Volume 013, Number 4, Fall, 1995

The Future in Your Face #1

Be Afraid. Be very afraid.

By Victor Milán

According to recent surveys as many as 52 percent of the American people fear their government, and believe it’s out of control.

So what the hell’s wrong with the rest of you?

Actually, I assume—although assumption is, as Colonel Penn tells us in Under Siege II, “the mother of all fuck-ups”—that most of Prometheus readers are, mirabile dictu, among the majority: that you do indeed fear your government. If not, forget reading essays and take up suicide instead; it’ll feel better in the long run.

My question is, do you fear your government enough?

In this no doubt sporadically-appearing series of essays, “The Future in Your Face,” I propose to explore why you should be scared, how scared you should be, and what you might choose to do about it. Consider it an exercise in applied futurism.

It has become a supreme cliché among science fiction writers that sf writers don’t predict the future. What this mostly tells us is that the CYA reflex is not restricted to the military and the civilian bureaucracy, corporate or governmental. Sure, we don’t yet have the flying cars, but so what? I can predict the future.

It’s simple. Just keep your aspirations modest. Take the three following propositions. They aren’t certainties, because there isn’t any such thing. But each enjoys an order of probability high enough that it’s as close to a certainty as this life is gonna give you:

The sun will come up tomorrow.

Any given drop of water will one day reach the sea.

Government will become unassailably all-powerful unless it’s utterly abolished.

See? All you have to do is keep to the obvious, and you, too, can be a prophet. Except not everybody may realize #3 is at least as inevitable as #1 and #2. Not even all libertarians. Not even all libertarian futurists. Because if we did, we’d act as if we heeded the warning: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Prediction #3 derives from a very simple law of nature:

The overriding imperative of the State is to maximize its privilege, profit, and power.

That’s it. That says it all. But all is kind of a large concept to fit your head around. So let’s break it down. Understand right off that, by the State, we mean all those individuals involved in governance, in whatever function, whether “leaders” or bureaucrats, and including those not actually part of government, such as the “private” media. The State doesn’t actually exist; it has no will; it feels no imperatives. It’s a collective term, and collectives are metaphors, not things. But that’s a subject for another essay.

The State is a collection of individuals, each pursuing her or his interests as he or she perceives them. That means the above principle can be restated as:

The prime incentive for all individuals who identify their interests with the State is to maximize the State’s privilege, profit, and power.

The bigger the pie, the bigger each individual slice.

Put this way, the principle has some powerful—and frightening—ramifications. The most immediate is reform won’t work. It doesn’t matter whom you elect. In fact, it means that if you “throw the rascals out,” in the long run, you’re only going to get worse rascals.

The “Reagan Revolution” brought us the biggest, most powerful, most intrusive government this country had seen to that time. The “November Revolution” of 1994 brought us the Digital Telephony Act of 1994, the Anti Terrorist Bill, censorship of the Internet, a general bi-partisan censorship love-in, and … Do we see a pattern here?

People become politicians in order to grab a piece of the privilege-profit-power pie. They will not under most circumstances act to reduce the size of that pie by actually doing anything to reduce the privilege, profit, and power of the State. Taken as a mass, with their actions taken as a sum, they will inevitably act to strengthen and expand the State. Actions they take which appear designed to diminish the State will either prove nugatory or shams from the git-go.

Why? Because that’s the way the incentive pulls them, like gravity pulling water downhill.

Sure, some brave individual politicians—I’m being hypothetical here; bear with it—may buck the current. Given Brownian motion and the innate perversity of events, in any given flow of water there are individual molecules moving counter to the flow; probably billions of the little buggers. Now how often do you see a stream flow uphill?

Even if the potent gravitational draw of self-interest—privilege, profit, power!—does not in time compel the renegade droplets to “go with the flow,” in time sheer exhaustion will turn the trick.

Now note the word I’m not using here. The “C” word. Conspiracy.

This process is not, or at least by no means needs to be, conscious. An overarching conspiracy is neither required nor indicated, although there are likely some groups of individuals in government who see the inevitable conclusion and are working busily to speed it along. The process is as inevitable and natural as water running downhill, and need be no more volitional.

What gives the appearance of a true conspiracy is what I like to call conspiracy of incentive. If all shoe-store owners try to operate at a profit, does that imply a conspiracy? Not unless you’re a member of the Clinton Administration. They all act toward a similar goal because that’s the way incentive drives them. In fact, if they don’t follow incentive’s impetus efficiently enough, they’ll fall by the way and die, at least as shoe-store owners.

As stated, the incentive to strengthen and expand the State does not apply to political leaders alone. It applies to everyone connected with the State, including those who perceive their interests to be connected to the State’s. It may not apply to a GS1 in the Farm Credit Administration, or professor at a government-run university, or a reporter with the Washington Post with the same urgency it drives, say, Bill Clinton or Bob Dole. But remember your basic physics: a little acceleration produces the same results as big acceleration, only slower.

