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Two Alternatives to Fight and Flight
On the Internet these days, there is an abundance of grim and anxious material on the subject, what to do when chaos, official oppression, or both descend upon us.
The prospects of such descent are, real or not, at least reasonable. On December 31, 1999, at midnight, if not, as some predict, before, great numbers of the world's computers may fail wholly or partially. If it occurs, the failure will be due to a programming oversight that will render computers incapable of accurate calendar keeping. Any such substantial failure is by itself sufficient to cause considerable disruption of the world's business, including production and delivery of products and services we can hardly live without.
Some, in the tradition of Plato and Thomas More, dream of imposing some optimum world order on everyone in the dawning environment of globalization. Enraptured by their visions, they are already impervious to and disdainful of reasoned debate, and give blatant indications of being feverishly intent on achieving their aims very quickly now. The world's center of wealth and power is in Washington, D.C., capital of the United States of America. Not surprisingly, so are the prospective Utopian tyrants, busily consolidating control over wealth, power, and popular understanding as a prelude to imposing domination on our entire species.
Many people combine the two phenomena. They see every act and omission of the United States government as furthering schemes to impose strict dictatorial control over as many people as possible, using the prospect or, possibly, the fact of worldwide communication and commercial disruptions as pretended justification. At one time, people in the United States and worldwide would have been happy and reassured at indications the U.S. government was preparing to deal with any level of emergency that might occur. For decades, however, the increasing climate of federal power arrogance, now reaching an incredible crescendo, has caused millions to view the incumbents of their government offices as conniving oppressors who see them not as constituents, but as surly, ignorant subjects to be convinced when possible, otherwise coerced, never heeded.
And, in addition to the circumstances just mentioned, we do not lack for conspiracy theories, or those theories for lengthy and strident comments. Some years ago, one friend asked another if he believed in a world X-ist conspiracy, naming a group sometimes accused of conniving. After a moment's thought, the other replied, "Sure, why not? Why should they be different from everyone else?"
Naturally, in this alarmed state, many people are debating what, if anything unusual, they should do to prepare to survive and, if possible, escape upheavals. The two remedies heard most frequently are the most primitive, fight and flight.
The Prospects of Fight and Flight
Some voices call citizens to arms, proposing that any initiatives by military forces deployed to keep or impose order be met with force. The theory seems to be that any attempted denial of civil liberties can be made so difficult and expensive that despots will desist. Few hold out any hope of military victories over professionally trained, magnificently equipped and supported forces. But, if enough resistance is offered, the argument seems to be, the effort will be deterred.
In any case, government policies and proposals aimed at disarming private citizens are panicking many and stampeding a great number to accelerated purchase and hiding-away of arsenals, vowing to retain them at all costs. That prompts military planners to drill troops in techniques of suppressing resistance first, explaining their missions later. A government that has gradually lost the trust of major segments of the population, however benign its intentions may be, is courting disaster by continuing to try to improve its power advantages over the citizenry.
In fact, the most likely outcome of any and every confrontation is that few, even if equipped for and pledged to resistance of government measures seen as oppressive would actually pursue their vows to action. Human reluctance to shoot to hit other humans is strong enough that professional military training concentrates on desensitizing it, teaching recruits by drill and repetition to see adversaries as targets or detested vermin rather than human beings. It may be true that all of us are capable of homicide under certain conditions, but it is also true that most civilians who have not had such training would be overwhelmed before, or in spite of, those conditions' being met. Sensing that, most will in fact bluster, scold, and then do as ordered if uniformed men appear on their doorsteps.
Military formations drilled and practiced in the very fighting techniques a citizenry up in arms could muster would make short work of rebellion. The rebels would fail due to simple lack of training, conditioning, and coordination. Many firearm owners scarcely know how their weapons operate, and are far less capable of firing them effectively or maintaining them under field conditions. Most civilians are also, in this urbanized era, utterly inept at getting along in those very field conditions. They hardly know how to set up a viable bivouac, much less advance, patrol, and maneuver. Few of them realize there is anything in particular to know about such things.
Those who do have the requisite knowledge also know they acquired it in extended and concentrated training, not as a result of quick and simple instructions or commands. The very habit of obeying commands instantly so as to maintain coordination and gain the advantage of a qualified leader's expertise is not a part of civilian habit. Squabbles, questions, arguments, and challenges to authority would stymie all efforts at coordination until every battle was lost. Finally, the visionary guerillas lack adequate equipment, or enough of it, to achieve their objectives against thoroughly trained, organized, equipped and commanded forces.
Finally, there is the question of sensibilities. In the United States, few people are of the grizzled pioneer sort nowadays. When peacetime is a period of such toilsome, monotonous struggle for existence that warfare seems, at least at first, a welcome relief, the bodies are seasoned and the minds are conditioned to pick up arms and hurry off to battle. Long forced marches, hard camping, and occasional outbursts of desperate fighting are but the usual rigors in another form. There is a wealth of literature documenting the fact that when armies are raised, those accustomed to their creature comforts take months of toughening to become effective, while the poor and the rural boys take it all in stride, even seeing the new clothing and steady meals as improvements in their circumstances. In the same sense, men accustomed to hunting and prowling field and forest, sometimes encountering animals with misunderstandings as to which species is predator and which prey, have tempered their natural anxieties into grim and steady courage. Men who have partaken of such activities, if at all, by way of television have to learn that attitude over months, if they can learn it at all.
The militant proposition necessarily leaves out children and many women, all but the very most intrepid. In a civil insurrection there are no front lines and sanctuaries behind them. Effective or not, one of the first tactics of a conventional army commanded by despots would be to take control of women and children. It might be a benign measure, to get them out of harm's way and arrange for their efficient feeding, shelter, and care. It might be strategic, to sever links between guerillas and natural supporters. But the implicit message to the insurgents is inevitable: We have your wives and children.
