Is the Central State a Necessary Evil, or a Flawed Form of Government?

StateOutDate_Disinfo_300x250[disinfo ed.'s note: the following is an original essay by Gregory Sams relating current events to his new book The State Is Out of Date: We Can Do It Better .]

Does anybody really believe that politics is working, aside from those in power? As the powerful new tools of our information age chip away at the mask of the sovereign state, endemic corruption is revealed across the political spectrum. People are taking to the streets en masse in protest, sometimes bringing down corrupt regimes only to see the same corruption and inefficiency arising in new regimes. The Egyptian people fought hard for freedom and won a choice between authoritarian masters. In the Ukraine, one group of corrupt thugs recently violently replaced another group of corrupt thugs, with their respective backers arguing on the international stage over which corrupt thugs hold the moral high ground. The world’s great democracies denounce an overwhelmingly popular vote by the people of Crimea, and call the gentle Russian intervention a hostile and unacceptable violation of sovereignty.  After Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, the hypocrisy of it is overpowering.

In Turkey Prime Minister Erdoğan want to ban Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube after his own sleazy corruption was exposed by revelations in social media. The people of oil-rich socialist Venezuela are out in the streets protesting at the lack of basic goods in their shops. In Brazil, Thailand, Tunisia, Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, Spain, and Portugal, outraged populations have taken to the streets in the past year. The revelations of Edward Snowden show how far America’s NSA has exceeded the notorious East German Stasi, with its stealth monitoring of our private communications worldwide. Mark Zuckerberg was pissed off enough to call the president, perhaps thinking that’s the guy in charge.

More and more choose not to vote, while many who do vote, vote not for their choice but against the alternative, choosing what they hope will be the lesser evil. And therein lies the problem, for most people cling to the idea that top-down rule by a coercive state is a necessary evil, believing that without the iron hand of authority us hapless human beings would be out in the streets raping and robbing, conning and killing each other in total chaos. Endless Hollywood apocalypse movies tell us as much so it must be true – true that it sells movies, for sure.

In reality, our human nature is to pull together during disasters and difficult times, such as Hurricane Sandy, helping each other out. It’s in our cooperative genes, and is something we have been doing from time immemorial. We had extensive and developed civilizations in many places that organized from the bottom up. There is no evidence of noble rule or military artifacts for a over four thousand years of early Mesopotamian culture, characterized by complex well run cities with irrigated agriculture. There were similarities with early Indus Valley civilization. The South American Tiwanaku thrived for 1400 years in Bolivia without nobles or military, expanding into Bolivia and Chile during their last six centuries, forming an empire that was so culturally cool it was welcomed. Climate change took them down. The Mayans grew for 2000 years without top-down hierarchies The Minoans left no evidence of military activity, nor the ancient Maltese. Many medieval European cities grew strong and vital enough to kick out the nobles who preyed on them for taxes.

What do we actually get from the state, when you dig deep down to its core raison d’etre? We get protection from other versions of itself. Everything else they do is stuff that we pay for, and could self-provide at a far lower cost than that we cover when the state provides the service. More importantly, in a free system those services, products or needs would be connected to that network of connected feedback loops that keep evolution on a sustainable path. When you cut those feedback loops weird shit happens and a good example is agriculture. Farmers used to earn a living growing what people wanted to eat, letting the feedback loops do the work. But the governments running North America and Europe thought food was so important they had to get involved. Now all those farmers lose money, depending on state subsidies to stay afloat.

It’s like the opposite of the Midas touch when the state becomes involved in what we are doing. Things turn to crap instead of gold. To help “save the planet” Uncle Sam devotes 40% of the US corn harvest to feeding cars with biofuel, each gallon of which provides less energy than that which was needed to produce it. The EU stepped in to save the fish stocks from depletion, creating a scheme whereby half or more of a trawler’s catch would be returned to the sea, dead. A huge volume of law is in place restricting American’s freedom of choice in the management of something as personal as their own health. Prisons across the world are needlessly filled with victims of the War on Drugs, while millions are prescribed unnatural mind-altering drugs deemed ok by the state. Many states become involved in their country’s educational standards, with the UK having a “national curriculum.” Why don’t they just clone the kids?

We used to take care of all this stuff ourselves, and evolved of our own accord, making things better and safer. From medieval times, free men developed trade guilds covering everything from bakers to fishermen, craftsmen to chemists. Though some professionals still belong to guilds that provide security, that function has been largely subsumed by the state. Friendly societies abounded in the 19th century, providing health care and other social services to the vast majority of workers in the developed world. They have been destroyed by state legislation seeking to provide similar services, paid for by taxation instead of voluntary contributions.

