Today, I want to take a step back from the everyday, to look at the big picture. The Western world seems to be going to the dogs. Hardly a day passes without more bad news for good people. I want to try to understand, why are these things happening to us? Why now? And are we justified in being optimistic for a future of peace, freedom and prosperity?
The place to look for pointers to the present, I think, is in the past; so it is with history that I am concerned today. But it is not a subject I have found easy to study. The problem with history is, there's too much bloody detail. So I am going to concentrate, not on detail, but on trends, on flows and ebbs, on flux and crux.
Looking at history in the large, I found that human institutions seem to take on a life of their own. When an institution meets the demands of its place and time, it prospers. Often, though, it will falter after a while. Sometimes, it may rescue itself by mutating into a new form, and may even prosper anew for a time. Eventually, though, such institutions overstay their welcome. They decay and die. If you want examples, look at the ancient city-state, the western Roman empire, or the feudal system.
A second lesson I learned was that there are times when something more fundamental happens than just the rise and fall of institutions. What happens is that the way in which people think changes. An example was the Renaissance. There was a renewed interest in classical learning, a new sense of human dignity and individuality, a striving for discovery and innovation.
The Renaissance was not the only example of a sea-change in human thought. There was one in Old Testament times – you can see this by comparing the style of Genesis and Exodus with the later books. There was the mathematical and scientific revolution of the 17th century. There was the Enlightenment of the 18th. There was the entrepreneurial spirit, which sprang up, particularly in America, in the mid to late 19th century. And… watch this space.
A third lesson I learned was that, with these sea-changes, two opposites often happen together. There is a time of intolerance and repression, or of chaos and war, or both. And the pace of human progress quickens, sometimes leading towards a relative golden age.
I saw, for example, that in pre-classical Greece advances like Solon's code of laws and the use of coined money took place at much the same time as the rule of the tyrants. That the development of the movable-type printing press, and the spread of Humanist thought, happened around the same time as the Borgia pope and the founding of the Spanish Inquisition. That the great scientific discoveries of the 17th century were made in a time of religious war and political ferment. I find it suggestive that the communications revolution and the Internet are today starting to come to fruition in a world suffocated by bad politics, wars and terrorism.
Today, I want to address the place in the world of two ancient institutions, church and state. It is my view that these two institutions have passed their natural lifespans. And that dismantling them is essential to achieving peace and prosperity on planet Earth. Furthermore, the process, which will achieve this dismantling, has already begun.
Where did the state come from? Long ago, human societies were sedentary, and mostly peaceful. Then, perhaps five or six thousand years ago, something changed. Violent gangs began to maraud across Europe. The people in the peaceful societies had to organize to defend themselves. This meant, picking chieftains, and learning violence.
Those early tribal chieftains, I think, would have shared the feeling expressed by the author of Genesis. They would have felt a sense of dominion or mastery over their surroundings. Most of them would have been stronger and cleverer than those around them. So they would have come to feel themselves masters of those they ruled. They would have had no scruples about controlling people by violence when they thought it necessary. Nor would they have had qualms about making wars on other tribes, to enlarge their spheres of mastery. Thus was born the state – institutionalized violence and aggression.
Others, meanwhile, were learning to control people more subtly. They knew that people sensed, through their minds, a great power at the edge of experience. Indeed, in former times many people had let themselves be controlled by hallucinations, which they thought came from this power. The power went by many names – the gods, God, the "logos,” the Muses – and people were accustomed to perform rituals in its honour. So, the unscrupulous began to control people by setting themselves up as representatives of this power. They claimed moral authority by placing themselves between people and their God. Thus was born the church – institutionalized mental control and mumbo-jumbo.
All those years ago, both state and church were in keeping with their times. For the chieftain and his warriors could enforce peace within the tribe. And their skill in violence could make the difference between well-being and death or slavery for the whole tribe. The church's function of moral education, on the other hand, could help to make life better for everyone. So, for a while, they prospered, state and church both.
Time passed. Kings, princes and lesser nobles carved out for themselves territorial states or statelets. While their rule was founded on violence, they didn't mind deviousness when they benefited from it. Meanwhile, the Christian church wielded its weapons of mental control; original sin, the idea that we are naturally bad, fear of the wrath of God, hatred of pleasures, promotion of poverty as a virtue, belittling of human potential. Though church leaders were not averse to violence and torture when they suited them, as in the Inquisitions. (Nor did they mind a bit of forgery on the side).
