Archives for category: authoritarianism

“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?

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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.

Things interact according to their nature.
Mass generates gravitational pull, electric charge produces electrostatic forces, a moving electric charge gives birth to a magnetic field… hydrogen is ‘infatuated’ with chlorine, white phosphorus is so keen to combine itself with oxygen that it actually behaves indecently if not ‘modestly’ hidden in water… sex is the driving force which sets the animal world in motion… while survival instinct, however powerful, is, sometimes, overcome by altruism.

Meanwhile rules are just a figment of human awareness interacting with observable interaction between things.

And no, the ‘simple’ ability to learn is not sufficient, by itself, to generate rules. The rats in Rat Park were quick to figure out how to get a ‘fix’ of morphine but that didn’t mean they had ‘discovered’ any rule…
For that to happen, the ‘ruler’ needs to be able to watch from ‘above’. From ‘outside’ the interaction.

And this is why we find it easier to study other persons. Preferably strangers. ‘The doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient’. Simply because our ability to watch ourselves from outside – and to compartmentalize knowledge, is real but severely limited.

Yet, limited as it is, it’s powerful enough to help us generate rules.

 

The oldest surviving civilized nation, China, calls itself Zhongguo.
The Middle Kingdom. ‘In the middle’ of the barbaric people that surrounded her but also at middle distance between Heaven and the rest of the Earth. The aforementioned barbarians.

And, according to Confucius, it was the emperor’s job to ‘keep things as they should remain’.

Which makes sense. After all, the whole kingdom was the exclusive property of the emperor. And whose job is to watch over one’s property?

Well, things went on long enough for those involved to believe this was the natural order of things.
Until the whole arrangement was upset by a small number of people which had come, more or less ‘under their own steam’, from the other side of the world. And who were, at that time, a lot less civilized than the Chinese.

How can be explained something like this?
OK, the Aztec and the Inca empires might have been primitive relative to the Spanish invaders. They might have prevailed over the small number of invaders by brute force but they had been overcome by the sheer novelty and the apparent sophistication of the assailants.
But China had been in contact for centuries with the rest of the ‘civilized’ world! And way advanced than the rest. Both culturally and economically.

So, what had happened?
How can something like this be explained?

We might try to take the ‘historical route’. And observe that, exactly as Confucius and Laozi had told us, China’s destiny had been tightly linked to the ability of those in charge – the emperors, to manage the empire. From the paleolithic migrations until the Mongol invasion in 1271, nothing from outside had any significant impact over the Chinese hinterland. But the fortunes of those living in that hinterland had oscillated from the misery induced by almost constant ‘live conflict’ during the Warring States period to the various prosperous eras. The Han, Tang and Song dynasties, to mention just a few of them.
The same principle had been valid also for what went on while foreign dynasties had been in power. As long as the ‘managers’ were doing their jobs, things continued to improve. As soon as the helm was grabbed by an incompetent leader… all hell broke loose.

But is the emperors’ incompetence enough to explain what had happened during the XIX-th century? The most advanced, and numerous, nation on Earth had been subjugated – for all practical purposes, by a bunch of drug pushers pretending to act in the name of the far away, and far weaker, British King?

Or we can take the sociological route.
Along which we’ll notice that the ‘drug pushers’ were only nominally subjects of the British Empire. Which empire was behaving imperially only towards the exterior while inside it was already a democracy!

Sounds familiar?

Ancient Athens, the first known democracy, had dominated the Eastern Mediterranean for as long as it had retained its democratic character and had failed, abysmally, each time it had reverted to tyranny?
Ancient Rome had established a huge empire as a democratic republic and collapsed four short centuries after becoming a totalitarian empire?
And so on…?

And what might be the difference between a totalitarian empire and a democratic one?
On the face of it, a democratic empire sounds like an oxymoron… yet there’s plenty of such examples in our history…

As you might guess from the title of this post, the ‘famous’ middle class was both the engine and the explanation for the ease with which the ‘democratic’ empires had been established. And yes, the Spanish and Portuguese ones can be explained in the same manner. At that time none of the Iberian monarchies was yet behaving in the absolutist manner they had pursued as soon as the looted precious metals had started to pour in…

But what makes the middle class so special?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb would tell you that the middle class has enough skin left in the game to really care about the outcome and I’m going to add that the middle class is simultaneously distanced enough from the fray to act in a reasonable enough manner.

Let me put back, for a short while, my historian’s cap.

