Archives for category: authoritarianism

The relatively flat layout of most parliamentary chambers has induced in us the idea that society is linear. From left to right and backwards.
Also, the current almost ubiquitous existence of parliaments drove us to forget that until recently – historically speaking, of course, most societies have been punctiform. The sovereign king was the only one able/entitled to make any significant decision…

Meanwhile we are told by the political scientists that long term political stability can be achieved only through ‘checks and balances’. Meaning that the state has to be organized in such a way that nobody can get amass too much power.
Actually most modern states have an executive, a legislative body and a judiciary. Each of them performing their specific tasks while keeping a jealous eye on the other two.

The problem with long term political stability being that it is a very abstract goal while most people just want to be happy. And are willing to go at considerable lengths in order to achieve their goals….

And it’s exactly here where ideologues start to argue among themselves

Some say that the individual is sacrosanct. That individual freedom is the most important value that is and the most fundamental ‘human right’.
Others say that society is more important than any individual. That all individuals should put themselves at the service of the society and that individual liberty pales when confronted with social necessity.
And a third category consider that democracy is a waste of time and of opportunity. That the best for any society is that a capable person/group of persons to be given absolute power over it. The rationale being that ‘the capable’ will take good care of their ‘property’. A far better kind of care than any group of bickering politicians would ever be able to offer….

On the practical side, those preoccupied with ‘freedom’ consider that the main duty of the state is to preserve/protect individual liberty. That people, once free, will know how to achieve their personal happiness.
The socially minded consider that individual happiness cannot exist before/outside the well being of the entire society. Hence the ‘rational citizen’ has to postpone (read forget) any personal goals and sublimate their own persona into the society.
‘The more capable than the rest’ consider that the ‘incapable’ cannot be trusted with defining their own goals and have to be told what to do. For their own good!

It is very easy to observe that none of the three ‘ideal types’ described above doesn’t work on its own. That each have been experimented and found to be ‘unpractical’, to say the least.

Individual absolute freedom exists. The Saan living in the Kalahari desert and the  Baka in the Cameroon don’t have any formal rules, no social hierarchy and are absolutely free to do as they please. Both have been easily overcome, their habitat is being encroached/destroyed by their ‘neighbors’ and have been able to survive only by going further and further away from anything.
Socially minded people have, time and time again, congregated. Only to witness their communities dissolve or develop malignantly. From the early christian settlements to the XiX-th century phalansters.
The ‘know better’ is, apparently at least, the most successful arrangement. All kingdoms and empires have been organized according to this principle.
And all of them eventually failed. Even Plato’s idea of ‘king priests’ has led to Alexander the Great’s ultimately disastrous campaign into the Middle East. Not to mention the fact that the erstwhile mighty Athens had fallen into anonymity just after starting to be governed by specially trained rulers.

Since the pure ideal types didn’t work, let’s see what we get if we combine them.

Since I’ve been experimenting it for the first 30 years of my life, I’ll start with the result of crossing ‘social minded’ with ‘know better’. Does ‘communism’ ring any bells with you?
Let’s cross ‘liberty’ with ‘know better’. Actually this has already been done. It was about liberty for those who knew better… Nazism, and its newer variants, are the first examples which come to mind.
And the most interesting result comes from crossing freedom with social minded. This has also been experimented. In the democratic Ancient Athens and in during the truly Republican phase of the Roman Empire. The same combination was used by the vikings and somehow perpetuated to this day. Its offshoots being the western style democracy.

Which democracy – just like the Roman Empire, will survive for only as long as it will conserve both individual freedom and social mindedness while allowing, but only when needed, the ‘know better’ to take over for the short periods of time when their presence at the helm is absolutely necessary.

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Which is worse?

– Making mistakes?

– Calling them out as a manner of ‘making ends meet’?

– Embellishing/inventing mistakes as a manner of promoting your own interests?

Or sheeple-shly standing by while those involved in the vicious circle described above merrily destroy the world around all of us?

I keep hearing that “America is not a Democracy, it is a Republic if you can keep it“.

Well, if nothing else, this is yet another example of how dangerous it is to give up studying ‘humanities’. As in classical languages, history…

‘Republic’ comes from Latin. Res Publica. Meaning a sociopolitical arrangement, a.k.a. country, ‘where “things” – “res”, in Latin, are decided upon by the “public” or the representatives that they elect.

Democracy comes from Greek. Demos Kratos. Meaning a sociopolitical arrangement where ‘power’ – ‘kratos’, belongs to ‘the people’ – demos.

