Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cowed By Authority


Driving north on Route 1 just about a mile south of Route 3, the scene laid out before me. Bumper to bumper cars in the dusk, their red tail lights lined up and down the rolling terrain to the horizon in the daily pilgrimage of to and fro to all the places regular people go.

I had been entertaining a thought moments before about how a judge might have to pass a judgement upon an overly litigious person, who kept bring law suits because (after all) there is always something that can be objected to, and the system allows for the redress of every possible nuance. So to prevent such things, the system must allow for the judge to say "enough is enough", and bring some common sense to bear in cases where the facts will seem to remain forever open to the opportunism of equivocators. And I imagined how I would feel if this social power was brought upon me, whereby I was told that enough was enough, and I could no longer pursue my rights. I would be pissed. But that is how society works at some level. At some point it comes down to somebodies judgement. This may or may not be related to what is to follow here, other than that the idea of being judged is a form of social acceptance.

So as I observed the cars stacked to the horizon, and the other cars intersecting them from other directions (chasing their own horizons I suppose) I wondered for a brief second over how amazing it is that everything runs like clockwork here in America… or at least many things do. The roads are often jammed, that is true… but the volume of dutiful drivers rarely break ranks and express disagreement by violating any rules. And by this conformity they make the vast spectacle of a car-dominated society possible… and are every bit as responsible for this (I suppose) as are the car companies, the road builders, and the existence of gasoline.

And then it occurred to me, that such coordination of thousands and millions of people is not possible if they are not, by and large, all cowed by authority. If we lived in a country full of very autonomous people, the system by which cars and goods and services and workers and school children … and just everybody gets to where there going and then returns and then goes out again to achieve some other objective… this particular American reality is not possible without substantial submission to authority… and the level of submission is directly proportional to the efficiency we are meant to value.

The precision of a machine is a reflection of the close fittings and smooth conformances and close tolerances of all the parts that make it up. The machine of society is made from people, and the precision of the machines operations (society) is thus a function of how allegiant the machines components (people) can make themselves to what the machine requires. The logic of the machine defines the behaviors of the components, and the very first behavior isn't a behavior at all… but rather an oath of allegiance to the goals of the machine over and above what a person might imagine of their life if left to their own devices. But we are not left to our own devices, and therefore our survival requires submission to this machine authority.

To the extent that individuals do not view themselves not as primarily autonomous minds… or as primarily religious, spiritual, intellectual, or political beings… is to the extent that they are led by the economic imperatives of survival to view themselves as producers and consumers… and mostly as consumers, in as much as most work severs the connection between their efforts and any awareness of the thing produced. As consumers they are then factors in an economic equation, and subject to thereby to economic law. And since all laws and systems of equations are inclined by their creators to seek optimum states, the consumers in the economic systems have a natural striving after the optimal efficiencies of their consumer existences, which comes from always moving towards greater and greater economies of scale. And what falls away in the shift from individual selfhood to consumer identity, is the loss of the personal, and the embrace of whatever all-encompassing efficiency the system can afford at any time.

It then occurred to me that there are obvious examples of being cowed by authority (such as traffic, getting to work on time, behaving as expected at social functions, not talking loud in the library, etc)… but I don't suppose that we could fix the submissions we suffer by simply refusing to obey traffic laws, showing up late for work, behaving poorly at cocktail parties, or shouting in the library. The reason must be this… that though those behaviors can be singled out for consideration, we have to presume they are simply the most obvious examples of submissions in daily life. But in as much as the total efficiency of our lives is a function of EVERYTHING we do, and that EVERYTHING affects everything else… we have to imagine it is not possible to consider these obvious examples out of context. The implication here is that being cowed by authority in the big things MUST express itself in the little things… and that in fact… all the things we do (both large and small) are all participating in the same system of submission.

An interesting analogy for this would be the human body, which is made up not only of the obvious organs of note (i.e., brain, heart, stomach, etc), but also of less glamorous things (i.e., arteries, veins, cartilage, etc), and then more so by the vast collection of little things in the body that we probably not aware of… the endless little capillaries and nerve endings and pustules and cells at every level that perform a billion functions per second. And so if we presumed to deny any part of the human body, we immediately see how the system is not possible without any of them. We cannot simply remove the heart, because the blood won't flow through arteries into capillaries into cells… and we can't remove cells because the blood they receive won't be returned to the heart… and so on, in an endless variety of biological  codependencies. If we wish to remain alive… that is, to receive the benefit of life that our bodily functions provide when dealt with as a holistic effect… then we must understand that none of it can be denied.

The question is… does this describe our social existence, and to what degree? Is my submission to authority in obeying traffic laws, or employment policies, or not shouting in the library…. is this simply the tip of the iceberg of a pattern of overall submission. For instance, am I required to watch TV all night and zone out? You would think not. But if you work all day in a corporate cubicle in the typical soul-less fashion… and then drive home obeying traffic laws… and eat foods to stay slim so you can look like the people on TV that you watch to zone out so that you can maybe meet a girl or guy that looks like the people on TV because you have to zone out in order to survive the conformity of work and commuting… and so on… THEN how can you deny anything at all.

In a system tending toward maximum efficiency… if you are cowed into submission in one area, you will be tending to submission in all areas. It is simply a matter of time before things that formerly were your choice, are swallowed up in the ever expanding field of efficiency. And many will want to submit… because as in all erotic relationships, even the most degraded position delights the submissive, in as much as they have become such a person. Are we to judge a man who rolls around in the mud and barks like a dog? Is it simply what he prefers… a rational expression of his will? Or do we view it like doctors examining a diseased patient, and understand that certain growths go against the healthy state of the body? And what is healthy, other than that which promotes that natural processes of living. But whereas such moral distinction come easily to mind with the body, they are harder to identify for the mind… thus the spectacle of insisting that there is no truth, and every one's decisions are just as good as anyone elses. When writ large, this kind of collapse of the intellect (skepticism) leads to the inability to discern disease from health… and gives rise to what I am speaking of here… the spectacle of mass submission to authority on the grounds that maximizing economic efficiency is the only goal that anyone understands or cares about.

In the end, this is EXACTLY the case. But just to be clear, being cowed by authority and living (either) fat or lean in the slipstream of social permissions and economic prosperity is not a moral justification for the human freedoms foregone in the process. If anything, the loss of human freedom is simply the loss of human identity… and in the end there is nothing left to delight in when there is no whole person left to enjoy it. It's the machine city of tomorrow… today.

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