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Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Nature of Impunity

Humans are subject to a variety of powerful motivators, as are all animals. We are familiar with the list: hunger, sex, safety, various social motives and so on.  But we are the only animal that is also routinely moved by motivations that are purely the product of our imagination.  Of these, one of the most insidious is the desire for impunity of action, a desire that becomes, in the synergy of social interactions, an especially powerful drive.

Impunity does not exist in nature. Every organism’s successful existence is determined by the success of those other organisms that it would apparently, in human terms, dominate.  In a very real sense every species of organism in an ecosystem (natural economic system) must compensate the totality of the ecosystem in such a way that nothing is actually used up or held to exclusion from the flows of material and energy; all elements of the system must be supported by all participants .  The functional relationships in ecosystems, and therefore in the evolution of organisms, is the antithesis of impunity: ecosystems function on accountability and, in human terms, responsibility.

A primary issue for our “modern” systems of impunity is that impunity itself is all about not recognizing, realizing or responding to one’s own actions while it is the absolutely essential structure of ecosystems that all actions be integrated into a whole complex energy/chemical/behavioral flow and process.

Impunity is a cognitive production.  It is like any other idea derived from human imagination; that is, a creative product of Consciousness Order processes: appearance in the repertoire of thought demonstrates no quality of actual existence, only the possibility.  The conditions for the existence of impunity as a behavioral option resemble other purely cognitive productions such as ghosts, social rules and money economies, some more “real” than others, but all existing only in bubbles of human cognitive frames.  What all of these purely cognitive features share are tortured relationships with the reality of adaptive processes and the pushing off onto other organisms and systems the consequences of some aspects of their purely cognitive form made manifest as actual events [1].

Humans can imagine acting in the world without consequences or responsibility, and then they can attempt to create the conditions that would allow the imaginings [2].  But the absence, in nature, of the relationships that we humans imagine as impunity should be a clue that, at the least, we should be very careful.  The failure to respect the fundamental Realities of the biophysical world might immediately seem foolish, but the nature of impunity is to be free, or to imagine being free, of such fundamental restraints.

Since impunity as goal and behavior is so “unnatural”, how it is that it has become such a force in present human social, political and economic action? We have a hundred ways of saying it and we have a thousand excusing descriptions of why we do it, but it comes down to one thing only: we want to act in the world without restraint.  This begins in infancy. 

I realized as I watched my first child, from his first breaths, that he had two driving goals.  The first was to suckle at his mother’s breast and the second was to take over the world. 

Human infants are not frightened little bunnies, but devouring creatures inhibited only by their incapacities.  Just think of the terror and destruction if the intelligence and willfulness of a human 1½ year old were to invade the body of a grown gorilla… or for that matter a human adult.  And since it does actually happen some of the time that a human grows up without the dampening of the infantile nature, we have a name for that condition; we call it psychopathy, meaning simply, a pathology of the soul.  But we need not be so metaphysical; it is really that some part of the person has not grown beyond the natural desires of infancy.  If fact, we all still want to act in the world without restraint, but have learned through, primarily, a vast array of “punishments” that we cannot.

The desire for and the acceptance of impunity as a real condition of life is an immature conception.  No fully formed, competent adult human being would accept that actions can be performed without consequences or responsibility – even if the most dangerous and dramatic forms of the consequences can be arranged to be delivered to others in the present or to the future. Ultimately it is all of us, as the species and the extended system, that must absorb the effects. Still, there are always some members of a community that will seek impunity of action and so attempt to drive the social order to include the possibility.

Once impunity exists (seems to exist) in a social system, then it begins to control the system as more and more people and collectives strive to find ways to act without having to deal with the consequences and responsibilities of their actions.  It must be understood that this is inevitable in human process since it is in the design of the Consciousness Order to discover work-arounds, deny, delay or otherwise avoid dangers and challenges. 

In a community that fully accepts as a solid principle that nothing and no one can function with impunity, the work-arounds are still sought and are seen as community functions; but as soon as individuals realize, and the opportunity exists, that they too can act with impunity, the social process enters a new phase with some individuals and groups attempting complete impunity at the cost of the social order. (This is important: human communities can attempt to function with impunity, but by their design, as long as the people are “held to account” within the community, then the community will adapt within the ecological process. It is when individuals are free to act with impunity, beyond community influence, that there are no longer any feedback systems to mediate adaptation.)
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On a more mundane level: no politician has gone wrong telling people that he or she will see to it they can act without restraint.  This has many forms, but basically falls into two categories: being told that what you believe is right and that what you do is right.  Beliefs and actions have detailed adaptive histories and so can have many forms that may make little sense in a world of rapidly changing circumstance.  As the functioning of the world leaves beliefs behind, the people holding them are easy prey for the psychopaths who would really act with impunity – by claiming to offer impunity to others.

Just one example: Right To Work – that is a restraint-free formulation.  You want to work, well by God, you have a right to work.  But that is not what it means.  It means that the impunity of action is really in the hands of the employer, it means that the employer decides what to pay you, whether to hire or fire and the conditions under which you work; your restraint-free action is only whether you will take the job or not.  With a large and hungry labor pool the employer is freed from the consequences of unlivable low wages, would be freed from the consequences of dangerous working conditions and would not have to consider the other interests that actual human beings might have in the qualities of an activity to which half or more of their waking lives are devoted.

All such arguments are formed on a similar model: “We promise you freedom from the tyranny of the restraints imposed by the needs of community (containing some people who are not like you) at the cost of supporting the real impunity of the economic elites.

Imagining that actions can be taken without unpleasant consequences is natural only to Consciousness Order processes; it is then part of those processes to attempt to discover ways of accomplishing that result.  In the long history of this human method of adapting, the attempt has been to reduce unpleasantness to “acceptable” levels, but the possibility of complete impunity has come to be easily imagined, even if also considered unrealistic. As long as the possibility for impunity of action exists in a society, impunity will be the determining quality of that society, even as communities may attempt other options, the promise of freedom from responsibility will finally dominate decision and action.

There can be no solution to our current dilemmas as long as whole classes of people can function with impunity, so long as wealth confers an absolute impunity of power.  And no one voluntarily gives up the unlimited power to act without consequences or responsibility.  These are simple truths; these are first things first. While it may not be possible to take direct, effective action, it is possible to have the understanding from which action can be formed.

[1]These cognitive productions produce actual events and processes that very often have no comprehensible connection to the imaginings upon which they are based and, thus, go almost completely either unrecognized or misapprehended.  As a further distortion the discoverable consequences are often used in the construction of tertiary explanations for their existence that have almost nothing to do with anything other than accidents of association.

[2] A few examples of Imaginings of impunity:
To kill dangerous animals without danger.
To have any human, animal, plant or inanimate do what I wish.
To act with or on myself in any way without damaging consequence.
To take and/or control any object or resource for my own purposes.
To go anywhere I want, as quickly as I wish (in space or in time).
To ignore the power of others and to dominate them.
To be free of the responsibilities and consequences of all of my actions.
To act on the world and to treat others exactly as I wish.
To buy, sell or trade without limitation.
That no normally existing source of power can stop me from doing as I want.
My wishes and desires are all that matters.
(you might note that these are all forms of the infantile assertion, “I want what I want when I want it.”)