|I start from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy, that things are all wrong, that the wrong people are in jail and the wrong people are out of jail, that the wrong people are in power and the wrong people are out of power, that the wealth is distributed in this country and the world in such a way as not simply to require small reform but to require a drastic reallocation of wealth. I start from the supposition that we don’t have to say too much about this because all we have to do is think about the state of the world today and realize that things are all upside down. Daniel Berrigan is in jail-A Catholic priest, a poet who opposes the war-and J. Edgar Hoover is free, you see. David Dellinger, who has opposed war ever since he was this high and who has used all of his energy and passion against it, is in danger of going to jail. The men who are responsible for the My Lai massacre are not on trial; they are in Washington serving various functions, primary and subordinate, that have to do with the unleashing of massacres, which surprise them when they occur. At Kent State University four students were killed by the National Guard and students were indicted. In every city in this country, when demonstrations take place, the protesters, whether they have demonstrated or not, whatever they have done, are assaulted and clubbed by police, and then they are arrested for assaulting a police officer.Now, I have been studying very closely what happens every day in the courts in Boston, Massachusetts. You would be astounded-maybe you wouldn’t, maybe you have been around, maybe you have lived, maybe you have thought, maybe you have been hit-at how the daily rounds of injustice make their way through this marvelous thing that we call due process. Well, that is my premise.
All you have to do is read the Soledad letters of George Jackson, who was sentenced to one year to life, of which he spent ten years, for a seventy-dollar robbery of a filling station. And then there is the U.S. Senator who is alleged to keep 185,000 dollars a year, or something like that, on the oil depletion allowance. One is theft; the other is legislation. something is wrong, something is terribly wrong when we ship 10,000 bombs full of nerve gas across the country, and drop them in somebody else’s swimming pool so as not to trouble our own. So you lose your perspective after a while. If you don’t think, if you just listen to TV and read scholarly things, you actually begin to think that things are not so bad, or that just little things are wrong. But you have to get a little detached, and then come back and look at the world, and you are horrified. So we have to start from that supposition-that things are really topsy-turvy.
When in all the nations of the world the rule of law is the darling of the leaders and the plague of the people, we ought to begin to recognize this. We have to transcend these national boundaries in our thinking. Nixon and Brezhnev have much more in common with one another than – we have with Nixon. J. Edgar Hoover has far more in common with the head of the Soviet secret police than he has with us. It’s the international dedication to law and order that binds the leaders of all countries in a comradely bond. That’s why we are always surprised when they get together — they smile, they shake hands, they smoke cigars, they really like one another no matter what they say. It’s like the Republican and Democratic parties, who claim that it’s going to make a terrible difference if one or the other wins, yet they are all the same. Basically, it is us against them.
Yossarian was right, remember, in Catch-22? He had been accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, which nobody should ever be accused of, and Yossarian said to his friend Clevinger: “The enemy is whoever is going to get you killed, whichever side they are on.” But that didn’t sink in, so he said to Clevinger: “Now you remember that, or one of these days you’ll be dead.” And remember? Clevinger, after a while, was dead. And we must remember that our enemies are not divided along national lines, that enemies are not just people who speak different languages and occupy different territories. Enemies are people who want to get us killed.
We are asked, “What if everyone disobeyed the law?” But a better question is, “What if everyone obeyed the law?” And the answer to that question is much easier to come by, because we have a lot of empirical evidence about what happens if everyone obeys the law, or if even most people obey the law. What happens is what has happened, what is happening. Why do people revere the law? And we all do; even I have to fight it, for it was put into my bones at an early age when I was a Cub Scout. One reason we revere the law is its ambivalence. In the modern world we deal with phrases and words that have multiple meanings, like “national security.” Oh, yes, we must do this for national security! Well, what does that mean? Whose national security? Where? When? Why? We don’t bother to answer those questions, or even to ask them.