In fact as contrasted with popular fiction, shoot-back advocates maneuver themselves into the position apprehended criminals occupy with respect to police. No matter what atrocity a perpetrator may be caught, red-handed, committing, his first words assert claims on his legal rights, that is, to a degree of civilization, decency and restraint he utterly lacks but demands his captors observe. The ultimate hope of guerrilla resistance is the patient forbearance of forces the insurgent, as a reason for offering battle, has decided they do not possess. The contradiction is ludicrous.
As to the peaceful possession of private arms, as protection against burglars and hooligans, police lore also provides the answer. Should that be made illegal, passive noncompliance of the sort described by Thoreau and practiced by Ghandi and King is called for. If caught, cooperate, pay the fine, do the time, and patiently resume passive defense of self and family. Speaking of dubious situations in which they confront suspects who may or may not be a spit second away from opening fire, police say, "Better to be tried by twelve than carried by six." Homeowners and other peaceable citizens need not, whatever the current legal whim, face predators in helplessness. The risk of fines and jail terms, as conscientious nonviolent resisters of injustices have demonstrated, is preferable. But the idea of brandishing weapons at, or attacking, vastly superior forces is a tragic futility.
For those and other reasons, many advocate flight to isolated, hidden sanctuaries should pandemonium descend. They envision withdrawal to remote areas with a proclamation that says to cops and robbers alike, in effect, "We have withdrawn ourselves from among you. We mean no harm and will tolerate none. Now leave us alone." They would re-create the villages and hamlets of a long-bygone era, each settlement surrounded by alien, potentially hostile, territory and rival settlements, but, presumably, internally free and congenial.
Life in virtually autonomous villages is indeed a great part of human heritage. It is an arrangement in which prehistoric people lived for millennia, and the model still exists today, particularly in mountainous regions of materially undeveloped countries. It is so much a part of our nature that people naturally mimic and replicate elements of it even in cities, where they instinctively look for interest groups, circles of friends, and other relatively small groups to which they can relate. In a large city, it is impossible to be well acquainted with all the inhabitants. The feelings of familiarity, membership and cohesion, an inevitable part of all human existence until relatively few centuries ago, are missed and sought out. It is little wonder that the small, largely autonomous, generally self-sufficient village model has great appeal.
But when the prospect of struggle against large armies commanded by empire-building despots, or even intrepid raider bands, is added to the vision, the reason human political arrangements developed from village to town to city-state to nation-state, regional state, intercontinental federations and, in prospect, globalization is revealed. In case of conflict, large coalitions normally defeat small ones. The material and strategic advantages of size are too numerous to recite here. But it was the very prospect, and occasional fact, of armed conflict that caused humans, who have the capacity to make the adaptation, to change from villagers to citizens.
In fact, if the hypothesis is that of a tyrant's army or even a renegade raider gang on the march, the isolated enclave proposition simply makes the march easier, more certain of success. Enclaves are passive, by inclination and by necessity. Their first premise is self-exile, withdrawal, an ambition to be left alone. Few if any inhabitants would be warlike. Those that were could occasionally sting, but never stab deeply into the giant establishment of a tyrant. Raiders would most likely skulk and surveil, attack only in unguarded moments, and then with ruthless ferocity. The primary strategy of even guerrilla warfare is based on momentary superiority of force and, if possible, numbers. Squad-sized bands of intrepid rebels do not challenge battalions in pitched battles. Rather, they ambush an outpost here, a small patrol there, nibbling about the edges and then retreating to cover.
Most enclave advocates have no such mischief in mind, at least not unless oppressor forces intrude into their territories. Even then, in defense, the contemplated effect is to deflect rather than confront and destroy the larger forces. The message is, "You have great territories to prowl in safety. Avoid this sector: we sting intruders!" Other than lucky captures of weapons and supplies, some small measure of deterrence is the best an isolated enclave's defenders can hope for. Even that notion relies at last on the willingness of a tyrant to concede a small, inconsequential territory
A very significant fact is that the enclaves would indeed be isolated, little able and perhaps little inclined to help one another. Certainly surrender of the amenities of mainstream life and withdrawal into isolated hamlets is the last concession to peaceful co-existence any group of people can make. But if the assumption is that the adversary's intentions are oppressive, or predatory, then such moves are the worst possible strategy. In military science, the technique of "Divide and conquer", an ancient maxim, is fundamental. Another is, "Never divide your forces in hostile territory." By adopting the enclave technique, fugitives from oppression do more than half of their assumed enemies' jobs for them.
Simply stated, isolated communities are hiding, not fighting. They lack the sentiment for any fighting that may come about. Should it happen, their ultimate motive is to make it stop and go away. They are not warriors, organized or renegade. From a military viewpoint, they become conveniently self-imprisoned, self-restrained population clusters that can be overwhelmed one by one, possibly without their eradications ever being noticed. If they can manage to nerve themselves for combat, they lack the means to fight effectively, as just discussed: They may sting, but they cannot stab deeply. By definition, they cannot efficiently arrange coordination of widely-separated forces among themselves. Each is distant from and unacquainted with, probably untrusting of, the others. Matters of coordination and command would have to be worked out, and then the dreary routines necessary to make those practices work. Should they manage to muster any sizeable force against a well-supported military force, it would very likely have to disperse again to avoid the bombardments large concentrations of personnel inevitably attract. All of this would occur in the face of an adversary whose commander can simply say, "Send Company B in support" or call in a fire mission from a supporting weapons unit, and select and modify his tactics by practiced and immediately effective routines. Only in very few, very unusual, and probably very temporary circumstances could inhabitants of remote enclaves defend them.
