"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth." ~ Oscar Wilde
Conscience vs. Authority
Exclusive to STR
February 22, 2007
Subjugating conscience to authority leads to an unhealthy person and dysfunctional societies. The state requires the subjugation of conscience to central authority as a matter of course. Therefore, a dysfunctional society and unhealthy citizens must follow from state control. The more control a state asserts over a society, the more dysfunctional that society becomes and the less healthy its citizens get. The state must consume and digest all potential competition to its authority. This is why the state is threatened by those who value traditions, cultures, families and societies. But the biggest threat to the state is those people who think for themselves.
State authorities are a fact of life that must be dealt with; so be it. But the ideal that "you got to serve somebody" is contrary to the most fundamental of human rights: the right to follow your conscience. The state exceeds the demands of most religions by claiming to have dominion over the conscience of every individual under its authority. God at least allows free will. The state is not God, it is organized force. Organizing force displaces spontaneous cooperation.
Free will is the seed from which peaceful cooperation grows. Enlightenment and production require peaceful conditions. Organizing the use of force destroys this bonding power seeking to replace it with fear. Free men chose liberty when they reject fear and follow their conscience. There is no other way to be free. To be conscious of your conscience threatens those who demand obedience to rules.
Men ask themselves what action to take before acting. The consul we seek is our conscience. The ability to formulate "What to do?" is instinctual. So is acting upon that decision, or refusing to act. Choosing right instead of wrong is also subject to learned behavior. Being taught that conflict resolution must be based on the use of force if we are to survive totally discounts conscience in favor of authority. "Do what you're told or else" is instilled pretty much from birth by parents and others to some degree. We must teach our children to listen to their consciences, use reason and to seek peaceful conflict resolution. Glen Allport has been running a fantastic series on the importance of imparting this principle to our children.
Men of conscience think and speak of peace. Authoritarians scoff at the mere mention of peace as idealistic. Self-styled men of action think and speak in terms of order defined as rule enforcement. Order through authority is imposed for the good of all because of an admittedly few men among us who do bad things. They say that these bad men will take advantage of peaceful people, so peace lovers must be protected for their own good. Those who are passionate about peace are thus relegated to the position of naive idealists while men of action carry the burden of instilling order in a mongrel population; that is elite guidance counselors preaching "obey" to their "children."
Decisions to pursue right or wrong actions can be made three ways: by conscience, tradition and/or rule. Following your conscience is the consideration of what you think; following tradition is the consideration of what your family, friends and community think, and following a rule is doing what rulers want. Traditions require voluntary adherence to be sustainable. It is when society evolves to the last stage that reason and thinking are banished and replaced by the man in uniform with a gun. Been through airport security lately?
When rule runs contrary to tradition and/or conscience, the result is internal conflict. We then search for compromise. If reason is our guide, then the primary position will be given to conscience, followed by tradition and the only consideration left for rule is what punishment I risk for breaking it while doing the right thing. Following your conscience is the path to inner peace, but it may also lead to external conflict. We must then choose between external threats and internal dissonance. Do we stand up to authority and do what our conscience knows is right, or do we submit to authority and do what is wrong? Do we introduce situational ethics, or do we stay true to ethical principles?
Society is formed by men of conscience who establish a voluntary tradition of honor that eventually becomes a set of rules to be enforced. Seeking collective conscience in man-made institutions sacrifices individual conscience as the institutions grow in size and power. Even if this method of seeking order works somewhat for families, clans and communities, it looses all credibility when extrapolated to large populations. Even at the family level, the tyrannical parent that physically intimidates the use of reason and conscience from their child will result in a dysfunctional family.
We have come to live in an era where rules, regulations, sets of laws, executive orders and other commands from authorities, near and far, permeate society. Collective rule enforcement by centralizing authorities is strangling individual conscience as a matter of policy. Even mitigating traditions have become irrelevant. The transition from rule back to conscience will be difficult and traditions take a long time to coalesce once lost. It appears that our traditions need to be reexamined as well.
As political institutions like the state grow in influence and power along with their size, brokering that political power becomes a position that bad people will seek. So instead of maintaining order in a peaceful society by punishing bad people, the state ends up being controlled by bad people who punish society. The call for more order through more violence drowns out calls for peace and appeals to conscience. When collective authority finally supplants individual conscience with rules to be enforced by violence, society is facing ruin. Thus, states are self-destructive.
The cycle starts with men believing in themselves, progressing to believing in others and finally believing in power; from confidence to trust to fear. Benevolent idealists eventually give way to malevolent rulers. Plato's vision of wise and benevolent kings/dictators that arrogant court philosophers have prescribed for ruling the ignorant masses over the ages, has gotten us into a bit of a pickle. Self-government is the only way out whenever the rule enforcement institution (the state) crumbles. The only question remaining is at what level of violence and hunger will this transition period give us.