But there is another part of the law that doesn’t get ballyhooed- the legislation that has gone through month after month, year after year, from the beginning of the Republic, which allocates the resources of the country in such a way as to leave some people very rich and other people very poor, and still others scrambling like mad for what little is left. That is the law. If you go to law school you will see this. You can quantify it by counting the big, heavy law books that people carry around with them and see how many law books you count that say “Constitutional Rights” on them and how many that say “Property,” “Contracts,” “Torts,” “Corporation Law.” That is what the law is mostly about. The law is the oil depletion allowance-although we don’t have Oil Depletion Allowance Day, we don’t have essays written on behalf of the oil depletion allowance. So there are parts of the law that are publicized and played up to us-oh, this is the law, the Bill of Rights. And there are other parts of the law that just do their quiet work, and nobody says anything about them.
It started way back. When the Bill of Rights was first passed, remember, in the first administration of Washington? Great thing. Bill of Rights passed! Big ballyhoo. At the same time Hamilton’s economic pro gram was passed. Nice, quiet, money to the rich-I’m simplifying it a little, but not too much. Hamilton’s economic program started it off. You can draw a straight line from Hamilton’s economic program to the oil depletion allowance to the tax write-offs for corporations. All the way through-that is the history. The Bill of Rights publicized; economic legislation unpublicized.
You know the enforcement of different parts of the law is as important as the publicity attached to the different parts of the law. The Bill of Rights, is it enforced? Not very well. You’ll find that freedom of speech in constitutional law is a very difficult, ambiguous, troubled concept. Nobody really knows when you can get up and speak and when you can’t. Just check all of the Supreme Court decisions. Talk about predictability in a system-you can’t predict what will happen to you when you get up on the street corner and speak. See if you can tell the difference between the Terminiello case and the Feiner case, and see if you can figure out what is going to happen. By the way, there is one part of the law that is not very vague, and that involves the right to distribute leaflets on the street. The Supreme Court has been very clear on that. In decision after decision we are affirmed an absolute right to distribute leaflets on the street. Try it. Just go out on the street and start distributing leaflets. And a policeman comes up to you and he says, “Get out of here.” And you say, “Aha! Do you know Marsh v. Alabama, 1946?” That is the reality of the Bill of Rights. That’s the reality of the Constitution, that part of the law which is portrayed to us as a beautiful and marvelous thing. And seven years after the Bill of Rights was passed, which said that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech,” Congress made a law abridging the freedom of speech. Remember? The Sedition Act of 1798.
So the Bill of Rights was not enforced. Hamilton’s program was enforced, because when the whisky farmers went out and rebelled you remember, in 1794 in Pennsylvania, Hamilton himself got on his horse and went out there to suppress the rebellion to make sure that the revenue tax was enforced. And you can trace the story right down to the present day, what laws are enforced, what laws are not enforced. So you have to be careful when you say, “I’m for the law, I revere the law.” What part of the law are you talking about? I’m not against all law. But I think we ought to begin to make very important distinctions about what laws do what things to what people.
We all grow up with the notion that the law is holy. They asked Daniel Berrigan’s mother what she thought of her son’s breaking the law. He burned draft records-one of the most violent acts of this century- to protest the war, for which he was sentenced to prison, as criminals should be. They asked his mother who is in her eighties, what she thought of her son’s breaking the law. And she looked straight into the interviewer’s face, and she said, “It’s not God’s law.” Now we forget that. There is nothing sacred about the law. Think of who makes laws. The law is not made by God, it is made by Strom Thurmond. If you nave any notion about the sanctity and loveliness and reverence for the law, look at the legislators around the country who make the laws. Sit in on the sessions of the state legislatures. Sit in on Congress, for these are the people who make the laws which we are then supposed to revere.
The nation then, was founded on disrespect for the law, and then came the Constitution and the notion of stability which Madison and Hamilton liked. But then we found in certain crucial times in our history that the legal framework did not suffice, and in order to end slavery we had to go outside the legal framework, as we had to do at the time of the American Revolution or the Civil War. The union had to go outside the legal framework in order to establish certain rights in the 1930s. And in this time, which may be more critical than the Revolution or the Civil War, the problems are so horrendous as to require us to go outside the legal framework in order to make a statement, to resist, to begin to establish the kind of institutions and relationships which a decent society should have. No, not just tearing things down; building things up. But even if you build things up that you are not supposed to build up-you try to build up a people’s park, that’s not tearing down a system; you are building something up, but you are doing it illegally-the militia comes in and drives you out. That is the form that civil disobedience is going to take more and more, people trying to build a new society in the midst of the old.