Most of us consider that the middle class is a late appearance. That most of the time, humankind had been divided in two. The haves and the have-nots. The powerful and the meek.
Well, I’m not so sure about that…
For the first 60 000 years after we had learned to speak – which had made us really human, we had been living in small packs. Led by the more powerful male member of the group – if we consider that our ancestors used to behave like our Chimpanzee cousins, or ‘self managed’ in a more or less democratic manner if our ancestors had used the model followed by our other cousins, the Bonobos.
Or we could look at how the surviving ‘primitives’ lead their lives. None of the Hadzabe, Yanomami or Inuit, who have survived in the most difficult conditions on Earth, have a hierarchical social structure.
Primitives?!? Maybe… but not because of their social arrangements. After all, they are freer than most of us.
And what is it that we, proudly modern people, value more than our individual freedom?

Money? I’m going to let this rest… for a while.

Let’s go back to our ancestors.
Who, by all indications, had been living as ‘extended middle class societies’. Without any 0.1% and without people who went to bed hungry while the rest of the gang had been gorging themselves.
Let’s remember now that during those times we had actually transformed ourselves from apes to humans. And if you consider this to be a small feat, just try to teach a bonobo to speak. Then remember how many people who had been born in poor and backward countries are now successful business people or scientists. After passing through a thorough educational process, true! Only that educational process is in no way accessible to any bonobo…
Don’t disparage the long evolution we had graduated from, as a species, while living in ‘extended middle class societies’.

‘But you haven’t explained what you mean by middle class! Most of us see the middle class as those people who make a certain amount of money each year and you keep speaking about primitive people… who have absolutely no use for any money…!’

OK.
For good or for bad, our present society consist of three categories of people.
The haves, the in-between and the dirt poor.

I’m not going to assign numerical values to any of these.
Taleb’s Skin in the Game criterion is far more useful in this situation.

The haves qualify only after they have no skin left in the game. In the sense that they have so much ‘money’ that come hell and/or high water they feel safe. What they make of this world is heavily influenced by the thick ‘insulation’ which separates them from the rest of the world.
The dirt poor – or the lumpen proletariat, in Marx’s terms, have all their skin in the game. In fact, they are the famous ‘Boiling Frog’. They have no way of leaving the kettle so…

In a sense, both haves and the dirt poor are  prisoners. Neither can leave their respective cell blocks. Simply because the dirt poor have no way to go anywhere while almost none of the haves would be able to survive ‘outside’.

the boiling frog

Wesley Chang, The Boiling Frog, Medium.com

Which leaves us with the middle class.
Who have some resources stashed away – or enough credit available, to weather some crises. But not enough to last them for their entire remaining lives.
Which makes the middle class the only really interested people in the long term well being of the entire society. The only ones really interested in maintaining the freedom of the market as the main economic engine. The only ones really interested in maintaining democracy as the main manner of avoiding catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by the too powerful autocrats.

Or, from a psychological point of view, we can look at the haves/dirt poor as being stuck in an immobile state of mind while the middle class are the only open minded members of the society.
In fact, I prefer this last approach.
You see, until recently the American Dream was relatively accessible. With some luck, a ton of determination and a fair amount of brain power, the sky was the only limit. Belonging to any of those three categories, haves, middle class and dirt-poor was as much about the state of mind of those involved as it was about actual economic conditions.
The haves were free to consider the big picture, the dirt poor could contemplate brighter perspectives while the middle class were doing their thing. Keeping the whole show afloat.

I’m afraid we have reached an inflexion point. A watershed mark, if you prefer.
For whatever reason – I’m not ready to tackle this subject right now, we’ve become so preoccupied with something in particular that we’ve lost sight of everything else.

Including the middle class.

Exactly those which were supposed to maintain their cool heads and open minds.

part of the problem

Matthew Stewart,
The 9.9 Percent is the New American Aristocracy,
The Atlantic

One of the oldest literary works, a poem written some 4 millennia ago, is about the prince of the land, Gilgamesh, helping his ‘commoner’ friend, Enkidu, to reach ‘full human-hood’. Along with the rest of the people under Gilgamesh’s stewardship.

Prometheus, the Titan who had given us “the gift of fire and the skill of metalwork“,  ended up chained to a pole and having his liver eaten out by an eagle.

The Jewish God had made Man in His own image. All men, and women, equal among themselves – since they had all been cast in the same mould, and all of them sharing a divine spark – since that mould had been made in God’s resemblance.

Some two and a half millennia ago, in India, Siddhartha Gautama – the highly pampered son of a local ruler, had figured out – and started to teach his followers, that the manner in which you lead your life is far more important than being celebrated as a winner.

