I sat alone in a forest glade,
Sprinting through the corridors of the mind.
Running my fingers through the tassels of the tapestry we call consciousness.
And it came to me.
Three things a man can know, three and no more.
Moses, Solomon, and the child born yesterday.
All are alike under the sun.
I glimpsed the flowers, the trees, the stars.
Cosmos and biosphere, taste, touch, and smell.
Placing trembling hands,
Feeling, yes, knowing that they are.
This is the first knowing. Existence.
Experience and matter combine
As we reach out into the vastness
In which each baby’s cradle becomes a new center.
Concentric, radiating from the first human cry to the pulse of a binary star.
Seeing, believing, because we must trust ourselves.
All this a child can do.
But Man is not satisfied with touch.
The outer conceals the heart to which our hearts are drawn.
To open the forbidden door
Daring Pandora’s box,
Spilling forth knowledge mixed with death.
Magic or science both describe
Our desperate tearing open the cracks of creation.
Astrology, alchemy, astrophysics.
Wheel, microscope, and space shuttle.
The wonders of the universe yielding to the tender care
Or rough extraction of a mind that must know.
This second knowing brings healing and death.
Nobel gave his life to the machinery of exploding energy.
His brother succumbed to this all-too-human madness.
Soon perfected by the merchants of death.
Decades later, the mushroom cloud still floats in memory.
Amidst the sunset over Japan.
Yet in his name, we lay the wreath of victory
On the brow of the best among us.
Healing, discovering, bringing peace among nations,
Though not the peace we long for.
In the microscope and the atom smasher
We carry the twin promise of the bronze snake.
Death and life, witness to the curiosity
Unsatisfied with mere existence.
Call this understanding.
Yet in that forest glade,
I saw a piece of marble
Struggling with the glacier-like moss.
For in years of savage or priest.
Far beyond memory,
This had been the home of the dead.
Witness to the end of the search for knowledge-
Or a new beginning.
Here mother kneels, pleading with ground, sky, or distant God
To receive back her son,
Still cradled in the misty eyes of memory.
Here fights with knowledge that cannot be forgotten
And hope that will never know an answer.
The greatest questions cannot be left untouched
Blinded mystic, cool cathedral, blood-stained tribal god.
Whisper of the Beyond, the more-real-than-real.
At the edge of the glade, yellowed moonbeams end,
And the shadows begin.
In these shadows I imagine a dusty savage.
He has mastered the first knowing,
His senses are keen to the cry of the wolf and the coolness of dew.
Understanding too, in rhythm with the whirling world of nature,
Dispensing herbal remedies and uncovering the treasures of the earth.
Neither silences the threat muttered by the darkness.
Is it the emptiness? Or what might fill the void?
He buries his child, stricken by fever
Wondering, hoping, knowing
That somehow she has found her place
In something larger.
The couple who clung hand in hand as their son was laid
Centuries later in the same patch of forest
They had conquered the wilderness, shorn the land of oaks majestic.
But now the wildness of nature prevailed.
Fire, flood, famine.
The result was the same
They clung to tattered bible,
Bringing closure to a name written on the inside page.
They too placed hope in the unseen,
Resurrection, righteousness, rapture.
They had a promise, but only a promise.
Seldom had they heard the voice of the Promise-keeper.
The third knowing was the only answer.
In this glade, a third grave left empty
Ashes lie forgotten in some urn
A modern family, lying comfortably
Somewhere as I sit sweating beneath the stars.
They have all the gifts of the second knowing.
Pandora has given all the best of her treasure.
The haze of war is a distant echo in a TV broadcast.
Access to all information from atom to nebula
Lies unused as they find refuge
Escaping from the horror of comfortable apathy
The third knowing
Can it be left unanswered?
We have chosen not to answer
Because the solution cannot be proven
We have chosen to despair
Because hope’s an empty illusion.
I pity more the family
Alone together in comfort and prosperity,
Than the dusty savage or the world-weary couple.
For they had the third knowing,
Faith, hope, love.
All seem irrational,
Inserted into a narrative of chaos and collision.
Speculations about a world beyond the shadows.
Yet without them, the world is only shadow.
Like the gloom of the forest, now entering its darkest hour.
Color, light, and eyes made dim by hours of blackness.
Giant ball of gas, continuously sustained by nuclear equation.
Third knowing: the promise of God that a new day will dawn,
New meaning will be made, beauty as well as death.
Yes. Come Moses, come Solomon, come newborn with his mother.
Gaze with me as the color dawns in my small patch of nature.
Join with me in the journey of knowing:
Our task and our joy in this corner of the galaxy.
Weep, laugh, and be struck speechless.
For the true gnosis is beyond word,
As I found one day in a forest glade.
April the 25th
The pack on my back swings with my mood.
