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". . . a power too great and terrible to imagine."
The Lord of the Rings
trilogy was released on Blu-Ray
in April, which reminded me that I hadn't seen the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring
, since its theatrical release in 2001. While watching the film again I was struck anew with its abolitionist
message – a message that is clear, direct, and at the very heart of the story.
The exchange below, from a 35-second sequence in the film, illustrates this message well. The wizard Gandalf has just described the Ring of Power to Frodo, into whose possession the Ring has come, and has told the frightened hobbit that yes, the Dark Lord Sauron and his evil horde have learned the whereabouts of the Ring and are already heading to the Shire to take it back.
The Ring will give Sauron enough power to enslave the Earth, and so the Ring must not stay in the Shire – it must be destroyed (almost impossible to do) or at the very least, hidden from those seeking it. Showing rare indifference to the powers conferred by the Ring, Frodo sensibly offers the Ring to Gandalf, who does not live in the Shire and whose magic might be enough to keep the Ring safely hidden.
Gandalf knows better. Even he – a wise and good soul and a powerful wizard – is hypnotically drawn to the Ring; Gandalf lusts for its power despite knowing that to use the Ring would corrupt him and bring great evil into the world. With visible effort, Gandalf refuses to even touch the Ring:
(Frodo, desperately handing the Ring to Gandalf)
Take it, Gandalf. Take it!
(Gandalf, backing away from the Ring)
You must take it!
You cannot offer me this Ring.
I'm giving it to you!
Don't tempt me, Frodo! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe. Understand, Frodo – I would use this Ring from a desire to do good . . . [long pause] . . . but through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.
You can view this scene on YouTube, here
(the sound level is a bit low; you may have to turn it up to make out the dialog). The clip is from director Peter Jackson's gorgeous and epic screen adaptation of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
(part 1 of the trilogy). The dialog for this scene in Tolkien's book
is longer than in the film, and makes the same point even more powerfully: that Power is almost supernaturally attractive and addictive, and creates horrifying outcomes even when wielded with the best of intentions. Many other scenes in the book and film reinforce this same message.
Was Tolkien himself an abolitionist (or anarchist, to use a similar but widely-misunderstood term
)? It appears Tolkien would at least have been sympathetic to the abolitionist movement. For one thing, the major theme of the LOTR trilogy is that Power, by name,
is the ultimate evil. Gandalf isn't tempted by the Ring of Envy, say, or the Ring of anything else: the great evil of the tale is the Ring of Power
– breathtakingly direct as symbolism goes. In addition, there is a widely-quoted comment by Tolkien from a letter to his son: "My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control, not whiskered men with bombs)." Further detail in that letter, some of which may be read in this excerpt from Drout's J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: scholarship and critical assessment
, reinforce that view.
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Power is a Psychopathic Institution that Attracts and Empowers Psychopaths
The strength of symbolic fiction is that complex and painful realities can be phase-shifted into something less directly threatening, rendering them entertaining while retaining some of the emotional punch of the real-world situation being symbolized; the weakness of symbolic fiction is that a million people can read or watch the story without making the leap to full understanding. Vampires, for one example, are excellent doppelgängers for people with certain kinds of severe emotional damage ("master" vampires often resemble real-world psychopaths with a liquid diet and some added spookiness); how many readers over the years have made the connection? Perhaps all of them, but I suspect only a few have done so. In any case, the vampire myths do not include an accurate symbolization of the genesis of emotional damage; the myths tell us little about how we might reduce the number of psychopaths, or reduce the harm they cause, or in some way protect ourselves from them.
In contrast, Tolkien's Ring of Power provides a detailed if symbolic look at the coercive State – including a prescription for ending the violence it causes, the corruption it fosters, and the devastation that Power creates: that prescription is to stop trying to reform Power and instead completely end the use of coercive power structures; to replace the psychopathic, coercive State with civil society. The Lord of the Rings shows, in clear if symbolic form, that nothing else but eliminating the coercive State will counter the bizarre, mind-altering attraction that Power exerts and the near-universal belief that, despite all of human experience to the contrary, Power can be safely used for good if only the "right" people are in control.
Of course, the "right" people are not the ones willing to scratch, claw, lie, cheat, steal, and often kill to attain Power. Sooner or later, and no matter how friendly and harmless the Power seems today, psychopaths attain the prize, because coercive Power structures are psychopathic by their very nature. Power can no more be kept from the hands of psychopaths than the Earth can be prevented from attracting falling objects.
History proves the point: Stalin, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, the Kims of North Korea, and ten thousand other twisted, pathetic men became powerful dictators by gaining control of a coercive State apparatus.
Hitler was merely a pathetic, hateful little man – unpleasant to be around, one imagines, but harmless – until
he became Chancellor of Germany. Then
he was a pathetic, hateful little man with Power – a head of State, a man to look up to, an idol to millions (including to many who should have known better
), and a major player on the world stage. The Power of the coercive State allowed Hitler to build death camps, to raise armies, to create secret police agencies, and to start a World War. Tens of millions died and entire cities were bombed into rubble or incinerated because a sick, twisted little man found his way into Power, in what had
been a civilized nation.
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Quit Trying to "Reform" Something Inherently Evil – and Abolish it Instead
The abolitionist seeks only to abolish Power – that is, to abolish structures based on systematic initiated coercion (i.e., non-defensive coercion). The abolitionist takes seriously the fundamental truth that other people are not your property. Every person's life is his or her own to control, and no one else's.
