On this New Year’s day of 2013, a leaden winter sky symbolizes a bleak outlook for our continued prosperity and freedom. We have been deliberately derailed from our primacy. Like many of my correspondents, I feel something between political depression and despair.
Defense is a basic instinct linked to our survival. The Lord may be my shepherd, but I’m not a sheep. Like any other normal human, I’m motivated to react strongly to any threat against my person, my family, or my essential property. There are limits to what I will do, however. I will act to remove the threat, but no more. Once the threat is gone, I will stop reacting to it. I will not nuke a city to stop a burglar. I will not kill a thug when a fence will be enough. There is a balance, a proportion, to defense. Any act exceeding our concept of proportionate action is an affront to our sense of justice.
Self defense is a reaction to present danger. We are not considering war and the strategies of war, which are more like chess than instinctive reactions. Defense is self limiting. The right to self defense is built into our system of justice, our laws and our Constitution. It is an accepted part of our culture.
Revenge is very different. Revenge is taken after the fact. The goal of revenge is the fear it creates in an enemy and perhaps the satisfaction and status it produces for the avenger. It has no limits in time or in proportion. It may take a generation or a genocide.
In tribal cultures. revenge is an obligation on the survivors of a murder or a grievous insult. Now, law supplants the obligation for revenge of this sort, provided it is just. In effect, society has assumed the obligation of clan revenge under the name of “victim’s rights”. In the sentencing portion of trials, the very people who would be obligated to seek revenge are seated in the court to testify and to hear the sentence. Where justice is even-handed, this kind of solitary revenge is no longer a dominant feature of our culture.
Revenge may be a solitary act, but it is usually on behalf of a group, such as a gang of thugs or mafia. Revenge is the fundamental act of a mafia culture. In such a culture, even-handed justice is inconvenient. It tends to trap the mafia ruling class.
Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, was quoted as saying, “If they hit you, hit them back twice as hard.” This is revenge, and Chicago-style politics is based on a mafia structure. There is a Capo with his lieutenants or a President with his czars. The gang territory is strictly divided. Each division must pay tribute to the top. No division sees the big picture. Strategic information is on a “need to know” basis. Disputes and decisions between divisions are made and enforced by the Capo.
If any one thinks this is the only way to rule, consider King Arthur’s Round Table - a collegial forum of equals. Consider the intent of the Founders in creating the US Senate as just such a collegial forum. There are many such egalitarian bodies in the world: the House of Lords, the U.N. Security Council, even the Loya Jurga in Afghanistan. They all depend on the good will of the members. They all assume that certain rules of fair play and conduct will prevail. They have Rules of Order that give each member a fair hearing and prevent chaos..
Unfortunately, egalitarian groups have a weakness. In order to function, they need a certain level of trust among their members. That is the essence of a collegial relationship. When this trust is broken, factions appear, insecurities overcome common sense, and a struggle for hierarchical power ensues. The round table devolves to become another mafia.
The authors of the Constitution understood this quite well. That document contains checks and balances to prevent an early decay of the egalitarian republic. Those checks and balances raised the stability threshold so high that it took decades of clever subversion to create instability sufficient to bring on Chicago-style endemic corruption.
It took the systematic destruction of values, religion and family life. It required the deification of a new and abstract entity called “the Collective Good”. The Capo is the only person who is allowed to interpret the Collective Good (not God). He is the High Priest. Any and all acts of confiscation or redistribution are justifiable on behalf of the Collective Good. The end, as interpreted by the High Priest, justifies the means. That is the new definition of “fairness”. Any rational argument to the contrary will get beaten down with “fairness” and “Collective Good”.
The ordinary individual and his or her values, speech, and religion are no longer of much value. They must be sacrificed to the Collective Good. Politically correct speech is a recognition of collective values. Censorship is a new kind of public ethic. There are certain words I will not write here because they would trigger mindless vengeance in a few readers. Acting on behalf of their group, they will undertake acts of revenge, even though they would not be able show any real damages. The revenge motif has replaced the concept of individual rights. We used to say, “Live and let live”. Not any more.
The first act of the devil is to destroy trust among well-meaning people. Creative collaborations, joyous celebrations, spontaneous acts of charity, all vanish. “Why should I help those S.O.B.’s ? They never did a thing for me. I wouldn’t trust them any further than I could throw them.” You hear this every day now.
It used to be that those same words would mark you as a misanthrope - a Scrooge, or worse. Good folks would cross the street to avoid you. Not any more. It doesn’t get a comment.
In a mafia, those in power are threatened by the possibility of revenge against them. They believe in revenge as a basic human motive and cannot tolerate it being a two way street. Justice in the courts is scarce. Revenge is undergoing a revival. It doesn’t take much evidence of corruption and privilege to generate animosity among the common people. The motive for revenge is always present in a mafia culture. The lieutenants or the soldiers may recruit their own constituents at any time and rise up against the Capo. Therefore the people must be disarmed. They must be made subservient, dependent on the hierarchy for every little thing - food, housing, cheap cell phones. All blessings must flow from the top. All violence must belong to the State. People cannot be trusted (to just shut up and do what they are told).
At some point the sandpile of power and corruption topples. Opponents spring up like grass in the midst of desolation. In a mafia, a strong opponent stands out like a wolf among hyenas. It’s only a matter of time before the old sandpile begins to slide and the wolf makes his move.
Rebellion is the mass act of a new Collective Good against an old Collective Good. Sacrifices must be made in the name of the new Collective Good. We may want to believe that it is the spontaneous uprising of a suppressed minority against an oppressive mafia tyranny. That is the usual recruiting slogan, but it is rarely true. Most rebellions are simply a recursion of the historic cycle: power, corruption, decay, rebellion, repeat. It’s the karma of a mafia culture.
One exception to this bad karma occurred on this continent in 1776. That rebellion “lit the lamp beside the golden door”. It is nothing short of a miracle that it did not result in a new King George (King George Washington the First), and that it lasted 236 years. We were incredibly lucky. However, the karmic cycle is come round again. People are tired of the irrationality, corruption and incompetence of the current mafia and the self-appointed Capo. It is only a matter of time until the sandpile slips and the wolf pack goes after the hyenas.
Will we be so lucky the next time?
Ken Brody Jan 2 2013