Archives for category: authoritarianism

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.

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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…

Authoritarianism, of all ‘flavors’, depends on the ‘father figure’ being absolutely convinced that he is well above the rest. And it is this height which enables him to despise the rest, to the tune of not caring, at all, about how they feel about things.

‘I’m calling the shots, because I can, and the rest of you would better suck it up!’

Democracy, on the other hand, depends on people relying on each other. Enough of them are convinced that none of them is above error. Regardless of their ideological convictions, people who are convinced that democracy works are willing to accept advice from their peers. Or, at least, they listen carefully to what their peers have to say about issues.

The key word here being ‘peers’.

Nobody pays real attention to ideas coming from below or from above. If from below, that idea has to be almost obvious to pass the filter while everything coming from above is interpreted as an order. And executed if there’s no alternative or stalled/ignored whenever possible.

Both authoritarianism and democracy have proved themselves useful.

No war has ever been won by a democratically led army and no authoritarian regime has ever resisted for long. Meanwhile no democracy has ever crumbled as long as it has retained enough of its democratic spirit.
Yes, there are many examples of democracies becoming corrupted and eventually failing. Only this had happened after the democratic spirit had vanished into the smoke of ‘politics’.

Let me remind you that Alexandre the Great, one of the most admired generals and state-men of the world, was educated by Aristotle. Who was the favorite pupil of Plato. The esteemed philosopher who had invented the concept of ‘priest-kings’ – specially educated individuals who were meant to rule the rest.
Needless to add that Plato had witnessed Pericles simultaneously building the Parthenon and burying the Athenian democracy.
While Aristotle (384-322 BC) had lived long enough to witness his pupil conquering the entire ‘civilized world’ and dying an abject drunkard.
Greece, one of the places which had nurtured an enormously important part of the human culture, never fully recovered from the consequences of Plato’s ideas being put in practice.

Are we going down the same chute?
Is this the proper manner in which to engage those ‘on the other side of the isle’?

giving birth to a democrat

In one of my previous posts, I was arguing about everything belonging to one of these three categories: ‘Aphasic’, Alive and Alert.

The point I’m trying to make now being that each of us ‘rubber-stamps’, according to their individually biased interpretation, each people who crosses their path into one of those three categories.

Some consider that the ‘brain dead’ should be ‘eugenized’ while Plato had talked himself into believing that the ordinary people were too stupid to participate into the collective decision making process and should have been governed by specially trained ‘king-priests’. Thus setting the stage for all subsequent dictatorships, by offering any would-be authoritarian figure a ‘solid’ philosophical backing….

Meanwhile, the ‘alert’ among us are doing their best – or their worst, to accede to the ‘king-priest’ status.

Their favorite method?
You must have already inferred from the title… interpreting the law to fit their goals.
Or even rewriting it to that purpose.

In a yet older post, I mentioned that rules, a.k.a. laws, are made by us.

Intentionally, all of them. Regardless of their nature. Regardless of us only having discovered some of them – like the law of gravity, convened on others – like driving on only one side of the road, or having devised yet others ‘out of the blue’ – the rules for playing bridge, for instance.

Coming back to the judicial system, it’s simple to notice that even here the laws belong to the same three broad categories.

‘Don’t kill/steal’ are ‘natural’. People – well, most of them, have long ago understood/noticed/learned that it’s far more comfortable to live in a society were people don’t kill each-other. Hence they felt the need to set an uniform manner in which to react to ‘trespassers’.

Then, as social life became more complex, people have felt the need to ‘code’ many of the frequently occurring interactions. Matrimony, for instance. Or inheritance. Commercial law. And so on.

Finally, as we’ve become more ‘sophisticated’, some of us have started to ‘jump the gun’. Or to put the wagon in front of the horses…
Believing that laws, if enforced forcefully enough, can change – more or less ‘overnight’, human behavior, they started to impose over the rest of the society various ‘synthetic’ ones.
For instance, the communists have imposed their weltanschauung over the societies which have been weak enough to accept it… Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the only instance in which the more powerful have imposed ‘new’ laws over those who were too weak to protest efficiently. The Spanish have forcefully baptized the Aztec and the Inca, the North American Whites have transformed the more or less nomad ‘Indians’ into ‘reservation’ dwellers while imposing abject servitude upon imported Irish and then African people…

And so on…

 

 

“All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely” Lord Acton.

