By Gregory Sams
Guest Writer for Wake Up World
Does anybody truly believe that one day we will have enough rules, regulations and enforcement officers to impose peace and harmony upon humankind? Once we have criminalised every twitch of disrespect or discrimination against other races, religions, genders, body shapes and sexualities, will we achieve social harmony? Once every single communication between human beings is monitored by central security services, will we have an end to all crimes of violence? When every child is vaccinated against every known disease will we exterminate illness?
Our society is shaped by the belief that ‘Yes’ is the answer to the above questions, accepting that a strong central state is the only mechanism through which to achieve social order, health, food safety, welfare, medical standards, education, clean air, security, and a list of ‘vital’ functions that vary from nation to nation. When I visited Zimbabwe in the 1980s I was amused to see that production of toilet paper was a state-run monopoly. In France, the Toubon Law regulates the music broadcast on radio, in concert with other regulations designed to uphold ‘Frenchness.’
We must question why so many human affairs need to be directed by the firm hand of the state, whose primary tool is that of coercion. Coercion is the threat of damage to those who do not comply with directions coming from those who give them. It is a heavy-handed tool with an unnerving tendency to bring about unintended results. As David Friedman put it, “The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations.”
Many believe that we have been beating the crap out of each other since time immemorial; cave men clubbing each other for any old reason and living brutish lives. For many, the endless war and conflict in which we indulge has come to be considered a normal part of human existence – something almost traditional. It is not, and when it reaches our doorsteps we are more likely to recognise that violent conflict is not a necessary and inevitable part of being civilised.
The ‘modern human’ has been around for at least 100,000 years, developing culture and civilisation over 10,000 years ago in some locations, with teasing evidence of much older antediluvian civilisations. Looking back at our human history we find no mention, depiction or evidence of conflict or conquest before 2700 BCE, when the Sumerians beat the Elamites in battle and “carried away as spoils the weapons of Elam.” I’m no military scholar but that sounds a few steps below slaughtering the vanquished and raping their women. We do not know the nature of their dispute or the weapons used, before the days of swords and chariots.
Sumer and Elam were two of over twenty thriving cities in and around the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia, one of the early cradles of world civilisation. Its first agricultural settlements, such as Jericho, were established 11,000 years ago. As cities developed they maintained links and exchanged goods and managed all those things you have to manage when thousands of people live in close proximity, building houses, selling food, making tools, maintaining health, worshipping, learning, expressing art, moving from A to B, getting married, dying, and so forth. And of course, they had occasional disputes over land and access to resources.
For a few thousand years the inhabitants of those cities in the Fertile Crescent grew and prospered as free people, without a noble class demanding taxes, and without fear of conquest by others. There is little written history from this period as writing arrived soon before war, facilitating the taxation that underlay empire building. Clay tablets abound with counts of goats and detail of goods movement. Literature was strictly oral. Taxes paid for a ruling class and standing armies, men trained to fight and kill instead of providing gainful service to society. Taxation is neither a natural consequence of being human nor requisite to civilisation, coming into play only after civilisation and free trade had created sufficient assets to be plundered.
Visit the Mesopotamian Rooms at the British Museum and their timeline begins at 6500 BCE. From then to around 2500 BCE there are no representations of conflict or nobility other than a piece of pottery showing a 5cm high figure wearing a simple crown and feeding flowers to sheep. From 2500 BCE onwards, weapons, armour and images related to battle make an appearance.
Things then careened downhill when Sargon, possibly royal gardener at the time, murdered his king and took the throne of Akkad circa 2300 BCE. Sargon raised a standing army of a few thousand men equipped with stronger bows and harder armour than anything seen before. With these he conquered the other cities of the Fertile Crescent in a process he called “unification.” The first city that stood up to him was levelled ‘til no place was left for a bird “to perch away from the ground.” Sargon had the mindset required to impose such a ‘lesson’ on people and though he may have been the first psychopath to carve out an empire, unfortunately he would not be the last.
This ushered in a new concept – that of actually conquering and owning a city or territory. Nobody formerly owned cities in the sense of ruling the occupants with absolute power over their lives and property. It must have been an unbearably awful event for those living at the time, but within a mere handful of generations a central coercive state was probably considered a necessary evil, if only to protect its subjects from other central coercive states. Still today, that is the underlying raison d’etre of every state and the reason why keeping us fearful is so crucial to their power.
