The world of politics is full of false choices. Whether local, national, or global, the political options we are presented can be said to be distinctions without a difference. It's a fact that is overlooked religiously, and I use this term intentionally and literally.
What I mean is that as soon as the dogma of an ideology or party line replaces independent judgement, a synthetic cosmology of contrasts and unreal opposites is born. Ideology and faith cordon off a segment of the brain where perceptions disciplined by belief begin to self-replicate unchecked. Ideas that could pose a challenge to the legitimacy of what is believed are drowned out by the white noise jibber-jabber of internalized "talking points." The effect is not simply theoretical. A real and active stupefaction of the initiate's mind occurs. The active part of the brain cycles the rhetoric of ideology the way TV stations cycle commercials. The idea is to make sure the "product" (a set of attitudes and thoughts) are never far from the conscious foreground.
Faith in repetition. A world wherein light is separated from dark and good from evil is invented, just like the unreal world described ever so briefly by St. John in the bible. And, as we know, both were created by the superior manipulation of the Word.
I offer an example. I have used it before with understandably limited success in tempting libertarian and anarchist friends away from their self perpetuating mental images. At the core of libertarian and anarchist arguments is the longing for the limitation or abolition of government (the "state," in anarchist terms). Now, I offer this example with the realization that the most ready off-the-shelf argument (already being dusted off before I make my point) against the validity of my observations will be that I am simply a covert apologist for government. As I begin to challenge my libertarian and anarchist friends for nourishing warped perceptions, I know this is the best defense they can make. Always, the best argument you can offer among true believers is that the opponent is allied with the group's icon of evil.
In the interest of trying once again to crowbar the lid off a powder keg of denied truths, I accept this risk. But to be clear, this is only one example, chosen because for some it will hit "close to home." (Apologies to my liberal, facist and apolitical friends). So, at the center of our longing for the regulation or eradication of government is our impulse toward freedom. We loathe tyranny and elevate self- direction as core principles for living well. And so my question: do we promote the overthrow of tyranny and the realization of self-direction by defining our goal as the limitation or elimination of the state?
I realize that the first impulse among libertarians and anarchists is to answer "yes!" But having given the icons of worshipped ideology free voice in the echo chamber of our heads, (Rand has spoken!) what if we temporarily move into the uncolonized part of our brains and exercise a little of that self-directing freedom of thought we like to lionize in words?
Government is one guise in which tyranny appears and it deserves the attention of our active resistance, but as we plot new ways to emasculate government, the squirming slug of tyranny (the clammy hand inside the glove puppet of government) is abandoning that protective conch and moving into a bigger, better protected fortress. Ironically, just as we begin to see some softness in the carapace of once impregnable government defenses, those outposts become irrelevant in the overarching shadow of the globalized corporate leviathan into whose belly we are being consumed individually and collectively.
Another irony in our Chinese finger puzzle struggle against tyranny is that the pilot light of access to power that survived minimally in the citizen-government dichotomy is finally snuffed out in the consumer-producer-worker pyramid of "free market" global arrangements such as the WTO and its confederacy of corporate alliances.
Today, the mantra of right wing corporate super capitalists is "limited government; unlimited markets." Just as citizen initiatives, regulation of the tyranny of irresponsible industry and the overthrow of mono-maniacal dictatorships seemed to be possible, international "trade agreements" have been used to revoke domestic legislation, especially where home-grown laws are constructed to limit or eradicate the abuses of tyrannical employers, polluters, usurious bankers, high tech scam artists, and the like.
True, the struggle to oppose capitalism's anti-democratic globalization is initially less romantic, and therefore less attractive to the false ego with which so many self- imagined rebels attempt to oppose tyranny in the form of national government. But if libertarians have not got the message that there is nothing "freeing" in the "free market" for them, many anarchists certainly have.
