I agree with Thoreau’s words in “Civil Disobedience”:
I wholeheartedly accept the motto: “This government is the best which governs the least”; and I would like him to act faster and more systematically. Executed, it ultimately comes down to this, which I also believe: “This government is the best that does not govern at all”; and when men are prepared for it, it will be the kind of government they will have.
and with Kerry Thornley’s in Zenarchy:
ZEN is Meditation. ARCHY is the Social Order. ZENARCHY is the Social Order which springs from Meditation.
As a doctrine, it makes Universal Enlightenment a prerequisite for the abolition of the state, after which the state will inevitably disappear. Or – this flaw – no one will care.
To be a philosopher anarchist is to realize that the state has no moral force, that whether or not something is legal has no bearing on whether it is ethically appropriate. . This does not necessarily mean opposing the physical power of the ruling institution, or denying that it can be “an expedient,” as Thoreau puts it; it simply means that in passing moral judgment, the state must be treated the same as any other group of people who might seek to use force of arms to coerce a certain type of behavior. It means to deny the mental and spiritual power of the state over one.
Thornley drew an interesting parallel between this state power and the mental and spiritual power of organized religion. One of my treasures is a signed copy of his book Zenarchy, which the author decorated with a sketch of a tiger and the words “Kill the Buddha!” Crush the State! I cannot speak for Lord Omar,* but it seems clear that he is making an analogy with the famous advice of Zen master Linji: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!”
[* One of Thornley’s Discordian “Holy Names”.]
Now, the historical Buddha had been dead for a thousand years when Linji said this, so he was not advocating violence. The “Buddha” that one can meet on the road can only be a socially conditioned mental construct. And if you want to break free from your socially conditioned state of mind, you have to deconstruct that “Buddha” you think you see.
Likewise, unless one is dealing with its armed agents, the “state” one encounters is a socially conditioned mental construct. And to experience subjective liberation, to feel free, you have to deconstruct – “crush” – the state.
It is all well and good as a philosophical theory.
On the other hand, we have to deal with the reality of nuts and bolts. To pay the bills, I sometimes rent the spare bedroom in my house, and a former tenant owes me over $ 1,700 in rent and has made no effort to pay for over a year.
After the Universal Enlightenment, when we are prepared for the government of Thoreau which does not govern at all, he and I would both be bodhisattvas, pure in our observance of precepts and diligent in paying off debts, and the problem would not end. would not ask. (The observance of the precepts would also have prevented him from giving a false address in order to avoid the service of the lawsuit.)
But we are still a long way from the Enlightenment Universe. In the meantime, what should a practical zenarchist do?
In an unenlightened but stateless society – say, like the one depicted in Ursula K. LeGuin The dispossessed – I could just track him down and take him out of business to cover the amount owed, using all the force needed. Of course, I can only consider this because I am able-bodied and fairly proficient in the use of physical force; someone else might have to use rented muscle.
And there are advantages to doing the forcing by an impartial third party. I could be ethically justified in using a certain level of force needed to resolve the debt, but surely there is a temptation to go beyond that and get some more revenge. A disinterested third party acting with professional judgment can be safer for everyone involved.
So it can be helpful to have a body of muscles hired impartially, with careful procedure governing its use – and there we have the core of a state. And once that core grows to a certain size, it seems unfavorable to those who could operate with direct force, so do-it-yourself and hire-based debt-solving styles become downgraded to say the least.
But it is important to understand that using state force instead of mine does not relieve me of my moral responsibility. Whether I do the forcing myself, call on a private executor, or tap into the state’s public force reserve, another human being will be the target of a threat of violence, even indirect.
This is an important thing. So it was only reluctantly that I took legal action against my former tenant and hired a private investigator to locate him and serve the summons. (Interestingly, our system still retains roles for private execution, in a sense denying access to the theoretically public execution pool to those who cannot afford process servers, lawyers, etc. etc., not to mention the legal costs. Every machine has its friction but at some point, as Thoreau noted, the friction comes from having the machine.)
But if I let him go, he will do the same harm to others. I can afford to absorb the loss if I have to – certainly not without pain! But that won’t destroy me, where a less economically secure roommate or landlord could be ruined by their behavior. Thus, the drive towards justice is not only selfish, but has a community aspect.
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