it is no sacrifice to personally embrace such a position as best as possible amidst the current mayhem
That’s some answer, friend. Mine was simpler: “yes”, and “of course not.” I think you are saying much the same thing, but you have articulated it in grander detail very well as you always do. Your quote above lays out fairly well the deal I have (at long last) struck with reality, along with all its components I don’t personally approve of.
A person with any humility about them at all must ask themselves, if I manage to change the world because I am trying to, who’s to say I won’t end up changing it for the worse? It is easy to imagine a better world, but this may distract one from imagining a better self. Hell of a way to find out just how flawed a person one is, by seeing those flaws writ large in the unintended consequences emanating with neither mercy nor conscience, from a world one has changed.
I think this lies at the heart of the visceral revulsion the majority of people seem to have toward the world-changer: just who do you think you are, anyway? Somebody comes along with their plans and proposals and theories and mindsets and critiques, demanding to be recognized as one who knows the better way for everyone, and the first thing anyone with any genuine life experience is going to think is, what aren’t they dealing with, about themselves?
It shouldn’t come as any surprise at all, that individuals who occupy pedestals of acclaim for their alleged vision of that better world, so often become exposed as bribe-takers, fortune-hunters, staff-fondlers and terrorist-enablers: their whole public persona is not only a ruse, it is a mockery.
For one to stand on that pedestal and play that part convincingly, it seems one must have a certain condescending disdain for those who would keep them there: if you people are dumb enough to believe I can fix all this bullshit for you, you deserve to be fleeced.
The whole function of the spotlight on them, is not only to illuminate the carefully-crafted and costumed persona they play, and all the props around them lending the role its false legitimacy, but also to throw into deep shadows the mundane realities of all the production tricks required to make what is in that spotlight look real. “Suspension of disbelief” becomes not just a dramatic device to sustain an illusion for entertainment’s sake, but a requisite sham to sustain it as a concealment for all the ugliness behind the acclaim.
(enough of that….)
Plus, there is a whole other component to this too-easy examination of law, government and people, which has occupied my thinking about it all in recent years: organized crime.
We want to think of the existence of cartels and syndicates and vast criminal networks as some distinct quantity, a world to itself on some “other side of the law.” But is it? Or, is the very ubiquity of organized crime in every society an outcome of a general human predisposition to accept, and even embrace, the impossibility of eliminating corrupt means to achieve unlawful ends? Show me any regime anywhere on earth which has both gained and sustained its powers to govern, without all the while making whatever deals it must with lawless factions who can simply get things done without being constrained by an ethos that doing them must be legal. I don’t think you can.
An early revelation in history which pointed me in this direction, was in discovering that Comrade Stalin, one Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili, in his early career as a revolutionist was essentially a bandit. To raise money for “the party” or “the revolution” or “the cause”, this son of a backwater shoemaker and failed candidate for the Orthodox priesthood learned somehow that the money could be raised by simply taking it, and either worrying about the morality of his thievery later, or just rationalizing it away.
But my understanding of Russian history tells me that not just anyone gets to be a bank robber, or least not for long. Such undertakings are subject to ancient and merciless organizational principles, as maintained for centuries by a brotherhood of criminals which has survived every form of government in power all along. To rob a bank or a train or a payroll shipment, was not only to break “the law”, it was also to intrude on the territory of whatever local boss held the criminal power to profit from all such crime in his domain. For this Stalin to succeed, or even survive, as a professional criminal, he had to be one of them. How did any of the early Bolsheviks ever come out of prison alive, without having struck some kind of deal with the criminal professionals who held as much power behind those bars as their jailers did, if not more?
Recently I watched a series from Russian television on Netflix, with the unfortunate English translation of a title, Fartsa. I disregarded the reviews I read that expressed an ignorant disappointment that since the English title suggests some sort of scatological farce on the level of an Animal House, they had been expecting some sort of gruesome sophomoric comedy, when the series is anything but that. (The same crowd of reviewers one often sees on that site denouncing anything with subtitles, and demanding everything be dubbed into English, sigh…)
What it is about, is eight young people in the Khrushchev years of the early sixties, who one by one become entangled with the mafia in various ways, all initiated by the happenstance of one of their friends having an impossible gambling debt to pay off, and a couple of them undertaking some kind of crime “just this once” to help him become clear of it.
Ultimately, where the plot takes us, is to the realization that government, Party and mafia are all not just in league with one another, but are essentially all part of the same monolith of power.
