The Shield and the Sword

by Bob Wallace

Sometimes I get one of those eerie, Jungian synchronicities that make me go "hmm." The last time I got one, I was thinking about the mythological Greek god(dess) Ares and Athena. Ares, the cowardly, incompetent and blood-thirsty god of war, was hated by all the other gods (including his parents), but he was especially despised by Athena, the goddess of wisdom and civilization. Yet, they were both gods of technology. They overlapped in it.

I concluded that the myth was about how war and civilization were opposed to each other, and how, contrary to its supporters, there is no wisdom in war. Otherwise Ares would be the god of wisdom, not Athena.

Their overlapping as technology gods was due to the fact that technology is amoral; it's neither good nor bad. It can be used for either, for war or peace, for destruction or creation. As Cooper's Law ("All machines are amplifiers") informs us, technology (machines) do nothing more than amplify our natural abilities. What we use technology for is up to us.

And contrary to all the Earth-Firsters and other eco-weenies, technology is here to stay. It's not going away, ever. It'll only advance, as it always has.

The "hmm" occurred when I read Neal Stephenson's massive but absorbing novel, Cryptonomicon.  I found he has several pages of discussion about Ares and Athena. I even remember where it started: page 800. (That's right: page 800. The novel is almost 1,000 pages long.)

It turns out he and I have come to essentially the same conclusions.

Stephenson believes, as I do, that ancient myths embody great, universal truths. They would not have lasted if they didn't. They just need to be updated for the modern mind. It's doesn't make any sense these days to say that Athena is the goddess of weaving. It makes a great deal of sense to say she's the goddess of technology. Weaving is just a primitive form of technology.

Here's where we badly need some mythic updating. In the past, Ares was just the god of war. Today, if we apply some libertarian theory about the difference between the State and Society, he becomes much more than a mere serial killer: he's now the god of the State. All States, being based on coercion and the threat of violence, are always about war. Indeed, they are always at war, because no matter what it gets involved in, no matter what its good intentions, it will only create conflict.

Just look at the "war on drugs," which has increased crime, or the "war on poverty," which has increased broken families, or the "war on terror," which has increased hatred against the US. The State is Ares. And being Ares, he is a bungler, as all States are bunglers.

Athena, being the goddess of civilization, is now the mythic goddess of Society. Since the State is based on the Political Means and Society on the Economic Means, they are always opposed to each other, and always will be. Applied libertarian theory backs up the Greek story of Ares and Athena being enemies. Of course she despised him, just as people knowledgeable enough despise the State because they know its unalterable nature is to always war on Society, to attempt to absorb--and therefore terribly damage--it.

Athena is armed with a sword and a shield, named Aegis. The shield is the important thing: it had the head of the Gorgon depicted on the front of it, which turned to stone anyone who looked upon it. Her shield, which was created by technology, is both an offensive and defensive weapon. Against what? Apply libertarian theory again. Her shield is for offense and defense against the State. Against Ares.

The point of the myth of Athena is that Society must always have defensive and offensive weapons against the State! It can be no other way. The Founding Fathers understood this, when they created the Bill of Rights, especially the Second Amendment, which has two purposes--as a defense against the little criminals known as people, but mostly as a check on the big criminal known as the State.

Unfortunately the Bill of Rights is just a piece of paper. The State interprets it. That's why, today, a little after 200 years of its existence, it is mostly dead. A piece of paper isn't much of a shield. And without firearms, the citizens don't have much of a sword.

In the original myth Ares had various  weapons--but none were named. It didn't matter, because naming his weapons was irrelevant. Today, since Ares is the god of the State, he does have at least one weapon with a name.

That weapon is the State itself. Today, Ares cowardly hides behind the State, and uses advanced technology to attack and destroy Societies on the other side of the world. George Bush, who claims he is a Christian, is actually an Ares worshipper. So are Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Max Boot, David Frum, William Kristol and Rush Limbaugh.

The parallels in the Christian tradition (of which Greek myths are a part) tell us that although Societies may not necessarily worship God, all States, in varying degrees, do worship Satan. All States, of course, claim God is on their side, and supports their murder, lies, theft and destruction. Thus, anyone who believes in the goodness of the State cannot tell the difference between God and the Devil.

In my opinion, Ares has evolved--or de-evolved--into the archetype of the Chickenhawk--part Ares, part Satan, part Trickster. I also refer to this archetype as "the Frum," for mostly obvious reasons. One which isn't obvious is that the name has a nice repulsive sound to it, like "Gollum."

One of the reasons--possibly the main one--the Chickenhawk today can be the Chickenhawk is because advanced technology allows it. In the past, leaders were often on the battlefield. Today, never. Instead, they can sit on one side of the planet and murder people on the other side with a push of a button. Such is the misuse of technology by the cowardly modern-day followers of Ares.