Starting from here, it becomes a lot easier to understand that it doesn’t really matter whether the guy sitting at the formal top of a country calls himself king or president.
It’s who calls the definitive shot which determines whether a country is run as a democracy or is being ruled as an authoritarian regime.

“Government is suppose to be a negative force that leaves people alone.”

I’m afraid this would make any of the Founding Fathers weep.
It’s the ministers – secretaries of state, as the Americans call them, who need to be kept in check, not ‘Government’.
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people” means that the people governs itself. The people determines its own future. All the people …. not just ‘the government’. Extracting, at the conceptual level, ‘the government’ from ‘the people’ means freeing those who happen to be ‘the government’, at any given moment, from their responsibilities. Telling ‘the people’ that ‘the government’ should leave them alone actually means that the people should also leave the members of the government to do as they please.
Really? Would any of you be comfortable with such an arrangement?

“Once Rome left the tenets of their Constitution they adopted Democracy and soon people were left demanding more from the Gov’t. A Gov’t that could not provide.”

In reality, Rome had thrived for only as long as it had managed to preserve the truly democratic features of its government. As long as the citizens went to the Forum – the Roman Agora, and voted their true minds. As long as the Senators did their jobs honestly and decided for the future of the entire city.
Only after the Roman People had given up and stood idle while their democracy was corrupted into ‘mob-rule’ by the bribe-greedy senators, the Roman Empire had started to crumble. The Roman Empire was no longer a true republic nor a functional democracy when it was abolished by Augustus being proclaimed Emperor by his soldiers.
And the final nail was beaten into the Roman coffin when the people itself had started to accept bribes.
When Rome had started to be ruled according to the ‘panem et circenses’ principle. When the people had let himself be bribed by those who wanted to stay in power and when the people had stopped censuring those who determined the fate of the entire social organism.

When ‘the government’ had extracted itself from the people.

And yes, Republic has to be kept. Only not for its own sake. For ours.

It doesn’t matter whether a country calls itself a kingdom or a Republic, it’s how the shots are called which is really important. By the People or by a small number of individuals. While it is true that the Roman Empire had to devolve from a Democratic Republic to a dictatorial kingdom before crumbling, let’s not forget Germany and Russia.
Both had thrown out their rulers – Kaiser and Tzar, only to fall under the spell of dictatorial ideologies which had led both of them to ruin.
To republican ruin.
Both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia had been ruled as republics by small coteries of callous manipulators.

Really?

Am I the first to understand that once you’ve eaten it, nobody will ever again be able to part YOUR cake from you?

It stops being a cake as you chew on it?

Well… yeah. Actually it does. But… it remains a cake in your memory! That’s what you’ll remember having eaten: A cake!

And now, that we’ve settled the ‘eaten cake’ problem, let me ask you another question.

How strange is it that so many conservatives consider taxes as an infringement upon their right to freely dispose of their property yet they have no qualms to impose their beliefs upon other people – women, to be more precise, denying them the right to freely  dispose of their own bodies?

Because all life is sacred!

Hence, in their view, all abortion is murder. Regardless of the age of the fetus. Regardless of the consequences of having an unwanted child. Too early, too many, not enough money, health problems, sexual assault… nothing counts except for the right of the fetus to be born.

Some go even further. They consider that contraception is murder too. Because it denies the right of the egg-cell to become an embryo…

As I said before.
It is not only possible but very normal to have your cake and eat it too.
Same goes for convictions.
Once embedded in our heads they become ours and nobody can part them from us, no matter what logical arguments might be involved. Invoked?

Except for us. We are the ones who can leave behind some of our old convictions and reach new ones.
Conversion is the name of the game.

A game we’ve been playing since the dawn of time.

For anything to become a resource, somebody has to:

a. notice it and
b. figure out that, and how, it can be used towards what that particular individual has in mind.

Until both these conditions had been met, it remains – at most, just something that is there.

The first thing any of us does when becoming conscious is to notice differences. That’s how we learn about the world.
We notice the difference between Mother and everybody else, then between Mother, Father and everybody else, between soft and hard, cold and warm, … etc. etc….

The next step is to notice the difference between ourselves and the rest of the world.

The third stage is no longer about noticing but about understanding. About putting two and two together.

Some people understand that by being different, people may complement each other. That by learning different trades, according to their talents, they may cooperate towards improving their chances of survival and their quality of life.

Other people understand that by being different, people may be made to hate and despise each-other. By concentrating the popular focus on the differences between ‘they’ and ‘the others’, the spin-doctors build up the pressure until the made-up inevitable happens.

