or, "Never Whistle While You are Pissing"
The SNAFU Principle
"The most thoroughly and relentlessly Damned, banned, excluded, condemned, forbidden, ostracized, ignore, suppressed, repressed, robbed, brutalized and defamed of all Damned Things is the individual human being. The social engineers, statistician, psychologist, sociologists, market researchers, landlords, bureaucrats, captains of industry, bankers, governors, commissars, kings and presidents are perpetually forcing this Damned Thing into carefully prepared blueprints and perpetually irritated that the Damned Thing will not fit into the slot assigned it. The theologians call it a sinner and try to reform it. The governor calls it a criminal and tries to punish it. the psychologist calls it a neurotic and tries to cure it. Still, the Damned Thing will not fit into their slots."
" I once overheard two botanists arguing over a Damned Thing that had blasphemously sprouted in a college yard. One claimed that the Damned Thing was a tree and the other claimed that it was a shrub. They each had good scholarly arguments, and they were still debating when I left them. The world is forever spawning Damned Things- things that are neither tree nor shrub, fish nor fowl, black nor white- and the categorical thinker can only regard the spiky and buzzing world of sensory fact as a profound insult to his card-index system of classifications. Worst of all are the facts which violate "common sense", that dreary bog of sullen prejudice and muddy inertia. The whole history of science is the odyssey of a pixilated card- indexer perpetually sailing between such Damned Things and desperately juggling his classifications to fit them in, just as the history of politics is the futile epic of a long series of attempts to line up the Damned Things and cajole them to march in regiment.
Every ideology is a mental murder, a reduction of dynamic living processes to static classifications, and every classification is a Damnation, just as every inclusion is an exclusion. In a busy, buzzing universe where no two snow flakes are identical, and no two trees are identical, and no two people are identical- and, indeed, the smallest sub-atomic particle, we are assured, is not even identical with itself from one microsecond to the next- every card-index system is a delusion. "Or, to put it more charitably," as Nietzsche says, "we are all better artists than we realize." It is easy to see that label "Jew" was a Damnation in Nazi Germany, but actually the label "Jew" is a Damnation anywhere, even where anti-Semitism does not exist. "He is a Jew," "He is a doctor," and "He is a poet" mean, to the card indexing centre of the cortex, that my experience with him will be like my experience with other Jews, other doctors, and other poets. Thus, individuality is ignored when identity is asserted. At a party or any place where strangers meet, watch this mechanism in action. Behind the friendly overtures there is wariness as each person fishes for the label that will identify and Damn the other. Finally, it is revealed: "Oh, he's an advertising copywriter," "Oh, he's an engine-lathe operator." Both parties relax, for now they know how to behave, what roles to play in the game. Ninety-nine percent of each has been Damned; the other is reacting to the 1 percent that has been labeled by the card-index machine.
Certain Damnations are socially and intellectually necessary, of course. A custard pie thrown in a comedian's face is Damned by the physicist who analyzes it according to the Newtonian laws of motion. These equations tell us we want to know about the impact of the pie on the face, but nothing about the human meaning of pie-throwing. A cultural anthropologist, analyzing the social function of the comedian as shaman, court jester, and king's surrogate, explains the pie-throwing as a survival of the Feast of Fools and the killing of the king's double. This Damns the subject in another way. A psychoanalyst, finding an Oedipal castration ritual here, has performed a third Damnation, and the Marxist, seeing an outlet for the worker's repressed rage against the bosses, performs a fourth. Each Damnation has its values and uses, but is nonetheless a Damnation unless its partial and arbitrary nature is recognized. The poet, who compares the pie in the comedian's face with Decline of the West or his own lost love, commits a fifth Damnation, but in this case the game element and the whimsicality of the symbolism are safely obvious. At least, one would hope so; reading the New Critics occasionally raises doubts on this point.
