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9. The Constant Confrontation


The "you are being watched" sign attending
the UK's tens of thousands of cameras mounted
on roads around the country. Such notices to
not attend the CCTV's all over the country,
which are there to gather information on us
rather than prompt fear.


Whoever is in power got there because they fought their way there. Those who hold some of the reins may change from time to time but the power structure, the state, remains in place. This structure in which they thrive was originally brought into existence by booting out a previous power structure or even an entire race. There are very few instances in history where power has been willingly relinquished - without a fight. Doddering old men grip determinedly to the reins of power until they are struck down either by disease, palace revolt or coup. The most unpopular regimes continue to exert their will upon a populace when all vestiges of satisfaction or support have gone - holding on until the final humiliation of being trapped in their office,
"It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination"

Abraham Lincoln, Inaugural address 1861
bunker, bedroom or even the back of a truck - and then being either shot, hung from a lamppost or processed through the courts they once controlled, and exposed to the contempt of a public whom they once thought to be "their people." The so-called democracy we enjoy today is but a thin veneer over the basic mechanics of the state, and those mechanics have always hinged on the lever of confrontation.

The handful of parties claiming to represent our best interests are all locked in constant confrontation, only sleeping with each other in the interests of defeating a common enemy. Almost everything you read of the politics of the state is the story of a confrontation between two groups, usually bitterly opposed to each other. Should the government of the day "lose" a vote then it is deemed that they are getting weak and unable to manage the country. This state of confrontation is thought to be (and is accepted as) the normal way of doing business for the state. And even though the state is ostensibly there to "serve" us, the most usual experience that most of us, law-abiding and otherwise, have is that of confrontation; whether over building permits, parking tickets, tax demands or any other confrontation prompted by the state's desire that we all fit perfectly with the fine-tuning of their plan for society.

I do not mean to suggest that society should have no plan or order. When large groups of people live together and share resources, they have always developed accepted modes of behaviour as a social group, and use different techniques to encourage the acceptance of these modes amongst a greater society. These methods have undoubtedly relied upon state involvement for a long time, but for many previous cultures the threat of rejection by the community has been a greater tempering agent upon behaviour than fear of being locked up or fined.

The police, as a force on the streets, only developed in most parts of the world towards the end of the 19th century. The numbers in prison per 1000 just a few generations ago were a fraction of those incarcerated today, and the main reason for the increase lies in the rapid growth of laws against behaviour or activities that have no actual victim (see Chapter 17: Victimless Crimes). I would be curious to know if history has ever recorded our legislators projecting a need for fewer prisons as a result of their new crime policies.

As mentioned elsewhere herein, our development of self-governing techniques within society has eroded over the generations in which the state has assumed more and more legislative responsibility for our morals and behaviour. Many would like to believe that the state can take care of everything from their health and social security to their food purity and air standard. In practice, the state has not done a good long-term job of any of this, and indeed has often obstructed efforts to improve them by suppressing reports, silencing scientists and subsidizing polluters and land-clearance programs around the world.

Look at what we have evolved without confrontation but by ourselves - human to human. We have music from classical to techno, with jazz, rock, beep bop and whatever you like in between. You can buy any, all or none of them - one has not had to supplant the other, even though they may "battle it out" in the marketplace. Though we can choose from wholewheat bread, white bread, French bread, naturally leavened bread, rye bread, rolls, buns, croissants and many other forms of flour and water to have with our meal, most in this country have chosen the sliced white loaf, for better or worse. In India the same options are possible in a city such as Bombay, but the over-riding choice is chapati, paratha or puri. Or, you can choose rice instead.

There is no need in society for one choice or decision to confront and beat all the others as some separate process. However, in the affairs of the state this is the basic mechanism at play, one group opposing another in each decision-making process - unless some compromise is reached whereby we all have slightly brown bread sliced half way through the loaf. The state specializes in making decisions of an EITHER/OR nature whereas in society we manage much more successfully with a BOTH/AND* policy, allowing individual decision-making to play the major part in shaping order. When I visited East Berlin, just before it rejoined its other half, the results of these different approaches were apparent in the comparative restaurant menus on offer.

*It was the strategic embrace of the BOTH/AND philosophy that was one of the keys to the success of the user-friendly Apple Macintosh against the rigidly linear operating system of IBM.

We may have grievances and problems with existing aspects of our culture whether they relate to racial awareness, attitudes to the disabled, male domination, dangerous drug usage or corporate irresponsibility. But we cannot successfully deal with these problems by enlisting the support of the state in a confrontational attack on them. We need only look at the success they have had in their fight against crime, homelessness, or in the war on drugs.

As we now understand from chaos theory and the study of complex systems, the systems which are both stable and flexible are those which co-operate with other systems through an intricate and self-organized network. Co-operation, interdependence, freedom and flexibility are the key elements to any successful harmonious system and they are all notably absent in the confrontational activities of the state.
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