About the same time, in China, Laozi had written a “handbook for the ruler. He should be a sage whose actions pass so unnoticed that his very existence remains unknown. He imposes no restrictions or prohibitions on his subjects; “so long as I love quietude, the people will of themselves go straight. So long as I act only by inactivity, the people will of themselves become prosperous.””.

Two millennia ago, in Jerusalem, a teacher had reminded us that God’s teachings have been meant to be followed in earnest, not ‘faked’ in a callous manner. And that we should respect each-other, regardless of our respective ranks.

Less than three short centuries ago, Adam Smith had figured out that human society has passed through a series of ‘stages’:  “the original “rude” state of hunters, a second stage of nomadic agriculture, a third stage of feudal, or manorial, “farming,” and a fourth and final stage of commercial interdependence.
‘Commercial interdependence’ meaning that each and every one of us depends on everybody else.

“We don’t expect our dinner from the benevolence of the butcher, brewer, or baker but from their regard for their own interest; we appeal not to their humanity but to their self-love, and talk to them not of our needs but of their advantages.”

Adam Smith,
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776

In other words, Adam Smith reiterates the very same thing that has been already told so many times in so many ways.

That it is in the interest of each and everyone of us for the free market to remain free. If we allow any of the ‘butcher’, ‘brewer’ or ‘baker’ to take any kind of precedence over any of the other – or over any one of us, then we are all doomed. Including those who had enjoyed, for a while, the spoils of ‘precedence’.

I’m not making much sense here?

Let’s take a short glimpse back.

Not many of Gilgamesh’s ‘nephews’ have followed his example.
During their rule, the area had been a quagmire of internecine warfare. It still is, unfortunately.

Prometheus’ is a very interesting story.
His very gallant exploit was punished dearly.
What if there is some hidden meaning to it? Related to that of the ‘original sin’?

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So what do we have here?
The serpent gives Eve an advice – which comes to be true, Adam and Eve haven’t died from eating ‘the apple’.
Adam and Eve ‘realize they were naked’ and dress themselves.
God finds out and chastises Adam: ‘what have you done? Haven’t I told you not to eat from that tree?’.
Adam snitches on his woman, the one made from his own rib, at his own request:  “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” And Eve passed the blame along to her teacher…

Well, maybe there is a sort of an ‘original sin’… and not one necessarily based on our tendency to disobey orders… after all, ‘disobeying’ is the only way to learn anything…

Let’s go back to the Bible.

22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

What if God was not as much mad at Adam and Eve for acceding to self awareness as he was afraid of what they will do with their newly acquired skill? Specially if they would have been allowed to hone it for any considerable amount of time?
Specially when considering what each of them had done after they had learned about their individual oneness? Tried to blame others for what each of them had done?
Each of them had tried to use whatever difference there was between their individual beings and all the rest to their exclusive advantage? As a way to invent and win a competition instead of a reason to start and engage in a cooperative effort?

Would it be farfetched to interpret this episode as ‘God, in his immense wisdom, knew that allowing an imperfect ‘knowledgeable person’ to ‘hold on to power’ for too long would transform that person into a tyrant?’.
For we are, all of us, ‘imperfect knowledgeable persons’… regardless of what we think about ourselves…

Going back to Prometheus, ‘fire’ and ‘metalwork’ are powerful ‘competitive advantages’. Societies which control these ‘skills’ can very easily subdue those who don’t. And they have done it, several times in history.
With ‘mixed’ results, to put it mildly.
Could it be that Prometheus’ punishment is a metaphor meant to teach us about the perils of inducing extreme disparities among various groups of people?

The Jewish people have demonstrated an uncanny ability to survive. As a people, I mean. Against incredible odds.
I don’t know whether this has anything to do with any help from God but I’m convinced it has everything to do with the manner in which they treat each-other. More precisely, with the manner in which they help and respect each-other.

Only three countries in Asia have not been completely overrun by the Europeans during the XIX century. China, Japan and Thailand. The common thread among them is that all three follow the teachings of Buddha and Laozi. Which are very similar, in their essence.

Christian Europe, the land inhabited by people supposed to love each-other, has somehow reached a world dominant position during the XVIIIth and  XIXth centuries, process which has been furthered by the rise of the equally Christian US of America.
Unfortunately, during the same three centuries, the same Euro-Atlantic space has been the theater and origin of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of humankind.

The free-market capitalism envisioned by Adam Smith worked wonders.
Well, not the capitalism itself. The people cooperating according to Smith’s division of labour in the realm of the free market.
The entire world is currently living in way better conditions than, say, one hundred years ago.

Yet, there are some ominous clouds rising their ugly heads over the horizon.