Abolishing the institution of slavery was a good start, but only a start. Coercive government is in fact nothing but slavery by stealth; when a ruling elite can take (or direct) as much as they please of your time, your actions, and your money, then de facto slavery is in season. That some people may have voted for a particular part of what transpires is no more helpful to the victims than was the divine right of kings and other fantasy justifications for control of the many by the few. Likewise, that some slavemasters may be kinder than others does not make the slavery itself right or acceptable, or safe for the slaves of even the kindest master; masters come and go, and again, the tendency is for outright psychopaths to rise to Power at the expense of more compassionate souls.
All the arguments of old, used to justify slavery in the South, are still used to justify slavery to the State: "How would the darkies manage without their masters? Some
masters are compassionate, aren't they? – surely more compassionate than freedom would be. Besides, imagine the mess
it would cause to end slavery! Maybe we could end it very slowly
, over time, but there is no way
we could just let the slaves suddenly have their freedom – it would be cruel, and cruelest of all to the slaves themselves."
Yeah. It would be crazy to end slavery. No serious person would even consider it.
We laugh at such rationalizations for evil today, but then we turn around and use those same vapid, evil-justifying arguments for keeping ourselves and others enslaved to the State. "Ending coercive government would be the end of the world!!" – so people think, and they are right: it would be the end of a cruel and evil world, and the beginning of a healthier, more peaceful, and more compassionate one. Exposing the "coercion is necessary" nonsense for the harmful stupidity it is requires only pointing out the obvious: that love and freedom (including for the young) are the necessary environment for healthy life and for civil society.
Not surprisingly, one common result of Power is outright murder, which governments commit wholesale and which the public – and even academics in related fields – mostly forget or ignore. The twentieth century alone saw 262 million murders by governments (per R. J. Rummel; see bottom of linked page for confirmation of that number) – in addition to war dead, in addition to maimed or wounded, in addition to millions tortured or impoverished, in addition to the long list of other horrors inflicted by Power. Many millions of children were orphaned or lost one parent, or had a family member tortured or maimed, or were otherwise harmed by government action in the century just past. In the course of murdering more than a quarter-billion people, could you even possibly avoid damaging many millions of children? Can war after war, including bombing of entire cities and the use of napalm, Agent Orange, depleted uranium, and other horrors, not cause trauma to children on a massive scale?
The danger of using Power specifically to do good is also confirmed in twentieth-century history, as the left-wing authors of The Black Book of Communism discovered. In theory, Communism is aimed at creating a more fair and compassionate world, but after years of careful research, the authors of the Black Book concluded that Communist regimes murdered between 80 million and 100 million of "their own" people in the twentieth century and that much of this horror was calculated, purposeful, and brutal almost beyond belief – indeed, the book's Foreword is titled "The Uses of Atrocity." When committed Marxists (as most of the authors were) find that Marxist regimes have all been even worse, in many ways, than was Hitler's Third Reich, it says something important about using coercive Power to improve the world. It says, in fact, that using an agency based on coercion and violence to create a world of compassion is as dangerous, foolish, and counter-productive as it sounds. Examples are everywhere and in the news daily : coercive government is without question the worst way to do anything and certainly the most dangerous. Yet Marxists and the public at large, including believers in limited or "reformed" government, have, for the most part, not understood that lesson.
In the coming decades, we will either begin the movement away from coercive Power and towards more civilized, compassionate, and respectful societies, or the combination of widespread neurosis, coercive systems, and twenty-first century hypertech will put an end to us.
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The Coercive State both Causes and Feeds Upon Emotional Damage
If early trauma creates life-long emotional damage – and a great many studies show that it does (here's a page of examples and related information) – then nothing creates as much emotional damage and misery as does coercive government. Given that coercion is literally a crime, this should not be surprising. Given that any organization based upon and funded by coercion is psychopathic by nature, this should be obvious. Sadly – tragically – it does not seem obvious to most human beings, who continue to support their own enslavement, and to believe that stopping this enslavement and violence would somehow be cruel and unworkable.
The emotional damage caused, directly and indirectly, by the coercive State creates millions of damaged adults – many of whom become ardent followers, hurt and angry children in adult bodies searching for scapegoats and easy answers, stunted and confused minds easily led to corporate and military servitude, unloved former children desperate to believe in the love of a father-figure Leader. Alice Miller has written about this dynamic for decades and provided a detailed look at, for one example, the contribution of severe and widespread emotional damage to the rise and character of Hitler's Third Reich. See in particular For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence and, on the web, Adolf Hitler: How Could a Monster Succeed in Blinding a Nation? (Note on that essay: it is hosted at the Natural Child Project, and the site graphics are appropriately aimed at small children and their parents. Please don't let that put you off; Dr. Miller's essay is excellent).
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Every coercive State is an epic horror waiting to happen. The abolitionist argument is that mankind will never be safe until this evil – like human sacrifice and traditional slavery and other horrors of the past – is ended. Coercive Power can no more be "reformed for the better" than can rape or slavery or human sacrifice; it must be removed from this world, and soon, if anything resembling civilized life is to survive.
Love, freedom, and nurture are the antidote to the Ring of Power and its horrors. There is no other path to a healthy future.