When men stick to conscience and reason, allowing a natural tradition of respect to suffice for the foundation of community, society can heal from the removal of the state parasite. The codification of tradition leads to subjugation of individual conscience by enforcement institutions made up of men with very little conscience. Society will survive this cycle again. These so-called "Dark Ages" are a natural outgrowth of failed attempts to re-impose order from the top down, yet they are also the foundations for ensuing renaissances.
Age-old governing institutions based on force and legitimized with fear are crumbling under the weight of debt and deceit. Population/financial centers that breed fear, hunger and violence have become the dominant actors in political decisions far removed from the facade of democratic ideals. Politics is a parade leading to slaughter. It is time to drop out of the parade if you haven't already. A remnant of conscious people will be the result of networks built today. Production, trade, property rights, contracts, and other human social customs will survive political institutions that have sought their control and thus destruction. Indeed, they will thrive.
Men acting honorably and reasonably will become tradition again because voluntary cooperation is sustainable. The systemic regulation of conscience is unnatural and unsustainable. The human spirit will rise again no matter how dormant it appears to be when subjugated by powerful states.
Nothing is possible until individual men begin to believe in themselves. The ability to act is fundamental to life. Adapting to the surrounding environment, improvising available resources and overcoming obstacles to healthy existence all require a will to act. Fear of hunger outweighs fear of violence when you are hungry. When you are faced with violent death, taking your chances with hunger may appear to be the correct choice. Freedom from violence and abundance of food must seem attainable for peace. Human actions must be the result of an individual decision based on reason and conscience for peace to have a chance. We must face our fears with honor and courage, not subjugation and cowardice.
Self-government relies on individuals and their agents enforcing contracts that are voluntarily agreements. Families, groups and communities that seek peaceful lives for individual members must reserve the right to shame and extract compensation from outlaws. Respect for traditions of justice that grow from community standards based on reason and conscience lead to collective understanding as to what behavior is acceptable for membership in that collective. Commandeering this good will to erect artificial institutions in order to impose rule undermines that respect. Discovered law traditions must not become dictated law enforcement if liberty is to survive.
Human political systems all require some form of public acknowledgement, including generally accepted self-governance. Codifying traditions require enforcement and all the costs that entails. Spontaneous community development starts with a common goal and a hand-shake. Codifying tradition is where the corrupt are able to seize power, that is instill a system of rule by one group over the rest. Tradition at least maintains enough voluntary character to allow people to manage their inter-relations peacefully. Rule enforcement looses what conscience remained in those voluntary traditions.
In the realm of individual, familial and community relationships, most humans are able to process the required facts, analysis and understanding for healthy activity. Personal, familial and community dysfunctions result from being forced to act against individual conscience. Surrendering personal responsibility to group identity can only be sustained when this relationship is forged in the fires of love and it is done voluntarily. When these fires burn because of fear and deception, unhealthy relationships naturally develop.
I believe that Jefferson was right when he spoke of small communities being the be-all, end-all of political power. The desire to incorporate large land areas under a single rule is what leads to tyranny. It is easier to subjugate strangers without concern for one's conscience. The ability to secede from any political group is the basis of liberty. Territorial monopolies established for rule enforcement by political institutions larger than personal property boundaries is the basis of tyranny. This is why even the U.S. Constitution was doomed to failure as a means of staving off the rule of the many by the few. Centralized power is too easy to manipulate by the connected few.
People often seek the highways of knowledge to find comfort in the crowds and warmth among popular "truths" like "might makes right." The bond of common experience among a group of humans can differ little from a pack of dogs, a herd of cattle, a bee hive or a pride of lions. It is human nature to huddle in masses against cold, rain and invasions. Building a fence around and shackling the huddled mass is the purpose of that contrived tool we call the state. Seeing that this is wrong requires the innate tools of conscience and reason.
The state is a soldier/policeman given orders to by the puppets of self-righteous egomaniacs; a contrivance for elite manipulation of spiritual as well as intellectual good will. This method of governance is based upon a philosophy of life that seeks to substitute the use of force for principle, rules for reason, and authority for individual conscience. State control by its nature must seek control of free men, their reasoning, and their conscience. It is thus inherently unsustainable.
State worship saturates a free society with rule, indoctrination and punishment. Ultimately, free society is seen to be rule, indoctrination and punishment. Then free society dies, taking with it the state. As I see it, we're in the fourth quarter and the state is running up the score, but I welcome the end of the state and the chance it gives men of conscience to rebuild traditions. Political institutions based on territorial monopolies for the use of force need not apply.
Conscience is the source of liberty and the reason why order in society must be based on individual liberty. Only individuals can decide, act, learn, trade, love and hate. So be conscious of liberty and follow your conscience. Strengthen your family ties and enjoy time with your friends. Join voluntary groups and bond through the goodwill created by spontaneous cooperation. Spreading love will lead to more peace, and spreading hate will lead to more death. We each make our choices. Surviving the state's suffocation of society and the homogenization of cultures is paramount. To live to debate another day will mean the world to our children. Reason and conscience must prevail.