In Europe – which had wised up after WWII, at least temporarily, ‘differentialism’ is on the rise again.
The Cold War had ended but those who won it didn’t apply the lesson that had become evident after WWI and WWII. That the victor has to help the vanquished out of its war induced relative misery if things are to be settled for good.

For many, capitalism has become synonymous to greed.
Which is both absolutely wrong and very descriptive of the current situation.

How about us making better use of the comprehension skills for which Adam and Eve had been banished from the Paradise?
And revert to more modest manners? More helpful for our longer term survival?

Would it make any difference if I reminded you that Rome had fallen while Byzantium had survived for another millennium?
What was the difference between these two?
The people in Byzantium had converted en masse to the religion which considered people as being ‘Equal Children of the Loving God’ while the Roman emperors had continued to bribe their ‘constituents’ with ‘panem et circenses’.

“He would rather govern rich men than be rich himself; since for one man to abound in wealth and pleasure when all about him are mourning and groaning, is to be a gaoler and not a king.”

Thomas More, The Utopia.

In my previous post, Loyalty, I proposed a four dimensional analysis of an interaction.

The nature of the interaction.
Who are the participants.
The intensity of the interaction.
The manner in which the interaction is changed by the passage of time/changes the passage of time.

I’m going to use the method in my attempt to understand the legislative process.

Hammurabi, “the best known and most celebrated of all Mesopotamian kings“, is famous for, among other things, having compiled one of the best preserved – hence best known, ancient codes of law.

“When he began ruling the city-state of Babylon, he had control of no more than 50 square miles of territory. As he conquered other city-states and his empire grew, he saw the need to unify the various groups he controlled.
Hammurabi keenly understood that, to achieve this goal, he needed one universal set of laws for all of the diverse peoples he conquered. Therefore, he sent legal experts throughout his kingdom to gather existing laws. These laws were reviewed and some were changed or eliminated before compiling his final list of 282 laws.”

Having learned that, it becomes safe to say that a ‘legislative process’ is a development which clarifies the relationship between a ruler and his subjects.

But why would an absolute ruler – as they used to be in those times, put a cap on his own authority? Why would he limit his own powers? Why not judge each case individually? Why not do according to his ‘present mood’ on each occasion?

For two reasons.
As his empire grew, he wasn’t able anymore to judge all the cases by himself. He had to delegate at least some of his judicial powers. And he didn’t want the appointed judges to do as they pleased, without any ‘guidance’.
Secondly, as his empire grew, more and more people – following diverse traditions and bylaws, became incorporated in his empire. He wanted all of them to enjoy the same level of justice and he didn’t want to alienate any one of them.

For this he had first gathered the existing laws throughout his kingdom. He didn’t want to impose his own ‘weltanschauung’ on everybody else, he only needed to build an effective ‘governing tool’.
And he had understood that a law actually makes sense only if it reflects the mores of those asked to abide by it. This way, those who have to ‘police’ those people have to deal exclusively with the relatively few trespassers. Had his laws been a ‘wholesale invention’, the job of the government/police would have been enormous, the costs incurred would have been prohibitive and the result uncertain – to say the least.

I’m sure that most of you noticed that the last paragraph was about the intensity of the relationship so I’ll jump directly to the last dimension.

We have the history of the legislative process and we have history itself.
Is it farfetched to consider ‘history itself’ as the ‘success and failure’ story of how the legislative process has influenced the fate of various people?

Hammurabi had a predecessor. He wasn’t the first to have conquered the entire Mesopotamia. Sargon the Great of Akkad had done the same thing a few centuries before him. There is though a marked difference between Sargon and Hammurabi.

“It is a testimony to his rule that, unlike Sargon of Akkad or his grandson Naram-Sin from earlier times, Hammurabi did not have to re-conquer cities and regions repeatedly”

Joshua J. Mark, Hammurabi, http://www.ancient.eu/hammurabi/

From then on, history is choke full of examples leading to the same conclusion.

The ancient Romans were sticklers for the rule of law – and everything went OK as long as the rulers kept their part of the bargain, yet the first major ‘Roman’ code was compiled by Justinian, the Byzantine emperor, long after the Western part of the Imperium had collapsed. And is imperious for us to remember, in this context, that so many of the Roman emperors had a rather ‘erratic’ behavior…

This example also suggests that there’s no real need for complex and all encompasing code. All it takes is for both rulers and ruled to do their respective jobs in a responsible manner by implementing the existing rules of the land in a reasonable manner.

