Sunday, January 3, 2010

Self-Image as Primary Concern and the Road to Good

[Photo: Former Canadian federal Minister of Justice, former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations, and University of Ottawa’s President Allan Rock in a Gee-Geez (university sports team) costume developing a healthy body and mind.]

Thou shall not kill” but you can pay taxes to a government whose main expenditure is geopolitical war of aggression.

This contradiction is nothing that a glib self-justification cannot fix. Sophism is alive and well in our collective self-image narrative of righteousness. It doesn’t matter that wars, genocides, and continental-scale exploitations are thereby enabled as the dominant features of “international aid and collaboration.”

In the fed and sheltered human, the main impetus not to be a killer of one’s own kind is one’s self-image that one is a “good person,” arising from one’s desire to be seen as a “good person” by one’s community. The latter individual self-image derives completely from a community culture which valorizes “virtue”; from a community culture which maintains a collective self-image narrative of righteousness.

The fabric of societal control is the collective self-image narrative of righteousness. This collective self-image narrative is constantly reinforced both by individual and mass (e.g., media) communications and by our laws, charters, constitutions, covenants, conventions, and international agreements and treaties, and by their constant re-interpretations through practice and legal precedents.

On the one hand we have the fundamental principles such as “thou shall not kill” and the “rights to life and freedom” and, on the other hand, we have the interpretations, practices, and legal precedents, which “harmonize” these principles with the murderous and predatory impulses of our hierarchical bosses. This is not an easy task and much energy must be expended to maintain the collective self-image narrative of righteousness; just as much energy is expended by the individual to maintain her individual self-image in the face of her collaboration in hierarchy.

The latter energies are the energies needed to maintain slavery and to make the slaves and slave masters individually self-sustainable in the face of their intrinsic human desires to “live and let live.”

Consider a canonical example of such sophism energetically manufactured in the service of maintaining the fabric. On the one hand the fundamental principles assert that individuals have rights. On the other hand these individuals' rights are sand in the gears of hierarchical structures of control and dominance. The solution is the brilliant sophism that one individual’s rights cannot infringe on the rights of another individual. In a world where legal precedent has established the corporation as a person, this is perfect!

The created notion that an individual’s rights could infringe on the rights of other individuals is absurd. It is a sophistic fabrication intended to cloud hierarchical power’s infringements on individual rights.

For example, we individually have the right to life. How can this right limit the right to life of others? To kill is to violate another’s right to life. To live is to live. To live cannot be a violation of another’s right to life. For a state to claim self-defence in a war of invasion and occupation of another state’s territory is logically equivalent to breaking into a neighbour’s house to kill the occupants and then installing some of your friends to squat the premises on the pretext that you believe the husband intends to harm you. Try that defence in criminal court! (It may work in Canada if the neighbours are aboriginals.)

I have a right to free expression. How can this limit the right to free expression of another? To block another from free expression is to violate her right to free expression. But one does not have a “right to not be disturbed” by another’s free expression. And to invoke such a ludicrous “right” is to block the free expressions of others. One has the right to not be intimidated or coerced but not the right to not be disturbed by another’s expression. Words are words. Power-based coercion is power-based coercion.

There are as many examples as there are pretexts for limiting and violating the fundamental rights of individuals.

Hierarchies and illegitimate concentrated power are the violators of all individual rights. We all contribute to violating the rights of others to the extent that we permit, reinforce, and do not resist hierarchy, especially the hierarchical plutocracies of the most powerful First World which are responsible for exploiting and suppressing far beyond national borders.

Therefore any analysis of human rights must first posit the actual power structures and power asymmetries. In this context, the artificial edifice of corporations and nations and econo-military regional blocks as “persons” protected by trade and monetary agreements is an abomination. And this monstrous and immoral edifice is supported by the mother of all collective self-image narratives of righteousness, with virtually all service intellectuals in its employ.

The good news is twofold. First, every individual can resist by directly foiling the hierarchy at the individual’s local point of attachment to the hierarchy, at work for workers, at school for students. Second, every individual in the chain of command is embedded into society and is therefore vulnerable via self-image.

Every supervisor and boss is subservient to the collective self-image narrative of righteousness. And the higher up the hierarchical ladder one sits, the more vulnerable one is to the perils of image and reputation. This is because the security of the bosses depends on the gullibility of the masses underneath.

This is why there is a veritable legal industry regarding defamation and libel. Libel a powerful person and you will be sued to pay huge damages because that person’s reputation is worth a lot of money, given that the person’s power largely depends on the reputation. Think of the dirt-finding efforts of powerful political opponents…

Admittedly the collective self-image narrative of righteousness has a class structure such that basement rumours mostly have little impact, yet breaches in the upper-class self-image narrative are disproportionately more “news worthy” (unless the potential damage to the ruling elite is too widespread or fundamental to be reported). There is structure, there are accidents, and there is opportunity. The collective self-image narrative of righteousness is expensive and complex to manage and, despite globalization, its control cannot be centralized. As soon as one branch is controlled, it is dead. Witness the collapse of corporate media: Zero investigative content equals zero utility equals zero interest and no advertising revenues.

Think of all the ways that a “captain of industry” or any unelected manager of human lives can be levelled via vulnerability to the collective self-image narrative of righteousness… This is why corporate executives and board members do not have addresses or emails. This is why there are ombudspersons and equity offices. This is why there is an industry of “they’re just like you and I”, “just dealing with life’s challenges.”

Let’s abstract away that they run our lives and were never elected. Or were elected but were never chosen. Or are running the show but are not liable. Let’s buy into murder because it’s a good investment to have strong thugs as appreciative bosses.

Or let’s hold them accountable, starting where we can have an impact, starting with those immediate bosses that we have dirt on. And there’s a lot of dirt because they shit on us all the time. If you haven’t noticed, then try exercising your natural rights. Don’t let the Xmas party and token gifts fool you.

Rejoice in the new self-image that you are an independent thinker, a whistleblower, a trouble maker, an anarchist, a rebel; that you are disruptive. Get out of the lie and find your self-respect. Find your personal power to fight the oppression and join those who have found meaning. Step out, expose them, and never back down again.


NOTE on limits to free expression: Individual free expression of racist opinions is only harmful in an oppressive hierarchical environment where structural racism exists and where psychological mobbing mechanisms can spontaneously develop. The best antidote to both is to allow and encourage individual free expression so that racism can be exposed and challenged along with the oppressive overriding power structures. To participate in the suppression of any individual expression, including an expression correctly characterized as “hate speech,” is to violate the individual’s right to free expression. Such systemic discriminatory suppression is a sign of societal feebleness where paternalistic control is sought as protection in lieu of independent thought. To insist on such state “protection” is to assume the victim stance for some and for others it is to refuse the personal day to day political responsibility to stand for the rights of all individuals. It is to legitimize the state in violating individual freedom.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice statement about hierarchical power and its vulnerability but it leaves out a key element which reduces that vulnerability, psychopathology. The psychopath is immune to image vulnerability because of an organic indifference to shame, guilt, and exposure. The unshakeable confidence of the psychopath is his disease but also his strength and advantage over others. The hierarchy rewards the psychopath because he gets the job done without a second thought, which is also why the psychopath always rises to the top and stays there. In a hierarchical structure the insane rule and define sanity as well as virtue, which the ruled strive to emulate. Not being nuts themselves, they fail, lose confidence, and collapse into impotence, fear, and harmlessness.