Thankfully, the COVID-19 fear porn has exhausted its bite. In consequence, we who ask only to be left alone are beginning to peer “behind the curtain.” What we’re seeing is both astonishing and terrifying.
Feel free to dismiss what follows as the ravings of a paranoid septuagenarian. I’m tempted to dismiss them myself – and they’re my ravings. But if they’re to be detoxified, they must be aired.
The origin of the state has often struck those interested in it as murky and difficult to fathom. Franz Oppenheimer argued that it could be traced to the bands of marauders that formed to prey upon stationary communities in the years when agriculture was new. After a number of sorties against this village, that one, and that other one over there, some band was taken by a new idea. “Why,” their members asked one another, “don’t we settle down to plunder one rich village continuously? Provided we don’t steal so much that the villagers are left with no incentive to work, we’d be able to mulct them indefinitely. We’d do less running around, too.”
No one knows where the idea was first applied. Wherever it may have been, the band that tried it first discovered several things straightaway:
- Settling down and becoming stationary made its members targets;
- The more they demanded from their victims, the less the victims were inclined to produce (i.e., an early demonstration of the Laffer Curve) and the more likely they were to revolt;
- Short of revolt, their victims could and would get up and leave should the exactions become too onerous;
- Success breeds emulators: other bands of marauders that observed the success of this new tactic tried it out and found it gratifying.
Pretty soon, those proto-states started viewing one another’s successes with envious eyes. The grass is always greener, and all that. The raids resumed, but this time it was state versus state: the origin of warfare.
Such warfare is conducted for gain. But war for gain is a chancy business. It seldom works out the way the aggressor intends. In time, the proto-states discovered that there was a way to use their rivals that minimized the need for bloodshed: each of them could tell their subjects that their state would protect them from all the others! Again, the idea was rapidly and widely adopted.
To keep the seriousness of the threat strong in the subjects’ minds, there had to be at least some state-versus-state combat. And of course, there was. While it was a losing proposition when viewed in isolation, it reinforced the overall system, justified increased exactions for “defense,” and provided a distraction from other things the rulers were doing to the ruled.
In essence, the many states quietly allied with one another against their subject peoples. The State System — the entrenchment of the states as “inevitable” – was born.
The argument for the state has always been founded on fear:
- Fear of other states;
- Fear of domestic predators;
- Miscellaneous fears that “things won’t get done.”
All those fears are with us today. Recently there’s been a new one in town: fear of a pandemic disease. While it’s faded essentially to background noise (despite the “authorities’” sternest efforts to keep us in fear), it had a very good run. It enabled governments around the world to impose draconian conditions upon their subjects. Now that it no longer dominates us, those who fabricated it are frantic to find something with which to replace it. After all, they don’t want to give up all that power.
The thing to contemplate is how many “candidate-fears” preceded the COVID-19 scare. A couple of them are still being touted, resource exhaustion and “climate change” being the most prominent. But those never caught on to the extent possible for a mystery virus that could be ballyhooed as a potential world-ender. It seems likely that those who seek ever greater and more enduring power over the rest of us are considering new candidates as we speak.
To this end, the statists will always point away from the state and toward something else. “Fear the state?” they say. “Absurd! The state exists to protect you!” And a lot of people, many of them intelligent enough to know better, will buy that premise. What follows would gladden the greatest sleight-of-hand artists of history, for the state is always and everywhere the greatest of all threats to human life and well-being.
What plucks our men from their homes and sends them far away to war?
What confiscates half our earnings and builds huge taxes into the prices of everything we buy?
What is it that pounces upon its critics and punishes them without cause, while allowing demonstrated predators to rule the streets?
And what is it that keeps telling us that we don’t need weapons of our own – that the armed personnel of the state will protect us better than we could do for ourselves?
What is it that has the greatest interest in making us fear everything but itself?
Just a few scattered thoughts for this Wednesday afternoon.
Time was, the antidote to fear was distance. What’s nearest you has the best access to you, for good or for ill. Get far enough away from the thing feared and it can no longer reach you. Achieving that sort of distance today is effectively impossible.
We can be certain of this: States everywhere are run by men who understand that fear is the basis of their power. They have private think tanks and government agencies studying how best to use our fears against us, and to afflict us with new ones. While we cannot know what they’re contemplating, we can know its purpose.
Beware the man who wants you to fear, regardless of the specifics of his pitch. He is not your friend. And now to close, a few quotes:
No power is strong enough if it labors under the weight of fear. [Marcus Tullius Cicero]
Fear always springs from ignorance! [Ralph Waldo Emerson]
Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it…The basest of all things is to be afraid. [William Faulkner, Nobel Prize acceptance speech]
Fear is an acid which is pumped into one’s atmosphere. It causes mental, moral and spiritual asphyxiation, and sometimes death; death to all energy and growth. [Horace Fletcher]
Fear is like fire: if controlled, it will help you; if uncontrolled, it will rise up and destroy you. [John F. Milburn]
Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. [Bertrand Russell]
Courage is the complement of fear. A man who is fearless cannot be courageous. (He is also a fool.) [Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love]
“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” [Frank Herbert, Dune]