How can it be that I run,
Pelted by Hail,
A witness to Spring’s betrayal?
The door closes, and with it
A moment, never to return.
The guilt vanishes,
Melted with the ice on my sleeve.
April’s promise rings hollow;
Hope clings desperately to May.
Calm, stillness, and the hum of .life
Preach change without words
Change in the weather, change within,
A time to rest and a time to begin again.
Frustration is a failure of vision,
Stuck with eyes lowered
Seeing only the bouncing dance of hail.
Look up and forward.
A momentary sting
Is testimony to sensation,
And to a soul still
Soft enough to feel:
The wind and the warmth,
The guilt and the release.
To share in common the sky above us,
And the resilience
Of souls finding calm
Amidst a wild spring.
I’m a little late reviewing V for Vendetta, as it has been out for years, and the condemnation and praise for it has subsided. However, I just saw it for the first time, and I found it thought provoking, especially for a Christian who is both Anabaptist and anti-state. This review of V for Vendetta highlights the profound themes of meaning, fear, control, and justice. It stirs the emotions with its call for justice and unity against oppression. It even touches on love and the degree to which a man will go for the one he loves. Yet it ultimately glorifies violence and promotes armed revolution as the solution to injustice.
The Filmmaking of V
As far as the production itself, I found it extremely compelling. The acting was excellent, the special effects quite well done, and the choreographed fight scenes tight and well executed. The movie stirred emotion at times, especially with poignant flashbacks to the individual lives of those touched by tyranny. The brain is there as well as the heart. V is full of erudite wisdom, spouting Shakespeare and contemplating philosophy. As always, the Wachowski brothers leave the audience with something to think about. Some complain that the dialogue and symbols are cheesy or preachy. I guess I have to admit that has never been a problem for me. I believe a movie should leave the audience with something to think about, and I don’t think this film crosses the line into overdoing it. At times, the violence was over the top, however. Clearly this is nothing new; the Matrix was filled with violent fight scenes. Yet the blood seemed unnecessary even for a movie about vengeance. Just a special effect, with no symbolic imagery attached.
V for Vigilant
The strength of this movie is that it exposes the corruption and control inherent in the modern state. While the states of our day usually do not go quite to the lengths of the Chancellor, this century is all too familiar with government cover-ups, mass-killings, riot-suppression, engineered tragedies, and media manipulation. This movie does not simply cast the blame on the shadowy “them” of the state. Every man is guilty, for when our fears become too much, we turn do the protective strong arm of the state, choosing security over liberty. Hatred of Muslims? Fear of homosexuals? Terrorism? Enemies within and without? This are the same narratives (among others from both the right and left) that are being used in America and across the world to call for more government intervention. The result of this fear is the police and regulatory state growing before our eyes. V’s strength is that he has felt this oppression first hand, losing his very identity to the medical experimentation of a regime gone wild. I was reminded of the tactics used by American security agencies in the past and into the present. Any crime is justified in the name of national security. Businesses aren’t off the hook either. Medical companies are in bed with the rising Party. News anchors read off what the Powers want them to say. The people are pawns, listening to the propaganda, and obedient without question… until V preaches a message of hope and a better world, albeit a world inaugurated with the bomb and the mask. This film is partly a criticism of the rise of totalitarian statism, especially of the right-wing type. Yet it is also anarchist. The blowing up of Parliament symbolizes more than just hope and the rejection of corruption. The State employees worry about explaining to the public why they are needed at all. While the movie never makes the case against the state itself, it is extremely pessimistic about giving power without responsibility to men whose hearts conceal evil. This is a challenge to those who believe that our democratic era will usher in new freedoms and equalities; this assumes that the democratic masses will prove a check on those who believe themselves sovereign masters of nations. Ultimately, V too relies on the masses, putting his faith in the same people whose fear brought the control he destroys.
V for Vindictive?
This film raised fury by some conservative Christians for supposedly anti-Christian themes. After all, the symbol of the totalitarian regime seems to resemble a cross (though it also reminded me of the swastika). And the one priest featured is a sexual predator, preying on young girls while spouting religious phrases. Islam is often presented in favorable terms, including the Koran. Christians read this as yet another example of anti-Christian bias in Hollywood. Yet this us versus them mentality is typical of over-sensitive Evangelicalism. The film is building and extrapolating fear, especially within the religious right, that people different than we are form a threat to be met with force and laws. While there is certainly “a gay agenda” in some circles, and there are definitely radical Muslims, Christians too often paint with broad strokes and respond in fear, instead of trying to respond with love, understanding, or the gospel. Can I imagine some Christians on the right supporting a totalitarian state like this? Absolutely. Do some Christians support making homosexual acts and relationships illegal? Yes. Would they stone the woman Jesus forgave in John 8? Yes they would. Do some Christians think Islam is a scourge that must be fought to the death around the world? Yes they do. If the depiction of Christianity doesn’t describe what you believe, then don’t be offended! Just like Christof in The Truman Show, Christians complain that they are persecuted when their religion is misrepresented. If your God is like Christof, or your views like those of “Christians” in V for Vendetta, you deserve the offense and ridicule this movie dispenses. This movie depicts a sad reality about the state of part of Christianity in America. The “followers” of the Prince of Peace trust in guns and government instead of preaching a better law of love and forgiveness for the “best” and “worst” of sinners. V for Vendetta questions this type of religion, and promotes understanding and liberty for all. Even love gets a moment to shine. In fact, V shows love through sacrifice, albeit twisted sacrifice. He tortures the one he loves to save the one he loves, a twisted image of the sacrifice of Christ, his self-torture on the cross.
