“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” ~ Emma Goldman
I awoke on election day at about the same time that Boobus and his fellow robots were beginning their lockstep march to voting facilities in eastern states. I wondered how many were humming the statist mantra “it-doesn’t-matter-who-you-vote-for-just-vote” as they strutted to their reward of an “I voted” sticker to wear on their shirts or jackets. Does this foolish slogan continue to have any life within it?
My question was soon answered when I read an online editorial from a newspaper for whom I began delivering papers when I was nine years old. Titled “Vote, then help the nation heal,” the editorial recounted how the newspaper had endorsed various candidates and referendum issues. It then added: “more important than voting our way is voting, period.” Any intelligent mind should respond to such a statement with the most powerful word in the English language: “why?” The editorial hinted an answer: “So vote. And after you vote, however, you vote, help our nation heal and prosper. . . . We can get better.”
“Heal” from what, and by what means? From what possible ailment might our “nation” be in need of a remedy? Isn’t “America” synonymous with Candide’s “best of all possible worlds;” have we not created political systems, documents, and formalized rules that guarantee that our personal interests will never get in each other’s way; have we not been conditioned to believe that we will be blessed if not with philosopher kings, then at least with impartial, selfless, public-spirited leaders who can fashion a harmonious, peaceful, and secure society? Why would any nation, so blessed, have a need for “healing”?
Is it not evident to thoughtful minds that all political systems depend on conflicts among those who comprise a society? For the same reason that orthodontists need overbites, churches need sinners, and lawyers need disputes, the state must have an endless supply of “fundamental differences” among diverse groups if it is to act to harmonize such differences. Conflicts have thus been concocted among groups based upon racial, religious, gender, nationality, lifestyle, economic, and other categories; divisions that have been eagerly insisted upon by persons who foresaw advantages—whether in the form of money, power, or status—in advancing hostilities with others.
Is it not equally clear that resort to state power becomes attractive to so many for reasons to be found in the very definition of the “state?” Any student of government will acknowledge that such an institution is “an agency that enjoys a legal monopoly on the use of violence within a given territory.” The coercive power of the state will become available to those who are able to get control of its machinery, whether through elections, coups, or any other means acquiesced in by those who sanction the system. Once any group(s) gain control of the apparatus of the state, it is able to generate mandates that either force people to do what they do not choose to do or to prevent them from doing what they choose to do. By their nature, such mandates are grounded in social conflicts.
If, as the aforesaid editorial informs us, governments are grounded in “freedom,” of what is anyone “free” when they are creating and exploiting conflicts with others? We are told that soldiers “fight for our freedom,” but what possible sense of freedom can be found in a person killing others, risking his or her own death, and participating in the destruction of other communities? How can soldiers “fight” for my freedom if they were unable to secure their own?
“Fighting” is the verb that best reflects the statist need for the conflicts with which to organize people into opposing groups. If those who profit from this arrangement are to sustain their control over this mechanism of force, they must have what their neighbors would respect as a plausible rationale for such authority. A political system whose purpose was limited to finding lost family pets would have neither the sense of permanency, the capacity for transferring the wealth of others to themselves, nor the extended reach that would allow them to control the daily conduct of those to be ruled.
Among our most primitive ancestors were the primordial architects of political control who advised their fellow tribesmen of the dangers they faced from the feared “Nine Bows” from across the river. Over time, this fear-peddling—with the “Chief” as the protector—continued to metastasize. The identities of the threatening forces were fungible parts of the structure of the war system, which is the very essence of all political institutions. Whether they be the “Nine Bows” or today’s “Islamic Terrorist,” this deadly racket continues to be played out on the theme that “Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.”
The life process invariably produces entropy (i.e., energy unavailable for productive use). The biological wastes that our bodies expel, and the byproducts of the manufacturing processes that businesses dispose of as “industrial waste,” provide the more familiar forms of “entropy.” Respect for the property principle will cause people to dispose of their own entropic wastes; to internalize all of the costs of their activities instead of imposing them upon others. The efficiency of a business firm is measured, in large part, by its success in reducing its internal costs of operation. But “costs” are consequences of our actions that we prefer to keep as low as possible or to eliminate altogether. The state, with its coercive powers, is able to shift costs from some persons to others. Buying a parcel of land upon which to build a planned hotel is a cost that a businessman would prefer to shift to the landowner or the taxpayers by getting the state to use its powers of eminent domain. A person who would like to be paid a higher wage than her employer is willing to pay may endeavor to get the state to force a higher wage via a minimum wage law increase. Tariffs imposed by the state on foreign-made goods in order to benefit some domestic manufacturers, adds costs to what customers would otherwise be willing to pay, as well as depriving more efficient domestic sellers of the advantages of being able to sell their goods at lower prices.
Because political systems preempt the liberty of men and women to pursue ends of their choosing, their material resources and energies thus being restrained or confiscated amount to a form of entropy to the person deprived of their productive potential. Teenagers unable to find employment because an employer does not regard the marginal utility of their work being worth a state-mandated minimum wage, are legally compelled to withhold their productive energies from the marketplace. Slavery, along with the wholesale slaughter of Indian tribes—as well as the destruction of Indian cultures—represent forms of entropy that our culture has failed to work out of its systems.
We need nothing so much right now as to look beyond the borders of our conditioned thinking and behavior and recognize that “life” is purposeful activity; that life does not choose to be forced in directions it does not serve its purposes to go; and that institutionalized restraints and compulsions forced upon the living increase the entropy that deprives both individuals and societies of their productive energies. “Conflict”—the lifeblood of all political systems—reaches its claws into all facets of life’s varied expressions, entangling humanity in self-righteous, destructive hostilities with persons we know only by abstract labels we have helped to fashion.
