Shakespeare, Obedience, Bees and Society

“Obedience: for so work the honey bees, Creatures that, by rule in nature, teach The act of order to a peopled kingdom. They have a king, and officers of sorts.” A quote from henry V“Obedience: for so work the honey bees,
Creatures that, by rule in nature, teach
The act of order to a peopled kingdom.
They have a king, and officers of sorts.”

(King Henry V, act 1, sc. 2)

At the end of the 19th century Leo Tolstoy directly observed instances of sheer (Russian) state brutality. He documented them and made them an occasion for reflections applicable then and, in some way even more so, today.
He travelled on a train transporting the governor of a province, along with soldiers armed with muskets, cartridges and flogging rods. They were on their way to punish and flog some famishing peasants in a remote village in the midst of Russia. “… and here I saw the spectacle of good Russians full of the Christian spirit traveling with guns and rods to torture and kill their starving brethren.”

It happened that on one of the estates of a rich landowner the peasants had common rights on the forest, and having enjoyed these rights for generations, regarded the forest as a common property.

The landowner decided to fell the trees and the peasants complained. The judges sided with the landowner. The peasants drove away the men sent to cut down the trees, declaring that they would go to the Tsar before they would let them cut the trees

Eventually the governor of the province was ordered to carry out the decisions of the court, hence the train with the governor, the soldiers and the implements of torture and murder. The established procedure was for the governor to order the crowd to disperse. If they did not, the soldiers would first shoot in the air, then in the crowd. The dead would be buried, the wounded carried to a hospital.  A number of peasants would then be strapped to a bench and flogged. The perceived ring-leaders would be judged by a special tribunal and hanged.

Tolstoy concluded that “This is what has often been done in Russia, and is and must always be done where the social order is based on force.”

The reader may object that that was Russia in the 19th century, now it’s different. In degree maybe, but not in kind. As for the old growth trees, yesterday’s peasants are today’s the brave environmentalists – who, thanks to the technical marvels of the NSA and associates, have been found, infiltrated, jailed and eliminated. See, for example, what happened to Tim DeChristopher ( when he tried to peacefully halt fracking in pristine Utah land.

As for the rights of ownership, see the frequent cases of so-called mobile home estates – where people have lived (and paid rent) for decades until the owner of the land decides to “develop” it and evicts the rent-paying residents, for many of whom a move is often impossible due to costs, work etc. They may own their so-called mobile home, but moving it is anything but simple or practical.

Back to Russia and to the flogging expedition. “…The miserable governor, intoxicated with power, was counting the flogging strokes on his fingers, and never left off smoking cigarettes, while several officious persons hastened on every opportunity to offer him a burning match to light them.”

The governor smoking while the peasants are tortured equates pretty well with George W. Bush at a sumptuous dinner in 2003, when he laughed and pretended to look under the table to find the “weapons of mass destruction”. While the whole of the American army was destroying Baghdad and killing thousands in the operation “Shock and Awe”.

Tolstoy was already well known and the flogging governor offered to explain to him the underlying reasons for the operation. “If the peasants were not thoroughly subdued by flogging – he said – they would begin to offer opposition to the decisions of the authorities again. When some of them have been thoroughly tortured, the authority of the state will be forever secured among them.”

Which, in essence, is the argument brought forward to Henry V, by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Let’s take the example of obedience from the bees – he says –  who obey without question and make honey to feed and maintain the authorities without ever complaining – teaching us “the act of order of a peopled kingdom.” An American contemporary Canterbury could easily say “the act of order of a peopled republic”.

Tolstoy comments, “… fate seemed expressly to have brought me face to face for the first time in my life with a fact which showed me absolutely, unmistakably, in practice, what had long been clear to me in theory, that the organization of our society rests, not as people interested in maintaining the order of things like to imagine, on certain principles of jurisprudence, but on simple brute force, on the murder and torture of men.”

Meaning that people like to believe that the privileges they enjoy are not the result of force, but of absolutely free and just interchange of services, and that their advantages have no connection with acts of violence. Or rather, they try not to see that their privileges derive from the same type of conditions that forced the peasants who tended the forest, and who were in direct need of its fruits, to give it up to a rich landowner who had taken no part in caring for its growth.

“… and it should be equally clear that all the other exclusive rights enjoyed by the rich, by robbing the poor of their necessities, rest on the same basis of violence. … And all this does not come about as the result of any abstract laws, but is based on what is done periodically in one form or another throughout the world wherever there is a government, and where there are rich and poor.”

Today the 1% equally persuade themselves and others that their privileges are not based on torture and murder, but on some mysterious general causes and abstract laws. But it is clear that the 99% put up with the injustice not from the recognition of abstract laws of which they have never heard, but only because they know they will be beaten if they protest. Historical examples can fill a large book, but the recent police attacks on the non-violent protesters of the “Occupy” movement in New York, may suffice as evidence.

a tank, an armored vehicle of Soilano countyNote, incidentally, that right now America’s police is being equipped with an immense range of arms and military equipment that the army has decided to render obsolete. By observing the armored personnel carrier in the image, some readers may ask themselves who is the enemy against whom such wonderful implement of defence will be used, to rescue the good people of Solano County.

The authorities will say that repression and military equipment are necessary for the maintenance of the existing order. And that the maintenance of the existing order is necessary for the welfare of Solano County and  -more in general – of humanity, for the possibility of social existence and human progress.

Those on the lower rungs, who execute the deeds of violence with their guns, armored vehicles and drones, say that they do so because it is the command of their superior authority, and the superior authority knows what he is about. That those are in authority who ought to be an authority, and that they know what they’re doing appears to them a truth of which there can be no doubt. If they could admit the possibility of mistake or error, it would only be in functionaries of a lower grade; the highest authority on which all of the rest depends seems to them immaculate beyond suspicion.

