Institutions: Our Maginot Line

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: / Teaching / Society / Social Order / Institutions /

Institutions: Our Maginot Line
Every school boy knows: the French built the Maginot Line. Big guns. The Germans would never be able to cross that line.

The French, just in case they were wrong and the Germans did cross that line, built the guns so they could not be turned: so the Germans couldn’t use the big French guns against the French.

If the designers intend their big guns to point at the devil and away from God, does that mean that two months, two years, two decades … later that the guns — which hold their shape longer than two decades — point away from God and toward the Devil? Are those who man the guns in two weeks or two years necessarily French?

In the case of the actual Maginot Line guns, those guns were controlled by the Germans in very short order: Belgium was a pushover and the Germans came in through the side door.

George Bernard Shaw, as usual, got the subject by the short hairs. He observed that when a society feels a threat the alphas will all rush to the front gate, jostling each other to be conspicuous as they reinforce the barricade. Meanwhile, the revolution waltzes in unchallenged through the back door.

(Bucky Fuller said things on the money too: People who talk revolution, do just that: talk. And politics waltzes on unchanged. Meantime, real revolutions jostle, changing the society utterly: through invention: through technology!)

When I was ten or so I baked cookies for my class. The teacher refused to credit such a possibility, profusely thanked my mother (whose absence prevented her from testifying), and called me a liar. The next day she was still at the head of the classroom and I was still getting a cold shoulder instead of recognition and thanks.

When I was eleven or so I told my Sunday School teacher that I wanted to discover the
common denominator of religions, believing that God must have revealed himself to all cultures and that we were just having problems with translation. The Sunday School teacher bent over backwards to discourage me, to hint that my soul would be in mortal danger … The next Sunday he was still the Sunday School teacher, backed by the church as speaking for the Bible (the Bible understood to be speaking for God) … I was still just a corrupt vessel to be filled by my elders and betters.

When I was thirty-two or so I was still trying to teach my teachers. I wanted to show them that the epistemological struggles of medieval Christianity still underlay many modern epistemological problems and that Shakespeare, in his Sonnets, had quintessentially dramatized the situation. Of course my teachers did the same thing to me that the Church did to so many of its thinkers in the Middle Ages: they interrupted me, they misrepresented me, they brought the postponement of my promotion to the point where I abandoned all expectation of ever receiving it. When we left the conference room, they went back to their tenured positions. I went back to my permanent student poverty. The university didn’t lose its charter. The state didn’t withdraw its land grant. God didn’t step in and declare Judgment Day then and there.

But then God didn’t step in and declare Judgment Day when King Herod and his minions suborned Roman Pontius Pilate to interrupt and misrepresent Jesus. The day after the crucifixion, Rome still ruled, still allowed Herod his throne. Pilate still held his extension of Tiberius’ scepter.

One of the most disastrous things about a kleptocracy is that it “sets” relationships that last longer than the truth of those relationships: not just that it builds guns that last longer than either hunger or quarrel.

Once upon a time, when you got tired of holding your bow at full bend, you put it down, you let the arrow slip. Once upon a time, if you entrusted the tribe fire to an inattentive gold brick, the tribe knew of its jeopardy: did something about it (if there was still time). Sir James Frazer reports the institution of the King of the Woods lasting into recent times: whoever could kill the king was king. There was no other role requirement. There were no Marquis of Queensbury rules. Jump on him out of the tree. Sneak up on him while he’s asleep, cut his throat, you’re the new king: for an hour, or a day, or two …


Whoever has the big gun is French. Whoever can do the most damage is on the side of God.

It’s happened again. I conceive of a module in one context, write something, post it: hate it, rewrite it, forget the original context … But surely you can see how the above applies to institutions. Surely you can also see that the above could have been placed in a number of directories at

Maybe the French can tell who’s French. Maybe the German’s can tell who’s German (they certainly had shown every confidence of infallibility in judging who was Jewish).

You know, claiming that “the French” “legitimately” “own” “France” isn’t nearly as bad as “Americans” claiming that they “legitimately” “own” anything so conspicuously won by genocide and built by slavery (and maintained by (mis)information and population (mis)management). The French at least have the decency to claim Right of Arms as a Right. I killed you: so God loves me. Americans have this preposterous fiction that the thieves and genocides Rightly Decided, Rightly Agreed … on this or that. The Owners own the truth: can make it any fiction they want.

I’ll tell you. There really are guns that can’t be turned. The truth is the truth. No amount of might and no multitudinous number can make pathology actually sane. The deceptions will backfire eventually. All our fantasies play out in a universe not deceived by our stories. Even if we can lie to God, can we lie to gravity?

Some day the king will be whatever is left.

In other words, human institutions have little provision for self-correction. Oedipus put his own eyes out and wandered forever out of the throne room once he discovered that he wasn’t what he thought he was, that indeed, he was the criminal he sought. The rest of us never realize that we’re not what we advertise but are rather the barbarian in spades. Whatever bad we do, we go right on thinking our horns and cloven hooves are angels’ wings. Wordsworth saw us trailing glory; I think it’s disaster we trail as we come.
@ K. 2001 12 14

Society Social Order Institutions

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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