Sunday, 28 April 2013

On Hiearchies and Elites: Part 3

The quotes from the last two week:

From Wikipedia Anarchy
"The evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker writes:
Adjudication by an armed authority appears to be the most effective violence-reduction technique ever invented. Though we debate whether tweaks in criminal policy, such as executing murderers versus locking them up for life, can reduce violence by a few percentage points, there can be no debate on the massive effects of having a criminal justice system as opposed to living in anarchy. The shockingly high homicide rates of pre-state societies, with 10 to 60 percent of the men dying at the hands of other men, provide one kind of evidence. Another is the emergence of a violent culture of honor in just about any corner of the world that is beyond the reach of law. ..The generalization that anarchy in the sense of a lack of government leads to anarchy in the sense of violent chaos may seem banal, but it is often over-looked in today's still-romantic climate.[54]"
 From the Urban Dictionary on Anarchy
"Anarchy" arises from ancient Greek "An," meaning without and "Archos" meaning leader.
In modern political philosophy anarchy, or anarchism (the ideology which aims to create anarchy) is traced back, often, to Proudhon, and in particular his work "What is property?" - the origin of the still used anarchist slogan "Property is theft!"
Contrary to belief that "anarchy" is synonymous with "Disorder," anarchists generally advocate non-hierarchical, horizontal organization, typically through directly democratic structures. As such, there is a degree of common ground between anarchists and libertarian Marxists. Many anarchists are highly supportive of the practice of the Zapatistas in Chiapas.
In 1936, anarchists in the Spanish provinces of Catalonia and Aragon collectivized industry and agriculture, and established a working example of anarchy."

From the excellent blog View from Brittany; Impotence of Politics
"With the Neolithic revolution, our societies have grown far beyond what a single coalition could reasonably manage and have become fractal as a result. Modern societies are a hierarchy of nested coalitions all built upon the same model, from your average nuclear family to the G8. Inside those coalitions, everyone is jockeying for position and fighting for access to scarce resources. This the way all human groups work, even anarchies. In fact, it is far more brutal among anarchists – especially the Randite subtype – because by rejecting institutionalized power, they destroy the various social devices our species evolved to check the pack leader's dominance."

From Damien's (author of view from Brittany) response in the comments of Fascination for Death

I have glimpsed the world of the elites. I have had lunch with the man who has become the prime minister of France and my best friend gravitates around this milieu. I have the number of a senator on my cell phone... and I can tell you they are not Machiavellian, they are clueless.

They really think they can preserve the status-quo through green-washing and economic tinkering... and that it is the best thing for everybody. They don't think billions will die, because, you know, the system they game is so efficient that it simply can't happen.

As for violent revolution... both in France and the USA, today's elites have been born from such a violent revolution, so they really think they embody their values and that therefore, it can't happen to them. When lamppost day will come, they will be... indignant."

paraphrased From John Micheal Greer.
"no political system anywhere will ever be more honest than the people it governs"

Hierarchies are a fact of life and they are something that will exist in all (excluding some small and peripheral ) human societies for the foreseeable future, and as a consequence of this elites are going to exist, as they are both necessary and inevitable components of hierarchies. We may not like it and the world's current crop of elites certainly aren't going to survive overshoot, but the post-peak future will have elites. So we have to deal with them, acknowledge they exist, that they can cause problems but also that they bring benefits that we cannot easily do without. What is also useful is to actually understand them for what they are, human, and not construe them as some alien beings. That's an important point and follows from a more specific one relating to democracy.  

Unlike theocracy, monarchy, aristocratic republics and most other forms of government, democracy makes the ruling section, so most of the elites, inevitably share the same ideology as the common man. In ancient China, the cult of Confucius  wasn't common (less than 1%) among the population but the ruling class for the most part were Confucian. The ruling class could be of a separate ideology (in this case a religion, which is close enough) than almost everybody (roughly 99%) they ruled. In modern society the common ideology is that of progress in its various forms and the elites share this. That's where the JMG quote above comes from, the politicians are not ideologically or ethically separate from the populace under modern democracy. That's actually a key part of it's benefits.

