Often when we consider the harm of statism we think in monetary costs or the costs of those whose lives it has destroyed or ended. This is justified but there are other costs worthy of mention too. Statism is responsible for great psychological disturbance and harm. Here I will offer an account of just some of the ways it does this.
Since the beginning of humanity creativity has been an important need , expressed variously through cave paintings or Shakespearian drama. Statism inhibits this important need and aspect of a fulfilled life. With creativity, there is the desire and ability to seek out the commonplace. Statism is obviously opposed to such kinds of thinking. The ideological apparatus of statism seeks to limit other thinking to how this or that problem can be solved by violent. Alternative options are taken out of the discourse in the way it is framed. We see this in the media in discussions of any policy. The debate rages on whether it should be decreased or increased but rarely ever touches on whether it should be abolished absolutely and removed from government interference. Now thankfully anarchists do not suffer from this problem. However, we do struggle at times with imagining how certain organizations would run in anarchy- Statism has brought down blinders on our capacity to imagine voluntary solutions. It is this tendency we must struggle against especially when we are asked how x, y, z will work under anarchy.
Working against state created limitations is also present in our actions throughout our lives. Statism is an artificial limit on autonomy –opposition to its aggression being one expression of this. Statism in creating barriers to entry reduces and limits options. Depending on how much you fall into the problem of the above mentioned this can mean living in the narrow confines of a state defined state approved reality. Your live is an artificially narrow path. Of course, state ‘democracy’ offers no solution since it is not truly making decisions on your life , but selecting which slave master will hold the chains- the choices being carefully selected by the ruling class and media to prevent unorthodox thoughts. Maybe these limitations on autonomy could account for much of the crime which goes on today. Individuals are reacting again society (which they see) as entangled with the state. Not only that but it could be that an opposite reaction to frustration created by statism is depression.
Actual crime may be a reaction due to the frustration of being a puppet in the hands of the powers that be. Butler Shaffer writes about this saying “When our self-directed, self-serving undertakings are forcibly interfered with by others [e.g., the state], our purposes become frustrated, a consequence of which is often a resort to aggression. A number of contributors to the study of aggression tell us much of the dynamics regarding aggression. Two such commentators observe, “[a] person feels frustrated when a violation of his hopes or expectations occurs, and he may then try to solve the problem by attacking the presumed source of frustration”. So the old anarchist position that there will be little crime once the statist causes of it are gone may indeed be correct.
As a coercive institution, inevitably statism gets in the way of voluntary interaction especially those in which we aim to help the less fortunate. The State has been known to try to prosecute voluntary giving of food to the poor without licenses. With the welfare state, it crowded out mutual aid and friendly societies that could have aided the downtrodden without creating dependency on the state- a counter revolutionary tactic if ever there was one. Even indirectly, the state has a negative impact on benevolence. With the heavy burden of taxes, individuals are more reluctant to give to charity(The attitude of “the government took my money,now you want some too” and it becomes more costly especially for those who’d like to give but just can’t afford to. This can lead hearts to harden and smash social solidarity in which we have situation something like the social atomism so often said to be at the heart of individualism or anarchism. In reality, it is the state not opponents of it which disconnects individual from individual and deters charity and quashes kindness.
As Roderick Long argues, statists seem to think of state intervention as incantational. It is made law and carried out .As if this means the problem truly is being solved. As if it’s sufficient for the state to be said to be doing and the issue no longer matters .This sort of dependency is linked to the lack of imagination I first mentioned and the limitations to action above.
There are many ways that the state is like a drug- addictive, requiring bigger and bigger hits, creating a false sense of community and unity etc , but the most obvious is that it’s in some ways like an opiate. The state is in a difficult position. It must make individuals concerned enough about the bogeyman of anarchy and the false conflation of it with chaos to support statism yet it must avoid making them care enough to turn a critical eye on the state’s claims to be solving solutions which might bring criticisms of statism itself. As has been discussed before, there are a number of ways in which this is carried out:- tv, sports, video games, flashy celebrity magazines, discussion of the latest celebrity hoo hah in the newspaper instead of a worthy discussion of an issue. Now, granted there are exceptions but this seems to be a general tendency. I want to be clear also, that I’m not saying these forms of entertainment do not have a place –I’m not saying we must be all about the cause 24/7- just that balance between being sucked into them to the diminishing of serious issues and being political 24/7 seems the right position. Unfortunately , it seems to me that the majority of people have fallen into the former. I guess you could call this hedonism. Within our culture, we can see it as an anti-intellectualism. Anarchism and like philosophies are seen as ‘abstract’. To those with this attitude, life is for bodily experience and sensation alone with little to no concern for ideas. This narrow vision of life- in contrast to a balanced life of bodily pleasure and concern for ideas too – disconnects individuals from wider social problems. It serves statism well.
In this short piece, I have shown ways in which statism perverts human psychology. There are other ways it does this not mentioned. Also, it should not be forgotten the ways in which the state exploits natural tendencies to its own advantage .Examples of this would be its use of fear mongering which creates an environment of what psychologists call situtational ambiguity where individuals do not know what’s going on and so conform to those who appear to know or be in control of the situation or it’s exploitation of the human desire for community to promote nationalistic imperialistic and xenophobic agenda.
The State is so deep within society that it even warps human psychology.It is true enough,that the first weapon of statism is our own minds.