If for nothing else, George Orwell will always be known for his pithy observations about the inverted moralities that characterize all States: War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, Slavery is Freedom. If he were alive today, and 1984 unwritten, he might want to add a few more: Destruction is Creation, Murder is Life, and Stealing is Saving.
As much as I like 1984, it's not particularly concise as a playbook for tyrants. Even as slender and informative as Machiavelli's The Prince is, I want something that would fit on one page. Better yet, I want something I can write on my palm.
A perversion of the Ten Commandments would do nicely.
As ancient as they are, the Ten Commandments wouldn't have endured millennia if they weren't the basis for every peaceful and prosperous society. All societies have moral codes that embody at least some of them, even if in a secular version. Who besides a thief can argue with "Don't steal" and a psychopath with "Don't murder"? Exactly how long would any society last that celebrated death and destruction?
And being there are only ten Commandments, even a fool can memorize them. Since the human race can be pretty foolish, this is unarguably a good thing. It's probably the reason there are only ten. Even the most enstupidated of dunces can not only memorize them, but understand them.
If these ten rules are the basis of every successful society, to have an unsuccessful society all we have to do is invert them. Voil�! – the Ten Commandments of Lucifer. Would not every tyrant in history be impressed by instructions that would fit on a 3 x 5 inch notecard?
At the top of the list of the Commandments is the one about not worshipping "strange gods." I've always liked those two words, which bring to my mind monsters oozing out of an H.P. Lovecraft story. And why would people in their right minds worship Dark Forces like Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, or Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat with a Thousand Young? If they were, they wouldn't.
Unfortunately, we aren't, so we do. We believe in Strange Gods, only in the most non-fictional of forms – the State. In the 20th century it was the strangest, most seductive and most monstrous of Strange Gods, one that while literally non-existent (as all ghosts are), turned out to be such a horror that 177 million people disappeared into its maw. It might be as many as 200 million. But who keeps records on peasants?
The clearest and easiest-to-understand definition of the State I've run across is that it is the Political Means. So simple, yet so few understand it. Sometimes, even those who understand it don't believe it. A monster stands before them, all grinning fangs and blood-soaked claws, and to them it's as invisible as the Krell's Monster from the Id in Forbidden Planet.
The Political Means are threats, coercion, theft and killing. All States are based upon them. Indeed, they are them. When it comes to those things, all States are not only Strange Gods, but Jealous Gods. They reserve those things to itself and call it the Law. Sometimes these Strange Gods try to speak softly, but the claw is always curled inside the glove, ready to unsheath itself.
Eternally opposed to the Political Means of the State are the Economic Means of Society. It's the difference between stealing and peaceable trade, between coercion and persuasion. General Motors cannot start a war and draft people to fight it, yet the State believes it has those rights.
I am forbidden from murdering even one person, but the State believes it can murder millions. The first I cannot do, because I have a conscience, but ultimately, the State, for all its lies to the contrary, has neither conscience nor morality. What monster does?
This eternal fight between the State and Society, between coercion and persuasion, between stealing and trading, between destruction and creation, fits the archetype of the horror story: the Chaos of the State always attempting to intrude of the natural Order of Society. Every time the State enlarges, Blob-like, Society always suffers.
The inversion of the First Commandment – "You shall worship Strange Gods" – always leads to the horrors that come from being unable to tell that a monster is just that, a monster. Evil always disguises itself as Good. These days, Satan wears a three-piece suit.
Some argue one of those Strange Gods is the Nation, but I counter it is the State. Nations are organized around the Economic Means, unlike the Political Means of all States. Unfortunately it's a truism that rulers of States always try to convince citizens the State and the Nation are the same thing. When people believe it, they always fall prey to what is included in some versions of the First Commandment: "You will not bow down to them, or serve them, for I am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation."
Either a Jealous God, or a Jealous Monster. The first, it appears, is to prevent the second.
Translated into something a little less orotund, what we have are some simple yet profound observations about history: Believe in Strange Gods – in the idols that are always monsters – and they will kill you and your children and your children's children. In the 20th century alone, the belief in the idol of the State led to World War I, which lead to World War II, which led to Korea and Vietnam and the First Gulf War and now the Second, which in reality is World War III.
If Orwell were alive, he might write that in the world of 1984 the First Commandment could be altered to, "God is Satan."
If the truth will set you free, lies will kill you.
The Second Commandment is usually mistranslated as "You will not take the name of God in vain." It has nothing to do with cursing. The correct translation is, "You will not use God's name for vain causes." Because if you do, the bit about the "inequity of the fathers" and the "children to the third and fourth generation" goes into effect.