We did not discover the great civilisation of the Indus Valley until the 1920s and just a small area of it has been excavated to date. The oldest evidence of a city dates to 7500 BCE and the culture flourished from 3000–1600 BCE with a population estimated at five million. Houses in its many cities were brick built with a water supply and covered sewage drainage. They used standard measures, had public warehouses and grain stores, dockyards, traded with cultures up to 2,500 km away, and had writing we cannot translate. Yet there is no evidence of a ruling class, army, defences, slaves or internal conflict – and curiously, no temples. What’s really surprising is that archaeologists find this so hard to believe! It’s just people doing what we’re good at. Climate change, disease or something else may have brought this enduring civilisation to an end, but there is no evidence of conquest.
Another instance is the Tiwanaku in South America who built an empire without conflict, staging regular festivals where thousands drank maize beer and ingested plant-based hallucinogens while worshipping the Sun and nature spirits. They prospered for 600 years, with 100-llama ‘trains’ of goods crisscrossing their altitudinally challenged empire in a vast trading network. They too enjoyed indoor plumbing and covered sewage systems, with monumental buildings displaying high architectural skills. They were dissipated and dispersed by climate change at the end of the first millennium.
From the 10th to 15th centuries, self-managing city-states developed in Europe that rejected tax demands from a noble class, building walls around themselves to provide protection from armed thugs on horseback collecting taxes, as much as from marauding Moors. They were run by medieval communes, wrote their own city charters, and defended themselves when necessary. These cities founded in freedom lit the fire that took us from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance. Florence was one of them, which in 1342 had 8,000 boys and girls in primary education with 600 attending its four universities; 30 hospitals provided 1,000 beds. Trade guilds and associations ensured the quality and standards of tradesmen from bakers to architects. It worked from the bottom up, and evolved as needs changed. The city walls were expanded three times.
When we give up critical functions of our society to the state, the rationale is that they are too important to be left to the ‘chaos’ of millions of people making little decisions. This happened with agriculture, as Western nation states geared farmers towards mass production of cheap meat and animal products. The agro-chemical industry flourished as farmers were driven to squeeze the maximum possible out of their land through state incentives and regulation. As a result our land has been poisoned, our food contaminated, and our health degraded. Today, farmers lose money and rely upon government subsidies to survive. The agro-chemical, fast food and pharmaceutical industries thrive.
With food safety standards set by the state we end up with supermarkets full of industrially produced foodstuffs and high streets saturated by junk food outlets. With medicine regulated by the state we arrive at a pharmaceutically controlled industry that thrives on ill-health, whoever pays for the drugs which they supply.
We cannot imagine coping for ourselves without the state ‘looking after’ things, however poor a job they do. After World War II ended with victory for Britain, food rationing was maintained for several years because they just could not imagine the complex and vital food supply system reverting to self-management with nobody in control.
The underlying problem with central state management of any system lay not in the honesty or intelligence of those in control, the means by which they came to power, or the level of funds at their disposal. The problem lay in the severing of the natural feedback loops that would otherwise connect the actions and reactions of a system involving countless unpredictable elements. Through a complex web of such loops, farmers grew food that people wanted to eat. Seems simple. Now they grow food that some people think most people want to or should eat, with lobbyists helping them do the thinking. Our evolutionary effect on the food chain, as consumers, is steadily eroded.
Few of us can imagine civilisation without rulers, society without controllers, order without a central state, peace without war. Without one bunch of bullies having a firm grip upon the rest of us, and seeing off other bullies, we imagine all hell would break loose. Countless post-apocalyptic movies imprint on our minds the image of gun-toting psychopaths stalking crumbling garbage-strewn streets, preying upon all those weaker than them. It must be true – we’ve seen famous actors portraying it in hugely hyped films. Of course, when we see these scenarios happening in ‘real life’ they most frequently are brought about either from the actions of a central state or the actions of those seeking to take its place.
Left to themselves, people have a remarkable capacity to get on with each other, and when they do not, their problem resolutions do not involve arsenals of lethal weaponry and hundreds of thousands of trained killers. Far from preying upon each other, in many instances of terrible natural disasters we have found the community spirit blossoming in people as they help each other with food, companionship, shelter and reconstruction.