V is for Violence
The real problem with V is the assumption that force can be met with force, that violence is the answer to violence. V ends up giving up love and forgiveness for the sinners in government. He promotes understanding for all, except those who have hurt him. V first misunderstands the nature of violence.
V: Violence can be used for good.
Evey: What are you talking about?
Evey: Oh.. I see.
V: There’s no courtroom in this country for men like Prothero.
Evey: And are you going to kill more people?
Violence is inherently a power play, a resort to force when one has given up on love, on persuasion, and on prayer. V thinks it is morally neutral, only dependent on the end. For a moment, it appears that Evey will be the beacon of light, redeeming V from this concept of revenge and violence. Evey was right, though she didn’t realize it in the end.
V: What was done to me was monstrous.
Evey Hammond: Then they created a monster.
Yet eventually she succumbs as well, pushing the button to destroy Parliament and carry on V’s work after his death. V is no hero. He kills people with knives and poison. Not just the enemy leaders, but the soldiers and officials as well. V assumes that resistance to evil must mean using the weapons of the world.Martin Luther King’s legacy of nonviolent resistance stands out amidst the trail of blood left by V’s methods.
To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
V is for Vengeful
V also gets punishment wrong. He slashes, cuts, and stabs. Creeping into the rooms of those responsible for the deaths of innocents, he confronts them with their own darkness, only to give into his own dark revenge. V assumes that he can be the agent of wrath and justice, the same conceit that plagues conservative Christians. It is as if he believes his tortured past or the mask he wears transform him into an avenging angel, when really he is an agent of destruction and punishment without love or reformation. While most Christians believe the police uniform, the oath of office, or the judge’s robes transform them into agents of God’s benevolent but vicious servants, V believes that violence done in the past will do the same for him. To save humanity, he presumes to live above it. In a profound moment, he “mercifully” kills a woman painlessly, presumably because she shows repentance. He takes the place of God, both hearing her confession and meting out punishment.
V: “By the power of truth I, while living, have conquered the universe”.
Evey: Personal motto?
V: From Faust.
Evey: That’s about trying to cheat the devil, isn’t it?
V: It is.
Maybe the filmmakers realize that you cannot cheat the devil. However, V seems to succeed. For the Christian, God is God, and we can’t take his place as lord of history.
“And might it be, if we could be freed from the compulsiveness of the vision of ourselves as the guardians of history, that we could receive again the gift of being able to see ourselves as participants in the loving nature of God as revealed in Christ? Perhaps the songs of the earliest church might restore this to us if the apostolic argument cannot. A church once freed from compulsiveness and from the urge to manage the world might then find ways and words to suggest as well to those outside its bounds the invitation to a servant stance in society.” John Howard Yoder
V is for Victory?
The most chilling element is the story of redemption and salvation, a twisted form of Christ’s sacrifice. V tortures his love so that she will come to the place where fear is gone and she can live in an evil world, confident in herself. This victory contrasts with Christ’s powerful resurrection into new life.
Evey: You got to me? You did this to me… You cut my hair… You tortured me… You tortured me! Why?
V: You said you wanted to live without fear. I wish there’d been an easier way, but there wasn’t.
Evey: [whispers] Oh, my God!
V: I know you may never forgive me, but nor will you ever understand how hard it was for me to do what I did. Every day, I saw in myself everything you see in me now. Every day, I wanted to end it. But each time you refused to give in, I knew I couldn’t.
Evey: [shouting angrily] You’re sick! You’re evil!
V: You could have ended it, Evey. You could have given in, but you didn’t. Why?
Evey: Leave me alone! I hate you!
V: That’s it! See, at first, I thought it was hate too. Hate was all I knew. It built my world, imprisoned me, taught me how to eat, how to drink, how to breathe! I thought I’d die with all the hate in my veins. But then something happened. It happened to me, just as it happened to you.
Evey: Shut up! I don’t want to hear your lies!
V: Your own father said that artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie, but because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.
