Long time back, I proposed that “creative disregard” was more important (and better for personal happiness) than “civil disobedience.”
Civil disobedience can be a powerful political tool. But its inherent flaw is that it assumes that government is both necessary and potentially good. Civil disobedience merely aims to change certain actions or forms of government.
Creative disregard, on the other hand, gives government a big “ho hum” (or in some cases, a big “eff off”). Creative disregard says, “I’m going to live as I please among fellow peaceable human beings.” It acknowledges government (if at all) as a potential nuisance to be worked around — that’s the creative part of creative disregard.
I’ve been thinking more about this lately after running across a pair of blog entries last week: Kevin Carson’s “In Praise of Bad Attitudes” and part of a series Arthur Silber’s writing on Wikileaks, resistance, and “the obedience culture.” Silber quotes Hannah Arendt:
If I obey the laws of the land, I actually support its constitution, as becomes glaringly obvious in the case of revolutionaries and rebels who disobey because they have withdrawn this tacit consent.
In these terms, the nonparticipators in public life under a dictatorship are those who have refused their support by shunning those places of “responsibility” where such support, under the name of obedience, is required. And we have only for a moment to imagine what would happen to any of these forms of government if enough people would act “irresponsibly” and refuse support, even without active resistance and rebellion, to see how effective a weapon this could be. …
And here’s the key part:
Hence the question addressed to those who participated and obeyed orders should never be, “Why did you obey?” but “Why did you support?” This change of words is no semantic irrelevancy for those who know the strange and powerful influence mere “words” have over the minds of men who, first of all, are speaking animals. Much would be gained if we could eliminate this pernicious word “obedience” from our vocabulary of moral and political thought. If we think these matters through, we might regain some measure of self-confidence and even pride, that is, regain what former times called the dignity or the honor of man: not perhaps of mankind but of the status of being human.
Amen, Sister Hannah. The word “obey” implies passivity, compliance under force. You obey because you feel you have to — and therefore you have an excuse: “I was only following orders,” “I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t.”
But to “support” implies an active choice. Those who support become pillars — and therefore can’t evade responsibility for holding up a system that does evil.
I don’t knock those who commit active civil disobedience. They’re often people of tremendous courage. They say a loud and public NO and often succeed brilliantly in getting their message across to those who might otherwise never hear it. (Ironically, the worse government treats them, the more loudly they’re heard.)
On the other hand, civil disobedience sometimes plays right into the hands of the very power it aims to oppose: “See, these dirty, disruptive radicals are causing chaos. For your safety, for the sake of law and order, we must crack down.”
I think we could go a lot further if more people understood that we are just as responsible for our compliance as we are for our non-compliance — that in either case, we choose our own actions. And when it comes to moral choices, “the choice not to choose” — but just to go along — lays just as much on our shoulders as “the choice to choose” — and go our own way in creative disregard of authority.
It’s late. I’m tired. Just returned this afternoon from a weekend getaway and am packing for a cross-country move that will begin in a few days. Not sure if I’m up to the “brilliance” I promised the other day. But at least, dear readers, I owe you something other than postings about house roofs and pellet stoves.