In essence, both those in command and their subordinates are agreed in saying that they act thus because the existing order is the order which must and ought to exist at the present time, and that therefore to support it is the sacred duty of every man. Which, reported to our times, also explains the real meaning of the “Support our Troops” bumper stickers.

The acceptance of the necessity and therefore immutability of the existing order, is the argument always advanced in their justification, by all who take part in acts of violence on behalf of the government. Since the existing order is immutable – they say – the refusal of a single individual to perform the duties laid upon him will affect no change in things, and will only mean that some other man would be put in his place to do the same or worse.

It is easy to understand that the authorities, usually elected or appointed thanks to the financial contribution of sundry lobbyists, readily believe in the necessity of the order of things through which they live in a very advantaged position. For it if it were not for the position they occupy, they would never by their own abilities, industry or requirements get a fraction of their emoluments. The only distinction is that the higher and the more exceptional their position, the more necessary it is for them to believe that the existing order is the only possible order of things. For without it they would not only be unable to gain an equal position, but would be found, perhaps, to fall lower than other people.

A man who, of his own free will, has entered the police force may not believe in the immutability of the regime. But a governor, a general, a CEO of a massive corporation, who receives millions for his post, and knows that there are many who would like to take his place, knows that he will never receive such a revenue or so much honor in any other position.

The higher and the more profitable a man’s position, the more firmly the man believes in the existing order, and therefore with greater ease of conscience can such a man perpetrate cruel and wicked acts, as though they were not in his own interest, but for the maintenance of that order. This is the case with all men in authority, who occupy positions more profitable than they could occupy except for the present regime, from the lowest police officer to the president, the king or the Tsar of old.

Besides, those in authority never do themselves what they suggest, decide or command to be done – kill foreign people by the hundreds of thousands, launch drones and missile, beat, pepper spray and arrest peaceful demonstrators, or carry out death sentences.

Often they are even automatically shielded from the mishaps (or crimes) committed on their behalf by members of the lower order. A glaring example is the current case of the defective ignition switch in GM cars that caused an as-yet not-totally-accounted-for number of deaths. The CEO of GM ordered a report of 500 pages, already defined as “the best report that money can buy”. Two or three people on the lower rungs were fired. Perhaps the only meaningful truth in the report was the statement that the employee who discovered the switch problems did not push for changing the part, “for fear of losing his position.” In the end the CEO instead of the sack gets the glory for the deadly sequence of events, that it should have been the CEO’s responsibility to prevent

But to return to the soldiers and policemen. What has brought these masses of honest men, on whom the whole thing depends, who gain little by it, and who have to do these atrocious deeds – what has brought them to accept the amazing delusion that the existing order, unprofitable and often ruinous (especially for the soldiers), is the order which ought to exist?

Consider that American states with the most belligerent nationalistic feelings, where violent expressions by the police are more frequent, where death sentences are part of the statute, are also the states that declare themselves more Christian than the others. Remember the debate about the statue of the 10 commandments in the lobby of an Alabama court – one of which (commandments), specifically says “Thou shalt not kill”?

Everyone in these Christian societies, by tradition, by reflection or by the voice of conscience, knows that murder is the most fearful crime a man may commit. And that murder cannot be a sin for some and not for others. At the same time, from their childhood up, men see that murder is not only permitted, it is even sanctioned by the blessing of those whom they are accustomed to regard as their divinely appointed spiritual guides. And they see their secular leaders with calm assurance organizing murder, proud to build murderous arms, and demanding of others, in the name of God and country, that they should take part in murder.

Men see that there is some inconsistency here, but not being able to analyze it, involuntarily assume that this apparent inconsistency is only the result of their ignorance. The very grossness and obviousness of the inconsistency confirms them in this conviction. They cannot imagine that the leaders of civilization, the educated classes, the exceptional people, could so confidently preach two such opposed principles as the laws of Christianity and murder. A simple uncorrupted youth cannot imagine that those who stand so high in his opinion, whom he regards as holy or learned men, could for any objective whatever mislead him so shamefully.

But this is just what has been and is always done to him.  It is done by instilling, via example and direct instruction, from childhood up, the idea that torture and murder are compatible with Christianity, and that for certain objectives of state, torture and murder are not only admissible, but ought to be employed. And it is done by instilling into certain people, who have voluntarily enlisted in the Army, the idea that the perpetration of murder and torture with their own hands is a sacred duty, and even a glorious exploit, worthy of praise and reward.

This general delusion is diffused among all people by means of the compulsory education for children. To them it is conveyed that violence, imprisonment and execution, as well as murder in civil or foreign war in the defense and maintenance of the existing state organization, is absolutely lawful and not opposed to morality or Christianity. And men are so persuaded of it that they grow up, live and die in that conviction.

In reality, the full power of the army and the state is based on this delusive emancipation of men from their duty to their conscience (or to God if they are believers), and on the substitution of duty to the authorities or to their superior officers for all other duties.

This is then the foundation of the belief of the 99% that the existing order, so unfair and at times oppressive to them, is the order that ought to exist, and which they ought therefore to support even by torture and murder (in case of the military).

This belief is founded on a conscious deception practiced on them by the 1%. And it cannot be otherwise. To compel the 99%, which are more numerous by definition, to oppress and ill-treat themselves, even at the cost of actions opposed to their conscience, it was necessary to deceive them. And it has been done and continues to be done accordingly.

In the play. The Archbishop of Canterbury uses the comparison of bees to illustrate his thoughts about the ideal society and the ideal management structure.

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