I’ve been doing some thinking on statism lately, trying to understand why people will follow their government into everything and justify its wrongdoings. Even when they disapprove of government action (for example, 70% of Americans wanting out of Iraq, voting in the democrats, and getting more of the same) they still follow it and grant it legitimacy.
An enormous insight was supplied to me in this brilliant piece by Butler Shaffer:
There is a deeper explanation for the refusal of most Americans to play out the superintending role expected of an electorate by defenders of democratic states: the fear of being critical of a system with which people have so closely identified their egos. If one thinks of himself as an “American” or a “Peruvian” only in the sense of being a resident of a given territory, there is little threat of organized conflict. It is when we identify who we are by reference to nationality – or race, religion, gender, or social status – that problems arise. We have been carefully trained – primarily by government schools – to attach existential significance to our nation-state. We learn such childish catechisms as “our” group is better than “theirs”; those who are not “with us” are “against us.” The daily recitation of our “pledge of allegiance” to the flag that dominates the front of the classroom, is the most obvious example of the political conditioning that begins in the grade school classroom, and carries over to our adult lives as we watch televised newscasts presented by men and women wearing miniaturized flags on their clothing.
Once we have learned to think of ourselves as “indivisible” from the nation-state, we are as desirous of protecting the state’s image as we are our own, for that is who we have become; who we are. We have become totally “externalized” beings, whose direction and responsibility lies beyond us and, thus, beyond our control.The wrongdoings by the state become our misdeeds. What embarrasses the political establishment becomes a source of personal humiliation, a discomfort we try to overcome through internal repression and/or projection onto scapegoats. Watching Americans rationalizing the bombing and invasion of two countries that have neither attacked nor threatened to attack the United States, while killing over a million men, women, and children in the process, provides as much evidence as one would need of the dangers that lie in identifying with a nation-state.
Therein lies a large piece of the puzzle, and why I have advocated that the first step in recognizing the reality of the government we have inherited is to separate ones self from the State. The baby who noted that the Emperor had no clothes could see clearly because he had not identified himself with the State.