"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind." ~ Edward Gibbon
Column by Mark Davis.
Exclusive to STR
Men have been creating supernatural entities since the first fires were harnessed by the smartest guys in the cave at the dawn of civilization. Conjuring up power into existence (state sovereignty) through the use of magic spells (social contracts, laws) is still used to this day by modern wizards (law makers) and priests (law enforcement). Repeating words from a book of spells (Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Articles of Corporation) and practicing precise rituals (passing laws, wearing uniforms, creating talismans and badges that have special powers) are age-old tools for population control that have been perfected and modernized as needed over the centuries. The state can only exist in the minds of people, but this illusion is long-established in human traditions and cultures throughout the world. Agents of the state have a powerful hold over the human imagination, one could say, like magic.
This is a condition that we alive today have inherited from our ancestors and many feel there is little we can do to change it. When so many people believe in magic, it is easy for them to reinforce each other’s belief in that magic. People hate to admit they have been duped or fooled, but the desire to use self-delusion as a coping mechanism is a powerful reason to believe in magic, even while denying it exists. Exposing delusions for what they are is something that we can do, although this is not as easy as it sounds.
It is not brute force that binds collective illusionists so strongly, but a fear of losing the warm feelings of security that a common belief provides. Look how many people in our culture perpetuate the knowingly false image of Santa Claus in order to create a “warm feeling” at Christmas for children. Who hasn’t either fallen for that one or perpetrated it upon their children? I did. Good intentions are thus used to institutionalize the magical belief of a jolly man who goes around the world in one night using a sleigh pulled by reindeer to deliver toys to all the good boys and girls. Parents unabashedly exploit this ruse in order to get children to obey them. The powerful goodwill created by self-delusion is embodied in this not-so-subtle tradition. And who wants to expose Santa Claus as a fraud? Exposing the state as a fraud is hard for the same reasons, but now it is adults and not children who have a vested interest in perpetuating the magical properties of state wizards.
Symbols and images are used to exploit fears and create a group identity among followers. Confidence and zeal by wizards in their ritual ceremonies create a sense of calm and purpose in those who follow along willingly. The personification of abstract ideas leads to leaders who claim to embody the spirit of collective consciousness (i.e., will of the people). Oaths, banners, music, pomp and circumstance all surrounding those that are able to cite “the law,” presenting incantations and documents with special powers, that bind the many to the few.
Often, we compromise with these impulses by creating competing forces of magic (e.g. black and white magic). Competing factions are quick to demonize opposition while sainting their own members. The people who put Jews and Gypsies in concentration camps and took their property were evil, but the ones who put Japanese people in concentration camps and took their property, using “the law” were good. Us and them, different standards, don’t you know? The draw of belonging to something big, powerful and meaningful allows elite wise men to exploit the pride and prejudice of the common man who is mostly concerned with just getting by in the world. Maintaining a sane predisposition in a world of people who believe in magic is no easy task.
Ancient knowledge was used by early priests/rulers for mind control. At the root of social organization is the extended family, the clan, the tribe. These small units were expanded as people learned how voluntary cooperation with neighboring families for mutual benefit was desirable and led to prosperity, primarily through trade and a division of labor. As population centers created for trade and fellowship became more established and grew, the temple arose. Early civilizations grew around centers for religious rituals that became sources of power for the elite.
The proverbial Garden of Eden is a story about the world before cities and priests and kings. A romantic version of how the individual knowledge of understanding right from wrong can corrupt the relationship of those individuals to elite edicts. It thus inserts authoritarian rule as the solution to this fundamental human desire for self-rule. In the beginning as in the end, indeed. Today, states have largely replaced gods as the ultimate authority to be obeyed and worshiped.
Passing down these belief systems gives them more weight and they perpetuate themselves using the trust that children naturally have for their elders. Authoritarian belief systems are promoted and supported by elite desire to solidify and consolidate their holdings and wealth, not to enhance the common man’s quality of life. Once people recognize this fundamental understanding the magic spell can be broken. Maintaining a belief that you will be punished for thinking for yourself will perpetuate cognitive dissonance.
Acceptance (and rejection) of ideas/magic at an emotional level is superficial because there are many levels of consciousness. We may laugh at those who believe in supernatural forces and events, even as we ritually pull the levers in a voting booth, solemnly put our hands over our hearts and pledge allegiance to symbols of the state and join in songs praising the state before sporting events. Or, say, teaching our children about the jolly fat elf in a red suit who will give them what they ask for, if they are good. And most often, “good” is defined as obedience to parental authority. It is easy to fool ourselves as we march along with the herd believing that what we do is just because “everybody does it.” So why question the established order to see how we are being manipulated? It’s so much easier to go along to get along.
Once we have been indoctrinated in the rituals and common beliefs supporting the status quo power structure in society, it is difficult to break out of this magic spell. If we do overcome our childhood indoctrination, we will likely be branded as a heretic and cast out of polite society, becoming an outcast or outlaw. For challenging the mythology behind the magic spells that are used to justify elite rule is considered dangerous to the true believers. Just as the children who discover the truth about Santa Claus are branded pariahs for spreading the truth to their young friends and family.
The normalcy bias that derives from strong emotional attachments to the status quo is difficult to overcome with intellectual arguments, no matter how logical and reasonable. The state has attained an exalted social status of a religious nature where tradition trumps innovation and repeating rituals stand in for truth-seeking. When it comes to organizing society, the default mode from the family unit to the largest collectives is the authoritarian command-obey structure. Fear of fundamental change inspires obstinacy even when viable alternatives are offered. The process of expanding liberty is never easy, but always worth it--for the stakes are high.
The modern state has become a religion; it is a social system that postulates supernatural agents from which men seek approval. “The Law” is handed down from “lawmakers” ordained in rituals that are nothing more than popularity contests easily manipulated by elite power brokers. Yet these magical spells, being sold as deterrents to the evil demons wreaking havoc in society as if they were sent down from the heavens by God, are but a folly of man. The more laws that these legally sanctioned authorities create, the more crime there is. You see, when the law is your only tool, everything looks like a crime.
The only available authoritarian tactic is to escalate punishment/violence and expand the number of laws until everybody could be stopped at any time. We are at the stage of social evolution where civil disobedience to state authority is combated by attempting to instill more fear in the population. The propaganda used to provide self-serving justifications for the inherent violence in the command-obey structure is being exposed on the Internet and is losing its hold on the collective imagination. Events are moving more quickly now and as social institutions crumble, elite influence will be exposed, yet still likely embraced by the true believers. But the illusion of social control will eventually be seen by all for what it is: a magic spell. Voluntary organizations will then fill the vacuum that authoritarians fear so much because it will mean their power and influence has ended. Good riddance.