V: What was true in that cell is just as true now. What you felt in there has nothing to do with me.
Evey: I CAN’T FEEL ANYTHING ANYMORE!
V: Don’t run from it, Evey. You’ve been running all your life.
Evey: [Gasping heavily] I can’t… can’t breathe… Asthma… When I was little… [Collapses while V catches her]
V: Listen to me, Evey. This may be the most important moment of your life. Commit to it. They took your parents from you. They took your brother from you. They put you in a cell and took everything they could take except your life. And you believed that was all there was, didn’t you? The only thing you had left was your life, but it wasn’t, was it?
Evey: [Sobbing] Oh… please…
V: You found something else. In that cell, you found something that mattered more to you than life. Because when they threatened to kill you unless you gave them what they wanted… you told them you’d rather die. You faced your death, Evey. You were calm. You were still. Try to feel now what you felt then.
For V, “salvation” comes through enduring the suffering inflicted by others until hate and fear turn to the courage to press on and change. One rediscovers meaning through finding something worth dying for. When death passes, that meaning continues. Only in the concentration camp or prison cell will one discover the meaning of life. The concept that one needs to find a cause worth killing and dying for reminds me of Stanley Hauerwas’ concept that war and the church are the two ways of finding meaning, and both involve sacrifice V is willing to sacrifice his life (and others’ lives) for liberation. The difference is that the Christian puts his hope in a sacrifice endured by Christ, a sacrifice that does not inflict violence, but rather absorbs and forgives violence. The Christian emerges from this sacrifice willing to follow Christ’s example in suffering and demonstrating peace and love. However, V emerges from his own suffering willing to torture and kill. For Evey, the suffering itself does not have mean. The conditions don’t matter, because V lied to her and inflicted the suffering she thought was perpetrated by the State. However, Christ’s suffering itself is critical for the Christian. He defeated the very powers who were persecuting him by dying and rising victorious.
V is for Vision of Justice
In the end, the problem with V is not that he cares about making his world just, instead of living a life of reconciliation. He conducts his own leveling of good and evil, because he thinks justice is about what one deserves. He is unwilling to give up the violence and control used by the state he detests. He is not radical enough. True justice can only come by following Christ’s example of love and reconciliation. Justice is not just giving according to desert, for we follow a God that does not give us we deserve, but wants to reconcile the whole universe in Christ.
“No, the Christian alternative to war is worship. I am well known for the claim that first task of the church is not to make the world more just, but to make the world the world. That claim is but a correlate of the assertion that the church does not have a social ethic, but is a social ethic…. The church does not so much have a plan or a policy to make war less horrible or to end war. Rather the church is the alternative to the sacrifice of war in a war-weary world. The church is the end of war… The sacrifices of war are undeniable, but in the cross of Christ the Father has forever ended our attempts to sacrifice to God in terms set by the city of man. Christians have now been incorporated into Christ’s sacrifice for the world so that the world no longer needs to make sacrifices for tribe or state, or even humanity. Constituted by the body and blood of Christ, we participate in God’s kingdom so that the world may know that we, the church of Jesus Christ, are the end of sacrifice. If Christians leave the Eucharistic table ready to kill one another, we not only eat and drink judgment on ourselves, but we rob the world of the witness it needs in order to know that there is an alternative to the sacrifices of war.” Stanley Hauerwas
I hope this review of V for Vendetta triggered questions in your mind about the world we live in. For some, the exaggerated corruption and violence of the state in the movie may demonstrate a striking resemblance to stories in the news. Libertarians will find this film is a dramatic battle cry, though a dangerous one. While Christians make take issue with the depiction of Christ’s followers, we really have ourselves to blame for it. The real issue is that V presents an alternative method of justice and sacrifice, a false set of symbols and deeds that perpetrate the myth that violence is the answer to violence, that endurance is strength, and that blood will refresh the tree of liberty. The mask replaces the crown of thorns, and the V symbol replaces the cross of suffering and love.
The central problem with the State from an ethical standpoint is that it makes coercion the ruling principle of society. The individual will is the center of human action, and responsibility flows from this. Only the voluntary act is virtuous. When someone is forced to do something at the point of a gun, we don’t hold them responsible, because they were coerced. If an activist were to hold a rich banker at gunpoint until he gave his money to the poor, no one would consider him a magnanimous individual, again because coercion is involved. Coercion is simply violence disguised, and it removes any ethical merit from the resulting actions. We all understand this. However, we fail to realize that government is founded on a rejection of the individual will. The State does not care about a person’s soul, not does it care about morality. All that concerns it is making sure certain beneficial conditions exist, and individuals become mere instruments. Politicians must make the poor believe they care. So they coerce others through taxation to give money that will be redistributed to the poor. The government is not concerned about whether the poor rise out of poverty, or it would have stopped the welfare system long ago. Nor does it care about promoting a spirit of generosity, for coercion can never accomplish a change of heart. The solution to this problem is not to reject all direction and interaction between human beings. Instead, it is to make the individual will the basis of human interactions. Realizing that voluntary actions are the only ones that have ethical merit, in the social realm, we need a society based solely on peaceful interaction between individuals. Our society still has elements of this interaction. Our churches are testaments to the power of individuals to form organizations without resorting to force or coercion. Alexis De Tocqueville explained the theory this way.