The vainest of causes, again in the 20th century, has been – again – the belief in the State. Believe in the State, believe that God supports it – whether you call it "God and Country" or "Gott mit uns" or "Holy Mother Russia" or whatever other delusion you can come up with – and you'll end up murdered every time. Think Stalingrad, in which "Gott mit uns" went up against "Holy Mother Russia" and more people were killed than in all of America's wars combined.
The Orwellian inversion of "You will not murder" could be "Murder is Life." People are prohibited from murder, yet States exempt themselves from that commandment, always claiming that war is ultimately about peace and life. If that was true, then we wouldn't have war after war after war.
"You will not steal," when inverted, could be "Stealing is saving." An individual thief will almost always deceive himself and rationalize his theft. States do the same thing. Taxes, they claim, are the burden we pay for "a civilized society." Hardly. In reality they create poor people. Or "inflation creates job." Only a monster can, with a straight face, say that stealing the value of money saves jobs and increases employment.
One wag commented that "Honor your father and mother" does not require that you love them. At the very least, respect them because they raised you. But there is nothing in that Commandment about honoring your rulers. It doesn't read, "Honor the King and the President."
You might also want to take a look at the warnings in 1 Samuel 8, in which the Israelites decided to go with a King instead of their God. Samuel warns them the King will take their sons and daughters, and their property (which he will give to his advisors), and tax them, and make "instruments of war." And when they cry out, neither the King nor God will listen.
It brings a smile when I think of "You will not bear false witness against your neighbor." That Commandment doesn't say you can't lie. If we couldn't there wouldn't be a Tooth Fairy or an Easter Bunny. Or a Santa Claus, either. It just says you cannot lie about your neighbor, something that States are masters at when they want to start wars. Examples? Hitler claiming Poland was going to attack Germany, and a na�ve if sincere President insisting the dictator of a Third World cesspool was going to fly Drones of Death across the ocean.
"Remember the Sabbath Day; keep it holy." Personally, I'd rather work one day and loaf the other six, for I am truly heroically lazy. But States, believing the citizens belong to them, subscribe to what Mussolini said about Fascism: everything inside the State, nothing outside. If the State had its way, we'd be on duty 24/7, ready to sacrifice our lives for its Satanic glory. This might be more tolerable if I got some of the swag from whatever wars I had to fight, but I never will. The rulers always stuff their pockets full of booty, though. It sounds more like a organized crime racket than anything else, with me with my nose pressed up against the window like Tiny Tim, on the outside looking in at all the boodle.
"You will not commit adultery." Although it concerns cheating on one's spouse, there can be another meaning. The word "adultery" means to join together two things that shouldn't be joined together. The joining of Nation and State is adultery. For a person to join himself to the State, even if he thinks it's his nation that he's joining, is adultery.
Not coveting your neighbor's house, wife, manservant, maidservant, ass or anything else is an injunction against envy. As Helmet Schoek has pointed out in his magisterial Envy, that emotion has been the cause of more trouble than anything else in history. The whole State is essentially based on envy: take, by force, from those who have more and give to those who have less. Whether or not those who have less actually work is irrelevant.
Procrustes, the legendary Greek robber, is an amusing if horrific example of "giving" and "taking." Anybody who entered his house was "adjusted" to fit the bed. Those too long had their legs chopped off; those too short were stretched. Everyone became equal, although at a cost none of the victims wanted. Complete equality always has a price. It's not a good one. It never is.
The story of the Garden of Eden is a short tale about the destruction that envy can wreak. The Serpent, a symbol of envy, wants to bring down Adam and Eve because they are the most favored of God. The lesson is that envy is what brings evil into the world.
Let's run through all this again and put it in short form. If you want to have a Hell on Earth, do this:
Believe in the State. Murder, steal and lie for it. Devote your life to it. Covet whatever goods belong to what the State defines as its enemy.
Those aren't even a devilish Ten Commandments. They're four. I wouldn't need my palm to write them on; I could use my thumb.
Of course, the true meaning will be softened through the corruption of words. True meanings always are. That's what propaganda is: always being told we should "Support our country and defend it from enemies." What is almost always defended, though, is not the country, but the State. I'll defend my country; I won't defend the State. And I do know the difference, unlike your typical armchair-warrior chickenhawk.
The list above is generally defined as "patriotism," a word which I have decided is not the last refuge of scoundrels, but the first. I happen to like the flag, but I'll never trust anyone who wraps himself in it.
All religions agree that people are asleep. I believe it. If they weren't, they wouldn't be blindly following Strange Gods, heading not into ditches but instead knitting great big handbaskets and topping over cliffs straight into Hell.