Two Minutes to Midnight: The Extinction of the American State
The time is very fucking nigh. According to the scientists who operate the Doomsday Clock, Iron Maiden were right, and we are now 2 minutes to Midnight. You’d think such an announcement would maybe make us all, oh, I don’t know, fucking do something – but no. Instead late stage capitalism sighed and slouched towards Bethlehem in response.
Making our dire situation worse, the stress of threats within and without our society have only exposed and amplified the rot that is at the core of the very structure of our body politic. For a nation “based on laws,” America is beset by a ruling party that either uses those laws solely to their advantage, or breaks them entirely when need be without any ramifications – partly because the opposition party is too occupied with playing by rules that no one else seems to care much about anymore.
As a result, we have slid into authoritarianism-lite, (quickly approaching the full monty) wherein people of color are literally being rounded up, cops continue killing black Americans, and capitalists and tyrants consume what is left of Earth’s natural resources, all under color of official right. Meanwhile white neo-liberals #resist as they enjoy the semblance of free speech while sipping their non-fat vanilla lattes at Starbucks unimpeded. Convenience and Twitter are what passes for freedom in America in 2018.
If you are one of those people reading this and saying, “shut up about politics, I just came here for the music and occult titties” – I say this isn’t about politics; this is about survival. I am not about to pretend that liberals are any less to blame than conservatives; the former in believing that humanity is basically good and that hope, rainbows and unicorns will see us through; the latter in rejecting science while steeping themselves in bigotry, fascism and selfishness. The fact remains that we have all arrived at extinction’s doorstep together, despite what cable news network we watch.
It is not hyperbole to say the stakes could not be higher. Yet, we walk around like it’s business as usual while the mad king craps his diaper and smears his feces on Twitter every morning. This weekend the animated sack of mashed potatoes with a shithole for a mouth said this about global warming:
There is a cooling and there is a heating. I mean, look, it used to not be climate change, it used to be called global warming, right? That wasn’t working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place. The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now but now they’re setting records. Now they’re at a record level. There are so many things happening. I tell you what I believe in – clean air, I believe in crystal clear, beautiful water, I believe in just having good cleanliness and all.
Holy shit. It’s hard to know where to even begin with this statement, I’ll leave aside the unbelievable factual errors and the fact that “good cleanliness” sounds like a Nazi ethnic hygiene program, and instead focus on pointing out that for a man who claims to believe in clean air and water, one would be hard pressed to reconcile such sentiments against pulling out of the Paris Accord, or the hydra-headed war on Earth currently being waged by Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt and Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
On its own, such inanities would be easy to ignore if your drunk racist uncle vomited them up at Thanksgiving dinner. It’s not your drunk uncle Steve, though – instead it’s the alleged leader of the free world (although arguably he has abnegated that responsibility to European leaders, which is definitely for the best) and his dumbass opinions have consequences. And that’s the problem: one single man can destroy the world and it is our very laws, the laws that are meant to protect us all, that enable him. It isn’t just Trump – currently legal protections for Dreamers are being held up by one White House aide and one Senator. Our State is so broken that two hateful evil men can stand in the way of the safety and security of millions.
It is the very laws of our land that protect these men, who in turn endanger the lives of so many others. The fact that our laws may be used to engender greater harm should be of no surprise to anyone who knows anything of capitalism, a system that also exists only by way of asymmetrical protections.
Economist Robert Reich has long made a point to show that there is no such thing as a “free market.” Markets do not exist in nature; markets only exist based on the laws that the State enacts. A market either tends toward more or less regulation, based on the laws set by the State. Yet, what we consider “free markets” – which are markets that exist with less regulation – actually owe their existence to the laws of the State itself. For instance, a company comes into existence by way of the State’s laws of incorporation, they operate per the State’s regulations, and are protected by the State’s laws (and in our system, have famously been afforded the same rights as persons).