Human society can be structured either according to the principle of authority or according to the principle of liberty. Authority is a static social configuration in which people act as superiors and inferiors: a sado- masochistic relationship. Liberty is a dynamic social configuration in which people act as equals: an erotic relationship. In every interaction between people, either Authority or Liberty is the dominant factor. Families, churches, lodges, clubs and corporations are either more authoritarian than libertarian or more libertarian than authoritarian. It becomes obvious as we proceed that the most pugnacious and intolerant form of authority is the State, which even today dares to assume absolutism which the church itself has long ago surrendered and to enforce obedience with the Church's old and shameful Inquisition. Every form of authoritarianism is, however, a small "State," even if it has a membership of only two. Freud's remark to the effect that the delusion of many men is religion can be generalized: The authoritarianism of one man is crime and the authoritarianism of many is State. Benjamin Tucker wrote quite accurately:
Aggression is simply another name for government. Aggression, invasion, government are interchangeable terms. The essence of government is control, or the attempt to control. He who attempts to control another is a governor, an aggressor, an invader; and the nature of such invasion is not changed, whether it be made by one man upon another man, after the manner of the ordinary criminal, or by one man upon all other men, after the manner of an absolute monarch, or by all other men upon one man, after the manner of a modern democracy.
Tucker's use of the word "invasion" is remarkably precise, considering that he wrote more than fifty years before the basic discovery of ethology. Every act of authority is, in fact, an invasion of the psychic and physical territory of another.
Every fact of science was once Damned. Every invention was considered impossible. Every discovery was a nervous shock to some orthodoxy. Every artistic innovation was denounced as fraud and folly. The entire web of culture and "progress," everything on earth that is man-made and not given to us by nature, is the concrete manifestation of some man's refusal to bow to Authority. We would own no more, know no more, and be no more than the first apelike hominids if it were not for the rebellious, the recalcitrant, and the intransigent. As Oscar Wilde truly said, "Disobedience was man's Original Virtue."
The human brain, which loves to read descriptions of itself as the universe's most marvelous organ of perception, is an even more marvelous organ of rejection. The naked facts of our economic game are easily discoverable and undeniable once stated, but conservatives- who are usually individuals who profit every day of their lives from these facts- manage to remain oblivious to them or to see them through a very rose-tinted lens. (Similarly, the revolutionary ignores the total testimony of history about the natural course of revolution, through violence, to chaos, back to the starting point.)
We must remember that thought is abstraction. In Einstein's metaphor, the relationship between a physical fact and our mental reception of that fact is not like the relationship between beef and beef-broth, a simpler extraction and condensation; rather, as Einstein goes on, it is like the relationship between our overcoat and the ticket given us when we check our overcoat. In other words, human perception involves coding even more than crude sensing. The mesh of language, or of mathematics, or of a school of art, or of any system of human abstracting, gives to our mental constructs the structure, not of the original fact, but of the symbol system into which it is coded, just as a map-maker colors a nation purple not because it is purple but because his code demands it. But every code excludes certain things, blurs other things, and overemphasizes still other things. Nijinski's celebrated leap through the window at the climax of 'Le Spectre d'une Rose' is best coded in the ballet notation system used by choreographers; verbal language falters badly in attempting to conveying; painting or sculpture could capture totally the magic of one instant, but one instant only, of it; the physicist's equation, Force = Mass X Acceleration, highlights one aspect of it missed by all these other codes, but loses everything else about it. Every perception is influenced, formed, and structured by habitual coding habits- mental game habits- of the perceiver.
All authority is a function of coding, of game rules. Men have arisen again and again armed with pitchforks to fight armies with cannon; men have also submitted docilely to the weakest and most tottery oppressors. It all depends on the extent to which coding distorts perception and conditions the physical (and mental) reflexes.
It seems at first glance that authority could not exist at all if all men were cowards or if no men were cowards, but flourishes as it does because most men are cowards and some men are thieves. Actually, the inner dynamics of cowardice and submission on the one hand and of heroism and rebellion on the other are seldom consciously realized either by the ruling class or the servile class. Submission is identified not with cowardice but with virtue, rebellion not with heroism but with evil. To the Roman slave-owners, Spartacus was not a hero and the obedient slaves were not cowards; Spartacus was a villain and the obedient slaves were virtuous. The obedient slaves believed this also. The obedient always think of themselves as virtuous rather than cowardly.