But what about voting and elections? Civil disobedience-we don’t need that much of it, we are told, because we can go through the electoral system. And by now we should have learned, but maybe we haven’t, for we grew up with the notion that the voting booth is a sacred place, almost like a confessional. You walk into the voting booth and you come out and they snap your picture and then put it in the papers with a beatific smile on your face. You’ve just voted; that is democracy. But if you even read what the political scientists say-although who can?-about the voting process, you find that the voting process is a sham. Totalitarian states love voting. You get people to the polls and they register their approval. I know there is a difference-they have one party and we have two parties. We have one more party than they have, you see.
What we are trying to do, I assume, is really to get back to the principles and aims and spirit of the Declaration of Independence. This spirit is resistance to illegitimate authority and to forces that deprive people of their life and liberty and right to pursue happiness, and therefore under these conditions, it urges the right to alter or abolish their current form of government-and the stress had been on abolish. But to establish the principles of the Declaration of Independence, we are going to need to go outside the law, to stop obeying the laws that demand killing or that allocate wealth the way it has been done, or that put people in jail for petty technical offenses and keep other people out of jail for enormous crimes. My hope is that this kind of spirit will take place not just in this country but in other countries because they all need it. People in all countries need the spirit of disobedience to the state, which is not a metaphysical thing but a thing of force and wealth. And we need a kind of declaration of interdependence among people in all countries of the world who are striving for the same thing.
|The Problem is Civil Obedience
by Howard Zinn
|Whenever anything goes badly wrong, our first instinct is to blame those in charge – in this case, bankers, credit agencies, regulators, central bankers and governments. We turn to blame the ideas only when it becomes obvious that those in charge were not exceptionally venal, greedy or incompetent, but were acting on what they believed to be sound principles: bankers in relying on risk management systems they believed to be robust, governments in relying on markets they believed to be stable, investors in believing in what the experts told them. In other words, our first reaction to crisis is scapegoating; it is only by delving deeper into the sources of the mistakes that the finger can be pointed to the system of ideas which gave rise to them.
Bankers have been the easiest targets, and understandably. They controlled trillions of dollars of wealth. They ruined their shareholders, their customers, their employees and the economy, while continuing to collect large bonuses. They had ridden a boom in which nearly all profits went into private hands, followed by a gigantic bust in which taxpayers became liable for their losses. Spectacular payments for success may be acceptable; spectacular rewards for failure – especially if unaccompanied by contrition – are obscene.
‘Bring back the guillotine…for bankers,’ cried Britain’s Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesman Vince Cable in the Daily Mail on Monday 9 February 2009. ‘The bonus-hunting bankers…stand charged with destroying wealth on an epic scale. Foolish, greedy, irresponsible behaviour and excessive risk-taking led to massive losses…which [are] now costing millions their jobs and many their homes’. ‘Betting our cash for personal gains’ should be outlawed, thundered Will Hutton in the observer on 25 January 2009.
|Keynes – The Return Of The Master
|Nevertheless, there is something disagreeable about the mass hysteria directed against the bankers, reminiscent of ancient witch-hunts, pogroms and human sacrifices at times of poor harvest. It is also counter productive. Unless one is prepared to take over the banking system oneself, one cannot attack bankers for reckless lending and then expect them to lend, any more than one can condemn excessive profits and expect businessman to invest. Also, the polemics missed something. What does it mean to say bankers were ‘greedy’? The concept of greed is incomplete unless on has a notion of what is ‘enough’, which we lack. The more thoughtful realised that bankers’ failures were part of a wider intellectual and regulatory failure, as well as a moral climate which celebrated moneymaking above all other activities. Bankers were scapegoats for the whole Reagan-Thatcher era, which exalted finance and humbled industry, and which had allowed the fruits of progress to accrue disproportionately to the rich and super-rich. (The new class struggle, the quip had it, was between the haves and the have-yachts.)
Moreover, in following ‘risk-management’ models which they barely understood, bankers acted, in their own lights, correctly.