We don’t have to go back in history either to find self-governance. We’ve created a massive new continent in cyberspace that has grown and evolved to meet our needs with unprecedented speed. No passports or visas or border checks are required in a free territory with the capacity to include every human being on the planet. There is a lot of business happening on online, with vendors like Amazon and eBay designing their security and safety into the system. They don’t build jails and lock people up at our expense for not paying their bills, or selling shoddy product. Instead, they factor rogues out of the system, evolving it as they go. Customer product reviews and sites such as Tripadvisor are providing real governance that isn’t based on inspectors and threats and fines. The internet connects humanity as never before, giving us an awesome potential to self-govern at all levels.

Big government just loves big corporations, who provide them with a simple conduit to take a slice out of all those employees’ earnings before they even get to see it, let alone spend it. Their legislation stifles start-up competition with a web of legislative requirement. Corporations can’t do their real bad stuff without the coercive arm of the state at their disposal. Big Pharma could never force you to vaccinate your children, or stop you from smoking marijuana, or ban alternative medicines but they can convince a Congressman that he should.

Then there is the myriad of taxes, that money taken by force of law. We see regular protests over whether some are paying their fair share, but this is a side-issue deflecting us from the real issue, which is the damage done by all the taxes the state does collect.  With all the bites added, from income tax to sales tax, from alcohol to gasoline, from airport tax to death duties, we see 50% or more of our wealth being sucked into the state each year, in some nations 60-70%. Is it not reasonable to suggest that if we retained that wealth in our community there would be substantially lower levels of poverty, hunger, disease, homelessness, and unemployment in the world, with an increased capacity to express those basic human features of care and compassion?

We cannot hope to beat or eliminate the state with some A – B – C procedure. At this point we can best disempower the state by asking and expecting it to do less and by doing more ourselves. They survive because we believe they are necessary, anchoring their power in our fear of an alternative to the status quo. Historically, all states eventually collapse and we must seek to suffer as little collateral damage as possible in the process, and leap beyond replacing it with a new style of same old. This will involve continued experimentation with new social structures and people-powered methods of bringing to a close the twin atrocities of war and environmental destruction.

Of course, without the central state, the question remains of how we are going to deal with all those ifs, buts, and what abouts? It isn’t scary or as difficult as it seems; remember that we have done it before and that we are well equipped to do it again.  Fortunately, I devoted a book to the subject, titled The State Is Out Of Date, We Can Do It Better, and if you’ve read this far you will almost certainly value its content.  The first incarnation was published sixteen years ago when most people still thought governments had nothing but their best interests at heart. Since then it has revised and upgraded to fit with the prevailing perceptions of today, as a book for all those who wonder why politics isn’t working and what would.

Check out the new disinformation book The State Is Out of Date: We Can Do It Better by Gregory Sams.
About the Author: Gregory Sams has been changing the culture from the age of 19, when he co-founded SEED, the UK’s first natural and organic restaurant in 1960′s London. It led to Ceres Grain store, where customers could buy these foods to cook at home. Within a few years he had created the nation’s first natural and organic food enterprises, including Whole Earth Foods. He was founder publisher of Harmony Magazine, to which John Lennon dedicated an eight-frame cartoon, and co-published Seed, the Journal of Organic Living. In 1982 he created and christened the original VegeBurger, initiating the market for vegetarian food. In 1990 he founded Strange Attractions, the world’s only shop ever dedicated to new science “chaos theory.” His interest in that science planted the seeds of this book in Gregory’s mind. Visit Sams at gregorysams.com. He lives in London.

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  • http://disinfo.com/ Majestic

    Test

  • emperorreagan

    I’ll give it a read for $3.

    • emperorreagan

      I kind of wish I had my $3 back now.

  • Anarchy Pony

    The essay sounds good at first but it’s leaving a funky libertardian aftertaste in my mouth.

    • emperorreagan

      And your instinct is correct. There’s a pro-corporation chapter complete with Ayn Rand quote, discussion on how monopolies and corporate excess are really the fault of the state, how Coke doesn’t force you to drink its product, and how great corporations are at providing things and should still exist post-state.

      • Anarchy Pony

        It reeks of randism.

        • emperorreagan

          Here are a couple choice assertions from the book:

          “Most valid examples of coercive abuse from the corporate world have either passed into history, or are carried out in collusion with a state.”

