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ed.’s note: the following is an original essay by Gregory Sams relating current events to his new book The State Is Out of Date: We Can Do It Better .]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