Can the archetype of the Chickenhawk get any worse than it is now? Sure. If Chickenhawks, who are fascists, had their way, they'd Borgify the entire society. Conscription--slavery--might be the first thing they'd do.

Being part Ares, the Chickenhawks love war. Being part Satan, they lust after the power to rule. Being part Trickster, they'll tell every lie possible to advance their agenda. But being Chickenhawks, they want others to fight the wars.

Since Ares and Athena are always at odds, the State is continually trying to disarm Society. Gun control, for example, is an attempt to remove the technology Society uses to protect itself against criminals, whether they are of the State or outside it. It's Ares saying Athena must give up her sword and shield, and be at his mercy. Only a fool would fall for it.

It is Society, the free market and liberty, that creates advanced technology. Yet foolish people voluntarily give it to Ares, because he has tricked them into thinking he is one of the good guys. Those who understand the wisdom of Athena know differently.

These days, for the Chickenhawk, the State is the shield and the advanced technology of the military is the sword. These scoundrels hide behind the shield, wrapping themselves in the flag, claiming the State and Society are the same thing, that they represent it, and those who disagree with them are unpatriotic, indeed traitors. They use the sword to attack other Societies around the world.

What is the defensive/offensive shield that modern-day Athena has against Ares? Remember that since Ares and Athena overlap as technology gods, Ares can and will use the technology that Athena creates. But, for every threat by the State, there will be a defense by Society.

Some of the ones today are computers, software and cryptography. The Internet can be described as an anarchistic community, one in which information can go around the world in a second. The State, of course, wants to control it--to tax it, and to shut parts of it down.

It certainly wants to control cryptography, because of encryption. For all practical purposes modern-day encryption is unbreakable. People who use encryption are safe from the prying eyes of the State.

Another is microtechnology. Given its way, Ares would microchip every person in the US. Athena will find a way around that, too. Or, if people resist implantation, which will probably be too much even for the sheeple because of its "Number of the Beast" implications, there's the possibility of a driver's license with a magnetic strip on it, containing a plethora of information about the possessor. Or it being connected to a national database that says if you don't pay a $7 parking ticket in a state 1000 miles away your license will be suspended.

Fortunately, Society will attempt to find a way around these things. Athena, like Ares, must be part Trickster in dealing with him. It's an unending battle and probably always will be.

Stephenson believes the coming battlefields between Ares and Athena are "bio-, micro- and nanotechnology." These technologies, amplifiers of our of abilities, will be used by States, by Ares, for war, to control the free market, and to strip people of their freedoms.

Of course, the rationale will be that it is in the name of "security" and "safety." This is nonsense. As Chief Wiggum of The Simpsons once said, "I didn't say the government couldn't harm you. I said it couldn't help you."

Stephenson is right about those three battlefields, but there is more.

The battlefield has always, ultimately, been about ideas. That's the main battle between Ares and Athena. It always has been. "Ideas have consequences, " wrote Richard Weaver in his book of the same title. "He who works with the head, rules; he who works with the hands, is ruled," the old saying tells us.

Ares will attempt to appropriate everything for his use--technology, economics, philosophy, political science, religion. He will tell the citizens it will be for their own good. Considering States, in the 20th century, killed up to 200 million people, no one should believe this.

Unfortunately, there will never be a shortage of deluded court intellectuals working for Ares.

The wisdom of Athena tells us that Society must use technology, and intelligence, and the same ideas about economics, philosophy, political science and religion to oppose Ares and protect Society from his depredations.

The future is impossible to tell, as are advances in technology. But I do know the advances in technology by Society, whatever they are, will be used by Ares to attack and control Society. They must be countered by Society, by Athenan wisdom.

Stephenson makes the disturbing point that many people today have essentially become illiterate, that they have returned to an oral culture, one in which TV is predominant. Many believe its foolish myths. Just think "West Wing." Apparently many people can no longer truly think. What they read goes in one ear and out the other. I blame this on the State schools. Ares has taken control of them, too. That makes it easier to brainwash the populace.

A working brain, one that understands the nature of the State, and the evil it always attempts, and how to fight against it, is the most important thing. It is the ultimate sword, and the ultimate shield.

published at Endervidualism on  7/22/04

Bob Wallace has a degree in Journalism. Formerly a reporter and editor, now an author, Bob penned I Write What I See. Visit his Shameless Book Promotion Page and his Page Full o' Fun. He also blogs. Bob has previously written articles and essays which have been published by LewRockwell.com, The Libertarian Enterprise, Sierra Times, Strike-the-Root, and The Price of Liberty, in addition to Endervidualism.