          “Companies cannot easily get away with naked coercion in today’s world.”

          • Anarchy Pony

            “Companies cannot easily get away with naked coercion in today’s world.” Generally because the state is legally obligated to intercede.

          • emperorreagan

            Discounting collusion and discarding history is like setting the state up as the Jesus Christ to die for Apple or Google.

          • misinformation

            “Most valid examples of coercive abuse from the corporate world have
            either passed into history, or are carried out in collusion with a
            state.”

            Out of curiosity, which part of this quote do you have a problem with?

          • emperorreagan

            I have a problem with the entirety, as it deflects the excess of corporate abuse of today to the state and discounts the history of corporate abuse; it ignores the co-evolution of the state of the corporate.

            I also have a problem with the notion that a corporation exists in the absence of a state and that the big corporate entities would continue to exist such as they are without becoming defacto states themselves.

          • misinformation

            “I have a problem with the entirety, as it deflects the excess of
            corporate abuse of today to the state and discounts the history of
            corporate abuse; it ignores the co-evolution of the state of the
            corporate.”

            Doesn’t the term “collusion”, from the original statement imply a more equal footing between the state and corporations?

            I’m sorry I don’t quite understand the second paragraph. Are you saying that you have a problem with the notion, which other people put forward, that, in the absence of the state, that corporations would become def facto governments? Or are you saying that you, yourself, believe that corporations would indeed, become de facto states?

          • emperorreagan

            Collusion could imply equal footing and one could follow the history of government response to the labor movements (the tension in government action between protecting capitalists versus making some concessions in favor of promoting stability).

            In the context of the author’s argument, though, it’s that corporations can’t get away with bad behavior anymore because people will get upset and it will hurt their image. The coercion has been turned over to state partners – so when the state goes, the naked coercion of force goes too because people will vote with their dollars and not support abusive corporations.

            Here’s my second point, without the shorthand that may have only made sense to me:

            The author argues that the multi-nationals are here to stay even without the state, so we might as well get used to it and hey, they’re good at what they do! We shouldn’t want to dismantle them.

            My first point is that corporations exist within a legal framework: they don’t exist apart from states that grant corporate charters. In the absence of a state, you could have partnerships, pooling of resources, and such, but a corporation as we think of it wouldn’t exist.

            Limited liability (which he blames for the misbehavior of corporations) won’t exist, either, as that’s a concept tied to the state. The limit on liability, then, becomes what the community can extract from the offender. For small partnerships situated in the community they serve, that would likely revert to what anthropologists have observed in small communities: someone who behaves out of line with community standards may be expelled, killed, or otherwise sanctioned by the community.

            If you assume that multi-nationals don’t return to naked coercion, then liability and behavior will be limited by the individual/community’s ability to extract something from the offending organization or publicize the group’s behavior to the extent that people stop conducting business with said group.

            The second point is that multi-nationals can’t exist without coercion (where I agree with the others who say corporations become de facto states).

            How does Coca Cola exist without coercion? Coca Cola relies on the state to enforce its trademarks, for example, but most importantly relies on states to enforce its access to water. In India, for instance, if a village bans Coca Cola, refuses Coca Cola access to water, etc. then Coca Cola uses the courts to attempt to circumvent the local decision.

            So now the state is gone. If Coca Cola is going to continue its business, what options does it have? It can use force (as corporations have done and still do, where the state was ineffectual as a tool) to maintain access to water (and could engage in any number of other historical behaviors to control labor) or it can wrap up shop.

            In the former case, it becomes the de facto state. In the latter case, the communities that would prefer Coca Cola doesn’t deplete their water tables and pollute the remainder have essentially dismantled Coca Cola.

          • misinformation

            Hmmm? Well, I was sure we were enroute to disagreeing but now I’m not so sure. Your position seems to be unusually nuanced as to where the problems lie between the state and corporations. Which, if I read correctly, is a similar position to mine.

            I do disagree in one area though and that is the amount of coercion a corporation would yield in the absence of a state. I have to agree with the author’s comment that a corporation would never have enough capital to represent the equivalent (or even anything remotely close) amount of violence that a state has at it’s disposal.

            Of course, I could still be missing your whole point, which would just be a waste of everyone’s time.

    • http://thestateisoutofdate.com Gregory Sams

      I’m not a fan of corporations, just saying that to do prolonged and sustained evil they need a coercive state locking up protestors (fracking), banning competition (alternative medicine), throwing indigenous people off their land, sanctioning their dodgy products (aspartame, GMO), mandating their product’s use (fluoridation), insuring their uninsurable activity (nuclear)…the list goes on.