Indeed, had they acted otherwise, they might have been held culpable for failing to ‘maximise shareholder value’. Their behaviour, while selfish and self-satisfied, was in the highest degree conventional. They swallowed the whole securitisation philosophy without understanding its ramifications. Many of them no doubt felt they were conferring a public benefit by enabling poor people to acquire homes and other desirable goods. Keynes hit the nail on the head when he wrote, ‘The “sound” banker, alas! Is not one who sees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional and orthodox way along with this fellows so that no one can really blame him.’
|Keynes – The Return Of The Master
|“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”
John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money”
|Jung was struck by the way time seemed to slow down more and more the further he travelled into the Sahara, even threatening to move backwards. In a letter to a friend he described an encounter with a figure all swathed with silver. This man rode by without offering any greeting, but his proud bearing and the sense that this person was somehow wholly himself, struck Jung as a stark contrast to the average European with his ‘faint note of foolishness’ and his illusion of triumph in great achievements such as steamships and railways. He concluded that the driven attitude and suppression on emotion that characterises modern Western culture have been gained at the expense of intensity of living. This has resulted in people forcing down in the unconscious much that is real and life-giving||Teach Yourself: Jung
Back on Wednesday, there were armed police at Kings Cross Station – when i wonder did that start to be something that happened. Back way when there used to be armed military at Zurich Airport – then later and occasionally some could be found roaming an airport terminal in the UK, this seemed new. Unwelcome sort of new.
|An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind||Mahatma Gandhi|
|It is essential to remember that civilisation takes long to build and is easily destroyed. Brutality is infectious.||As It Happened – C R Attlee|
|Page 159||It has been said that each generation must win its own struggle to be free. In our generation, thermonuclear war has made the risks of such struggles greater than ever. But the stakes are the same: the right to live in dignity according to the dictates of conscience and not according to the will of the state.|
|Page 37||We acknowledge, then, that a country has a high level of civilisation if we find that in it everything can assist man in his exploitation of the land and protect him against the forces of nature – everything, in short that is of use to him – is attended to and properly ordered.|
|Page 39||No feature, however, seems to us to characterise civilisation better than the appreciation and cultivation of the higher mental activities, of intellectual, scientific and artistic achievements, and the leading role accorded to idea in human life.|
|Page 42||It does not seem as though any influence can induce human beings to change their nature and become like termites; they will probably always defend their claim to individual freedom against the will of the mass. Much of mankind’s struggle is taken up with the task of finding a suitable, that is to say happy accommodation, between the claims of the individual and the mass claims of civilisation. One of the problems affecting the fate of mankind is whether such an accommodation can be achieved through particular moulding of civilisation or whether the conflict is irreconcilable.|
|Page 64||It is clearly not easy for people to forgo the satisfaction of their tendency to aggression. To do so makes them feel uneasy. One should not belittle the advantage that is enjoyed by a fairly small cultural circle, which is that it allows the aggressive drive an outlet in the form of hostility to outsiders. It is always possible to bind quite large numbers of people together in love, provided that others are left out as targets for aggression
I once discussed this phenomenon, the fact that it is precisely those communities that occupy contiguous territories and are otherwise closely related to each other – like the Spaniards and the Portuguese, the North Germans and the South Germans, the English and the Scots, etc . – that indulge in feuding and mutual mockery. I called this phenomenon ‘the narcissism of small differences’ – not that the name does much to explain it. It can be seen as a convenient and relatively innocuous way of satisfying the tendency to aggression and facilitating solidarity within the community.
|Page 65 – 66||If civilisation imposes such great sacrifices not only on man’s sexuality, but also on his aggressiveity, we are in a better position to understand why it is so hard for him to feel happy in it. Primitive man was actually better off, because his drives were not restricted. Yet this was counterbalanced by the fact that he had little certainty of enjoying this good fortune for long. Civilised man had traded in portion of his chances of happiness for a certain measure of security. But let us not forget that in the primeval family only its head could give full rein to his drives; its other members lived in slavish suppression.