On the state's behalf, it may be said that there were a few good rulers. Some kings and nobles used their power to dispense justice as fairly as they could. Some provided havens for forward-thinking people in a hostile world. They patronized, at various times, scholars, poets, musicians and even mathematicians.
On the church's behalf, it may be said that it helped to preserve learning through the Dark Ages in Europe. That it provided, at times and in places, a sense of community, and opportunities for people to exercise their creativity. Look, for example, at the stonework or stained glass in any great church or cathedral. Or leaf through the hymn book, pausing to admire the stirring verses and noble melodies.
Nevertheless, state and church remained, in essence, what they had originally been – instruments of control. The state to imprison people's bodies, and the church to imprison people's minds. And both were intolerant of those who resisted control. Kings were not kind to those who disobeyed them. Religious persecutions ran wild, often on the most abstruse grounds. Furthermore, states and church vied to increase their powers. And so, they repeatedly damaged and wasted human lives in that activity which is, and has been for thousands of years, the life-blood of the controlling establishment – war.
States had to finance their wars. So they added, to their violence and aggression, institutionalized theft – otherwise called taxation. However disguised, the tax collector's message has always been the same; Pay up, or the weapons you paid for last year will be used on you this year.
The church, with its obligatory tithes, was guilty of theft too. But it had also an extreme conservatism, which could easily become a hatred of human progress. Look, for example, at how the Catholic church harassed the great Galileo. They forced him to deny the scientific truths he had spent his life finding, and they put him under house arrest. Or see how the church banned all the works of the Enlightenment moral philosopher, David Hume.
I read about the Enlightenment, and I found it, like the Renaissance, to be a sea-change in human thought. The new thinkers celebrated human reason. They challenged the church view of human beings as naturally bad and of limited potential. They challenged the state by promoting the idea of natural law, taking its authority from nature, not from rules imposed by rulers.
Revolutionary ideas led to revolutionary emotions, which led in turn to revolutions. Many of these revolutions were unsuccessful. But, in Western Europe at least, the power of the old controlling establishment, church and state, was seriously weakened. And in America, there was formed a new and better kind of government. The idea that government exists for the benefit of the governed, not of the rulers, had started to take practical form.
At around the same time, the Industrial Revolution was starting to get moving. Before the Industrial Revolution, few people were able to produce much more than they needed to support themselves. What the Industrial Revolution did was give people a chance to play their part in doing more for others. It enabled us more and more to put into practice our natural human mastery of our surroundings. And, for the advanced, it brought a chance to unleash creativity. People could build large enterprises, without needing to use the techniques of state or church – violent aggression or mental manipulation. In industrial society, it was now possible to do great things, while remaining peaceful and honest.
By the 20th century, we should have been in good shape. We should have been racing forward into a happy future. We could have built civilized societies all over the world, based on individual freedom, the rule of law and common-sense justice – that is, the idea that individuals deserve to be treated as they treat others. We could have unblocked the world economy, so that everyone willing to put in enough effort could prosper. State and church, with their violence, wars, thefts, mental manipulation, persecutions and hatred of progress, would have died out. What a great world that would have been.
But that isn't what happened, is it? For the lovers of tyranny, the warped minds that want to rule over us and control us against our wills, launched a counter-revolution. They re-built their power base. But they had to do it slowly and stealthily at first. They had to lull our suspicions. So, in the 19th century, they made some positive reforms. And they granted us, slowly and grudgingly, an illusion called democracy. Just think, we can cast our vote for whichever of them we think might treat us less badly than the others!
But inexorably, they increased their control. They used every excuse they could find – wars, financial tribulations, moral panics. They took over police, education, unemployment insurance. They took over whole industries, and ran them badly. And they interfered more and more in our lives. They made vices into crimes, and pleasures into vices. They made bad laws and built bureaucracies to bully us and to keep us in line. All this, of course, financed by what they stole from us. The more we honestly earned, the more they stole. And they kept trying to make out that they were doing these things to us for our own good!
In the 1980s, we in the West had a short period of what seemed like relative sanity. But it didn't last. Since the fall of Soviet communism, tyranny in Western Europe and America has increased exponentially. Those in power have come up with ever more excuses to steal from us or to impose stringent controls on us – like the environment, porn, war on terrorism. They spy on us. And the way they treat us has become ever more arrogant and bullying.
