"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
The State Is a Firing Squad
Column by JGVibes.
Exclusive to STR
Although the common perception of human nature is very negative, the truth is that most people who aren’t mentally ill have a very difficult time committing acts of violence. Usually it takes a sizeable payment and a fair amount of manipulation to convince someone to act violently, and even then a tremendous amount of guilt typically follows regardless of the circumstances. This factor of personal guilt always came into play in executions, so over the years, they devised different ways of killing people that allowed for the executioner to become more and more detached from the physical violence. On a greater scale, we see this same kind of mentality today in the development of drone warfare.
As far as executions are concerned, one of the most effective methods of detaching the executioner from the act of murder is the firing squad. In a firing squad, a line of executioners unload their firearms on the prisoner, but some of the weapons are filled with blanks and others with live ammunition, so no one can be sure who it was that delivered the deathblow. Personally, I can’t even imagine taking part in one of these, but the anonymity seems to allow people to divert the responsibility in their own conscience, at least temporarily.
Interestingly enough, if we look at the compartmentalization that takes place within government agencies, they work in very much the same way. Everyone performs a specific task that is designated to them, and that task plays a minor role in a greater act of violence. Many times this role is so minor that the greater violence goes unnoticed by those who are carrying it out. I understand that the following analogy is not going to work exactly like a firing squad, with a line of shooters and one bullet. However, the idea is still the same: dispersing responsibility throughout a collectivized group, in order to downgrade the burden of guilt in the minds of those individuals who are carrying out acts that they know in their hearts are wrong.
Imagine a giant gun that has thousands of different gears and mechanisms, all of which require a team of people to manage. This gun is of course representative of the government. Every person in every team isn’t really sure of the big picture or the final consequences of their actions, but they get paid to do their very specific task, so they do so without asking too many questions. Very few of these people realize that they are playing a small but significant role in firing a bullet at an innocent person, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s what’s actually happening.
When comparing this description with how our government operates, we can see how extreme compartmentalization detaches people from the greater aggression that their job plays a part in committing. The endless paper trails, waiting periods, and various different bureaucratic offices act as the different gears and mechanisms in the giant gun from our earlier analogy. These different offices and tedious procedures work to distribute responsibility between so many different people that everyone is able to pass the buck onto someone else without ever coming to terms with the consequences of their actions.
When someone gets arrested for violating one of the thousands of preferential laws that put nonviolent people behind bars, they are handled by people who accept no responsibility whatsoever for results of their actions. Every step of the way from the arresting mercenary to the final executioner, every bureaucrat says the same thing, “I’m just doing my job.” They are not allowed to have an opinion about the moral values of the laws that they are enforcing and they are not trained to use their discretion when dealing with nonviolent code breakers.
This process of compartmentalization ensures that there will be no mercy for anyone who happens to be caught up in the system and allows for enforcers and bureaucrats to psychologically disengage with the effects that their everyday actions are having on the lives of others. When it comes down to it, not one victim of war, the police state, or the tax code has the liberty of being able to point out an individual who is responsible for their situation. Although there seems to be so many different people in charge of different things, no one is truly held accountable. When there is praise to receive, everyone in government lines up for their reward, but when something goes wrong, there is no one to be found, aside from those who are blaming and pointing fingers.
For the most part, everyone who keeps that state well-oiled and in working order is able to maintain a safe and healthy distance from all of the violence that is taking place. Most people are involved in filing paperwork, sending out letters and things of that nature. These people are very much still a part of the violence, but they aren’t directly on the front lines where they can see what’s going on. I’m not at all saying that all state employees are evil, I’m simply saying that their contribution is helping a violent machine run. Maybe they feel that they have no other options, maybe they think they are doing a great thing, but the fact still remains that they are accomplices to violence, whether they realize it or not.
Most of the people who are in these secondary roles sustain very little psychological trauma as a result of their involvement with government, but those on the front lines aren’t so lucky. This firing squad scenario may allow those on the front lines to deny personal responsibility for their actions, because unlike those with secondary roles, they are actually coming in contact with the people they are hurting, so they have a harder time escaping the shame and guilt that accompanies their position.
Even though the enforcers on the front lines always rationalize their actions or blame their transgressions on supervisors and legislators, deep down they usually have an extremely difficult time coping with the violence that they are forced to inflict on others, day in and day out. Eventually many of these people end up with severe depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, narcissism and other extreme psychological problems as a result of the physical encounters that they have had with other human beings.
This enforcement element of state power can be compared to the executioners in a firing squad who are packing live ammunition. Imagine being one of the executioners who feels that extra kick from the end of his rifle, which gives him the subtle indication that he has just taken a human life. Think about how you would spend the rest of your days attempting to rationalize and repress the reality of what you have done.
By allowing some the ability to commit violence without consequence for the sake of “solving problems,” we are simply setting a standard that problems actually can be solved with violence. On the other hand, if we hold everyone to the same standard of non-violence and handle disputes on a case by case basis, we will actually be encouraging peaceful interactions. Without the nebulous justifications of the state to fall back on, everyone would be forced to rely on their own conscience to make decisions and they would actually be held personally responsible for their actions.
If certain behaviors and social customs lead to psychological trauma and require a great deal of mental acrobatics to justify, then they are obviously unnatural and most likely detrimental to human health and wellbeing. The state itself is one of these erroneous social customs that are actually holding the human race back from a world of abundance and peaceful interactions. If new tactics are constantly being developed to shield people from the shame and guilt that comes along with their day-to-day activities, then there is obviously something very wrong about the way we are doing things.