Archives for category: democracy

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

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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?

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

I’m gonna insert three links.
They might be opened in any order, the link between them is evident, in all directions.

 “It’s a natural and powerful temptation to do unto them as they have done unto others. They have abused, reviled, and humiliated others: So let them be abused, be reviled, be humiliated. Yet if you go that way, you do not repudiate Trump. You become Trump.”

David Frum,
Michelle Wolf Does Unto the White House as It Has Done Unto Others,
The Atlantic, Apr 30, 2018

“It is particularly rich, too, to see a president who brags about his lack of political correctness and willingness to tell it like it is to be so thin-skinned he won’t even attend a party where he knows he’ll be roasted. It is revolting to see members of the press, who should have an adversarial relationship with the White House, comforting the press secretary and standing up for her honor when she is a chief architect of and apologist for these new political norms of idiotic crudeness, rank corruption, and unapologetic deceit.

Reporters allegedly expressed their sympathy to Huckabee Sanders after the dinner. This is insane. Reporters: Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies to you. She is a powerful and influential figure, and it is your job to be a check on her and the administration she speaks for – not to commiserate with her when a comedian makes some salty jokes, and certainly not to be her sympathetic friend.

Michelle Wolf ended her monologue by wishing the audience a good night, and then adding, “Flint still doesn’t have clean water.” “

Jill Filipovic,
The Bizarre Reaction to the WHCD Reveals We’re in Deeper Trouble Than We Thought,
Cosmopolitan, Apr. 30, 2018

Donald Trump is here tonight! Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald.
And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter –- like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?
But all kidding aside, obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of
experience. For example — no, seriously, just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice – at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team cooking did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around.
But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil’ Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey.
And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night.
Well handled, sir. Well handled.
Say what you will about Mr. Trump, he certainly would bring some change to the White House.”

Barack Obama,
2011 White House Correspondents Dinner.

Apparently, heretics are hated while nonbelievers are simply despised.

Does any of this make any sense?

Actually, yes.

First of all, faith is like riding a bike.
If you stop moving, you either fall or you  have to put a foot on the ground.
And, after you learn how to do it, you don’t have to think about it anymore.
All is fine as long as you keep on moving…

Secondly, some people need to learn how to curb their initial enthusiasm… which is not such an easy thing to do… and the more dedicated among them have the greater difficulties…
Let me give you an example from the world of the martial arts.
The corpus of knowledge pertaining to this domain includes a series of resuscitation and first aid methods. Very efficient ones.
Our current, safety above all attitude, would mandate for these methods to be taught first to every new student. Which doesn’t happen. Age old experience has demonstrated that ‘enthusiastic’ newcomers would hit/choke each-other far harder and take far less precautions when knowing that resuscitation is so readily available. This is why these powerful methods are taught only to the more experienced,  and self controlled, practitioners of the art.

Going back to the difference between heretics and nonbelievers, let me point out another less obvious thing.
Most of us are imprinted with a faith or another in our early childhood. Way before any of us was capable of thinking for their-selves. As a consequence, most of us are very relaxed towards something which is both very familiar and shared by most of those around us.

Until something happens, that is.
Something which contradicts our faith. Something which might force us to ‘stop the bike’. Which might cause us to fall. Or stop and reconsider.

And this is the real difference between heretics and nonbelievers.

As believers, we’ve always known about nonbelievers. That they’ll go straight to hell. There’s nothing unsettling for us about that. They are so different from us that, practically, they don’t count. We might bump into them on the street, we might even do business with them… but, in the end, they don’t count.
They cannot influence our ‘deep thinking’. The way we see the world.

Heretics are something totally different. They are people like us, who share most of our beliefs and who behave almost like us on most occasions.
If we don’t pay special attention, we might confuse them with ‘our own people’.
And by being so close to us, they constantly remind us that, maybe, it is us who are wrong. About that small thing which makes the difference between us and them.
I must add here that ‘fresh’ converts have the ‘worst of it’. They had already reconsidered their faith, reached a conclusion and are now under a more intense pressure to defend their ‘deliberate choice’. The ‘born again’ are in the very same situation, choosing to comeback to an erstwhile lost faith is no different from adopting a new one.

This pressure is unbearable. Having to nurse such a huge doubt is like a devil constantly whispering in our ear… A culprit must be found, blamed for the torment we had to endure and punished for their arrogance. For their audacity to exist. To constantly remind us that there are alternatives to what we’ve been led to believe.

And this is valid for all kind of faiths. The phenomenon is not restricted to the religious world.
People who had vaccinated their children actually hate those who had chosen not to.
Well, some of them… I’ll come back to this…
Atheists hate the faithful.
The progressives hate the conservatives and the conservatives respond in kind.
Those who believe the Earth is round hate and/or make fun of those who are convinced  the Earth is Flat… and so on…

In this situation, people might ask themselves ‘how come we hadn’t yet slit each other’s throats in sleep?’

‘well, some of them…’

The point being that, most of the times, the haters are a small minority. Most of the believers have either understood that the main tenet of all ‘faiths’ is ‘don’t harm anybody unnecessarily and respect all other human beings/opinions’ or actually have better things to do than to split hairs.

Which brings us to the present situation.
When various ‘con-artists’ have learned to inflame hate and to prod the haters to fight each-other.

Only both the haters and the rest of us – the silent majority who, until know, have been too lazy to intervene, have forgotten that ‘divide et impera’ had always ended up disastrously. Usually for those who allowed themselves to be divided and, quite often, for the ‘imperators’ themselves.

Both Alexander the Great and Cesar, two of the most acclaimed generals and political figures, had ended up both prematurely and in an undignified manner. After causing enormous suffering to both the conquerors and the conquered.
Let’s not forget that Greece had practically disappeared from the world stage after Alexander the Great and that Cesar had been the first – well, the second, of the long list of Roman dictators who had led the empire to its eventual demise.
This might have been a ‘natural’ occurrence. ‘Natural’ as in ‘then inevitable’.

But why repeat it, now that we’ve already learned how it invariably ends?

 

 

 

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.

The American Revolution was fought under the banner of ‘Taxation without representation is tyranny”.
Meaning that the first Americans saw taxes as money well spent, as long as paying said taxes allowed them to vote. As in ‘being able to determine their own future’. Albeit in a collective manner.

In fewer words, the early Americans viewed liberty as being valuable enough to die for, let alone to spend some money in order to maintain it.

10% anual pay rise

time.com

And what made so many modern Americans willing to sell their hard won ability to vote? To determine their future?

Are they so poor that, for them, liberty has become an empty word?
Have they lost all confidence in the democratic process?
Are they so infatuated with money?

Any mix of all of the above?

 

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
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