The establishment they have built to control us has subsumed the state, but it has taken on many characteristics of the church as well. Disinformation and mental control are now practised, not by frocked priests, but by an all-pervasive mass media backed up by an establishment-funded liberal-arts intelligentsia. Assorted pressure groups, like enviros and anti-smoking campaigners, bay for more and yet more controls over us. Meanwhile, the function of religious persecution has passed to police, soldiers, tax bureaucrats and other officials that enforce bad laws. We face today an unholy amalgam of church and state, which combines the conservatism and desire to persecute, characteristic of the church, with the aggression and thieving of the state.
Those in power like to present the establishment as nanny state rather than bully state, welfare state rather than warfare state. They try to keep the purpose of the modern church/state establishment, to control us and to rule over us against our wills, under wraps. But that's still what it is. And, increasingly, people aren't fooled any more.
For there is happening, right now, another of the periodic sea-changes in human thinking. I know this, because I have been through it further than most, and I see plenty of evidence that people around me are starting to experience it too.
There is much in common between the new way of thinking and the Renaissance. Respect for human dignity and individuality, love of discovery and human progress, are all part of the new way. Like the Renaissance, too, it has an element of re-discovery. This time round, though, I do not think our scholarly friends need look as far back as classical Greece. I think they probably only need look back to the values of the late-17th and 18th-century Enlightenment.
I will try to put into words how I, personally, experience the new way of thinking. While not at all un-social, I have come to think of myself as an individual first, and as a member of society (or societies) second. I respect and uphold individual rights. I judge myself as an individual; I blame myself when I deserve blame, but I am not suckered by false guilt into under-rating myself. And I judge others as individuals. That means that I judge them by their actions. Whoever they are. I have also come to reject aggression and violence against civilized human beings, and to condemn those that do these things. And I strive to be honest too, and to reject lies, spin and rationalizations.
Do you feel any of the following: A loss of community with political society? Anger at being taxed out of existence, while getting nothing worthwhile in return? Growing hatred and contempt for politicians and their bullying hangers-on? Irritation at all the pap and spin you get from the media? A desire for world peace? A feeling that there ought to be more to life than this? If so, congratulations; you have started the sea-change. You are moving towards the new way of thinking.
Here, I think, is why the world is such a mess today. We are living through, not just any old crisis in history, but the mother and father of them all. Living today is like experiencing the Renaissance, the chaotic 17th century and the fall of the Roman empire, all at once. Not only is the way we think changing. But also, the church/state establishment has passed its last-use-by date. And we are all suffering the smell.
Right now, in early 2004, we are approaching the crux point. For the establishment's control over our minds is slipping. They know this, and that, I think, is why they are stepping up their efforts to control us physically. I think that is why, disregarding human rights and the rule of law, politicians and their cohorts are now making a grab for draconian "emergency" powers to do anything they want to us.
The Renaissance took time to happen; but, in the end, it succeeded. And I am confident that today's sea-change will succeed too. I believe that, sometime soon, we human beings will be rushing forward into a future of peace, freedom, and prosperity.
Staying alive and solvent until the worm turns, I grant you, may not be easy. So each of us must do what we can to help the sea-change. We must help build a mental tidal wave, to wash away the violent aggressions, thefts and mental manipulations of the church/state establishment. We must help people to understand that the root of all evil is not, as St. Paul would have had it, the love of money, but the love of power – power to control people against their wills.
When the time comes, how will we dismantle the state? That, I think, is easy. We will treat the, morally and financially, bankrupt state like any other bankrupt organization. We will wind it up, and distribute its assets among its creditors. As to the church, I think it likely that the Christian churches, at any rate, will simply fade away, as they become more and more irrelevant to everyone.
What will replace the state? I think there will be a network of voluntary societies, which together will perform all the valid functions today usurped by the state/church establishment. There will be defence societies, to defend us against the uncivilized. Justice societies, to resolve disputes fairly and to assure fair compensation for harms. Mutual aid societies, to protect from the effects of injury, illness or disability. Philanthropic societies, to help those who are disadvantaged through no fault of their own. And privately provided services – lots and lots of them – funded by, who else? Those who enjoy them.
And what will replace the church? My atheist friends will say, it will disappear, and good riddance. But my take is rather different. I think back to a time many thousands of years ago, when our ancestors worshipped Mother Earth. That seems primitive now. For, over time, we got to know the Earth; we got to explore it, and to use it. Eventually, through science, we began to understand it. Why, I ask, should the story not be the same with our mental powers? Could it be that, instead of kow-towing to the source of our creativity, our job is to explore it, and to get using it? And maybe, eventually, to understand it?
If I am right, I think the results may be electric.