Tool of oppression – some heresy for you to ponder

Okay, a little thought exercise for everybody. It goes like this.

The 1st Amendment provides us all with a freedom to speak our minds that was, at the time of its composition, unheard of in human history. We Americans place a tremendous value on this ideology and (even when we misunderstand it, take it for granted, trample on it, etc.) see it as a foundational element of our freedom.

The value of the 1A rests on a deeper assumption about how one drives meaningful political change. To wit, free speech leads to representative government, because it allows us to voice our grievances, share our views, inform ourselves, and ally with others who share our perspectives. This freedom of the town hall or the village common, then, is central to true democracy because it takes as a given that speech equals democracy. That is, a bunch of free people talking to each other = change or justice or reform or whatever you want to plug into this blank.

Now, this is important. What the American ideology, as embedded in the Constitution, does is to undercut whatever violent revolutionary tendencies may exist in the population. Before, you had to take up arms because you weren’t allowed to speak freely, but now you don’t have to kill your leaders anymore because you have a representative system that lets you replace them as a course of law.

Here is where it gets sinister. What if I’m of a class that wants to rape, loot, pillage, oppress, etc., but I’d like to be able to do so without worrying about angry crowds and guillotines? What if I had a tool that would let me plunder to my heart’s content while simultaneously decompressing the predictable outrages of the governed?

Hmmm. If I could convince them that the way to fix things was to get together and talk about it ad infinitum, as opposed to grabbing their guns and rushing to the barricades, I’d be sitting in the high cotton. So what if we had this system of government that gave them all the freedoms to talk and print and vote and meet – and at the core of it was the belief that justice was attained by talking instead of doing? (If, once this is accomplished, I can then find a way to turn them against each other, the job gets almost too easy.)

Then, all I have to do is unhitch the engines of power from the electoral process and embed them in the wealth function, which I control. Of course, wealth lets me reproduce my messages with greater frequency, reach, and elegance – I can afford presses and the best educations and the smartest employees, all of which makes it a lot easier for me to shape the outcome of the electoral process.

Viewed from this incredibly cynical angle, you could thus argue that the 1st Amendment is the most clever, insidious, and utterly brilliant tool for tyranny in the history of the world, because of the way in which it seduces the public into complicity in its own oppression.

I sincerely hope someone can demonstrate to me why I’m wrong.


12 thoughts on “Tool of oppression – some heresy for you to ponder

  1. Yes, but the US was also founded ON the idea of revolution and on the idea that “the tree of liberty must from time to time be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots.”
    However, I can see what you’re saying… if a country wants to last as long as possible, it’d better let the people have enough freedom not to feel they have to overthrow it. But that’s a good thing, not a bad thing – talk leads to change, over time; violence leads to change NOW, but it always goes too far in the other direction, causing instability to remain and perpetuating the cycle.

  2. Then, all I have to do is unhitch the engines of power from the electoral process and embed them in the wealth function, which I control. Of course, wealth lets me reproduce my messages with greater frequency, reach, and elegance – I can afford presses and the best educations and the smartest employees, all of which makes it a lot easier for me to shape the outcome of the electoral process.
    Yeah, there’s the rub, isn’t it. The ability to accumulate vast wealth and the perpetuation of wealth through families and generations really removes the concept of “all men are created equal.” However, I think the ability to speak freely and be heard is growing by leaps and bounds; the Net is a perfect example of how anyone can be seen AND heard if they have something interesting or funny to say – compare how many people have seen that Numa Numa video, or read the Hackers’ Manifesto, with how many people watch Fox News.

  3. The 1A says that “Congress shall make no law…………..or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press……….”
    What the 1A doesn’t say, is that congress can’t create regulations that carry the full impact of laws abridging the freedom of speech. A good example of this would be if you if you talk about bombs in airports, shout “FIRE” in a crowded theater and a host of other things. There are regulations against those. There’s libel regulations for print and slander regulations for speech. There’s copyright protection that limits what you can produce which severely restricts your freedoms.
    I love your post and your sinister outlook. I think that it’s already happening right now in this country.