Even the hiding aspect is unrealistic. Modern equipment includes aircraft- and satellite-based heat detectors, infrared sensors of stunning sensitivity able to predict with fair reliability whether a roof has a warm body underneath it. In any likely scenario, air supremacy would be an attribute of the fugitives' foe. As demonstrated in Vietnam and, more recently, Yugoslavia, bombardment, with whatever accuracy, from invulnerable altitudes is available to conventional forces enjoying air supremacy. Even raider bands could accomplish much the same thing with intrepid and practiced scouting and patrolling. Hunters and warrior-raiders use the same techniques, differing only as to the species of their prey.
The only hope for an enclave strategy is that, after some long period of rigorous, near-savage existence, after great numbers of enclaves have been overwhelmed and their inhabitants buried or imprisoned, the policy of the oppressor will moderate and the obsession with wiping out every tiny dot of even passive defiance weaken. In other words, the only hope is to be so situated that great numbers of others will be overwhelmed first. Practically speaking, the only way to do that is to choose one of the most isolated, and least comfortable, enclave locations, and have the least contact with the outside world so as not to draw attention or betray location. That way, eventually, it might be possible to be left alone at last, the despot finally recognizing self-imprisonment when he sees it and realizing there is really no need to take over administration of the facility or responsibility for the inmates. What with airborne and space-based surveillance capabilities, and computer analysis to sound alarms should anything unusual occur, monitoring to make sure the inmates stay put can become a matter of indifferent routine.
As with guerrilla warfare, there is a vital question of willingness to act rather than simply talk and playact when the moment for action arrives. It is one thing to join the jolly bull roar of survivalist groups in spare time and on weekends, exchange opinion support with those of similar mind, perhaps even join in projects to identify refuges, perhaps acquire title to them, camp there and supply them - - - all of which merriment, incidentally, betrays their locations. It is quite another to pull out of familiar and comfortably-established lodgings and move there, and then, once there, stay under the discipline necessary to succeed at the strategy just described. As with warfare, of millions who will talk the talk, and thousands who will even play the game, very few will actually walk the walk and then remain on the march should the occasion arise. If some vital person, such as a medical care provider, balks at the last moment or stays a while and departs, the prospects of success are greatly diminished. It should be remembered that one of the factors affording cohesion to savage villages was the lack of any alternative or idea of such. At almost any chosen moment not too late to start, that no-choice motivation will be lacking. Another day in comfort, hoping for a spontaneous change in circumstances, will always seem possible until escape becomes impossible.
In the cases of both fight and flight, recognition of the crucial moment is another great problem. Precisely when does the rebel, or fugitive, bid home goodbye and take to the field or the refuge? Sooner would seem better than later, but vital secrecy is more likely to be compromised when conditions are not yet compelling. So is boredom, disaffection, a tendency to decide, in physical discomfort longing for better times past, all of this is not really necessary. On the other hand, waiting until roadblocks are in place, one's community is cordoned and weapons and field gear are being collected dooms the entire enterprise. To fight, even to flee from, a well-trained, well-equipped, well-disciplined adversary requires matching discipline, a prospect many intrepid lounger libertarians would find self-defeating. If one is going to have to take orders either way, then what is the point?
Fight and flight both stir emotions, appeal to the dramatic sense, and, in thought, word, even preliminary deed, are exciting and enjoyable. In grim practice, however, they are quite otherwise, and maintaining cohesion under actual field conditions requires the sort of arduous physical and mental strains, and unquestioning subordination, lovers of liberty aim to escape. Should desperate times come, the choice is not between the agreeable and the miserable, but rather the environment in which the misery is to be endured. Both strategies are desperate ones, involving, to be quite frank, heavy casualties. They are, in their grim actualities, not options freely chosen, but rather last resorts implemented of necessity, in mortal peril. They can only be practical when there are no alternatives. Fortunately, history informs us viable, familiar, even intuitive alternatives exist, even in environments of extreme oppression.
Shrugging in Place, Collectively or Individually
The expression "shrugging" is borrowed, as many readers will know, from the classic Ayn Rand novel, "Atlas Shrugged." In that saga, the heroic character John Galt, (namesake of the webmaster of this site), rallied communities of beleaguered achievers to withdraw from a society that had become both parasitical and spitefully contemptuous of their contributions. They stopped doing what they were doing and withdrew, ultimately to an enclave, the Gulch, in the Rocky Mountains of the western U.S.A By doing so, they left their tormentors either to learn the necessity and praiseworthiness of achievement or to starve and freeze in the dark.
As with any novel, "Atlas Shrugged" finds its value in thoughts inspired in readers. It is an allegorical fantasy, with the omnipotent author able to ordain convenient and consistent events. Things that can go either way always go, or eventually resolve, in ways consistent with the author's objectives. Any storyteller remaining within the bounds of credibility -- it could possibly happen that way -- or able to evoke in readers a play-along willingness to suspend disbelief can be almighty on paper. On a more prosaic level, the function of the novel is as a medium for the exchange of general ideas rather than as a manual of instructions.
As noted, Rand's visualization of desperate circumstances successfully met by retirement to enclaves presents very large practical problems. Deprived of the assistance of authorial omnipotence, it violates compelling principles and would be achieved, if at all, at horrible costs. Many, indeed, would surrender to oppression rather than pay the costs, and their defection would almost certainly doom the rest. The outcome would be not thriving enclaves, but grizzled and desperate wanderers, hunted out of even primitive village life into nomadic savagery. At the point of choosing practical strategies to protect, or restore, liberty, we find ourselves needing to concentrate on realities and pragmatics.
Fortunately, history, even recent history, supplies needed answers. It helps immensely that we can capture their benefits without being, ourselves, very smart. It also helps immensely that they are expedients to which people have turned intuitively when necessary rather than thoroughly artificial ones that would have to be learned by suppressing our natural sensibilities. In contrast to the shrugging by flight technique described by Rand, they are both relatively stationary methods well-described as shrugging in place.