Fast forward to Great Britain.
The only modern country without a written constitution.
And one of the best working countries in the world, too… except for the last two years or so… I’ll leave it there, for now.
OK, it resides in an island, which somehow insulates it from outside intervention and provides better conditions for stability. Yet it would be very hard to deny the correlation between the legislative stability and relative political continuity that can be observed throughout the British history. Specially when you compare them to what happened in the rest of Europe during the same period.
France is at it’s fifth Republic in less than two and a half centuries.
Germany had morphed from an aggressive Reich to a republic, but not before bringing the whole world to the brink. Twice!
Italy cannot get a grip on itself… Spain almost killed itself during the Civil War, the Greek people had allowed some of its citizens to ‘steal’ almost everything in the country…

What is the common point between all these countries? All of them had been run, during the last 10 centuries or so, in a lot more centralized manner than Great Britain? Their legislative processes have been mostly a top down thing while the one in England had started with Magna Charta? Which was anything but top down!

Coda.

I still need to educate my writing.
I started putting my thoughts down on paper – up in the Cloud, actually, as a manner of bringing my mind to some sort of order.
My success is relative.
I start writing about a certain subject having a certain goal in mind. Yet sometimes that particular goal fades as I write and others, more important, jump at me from various corners.

Now, there’s this ‘small’ issue regarding the ‘Constitution’.

Like any other Law, it defines an interaction between people. Hence, it belongs to the same ‘legislative’ realm.
On the other hand, while the Law defines what a certain person might or might not do and what is the punishment for trespassing, the Constitution delineates the whole environment where the entire social life will take place.
In a sense, the early constitutions were contracts between an erstwhile ruler and his ‘former’ subjects. Both parties entering this contract transforms the relationship between them changes.
While an absolute ruler would give a law as a promise – I’ll behave in such and such way if/when you, the people, will do such and such, when entering the contract known as constitution the ruler acknowledges a new statute for his erstwhile subjects.

Erstwhile ruler and erstwhile subjects become sort of equals.

Constitutions adopted by countries organized as republics go one step further. They actually proclaim the status of equality among all their citizens.

Unfortunately there’s a second similarity between Law and Constitution. Both have to be read and implemented by people.
And there is a difference if most of the people choose to read and implement them in good faith – for the common good, or whether too many of ‘the people’ choose to interpret the law/constitution in a manner that would be beneficial exclusivelly for them.
For those powerful/skillful enough to manipulate enough of the rest into believing that ‘this is how it has to be’.

This is how ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ has come to be coined…

 

 

PS. I borrowed the first block-quote from ushistory.org and they implicitly asked me to publish this information.
I’m only happy to oblige, given the wealth of information which is available on their site.
Thank you.
The origin of the rest of the quotes can be determined by simply clicking on them. All the links will open in new tabs.

AUTHOR ushistory.org
TITLE OF PAGE Hammurabi’s Code: An Eye for an Eye
TITLE OF PROGRAM Ancient Civilizations Online Textbook
URL OF PAGE http://www.ushistory.org/civ/4c.asp
DATE OF ACCESS Monday, March 19, 2018
COPYRIGHT 2018

As most other words, loyalty describes a ‘multidimensional interval’ rather than the ‘precise something’ most of us usually expect.

What kind of loyalty?
Loyal to whom/what?
How far would it go?
How is it affected by the passage of time?/How does it change the passage of time?

I’ve been mulling over this subject for more than 10 years now…

For me, this is closely related to the famous “Prisoner’s dilemma”.
You now, where two guys break the law together, get caught, are indicted for two felonies and the prosecution  has solid evidence only for the lesser charge. The two guys are held in separate cells, with no way to communicate, and are pressed hard to confess of the higher charge and/or to betray the other guy. During the interrogation each of them learns that:
– If both betray, each of them gets 2 years in prison.
– If one betrays and the other stays mum, the snitch walks and the ‘mute’ gets 3 years.
– If both shut up, each of them gets a year for the lesser charge.

Interesting enough for somebody who was never in such a situation. And it gets even more interesting if you start reading what the ‘pundits’ have to say about the whole thing.

The ‘cold rationalists’ maintain that it’s only logic for both of them to betray, simply because this is the only sure way to avoid the longer sentence. You never know what the other guy might do in a pinch, right?
The more down to earth, specially those with a more ‘intricate’ knowledge of the ‘underworld’, will loose no time to point out that something like that won’t happen if the the pair belongs to the mob…
Those with economically biased minds will be quick to point out that both of them should shut up simply because this way the team would ‘minimize the aggregate cost’.
Last but not least, sociologists will consider that it’s a good thing, for the society at large, that the criminals tend to be more disloyal than the law abiding citizens – otherwise crime would be even harder to fight than it is now.

Confused?

Then let be present the situation from the ‘loyalist’ point of view.

