the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world
THE SEMI-REGULAR DOGMATIC, 4
The human race now numbers over five billion. For some time it has controlled the entire earth, in many ways to a greater extent even than it sees. Most of the earth it inhabits, even the areas where anatomy is inadequate (winterlands and deserts). Until recently, four empires ― China, India, Russia, and Yankeeland ― alone controlled a third of the earth and half its people. Fewer than two hundred sovereignties exist on the planet. With the possible exception of Antarctica, every bit of land falls under one of them. Those who wish to live in peace and freedom have nowhere to go. You can guess that I am among them. As a desdichado, I feel obliged to point out that there are plenty of people who have not consented to the current world order. We believe we have certain rights, not legal but moral, which we have not waived nor would waive. In fact I believe that we are endowed by default with certain unalienable rights, by which I understand that these rights cannot be waived regardless. It’s been thought before.
I believe all have the right to a fair share of the necessary resources proportionally divided among their consumers. I believe all have the right to defend body and resources needed to survive (no more) from violence with violence if necessary. I believe all have the right to live free from violence so long as they commit no violence against body or necessary resources. I am presently unable to identify any other rights. I don’t believe any others would be necessary. Unfortunately, a lot of competing conceptions of rights exist. Most of these conceptions are backed with a great deal more power than my conception; many of the rights in place because of that power interfere with and thus displace the rights I espouse.
I am not a cultural relativist. That is, I do not accept that different peoples should be left alone to practice their diverse customs if those customs are unjust. I have never met a thorough cultural relativist, nor a person who was totally unwilling to invoke some abstract standard of justice (or ‘natural law’, or ‘rights’, especially ‘human rights’). Therefore I do not apologize for taking an unbending stand against what I see as injustice. Besides, I am here making an attempt to fully define justice, which few persons are willing to do. I do not call upon some imagined god to justify my conception of rights; I know nothing of the existence or non-existence of supernatural beings. I base my justice on the golden rule ― find an acceptable universal code and stick to it. I think I have found a code that I could live with if universally applied. Simply stated, peace under anarchy: those who act non-violently may not be subjected to violence. I cannot determine how violence may be appropriately used to end violence once peace has been breached. I am indeed concerned about it, but I would be happy for the moment with a recognition of peace under anarchy, for then at least the peaceful would be spared from violence and hence rule. And as recognition of this standard of justice spread, more and more persons would avoid acting violently so that they, too, might not be subjected to violence. Certainly to my interest, for the greater the number of the persons who will not attempt to rule over others, the greater my chances for not being ruled.
The propagation of the code of peace under anarchy is my only political goal. If universally accepted, there would be universal peace under anarchy. Such a situation is, of course, a pipe dream. Too many people have too much to lose and disagree about the worth of the gains. But partial success is possible. It may come slowly, but it is possible.
I do not believe in evil. Each person’s beliefs are shaped by its experiences. Our superficial differences in belief are attributable to our different perspectives. No one, I think, ever does anything it feels to be unjust or “wrong”. If I believe that a person’s actions are misguided (and there are plenty of persons about whose actions I so feel), it is my responsibility to convince that person that it, too, ultimately finds those actions to be misguided. Persuasion, not coercion. The former yields lasting change, the latter only resentment, and in many cases a renewed sense of righteousness that is naturally counterproductive. Too many believe that the way to change a situation of which they disapprove is to pass a law. They have a “legal” mentality. They fail to see how ineffective this is.
Worse, they then tend to attach an air of sanctity to law, and I believe that no thing should be held sacred. Furthermore, law is not a justice unto itself. Those of the legal mentality feel themselves (or often hypocritically feel only others) bound to obey an unjust law “because it’s the law”, which is a very law-and-order thing to feel. To me, though, it seems ridiculous to have to say that unjust laws are unjust. But there it is; I felt I had to say it.
Few persons here (but I am one of them) question the “legitimacy” of the Yankee state. But there is much and often bloody disagreement elsewhere about the legitimacy of the current states. All social problems result from conflicting conceptions of justice; age after age of this brings it to the grandest scale. The question of legitimacy is easy for me: all states are illegitimate, given that they all deny justice to at least one person. The question of the best path towards justice is extremely complicated and may very well have no answer. For example:
What if a people, long dispossessed and long suffering, took it upon itself to ensure its safety by reclaiming an ancestral homeland, but in the process displaced a relatively small part of a people that already had plenty of land and might well have been usurping? What if the former were aboriginal Americans and the latter Yankees? But what if a people came out of nowhere, colonized a land, gradually gained control over most of it at the expense of a weaker people who had been living there, and later claimed that redistributing the land equitably would punish persons who weren’t themselves culpable in the injustice? What if the former were Afrikaners and the latter black Africans? It’s easy to see the Europeans, with their self-aggrandizing “western” tradition and their imperialist conquistadores, as the bad guys, and they ― we ― certainly have earned eternal contempt. But what of the Jews? Which scenario, Yankeeland or South Africa, applies to Israel?
The “international community”, whatever the hell that means, is in desperate need of a little reason in its determination of legitimacy. Are the states of the so-called United Nations legitimate enough to bestow legitimacy? Is the British Empire? The community seems to think so. The justification for war has most recently been determined by the existence of states created by the British Empire and sanctioned by membership in the United Nations. When one tyrannical non-democracy, Iraq, annexed another tyrannical non-democracy, Kuwait, the community organized the retaking (it was not a liberation) of the latter and refused to even consider the disbanding of the former. Why? If aggression cannot be the basis for legitimacy, am I wrong to find the entire structure of world sovereignty illegitimate?
The dissolution of the Soviet Union is another splendid example. No Yankee government recognized as legitimate the incorporation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Even so, the current Yankee government repeated that line but withheld recognition anyway (so as not to offend old buddies in the Kremlin). And then it exercised a double standard with regard to the other republics. The Baltics were a “special case”, having been “forcibly and illegally annexed”. Oh? And which of the other republics were supposed to have voluntarily joined the empire? And what of the eastern parts of Poland, Slovakia, and Moldova, annexed with the Baltics? Well, here we see the distinction made by George Bush also in the case of Kuwait: the imaginary roster of legitimate states is sacred; the number of seats in the international community should neither increase nor decrease.
And why, I wonder, the hypocrisy about meddling in internal affairs? I, who recognize no legitimate sovereignties in the world, am not squeamish about identifying injustice wherever it occurs, irrespective of borders or “territorial integrity”. There is no apparent consistency in the policies of the pragmatists who now run Yankeeland. Whatever seems prudent.
So what, then? What of five billion people, who are forcibly or ignorantly bound to the status quo, who are probably too irresponsible to live peacefully, for whom there is probably not enough Earth to go around? Let them starve? Kill them off? Let them kill each other off in one giant landgrab? I must admit, I do not know.
Then you might ask, “O episkope, is it fair to denounce our institutions and provide no alternative?” To which I would reply: I’m working on it. I’ve only been working a few years, on problems which have been compounding for many millennia. And every moment we make things worse, we dig ourselves deeper into a pit, we go further down the road to a point of no return. Things are, you must acknowledge, genuinely fucked up. In a world of smog (remember that we have created it), it is difficult to see the sun, especially if, sometimes, people can’t see at all.
© BISHOP FORD
Home of the Stewardship Project
and O.T. Ford