Warning: this is about as political as I get
Generally, I do not get a lot of satisfaction out of being identified with causes or logos. But - a couple of years ago, when Richard Dawkins started his "out campaign" for atheists, I thought that showing my support was not a bad idea. And, I got a few Emails from people saying "wow! cool!" which is always encouraging. I even lost a consulting gig because of the red 'a' but, well, the customer was clearly an idiot anyhow.
Then I realized - "why not be expressive"? And more accurate.
It has taken mankind a tremendous amount of blood, sweat, and thinking to begin to shake itself free of the mental imprisonment of superstition. Uncounted deaths during the wars of religion in Europe triggered The Enlightenment - partially as a direct reaction to what happens when you fail to separate church and state. The "new atheism" spearheaded by Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens is - as I see it - the end-game for religion; without the sword-arm of the state to defend it in many countries around the world, religion rapidly wanes.
In 2001, when I was researching my homeland security book, one of the sources I read was Bernard Lewis' magisterial history of the middle east and Islam. At one point, kind of as an aside, Lewis wrote about the relationship between political power and religion - namely that empire appreciates religion, since religion can serve as a cause for expansion and a justification for wars of aggression. Religion is the best tool mankind has ever invented for dehumanizing the poor bastard that you're about to kill. And religion needs empire, because without a sword-arm of its own, it cannot expand and accrue power.(1) As I read Lewis' observation, I realized that Marx was right: religion is the ultimate tool for political control, and the political class has ruthlessly exploited it throughout history. It was only a handful of men in the 18th century (most of the credit going to Locke, Paine, and Jefferson) who tried to create a nation state without the ticking time-bomb of state-sponsored religion at its core. With the exception of the United Kingdom (whose ruler, as Hitchens enjoys pointing out is not only the monarch but the head of the military and the head of the church) the countries that are the worst to live in are those where the church and state are corruptly entertwined.
But all this got me thinking - if religion is a corrupt con-game that seeks to aggrandize its shills in the here-and-now, what is politics? If people are finally waking up to the idea that you do not need to be born into a religion - that you can choose not to have one at all - why are we so complacent about the idea that we are born under a government? Even back when I was in high school, I suspected that government is a con-game, a protection racket - a mafia operation written on a scale that any capo would envy. Now, I realize that I was right.
I am incredibly fortunate that dumb luck had me born into membership of the biggest and most powerful national street-gang on the block: The United States of America. Merely by virtue of being delivered in a hospital in New York City I am now a tax-paying member of the gang. Of course I was too young to have answered sensibly if someone had asked me if I wanted to be a US citizen (and looking around at the rest of the world as an adult, I'd beg to be a US citizen) - the people I feel sorry for are the poor unfortunates of countries like Zimbabwe, North Korea, and The Sudan, whose political classes have no qualms about using hunger as a weapon against their own people - people who are born into what is little more than enslavement.
I'm not exactly an anarchist, but I am sure as hell not a nationalist. Growing up reading history, I remember thinking "how it must have sucked for those poor peasants in the feudal era." Again, born into enslavement enforced by the sword-arm of the local thug, er, king, blessed by the church. But is nationalism a whole lot of an improvement? It's just tribalism writ large - writ large to the advantage of and by the political class. If mankind survives another thousand years, nationalism will have gone on the chopping block long before - the problems of population, food supply (really: population), global warming (really: population) and energy (really: population) are global problems which require global solutions - it is utter foolishness that progress in matters of species survival are left in the hands of the political class - people who have proved that for them power is more important than anyone else's survival, over and over and over again.
I've travelled all over the world and met people of all colors, shapes, sizes, languages, religions, and gender preferences and more or less, they all want the same things: food, family, love, music, and to not be interfered with a whole lot while they're doing it. I remember a few years ago, sitting in Dubrovnik (a beautiful old city that was badly bombed by the Serbs in the 90s) and drinking beers with puzzled and thoughtful people who had been on both sides of the conflict. Puzzled, because they'd gotten along just fine until someone - members of the political class - fanned smouldering embers of ancient grudges into violence that they could use as a means of making themselves, personally, more "important" at the expense of the destruction of the very lives they are claiming to be trying to "help." With help like that, who needs enemies?