The ‘what’ of the matter has to do with the proportion between ‘blind’ and  ‘willingly/knowingly assumed’. A mobster will be loyal because he has no other alternative – he’d walk into a self-sprung trap if he’d snitch on his partner while a true friend/brother would be loyal for completely different reasons.

Loyal to a person? To a ‘moral value’? To a ‘time honored tradition’? To a ‘local custom’?
If both guys were loyal to each other…
If both were loyal to ‘do no harm unto others’ they wouldn’t have got here in the first place…

As far as ‘distances’ are involved… In the standard example, as ‘formalized’ by Albert W. Tucker, there’s a relatively small difference between what both of them ‘get’ if both of them snitch and what the ‘mute’ would get if the other one would choose ‘the easy way out’. It’s only fair to presume that the pressure for both of them to betray the other would be far bigger if the ‘betrayed mute’ would be ‘rewarded’ with ten years instead of three while ‘mutual betrayal’ would remain at two each.

Time… isn’t this the most interesting dimension? Where you can only look, but never actually go, back and where haze always increases with distance …
Time, where the ‘good’ kind of loyalty helps those who ‘practice’ it and where bad loyalty constitutes an extremely heavy dead-weight …

How to tell ‘good’ from ‘bad’ in this case?

Consider the long term fate of the provinces/countries controlled by organized crime or by any-other form of dictatorship. No capo/dictator/authoritarian figure would ever be able to impose his will over the rest of the population, absent the loyalty of his supporters…

OK, loyalties are what defines us. What keeps us in one piece. What keeps all of us together.
In fact, the few of us who have no loyalties are nothing but sociopaths.

“Joseph Newman argues that the sociopath has an attention bottleneck that allows him to focus only on one activity or train of thought, to the exclusion of others. Researchers, including Howard Kamler, say that the sociopath lacks not “moral” identity but self-identity altogether.”

Hence, it’s up to the rest of us to spot them and to protect ourselves against them.

How?!?

By not extending misplaced loyalty towards them, of course!

Sociopaths are people who have little to no conscience. They will lie, cheat, steal and manipulate others for their own benefit. They know exactly what they are doing, they just don’t care because they don’t think that way. If you are naive enough, they will brainwash you into doing exactly what they say and what they want which is the only time a sociopath is truly happy.

‘They know exactly what they are doing’…

What’s keeping us from doing the same thing? From keeping at least an eye open for those who demand undeserved loyalty? Under which ever disguise and under which ever pretense?

Part II ended on the Western side of the Mediterranean sea, right before WWII.
Which, by the way, was a consequence of the WWI victors making a terrible mistake.

For the III-rd part we have to cross to the Eastern side of the aforementioned sea and to fast forward to the aftermath of WWIII. The Cold One, if you haven’t figured that out by yourselves.

I’m going to make a small detour now and bring back a subject that I’ve already mentioned.
The changing nature of war itself.
Up to the start of WWI we had war as a conflict between ethnic/imperial chieftains while from then on really important wars had been started by ethnic/imperial chieftains and won by the attacked democracies. The key word here being ‘won’.
Which is not exactly true.
Those wars had not as much been won by the victors as lost by the aggressors. All that the democracies had to do was to (actively) resist long enough for the aggressors to rot from within and crumble under their own weight.
Actually all three WWs had been lost from the first moment. Simply because the aggressors had been inflexible ‘imperiums’ – social systems where the decision making mechanisms were controlled from the top in a more or less absolute manner.

Let’s go back to Syria.
What we had here was a population who had lost patience with being mistreated by a dictator and which, somewhat encouraged by what was going on globally, had tried to ‘buck the rider’. To carve a better future for themselves.

Just as in Spain, almost a hundred years ago, things had become way more complicated than they should have been.
Opportunists of all persuasions and from almost all over the world have jumped in to the occasion. And all those who could have dragged their asses instead of doing something useful for the longer term did exactly that. Dragged their asses and done nothing.

The parallel is staggering. Unfortunately things are becoming far worse and far more complicated.

In Spain, the world had perceived the whole movement as being predominantly of a communist nature. Which, eventually, made it so. Perception wise, in this case.
In Syria, the world perceived the whole movement as being predominantly of an islamist nature. Which, eventually, made it so. Simply because only the islamists of the world became involved, while all the rest did next to nothing. On the really ‘progressive’ side, that is.

In Spain, the only ‘outside’ power which had intervened decisively was the loser of the previous WW. More precisely, the decisive intervention was carried on by the  dictatorship established over the population which had felt mistreated after WWI.
In Syria, the ‘outside’ power which intervenes decisively, helping the ‘regressives’, is the loser of the previous WW. More precisely, the most effective outside intervention is carried on by the authoritarian regime established over the population which had felt mistreated after the Cold War. In Syria’s case we also have a second intervention on the side of the ‘regressives’, carried on by yet another authoritarian regime established over yet another population which feels mistreated by some of the most powerful governments on this Planet.

