Why We Can't Let You Go

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(Continued From The Situation In Catalonia)

- To return to Catalonia...
- Yes?
- Catalan politicians advocate independence, the national government jails them for sedition. Clearly they have broken the law, says the national government, Spain's constitution doesn't allow secession. Catalans argue the constitution is a contract requiring compliance by all parties, and has been broken by the actions taken by the national government. The national government says they say what is the law and not in relation to the constitution.
- They take an athoritarian position. The government has exclusive use of force, relinquished to them by citizens, leaving citizens powerless in relation to the state, in the relation of child to parents. Secession from a state is like a child's running away from home; of course it is forbidden.
- That assumes citizens chose freely to give up their power to the state: that the decision was not extorted from them under threat of violence; and assumes that the descendents of parents who agreed to give up freedom are not to be allowed to make their own decision about their freedom. Can you imagine a reason they should be bound by an hereditary choice?
- None, except the same argument that citizens are always better off giving up power to the state because without the state they will kill each other, so even if citizens were no better than children in relation to the state, there is nothing for them to decide. One decision is enough for eternity. Further: if only the state provides peace to people who, if they hadn't given up their power, would be killing each other, then relations between states, without a similar contract between them giving up the use of force, is war. To allow secession is to allow the creation of an enemy state, and that is not be tolerated.
- So behind the conservative 'respect for the law' there is an authoritarian contempt for the populace, and a readiness to use force to prevent the creation of a rival state.
- Add to that the not inconsiderable importance of economic loss attendant on the secession of a wealthy province.
- Conservatives all over the world are engaged in a battle over these ideas.
- I agree. But they don't respond to the observations we've made here. They don't argue the necessity for an authoritarian state that treats the populace like children. Instead, they argue the benefits of authoritarianism outweigh its costs.
- I'd like to hear those arguments.
- Then look to Harvard University; you'll always find good conservative rhetoric coming out of there. This year one of their professors of psychology* updated with a new book one he wrote six years ago claiming the world is getting less violent, more healthy, better educated, in general, happier.
- What about the 20th Century's hundred million dead in two world wars, the tens of millions who died in famines caused by Mao and Stalin or were outright murdered by them?
- Because there are more people living in democracies, and so far, democracies don't start wars with each other, however authoritarian, though they do, more than ever, start wars with and kill millions of people in non-democracies (Vietnam, Iraq, Afganistan, etc), and because there are so many more people, more than a billion living in a state of slavery to totalitarian China, who live without killing each other longer, the statistics show an improvement.
- So for this Harvard psychologist the authoritarian state is fine, so long as the state finds it to be to its own benefit that the slave citizen is kept healthy and alive.
- The second Harvard professor** is an anthropologist. He claims that the ancient Chinese saw the world, including our own uncontrolled desires, as chaotic, continually escaping attempts to organize it, and the purpose of ritual was to impose an habit of order-making on it. Therefore, he says, it is not correct to see this religion as static and unchanging; it is rather a continual act of creation.
- But unless the rituals themselves are individually chosen and changable, I don't see how how this understanding of Chinese religion shows it to be less static; the only difference is that it places responsibility for keeping the religion going on the individual.
- Yes. It's like the Spanish government saying to the Catalans: You're bad! Don't you know the ritual of our Spanish laws depends on all of us observing and reaffirming them? Don't you see now why we can't let you go? ***

Further Reading:
The Honor Of Thieves
Political & Personal
Real Democracy
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Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, & Progress, 2018, S. Pinker 
** The Haunted World of Humanity: Ritual Theory from Early China, 2010, M. Puett
*** See: Spanish Bishops Condemn Catalan Nationalism After Poll Violence, Kropotkin's Are We Good Enough? and Bakunin: "It is said that the harmony and universal solidarity of individuals with society can never be attained in practice because their interests, being antagonistic, can never be reconciled. To this objection I reply that if these interests have never as yet come to mutual accord, it was becausc the State has sacrificed the interests of the majority for the benefit of a privileged minority. That is why this famous incompatibility, this conflict of personal interests with those of society, is nothing but a fraud, a political lie, born of the theological lie which invented the doctrine of original sin in order to dishonor man and destroy his self-respect."