The Foundations of Our Extinction
By Butler Shaffer
The human failing I would most like to correct is
aggression. It may have had survival advantage in
caveman days, to get more food, territory or partner
with whom to reproduce, but now it threatens to
destroy us all.
– Stephen Hawking
The central premise of much of my writing over the years has been that the psychopathic nature of the political establishment has reached a critical mass. Like the nuclear weapons that so represent the state’s war against life, this critical mass threatens the very existence of mankind. The collective madness implicit in every form of political structuring has brought humanity to a breaking point that can no longer be ignored, and from which there is no turning back. The human species has invested too much of its energies into the creation, support, and attachment to, organizational systems which are to be considered ends in themselves. These organizations have amassed sufficient power over their creators as to threaten not only the material and spiritual well-being of human beings, but our species itself. If we are to avoid this fate, we must transcend the violent, destructive thinking that got us to where we find ourselves. In the words of Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
We have produced, through our thinking, institutions that embody no life of their own, but thrive only by cannibalizing the energies of depersonalized men, women, and children who have been conditioned to subjugate their individuality to state-managed collective purposes. Every spark of energy capable of being mobilized by human beings is expected to be made available to the satisfaction of institutional ends, with only as much left over for individual interests as established authorities will allow in order to keep the zombie class complacent. The modern state insists upon the authority to micro-manage every detail of life’s expressions, and to regard every human being as an expendable “resource” for the accomplishment of its ends.
The “state” – defined as an entity that enjoys a monopoly on the use of violence within a given territory – is dependent upon the amassing and regular exercising of power. It is not enough that political systems have a theoretical power to employ violence: such effective force must be constantly exerted, lest it atrophy by nonuse, leaving a vacuum in its place. This is the meaning of Randolph Bourne’s observation that “war is the health of the state.”
The madness of war – against constantly changing, fungible “enemies” – continues to metastasize, accompanied by the detailed control and surveillance of the movement, eating habits, child-raising, communications, purchases, health-practices, reading interests, learning, and other forms of human behavior. The increased militarization of police, including the use of tanks and armored troop carriers; the use of drones – both for surveillance and attack; torture; imprisonment without trials; asset forfeitures; no-knock entries into private homes; police killings and/or brutalization of individuals – all with virtually no accountability; are some of the more apparent examples of the state’s war against people.
If we are to end our intra-species combat with one another in time to avoid becoming the first known species to engineer its own extinction, we must identify the causes of our aggression. My first book, Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival focused on the conflict and violence that arises from our willingness to identify ourselves with collective abstractions. Whether we find our identity in our nationality, race, gender, religion, lifestyle, social class, ideology, geography, or any other groupings, our attachment to one category separates us, by definition, from those who do not share our identity. These categories are what Frederick Perls described as “ego boundaries.” This does not mean that being a member of one race rather than another; or a male instead of a female; or a resident of America rather than Brazil, China, or Spain, necessarily creates conflict. It is only when it becomes existentially important to be associated with any group; when one’s sense of being and direction are tied to one or more abstractions, that mutually-exclusive divisions arise. The source of our societal difficulties is to be found within our thinking, the place to which we must repair if we are to avoid our collective suicide.
This is an undertaking that most of us find discomforting to take. We have become so conditioned to looking beyond ourselves – whether to gods, philosopher-kings, political leaders, or state systems – that we ignore our personal responsibility for what we, as a species, have become. Those who manage the political machinery have encouraged – even insisted upon – our entwining ourselves with mutually exclusive, clashing abstractions with such fervor as to render it difficult to become disentangled from their seductive imagery. Whether the abstraction with which we identify ourselves is endangered or benefited; experienced as an embarrassment or an achievement, becomes a reflection upon our sense of being. To illustrate just how inseparable these personal and institutional identities can be, try describing yourself without making reference to “ego boundary” abstractions. You begin to experience the difficulties provided by the caterpillar’s persistent question in Alice in Wonderland: “who are you?”
What passes as “news” in today’s culture is largely centered upon hostilities between or among persons or events that can be exploited for the purpose of further empowering the state not only to resolve the immediate conflict, but to mobilize the energies of massive numbers of persons to be galvanized into demanding a governmental response. If, for instance, a white police officer shoots an unarmed black man, those who identify themselves with the race of the victim will likely react with a more intense anger than might be the case if a white policeman shot an unarmed white man. The mainstream media would likely make the same distinction – perhaps not even reporting the latter shooting – unless, of course, the white victim was gay, a fact that would arouse a more vigorous response from a different “ego boundary” group.
Those who manage the apparatus of state violence care less about the specific collective identities of those who demand governmental action than they do that a sizeable mass of human energy can be activated and channeled into politically-controlled policies. The inter-group squabbles are fungible. They can arise from our willingness to separate ourselves from one another through mutually-exclusive boundaries. As long as such divisions exist – or can be manufactured by those proficient in the skills of political propaganda and manipulation – societal conflict will persist. Paradoxically, it is not in Thomas Hobbes’ “state of nature” that we discover the foundations for his imagined “war of all against all,” but in his remedy, the leviathan state. Bourne got it right: it is the continual condition of war upon which the state thrives, and war can be made a permanent condition only when people insist upon identifying themselves through groupings that separate themselves from one another.
Whether as individuals or as a species, human beings thrive only in conditions that are conducive to life. Life can sustain itself only when individual liberty, mutual respect for the lives and property of others, contracts and other forms of cooperation, tolerance for the myriad of differences that have their roots in our individually unique DNAs, and free-markets rather than coerced mandates, exist. Those who bother to read human history will recognize these life-enhancing qualities. It is the “health of the state” – the creation and mobilization of the machinery of death – that will destroy mankind.