“It is easy to foresee that the time is drawing near when man will be less and less able to produce, of himself alone, the commonest necessaries of life. The task of the governing power will therefore perpetually increase, and its very efforts will extend it every day. The more it stands in the place of associations, the more will individuals, losing the notion of combining together, require its assistance: these are causes and effects which unceasingly engender each other. Will the administration of the country ultimately assume the management of all the manufacturers, which no single citizen is able to carry on? And if a time at length arrives, when, in consequence of the extreme subdivision of landed property, the soil is split into an infinite number of parcels, so that it can only be cultivated by companies of husbandmen, will it be necessary that the head of the government should leave the helm of state to follow the plough? The morals and the intelligence of a democratic people would be as much endangered as its business and manufactures, if the government ever wholly usurped the place of private companies. Feelings and opinions are recruited, the heart is enlarged, and the human mind is developed by no other means than by the reciprocal influence of men upon each other. I have shown that these influences are almost null in democratic countries; they must therefore be artificially created, and this can only be accomplished by associations.”
People need to work together to create culture. This will happen in one of three ways. It can come naturally. This is simply not the case in our current culture. Perhaps a small community could develop this organically, but in reality it must be created. The only two options are voluntary associations and the ever-growing state. Only one of these is consistent with human liberty. Organizations from the Boy Scouts to book clubs to Wikipedia and open source software demonstrates the tremendous power of cooperation in the absence of power and bureaucratic organization. I am not calling for abandoning our goals of achieving peace and community. Instead, I’m saying that peace and community are only possible through individuals voluntarily choosing to cooperate with other human being, creating culture, but not by coercion. This belief in peaceful cooperation also holds the dangerous tendencies of anarchism in check, I reject violence and coercion even as means to reform or replace the State.
“What is the basic, the essential, the crucial principle that differentiates freedom from slavery? It is the principle of voluntary action versus physical coercion or compulsion.” Ayn Rand
“Freedom, morality, and the human dignity of the individual consists precisely in this; that he does good not because he is forced to do so, but because he freely conceives it, wants it, and loves it.” Mikhail Bakunin
“Voluntaryism is the doctrine that relations among people should be by mutual consent, or not at all. It represents a means, an end, and an insight. Voluntaryism does not argue for the specific form that voluntary arrangements will take; only that force be abandoned so that individuals in society may flourish. As it is the means which determine the end, the goal of an all voluntary society must be sought voluntarily. People cannot be coerced into freedom. Hence, the use of the free market, education, persuasion, and non-violent resistance as the primary ways to change people’s ideas about the State.” voluntaryist.com
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus
So far what I have outlined falls under the category of anarchism, a negative philosophy which simply claims that the State is unjustified, not the answer to the problems of the world. The solution begins when we see ourselves for what we are: just individuals, deceiving ourselves into creating institutions and worshiping the institutions we create, as if we were not part of them. Returning to the individual will allow for true community.
The social realm deals with the interactions of human beings, and the ideas that are the foundation of “society” and the phenomenon of community. We know that the State destroys both the individual and the community. So if we are going to start anew, we need to do some further deconstruction of the ideas that rule our lives.
This is the next segment of my story chronologically as well. I discovered the ideology of individualism, which rejected all collectivism, not only in ends, but in means. I began to adopt as well as a deep belief in the personal alignment of one’s heart with justice. I believe that part of the answer to the problems of living in a world with the State is voluntary choice and a rejection of coercion. Over time, I also discovered the importance of community as well. Eventually I came to a synthesis, realizing that community requires the individual, and that collectivism destroys any possibility of community. This is nothing new, and this “discovery” was guided by the great thinkers I was reading. However, it is an important truth ignored by modern states and societies.