And here’s another scary ramification: everybody is potentially subject to the same incentives. Not just government employees, or those in the media who feel that, by working to achieve ever-bigger government, they bring themselves closer to that beautiful dream of possessing power without responsibility. Not just the welfare recipients buying bags of Cheeetos with their EBT cards in front of me in line at Furr’s. Remember, those middle-class entitlements like Social Security, FHA, and Medicare honk down a lot bigger chunk of the fiscal pie than gimmes to poor folks do. Everybody who says, “There oughta be a law,” or “Where’s the federal government?” or even, “We have to do something,” perceives her or himself as having the same self-interest in the accretion of privilege, profit, and power to the government as the politician does. While the fallacy of this belief becomes obvious at a certain point—an ecosystem in which everyone’s a parasite and no one’s a host isn’t exactly viable—it does provide that old devil incentive again, on a nearly universal scale.

So: the overriding incentive for individuals who identify their interest with the State’s will be to increase the privilege, profit, and power of the State. Therefore the action of the State will inevitably be to increase, over time, its privilege, profit, and power. Like water flowing downhill.

Where does that put us?

Like Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart: on the Express Elevator to Hell.

The process is not infinite. That’s because the supply of the commodities concentrated in government—privilege, profit, power—are not infinite. We are talking zero-sum game here; what goes to the government must come from somewhere. Not to draw out the suspense or anything, it must come from us. The governed.

This “power curve” is not an asymptote. Sooner or later the needle hits “Empty.” While we cannot with certainty predict the hour, day, or even the year at which the line will intersect the y-axis, sooner or later it will.

The reason the zero-timepoint is unpredictable is that the process is not unimpeded. There is resistance; there are barriers. Americans still by and large pay lip-service to liberty. But a given drop of water will reach the sea. It encounters fits and starts: bends in the stream, dams natural and artificial, evaporation. But one day, as a river or a raindrop, it’ll get there.

And there, sadly, the metaphor breaks down. And this is why you should be afraid—be very afraid.

Because once the U.S. government flows into the sea of Absolute Power, it won’t evaporate to begin the cycle again. In the very near future—now to, at the far outside, 25 years from now—the government, our government, will have an ability no other State has ever possessed: to make its power permanent and unassailable. Forget 1984 and the monitored society. Sometime in the next few years, the government will achieve some means, most likely nanotech-nological, of controlling not just our actions but our thoughts, in real time, all the time. It’s simply a matter of engineering.

Are you getting scared yet? Or is it landfill time?

There is nothing you possess—your property, your freedom, your dreams, your life—which the government, unless prevented, will fail to take away from you.

You can see it happening. Each day a little more—a little more wealth, a little more choice—is taken from you. Each day. Do you see any of it being given back? It can’t go on forever. One day it’s all gone.

So is that it? Are we screwed?

No. Notice that little caveat: unless prevented.

But prevention doesn’t mean reform. It doesn’t mean throwing the rascals out. It doesn’t even mean revolution—remember the lyric, “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss?”

Reform, replacement, revolution—at best those are just barriers. The flow will find its way around them. Even abolishing government is no better than a stop-gap.

Remember your monster movies? There are always sequels, no? Sooner or later somebody always pulls the stake out of the sleeping Count’s evening dress-clad chest. The vampire State will return, and with a huge technological base, including knowledge of how it got staked last time. The horror show begins again: “We’re baa-ack!”

And in a way—getting back to our title—the movie monster is a better metaphor for State than water. Unlike water, government isn’t something natural, something intrinsic. It’s a monster, an Alien, a Predator. It can be slain—although as Friday the 13th Part DCLXVI sequelitis shows us, the price of liberty really is eternal vigilance: somebody will always try to let the beast back in.

What we can do—what we must do if we don’t want our grandchildren, children, or most likely ourselves to be reduced to property—is destroy the Count’s coffin and scatter his earth. That means attacking the legitimacy of government. Its power derives from an idea: that somehow government—initiated force—is needful. Is an essential component of human life.

It isn’t.

We cannot eradicate the idea. But we can make it unfashionable, like belief in a flat earth—or, in Twentieth Century America, in liberty. We can educate, ourselves first, then others.

Ultimately we must make ourselves ungovernable. If enough people refuse to participate in government in any way—and accepting goodies from the State, as we’ve seen, is supporting it every bit as much as bearing arms on its behalf—then it will not matter what the rest want. Refuse to be subjected, by force, fraud, or bribes.

Much as I hate to say it, what we need to do is learn to Say No to Government.

How do we do that? Well, one of these days I might have a suggestion or two. But in the meantime, you don’t need my permission. Start thinking how to up-root government from your lives. Then start doing it.

Remember: The river flows inexorable to the sea. You have nothing to lose but everything.

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