One such technique is collective in nature, powerful, dramatic, and likely to succeed or fail quickly. The other is personal, and effective only over considerable lengths of uncomfortable time. Hoping to defend and sustain liberty rather than have to restore it, and the means remaining, at this point, available, we should consider the collective technique first.
The essential premise of both is this: the social value of any person is determined by judging the social consequences that would result if that person ceased to do what s/he customarily does. That was Rand's major premise. If a parasite quits begging and cajoling, that behavior will not be much missed by others. If a predator stops robbing by force and thieving by stealth, the absence of that behavior will be greatly welcomed. But if a producer and provider stops doing what s/he does, suffering begins almost at once. Rand asserted producers and providers should stop, withdraw, and hide, then express their own ethic joyfully in their refuge, the "Gulch", exuberant in liberation from predators and parasites. (Her celebration of the pirate Ragnar Danneskjold was essentially a slap back at Marx and all levelers who claim moral equivalence, even superiority, for parasites and predators).
The collective technique of shrugging in place is more commonly known as a general strike. People simply stop working for a while. It has not been used in the United States, but it is a familiar technique in many countries. Prior to the terroristic Duvalier regime in Haiti, for example, general strikes supplied the place of elections. Whenever the people grew tired of a regime, they coordinated among themselves and selected a date. On the chosen morning, shopkeepers simply neglected to open their doors. That signaled the general population to quit work. The people waited until the government resigned and aspirants waiting their turn took over, and then resumed their customary labors.
As Germany Nazified during the 1930's, general strikes were also attempted to protest and deflect imposition of Nazi policies with the aim, if necessary, of rendering the Nazis lords of nothing and collapsing their regime. However, coordinated strike activities were brutally suppressed, identified leaders and their political allies summarily executed. More importantly, certain compatible conditions for a general strike were not present. Nazi regimentation coincided with and seemed to bestow an economic recovery from the poverty and tumult just preceding it, and a great proportion of the population was inclined to acquiesce in anything that was restoring full bellies and steady jobs. The people tended to view the strikers as politically petulant social saboteurs rather than as defenders against a mounting tyranny.
What is frequently called a general strike in the United States is usually something much less, and done for economic rather than political reasons. For decades strikes, slowdowns, walkouts, and such measures were effective, but, in commerce, employers themselves eventually accomplished virtual lockouts by abandoning troublesome regions and building new factories in more accommodating ones, eventually outside the country entirely rather than retrofit aging and increasingly noncompetitive facilities. Nevertheless, as of this writing, adjustments had been made, and general prosperity reached such a high plateau as to bring about the public mentality that enabled the Nazification of Germany and eventually the second World War: Life is sweet, don't rock the boat, let the somewhat comical tyrants play their little games. Who cares?
That mentality is reinforced by a more substantial one. In the era of Nazification of Germany, people had recent memories of real material misery, hunger, hordes of wandering paupers, real starvation. In the United States at this time, the population has been conditioned to a level of consumption, a mentality of entitlement not only to affluent living standards, but even certain rates-of-spending habits. Savings are minuscule, bankruptcies are of unprecedented numbers, and exercise of prudence is made as miserable as possible by constant commercial indoctrination inflicted by television. That medium is acknowledged, gleefully by its exploiters, to be essentially hypnotic, to circumvent and overcome sensible judgment in all but the most intrepid watchers. If a breadwinner can resist the temptation, how is s/he to live with constantly whining dependents who want what they see on the screen?
In the seminal book "Understanding Media", Dr. Marshall MacLuhan explained many of the psychological aspects, and the popular classic "The Hidden Persuaders" by Vance Packard explained many of the specific techniques utilized. Consistent literature abounds, and is nowhere seriously contradicted. The industry reaction to any public resentment that might arise has been to indoctrinate people to accept the conditioning, each fallaciously to consider himself and herself uniquely immune although, in fact, the influence is too powerful, operating on too many cognitive levels, for the human nervous system to resist. The population of the United States is, while steadfastly and with conviction denying it, thoroughly conditioned to self-addictive television watching, unable to resist sufficiently to avoid its effects, each person surrounded by similar addicts validating the addiction.
One of the results is consumption at a rate that makes capture of a paycheck in time to meet the next month's bills a desperate imperative. Savings rates plummeted, but, more importantly, the nature of savings has changed. Rather than private wealth, people now put their faith in continuity of income, availability of respite or bankruptcy, social expedients rather than individual self-reliance. Prosperity and social safety nets have worked, on average, well enough for so long that to restrict spending and self-indulgence and build private reserves seems almost superstitious, perhaps almost blasphemous. The system will continue and provide, somehow, because it almost always has. Its failure is, after decades of success, unthinkable. The very idea seems tantamount to the sudden disappearance of oxygen from the atmosphere. It is physically, mentally, and emotionally easier to slide into fatalistic dependence than to provide for self-sustenance. From the supposed intelligentsia even come remarks to the effect that slowing the rate of spending even a little bit could damage the economy, and would be antisocial. To restrict spending and build up a private reserve evokes frustration and a vague, but strong, unease, and, in the majority experience, is in any case superfluous. Someone will do something. Someone always has. Someone just has to.
That sentiment parallels the terror of resuming starvation that characterized Germany in the 1930's. To defer gratification and save money for any period longer than a momentary whim might sustain disturbs most members of the United States population as thoroughly, if not as realistically, as the prospect of actual starvation terrified the Germans of six decades ago. In such an atmosphere, it is virtually impossible to muster the consensus for an effective strike in defense of political liberties. Additionally, as strikers in some key transportation, communication, utility, and sanitation activities have found, a population used to its comforts, conveniences, and rates of consumption, while generally sympathetic to strikers' objectives, is as likely as not at last to greet really effective strikes with resentment and a secret willingness to see the strikers marched back to work at gunpoint. That attitude is all a tyrant needs. What may not be done with brute force alone can always be done with public consent, even public indifference.
