L. Neil Smith's

Number 15, October 1, 1996.

The Pharmakon and the Militia

By Fran Van Cleave

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Last week, while visiting Dean Pleasant, a member of the Viper Team now residing in the Florence facility of the Corrections Corporation of America (turn left off Pinal Parkway just past Immigration, you can't miss it), it occurred to me that the story of the Vipers contains a powerful mythic element at least as old as human history.
         Since ancient times, humans have maintained a plethora of self-deceptive explanatory myths which we used to help us survive. These myths include such things as explanations for why bad things happen to good people (curses cast on the innocent through ignorance), why one should help the poor (they may be gods in disguise), and what sacrifices to make to improve the crops (blood and bone make lovely fertilizer).
         Primitive people also believed that inanimate objects could bring evil and disharmony on society by their very existence. These objects, known as "deodands," would be ceremoniously destroyed by sorcerors in public rituals.
         The Pharmakon was the next step up from the deodand. "Pharmakon" is a Greek word with two meanings: "drug," and "scapegoat." When Greek society focused on a troublesome individual, they would claim him responsible for all the evils of society and then kill him with a cup of poison. In their view, Socrates became the Pharmakon when he drank the hemlock; his death brought rejoicing, because now they had been freed to return to a golden age of peace and prosperity.
         As Joseph Campbell once said, symbolism made real can be a very ugly thing.
         Though America started out with the basic concepts of individual freedom and self-responsibility, we have seen those concepts erode with the death of that Western frontier which made them not only possible, but necessary. In their stead have arisen the ancient irrationalisms we thought we'd destroyed: the division of society into aristocracy and peasants, and the return of the scapegoat.
         America has struggled with a scapegoat gap these last twenty years. It's no longer OK to blame society's problems on African-Americans, Jews, Italians, Catholics, the young, the poor, or the Military-Industrial Complex. All this broad-mindedness left society in a fix: who, then, to focus on for the ritual cleansing it needs? Would we be forced to look inward to solve our own problems on an individual basis?
         Not to worry. Blue-collar white men have bridged the scapegoat gap. Society's guardians couldn't attack an entire class -- that would be "classist" -- but fortunately for the consciences of the Renos and the Stephanopoli, blue-collar whites have conveniently subdivided themselves into smaller groups called "militias." Peasants with pitchforks? How about peasants with AR-15s?
         Militias have become suspect in recent years because they revolve around guns. With the 1968 Gun Control Act, the gun attained deodand status, and the ritualistic destruction by cleansing flame ("melt-downs") became inevitable.
         The self-appointed aristocracy, also known as the hoplophobe intelligentsia, can conceive of no greater threat than an armed peasant. Never mind that the Founders thought the militia -- the armed citizenry -- important enough to enshrine it in the Constitution, or that today's militia members are overgrown boy scouts who get home for supper by 6:00 p.m. It doesn't even make any difference that some militia members are Jewish, black, or Asian -- they have now been defined as white racists by the mere act of belonging to a group of people who include olive-drab in their wardrobes. It doesn't matter whether the group calls itself a militia or not. It no longer matters who any of these people are as individuals, or what they do or do not do.
         Aside from demonic guns themselves, what does matter to this aristocracy is any apparent association with the demons they fear. If Timothy McVeigh spent enough time with a militia to have been rejected by its members, that militia (and all others, of course) are irrevocably tainted by his reputation.
         This should tell us why the voices of militia members are ignored: they have been subsumed by the Pharmakon. Militias have filled the scapegoat gap.
         By this act of symbolism, the militias have accrued an eon's worth of symbolic evil. Anyone who defends these outcasts for any reason -- especially those who have been accused but not convicted of a crime -- is guilty of the same evil. If the witch floats, he's guilty, because if he was really innocent, he'd drown.
         No rational argument can defeat a myth in the minds of people immune to rationality. As far as the intelligentsia are concerned, the militias should all be destroyed ... and the sooner, the better. After all, that is how the myth is supposed to end.
         We'll all gather in a circle -- a replica of Stonehenge will do -- where we can watch Janet Reno, our high priestess, cast militia members one by one into a great fire. The flames will cleanse our society of all that is bad. Then and only then will we be freed to return to a golden age of peace and prosperity.
         Oh, and don't forget to melt down those guns while you're at it.

Lighten up, freedom lovers! Here's a good, light libertarian read. When NASA finds intelligent life on another planet, what does the U.S. Government do? Send them foreign aid, of course. Get the exciting details in Savior of Fire by Robert B. Boardman. Send $5.95 + $3.00 S&H to Blue Note Books, POBox 510401, Melbourne Beach, FL 32951. FL slaves :-( add 6% tax.

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