand the dangers of it; those among them, who were best qualified to foresee abuses, were precisely those who expected to benefit by them.
Such was the origin of society and of the laws, which increased the fetters of the weak, and the strength of the rich; irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, fixed forever the laws of property and inequality; changed an artful usurpation into an irrevocable title; and for the benefit of a few ambitious individuals subjected the rest of mankind to perpetual labor, servitude, and misery. Societies once formed in this manner, soon multiplied as to cover the face of the earth; and not to leave a corner in the whole universe, where a man could throw off the yoke, and withdraw his head from under the often ill-conducted sword which he saw perpetually hanging over it. The civil law thus becoming the common rule of citizens, the law of nature no longer obtained under the name of the law of nations, and supply the place of natural compassion, which losing by degreed all that influenced over societies which it originally had over individuals, no longer exists but in some great souls, who consider themselves as citizens of the world.
Hence those national wars, those battles, those murders, those reprisals, which make nature shudder and shock reason; hence all those horrible prejudices, which make it a virtue and an honor to shed human blood. The worthiest men learned to consider the cutting the throats of their fellows as a duty; at length men began to butcher each other by the thousands without knowing for what; and more murders were committed in a single action, and more horrible disorders at the taking of a single town, than had been committed in the state of nature during ages together upon the whole face of the earth. Such are the first effects we may conceive to have arisen from the division of mankind into different societies.
The right of conquest being in fact no right at all, it could not serve as a foundation for any other right, the conqueror and the conquered ever remaining with respect to each other in a state of war, unless the conquered, restored to the full possession of their liberty, should freely choose their conqueror for their chief. Till then, whatever capitulations might have been made between them, as these capitulations were founded upon violence, and of course de facto null and void, there could not have existed in this hypothesis either a true society, or a political body, or any other law but that of the strongest. Second, because these words, strong and weak, are ambiguous; for during the interval between the establishment of the right of property or prior occupation and that of political government, the meaning of these terms is better expressed by the words, rich and poor.
Those words of Rousseau, written nearly 300 years ago, have obviously been forgotten, or more likely never read. Society continues to praise avarice, praise the conquest and exploitation of the earth and its inhabitants. It’s taught in schools from kindergarten. It’s drilled into us with advertising designed to promote “waste more, want more.” More, Bigger, Faster is the mantra. “Infinite continuous growth is possible if only we find the technological solutions.”
Do you believe in infinite growth? Do you think technology is the savior? You wanna be green? Good luck. Technology keeps compounding problems, and you haven’t even scratched the surface of being green. The world is arranged to keep you driving, keep you wanting, keep you consuming, keep you fat’n’happy. Or at least believing you’re happy—happy to be in debt, happy to be desiring the next great new thingy, happy to “go green,” happy to be fat’n’hapless.
You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong equally to all, and the earth itself to nobody.