In the United States, the Thirteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution, binding on all governments, prohibits involuntary servitude. Damages may be had at law for breach of contract, but particular persons may not lawfully be ordered to go back to work or be sent to prison or worse. Nevertheless, striking organizations, often restricted by labor contracts constituting promises to work, (as are civil servants), often feel inclined to resort to subterfuges such as feigned illnesses. The ultimate operative fact is, if popular sentiment is sufficiently energized against any one or particular group, legal protections are brushed aside, compulsions inflicted, and apologies made later, if at all.
An example is the case of Japanese-ancestry United States citizens arbitrarily interned in concentration camps during World War II. Another is the dislocation of American indigene nations whose presence in their ancestral territories was deemed inconvenient, carried out despite a specific United States Supreme Court decision rendered in a suit brought by the Cherokee, that such actions were unconstitutional. A glib phrase, such as "national emergency" or "manifest destiny" or "The lands rightly belong to those who can make them most productive", (the eighteenth-century French Physiocratic ethic), invariably overrides positive, even Constitutional, law. Both Jackson and Roosevelt, as did Lincoln, trounced the Constitution, and they were largely applauded and never impeached.
For our present purposes, the import is that, although entirely constitutional, coordination and conduct of a general strike in the United States will meet considerable resistance so long as improvidence makes the majority of the population desperate for the next paycheck or equivalent. To prepare to defend liberty by general strike, those who cherish it must first prepare to subsist on savings for an adequate length of time. Alternatively, any who would employ even the pacifistic means of civil disobedience, passive non-cooperation or resistance, the measures of Thoreau, Ghandi and King, must take note of a possibility of repressive reaction applauded by many of their fellow citizens. Passive civil disobedience is widely lauded -- so long as it does not inconvenience one's self.
In fact, the Nazis were able, in Germany, to trade on just such popular sentiment and hang, imprison, and terrify not only active resisters, but sluggish cooperators. In Haiti, dictator "Papa Doc" Duvalier responded to closed shops signaling the end of his regime by deploying his fascistic Tonton Macout to known addresses of shopkeepers, marching them under arrest to their business place doors, and concluding the peaceful revolution by brute force and naked threats. The population was more stunned than approving, but proved docile, and Duvalier thus consolidated a tyranny that lasted for decades.
At this time, freedoms of expression and peaceable assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, added to the guarantee of liberty from involuntary servitude provided by the Thirteenth, (both provisions being binding on all governments subject to the national government), make it quite lawful to advocate, even coordinate and arrange, a general strike in defense of liberty. Those who, not without compelling reasons, see liberty as threatened, would do well to avail themselves of the pacifistic technique of mass shrugging-in-place, or general strike, rather than contemplate the far less promising measures of fight or flight.
Prevailing sentiment is, as many ambitious leftists have eagerly discerned, the ultimate Constitution. As seen by study of the named and other executive administrations, a President may do as s/he pleases, Constitution or no, unless public opinion demands impeachment. If a large sector will not support that, there is no check-and-balance short of forcing the system to pause and reflect.
Those inclined to employ the highly effective method of collective shrugging-in-place would do well to strengthen their position by first disciplining themselves, and then urging others, to reduce compulsive consumption, escape the enslavement of debt by steady and sustained effort, and prepare to join, or at least acquiesce in, any general strike that may be necessary. This has a great added advantage over fight and flight: In case fears are unjustified, and government proves after all benign, responsive, and only temporarily misguided, then the general prosperity will have been greatly enhanced, and individual liberty and latitude strengthened, by escape from the shackles of economic desperation. The positive lessons of conscious and deliberate self-direction, gratifying achievement by imposition of real control over one's life, and a general sense of personal empowerment will only strengthen and invigorate society.
Rather than fantasize over ideas of fight or flight, the less dramatic, more immediate, and more effective strategy is promotion of individual self-reliance and the greater personal freedom that comes with it. People dependent on a system can be made to do as its controllers wish. Self-reliant people, and only such people, can check, balance, and ultimately control their political institutions, and then only if their numbers and determination suffice.
We must, nevertheless, consider other lessons of history, and anticipate what to do if a collective shrug-in-place cannot be achieved, or, if achieved, it is overwhelmed by brute force. The Nazi example did not last long enough for effects of popular countermeasures to be established in general understanding. The Duvalier regime in Haiti was haphazardly administered, its only objective being maintenance of the despot and his cronies in power and, accordingly, capture of stupendous loot with more flowing in every day. So long as those conditions were not threatened, aside from the occasional whimsical imprisonment or execution, individual latitude was only infringed at relatively abstract levels. Haiti is small and poor, its experiences generally dismissed as mere bizarre aberrations uncharacteristic of the ways of humankind in general . Though in fact highly typical of political phenomena in similar conditions, its experience was generally ignored.
What we need to seek are models of oppressive tyranny applied over long periods of time. Only in such cases can the reaction of the subjects be clearly discerned. By now, everyone is thinking of recent communist regimes, and rightly so. Only in the former Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, and similar smaller regimes, has despotism been both intensive and long sustained in recent times. The results, and the reasons for those results, are instructive.
The communist model failed due to individual shrugging-in-place. It imposed a serf mentality on populations that suffered under it, it denied humans individual fulfillment, attempted to make them automatons, and achieved results that might have been predicted. The most cogent description of what came about was a Russian expression: "They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work." That is what should happen and does happen when governments think of and treat people as livestock. A more comprehensive description is the central theme of James Michener's "Poland". When individual latitude is much constricted, individual initiative is suppressed, and individual opportunity for achievement and advancement are obstructed, individuals forced to perform as livestock begin to act as livestock. Those strategies, though unconscious and uncalculated, doom regimes that rely on oppressive regimentation, though the outcome may take decades to happen.