  4. It does seem like an unnecessarily cynical perspective, Sam. I wouldn’t go so far as to agree that the country was founded on the idea that “the tree of liberty must from time to time be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots,” because that’s just Thomas Jefferson talking, and Jefferson wasn’t too thrilled with the way things turned out around here. But the idea with these amendments, as far as I can see, is not that they -give- rights of speech or assembly to citizens, because after all, you can’t give people rights, you can only take their rights away. Instead they’re meant to forestall any attempt by the state to infringe upon those freedoms, which is a whole other thing entirely, and not the kind of talk you usually here coming from the synarchists.
    To me it seems a mild paralogism to say that because humans have trouble agreeing on a wise course of social action, the surest way to extend your authority over them is to “let them” go on being human. For one thing, if humans just can’t agree on anything, it won’t really matter whether they’re allowed to participate in democracy or not. In any case, in the 18th century you wouldn’t need a truly mass movement to affect change the way you do now, and the Second Amendment would go a long way toward subduing the power of the privileged in any country at any time (if for no other reason than the possibility of assassination by a motivated individual). As screwy as Federalists like Alexander Hamilton and James Madison might’ve been — and they certainly might have had sinister motivations, that’s true — they said nothing about wire taps or homeland security. They probably would have condoned the use of tear gas and riot gear, sure. But they didn’t have it, and the Bill of Rights was consequently far more dangerous than it used to be.
    We tend to go where the possibilities of technology take us, not the other way around. They had fewer tactics for recuperation and shabbier than exist today, and it seems pretty damned risky to take the republican measures they did if the entire thing was an elaborate feint on behalf of the establishment. Washington was already one of the wealthiest and most influential men in America; if all he cared about was the power and the money, he could’ve had it without going through all the motions of revolution. Likewise with the privileged financiers of the later revolutions in Europe.
    It’s an interesting speculation, but not necessarily one you would want to run too far with. The problem can not be the Conspiracy; the problem must be that, humans being humans, something like the Conspiracy can reasonably be believed in. America was strictly never intended to be a democracy in the first place, giving the First Amendment an unfathomable context it would be impossible to draw serious conclusions on. Evil uses whatever is handy, so it isn’t necessary to draw a straight line between today’s evil and the evil of yesterday. If the Huns use the First Amendment against us, its because they’re the Huns and we’re not, and the moment it begins to work against them they can retract it (as Jeff has pointed out).

  5. Now that there’s been all this response I’ll have to go back through and “clarify” myself a bit, I suppose. How much fun would a printout of this post be if I ever decided to run for Congress, huh? 🙂

  6. Right – but is it translating into productive change, or are things getting worse? Election the last, which was attended by about a zillion blogs, was not an encouraging sign…..

  7. Now that I have the idea out there and have sparked a series of REALLY intelligent replies, the next step is probably for me to admit that I don’t believe in the Illuminati angle literally. The big, systemic approach is a complex thing to try and get your head around – you can identify tendencies and trends and dynamics, and you can finger the interests of those who framed the system and continue to benefit from it, etc., but it’s frankly hard to talk about the zillion-level complexity of it all without occasionally lapsing into something that sounds like conspiracy theory.
    As I said a moment ago in another reply, this was ultimately something of a self-critique. I look at what I do with my time and frequently wonder if it’s meaningful – I mean, I blogged like a sumbitch last year, but we do appear to have emerged from the electoral process any smarter than we started – and that’s true regardless of who you voted for.
    So if I have a bit if cynicism about the system – which I obviously do – it’s more than matched by my cynicism about my own efforts toward reform.

  8. I have quite a hard time taking any conspiracy theories – even something as comparatively simple as the idea that the mob killed JFK – not because I believe that people are too “good” to do such things, but because I realize that humans are for the most part quite incapable of keeping secrets, especially when revealing them (eventually) would give them an advantage. Individuality rarely permits long-term absolute cooperation such as the “Illuminati” would need.

  9. I’m no more committed to my argument than anybody else is, I should have mentioned. I mean, if somebody said it might not even be possible for cynicism to reach beyond necessity when analysing a system like this one, I don’t know that I would argue with that.
    Anyway, all sides recognize that conspiracy is an essential tool in the management of our economic system. Some people see it as sinister and some people see it as inspired — I certainly don’t fault you for taking the position you have. I personally wouldn’t put anything past these pig-fuckers, either.
    I also know things would be a bit less complicated to understand if I were a little damned smarter.

  10. I love that last line. I wouldn’t mind being a bit smarter myself, although my experience so far has been that the more I learn the more complexity INCREASES.
    So there’s something to that ignorance is bliss thing, I guess…..

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