We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
5 Times “Obeying the Law” in America was a Terrible Idea
Wedler demystifies the idea that "the law" is somehow sacred, always legitimate, and always to be obeyed, or if not, then punishment is due the offender. He offers the worst examples of unjust, immoral laws to illustrate his point that there are some laws that should not be obeyed because they are unjust or not fair. This is a good attack on the views of many people who deify "the law" as something absolute and sacred, instead of something that has been created by humans. Of course, this also applies to religious texts and preachings which are often regarded in the same way.
However, there is something very basic that is missing from this liberal view. What if the organization of society is basically unjust or unfair by giving some people more rights and privileges than others to the point that some people are given more opportunities to create laws than other people. Couldn't this arrangement of a society result in the entire system of laws and their enforcement being illegitimate?
This is easy to recognize in a racist or theocratic society where one is born with characteristics identified with a certain race or is assigned by parents and the larger society as being identified with a certain religion or historical ethnicity. Thus, it was easy to identify South Africa or USA as racist societies in their earlier history, or to recognize Israel as a quasi racist-religious society today.
But doesn't the same principle of unfairness exist in all capitalist societies? Do you really think that someone born into a family, who under the rules of capitalism "owns" a town's main industry, is provided with same opportunities as someone born into a family whose adult members must sell their labor for wages to the "owner's" family? Yet, that is the arrangement we have in all capitalist societies, and over time wealth accumulation in such societies becomes ever more concentrated in fewer families. Such societies inevitably deteriorate into well-defined classist societies the reality of which must be hidden from people's consciousness. That is because human nature dictates that relations among humans must be "fair" and "just". Fairness and justice are fundamental human characteristics which distinguishes us from other animals.
So, what we find in classist societies are powerful attempts to deny the realities of their unfairness or to justify this unfairness. (As I type, I immediately notice another illustration of this denial: my software does not even recognize "classist" as a word!) Thus, the more powerful class attempt to indoctrinate the less powerful people into believing that such societies are fair and just through their control of education, media, and even entertainment. These attempts have obviously succeeded so well in our capitalist society that most people are like this author who can only recognize unfairness in the most egregious laws in US history.
However, because capitalism has existed for several hundred years, societies are now wracked with such extreme inequality that the inherent unjustness and unfairness is being recognized by more and more people with the result that capitalist authorities are being increasingly challenged. They are now reacting to this challenge with more onerous laws and severe enforcement that is typical of an advanced capitalist society in which indoctrination no longer works and the ruling capitalist class must resort to police state methods to maintain their unjust rule. In the 20th century we witnessed the most dramatic examples of this tendency in Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and imperial Japan. Now in the 21st century, this deterioration of a capitalist organized society into a police state, as illustrated by its huge prison system, is arguably most pronounced in the USA.