The State We Are In

Warren Kinston 4. November 2015 09:00

Black hole

Two big ideas have been the source of endless strife and much debate throughout the ages: “God” and “the State”.

I have not yet posted my work on “the State” because it requires explaining minor modifications of published frameworks. However, our present global predicament pushes me to explain here how these ideas are intrinsic to our personal functioning. We can then consider the consequences for our societies.

Given today's world, a world riven by war both declared and undeclared, we should strive to understand what is happening.  Like any other aspect of psychosocial life, these two big ideas reside within the biologically-grounded Taxonomy that is being developed on this website.

Personal functioning necessarily has controls, whose complexity makes up the bulk of the Taxonomy. (This preponderance of control mechanisms is a characteristic of biological functioning.) My investigations have revealed the presence of two over-arching systems of ethical control that apply in all domains of functioning. This discovery led to the research aphorism that man is a moral being in two senses.

Each sense has its own big idea to affirm and protect that morality. Hegel suggested an equivalence of the two big ideas when he asserted that the State is "the march of God in society." We can see their similarity by focusing on their differences.

Ethical Control in the Will Domain is about goodness and its big idea is “God" as the enforcer and protector of what is humane. (See details in the Your Better Self satellite.) This framework rests on ultimate values and is therefore teleological. The basic tool is compassion and the relevant psychosocial pressure turns out to be: well-being. God is imaginatively articulated via a pattern of Good and Evil forms.

Ethical Control in the Purpose Domain is about social stability and its big idea is "the State as the enforcer and protector of a moral order. This order defines what is right and demands that upright citizens function in a particular way.  The frameworks are deontological, because they emerge from the legitimist (rule-setting) method for ethical choice. (See Ch. 8 in Working with Values). The framework that indicates how the State rules reveals a supreme driving force that demands submission and uses coercion as its main tool. The relevant psychosocial pressure turns out be: selflessness.

Here is a Table of these differentiating features to help you keep track as we proceed:

“God" and "the State" exist as ideas, but they are not just two ideas amongst many. They are enormously powerful ideas that can take over the heart and mind of a person. To make this full and deep experiential connection, people use symbols that evoke feelings e.g. the cross, the Kaaba, the flag, hymns or anthems. Emotions run high and groups respond by creating uber-powerful guardians of the big ideas.

Given the current stage in the evolution of personal consciousness and culture, we cannot expect too much even of the guardians of God, much less the State.

Fortunately, both can undergo a constructive evolution. Hegel thought it was in the direction of greater freedom—a notion that, perhaps surprisingly, accords with my present research findings.

In the case of the State, evolution is a socially violent process, as explained by Bobbitt (2002) and summarized by myself in relation to political maturation.  War may be the health of the State in its immature forms, but the relevant taxonomic spiral path of spontaneous development offers a reasonable hope that war might end.

The conception of “God” also undergoes a socially violent evolution. A useful book to read on this is K. Wilber's Up from Eden.

State representatives are able to rule a society by virtue of its Natural Moral Institutions because it is these institutions that ultimately give rise to the Moral Order that must be defended. See a summary here. The dynamic interaction of these institutions defines the determinants of the State. I cannot help but notice that the central feature is the existing social structure (power hierarchy). This explains why the State protects the status quo and needed reforms are so hard to introduce.

The State is related to our primal need for governance through its focus on moral control, which inevitably entails coercive violence in response to moral violations. Notice that Government and Society are not big ideas—they are actual phenomena. (Read more about this distinction here.) A government can be sued, and a society can be taxed: neither the State nor God need worry about such things. The State and God end up being what those in relevant positions of power say they are. You disagree at your peril.

Government is one of the Natural Moral Institutions and operates within the Purpose Domain where it provides power and resources for the realization of society's values. Effective governance is most evidently different to the State when we recognize that it depends on citizens responsibly exercising their autonomy. However, autonomy has a problem if civic divisions lead to turmoil that threatens unity and stability. At this point, the State invariably steps in.

But how does an idea step in?

The answer lies in the way the two big ethical ideas become concretized by their self-appointed guardians. Entities arise in our social life that present and assert themselves to us as “organs” or “arms” or "representatives" and "defenders" of the Big Idea.