The state has become very adept at convincing us that we would be bereft without their management of our lives. How would we cope without Big Brother telling us which side of the road to drive upon, what foods are safe to eat, what drugs we are allowed to take, how many hours we may work a week, what language we can use when discussing politically incorrect subjects, and so forth? Are we really so stupid that we cannot rise to the challenge of being responsible for our lives, individually and collectively?
We see a growing number of organisations that govern our lives on a voluntary basis, manifesting and nurturing our desire to see fair trading in the chain of product supply, or to ensure products are grown organically without toxic chemicals. We have organisations guaranteeing the quality of work in areas from architecture to acupuncture, others dealing with addiction to alcohol and other drugs, and even some providing sanctuary for homeless parrots and abused donkeys.
Since the advent of the Internet a new generation of bottom-up governing devices has evolved, based upon connected feedback loops with buyers and sellers of goods and services reviewing each other. This mechanism pushes the scum out and lets the cream rise to the top, without kicking down any doors or putting offenders in jail (at our expense). When needs arise, humanity has a terrific record of rising to challenges and adapting to circumstance without needing somebody to motivate us with their big stick. But when the state takes our money and assumes responsibilities we often have little choice but to leave it to them, however poor a job is being done.
The vast majority of ‘safeguards’ provided by central government can be supplied at lower cost by feedback-loop connected organisations tuned into the public pulse – organisations whose reputation and viability are dependent upon honest practice. We rarely hear of supermarket buyers or inspectors getting back-handers from suppliers to overlook shoddy goods or trading practices. And if discovered such offenders are promptly ejected from the system and not simply reprimanded, covered-up or kicked upstairs.
Imagine that for the past century or three, instead of feeding ourselves via farmers’ markets, cafes, restaurants, shops, supermarkets, growing our own, online suppliers etc. we were all fed three times a day in neighbourhood cafeterias run by the National Food Service (NFS). The menu varied from day to day and we were given choice in things like whether to have our potatoes mashed, baked, or chipped, and given vegetarian options. How simple, efficient and sensible that would be, in theory. We could eliminate waste from the food chain and ensure that everybody benefited from a nutritionally balanced diet, in keeping with the latest scientific understanding.
Suppose, however, that the service has been deteriorating for a few decades, or generations. In some areas people have been starving because of NFS compliance with essential budget cuts. Fatal peanut allergy reactions persist, due to untraceable flaws in production controls. Religious groups are in uproar over regular discoveries of beef and pork DNA in supposedly ‘clean’ foodstuffs. Executives from the food industry occupy top positions in the NFS and are suspected of engineering our diet to maximise their profits. Politicians collude with food manufacturers to suppress information on the long-term dangers of eating their products. The food isn’t that tasty either, but when it’s all you’ve ever eaten you get used to it, like farm animals.
Where can we go from here? Who could possibly imagine that if the state were not performing this vital function we would figure out how to do it ourselves? Think of the chaos and confusion, the starvation and contamination. However atrociously it might be going, and however many new initiatives have failed, many people will remain convinced that the solution lies in getting the right people in charge of the NFS, then re-structuring it and increasing the budget. They cannot imagine that freedom could lead to anything but chaos – that we could feed ourselves with nobody in control, which is to say with everybody in control. Indeed, it is a miracle of chaos theory that millions in a large city are fed each day according to their individual appetites, whereabouts and pockets with no central planning. This is democracy.
Perhaps you reluctantly accept the coercive state as a ‘necessary evil’, hoping your vote can make it less evil. But you’re still reading, so if you’re also resonating with these words, a swarm of “what about xyz” questions may arise and most of them are addressed in The State Is Out Of Date – We Can Do It Better, the upbeat book from which the themes of this article arise. Now I will complete this story with a new and positive spin on what is often portrayed to us as the ultimate unthinkable catastrophe – the one to be kicked downstream at any cost (and made chargeable to us).
Most readers will be familiar with the ‘smoke and mirrors’ nature of our global fiat currencies spawned from debt. Historically, all fiat currencies have failed and likely ours will too, with the question of “When?” being pushed back as each new crisis is averted, leaving us more deeply indebted to the bankers responsible.