Then we have the popular sentiment in the rest of the World.
In Spain, people from some 50 nations had volunteered to fight on the Republican side. Very few of them entertained any communist convictions and most of them had a place of their own where to return after the war was over. And when they did return, they were welcome to do so.
Syria has also seen her ‘fair share’ of volunteers. But there’s a marked difference here. While those who went to fight on the Republican side in Spain were animated by some romantic ideals, most of the aliens who came to fight in Syria were driven by a sort of desperate ennui and an acutely perceived lack of any perspective in their countries of origin.
While those who went to Spain did it to help the Spaniards fulfill their dream, those who went to Syria were hoping to carve a piece of land where to build theirs.
While those who went to Spain were welcomed back by their families and neighbors, those coming back from Syria are shunned by their relatives and investigated by the authorities of the states they are returning to.

And the most complicated aspect of the whole thing is ‘separatism’.

To be continued.

At the beginning of Part I there’s a list of what we’ve accomplished during this century.
I’m going to remind you now some of the mistakes we’ve made.
Genocide, atomic bomb, global warming, widespread pollution… basically, we’ve turned the tables upon ourselves.

I had the first inkling of what’s going on when I started to compare what’s currently going on in Syria with the Spanish Civil War.
NB, even the name we use for this kind of conflict is an absolute aberration. War is, by definition, the opposite of civility. Why on Earth any of us might consider that war waged between co-nationals can be expected to be more ‘civil’ that the ‘regular brand’…

Spain and Syria have evolved in eerily similar manners. Multiple ethnic groups of multiple religious convictions have been forced by geography to coexist and to evolve together. Each of them had passed through very similar stages, albeit following different time-tables. The whole thing culminated with both of them passing, during the last century, through ‘revolutionary’ episodes. There are two small differences though.
Spain’s ‘revolution’ had taken place at the end of a turbulent period and had produced a dictatorship – Franco’s, while the Syrian one is the consequence of a dictatorship and has not yet yielded a clear result.

And why is any of this of any interest when analyzing the entire century? Except, maybe, that the two atrocious episodes have marked the start and the beginning of the said century?

Well, it’s how the rest of the world have chosen to react in each instance which I find extremely interesting.

First of all, let me remind you the broad picture in both cases.

Spain’s took place shortly after the end of WWI and immediately after the Great Depression. The most important ‘disruptive ferment’ was militant marxism and although not all of those fighting on the side of the revolutionaries adhered to this ideology the presence of the marxists had decisively shaped the reaction of the democratically elected governments of the world. They had chosen to basically stay out of it. Despite the fact that Franco was leading a rebellion and that the Republican Government had been dully elected to office.
At the beginning, France’s first socialist PM, Leon Blum, had assisted the Republicans but recanted shortly afterwards, “under pressure from Stanley Baldwin and Anthony Eden in Britain, and more right-wing members of his own cabinet”. Which, in a way, made some sense. Western Europe was frightened that communism might spread westwards and many of the Spanish Republicans were of communist persuasion. “Baldwin and Blum now called for all countries in Europe not to intervene in the Spanish Civil War. A Non-Intervention Agreement was drawn-up and was eventually signed by 27 countries including the Soviet Union, Germany and Italy. However, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini openly ignored the agreement and sent a large amount of military aid, including troops, to General Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces.” Stalin also ignored the agreement and send some help to the Republicans but got bored and by 1938 he practically forgot about the whole thing.
In the end, the conflict had been won by the side supported by those seeking revenge for being defeated during WWI – and for the harsh conditions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.
That had been the ‘institutional’ reaction.
On the popular side, despite the ‘hang-over’ produced by the WWI and the Great Depression, some 60.000 volunteers from all over the world had joined the ‘fight for freedom’. The fact that they were organized by the Comintern didn’t help in the end, on the contrary, but the population at large looked at them with sympathy. Proven by the success enjoyed by the literature and art produced by some of the volunteers/sympathizers.

Guernica

 

 

 

We are constantly being told that we’re living in the best possible world.

I agree with that.
Of course it’s the best possible one… specially since there’s no other!

On this side of the Styx, anyway…

Let’s get real now.

