Sunday, July 7, 2013


There have been some remarkable movies made lately -- along with the usual tonnage of crap, of course -- in which important ideas are broached, some more subtly than others.

The Bourne Legacy, starring Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Scott Glenn, and a huge number of Filipino extras, is one such movie. It was promoted as an action flick, and it most certainly is that. But it also explores a particularly horrifying idea about the deliberate use of unknowing human beings as mere means to an end: the very definition of evil.

I shan't ruin the movie for you by revealing the core of the plot, which bears directly on the central motivation of protagonist Aaron Cross. Suffice it to say that you will find his driving fear to be inexpressibly poignant. That the shadowy federal organization that "created" him is trying to kill him is almost icing on the cake.

(Caveat for PETA-types and tree-huggers: This movie does not pander to your particular fetishes.)

That central plot / character motif put me strongly in mind of the Tuskegee Experiments. If you've never heard of them, perhaps the time has come to learn of what depravity men clothed in political power are capable.

It's a commonly expressed sentiment that "we're all users;" alternately, that "we're all prostitutes." The idea, of course, is that with the exception of whatever pure-subsistence farmers remain in the world, each of us sells something -- his labor, his skills, or his brainpower -- to earn his living. We "use" the desire of others for what we can do to produce income for ourselves, "just like a prostitute."

This quasi-condemnation of Mankind is among the foulest propositions ever to gain currency among us. It relegates the one and only way in which men could advance from the bloody savagery of the jungle -- the division of labor and subsequent specialization of men into our many distinct trades -- to the plane of venality. For what does it mean to say that Smith is "using" Jones? Doesn't that imply that Jones's desires are of no moment? That Smith is trying to get Jones to do something that is in no way in his interests, and indeed might be against them? How does that match up against the requirement, in a free and open market, that both participants in any transaction must regard it as beneficial to them on net balance?

Actually, it gets worse. Supposedly, husbands "use" their wives for sex and procreation, whereas wives "use" their husbands for protection and sustenance. That reduces the most important of all interpersonal relations to a loveless exercise in mutual enslavement.

Anyone who agrees with this "using" doctrine had better stay very far away from me.

As an evangelist for clarity in thought and expression, it's mandatory that I impose that virtue upon this notion:

Smith is using Jones only if Smith has coerced or deceived Jones into acting against his own interests.

When two persons voluntarily agree to transact, with neither force nor fraud as an element in the agreement, they are not "using" one another; they are collaborating in the increase of human happiness. Each expects to receive from the other something that's worth more to him than what he must give up to get it. Nothing could be more benevolent or beneficial.

Free persons interacting freely and honestly are not "using" anyone. Only two categories of miscreants do that: criminals and governments.

Government is an association of men who do violence to the rest of us. -- Leo Tolstoy.

Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness. Society is in every state a blessing; government even in its best state but a necessary evil. -- William Godwin

Every actual State is corrupt. Good men must not obey the laws too well. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was never molested by any person but those who represented the State. -- Henry David Thoreau

The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from the violence to which it owes its very existence. -- Mohandas K. Gandhi

I wrote not long ago about the overarching problem of political power. To summarize the argument as concisely as possible:

  • Anarchy is inherently unstable.
  • Government, regardless of form, is also inherently unstable.
  • The deterioration of every government is guaranteed by the dynamic of power-seeking.

America today is in the terminal stages of the deterioration of its federal government, once believed to express the highest political ideals ever conceived and implemented, into a pure kleptocratic tyranny in which rights of any sort are a fiction. Yet the mushrooming power of the federal Leviathan has produced accelerating disorder rather than order. History testifies that this is the fate of all nations in which governments succeed in bursting out of their constraints.

The reason is not far to seek. The tyrant always has a personal agenda. He might not admit to it, but it will always be there. In consequence, his actions and proclamations will be focused on advancing on that agenda. His hirelings will be persons he can trust to carry out his orders and serve his agenda faithfully. He does not serve the nation; he uses it and its people, through the power he has attained, to serve his own desires.

Though there have been a tiny number of "benevolent despots" in history -- Rome's Marcus Aurelius comes to mind -- the dynamic of power-seeking guarantees that they will be followed by ever less worthy successors. Unbounded power is a magnet for those who want unbounded power above all other things. Thus, it is an egregious error to give even the most virtuous, intelligent, public-service-oriented man unbounded power, for he will pass it to successors whose agendas will not be nearly as pure.

If government is inevitable, then so are the evils governments commit. We tend to focus on the most garish ones, such as military aggression, but the State that confines its evils to undertakings that visible is very rare indeed.

Today's so-called "democratic" States are uniformly immersed in evil. Nearly everything they command or do involves using private persons or voluntary organizations against those victims' interests. Force and fraud are the instruments, whatever end they may pursue.

Yet some of the officers of those States are persons the majority would assess as persons of good character and noble intentions. Their aims are widely allowed to be good ones. That doesn't matter: they are users nonetheless, willing to coerce and defraud to gain their ends. They do so with the approval of their own consciences: C. S. Lewis's vision of self-righteous limitlessness in tyranny.

And we, Mankind under Leviathan's heel, are loudly and relentlessly told that it's all for the greater good, that the men mulcting us and micro-managing our lives have only the best of intentions, that we lowly groundlings are incapable of comprehending the big picture. Besides, we're told, there's nothing we can do about any of it anyway. All the alternatives have been foreclosed; the usings must perforce continue.

Forgive me, please, Gentle Reader. This probably wasn't what you wanted to read at the close of your Independence Day weekend. But it had to come out.

1 comment:

Greg RN said...

Excellent Summation of "The Human Condition" Mr. Porretto.