In a low regulatory system, a company can cause harm, such as pollution, all it wants if no regulations exist that would punish them for their acts AS LONG AS there also exist laws that protect them from the acts of private citizens, whether those be acts of protest, sabotage or violence. This creates an asymmetrical situation in which corporations are protected from acts of violence, while a private citizen is not.
Furthermore, while corporations enjoy the same legal protections as a person under the laws of the State, they are also protected from criminal prosecution as a person. This means they can literally get away with murder. This is not an exaggeration. A person acting in their capacity as the CEO of a corporation can cause grave harm, up to and including death, without ever being held criminally accountable, whereas a citizen whose family has been poisoned by that corporation could not inflict the same harm on the CEO’s family. Hell, they couldn’t even break out one of the corporation’s windows without being criminally prosecuted.
Put in the starkest terms, under common law if someone breaks into your home and tries to poison your family you can kill them in self-defense, but if a corporation poisons the water going into the homes of entire communities, they are protected from such defensive measures. In other words, laws can very much serve one class of people while harming another, and equal protection is but a myth.
Going back to the Dreamers, White House aide Stephen Miller and Senator Tom Cotton can destroy the lives of millions and there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it. That is just the way our State and its laws are currently set up, but need it be?
Western civilization has long been beset by two opposing political philosophies, those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes. Rousseau believed that humankind’s natural state is best and that in order to enter into a society we must cede certain natural rights to one another by way of a social contract. Hobbes, on the other hand, believed that nature is red in both tooth and claw and therefore humankind’s natural state is competition and conflict. As result, a strong State acts as a civilizing force. For Rousseau, the State abnegates its rule when it becomes too oppressive, for Hobbes such a State is the pathway to freedom from our primal natures.
Regardless of which side of the Hobbes/Rousseau debate you come down on, one must concede that there is no absolute right of the State to wield its authority over its subjects, as the state of nature is always the prerequisite to any political system, and we are always free to return to that state. In short, the State and its laws have no ultimate right over our persons, particularly when the question is that of survival.
I personally believe in Rousseau’s anarchism tempered by Hobbes’ cynicism. Unlike traditional liberalism, I do agree that might makes right (in terms of they who wins, writes the rules) and that nature is indeed red in both tooth and claw. At the same time, I also believe that a State should only exist if it is based in mutual cooperation (something that also exists in nature among advanced species) that accentuates the best in humanity’s natural state (as not all is blood and conflict) while mitigating against the worst. Where I think both sides get it wrong is in believing that there must be some inherent truth to their ideology. Liberals tend to think the social contract is best because humans are inherently good and equal, whereas conservatives see a strong authoritarian state as preferable to keep the inherently demonic nature of humanity at bay. But you don’t have to believe in inherent goodness, justness and equality to have a good, just and equal society, nor do you have to have a fascist society just because humanity may be prone to chaos from time to time.
Regardless of these philosophical musings, unfortunately what has come to pass is a maligned distortion of Hobbes, under the guise of Rousseau. Our State is sold as a social contract of sorts aimed at delivering us from the barbarism of Hobbes’ state of nature, whereas in reality the State and its laws have codified that very brutality. Instead of the State existing in terms of mutual cooperation, it exists to institutionalize a form of natural tyranny, where might makes right and those who have the guns or the money (or both) make the rules. It is the State that is now red in both tooth and claw, clothed in a suit with a red power tie and a badge and flag on its lapel. Therefore, citing to Rousseau, the State has forfeited its legitimacy and should be resisted to the point of dissolution since it no longer serves any legitimate social contract, but instead serves those who manipulate its laws to their own ends.
If this sounds extreme, or if you are still caught up in saving our precious institutions, keep in mind that they exist only inasmuch as we allow them too. Certainly we can see this reality writ large as our Legislative Branch has completely abnegated its responsibility to hold the Executive Branch in check, even going so far as to conspire in the service of small hands Dear Leader.