This is the Century when we’ve managed to open up all corners of our round Planet. We’ve ‘conquered’ the most remote and inhospitable places – both poles, all mountain tops and most of the ocean floor, including that beneath the Arctic Ice Sheet, and, way more important, made most of the Earth solid surface accessible for almost everybody. By car, by train, by plane, by bike, by ferry …
We’ve managed to populate all the ‘cubicles’ designed by Mendeleev and we found uses for most of them.
We’ve managed to identify a vast array of natural resources. We’ve developed matching technologies to exploit each of them, to transform and combine them into what we thought it would fit our fancies and to distribute the results to whomever wished to receive them.
We’ve continued to develop already invented means of communication and we transformed them into something totally different. Practically, we’ve restored the world to it’s ‘Golden Age’. We now live in the Global Village.

Which is not that much different from the old one…

Now, with the world watching Aleppo burn, Daraya fall, and Idlib and other Syrian cities suffer so brutally, Pope Francis’s description of Syria as “abandoned and beloved” rings chillingly accurate. After Bosnia, I was sure the international community would never again stand by and watch in silence as hundreds of thousands of people were bombed relentlessly, starved, beaten, traumatized, and denied the most basic human rights, including education and medical facilities. During the height of the worst years in Sarajevo, from 1992 to 1994, you could chart the ebb and flow of the city’s hope, like the steady flow of the Mijacka River, whose shelled bridges we had to run across to avoid getting hit by snipers. Food supplies ran out; soldiers were getting slaughtered on the fronts; the hospitals’ generators went down.

Janine Di Giovanni, From Sarajevo to Aleppo, Lessons on Surviving a Siege,
The Atlantic, October 12, 2016

What happened with “only a fool learns from his own mistakes, the wise man learns from the mistakes of others“?

OK, back to square one…

1918 had seen the end of the First World War.
Which was the first ‘mixed’ war and the one which should have been the last…

‘The last’ part is obvious, let me elaborate on ‘the first mixed’ one.

Basically, people are both lazy and easily frightened. Their natural tendency is to ‘give in’, a.k.a. ‘trade in’ rather than ‘fight for it’ ‘to the ultimate consequence’.
Which actually makes a lot of sense. Just imagine what would have happened if we were just a tad more combative than we used to…

Need a clue? Click on the picture below.

sex bonobos chimps

Welcome back.

The proposition “Laziness and congeniality is our default mode (mood?)” is valid but from a ‘statistical point of view’.
On a ‘case by case approach’, the manner in which each of us reacts in specific circumstances depends both on those circumstances and on our own interpretation of what’s going on. In fact, it’s our individual consciousness which makes things even more complicated than the situation described in the video above.

During most of our history, human social arrangements have closely resembled those of the chimpanzees. Alpha males have somehow managed to climb to the top of the food chain while the ‘laziness’ of the rest kicked in and allowed the alpha males to do more or less what they pleased.
Which had included a lot of unwarranted aggression.

Up to WWI, most wars had been started by aggressive rulers who had somehow convinced their followers to attack one or more of the neighbors. Which neighbors were also organized more or less like a chimpanzee troupe – ‘lazy and congenial people’ ruled by which ever alpha male was aggressive/cunning enough to remain in power.
These social arrangements had a very interesting consequence.
All conflict was between rulers and all wars were ‘turf wars’.
The belligerents were not attempting to out-kill each-other but to establish hierarchies. More prosaically, war was nothing but ‘protection racket’. The loser had to pay a certain amount of money to the winner – ‘war reparations’, surrender a piece of the ‘turf’ or both at the same time.

In time – due to particular circumstances, some of what are currently known as ‘nations’ have learned that ‘chimpanzee social order’ leads to unnecessary suffering and have (re)invented an alternative. A.k.a. democracy.

WW1 was the first major war which pitted authoritarian regimes against democratic ones.
Yes, humankind had already witnessed some wars which had been started by more or less democratically run countries – the British Empire had attacked the Boer Republics in South Africa, for example, only this is but a blog post, not a 500 page dissertation…
Unfortunately, the democracies which had won the WWI had behaved totally inappropriately… with dire consequences. For them, as well as for the rest of the world.

The Treaty of Versailles imposed a huge amount of war reparations upon the main loser. Germany.
Two consequences have arisen from here.

The obvious one was WWII. And almost nobody disputes this.
The less obvious one was that those war reparations had transformed war itself.

A democratically run coalition imposing war reparations upon a defeated and leaderless/dispirited population had transformed war from a dispute between rulers into a dispute between nations.

This was the ‘accelerant’ used by Hitler to start the second funeral pyre which had engulfed Europe…

Democratically run nations behaving inconsiderately towards other nations also established an immensely dangerous precedent.

The first example of which had occurred less than 20 years later in Spain.

 

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