Imagine the day finally comes when collapse of the global financial system can be kicked no further downstream. We experience a fiscal meltdown with banks going bankrupt, currencies dissolving and governments shutting down. The world turned upside down. Could we ever recover? Yes, and this is why. The reality is that bankers and governments don’t grow food, build houses, perform surgery, teach yoga, or make clothes, gardening tools, computers, smartphones and airplanes. We do all of that.
Farmers still have the seeds, soil, Sun, water and wind with which to grow our food. All the materials needed to make an iPhone continue to exist, as well as the material and capacity to build container ships to carry them from C to A, the oil to power that ship and the sea for it to float upon. We’ve still got concrete and bricks to build roads and houses, air to breathe and water to drink. None of this stuff was provided by the government. Most important of all, the people who actually do stuff are still here, whether they’re dreaming up the next billion-dollar app or stacking our supermarket shelves.
Financial systems create money out of debt, but what does the money do for us, fundamentally? It assigns relative values to stuff. So let us say a tennis ball is valued at five apples, and an iPhone value equivalent to 10,000 miles of air travel. That value relationship is not created by governments or bankers or money but by a real situation and there are many ways to express it. Everything from shells to salt and camels to cacao beans has been used to express value relationships in the past. Today more than ever before we have effective ways of accomplishing this and keeping track of the value exchanges, with crypto currencies being one of various options that might manifest in an operating climate of freedom.
Consider the ingenuity, skills and materials required to produce an iPhone or a container ship. These are products of enormous complexity, involving coordination and cooperation across multiple levels. In comparison to these tasks the challenge of figuring out a means to assign relative values to goods and keep the wheels of world trade moving does not seem insurmountable. Keeping track of value units is a basic part of doing business, with relative values simply expressed by the currency system in play, not determined by it. Yes, we will need new forms of organisation in a free system and our unparalleled connectivity is the ideal infrastructure in which that can flourish.
There are silver linings too, of course. That debt of trillions owed by us to banks, for money they conjured from thin air, is gone when they are bankrupt. The 50% or so of our created wealth that is sucked into the state through one tax or another is back in our hands. That itself would have a major impact upon levels of poverty, alleviating many of the problems we think only government can sort out. Yet we are humans endowed with empathy and charitable instincts that can be expressed by new means, means that do not thrive upon the problem they are assigned to address.
Without the state there will be gaps in the edifice and we can deal with them, in areas such as healthcare, charity, security and roads. Not only can we do this but we are doing it already and paying dearly for the service. Everything the state provides is done by us and paid for with money taken from us. So it is not as if these important functions cannot be provided. We just need to restore the feedback loops to things we are already doing so they can evolve and adapt as we do, rather than having these vital functions determined and dictated from the top of a disconnected pyramid.
We live in interesting times. So, as and when we experience the collapse of major financial institutions and sovereign states, it will be a rough ride and a challenging one, for sure. But it is the only ride with the potential to take us into a future powered by freedom and governed by us, a future enjoying the peace and harmony that those first civilisations enjoyed, the peace and harmony that we know in our hearts to be a possible condition for the human race.
About the author:
Gregory Sams says we can do a better job of running things ourselves than those “in charge.” Where the state steps into our affairs, problems arise. His book The State Is Out Of Date – We Can Do It Better fully explains that living in peace and harmony with each other is a more natural condition than that we experience in today’s strife-ridden world.
Gregory Sams has been a health food pioneer from the 1960’s. In 1967, he and his brother Craig introduced organic and natural foods to the UK marketplace. In 1982 Gregory conceived and christened the original VegeBurger. In the 80s he became fascinated with the scientific ideas of chaos theory and founded Strange Attractions, a shop dedicated to chaos theory. Sams’ lifelong passions, health, culture and consciousness, culminated in two books, Sun of gOd (2009) and Uncommon Sense – the State is Out of Date (1998) – which has been fully updated as The State Is Out Of Date – We Can Do It Better (Disinformation Books, 2014). To learn more about his ideas, books and activities, visit www.thestateisoutofdate.com and www.gregorysams.com.
This exclusive article first appeared in New Dawn 150 and is reproduced here by permission of the publisher. Ancient Wisdom, New Thinking – check us out at www.newdawnmagazine.com.