The State is a Jealous God
Amongst all the other signals that indicate the end of the Modern Age — post-modernism, post-Enlightenment, end of history, post-humanism, etc — the end of Modernity also manifests as the decline and fall of the nation-state era. It is a development that national power elites and reactionaries in the so-called “patriot community” find particularly threatening and anxiety-provoking. The waning of state authority and power is signalled by the growing preference, facilitated by the new social and interactive media, for direct people-to-people contact, bypassing state-controlled monopolies and intermediaries and challenging the whole meaning of “diplomacy”.
The lesson hit home for me the other day. I was angered and despondent by what I perceived as the steady subversion and erosion of democratic and civic institutions by the (wrongly-named) “conservative” government of Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and moreso even by the failures of the liberal and socialist opposition to mount an energetic and effective counter-strategy. Then, rather than punish the Conservative government for their duplicity and perfidy, recent public opinion polls appeared to show that large parts (though not a majority) of the Canadian electorate seemingly approved of the government’s duplicity and were apparently willing to overlook the government’s subversion of democratic institutions, principles, and parliamentary traditions.
It was not one of my better moments as I reflected on this concatenation of factors: a reactionary government that governs by propaganda and deception, an ineffective and timid official opposition, and a largely complacent electorate that seems to be satisfied with the status quo as long as it remains well-fed, watered, and entertained.
Then, this morning, I received an appeal from the online activist group Avaaz, which has been in some ways far more effective in mounting a vigorous and effective opposition to abuses of state power and the global corporatocracy than even Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. The appeal was for donations to supply the insurgents in North Africa and the Middle East with “blackout-proof” tools and advisors so that the dictatorships could not cut off their restive and unruly populations from contact with their encouraging supporters in Canada or the rest of the globe. Within a few hours, Avaaz had 17,000 donors and had secured enough resources to begin pruchasing and distributing communications kits and to send technical teams to Libya and Bahrain in order to keep the lines of communication open for continuing direct people-to-people contacts.
I’ve made quite a few donations to various Avaaz campaigns, and feel that the results were generally most satisfactory and an effective use of my own limited resources.
Avaaz, like another Canadian non-governmental group called Kairos, has aroused the wrath and opprobrium of the Harper government and the reactionary right, and much of that opprobrium is owing to the fact that both groups perform an end-run around the state monopoly on foreign policy by cultivating and facilitating direct people-to-people contacts and programmes. Kairos, which is a multi-denominational Christian NGO, has incurred the wrath of the Conservative government by its support for Palestinian rights and its criticism of Israel’s policies in the West Bank (something that Dear Leader Stephen Harper finds personally offensive), while Avaaz has been very effective in undercutting the minority government’s skewed foreign and partisan domestic policy and its pretense of speaking for all Canadians by virtue of the fact that it is the government of the day. Avaaz has blocked repeated attempts by the bare minority-supported government to bypass or subvert democratic protocols by organising public opposition to blatant abuses of state power and the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office). But its most significant activity has been to break the state’s monopoly on direct people-to-people contact, which was also an aspect of Julian Assange’s purposes with Wikileaks as well.
We are seeing more of these kinds of groups emerging, and (yes) they do undercut the authority and the presumption of the state to speak for the people, which is why the state despises them, even as it tries to co-opt them. And the more successful they are in challenging the state monopoly specifying who it is we should like and who it is we should not like, the more autocratic and authoritarian the state and the power elite becomes as it attempts to preserve what it considers to be its mandated privileges and prerogatives. It’s a weakened state that actually reacts jealously as though it were an absolute power and could dictate a people’s heart and its affections.
The new social media are not only subversive of authoritarian regimes, but are equally subversive of the assumptions and presumptions of state authority and legitimacy generally. They especially break the monopoly and stranglehold the state claims upon our loyalties, affections, and sympathies — the self-serving and reactionary laws that legislate who we are required to despise and which declares as pariah and outside the Pale those we are prevented from befriending as official enemies.
That authority is withering as the global internet facilitates new kinds of association, new kinds of “unapproved” dialogue, and new kinds of assemblies, all of which conspire, however, to break the conceit of a state monopoly on what has heretofore been called “diplomacy” and “foreign policy”, which will never again have the same meaning.