Back to Basics
The central problem with the State is its refusal to recognize the individual as an individual. The politician becomes more than an individual, and injustice begins. Society becomes more than a group of individuals, and freedom is lost. The solution is to eliminate collective solutions, and return to the individual as the foundation of all communities and societies. This is a change of perspective. Societies and communities and words we use to describe relationships between individuals. Words that are full of meaning, but words nonetheless. These relationships are critical to human life, but must never obscure the individual. The solution to the State with its comprehensive collectivized violence is not a meta-ideology against violence, but a rejection of collectivization and a rejection of violence. In other words, instead of sticking respect for the individual in a system of collectivism that is essentially anti-individual, we must realize our way of looking at the world is wrong. It is not a decision to not see the forest, but a decision to see the trees first, then the forest. To do otherwise will destroy both the individual and community. We must constantly train ourselves to realize that terms like government, society, and nation are useful, but mean nothing more than a collection of individuals, and must not, or freedom will be lost. To make this concrete, take the example of the racism of Nazi Germany. Most people do not naturally hate their neighbors without cause. While man is radically sinful, we usually wait until they oppose our wants and desires before lashing out. The Nazi propagandists were able to accomplish two things. First, they eliminated the individual and forged a German national identity that was supposedly superior to the individual. Second, they created a collective enemy, the Jews. By lumping individuals into this category, they could both destroy these individuals, now hated by the people, and further solidify the German people. This collective grouping of people into fictional entities must be rejected. One must make the distinction between the collectivism of the “public” or the crowd, as Kierkegaard will put it, and true community, which respects and exalts the individual. Returning to the individual is not a return to isolation. Instead, it allows one to be a human being, and treat others as human beings as well.
“Since there is no such entity as “the public,” since the public is merely a number of individuals, the idea that “the public interest” supersedes private interests and rights can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals take precedence over the interests and rights of others.” Ayn Rand
One last word before moving on. Not only is the state not justified, but it destroys society.
It eliminates charity in the hearts of people, by establishing an ethic of confiscation and redistribution which is totally separated from the heart. Charity can not occur at the barrel of a gun. It must be a spontaneous expression of love for others.
It eliminates the possibility of community, for it views individuals as less than human, building blocks in the machinery that it becomes. A community must be united around an idea, and the modern state has abandoned all ideas in favor of pragmatism and survival. Community is organic, relying on the consent and approval of its members, but the state is coercive and hierarchical.
It teaches people that violence is a valid way of life. Our children are brought up in a culture that celebrates violence. Our churches honor the troops and celebrate nationalistic holidays. Our video games train children to kill. We teach our children to celebrate the police and soldiers, while punishing them if they engage in any violence. We teach our children that guns are the best way to defend oneself.
It isolates citizens from human beings across the globe. We are told to hate them, to fear them, or at least to think we are better than them. Relations between Americans and citizens of other countries are tense instead of loving and appreciative. The unity of the human race is destroyed by borders guarded by soldiers and barbed wire.
Trust in God is destroyed in favor of trust in guns and trust in government. The value of life is compromised by torture, conscription, war, and assassination. Children are raised in a society that offers lip service to the values of true community, while their parents swear allegiance to an entity that destroys and mocks those values. This cannot continue. Proponents of genuine community need to realize that the state cannot coexist with genuine community. Community exists through guiding, directing, and uniting around shared values, not through coercion or violence.
“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” Dorothy Day
We must come to terms with the reality the government violence. Is this the solution to our fallen world? The realm of the ethical realm offers a serious challenge to the state. If one believes in individual rights, one cannot support the legitimacy of the state. The cold, hard, and negative principles of individual rights destroy the State’s legitimacy.This is the position known as anarchism. As Tolkien defines is, “(philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs).” In fact, anarchism need not even mean you try to abolish control in this world. At the bare bones level, it only means rejecting the legitimacy of State control. If for religious or philosophical reasons one chooses not to actively undermine the state (pacifism, for example) on can still be described as an anarchist.
The case laid out so far goes something like this.
1. All men are created equal in the image of God with no right to the bodies or lives of others
2. The State unjustly claims to make individuals greater than human, able to steal man’s property (taxation), his life (war), and his body (conscription)
3. Appeals to social compacts, divine right, or man’s communal nature all fail to explain how some humans have specific powers over others without their consent
4. Not only do men have no right to rule each other, they are too corrupted to do so
5. The State has been an instrument of death, torture, genocide, and atrocity. Its body count is truly horrendous
The ethical has had its say. Something is deeply wrong if we have allowed an injustice of this magnitude to be the foundation of society. The state is founded on violence, exists through violence, perpetuates and defends itself in violence, and destroys the social fabric of society. In the next few realms I will consider how to begin from the foundation and find a better way to live.
“The system absorbs those who think they can utilize it. Nor can there be any question of finding a modus vivendi or achieving attenuations. It has been demonstrated how the liberals state becomes an authoritarian state. The course is set and no accommodation will be either lasting or sufficient. In face of this absolute power, only an absolutely negative position is viable. What we have in mind is the attitude that conscientious objectors take on a specific point, and not without good reason. In the present set-up the anarchist attitude of a total refusal of validity or legitimacy to any authority of any kind seems to me to be the only valid and viable one. The point is not to enforce a particular view of society but to establish a counterbalance, a protest, a sign of cleavage. In face of an absolute power only a total confrontation has any meaning.” Jacques Ellul
From the purely practical side, government has a track record of destroying life the central modern purpose of government. We think we set up the state to preserve the lives of our children and keep our property from harm. However, this is entrusting the henhouse to a fox. The cry for government to protect life rings hollow when it has destroyed millions of lives and failed to protect life or property. The state is made up of men who are sinful, and history shows what has happened when governments are given the power over life and death.
