By Butler Shaffer
November 21, 2013
The other evening, I watched – for the first time – the film Good Night, and Good Luck. It dealt with Edward R. Murrow’s 1950’s clash with Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and brought to mind many of my college-age experiences during those years. Among intelligent minds, McCarthy was considered more of a buffoon and nuisance than a harbinger of a police-state. That members of the boobeoisie – whether in or out of elected office – bought into and/or exploited the fear of Stalinist commies hiding under your bed, or waiting on school playgrounds to seduce children into serving the Marxist cause, is not to be denied. We learned, in childhood, the powers that lay in imagined but unseen bogeymen; and the post-World War II lemmings were easily stampeded into the collective lobotomy of the Cold War.
As children, we paid money to go to theaters and sit in the dark to be terrified by a variety of Draculas, Frankensteins, and Wolfmen. Most of us never get over the excitement of scaring ourselves with imaginary monsters. As adults, we continue to go to theaters (albeit of wars), pay much higher prices for the show, and frighten ourselves with a seemingly endless cast of bogeymen dreamed up by the corporate-state producers of the show. When a few spoil-sports try to take us backstage, or tell us of the trick photography or special effects behind the show, we get upset, and insist upon being kept in the dark, lest the exhilaration of our self-deception be lost. If you still haven’t figured out how the motion picture industry is such an integral part of the war system, please see my earlier article , or watch that most revealing film Wag the Dog.
We have become accustomed to the excitement of fooling ourselves, and are content to let others pay the costs of our illusions. Such tendencies are abetted by one of the more dangerous attributes of our thinking: the discomfort of confronting our personal dark side by projecting such fears onto others. Being human, we share in a collective unconscious that is both creative and life-affirming, on the one hand, but also the repository of characteristics we would prefer not having. We are not only creative, cooperative, loving, empathic, and peaceful, individuals; but have in common with one another qualities with which our conscious minds are uncomfortable. Even though we may not engage in violence, deceit, thievery, or other acts of dishonesty; nor give in to behavior that conflicts with the images we prefer having about ourselves, each of us has the capacity to act upon our dark side traits.
It is the fear of our dark side that provides the energies upon which all political systems operate. This is why the state can never be a system for generating a free and peaceful order within society. When Randolph Bourne advised us that “war is the health of the state,” he was acknowledging that conflicts among people are essential to the creation of the collective mindset that feeds on the fears we have of one another. Those who plot and manage wars are generally driven by nothing more than ambitions for extending their powers and/or plundering others. But what drives ordinary people to invest themselves and their children in such viciousness? Do such commitments not require the satisfaction of inner aspirations that run deeper than the pursuit of institutional purposes?
Why should we distrust the intentions of the people of Lower Ruritania? Had they harmed us before and, if so, what fears drove them to do so? If not, what explains this all-too-human syndrome? Is it because our dark side voices remind us that we might be untrustworthy? Why does the United States government – a nation that already possesses as many as 7,000 nuclear warheads – fear the possibility that Iran may produce one such weapon that could be used to obliterate tens of thousands of innocent people? Might such fear arise from an awareness – and sense of guilt, perhaps – that America is the only nation that has ever used nuclear weapons (twice), and insists on keeping thousands more of such warheads in reserve for possible future use? Might it be easier to project the awareness of such mass-murdering dispositions upon Iran and punish them for our own moral shortcomings?
Once the excitement of World War II ended, state power necessitated a new set of enemies upon whom we could project our dark side. With the war-making industry and the nation-state fused into a Leviathan with world-dominating potential and intentions, what fear-object could be fabricated to maintain the state monstrosity? Boobus Americanus had endured the bloodshed and inconveniences of the war, naively believing that – like a case of pneumonia – once the sickness had passed, people could return to lives of peace, liberty, and prosperity. Overcoming such popular dispositions was rendered all the more difficult by the state engaging in the bait-and-switch trick of converting our erstwhile allies (the Soviet Union and China) into the new dreaded enemies, while our just vanquished foes (Germany, Japan, and Italy) had really been our loyal friends-in-waiting!
To play out this transformation required more than just a compliant media and entertainment partnership. It needed a war-whooper, an Elmer Gantry boob-hustler who could stir men and women into a frenzied mob that would demand “perpetual war for perpetual peace.” Joseph McCarthy was straight out of central casting for such a role.