People confined within any system of enforced toil come to see that system and its operators as adversaries. Unable to rebel, or flee, or even coordinate passive resistance, they intuitively fall into sustained patterns of individual non-cooperation. They develop what has been called peasant cunning, and direct their intelligence toward getting as much as possible for themselves and delivering as little as possible to their oppressors. No one has to teach anyone how to do that. When the personal fulfillment attainable only by individual liberty is denied, memories of such forgotten, a relapse from human dignity into animal cunning occurs naturally.
It matters little whether the oppressed are well- or ill-treated in material terms. Humans have a much greater compulsion toward conscious and deliberate self-determination than any other species ever reduced to subjugation. Ingenuity naturally dedicated to self-fulfillment is warped to the purpose of surly, subtle defiance. It is a horrible maiming of human specimens, but it is inevitable when personal latitude is significantly restricted. Indeed, humane treatment of enslaved people only strengthens their resignation to the yoke, accelerates the erosion of the natural human spirit, and tends to render them helpless in freedom and, as has happened in Russia in many cases, nostalgic for the carefree helplessness of oppression.
This is the despair of militant ideologues, those who would reorder all of humankind according to certain rigid social schemes. No matter how well treated, most humans deprived of freedom reflexively resist, the resistance beginning with indifferent productive effort. Hard, sustained, ambition-inspired work is the price of material prosperity, and people deprived of inspiration, opportunity, and hope of either vocational or material fulfillment cannot be made to pay that price. The principle has been demonstrated again and again. One would think the fact better treatment of human livestock often produces greater lassitude and cunning, and lesser rather than greater productivity, would be seen for what it is, an indicator that human beings are congenitally unfit for repression. Viewed abstractly, the delusion and obstinacy of tyrants seems inconceivable.
During the decades of oppression, both the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China from time to time eased regulations that required all agricultural products to be grown on collectivized properties and surrendered to state control. Experimentally, they permitted private cultivation of small allocated plots, the produce to belong in all respects to its producers, even allowing free-market sale. In every case, the yield per acre under private cultivation exceeded the collective-farm yield about fivefold. Rather than accept the lesson, the oppressors claimed the experiments established appropriate quotas to be expected from collective production. The quotas were never met. The magic free enterprise produces never happened, and there were always plausible reasons to explain the failures. The fact those reasons did not inhibit free production was largely ignored. When it was not, even arrests, imprisonments, executions, and other torments could not produce results in any way comparable to those obtained by way of free enterprise.
Eventually, as we know, the Soviet system collapsed in the attempt to reap some benefits of free enterprise without actually committing to it. The Chinese tyrants have retreated to an unsteady and precarious as-long-as-we-rule stance comparable to Duvalier's, and done somewhat better. As Machiavelli, among others, noted, the moment of peril for a tyrant is not during imposition or maintenance of oppression, but at the moment of even slight relaxations. So far, the Chinese dictators have managed to harness and direct the liberated energies to productivity, and, with harsh and dramatic repressions, deflect general rebellion. The regime, however, cannot sustain itself, because individual liberty must flourish to a point where the people themselves are willing to restrain capricious license. So long as restraint comes from sources considered hostile and alien, the hunger for equilibrium will grow and productivity, despite temporary improvements, diminish.
For those seeking means of resistance to government oppression, should collective shrugging in place be ruthlessly suppressed, it is better consciously to practice personal noncompliance, individual shrugging-in-place, than to fall into it inadvertently. Considered inefficiencies will deprive a tyranny of wealth, then power, more quickly than the inadvertent ones characteristic of truly dispirited people. When liberty resumes as it must, servile, defiant, and dependent thought habits of those who did not understand and deliberately choose their responses, and so maintain independence of mind and spirit, plague populations for decades. Rather than step forward eagerly into fulfilling, self-reliant liberty, great numbers adhere to the familiar strategies of parasitism, predation, slovenly resentful labor, servile deference, and subtle defiance. The atrocity continues long after its cause is abated.
As Michener might have predicted and other analysts have noted, the people of the former Soviet Union, who, in the ultimate analysis, only succeeded in trading one form of serfdom for another in this century, are proving suspicious and reluctant to explore opportunities afforded by liberty. They remain easy prey for communist-reactionary demagogues, and actually applaud suppressions of their more enterprising neighbors. Another large sector has taken the predatory route in an organized crime free-for-all devastating the Russian economy. The only humanly viable community spirit is the voluntary conviction of free individuals, and so the former Soviet people, lacking any memory or concept of that attitude, express the primitive expedients of parasitism and predation, and blame liberty for the miseries that result.
The people of western civilization, to greater and lesser degree, have known liberty. With the eroding remnants of that tradition and its robust attitudes, those anticipating a period of repression need to understand their last means of resistance, individual noncompliance, and prepare to practice it deliberately rather than inadvertently. By that means, they may hasten the erosion and downfall of even the harshest regime and restore liberty with the enthusiasm and vigor of free people largely intact.
Facing Worse Come to Worst
There are, as noted, two categories of tyrannies. The less dangerous is what Duvalier's was, and China's is becoming. It is a non-presumptuous implicit decree, "Let us rule and rob you, and otherwise do largely as you please." This typified traditional monarchies in their late stages. Many monarchs were skeptical of the notion they were divinely ordained, and rather felt they had been born into positions of privilege. But the positions carried corresponding obligations: noblesse oblige. A monarch had a duty to be a good monarch. We most often encounter the concept in tales about princes and princesses, forced to marry for considerations of state rather than according to personal preference. Other than by abdication, a risky and discouraged act, one could not avoid being king or queen, nor appropriately reject the privileges attendant thereon, and therefore one was obliged to try to make a good job of it.
