The Psychology of the (Syrian) State

CNN reports on Arab League monitors’ visit to Syria, which “came as another 32 people were killed by government troops trying to crush a 10-month-old uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.”

Whether that uprising is purely an authentic, of-the-people protest, or simply a shadow war-by-proxy, prosecuted by the usual suspects (NATO, et al.) remains to be definitively established. The truth, though, is that both the opportunism of the agencies of imperialism and the brutalities of the petty dictatorship in Syria reveal something important about “the mind of the state.”

The flimsy rationale for unrepentant government violence seems always to be: “They forced our hands” or “they had it coming,” or some other excuse for outright aggression. There is strength in that rationale to the extent that people swallow it.

The endurance of tyranny is a psychological problem, to be evaluated and studied within the same logic as a prisoner’s identification with her captor, or an abused dog’s love for his master. The great power base of the state, the fortification that surrounds its centuries-old system of violence, is not coercion alone, but coercion allied with a singular sense of deference and dutifulness.

Trite as it may sound, we the people actually do have the power, the potential energy for metamorphosis, lying dormant for now, yet with the capacity to (completely outside of the political realm) transform society. This is the simple message of market anarchism, to treat all injustices, regardless of who commits them, with the same moral sensibilities with which we appraise our personal and neighborly relationships.

Beginning that cognitive process, with all of the hard questions it raises about existing political and economic systems, is the essential first step toward a more free society. Whatever the situation or its outcome in Syria, the Arab Spring more generally represents that recognition of injustice that is the fundamental premise of all philosophical anarchism.

Market anarchists merely carry the principle of equality in rights to its ultimate end. If no one is allowed the special exemption from general ethical principles that virtually everyone assents to, then the state just can’t exist; its own defining characteristics make it incompatible with a society based on respect for legitimate individual rights, and with economies based on consensual trade.

To dispense with the state and its authoritarian despoliation of peaceful society is thus an evolutionary process predicated upon education and the development of spaces beyond the reaches of the ruling class.

As Paul Goodman described it, “Anarchism is grounded in a rather definite proposition: that valuable behavior occurs only by the free and direct response of individuals or voluntary groups to the conditions presented by the historical environment.” And while the full maturation of that stateless realm couldn’t come overnight or through one revolution, the righteous indignation on display in Syria and elsewhere in the region is reason for continued optimism.

Widespread awareness of the state’s true composition will allow the great majority — the perennially looted — to transcend the bilboes of the leviathan state. That miscreant oppressor of Syria, President Bashar al-Assad, knows as much and he, like all bullies (including those at the UN and NATO), is now officially on notice that their time is almost up.

The psychological predicates of the state will be the first thing to go — and when they do, the rest of its maladroit structure will come tumbling down with them. To free Syrians and demonstrators everywhere: Market anarchists stand with you in the nonviolent pursuit of justice. To despots and neocolonialist meddlers: Your antiquated system of sanctioned violence will soon be a fossil, dead beneath a thriving liberty.

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