Most certainly, one actually can be above the law in America when one is not held to account. The Constitution is but a mere piece of paper, written by gravely imperfect men, it is not imbued with magical powers that forces adherence to the better angels of our nature. Our form of republic requires properly functioning governmental bodies, which we do not have.
Least you think that there is still hope and that this hellscape exists only because our current governmental bodies are not doing their jobs, keep in mind that it is because of our laws, particularly our banking and campaign finance laws, that we are in such a state to begin with. It is not necessarily because we are not enforcing our laws that the United States has become a plutocratic kleptocracy/kakistocracy; it is, instead, because the laws of the United States are now written to support a plutocratic kleptocracy/kakistocracy.
This state of affairs is countenanced by the biggest lie ever told, which is that of “natural law,” or the belief that humankind are born with certain unalienable rights endowed by God that are inherent by virtue of being human. Of course, if there is no God, or if that God is only one of many with differing moral imperatives, then such a proposition fails at the start. Unfortunately it didn’t fail, and instead this idea is the basis for our modern Western civilization.
Proponents will say that natural law is the foundation for civil rights and equality. I would argue that it is also the foundation for tyranny, allowing bad actors to exploit and take advantage of those who abide by such ideals (think Congressional Republicans constantly playing Congressional Democrats). It is the lie that allows pacifists to believe they are effecting change while those around them are being bludgeoned by the State. It is the lie that prevents us from burning the master’s house down, because he too is a child of God, deserving of his life and freedom even as he chokes ours’ out. It is the cruel lie that says we are all inherently good and reason alone will set us free to live in a perfect harmonious utopia that is never coming.
You can hear this lie in the feel-good aphorisms Chuck Schumer spews when he goes on television to explain away the democrats’ latest capitulation to fascism. While he is busy invoking fluffy white bunnies with unicorn horns and grandpa’s pocketful of butterscotches, families are being ripped apart with glee by the brown-shirts at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and kids whose entire conscious life has been spent being an American are on the verge of being exiled from the country they consider home.
But maybe you’re a Nazi, and fuck brown people, amirite? Well, the icecaps are still melting and your heritage along with it, dipshit. The men in power don’t give a fuck about you either, they stoke your hatred just enough to manipulate you when it is useful to them (mainly to show up at the ballot box or to digest and run interference for propaganda outlets like Fox News). They aren’t out for the “preservation of the white race”; they are only out for themselves and their finite existence on this Earth. You are being played like the skin flutes you are.
So what is the solution? Other than returning completely to the state of nature sans our iPhones? I admit, I do not know. I fluctuate between burn it all down anarchism and hoping to salvage what little there is that works in our system while rebuilding it through an overhaul of our laws geared towards a just and green future. That would involve some serious conflict, though, the kind that liberals seem incredibly ill-prepared for, given that liberals lack the wherewithal to even fight in the halls of the very institutions they are so intent on saving.
Whereas Republicans in Congress are content to dictate whatever unpopular legislation their billionaire donors have written for them, Democrats are still trying to arrange play dates with them to eat petit fours and talk about the “return to regular order.” When needed, they’ll muster a ‘tsk tsk’ from the sidelines while children lose health care, Dreamers get deported, our lands are sold to oil companies, global temperatures keep rising and the clock ticks down to midnight.
Of course, if shaming Republicans does not work, liberals can always meet again next January for another march, to make some rousing speeches before returning to work on Monday to ensure that the world-killing machine keeps purring right along.
If that all sounds fucking grim, well you’re right, it is. Our collective future is fucking grim. As Leonard Cohen sang, “I’ve seen the future, brother, it is murder”. For everyone wanting to return to ‘normal’ any time soon, I’ve got bad news for you; ‘normal’ is what got us here. Cheeto Benito is only a symptom of a broken beyond repair system, he isn’t the cause.
Kill all kings so that you may breathe free, or don’t and suffocate under the heel of men who will be the last ones to drown as the sea levels rise around them. Sure they will drown, too, but wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have to drown just so they may live a little while longer in comfort and at ease?