The idea of public service was by no means foreign to sovereigns or to despots who seized power rather than be born into it. In this century, even the latter found it necessary to reassure everyone they ruled in the interest and for the good of the people. Communists, in fact, maintained only they could possibly deliver government of the people for the people, as they asserted direct participation by the people, the third element of Abraham Lincoln's famous formula, would lead to chaos.
Nevertheless, the relative equability of the ordinary despot is dangerously lacking in the ideological zealot, the most perilous species of tyrant. This breed, also typified by modern Communists, considers itself above debate, above common decency, even above established laws of physics and other scientific principles. Naturally, to those of that attitude, all things are not only permissible but also commendable in them, whereas dispute, resistance, competition, even failure enthusiastically to cooperate, in others, represents damnable, albeit political rather than theological, blasphemy. No considerations of right or wrong restrain them: They believe they are righteousness, or correctness, incarnate.
Assumption of the godhead by tyrants is an ancient expedient. Despots lacking sufficient delusion to believe themselves divine often played the part for political expedience, or permitted priesthoods to make the appropriate designations, and some of them, when pressed, assumed divine prerogatives in practice and exhibition if not in conviction.
In western civilization, for almost twenty centuries, a concept of Christianity that deemed all people born vile and foredoomed, salvageable only by arbitrarily- (from every human perspective) granted redemption, maintained its intellectual and spiritual tyranny by alliance with strong-armed and expediently blessed enforcers. For the approximate thousand years it succeeded, the church-and-king alliance, however fractious at times, maintained western civilization in a relatively stagnant livestock mode now called the Dark Ages. It was only by heretical, then skeptical and eventually even atheistic, declarations that mental enslavement to the rigid system was broken. But the need of people to believe in something beyond mundane phenomena, to have something more powerful than death, mischance, and perceived injustice to appeal to, all as Voltaire famously noted, brought about a weird deification of certain ideologies. With that arose a species of tyrannies seizing and holding power in the name of philosophical, even scientific, correctness, demanding abject deference to their theories and, of course, themselves.
Such despots proclaim their skepticism of divinity and their embrasure of some vague principle of humanism, and thus deceive populations and disarm those who would compare them to fanatic religionists. Indeed, they are zealous iconoclasts respecting all traditional religions. They pretend to be dedicated to liberation of humankind from primitive superstition. In fact, however, they aim only to seize the mantle of just such beliefs for themselves. They typically begin by promising better social results. But when systems based on oppression inevitably fail, they emit alibis that have not changed for centuries. Eventually they anoint themselves the exclusive exponents of some vague but seemingly commendable virtue, such as compassion, thus exempt themselves from evaluation according to results obtained, and haughtily withdraw from debate. Their own intentions are declared pristine, and any who disagree with them or compete against them are denounced as either ignorant or wicked, unworthy of consideration. No time must be wasted debating opponents: All energies must be directed to consolidating power in their own hands, the more quickly and thoroughly the better.
Globalization is upon us, and has everyone who thinks about it thrilled. There is, however, a contest raging between those who, having arrogated virtual divine right to themselves, mean to seize control and impose their doctrines, ultimately only their own self-sanctified whims, on all the rest, and, on the other side, adherents of liberty sincerely dedicated to human fulfillment both material and spiritual. The fearful voices on the Internet correctly recognize their oppressors as despots of the rabid ideo-zealot variety. Such people would willingly, if they have the physical means, exterminate millions of people and obliterate all who resist or even moderate their applause and enthusiastic compliance. Some of them consider human population a blight on the earth in any case, and see large depopulations, however achieved, as a positive good, so long as their exalted selves are not included. They are the people who, like Nazis and Communists, (though they denounce both and in fact consider themselves as different from both as they are from anarchists), would indeed suppress strikes, slowdowns, or any uncooperative measures including unconscious indications of thoughts or doubts they consider heretical. They are intellectually and emotionally prepared to slaughter and maim human beings as they would never do to animal livestock. They believe themselves incapable of wrong, because they believe themselves righteousness incarnate.
That is why it is necessary to think beyond collective shrugging-in-place, strikes and work stoppages. We are faced with the sort of people who blithely obliterated such passive measures in Germany and Russia. We must anticipate, despite hoping against hope, this generation of their ilk will do precisely the same. For that reason, we have to prepare our minds not only to defend a sensible balance between liberty and order, but, should they succeed for a time, to restore them as quickly as possible. Fight would be futile, and flight would only buy a little time. Collective noncompliance may be met with mass tortures and exterminations. In order to restore the liberty we began too late to defend, we may find ourselves driven to sly individual noncompliance, individual shrugging in place.
Again fortunately, we have a useful example from very recent history. When in 1975 the North Vietnamese Army overran South Vietnam, it was clear that further military, even guerrilla, resistance was futile. Former Vietcong, incidentally, learned their revolutionary sacrifices were of only marginal account as they were excluded from power and sent to re-education camps alongside their former adversaries, just as Karl Marx prescribed. An intrepid Marxist regime instituted, the people knew collective passive resistance, even peaceful collective noncooperation, would be answered by tortures and executions. Therefore, they made a show of willing cooperation. For years, they remained looksee-busy, seeming to strive with joy and enthusiasm to bring prosperity to a united Vietnam.
For centuries, an essential premise of the Vietnamese nation was that the naturally bounteous resources of the South would by one means or another find their way into the larders and bellies of the inhabitants of the relatively hardscrabble North. Partition of Vietnam in 1954 was unsustainable, particularly in light of the fact the Communist regime in the North would never participate in a free-market trade arrangement with an autonomous South. When the traditional reunification was restored, however, the productive southerners, accustomed to freedom, greatly resented regimentation.