“How many people, in fact, have been killed by government violence in the 20th century? Not deaths in wars and civil wars among military combatants, but mass murder of civilians and innocent victims with either the approval or planning of governments — the intentional killings of their own subjects and citizens or people under their political control? The answer is: 169,198,000. If the deaths of military combatants are added to this figure, governments have killed 203,000,000 in the 20th century.” Death by Government, by R.J. Rummel
Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin and others turned the civil sword on innocent civilians. America is not exempt. The Trail of Tears, Indian massacres, Hiroshima, My Lai, and drone attacks. For some, the numbers may be shocking. For others, some personal story of the death and destruction. Even one death boggles the imagination.
“It is astonishing how distance blunts the keen edge of anything that is disagreeable. War is at all times a most fearful scourge. The thought of slain bodies and of murdered men must always harrow up the soul; but because we hear of these things in the distance, there are few Englishmen who can truly enter into their horrors. If we should hear the booming of cannon on the deep which girdles this island; if we should see at our doors the marks of carnage and bloodshed; then should we more thoroughly appreciate what war means. But distance takes away the horror, and we therefore speak of war with too much levity, and even read of it with an interest not sufficiently linked with pain.” Charles Spurgeon
I think there is a sense of flippancy in our arguments and discussions about war. When we discuss the issues we like to stay in the realm of theory. But death does not stay in the realm of theory. It results in suffering and bereavement. As the bomb is dropped or the gun fired, someone will lose a father, husband, or son. Government wars and atrocities rob individuals of humanity. The soldier is trained to take life without caring for the individual. Those forced to kill and commit atrocities are desensitized to kindness, life, and the values that make our world meaningful.
“All war must be just the killing of strangers against whom you feel no personal animosity; strangers whom, in other circumstances, you would help if you found them in trouble, and who would help you if you needed it.” Mark Twain
Some will say, “Let’s have the state without war, without killing. Then we can protect property.” What they do not realize is that this is impossible. Even if men could get rid of the stupid wars and atrocities, the fact remains that the State depends on violence in order to survive. It is by definition a monopoly of force over a given geographical area. If others try to provide services that rival the government, they are imprisoned or killed, despite the fact that they have done nothing wrong. They must be, or the “authority” will cease to exist. To arise to power over an area, men must kill rivals or kill the previous rulers. The fact is that the state cannot be separated from violence. The state must maintain itself by stealing property in the form of taxation. If something can only survive by destroying what it is meant to protect, something is wrong.
“The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence.” Gandhi
Not only is it intrinsically violent, but it uses war and the threat of war to unify the people into hatred of minorities or foreigners. Nationalism is necessary for a strong state, and thus hatred and war are vital. Take the example of World War II. Japanese and Germans were demonized through the use of propaganda, and this helped unify Americans behind the war effort. Everyone worked as one, but in the work of death. Or take the war on terror. Muslims, whether radical or not, become a rallying point for Americans. By creating an enemy we create an identity, and distract people from the state’s violence and destruction. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
“War is the health of the State. It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense. The machinery of government sets and enforces the drastic penalties; the minorities are either intimidated into silence, or brought slowly around by a subtle process of persuasion which may seem to them really to be converting them.” Randolph Bourne
So war becomes a tool, a way to reward faithful supporters (the military-industrial complex), a way to unify and pacify the people (scare them with real or manufactured threats), and a way to acquire more power (through “War powers” and territory annexation. The result of this is a loss of the human values that make like meaningful.
“Of course, the ideal of perfect loyalty, perfect uniformity is never really attained. The classes upon whom the amateur work of coercion falls are unwearied in their zeal, but often their agitation instead of converting, merely serves to stiffen their resistance. Minorities are rendered sullen, and some intellectual opinion bitter and satirical. But in general, the nation in wartime attains a uniformity of feeling, a hierarchy of values culminating at the undisputed apex of the State ideal, which could not possibly be produced through any other agency than war. Loyalty – or mystic devotion to the State – becomes the major imagined human value. Other values, such as artistic creation, knowledge, reason, beauty, the enhancement of life, are instantly and almost unanimously sacrificed, and the significant classes who have constituted themselves the amateur agents of the State are engaged not only in sacrificing these values for themselves but in coercing all other persons into sacrificing them.” Randolph Bourne
Governments have slaughtered millions. This is not an accident, or just a few bad eggs letting off steam. No, this is part of the system. Violence is by definition part of the state, and is the best tool for establishing and expanding power. The state’s body count is a chilling warning for those who believe that it is the answer to the problems of our world.
