Political power is an unnecessary evil. ”Engines of domination”, which comes out this October 17, explains why, and makes a good argument for anarchism, as the only way out from the capitalist mess ruling elites have brought humankind. This is a discussion that ruling classes can no longer avoid. The documentary is produced by Mark Corske, Cari-Lee Miller and Justin Jezewski.
”Engines of Domination offers a theory of political power as a tool for making tools of human beings — an engine that converts human energy into authority and privilege for the rulers. Invented in the Bronze Age, brilliantly refined for six thousand years, today the engine has caused a human emergency that threatens to destroy our world. This documentary makes a powerful argument that there is only one way to save the future. Armed central authority must be abolished, giving way to a world of peaceful voluntary communities — in other words, an argument for anarchism.
The economic arrangement imposed on the masses of workers is a miserable failure for the simple reason that it destroys people.
Both capitalism and the state, in any form, are incompatible with the individual freedom of the working class and peasantry, as Bakunin explained 150 years ago:
„It is the peculiarity of privilege and of every privileged position to kill the intellect and heart of man. The privileged man, whether he be privileged politically or economically, is a man depraved in intellect and heart.”
„The current system also results in mental, emotional, and spiritual degradation. Corporate culture drowns children in lies and causes their imaginations to atrophy, while public education functions as part of the industrial system, mass-producing workers and ‘citizens.’ People are infantilized, habituated to authority, and trained in obedience, conformity, competitiveness, and corporate identity. They’re functionally illiterate, have no imagination, curiosity, or ability to think originally or critically, and are constantly distracted by corporate entertainment and propagandistic ‘news.’”
Corske writes that the modern idea of “progress” that emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries with the new scientific worldview has been used to justify the Domination system. Those who enjoy the benefits of this progress, however, seldom suffer its costs. Besides, “costs such as systematic enslavement, plunder, murder, and environmental devastation render the idea of progress meaningless.
The myth of progress is like a religion whose hidden goal is always more authority and privilege for those in power, achieved by more violence and destruction and more mass human suffering. The supreme deity in this religion is the ‘economy,’ specifically, private property, wealth, and money.”
Corske believes that “there are several errors people make in trying to understand all of this. The first is supposing that the problem is that the wrong people (e.g. white European men) or system (e.g. capitalism or the US) is/are in power when it’s the system of Domination itself that’s the problem. Conspiracy theories are a version of this.
Another error is thinking that, since modern technology has made the Human Emergency possible, technology itself is the problem. But since technology is simply systematic ways of making and doing things, everything depends on which people are making and doing what things, for what purpose. Technology is merely an accessory of Domination – pure human ingenuity in the service of genuine human needs would never have produced ‘modern technology,’ with its stupendous means of destruction and disastrous effects on the common good. Without the encouragement and virtually unlimited support of the richest and most powerful, many innovations would either have been impossible, or would have occurred much more slowly and openly, so that their development would have had much less severe and destructive effects.”
Many people believe that human nature is just inherently evil: power-hungry, greedy, and violent, but Corske debunks this idea by pointing out that before the advent of Domination 6,000 years ago people live in relatively egalitarian hunter-gatherer groups or Neolithic villages characterized by sharing the means of livelihood. He points out that “it’s a fallacy to attribute to our entire species the worst behaviors of certain individuals and groups [he refers to this as the deadly collective “we”]. It isn’t humanity as a whole that’s now changing the face of the planet, unleashing forces of destruction that endanger the entire biosphere – it’s one faction of humanity with power over all the rest. Some people believe we’re all complicit in these destructive processes because we pay the taxes that fund them and buy products from corporations that facilitate them.” Corske admits that we play a part, but that we have no real alternatives. “We’re coerced into contributing to destructive processes we didn’t create and to which we would never have consented, given the chance. When large numbers of people reduce the amount of support they provide by living a frugal and low-tech lifestyle, significant effects become possible, but such action is best taken collectively, as in tax revolts, boycotts, and strikes. Actions like these can sometimes force those in power to change specific policies or practices for a time. The fundamental institutions behind the policies and practices are much harder to change, though they can be by the actions of organized groups acting with sufficient intelligence and resolve. Such organized action is our only hope.”
Corske also makes the point that human nature contains all potentials, and that different cultures bring out different traits. Current “systems of power require, enable, and reward our worst capabilities.” Left to their own devices, “humans rarely act violently or aggressively naturally – even infants find the pain of others highly aversive. People inclined to aggression were typically emotionally and/or physically abused as children, or trained in the military to act brutally on command.
People can be subjugated by threats of violence and/or deception. Hard subjugation compels obedience by violence or the threat of violence. Soft subjugation induces obedience by deception, and requires that the victim trust the subjugator. People are more inclined to trust others than to be suspicious, and soft subjugation exploits these tendencies.
The engine of domination has seven components: landholding by force of arms, the command structure, the destruction industry, forced labor, the class structure, thought-control, and human sacrifice. The first four are necessary; the last three serve primarily to stabilize the engine’s operation.
To capture an entire community, you must take its land – its life-support system – by force. The conquered people are then forced to take actions that benefit those in power to obtain life-support. Thus, the fundamental component of Domination corresponds to the fundamental institution of Civilization: private land ownership. This institution has evolved from the dominion of the first kings and emperors to the sophisticated real estate and public land management of modern capitalism, refining but not changing its basic function of taking its subject’s life hostage. Indeed, capitalism is more ruthless than serfdom in that the modern urban worker has no independent means of life-support, while the serf was allowed to cultivate some land for himself and his family.