As a result, despite every appearance of enthusiastic, bustling endeavor, productivity simply did not happen. In 1986, particularly with regard to the South, the national government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam declared communism a failed experiment and acquiesced in such economic arrangements as the southerners might care to make, if they would only begin producing again. As soon as the sincerity and irreversibility of that declaration was confirmed, enterprise began to burgeon. Among other things, capital equipment such as drill presses emerged from backyard burial sites. Family and cottage shops opened. Entrepreneurs began to wheel and deal. And prosperity began to return, with a degree of freedom quite tolerable by Asian standards, to Vietnam. With every show of look-see busyness and zeal, the South Vietnamese had maintained their will and spirit and consciously, deliberately shrugged in place until restoration of an acceptable degree of liberty occurred.
A classic treatment of the principle is contained in the famous novel by Czech author Jaroslav Hasek, "The Good Soldier Schweik" The novel has been noted as a precursor to Joseph Heller's famous "Catch-22". Its protagonist, an amiable Czech dogcatcher drafted unwillingly into the Austrian Army during the first World War, understood resistance was futile, even surly goldbricking likely to result in undesirable unpleasantness. With a constant show of heartfelt devotion to duty, Schweik faithfully executed every order he was given, literally and precisely as stated, without adding the measure of common sense necessary to make any order lead to success. The disastrous results of Schweik's eager obedience are hilarious. They are also, for anyone feeling threatened by imminent and irresistible oppression, indispensably informative.
It is very interesting that Jesus of Nazareth, recommending to Israel a strategy to avoid ruin and dispersion in the impending Roman sack of Palestine, urged the people to greet the raiders joyfully and offer their possessions voluntarily. Military resistance would be futile: The Maccabeans, having defeated the Hellenics about two hundred years before, recommended meeting force with force, but the skilled and disciplined legions of Rome were not the withering armies of Alexander's crumbling empire. The orthodox factions recommended and practiced hopeful appeasement even as the invasion ports were being constructed, but had no positive strategy to offer.
It is true that Jesus made no mention of private, secret noncooperation, but he did suggest voluntary withdrawal to the desert. By means of withdrawal or cheerful shows of compliance in place, so eminent a prophet undoubtedly recognized that surrendering possessions would be one thing, producing more under conditions of oppression quite another. The secular element of his ministry ended with a lament that his people would not heed his counsel. With the benefit of two thousand years' perspective, and numerous interim object lessons, we ought to do better.
Conclusion: Prepare to Shrug
While measures of liberty and the rule of law remain, sensible people want to defend them. If defense should fail due to starting too late, oppressed people will want to restore liberty as quickly as possible. It is inevitable that people in distress be emotionally upset, and people when emotionally upset, or contemplating such a state, reflexively revert to primitive, juvenile, primarily emotionally gratifying strategies, usually fight or flight. As humans, however, we have the attribute of conscious and deliberate thought, however new and rudimentary it may be. The results of its use are superior to those delivered by emotional impulse. Fight or flight may be emotionally gratifying, but will be so only in prospect. In the event, we should be prepared to turn to strategies we can make succeed.
The first, to defend the last remnants of freedom and reverse the course of oppression, is collective noncompliance, coordinated shrugging-in-place. Most of us will not leave our customary places, and be caught there. Most who do otherwise will perish or be captured. The rest will be marginalized, far from the struggle to restore liberty. For those really serious about defending liberty and deflecting its usurpers, preparations to shrug in place, collectively, are necessary. Foremost among them is curtailing consumption and curtailing exposure to media that incite overconsumption. Planning and then managing to pay off debts and amass savings, both in money and in necessary goods, follows next. Should a general strike seem advisable, an adequately prepared population will be able to participate in and support it rather than, for purely selfish but nevertheless compelling reasons, support oppression by denouncing those who do nothing more violent than decline to go about their customary chores.
Should that measure come too late, or be brutally suppressed, people being marched to work at gunpoint and any reluctance being answered by lash or gunshot, measures by no means unprecedented or unlikely, then liberty will be gone, and its restoration of prime importance. That can be accomplished best and most quickly by the methods of Dogcatcher Schweik, brilliantly exemplified by the ingenious South Vietnamese: constant shows of cooperative zeal, unceasing look-see busyness, but, for apparently inexplicable reasons, nothing quite getting produced. By those means, despots will be forced to choose among maintaining a position as lords of nothing, killing everyone except their own intimates and taking up hand tools, and, finally, as did the North Vietnamese, surrendering to the genius of the triumphant people.
Preparation for private shrugging in place is primarily mental. By understanding the technique, cordial sabotage by energetic but ineffective performance, people can apply it quickly and effectively even in the absence of any coordination or communication among themselves. Indeed, the recent novel "Lucky Bastard" by Charles McCarry contains a perceptive discussion of leftists carrying out their agenda without coordination, each knowing his or her appropriate role. If, as he describes, they can do this to erode liberty, we can do it to subvert tyranny and restore freedom.
Material preparation for the individual shrug is no more than an extension of preparations for the collective one. As the system goes down by inexplicable not-quite-working, confiscatory raids to carry off property, particularly food, can be expected.
At this stage, it is necessarily not only to have saved, but to have ingeniously buried or otherwise concealed, enough to sustain life. You will have to be seen to hunger, lose weight, and shiver with the rest, or your quarters will be toothpick-demolished and surrounding terrain subsoil-plowed to find what is keeping you healthy. But a few modest provisions carefully and ingeniously squirreled away can make the difference between moderate and fatal starvation. Remember, should such an era arrive, to remain cheerful and cooperative at all times. There have been times and places where a scowl subjected you to summary execution. It could be so again.Your object is to survive, maintain your personal vision of liberty, and participate in the renaissance sure to come.
Radical Positivists of the world unite, and make it a better place for all!