If authority implies submission, liberation implies equality; authority exist when one man obeys another, and liberty exists when men do not obey other men. Thus, to say that authority exists is to say that class and caste exis, that submission and inequality exist. To say the liberty exists is to that classlessness exists, to say that brotherhood and equality exist. Authority, by dividing men into classes, creates dichotomy, disruption, hostility, fear, disunion. Liberty, by placing men on an equal footing, creates association, amalgamation, union, security. When the relationships between men are based on authority and coercion, they are driven apart; when based on liberty and non-aggression, they are drawn together. The facts are self-evident and axiomatic. If authoritarianism did not possess the in-built, preprogrammed double-bind structure of a Game Without End, men would long ago have rejected it and embraced libertarianism. The usual pacifist complaint about war, that young men are led to death by old men who sit at home manning beaurocrats' desks and taking no risks themselves, misses the point entirely. Demands that the old should be drafted to fight their own wars, or that the leaders of the warring nations should be sent to the front lines on the first day of battle, etc., are aimed at an assumed "sense of justice" that simply does not exist. To the typical submissive citizen of authoritarian society, it is normal, obvious and "natural" that he should obey older and more dominant males, even at the risk of his life, even against his own kindred, and even in causes that are unjust or absurd.
"The Charge of the Light Brigade"- the story of a group of young males led to their death in a palpably idiotic situation and only because they obeyed a senseless order without stopping to think- has been, and remains, a popular poem, because unthinking obedience by young males to older males is the most highly prized of all conditioned reflexes within human, and hominid, societies.
The mechanism by which authority and submission are implanted in the human mind is coding of perception. That which fits into the code is accepted; all else is Damned to being ignored, brushed aside, unnoticed, and- if these fail- it is Damned to being forgotten. A worse form of Damnation is reserved for those things which cannot be ignored. These are daubed with the brain's projected prejudices until, encrusted beyond recognition, they are capable of being fitted into the system, classified, card-indexed, buried. This is what happens to every Damned Thing which is too prickly and sticky to be excommunicated entirely. As Josiah Warren remarked, "It is dangerous to understand new things too quickly." Almost always, we have not understood them. We have murdered them and mummified their corpses.
A monopoly on the means of communication may define a ruling elite more precisely than the celebrated Marxian formula of "monopoly in the means of production." Since man extends his nervous system though channels of communication like the written word, the telephone, radio, etc., he who controls these media controls part of the nervous system of every member of society. The contents of these media become part of the contents of every individual's brain.
Thus in preliterate societies taboos on spoken word are more numerous and more Draconic than at any more complex level of social organisation. With the invention of written speech -- hieroglyphic, ideographic, or alphabetical -- the taboos are shifted to this medium; there is less concern with what people say and more concern with what people write. (Some of the fist societies to achieve literacy, such as Egypt and the Mayan culture of ancient Mexico, evidentially kept a knowledge of hieroglyphs a religious secret which only the higher orders of the priestly and royal families were allowed to share.) The same process repeats endlessly: Each step forward in the technology of communication is more heavily tabooed than the earlier steps. Thus, in America today (post-Lenny Bruce), one seldom hears of convictions for spoken blasphemy or obscenity; prosecution of books still continues, but higher courts increasingly interpret the laws in a liberal fashion, and most writer feel fairly confident that they can publish virtually anything; movies are growing almost as decentralised as books, although the fight is still heated in this area; television, the newest medium, remains encased in neolithic taboo. (When the TV pundits committed le`se majeste after an address by the then Dominant Male, a certain Richard Nixon, one of his lieutenants quickly informed them they had over stepped, and the whole tribe -- except for the dissident minority -- cheered for the reassertion of tradition.) When a more efficient medium arrives, the taboos on television will decrease.