In that primordial era of civilisation there was therefore an extreme contrast between a minority who enjoyed it benefits and the majority to whom they were denied. As for today’s primitive peoples, more careful stuffy has shown that we have no reason whatsoever to envy them their instinctual life by reason of the freedom attaching to it; it is subject to restrictions of a different kind, which are perhaps even more severe than those imposed on modern civilised man,
|Page 66||When we rightly reproach the present state of our civilisation with its inadequate response to our demand for a form of life that will make us happy, and with allowing so much suffering, which could probably be avoided – and when we strive, with unsparing criticism, to expose the roots of this inadequacy- we are exercising a legitimate right and certainly not revealing ourselves as enemies of civilisation. We may hope gradually to carry out such modifications in our civilisation as will better satisfy our needs and escape this criticism. But perhaps we shall also become familiar with the idea that there are some difficulties that are inherent in the nature of civilisation and will defy any attempt at reform. In addition to the tasks involved in restricting the drives – for which we are prepared – we are faced with the danger of a condition that we may call ‘the psychological misery of the mass’. This danger is most threatening where social bonding is produced mainly by the participation’s identification with on another, while individuals of leadership calibre do not acquire the importance that should be accorded to them in the formation of the mass.|
|Page 74||For the rest, I take the view that the tendency to aggression is an original, autonomous disposition in man, and I return to my earlier contention that it represents the greatest obstacle to civilisation. At one point in this investigation we were faced with the realisation that civilisation was a special process underdone by humanity, and we are still under the spell of this idea. We will now add that it is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to gather together individuals, then families and finally tribes, peoples and nations in one great unit – humanity. Why this has to happen we do not know: it is simple the work of Eros. These multitudes of human beings are to be libidinallly bound to one another; necessity alone, the advantages of shared work, will not hold them together. However, this programme of civilisation is opposed to man’s natural aggressive drive, the hostility of each against all and all against each. This aggressive drive it the descendent and principal representative of the death drive, which we found beside Eros and which rules the world jointly with him. And now, I think, the meaning of the development of civilisation is no longer obscure to us. This development must show us the struggle between Eros and death, between the life drive and the drive for destruction, as it is played out in the human race. This struggle is the essential content of all life; hence, the development of civilisation may be described simply as humanity’s struggle for existence.|
|Page 105-106||For a variety of reasons I have no wish whatever to offer an evaluation of human civilisation. I have been careful to refrain from the enthusiastic prejudice that sees our civilisation as the most precious thing we posses or can acquire, and believes that its path will necessarily leads us to heights of perfection hitherto undreamt of. I can at least listen, without bridling, to the critic who thinks that, considering the goals of cultural endeavour and the means it employs, one is bound to conclude that the whole effort is not worth the trouble and can only result in a state of affairs that the individual is bound to find intolerable My impartiality is facilitated by my scant knowledge of such matters. There is only one thing that I know for certain: the value judgements of human beings are undoubtedly guided by their desire for happiness and thus amount to an attempt to back up their illusions with arguments. I should understand perfectly if someone were to stress the inevitability of human civilisation and maintain, for instance, that the tendency to restrict sexual life, or to promote the humanitarian ideal at the expense of natural selection, were trends that could not be averted or deflected and that it was best to yield to them as if they were naturally ordained. On the other hand, I am familiar with the objection that in the course of human history such strivings, which we consider insurmountable, have often been cast aside and replaced by others. I therefore dare not set myself up as a prophet vis-à-vis my fellow men, and I plead guilty to the reproach that I cannot bring them any consolation, which is fundamentally no less passionately than the most well-behaved and pious believers.
The fateful question for human race seems to be whether, and to what extent, the development of its civilisation will manage to overcome the disturbance of communal life caused by the human drive for aggression and self-destruction. Perhaps in this context the present age is worthy of special interest. Human beings have made such strides in controlling the forces of nature that, with the help of these forces, they will have no difficulty in exterminating one another, down to the last man. They know this, and it is knowledge that accounts for much of their present disquiet, unhappiness and anxiety. And now it is to be expected that the other of the two ‘heavenly powers’, immortal Eros, will try to assert himself in the struggle with the equally immortal adversary. But who can foresee the outcome?
Source: Civilisation and its discontents – Sigmund Freud