“If the benevolent ruler stays in power long enough, he eventually concludes that power and wisdom are the same thing. And as he possesses power, he must also possess wisdom. He becomes converted to the seductive thesis that election to public office endows the official with both power and wisdom. At this point, he begins to lose his ability to distinguish between what is morally right and what is politically expedient.”

Ben Moreell, Power Corrupts, 2010

“All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.”

Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune

According to Lord Acton, given enough time, even the most benevolent ruler will, if his opinions go unchallenged, ‘loose his bearings’.
According to Herbert, we’re in an even worse situation. Chances are very slim for a benevolent ruler to even become powerful enough to make a difference… before being overwhelmed by corruption…

Then how come we survived for so long? For so much time?

First of all, until recently, no ruler – regardless of how corrupt/inept or even how powerful, had no means to inflict more than a passing wound to ‘humanhood’. During the last five centuries, things have changed a bit… And no, this is not exclusively about the nuclear button. Cortez, Pizzaro, the African slave traders, Hitler, Stalin and those who had produced the 2008 financial melt down hadn’t used very sophisticated tools…
Secondly, I’m not sure there are nearly enough really bad characters to explain all the man made evil in the world.

Then how could we explain what’s going on?

“If the benevolent ruler stays in power long enough, he eventually concludes that power and wisdom are the same thing. And as he possesses power, he must also possess wisdom.”

Ups!
But does this happen?
The ruler slowly convinces himself or the whole thing is a consequence of the contemporary mantra?
That being elected to office means having beaten your opponents! As if politics were a sort of generalized fighting, not a cooperative effort of the entire community…
Which would, indeed, lead any rational agent to the conclusion that the longer somebody survives in a powerful position, the more ‘right’ he must be…

Then what would be easier to change?
The rational conclusion of those who survive in powerful positions or our current misapprehension about what politics should be?

For those who have managed to conserve enough naivety, politics is a team job.

For them, ‘political power struggle’ is an oxymoron. A figure of speech.

Unfortunately, those who have lost their political naivety (innocence?, virginity?) have given up all table manners and have introduced the concept of ‘RealPolitik’.
At first in the international arena and then, using the back door, on the domestic stage.

To what consequences?

When Bismark had coined the concept of RealPolitik, the major players in the international arena were following an already ancient mantra. Divide et Impera.

If ‘naive’ politicians attempt to convince their partners, the ‘real ones’ have only one goal in mind. Theirs.
While the ‘naive’ start any interaction by listening to what the others have to say, in an attempt to learn before starting to build a solution – one designed to fulfill the widest possible array of expectations, the ‘realists’ will use every trick up their sleeves to impose ‘their’ solution. The one which best fits ‘their’ interests and which has been devised without/before any proper consultation with the rest of those who will bear the consequences of that solution being implemented.

Some of the politicians whose naivety has been chipped during constant contact with the social reality eventually ‘wise’ up and reach the point where they accept manipulation as a ‘valid’ political tool. They start to hid part of the truth, to promise a tad more than what would be realistically possible… but at least they continue to pay lip service to the notion of ‘liberal democracy’.
The hard core ‘realists’ are way more ‘straightforward’. They burn bridges and give up any pretense of ‘window dressing’. ‘Struggle’ is no longer understood as a figure of speech.

Political struggle descends into the ring. Or, more exactly, the entire Agora becomes a battle field. The whole ‘arrangement’ devolves into a ‘dog eats dog’ situation.

To the glee of the ‘realists’ outside the border. Who can hardly wait for those ‘inside’ to start fighting in earnest. So that the outsiders might, yet again, put ‘divide et impera’ to work.

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