Liberation Requires Disobedience


By S. Brian Willson (February 4, 2016)

In 1553, or thereabouts, a young French lawyer, Etienne De La Boetie, wrote an amazing essay, The Politics of Obedience: Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, in which his study of the history of tyranny revealed that no matter how hierarchical power is derived – kings, dictators or elections – humans inevitably enable their own tyrants. Whether domestic or foreign, tyrants rule as the people give obedience to them, usually in hopes of assuring personal gain, no matter how small. Once this obedience is withheld, however, tyranny quickly collapses. Power is dependent upon massive obedience – it depends upon “voluntary servitude.”

Nearly 250 years later, William Godwin (1756-1836), the first to offer a clear statement of anarchist principles, commented in An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), that if men are subject to tyranny it is because the great mass agree, even with reluctance, to be tyrannically ruled.

More than 50 years after Godwin, Henry David Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience (1849) in which he sadly concluded that [T]he mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, etc.” And, as he adds later, the taxpayer who would “enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood.”

But Thoreau describes the disgrace associated with obeying lawless government. Instead, “All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable….When the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished.”

Thus, a simple shift in beliefs – rooted in conscience, not the state, as the final authority – can lead to choices to withhold complicity, causing the state to collapse.

It seems strange how easily we become complicit with our own repression. Our own stubborn allegiance to modernity, necessarily preserved by lawless government in cahoots with corporations, is enabled by our denial of the consequential outsourcing of unspeakable pain and suffering to other peoples and the planet. This behavior is comparable to a severe mental illness – criminal insanity in the form of sociopathic narcissism suffering from delusions of “exceptionalism.” Literally, this leads to suicide/ecocide.

We simply need to make a choice to stop cooperating with the corporatocracy, and instead re-discover cooperating with one another as we relocalize into sustainable food sufficient bioregions, extricating ourselves from insidious dependency upon the corporate-provided external inputs. This offers a path for recovering our ancient humanity begging to be accessed once again – cooperation, mutual respect, empathy, and equity/fairness. The stakes are very high – our survival with dignity.

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