Private land ownership is as close to sacred as any institution in our modern secular world. To challenge it provokes alarm, not only in the rich and powerful, but in almost anyone raised under it. To clarify, private land ownership is an entirely different institution than private property in the sense of personal belongings – my toothbrush, my computer, my car, even my house, since all things of value come from the land. Private land ownership is also different from private land use, in which individuals, families, or groups agree to use a piece of land subject to certain conditions. By private land ownership,” Corske says, he means “the unrestricted power of individuals or organizations to hold a piece of land and put it to any use they choose, even exhausting or destroying its riches, to forbid others from even setting foot on it, and to hold exclusive rights to anything produced from it. This is the power that Domination claimed for itself thousands of years ago, and on which it’s based all its advances since. Today people almost universally condemn slavery, the private ownership of people. But if people can’t be legitimately owned, how can one legitimately own the land they depend on for their lives?
The second requirement of Domination is a hierarchical military and administrative command structure with elaborate systems of written law: standardized commands and penalties for disobedience. In modern times, the state has increasingly taken over the role of the monarch, sometimes under a tyrant, sometimes under a more complex authority controlled by one person in times of war.
The destruction industry provides the weapons, vehicles, prisons, etc. – the Domination hardware – needed by the system. Beginning with industrial capitalism in the 19th century, destruction industries were increasingly privatized, making war a highly profitable business. In the United States today, vital artifacts and consumer products are also parts of Domination’s hardware, since without mass-consumption the system of corporate power can’t function. The entire economy has become one gigantic destruction industry.
The fourth fundamental component of Domination is forced labor – labor done under hard subjugation like slavery, draft labor, serfdom, debt indenture, taxation and tribute, military conscription, and prison labor. The slave trade has been a major industry since the Bronze Age, which indicates that human energy is the prime treasure and commodity of Domination. When multinational corporations induce Third World governments to deprive natives of their traditional livelihood and then employ them in wage-slave jobs, this is forced labor. When people are lured into debt through credit cards or loans without understanding the usury they’re accepting, they’ll have to perform forced labor to pay their debts.
It’s impossible to directly force an entire population into obedience, and the greater the extent of hard subjugation, the smaller its stability. Domination can’t function effectively unless a large sector of the population accepts or approves of the system in power. Just as hard subjugation operates through threat gradients, the class structure operates through incentive gradients. Threat and incentive gradients operate together, and greed is cultivated as a tool of control. Divisions between classes and internal divisions within the lower classes make unified antagonism against the rulers unlikely.
Forced labor and the class structure alone can’t keep the entire community under control and working at the necessary tasks, and even the upper classes require some way of thinking that rationalizes their relative privilege, especially if it clearly results from oppressing the lower classes or from the bloodshed of war. Some idea of meritocracy can serve this purpose. Thought-control of any kind is the technology of soft subjugation. Individuals or groups may have doubts about the system as long as an atmosphere prevails which intimidates them from expressing or acting on them.
“The new combination of private wealth and state power added an essential mechanism to the development of modern Domination,” Corske says.
It’s neither possible nor necessary, according to Corske, to “strictly regiment the entire population – all that’s needed is to inculcate attitudes of obedience and conformity in the majority,” along with a general sense that the deep and subtle reasons for public policy are largely unfathomable. “Modern thought-control succeeds admirably in these respects, starting with compulsory public education in corporate-controlled schools. To generate support for specific issues, Washington proclaims a flood of official lies, the corporate media broadcasts them, and scientifically crafted ‘public relations’ campaigns guide the subsequent ‘debate’ between carefully chosen ‘experts.’ It’s a violent form of abuse that’s led to nothing less than mass psychosis.”
Spain in the 1930s showed the power of anarchist ideals. By the mid-1930s much of the Spanish economy had been put under worker control – three-quarters of the industries and more than half of the land in Aragon and Catalonia. The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) crushed this defiance of power and privilege,” with only the Soviet Union providing some material support to the Republican uprising. After Franco’s forces, supported by Italy and Germany, defeated the Republican movement and drove it underground, 200,000 militants were executed. Five months after the Spanish Civil War ended, Germany invaded Poland, and World War II was underway.
The US now bases a significant part of its economy on war production even in times of peace (which may be no more, since it declared an indefinite “war on terrorism” in 2001). Today military spending makes up half the annual federal budget, a rate comparable to that of World War II. Potential profits to corporations are such that they have every reason to encourage conflict, and one of the ways they do so is by funding and staffing policy-making institutions like the RAND Corporation, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Heritage Foundation. Major corporate shareholders and board members also occupy central government posts, and employ lobbyists and use campaign funding to dominate Congress.
“Hard fascism is exemplified by the Axis powers of World War II, soft fascism by today’s US-based global industrial capitalism. It’s a human anthill heading for catastrophe unless the people of the world turn against the Dominators in time to shut the engine down.
The feeling that we’re powerless,” Corske says, “is Domination’s greatest weapon against us, and we must defy it with all our strength.” Hope for him means “acting as if things are not hopeless, and we can start as we are in this moment – analyzing Domination and passing moral judgment on it.” In terms of morality, Corske takes “human well-being” as the ultimate standard of good, defining it as “the conditions necessary for stable, thriving communities in which individuals can lead safe and fulfilling lives. An action is good,” he says, “to the extent that it sustains or furthers human well-being, and evil to the extent that it lessens or prevents it.”
Anarchists believe that peaceful voluntary community is not only possible, but the natural way for our kind. They believe that if armed central authority is reduced and ultimately abolished, we can create a world that achieves the greatest possible well-being for everyone. Since communities were mostly peaceful, voluntary, and egalitarian until 6,000 years ago, anarchism is hardly a new idea: it’s the way of life in which our ancestors thrived through all the ages before Domination began.” Read more, here.