After the ‘explosion’, the survivors have the opportunity to understand that they are not so different, after all.
That their friends and relatives have died simply because they had allowed for the differences between them to be used improperly.

More than 30 years ago, a very good friend of mine had emigrated from then communist Romania to the US. Ten years later he landed  a job with a huge Japanese corporation, his previous position having been that of COO for a way, way smaller corporation. One where the owners were not only involved in running the business but also ‘close’ enough to the ‘daily hustle’.
After a few weeks he phoned me. He was utterly dejected. ‘It’s as if I’m back in Romania, working for a state owned enterprise. Nobody cares for anything but the hide on their own backs. And they act very narrow-mindedly. They lie to their bosses, don’t share work related knowledge with their co-workers and so on, without realizing that by behaving in this manner they actually weaken the structure which ‘feeds’ them. Furthermore, those in charge don’t care about anything else but their fat ‘compensation packages’, not realizing that, on the longer run, their behavior is leading to ruin. Meanwhile, the shareholders  – from ‘far-away’, don’t realize what’s going on. Until too late, of course.’

Some 25 years ago, another good friend of mine had emigrated to Canada. He currently works, as a contractor, for a huge Canadian corporation. A few weeks ago he was here for a short vacation and we had a chat. ‘Nobody cares for anything anymore. The contracting agencies don’t give a damn whether the people they send over are actually able to do the work, the bosses don’t understand, or care, very much… it’s as if we, the ex-communists, have came back from their future…’

Even the ‘family run’ businesses have lost their edge. Their owners are no longer ‘close’ to their employees and the businesses are very quickly sold to the highest bidder. And incorporated into ever-growing entities…

The two friends I already mentioned said that ‘whenever a corporation grows big enough, it starts to resemble a state’. My own experience concurs.

Only I’d take a step further.

‘Whenever an organization grows big enough, those who ‘inhabit’ it start behaving as if employed by a state/state-owned entity’. As if their job/position is theirs to be had/defended by birth-right. A feudalism of sorts.

And these people end up passionately defending the organizations which give meaning to their lives.
As they are! Simply because any change in the organization would imply a change, for the worse, in the fate of the individuals defending the current status.

And why would any individual behave in such a short-sighted manner?

“Every position in a given hierarchy will eventually be filled by employees who are incompetent to fulfill the job duties of their respective positions.”

Peter

BTW, when was the last time you came across the concept of ‘company culture’?

 

At any given moment, things are the intersection between ‘what could have been’ and ‘what we wanted out of that situation’.

It’s obvious, for even the most careless observer, that something must be possible before our wishes might start shaping that something.

My point being that we are not necessary for nature to exist but we do bear the responsibility for what has happened since we started to wish.

Let’s consider a hydroelectric dam, for example.
For us to be able to build one, we first need a river. A big enough one, flowing through a certain configuration of terrain… but nevertheless, we need a river. Before everything else.
Yet it’s not the presence of the river which is responsible for the existence of the dam. We, the builders, have built it. We are responsible for it.

And this is valid for other things too, not only for the ‘material’ ones.

Democracy, for example.

War taught us that destruction is not inevitable. Wars have to be started before destruction begins.
After killing each-other for long enough we’ve learned that we’re not so different.
We bleed the same kind of blood and our mothers weep the same tears.
Eventually, we replaced war with sport.

History taught us that democracy works better, in the longer run, than authoritarianism.
That observing the world from multiple perspectives – and pooling the data, leads to way better results than meekly following orders.

Both war and sports are ample demonstrations that winning is temporary and surviving trumps everything else.
And, contrary to our ‘immediate urges’, that fair play goes a lot further towards survival than ‘winning at all costs’.

Similarly, both surviving and decaying/crumbled down democracies are compelling proof that democracy is based on mutual respect between the members of the democratically self governed community.
And that when ever that mutual respect starts to vanish, democracy – the real thing, starts to fade. Usually into ‘mob rule‘. And further, if the process is allowed to continue.

So.
What’s gonna be?
Are we going to allow our craving for ‘success’ to return sport to blood sport? A.k.a war?
And to demote functional democracy, oriented towards the survival of the community as a whole, to mob rule?
Declaratively geared – by the interested party, towards the putative survival of the ‘establishment’? Never, as yet, achieved even on the medium term… let alone the long one

I just finished reading an excellent article about AI.

And it hit me.

We are simultaneously capable of noticing our limits and utterly incapable of dealing with them.

