Shrinking or dismantling the state through political processes — running candidates, lobbying against various policies, etc. — is mostly a waste of time. The system’s rules are set up to favor the interests of those inside the corporate-state power structure, against those on the outside proposing fundamental change. And the big corporate players that benefit from the interventionist state will always have more lawyers and money to play the game with.
But outside pressure on the state as a side-effect of shifts in public consciousness and culture — and using that pressure to exacerbate and encourage the divisions that inevitably emerge within all elites — may be very fruitful indeed.
The same is true of the judiciary and particular segments of the state bureaucracy. Playing by their rules is a fool’s errand, as a means of advancing a positive libertarian agenda. But exploiting their rules against them is a powerful, low-cost weapon to impede their functioning.
The state, like a demon, is bound by the laws and internal logic of the form it takes. As that evil goddess said in Ghostbusters, “Choose the form of the destructor.” When a segment of the bureaucracy is captured by its own ideological self-justication, or courts by the letter of the law they pretend to enforce, they can be used as a weapon for monkey-wrenching the larger system. Bureaucrats, by following the letter of policy, often engage in de facto “work-to-rule” against the larger system they serve.
The state, like any authoritarian hierarchy, requires standing rules that restrict the freedom of subordinates to pursue the institution’s real purpose, because it can’t trust those subordinates. The state’s legitimizing rhetoric, we know, conceals a real exploitative function. Nevertheless, despite the overall functional role of the state, it needs standard operating procedures to enforce predictable behavior on its subordinates.
And once subordinates are following those rules, the state can’t send out dog-whistles telling functionaries what “real” double-super-secret rules they’re “really” supposed to follow, or to supplement the countless volumes of rulebooks designed to impose predictability on subordinates with a secret memo saying “Ignore the rulebooks.” So, while enough functionaries may ignore the rules to keep the system functioning after a fashion, others pursue the letter of policy in ways that impair the “real” mission of the state.
Unlike the state and other authoritarian institutions, self-organized networks can pursue their real interests while benefiting from their members’ complete contribution of their abilities, without the hindrance of standard operating procedures and bureaucratic rules based on distrust. To put it in terms of St. Paul’s theology, networks can pursue their interests single-mindedly without the concupiscence — the war in their members — that weakens hierarchies.
So we can game the system, sabotaging the state with its own rules — what’s called “working to rule” in labor disputes — but we can do much more.
We can pursue tactical alliances with dissident subgroups within the state bureaucracy, appealing to their genuine attachment to the stated missions of the agencies they work for in ways that undermine their real missions. A good example is scientists in the FDA who, taking the agency’s ostensible mission of protecting the public seriously, screwed things up by leaking the truth about the internal good old boy system.
Vinay Gupta has made similar tactical alliances, working with rational subgroups within the state that see the state-capitalist system as unsustainable and would like to bridge the way to a more sustainable successor society — but are hampered by the lemmings in charge who are busy jumping off a cliff.
We can go even further than that, though. I’ve previously quoted Gupta’s arguments that the capitalist security state cannot afford to be honest with itself — to operate in the full knowledge of what its real goals are — because the true nature of those goals is too abhorrent. As a result, most subordinates within the state repression apparatus operate with the protective blinders of cognitive dissonance, relying on official doctrines about promoting “peace and freedom” around the world to conceal the truth of enforcing global corporate rule through drone assassinations, repressive states and death squads.
By stripping away this protective cover, and confronting lower-level state functionaries with the real nature of the system of power they serve, we can undermine the security state’s morale and cohesion.
The Bolshevik victory in Petrograd was sealed when the Winter Palace Guards defected. Throughout its history, the U.S. military has been plagued by soldiers firing over the heads of their enemies. Even firing squads must be issued one blank round so each member can reassure himself it wasn’t him that killed the prisoner.
This isn’t just history. As you may recall, a fairly large number of NYPD officers called in sick on the day “Bloomberg’s army” shut down the Zuccotti Park encampment. We see a proliferation of groups like Oath-Keepers and Occupy Police whose members are clearly less than single-minded in their allegiance to the regime.
Our side can make use of our full potential because we can trust our members to use their own judgment without permission. We can act with our eyes open and in full awareness of the real situation, because we are not serving an evil cause that requires us to conceal the truth from ourselves. Our enemies, on the other hand, cannot. Let’s exploit these advantages for all they’re worth.
Translations for this article:
- Portuguese, A Concupiscência da Hierarquia.