God gives rise in social life to organised religion, which regards itself as above the State and politics and typically stems from spiritually-inspired individuals. Organised religion is another of the Natural Moral Institutions and it gives rise to many things not always similarly inspired. Followers can do little to correct powerful leaders who wish to run an Inquisition or mount a jihad. Still, we can say that a church is supposed to value compassion (loving-kindness) and direct people towards goodness.

If God tells you to do something, you must. If the message coming from God’s representatives is destructive and inhumane, then they are Satan in disguise, so you can resist without coming to any spiritual harm. Of course, those representatives may well feel it right and proper to torture and kill you.

The State similarly gives rise in social life to an organized authoritative bureaucracy. This is handled by the government on behalf of the citizenry and largely kept out of their sight. Government properly seeks the good of society. But once government provides for the State by creating and funding bureaucratic offices, a military, intelligence and diplomatic services, and a propaganda machine, the politicians have lost all effective control.

While the legislature of a government may be elected, the State organs are appointed, often remaining in its service for life. Elected Prime Ministers or Presidents come and go. If they also serve as State-Leader, they become captive to a far more enduring and determined bureaucratic and military machine. It feels right and proper to those apparatchiks to reject any accountability to elected lawmakers.

De Gaulle put it this way: I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.

The State, being focused on the past and current moral order, does not see itself as about leading its citizens to goodness. Instead it glories in past and future deaths in inevitable and righteous wars. Issues of (State) pride and (State) dignity are far more important than social suffering or injustice. Society’s wealth is diverted accordingly in astonishingly large amounts. The State defends society’s current customs, however abhorrent they may seem, and aligns with its most powerful groups—currently multinational firms in the West. It then expects adherence to its position from within and respect from without.

De Gaulle put it this way: In politics it is necessary either to betray one’s country or the electorate. I prefer to betray the electorate.

If the State tells you to do something, you must—even if it is wholly destructive and anti-human. The best you can do is try to hide. But it is becoming ever more difficult to escape the State’s clutches. The State regularly reveals itself as particularly vicious towards individuals who engage in the most trivial acts of decency or integrity if these symbolize disobedience. Public exposure of the constant immorality and illegality of State operatives is forbidden and punished severely when it occurs.

Politicians find themselves having to obey and submit to the State bureaucrats. The inability of US Presidents to over-rule the Pentagon in regard to the release of an innocent UK charity worker incarcerated in Guantanamo for over 13 years is a typical example.

So politicians must expect to be monitored by State agents rather than the other way round. When lies or atrocities are discovered in war or peacetime, politicians go along with the regime’s invariable decision not to blame or punish anyone within the system even when the evidence of culpability is clear. Sometimes well-known atrocities are blatantly denied—we can all think of examples. There seems to be a constant flow of them. All States regard news and history as theirs alone to define and simply will not tolerate the teaching of any history that reveals moral horrors in the present and recent past. Nor is the history of other societies and cultures given much respect or attention. News is censored daily. Lies, like violence, have defined the modern State ever since its origin in medieval Italy.

As indicated above, the State is properly preoccupied with unity, harmony and stability—law and order—and this is surely a concern of us all. In the international arena, this preoccupation is expressed as sovereignty. The defence of sovereignty generates a power-focus, a glorification of the military and justifications for its use. We, the people, do not want war. Even our politicians do not make war—mostly they are kept in the dark. It is our State apparatus that is responsible.

Any government does require a legal monopoly on violence within its society and this is applied via the police. The State’s right to violence to others is exercised via the military and intelligence services. Ideally, the general public never comes into contact with the military except on ceremonial occasions. The State may compensate by creating a secret police that operates clandestinely outside the law and cannot be publicly investigated or called to account. The current militarization of police forces, most evident in the US, and the emergence or strengthening of secret police in Western societies generally is not a happy development for thoughtful citizens. Security is merely an excuse: our security is diminished both by war and by the loss of civil liberties.

Unfortunately, it seems that the world does still need war; just like young children need to have tantrums and parents need to respond coercively. It's part of maturation. While academic observers of the State see war as an inevitability and a constant strategic necessity, researches on the THEE website offer a more positive vision. Whether humanity can survive until then is another matter entirely.


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21st Century Enlightenment | Better Self | Politics

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Warren Kinston is the creator of the THEE-Online website as an open forum for the further discovery and development of THEE. He writes this blog as an escape valve for the excitement and frustrations of the work. More info here.

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