Well… if you think of it, this is the very definition of a ‘limit’.
Something which cannot be overcome…

We have a limited understanding of the world, we know this and yet we’re arrogant enough to embark on building  autonomous mechanisms to help us react to something we haven’t yet fully understood ourselves…

Archimedes was famous for “give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I’ll move the Earth”.
Robert K Merton warned us about the ‘Law of the unintended consequences’.
The last financial melt down was yet another proof of what happens when highly leveraged instruments are used without any shred of ‘modesty’.
All major religions warn us about the consequences of building our own idols.

Despite all this, we barrel on.
Regardless.

Trump vehemently denies any collusion with Putin’s troll-farms.

And almost all people, implicitly and/or explicitly, accept that the troll-farms had, or at least attempted to have, a certain influence over the American electoral process in 2016.

Does Putin actually control Trump? Did Putin ever imagined that he could control Trump while in office?
That would have been extremely naive… Trump may be influenced – like all other people, but he is a lot harder to control than most of us. Even by himself…
On the other hand, the ‘checks and balances’ are still in place and makes it almost impossible for a foreign agent to exert a sizable influence over the US Government.

Directly, that is…

The particular configuration of the American political spectrum in 2016 had been a huge opportunity for Putin.
He needs to convince those who support him, both inside and outside Russia, that he is a ‘shrewd operator’ and that Russia still belongs to the big boys table.
Meddling into the 2016 presidential campaign accomplished both Putin’s goals.

Maybe another investigation but Mueller’s is in order.
What possessed both major US political parties to nominate such candidates?
Which had so many skeletons in their closets for ‘shrewd operators’ to unearth?

We arise as human beings in the experience of observing ourselves observing.

Humberto Maturana, The origin and conservation of self-consciousness, 2005

Maturana’s essay is compelling.
Yet, like everything else done by us humans, it is not ‘complete’.
It doesn’t mention ‘memory’, nor ’empathy’.

A key difference between a psychopath and a sociopath is whether he has a conscience, the little voice inside that lets us know when we’re doing something wrong, says L. Michael Tompkins, EdD. He’s a psychologist at the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center.

A psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. If he lies to you so he can steal your money, he won’t feel any moral qualms, though he may pretend to. He may observe others and then act the way they do so he’s not “found out,” Tompkins says.

A sociopath typically has a conscience, but it’s weak. He may know that taking your money is wrong, and he might feel some guilt or remorse, but that won’t stop his behavior.

Both lack empathy, the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel. But a psychopath has less regard for others, says Aaron Kipnis, PhD, author of The Midas Complex. Someone with this personality type sees others as objects he can use for his own benefit.

Kara Mayer Robinson, Sociopath vs. Psychopath: What’s the Difference, WebMD

You see, both the psychopath and the sociopath are aware of their own doings. They are able to observe themselves observing. And doing whatever it is that they are doing.
They are aware of their goals.
And do what it takes to achieve them.

The problem with the psycho/sociopaths being that a quirk of their memory allows them to learn – to remember, through language, the information contained in past experiences, but denies them the ability to recollect/imagine the emotional consequences imposed by their actions upon those who happen to be affected.

That’s why the psycho/sociopaths don’t have a functional conscience.

Sometimes during their coming of age, something went wrong.

The interface which mediates some of the information traded between their brains and the rest of the world is flawed.

Our brain consists of three main sections. The reptilian, the limbic and the neocortex.
The reptilian part deals with the ‘mechanical’ aspects of our lives – breathing, heart rate, etc, the limbic deals with our emotional lives – and is the first which can store easily accessible ‘memories’, while the neocortex is the part where most of our ‘reasoning’ takes part.
Of course that these three parts are interconnected. That’s how we can influence our breathing and why we – well, most of us, are able to control our sexual urges.

My point being that self-awareness is not enough.
Both psycho and sociopaths are able to calibrate their actions in order to achieve their goals. Which is the functional definition of being aware of yourself.
By not being able to fully grasp the emotional consequences imposed by their actions upon those who are affected by them, the psycho/sociopaths can develop only a more ‘focused’ understanding of the world than the rest of us.
Which can sometimes be a lot deeper than usual. Some of the psycho-sociopaths have been notoriously proficient manipulators…

But no matter how deep that understanding may have been, its lack of breadth has proven fatal. Historically and statistically speaking, of course.

This being the reason for which having a functioning conscience is an evolutionary advantage for individuals.
And, maybe even more important, for the communities composed of those individuals.

Societies which have successfully identified and kept in check those who behaved improperly fared way better than those which had allowed the ‘bulls’ to take control over the ‘china shop’.

And what better example is there than the fact that democratic societies constitute a better medium for their members to live in than the authoritarian ones?

As long as democracy isn’t replaced by mob-rule, of course…

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