The state must maintain its hold on power, the party must retain its monopoly on the state, and to do both what is required in the failed economy of an antique Bolshevik revolution which has long since ceased to fool anyone with its slogans, they each require “hard currency”, or in other words, foreign money which is actually worth something. So to fund the everyday machinery of the state, and the ongoing libertinism and profligacy of the Party elite, the mafia is essentially invited to a place at the table of power, because by its criminal means it is able to run an internal economy of contraband goods and illegal vices, preying primarily on anyone in the country who has access to overseas currencies: diplomats, their children and families, tourists, visiting communists from other countries, foreign students, etc.
What these eight young adults become embroiled in, is basically an extra-legal currency exchange: by means of various forms of vice such as prostitution, gambling, drugs, what have you, their mafia masters come to use them as draft animals, hauling foreign money out of the pockets of individuals and ultimately into the coffers of the Soviet regime, with both criminals and Party elite taking their generous cuts along the way. And it all started for them because one young man liked to play cards with dangerous people, and once lost enough to walk away from the table in debt.
Another illustration of this from much closer to home, was when I was arrested on a false charge nearly eight years ago. (Yes, of course my accuser was a woman I was close to, and yes of course it was she who assaulted me; it really does work that way, I found out the hard way.) The arresting officer, to my astonishment, actually apologized to me, man-to-man, as he fitted me with the cuffs: acknowledging straight-up that he could see for himself what had really happened, that he had been there himself as an alienated father made into a target for such allegations, but that for his career’s sake he had to do what he had to do, which was follow procedure and arrest my sorry ass.
Then he spent the next year, as chief of police in this very small town at the time, painstakingly helping me clear my name. As I got to know this man, it turned out he was a veteran big-city cop of some twenty-seven years’ service, that he had spent the last ten of those years on a joint federal task force working narcotics cases, and that he had been cleared one after another in fully ten investigations into his alleged “excessive use of force”, and that some of those had involved his fatally shooting someone in the line of duty.
What all the clues led me to believe, though I will never know, is that one of those times he had shot or arrested or roughed up the wrong individual, someone “connected”, and he had been given the options of either abandoning his career and all the pension and benefits coming to him on retirement by being formally exposed, or else take this job in exile as a backwater police chief, in a district where at the time the same DEA he had been hand-in-glove with for ten years was running a rural task force, mostly stopping and searching travelers on the truck route through this countryside looking for drug shipments. He had taken the latter option, probably engineered for him by his allies in the union (if ever there were a synonym for “organized crime”, it has to be “organized labor.”)
Over the next year or two, I came to be familiar with multiple instances where this man arrested an innocent party, enthusiastically guided the local DA in prosecuting their cases, and washed his hands of any wrongdoing on his own part.
There was a “sexting” scandal among the teenagers in town, all set in motion by a fourteen-year-old girl who had taken and uploaded pictures of herself under no one’s coercion. This police officer told me to my face later, that the one young man who took the fall for the entire affair was only singled out because he had just turned eighteen and was thus eligible for an adult indictment; that he had been charged with “possession of child pornography” only because he was the first legal adult who hadn’t thought to delete some photos from his phone someone had sent him; that this was the charge he recommended to the DA himself, because nobody out here in the sticks knew what to file this case under for lack of ever encountering such a thing before. And that, for everyone’s careers’ sake, they had to arrest somebody.
Naturally, it was convenient for everyone that the young man was Hispanic, son of a single mother, and not from a family of any local prominence. He was given probation, placed on an offenders’ registry, his mug shot emblazoned on the big-city front page three hundred miles away, and he vanished from town. I haven’t seen him since, and he had been one of the most popular boys in school and a star athlete, headed off to college on an ROTC scholarship and intending to join the Navy.
And all this, so that a connected cop could keep his pension, and all his necessary allies in the local machine keep their asses properly covered in the bargain. I never doubted as this sad tale developed, that everyone in the official sector who was complicit in crucifying the young man knew exactly what it was they were doing, nor that every one of them knew just how expendable each of them in turn was, to both their government and mafia owners, if they did not just line up and dutifully play ball.
We have enfolded the ways and means of organized crime into every sector of the official world, primarily by means of the unions which own and operate the legions of public employees, and keep them from either staging any kind of insurrection against the ruling elites or undertaking independent acts of corruption outside the mechanisms of their ruling, criminal, masters. And my assertion here is, that no “legitimate” form of rule, however lawful its public face appears to be, has ever held power long without a permanent set of arrangements with the most lawless elements of any society, its professional criminals.
So I offer all this, to go on and de-construct my own posited triumvirate of law, government and people, by saying that both my own questions are essentially moot for having omitted that fourth quantity from them: organized crime. Which is law, government and people all at once, and though not everyone has to participate directly in its lawlessness to benefit from it, benefit from it everyone does nonetheless. And always has.
Just one of my latest theories, and maybe you can add a line or two (or four hundred) offering your own angle on it, which I know you can do with some measure of both verbal eloquence and intellectual merit.