That the multinational corporations use national governments against their citizens to advance the unfree market agenda of establishing modern feudalism globally is no surprise. But clearly, if citizens effectively took control of the trappings of democracy and turned them to the business of democratizing and, yes, regulating tyrannical commercial activities, an argument for governments's survival might be made. If, for instance, the only justification for a government is that it is an alliance of citizens instituted to protect their individual freedom, then what laws it may establish legitimately must oppose tyranny to gain that legitimacy.
All this having been said, it is not "government" that I advocate, but self governance and liberty to associate in institutions that promote it. And it is clear that no governing body granting the same leeway to all has yet been established.
I will answer the seemingly unrelated question with which I titled this essay by posing another question: what false choices must we expose in order to free enough minds to create allies willing to make self-governance and the overthrow of tyranny in all its guises a realistic and achievable goal? It isn't easy to overthrow tyrants who have outposts in your head! Many first shots in defunct revolutions have been deflected from the protection of such garrisons.
It is instructive to examine examples of ideologies that have successfully motivated people to act against their own interests and to promote and propagate embraced illusions. The "Cold War" struggle against communism is a case in point. Like the libertarian struggle against big government and the anarchist struggle against the state, the "western democracies'" struggle against communism has been a false choice fiasco.
The tyranny of the dictatorships in nation states identifying themselves as socialist or communist was never the target of high echelon foreign policy. Only as it served to villainize the "public sector" approach to economic activities did the western elite take notice of the monolithic concentration of power in the USSR or China. (Take note with what reluctance human rights are discussed in terms of foreign policy).
With the un-gluing of the Soviet empire, Cuba has been erected as America's foreign pariah (only occasional supplanted by nations that threaten oil profits in the middle east). Corporatized government promotes the demonization of Cuba ( the whole Elian Gonzales escapade is illustrative) not because Castro is such a threat, but because socialized education and medicine are antithetical to the monolithic concentration of economic power in "privatized" (corporate) hands. For all its tyranny over individual freedom, Cuba's health and education systems are superior to the deciduous remnants of services in increasingly "privatized" capitalist nations. The American rabble might demand the same benefits enjoyed by the "victims" of socialism if they were permitted open travel to and from Cuba. It is a time bomb that corporate tyrants want to defuse at all costs.
The self-congratulatory glee with which capitalists now claim to have "won the Cold War" sounds right in the ear of Americans with their ideological implants speaking into the other ear (from inside their heads). To them it translates as "we beat the tyrant!" But who beat whom? Are the tyrants gone? Are the people free?
"Well, yes!" answers the CEO on his way to negotiate the construction of an assembly plant in the Ukraine. "No!" says the union worker whose job just went away. "Promises and no truth," says the Ukrainian worker who lost his health care, his pension, but now has an honest job in the private sector. Better to have a private job in the honest sector!
The folly of false choices forbids the correct answer to serious questions that must be answered without guile in order to improve life. Who won the Cold War? How easily the words "we did!" fall from the lips of many Americans. But:
* Citizen representation in government has been eradicated by the purchase of representatives and their law-making activities by corporations.
* Media and news outlets have been taken over by the same power accumulating forces that control the government. Pravda was an easy target of ridicule during the Cold War. Today, we don't even see the strings above the puppet show on our own TVs.
* Education, now more than ever is simple indoctrination. Higher education is limited to the elite and their offspring. Critical thought is discouraged and punished.
* Elections are openly rigged and courts unabashedly do the bidding of corporate political masters.
* Employment has become more and more a trickle-down gift from the gods for which laborers are to be thankful and silent.
* Prisons are full to the bursting point. The majority of prisoners have violated political taboos and are technically prisoners of war. Which war? The War on Drugs.
* Laws once liberalized are being "corrected."
* I invite the reader to extend the list, an easy task.
The politics of false choices continues to enslave us. It is one of the card tricks tyranny uses to levitate the currency of freedom out of the remaining pockets of human dignity. We better come to understand this shape changer and stop being hypnotized by the forms it takes if ever we want to triumph over it.
Who won the Cold War?