      • Anarchy Pony

        And my point is that they will continue to do such things without the official state apparatus. With the state dismantled corporations will likely hire gun thugs from private military contractors and slowly create what are essentially privately owned states. It’s all here in section F of the Anarchist FAQ: http://www.infoshop.org/AnAnarchistFAQ

        • http://thestateisoutofdate.com Gregory Sams

          I suggest unlikely. Standing armies and police (gun thugs) are expensive. Taxes were created to support them and the state owns the “legal” right to harvest money without displaying weapons, or even drilling wells. Companies have to sell us something we want and have no method to just take our cash. And every dollar they charge includes the cost of the military, aid, welfare, NSA, CIA, FBI, Senate, and so forth. If that monstrous overhead were not on all our backs there is more, not less, scope for humans living in peace. Peace isn’t something that can be forced on humanity. It’s a natural state.

          • Anarchy Pony

            I just think that’s too optimistic.

          • http://thestateisoutofdate.com Gregory Sams

            Perhaps it is, but the vast majority of humanity that I have met were decent honest people and not thieves and murderers. So I don’t sit with the need for top-down control by lawyers and dishonest people, however unfamiliar freedom might be.

          • Andrew

            Money is a creation of the state.

        • misinformation

          I suppose this is sort of an answer to my above question…sort of. So, no need to answer unless you want to reiterate.

      • Rhoid Rager

        Your analysis fails when you attempt to view either one in isolation of the other. They cannot be disaggregated because the state is the enforcement arm of private interests, and corporations are the ‘productive’ arm of the same private interests.

        The heart of the matter is getting away from a reified view of the state and corporations. Anarchism has always implied this through its consistent critique of hierarchy and its practical application through prefigurative political activism. Anarchists affix their gaze on how people relate to each other, rather than narrowing out one specific band of behaviour, such is seen in Marxism (economics), Libertarianism (government), and Liberalism (unchecked power). Taking anyone of these particular views is like squeezing a water balloon on one end–the other end pops out of your grip. The Anarchist intervention in everyday human relations is the needle that pops the balloon.

        • http://thestateisoutofdate.com Gregory Sams

          How do you propose intervening to stop people from making exchanges between each other in whatever format they want? It doesn’t fit to have an anarchist police force breaking down any business with an unapproved structure or size. Bear in mind that the nature of commerce would change significantly without the immoral state-granted status of “limited liability” to companies, introduced mid 19th century.
          Where there is low state involvement, as in baking and brewing, we often see a proliferation of small enterprise, not a continuation of conglomeration.
          The book is about freedom, not corporations.
          Personal note: I’m offline in the Arctic Circle til next week, aurora seeking.

          • emperorreagan

            Post-deregulation brewing has indeed seen a proliferation of small breweries, but these account for a small portion of the market (~7% by volume 30 years after deregulation). Meanwhile, we have indeed seen the continuation of conglomeration (Anheuser Busch, former number 1, merging with inBev, former number 3) into a conglomerate that holds nearly 50% of the US market by volume and 25% worldwide. 4 companies hold 50% of the worldwide market.

    • misinformation

      Isn’t the state inherent in a corporate charter?

  • BuzzCoastin

    the problem is
    wee don’t need masters
    wee need public servants

    government
    its very name means master of the governed
    and no amount of Newspeak can make it otherwise

  • Juan

    “More and more choose not to vote, while many who do vote, vote not for their choice but against the alternative, choosing what they hope will be the lesser evil.”

    Well, there’s your problem right there. Do not vote for the lesser evil, vote for the BIGGEST EVIL! That’s what I am going to do, go and vote for the biggest, right wing fascist, gun-ho, jingo, psychopath there is.
    NUGENT 2016, BITCHES!!!!!

    • Anarchy Pony

      Allen West for veep!

      • Juan

        Oh man, a Nugent/West ticket would be sweet.
        Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman could work too.
        Doesn’t really matter who, so much, as long as whoever it is, is a “real American,” along the lines of West, Nugent, Palin, et al.

    • jasonpaulhayes
  • jasonpaulhayes

    “If the American people knew what we have done, they would string us up
    from the lamp posts.” George H.W. Bush

  • Ken_A1

    The question in the title is basically irrelevant. The state is more ubiquitous and inescapable than ever. Even if we decided we wanted out, there’s no way to opt out.

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