With the United States victorious over an Adolf Hitler – who, Boobus had been convinced, wanted to “take over the world” – how could the American corporate-state pursue its global ambitions without appearing to have the same motivations? Easy! Just project such purposes onto the Soviet Union and keep the game going! Of course, the Soviets were doing the same thing, informing its adherents that Western capitalists wanted to take over the world. These scams are not American in origin, but derive from the nature of all political systems.
This is what helps make hindsight so revealing of every state’s exploitation of the practice of projecting dark side forces onto others. The constant McCarthy harangues and threats against the real or imagined “communists” in the American governmental structure ignores the fact that every political system is founded on the collectivist premise that the lives and other property interests of individuals are subject to the principle of “eminent domain,” i.e., that the state has a rightful dominion over everything within its boundaries of coercive power. The minor differences that are used to distinguish “communism” from less ambitious forms of “socialism,” or “fascism,” or “welfarism,” are of little import when one understands not only that each such system presumes sovereignty over all persons, but also over the power to define the scope of its authority.
When, in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed of its own dead-weight, contradictions, and war with life itself, the American corporate-state needed a new fear object against which the existing war machinery could be transformed into yet another scarecrow. The collective mass might otherwise deflate, a condition that could lead intelligent minds to contemplate the possibility of society without centrally-directed violence. Various threats – some offered in combined forms – were given tryouts to see if they might arouse Boobus to a renewed commitment to self-sacrifice. Drug use, child abductions, even the Gore family came through with double-threats: Tipper with her attacks on Satanic influences in rock lyrics, and Al who inspired “Gang Green” with his warnings about global warming climate change. A few of the statist faithful even hypothesized the “threat” of attack from other planets!
None of these elicited a sufficient attraction to sustain the level of looting and power to which the corporate-state establishment has become accustomed and dependent. The reason for such relative disinterest, I suspect, might be found in the lack of significant dark side energies to be projected onto a convenient scapegoat. How many people fear Satanic influences within their own psyches? How many have an unconscious desire to kidnap children? A threat reaching deeper into the abyss of the unconscious was required to mobilize the inner dread into a collective frenzy against fabricated “enemies” in the external world. The Middle Eastern “infidel” – who worked so well to aggrandize power on behalf of European political interests during the 11th to 13th century Crusades – was resurrected, in the early 20th century, as the “terrorist” for a secular holy war designed to help invigorate centralized political power.
The specter of the faceless terrorist mirrored the unseen and unconscious dark side fears within many people. Having identified themselves with political systems that are defined by their monopolies on violence; and having witnessed such agencies engaging in torture, police brutality, unprovoked wars against innocent persons, assassinations of persona non grata, and numerous threats employed to enforce obedience to the whims of those in power; inner discomforts and doubts regarding their attachments were awakened. Brutish police officers drive around in cars with the words “to protect and serve” emblazoned on them; mass slaughter is engaged in by the Strategic Air Command whose motto is “peace is our profession;” the American bombing attacks on guiltless Iraqis were carried out in the name of terrorism (“Shock and Awe”). We become troubled by more than just a failure of expectations as to how our revered systems are to work. We experience, albeit subconsciously, a sense of distress as to who we are, and seek to quiet these inner voices. Psychic turmoil generates the need for a scapegoat! “Terrorist” becomes for the modern corporate-state what “infidel” was for members of the power structure one-thousand years earlier: a human object of sacrifice that energizes dark side forces, and mobilizes otherwise sensible and decent people into a collective herd, the absence of which would neutralize state power.
Should the threat of the “terrorist” ever wear thin – or should Boobus become bored by it – rest assured that the corporate-state forces are resilient enough to fathom the depths of our inner fears of ourselves to find a substitute for the unpleasant task of self-examination. For all that we know, aliens from the planet Xaniptikon – in the galaxy of Andromeda – may already be on their way to destroy us. In that case, we may enlist the “terrorist” forces as allies against the “dreaded Xans.” The post-World War II transformations of Germany, Italy, and Japan from “enemies” to “friends” served the political establishment quite well. There is little doubt that such trickery – bolstered by well-trained and obedient media and academic hacks – will continue to be energized on behalf of keeping the Lemuel Gullibles of society huddled at the feet of those who presume to be their masters.
The Best of Butler Shaffer
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918–1938, Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival, and Boundaries of Order. His latest book is The Wizards of Ozymandias.
Copyright © 2013 by LewRockwell.com.