And "enemies" is really the issue, isn't it? In my life, I've made one or two - but never a country-full. To make a country-full of enemies takes a politician. And I'm fairly sure that the people on both sides of these manufactured conflicts are pretty much the same - without the goads of religion or nationalism to push them forward, they'd just as soon sit home and enjoy another sunset. Everyone I meet around the world is, generally, someone I am perfectly confident I could live next to as a neighbor, with hardly any likelihood of conflict. I certainly do not need the overhead of a massive government like the United States', which spends more than half of the money spent world-wide on "defense" so that it can "defend" itself by being prepared to go on the offensive. I'd be happy to pay taxes to have a local police force and judiciary but I'm a bit frustrated that, like everyone else, I am a tiny trapped gear in the vast protection racket that is "government."
In 1992 I was given paperwork to fill out so that I could apply for a security clearance. I got as far as a question concerning whether I had ever advocated the overthrow of the government by force - or something like that. I recall, at the time, thinking "it wouldn't be me using the force!" Frankly, right now I am utterly disgusted with what the cess-pit of the american political class has bubbled to the top and is offering us as choices for our next president. As Lewis Black says, "you have a choice between two bowls of sh*t." So, what would happen if I decided to fire the US Government? That's right. I think they're doing a terrible job and I'd rather stop paying them my taxes. I'd rather spend my tax dollars with my local state police and local services. I do not, did not, and will not need the US Government to prosecute a war on Iraq, Iran, or North Korea on my part. I'd like to send them a pink slip and fire them. Who do you think would start the violence, then? Sure. There would be gun-toting goons showing up to demand their slice of the tribute, to force me to continue paying for their stupid wars, their dumb-ass fence along the Mexican border, and their foolish "faith-based initiatives."(2) Can you believe me that if I had any choice in the matter, my tax money would be going for schools and not smart bombs? I suspect the rest of you feel likewise. Without the implicit coercion of government hanging over us, very few of us would elect to support even a tiny fraction of the ridiculous dumb-ass things that the government's bureaucrats and the political class think up.
It is no accident that governments monopolize the weapons of war, mass destruction, and mass violence. They tell us "Marcus, you don't need nuclear weapons..." Well, guess what? If there weren't governments constantly embroiling eachother in pointless attempts to accrue more power for their controlling political classes, nobody'd need them at all. In fact, the early 20th century was an effective testimony to the inevitable consequences of governments growing larger: World War I and World War II, followed by a cold-war that menaced all life on earth and bankrupted economies in the name of a ridiculous interpretation of political science. The larger governments are allowed to grow, the bigger the wars they can and will fight in our names or in the name of peace. Larger economies give governments the resources they "need" to produce the ultimate high-tech tools of destruction. Reining in and controlling nationalism and nationalistic fanaticism is a matter of species survival to the same degree to which reining in religious foolishness is crucial to our ability to think clearly about the challenges that will face our species in the future. You cannot have a sensible energy policy if you believe jesus christ is going to return real soon and make everything OK. (4) Neither can you have a sensible policy about global warming if you're worried about imaginary lines on a map that represent the limits of your personal authority, mister king, president, dictator, or prime minister.
Some of my atheist friends are fond of the "imagine no religion" (sung to the tune of the John Lennon song) campaign. Perhaps it's time to start thinking "what bullsh*t do we need to get rid of next?" It's not a hard question to answer.
Imagine no government either.
(1) Generally, religions with their own armies schism violently really quickly (e.g.: Islam or the Tibetan Buddhists). Give a pope a couple of divisions and next thing you know he'll negotiate with a Hitler...
(2) If you really want to puke, follow the links from www.whitehouse.gov to discover that the Bush Administration has funnelled billions of dollars of taxpayer's money to what are largely christian religious organizations. Do we expect those organizations to be pursuing a non-sectarian agenda? Of course not! And neither does the Bush Administration! That's how you get ridiculous absurdities like $400 million spent promoting abstinence (instead of safe sex) as a means of preventing AIDS. Your taxpayers' dollars at work, buying votes by funnelling dollars to The Administration's core constituencies.
(3) The anarcho-syndicalists believed that labor unions could effectively replace governments. That sounds like it's only a good idea if you're a union leader. But I like red and black. Eventually I will replace this with an all black flag bearing a black "N" for nihilism, I suppose.
(4) "Make everything OK" means killing all the jews and an orgy of destruction, followed by more than 1/2 of the world's surviving population being tossed into the god of love's eternal torture chamber. If you are not terrified by the realization that The President of The United States subscribes to this insane dogma, you need your head examined.
(Anarcho-Syndicalist Flag) (3)