Archives for posts with tag: power

And no, this is no joke! Alas…

Populism is scientific because its ‘adepts’ have a very rational behavior and use scientific tools to increase the appeal of their public messages.
And, on the other hand, populism is scientific because its advent is perfectly explainable given what we currently know. About our society, about our brains, about our psychology….

Let me start from the beginning.
In Thomas Kuhn’s terms, the last 60 or so years have witnessed a tremendous paradigm shift.
Science has replaced religion as the main paradigm and ‘religion’ has been demoted to  ‘religions’.

Science becoming the main paradigm means that we have grown confident about our knowledge. We might be aware that we don’t know everything yet but we continue to believe that we’re able to learn everything. That if we are diligent enough we’ll sometimes be able to look under every rock that is.
This attitude has led us to search for ‘perfection’. ‘Efficiency’ has displaced ‘redemption’. We have ceased our quest for salvation and are now obsessed with ‘buy low, sell high’. In other words, ‘make the most of it but strain yourself as little as possible’.

Which makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

A lot of sense… mainly when you no longer perceive the guy next to you as being a full-fledged member of your community. Your religious community, that is. Of your church.

You see, ever since Emil Durkheim, the sociologists have been aware that religion was not so much a story about the making of the world as a ‘common ground’. The ‘common core’ shared by the members of a given community. Which ‘common core’ makes it possible for those who share it to have respect. For themselves and for the other faithful members of the community. By sharing that common core, the individuals find their bearings in the ‘wide, wide world’ and, thus, know how to behave relative to their ‘neighbors’. With enough mutual respect among the individual members that the community is able to function. To survive, that is.

We no longer have that kind of community.
Our primary allegiance is no longer towards ‘church’. Most of us consider themselves primarily as members of a nation – something governed more by formal laws than by public sentiment, and only secondarily – if at all, as members of a ‘religious’ community.

Now, putting two and two together, it’s very simple to understand that in the given circumstances ‘populism’ was inevitable, right?

Too many of the would be leaders have no qualms about how they get what they want.
Power.
‘Buy low, sell high’ is the current mantra, remember? Accepted by all of us. Buyers, sellers, by-standards…
Too many members of the general public are willing to accept promises which are in line with their own expectations, even if those promises being put in practice means a lot of misery for OTHERS. Who cares about those others, anyway? They are not members of OUR ‘church’!

I’ll let you decide how sustainable is such a situation. I was going to use ‘community’ instead of ‘situation’ but it would have been horribly wrong. We no longer live in communities. We only happen to live in the same place.

For how long?

As in mob rule?

A British historian that went by the name of Lord Acton observed more than a hundred years ago that
“All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Judging by what historians keep writing and the politicians keep ignoring this observation tends to be pertinent.
Click on the highlighted quote to see some of his arguments in Ben Morrell’s interpretation.

Somewhat unhappy with this vision, a sci fi writer, Frank Herbert, contradicted the historian:
“Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.”

In fact it’s more like a completion than a contradiction but I’ll have to leave it at that because both are dead now and way past such mundane preoccupations.

Recently, things having not been properly set yet, a team of Swiss scientists lead by John Antonakis decided to sink their teeth in the matter. They gathered a group of people, ‘measured’ all sides of their personalities – including their honesty – and then involved them in a game of ‘lets play dictator’.
“The findings showed that those who measured as less honest exhibited more corrupt behaviour, at least initially; however, over time, even those who initially scored high on honesty were not shielded from the corruptive effects of power.”

OK, so Acton was right altogether, ‘power’ does corrupt. The problem is that Antonakis never tried to verify Herbert’s hypothesis. If he was right then the honest people stand no chance at becoming powerful enough to become corrupted because the already corruptible are fighting dirty to get on top, something the more honest would not do, at least not from the very beginning. Seen this way the very competition for power selects the people who get on top based on how corruptible they are.

Luckily things are not that simple. Really smart guys, no matter how corruptible, figure it out – sooner rather than later, that by ‘stealing’ too much/misbehaving really bad  they destroy the entire structure upon which their very existence, let alone power, depends.

So how come really bad dictators do come into existence?
From Lenin to Hitler, from Ceausescu to Pol Pot and nowadays from Putin to al-Baghdadi.

Here Antonakis’ findings fit in perfectly.
Participants “were given complete control over deciding pay-outs to themselves and their followers. The leaders had the choice of making prosocial or antisocial decisions, the latter of which resulted in reduced total pay-outs to the group but increased the leader’s own earnings.”

The key concept here is ‘complete control’. In fact this ‘dictator game’ is no game at all. It’s nothing but a solitaire. It has rules, certainly, but it’s up to the ‘player’ himself to decide whether to respect them or not. If the rest of the people concerned – those who suffer the consequences of the ‘game’, have no say in what is going on then they don’t count. And are not able to help, either. The final outcome will depend exclusively on the honesty of the ‘player’. And we haven’t, as yet, made any mention about skills…

Besides the very important insight Antonakis also offers us a valuable piece of advice:
” “We think that strong governance mechanisms and strong institutions are the key to keeping leaders in check,” concludes Antonakis. “Organisations should limit how much leaders can drink from the seductive chalice of power.” “

It’s a very good starting point. Add to it a renewed insistence on initial honesty – it helps, just as the study showed, coupled with intense surveillance and continuous feed back from the stakeholders and things might improve dramatically.

After all ‘governance mechanisms’, ‘strong institutions’ and ‘organizations’ are nothing but words. Powerful and meaningful words indeed but ‘words’ cannot do anything by themselves. They have first to be pronounced by pertinent persons and then diligently put into practice.

And this would mean that ‘power’ won’t belong to anyone in particular, not even to ‘the people’.

Keep tuned for the difference between real democracy and ‘mob rule’.

I’ve just sent a comment to the guy who posted this: 

http://qz.com/87795/free-information-as-great-as-it-sounds-will-enslave-us-all/

“Those with the best computers can simply calculate wealth and power away from ordinary people.”

First of all you seem to equate power with wealth. It may not always be the case. Power, in order to be effective, must be acquiesced.
Wealth can be of two kinds: hoarded resources, say wheat, which must be guarded and preserved or ‘cash’. The first kind is valuable only as long as somebody else needs it while the second … is valuable only as long somebody trusts the entity that coined the ‘paper’ in which the said wealth is expressed.
There also exists an intermediary kind of wealth, stock or financial papers – futures, options and the like – they are also valuable only as long this papers are ‘enforcible’.
In fewer words power and wealth are relative to what people involved think/understand/feel about what is going on.

https://nicichiarasa.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/life-versus-profits-by-joseph-e-stiglitz/

As to ‘free information’… In the natural world everything has a price and is scarce. One has to ‘work’ in order to get food, build a shelter and keep warm. Even breathing takes some effort. By contrast information comes for free: you get your ADN and your initial education shoved on you from your parents (they even don’t care to ask for your consent about this) and from there on you get bombarded by free information: you see, hear, taste, smell and feel without any effort. Only modern man understood that there is something to be gained from controlling information and invented tuition, copy-rights, patents…”

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