The state is the esteemed conductor of this discordant symphony. Everything politics touches becomes more and more costly, not only in terms of the corrupted bodies and spirits of individuals but in monetary terms. An understanding of what politics reduces itself to can be found in the Watergate-era phrase “follow the money.” Government schools, military weaponry, medical care, and banking, are the more familiar examples of the principle that, to the degree, we abandon the pricing system of the marketplace and substitute governmental fiat as the standard for the production and exchange of goods and services, costs begin to escalate. “Costs” manage to get lost in a mélange of such factors as lobbying, opinion polls, election returns, currency policies and inflated money supplies, beliefs in “entitlements,” protests, and bribery of decision-makers.
A national debt rapidly rising to $20,000,000,000,000 provides a partial quantification of the consequences of a system that feeds off a bottomless pit of political expectations crafted by members of special-interest groups desirous of having others pay the costs thereof. Spread across the American population, this indebtedness amounts to some $60,000 per person (or $240,000 for a family of four), a figure ensuring that the collective obligation will never be paid. The financial bankruptcy of the United States will not, of course, prevent the federal government from trying to confiscate every dollar it can find in the hands of individuals. Like aborted babies or the civilian victims of endless wars, taxpayers have become part of the increasing body of “collateral damages;” casualties of the conflict-driven systems from which special-interest elites profit by forcibly shifting the costs of their undertakings to persons least able to avoid them.
The very successes of the political system may, however, become the source of its undoing. In addition to the entropic implications of an ever-increasing national debt, we have recently witnessed major sectors of our culture become bloated by the infusion of government money as well as politically-based promises and prognoses, all of which combined to create unrealistic expectations. Filled with great quantities of empty air that over-valued assets, so-called “bubbles” were generated in such areas as housing, financial institutions, medical care, and higher education. The higher education bubble is one area that may be in the process of bursting. Exorbitant tuition increases, coupled with a higher supply of graduates than there was a marketplace demand in the fields in which they had majored, has discouraged many from entering college. The private law school from which I graduated had an annual tuition of $1,050. Current annual tuitions at private law schools range well into the $50,000 level.
What realm of human endeavor is filled more with contradictory and unrealistic expectations—offered to the public at monopolistic prices—than political systems? The state can be likened to a balloon filled with the hot air of bromides, clichés, propaganda, vague or empty promises, economic ignorance, and other platitudinous appeals. In the language of chaos theory, the state can be seen as an attractor for entropic forces that leave individuals and society itself with energies unavailable for productive use. As long as people are willing to divide themselves into conflict-ridden groups, they will use political systems that continue to sustain demands for the state power that is not only hastening our culture’s collapse into the entropy-filled dustbin of history but may end up destroying humanity itself.
The 2016 elections reflect a growing awareness among people of just how destructive political systems are to themselves, their children, their neighbors, and to mankind generally. They increasingly see the state for what, at the bottom, it really is: a well-ordered machine that allows those dominated by ambitions for power and the despoliation of others to employ whatever degree of violence they deemed necessary to achieve such ends. Ron Paul’s more principled and rational analysis of the political menace, developed in earlier elections, tapped into this growing popular frustration. Donald Trump—albeit in a less coherent manner—won the election by appealing to this sentiment.
There are dynamics deep beneath the surface of events in our world being driven by forces the political system, its sycophantic press, and a servile academia will, like people in the eye of a hurricane, be unaware of the transformative, turbulent energies at work far from the center. Those who have trained themselves well in the banalities by which power over others is acquired and maintained will doubtless continue their peddling of answers to the problems they have helped impose upon mankind. But new-and-improved answers offered by new-and-improved politicians will not suffice. It is only in asking new questions – inquiries that transcend political correctness, love of flags and national anthems, and beliefs in “American exceptionalism” – that may allow us to save ourselves from the lethal consequences of our thinking.
The democratic process has encouraged us to cannibalize one another; to divide us not only into major groupings (e.g., males and females, blacks and whites) but into sub-groupings and sub-sub-groupings (e.g., college-educated black women under the age of 35 who have children). Perhaps our divisive categories may become so numerous and far-reaching as to enlarge the collective bubble to a size that can no longer sustain itself. Perhaps the system will become so engorged by the conflicts, contradictions, unrealistic expectations, wasted energies, and other forms of entropy that it will finally burst. Might the subdivisions of our contrived political “communities” become so localized as to finally reduce themselves to that ultimate minority group: the individual? Might each of us realize, one day, that what we have in common with one another is the need to respect and protect the mutual uniqueness of our individuality? Perhaps in the current interest so many of us have in tracing our ancestries are found the inner voices that whisper to us a need to find our connectedness with one another; a need that is frustrated by institutional interests that tear us apart.
Can we learn to live peacefully with one another by walking away from the machinery of death and destruction that is the state? Can we do so without resort to violence, without emulating the state? Can we transcend our illusions about “democracy,” and withdraw our energies and sense of being, and allow the revered systems to simply collapse from their own dead weight?
To paraphrase a slogan from the sixties, what if they gave an election – or a war, a riot, a lynching, or other inter-group conflict – and nobody showed up? What if all of us stayed home on election day, and spent our time on truly productive matters, such as tending to the zinnias in our garden, helping our children or grandchildren learn the multiplication tables, comforting a dying friend, or aiding a neighbor in the search for her lost cat?
Butler Shaffer is Professor Emeritus at Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918–1938, Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival, and Boundaries of Order. His latest book is The Wizards of Ozymandias.