Making the State Irrelevant, Part Three: Undermining Its Legitimacy

Even if you concede some value to electoral politics and lobbying,  the best way to maximize bang for the buck in such efforts is simply to capitalize on the potential of network culture:   that is, put maximum effort into just getting the information out there, giving the government lots and lots of negative publicity, and then “letting a thousand flowers bloom” when it comes to efforts to leverage it into political action.  If you do that, the political pressure itself will be organized by many different individuals and groups operating independently, spurred by their own outrage, without even sharing any common antistatist ideology.

This is the same kind of stigmergic effort I wrote about in the previous two columns.  In the case of any particular state abuse of power or intervention into the economy, for every libertarian who opposes them on principled non-interventionist grounds there will be ten or a hundred people who oppose them on grounds of fairness or personal interest that are completely independent of the nonaggression principle as such.  Millions of people oppose police rioting and lawlessness, or the grossly unjust digital copyright regime, without being libertarians in any consistent philosophical sense.  If libertarians simply expose the nature of state action and its unjust particular effects, it will be leveraged into action by people in numbers many times larger than those of movement libertarians.

The state and the large corporations are a bunch of cows floundering around in the Amazon.  Just get the information out there, and the individual toothy little critters in the school of piranha, acting independently, will take care of the skeletonizing on their own.

A good example is what Radley Balko does every day, just through his own efforts at exposing the cockroaches of law enforcement to the kitchen light, or that CNN series about gross civil forfeiture abuses in that town in Texas.  When Woodward and Bernstein uncovered Watergate, they didn’t start trying to  organize a political movement to capitalize on it.  They just published the info and a firestorm resulted.

At the same time, we should engage in general efforts to change the terms of debate, to push the center in a libertarian direction, and to bring “radical” and “extreme” libertarian ideas into the realm of respectable discourse.  One way to do this is to propagate the same memes, over and over again, in reference to a wide array of specific cases.  The general “Baptists vs. Bootleggers” meme, especially, is worth propagating far and wide.  This meme was the thesis of Gabriel Kolko’s “The Triumph of Conservatism,” in which he argued that (despite all the “progressive” rhetoric used to sell them), economic regulations have generally been created to protect the regulated industries.  This theme needs to be driven home, hard and repeatedly, in libertarian commentary on regulatory legislation.  The goal is for increasing shares of the public to internalize the general lesson, by sleeper effect, until more and more people automatically greet “progressive” proposals by cynically wondering who the Bootleggers are in this particular case.

Balko’s work at The Agitator, simply exposing the truth about the mechanics of the police state consistently on a daily basis, has probably done more to increase public skepticism about the drug war and law enforcement than a thousand libertarian pot decriminalization petitions.  And the kind of reporting TechDirt and BoingBoing do on the standard abuses of the DMCA will eventually, I believe, have a similar effect on public consciousness in regard to IP law and its contribution to the exploitative corporate economic  environment.  Shifting public consciousness to the point that the downloaders are seen as “good guys,” and the people sending out DMCA letters are the “bad guys,” will result in a revolutionary transformation of what is and is not feasible for the state capitalists.

The only real way to change the institutional environment of politics is to change the culture to the point that there are new limits to the kind of shit the state can get away with.

Such cultural changes are the reason that most states renamed their military establishments as ministries or departments of “defense,” and international aggressors shifted from framing their actions in straightforward and unapologetic Lebensraum terms (like the 18th century dynastic states and the 19th century imperialists) to “self-defense” against some “foreign threat” manufactured for mass consumption.  They’re the reason any politician publicly recorded saying “nigger” might as well hang up his hat, and the reason the CIA bothers to hide its overseas torture facilities.

They’re the reason Hitler felt he had to make even a minimal effort to manufacture a “Polish threat” to Danzig via false flag operations, and the U.S. war propagandists had to come up with lies about Kuwaiti baby incubators and mobile biological warfare labs in the previous two Iraq wars.

It’s true that it typically hasn’t taken much of an effort to manufacture enough “evidence” to overcome the low public threshold of doubt, in the past.  But thanks to network culture, the cost of  manufacturing consent is rising at an astronomical rate.

Just compare the significance of the Iraq war opposition from 2002 on, and the speed of its emergence, with those of the parallel antiwar movement in 1990-91.  The communications system is no longer the one described by Edward Herman, with the state and its corporate media allies controlling a handful of expensive centralized hubs and talking to us via one-way broadcast links.  We can all talk directly to each other now, and virally circulate evidence that calls the state’s propaganda into doubt.  For an outlay of well under $1000, you can do what only the White House Press Secretary or a CBS news anchor could do forty years ago.

Since Woodrow Wilson’s suppression of the working class press and the rise of corporate “professional” journalism ninety years ago, consensus reality has depended on the cost of owning a printing press, and the fact that the people (and governments) rich enough to afford them had more interests in common than not.  This state of affairs is now coming to an end.  The forces of freedom will be able to contest the corporate state’s domination over public consciousness, for the first time in many decades, on even terms.

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