Man is radically sinful. Bible-believing Christians should be the first to recognize this. Yet somehow we think that when entrusted with power over millions, they will act like angels. We cannot even run our own lives without descending into violence, despair, and sin. Why are we surprised when elected officials demonstrate the inadequacy of the human race? I have never understood why Hitler’s evil or the evil of other leaders is never taken as an indictment or at least a challenge to the human capability to govern others. Although man is the pinnacle of God’s creation, and capable of great achievement, he is also capable of genocide, slavery, and tremendous pride. Most views of government are guilty of a rosy view of humanity, ignoring the sin problem at the root of our existence. They think that men are desperately evil in general, killing, stealing, and looting. Yet they think that the answer is more of the same men, exalted to positions of power. The advantage of a system of checks and balances is the limited protection it provides against these evil men. Yet these checks are always going to be desperate measures in a losing battle against the very properties of humanity. Anarchists are not necessarily utopian visionaries. There is a realism that takes into account the human condition. Man is violent and evil, but the solution is not more violence by evil men. David is a perfect example of the human incapability to govern. David was a man after God’s own heart, and he wrote some of the most beautiful prayers to God ever written. He followed the Almighty from the days of his youth, and God was with him from his shepherd days to his ascension to the throne. Yet even as David ruled as king of Israel, he succumbed to the temptations of power. He lusted, he stole a man’s wife, and he killed a man to cover it up. Another time he was moved in his pride to count his troops, which brought God’s judgment on the nation. He killed thousands, and his inability to lead his family threw the nation into turmoil. God refused to let him, a man of blood, build the temple. Solomon, the next on the throne, was the wisest man, the narrative tells us. Yet he married foreign women, followed their god’s, amassed tremendous wealth, and forced the people into compulsory labor. The fact is that even in the best of circumstances, wise men after God’s own heart are incapable of ruling other men. We simply can’t take the place of God. Imagine the situation today, where massive power attracts the wealthy, the ambitious, and the criminal. The resulting government will certainly be sin writ large on the world. A government of sinful men is not the answer to the sin problem. It will only institutionalize the evil and give it a monopoly on violence.
“All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted. ” ~ Frank Herbert
“Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, & county commissioners.” ~ Edward Abbey
Most of us realize in theory that we are autonomous beings, at least our personal lives reflect this reality. We live our lives, in our homes, and leave others alone. In our private lives, we do not pretend to tell our neighbors how to live, and we certainly don’t claim the ability to take their property or force them to fight in wars. However, it is clear that we do not fully realize that each man is a free actor with God-given dignity, for we allow a group of men to pretend that they are more than mere men. When a king sat in a palace surrounding by fawning courtiers, it was obvious that he was pretending to be more than an ordinary human being. Sometimes, rulers were even worshiped as gods. We think that our society has affirmed the equality of all men. However, the reality is not that much different. A few men live at the expense of everyone else, vote themselves privileges, and are permitted to do things no citizen could ever do. Need I mention the fawning lobbyists who take the place of members of a royal court? Politicians, who often seem the least qualified among us, exert this power and authority, while boasting about their empathy and humble roots. That the man in the White House was born in a log cabin is not a testament to national greatness. This is simply pride and deception. It simply highlights the strange idea that some men can rise above humanity. Claiming to be better than human is not just pride, it is actually dangerous, for the one who thinks he is better than human will quickly become less than human. Thinking he free from natural law, the ruler soon does what no person would ever do. He will forcibly take money from others, and call it taxation. He will send young men and women off to die in other countries, and call it a draft. He will drop bombs on civilians and call it defense. The individual rights anarchists have explained this well. To be clear, taxation is theft, war is murder, and conscription is slavery.
“A man’s natural rights are his own, against the whole world; and any infringement of them is equally a crime, whether committed by one man, or by millions; whether committed by one man, calling himself a robber, (or any other name indicating his true character,) or by millions, calling themselves a government.” Lysander Spooner
“One man may not kill. If he kills a fellow creature, he is a murderer. If two, ten, a hundred men do so, they too are murderers. But a government or a nation may kill as many men as it chooses, and that will not be murder, but a great and noble action. Only gather the people together on a large scale, and a battle of ten thousand men becomes an innocent action. But precisely how many people must there be to make it so?, that is the question. One man cannot plunder and pillage, but a whole nation can. But precisely how man are needed to make it permissable? Why is it that one man, ten, a hundred, may not break the law of God, but a great number may?” Adin Ballou — from ‘How Many Men Are Necessary to Change a Crime Into a Virtue’