This has many implications for almost the entire world (at least the parts that will experience the highest fall, the west and prosperous parts of Asia), especially because the ideology/religion of progress drastically limits the options available and hinders adaptation to peak oil. As JMG has stated many times, many of our problems lie in the motives, ideas and mental realm common in the world. If the decline is accepted, huge amounts of work can be done and the collapse mitigated to a much larger extent. As long as the ideology of progress stays, adaption can only be piecemeal and mitigation limited. So as long as the populace (and the elites) are hooked onto progress, problems will appear while modern democracy survives. Its really is that simple and its part of why JMG is discussing the religion of progress now.

However, as long as we have a democracy the elites (or at least the ones doing the ruling) can't (or won't) change their ideology unless the populace does. Considering that modern democracy is one of the more resilient and inclusive political systems possible for large scale societies , this grants quite a few bonuses and is in general nicer to live under, this is a problem however when the ideology needs to be changed rapidly. We have to work from the ground up and simply blaming the elites completely misstates the problem and frankly doesn't help. Approaches that focus on the general culture are needed, however it's too late in the game for a smooth change to occur so various disasters and the overall decline will do the job albeit in a halting, erratic fashion and cause much misfortune and pain along the way.

And to be clear, unlike what some people say, the origin of our current crisis is not completely self evident to most people. A lot of it comes from media sources not mentioning enough of the details or events, a simple lack of knowledge is one part and a significant reason is that the mental constructs/links necessary to understand the crisis aren't readily available to most people. To explain the different ways this can work out, I'll use two examples. When I was going into Darwin on a bus, on the seat behind me was an Aboriginal kid about 5 years old. Suddenly he excitedly yells at his mother "look at that big building" and enthusiastically points. So I turn around hoping to see the city and the only big building was a 3 story high apartment block and I'm immediately confused, because compared to the big buildings in Sydney and Melbourne, 3 stories is quite small. Then I realized that he'd probably never seen any/many building bigger than a single story since he lived far away from Darwin. He just never encountered what I would consider even a small sized building and so that apartment block was amazing to him. Related to this, I had a friend who when she first came to Australia stopped over in Darwin and she got the impression that all Australian capitals were like Darwin (for International readers, Darwin is not like any other Australian capital, except Canberra, its more like a very large country town). So when she got to Melbourne, she thought that Camberwell (a suburb) was the CBD. Simply not having the data and information to make sense of whats happening because people haven't encountered enough it is fairly common.

The other example is how the whole overshoot concept clicked for me and my twin. Before I had a general idea that our civilization could collapse and there was some problem, I read some history and Jared Diamond's collapse. But it didn't seem like an inevitable crisis that would cause a 1-3 century decline, simply troubles that would appear until the population quickly stabilized and everything was sorted out, barring a disastrous mishandling that leads to collapse. So I had all the data, either readily or heard it in passing, but I hadn't put it together and lacked a few key points (this even includes direct references to peak oil, just from incredibly hopeful sources). Then my dad went to a lecture where it was mentioned that America was becoming a third world country, my twin googled it and found this Archdruid report. He then read it, then turned to me and basically said that the Archdruid knew what he was talking about and we should read what he was saying. He and I then spent the next month or so reading all the archives and from there accessed the rest of the peak oil sphere. I had almost all the data necessary, I just never made the links in my head and lacked a few of the key necessary ideas. A lot of it is simply not being exposed to the ideas/concepts of overshoot, once you have them its obvious, but until then it isn't. This is where the importance of stories and mythology (in the way JMG/Terry Pratchett means, that of ways of understanding the world) appears, since they basically allow the dots to be connected. A feeling that something isn't right is more likely and this feeling insufficient to understand what is happening.

Here's the thing, without that understanding, the actions that are currently being taken look reasonable. To peak oil aware they don't and its incredibly obvious that current strategies aren't working and something else has to be tried. But until that understanding filters into the populace, the new strategies that are needed will look to most people (and politicians)  stupid and unreasonable. From the perspective of progress, the current strategies are not stupid and are in fact essential and completely rational.

Now the elites are not the same as the common man, both due to the adaptability of humans and material/social differences. People adapt and change depending on the situation, its part of being human, and from this various social classes have different outlooks, ideas and desires. It important to stress that this isn't from some innate difference but from an innate similarity that all humans share. The elites think differently precisely because they are the same as everyone else but their environment (physical and social) is different, however this means that all the views in modern democratic society come from roughly the same roots and so they share many similarities and the same basic ideologies, meaning that any changes in the base ideology will look different at differing social scales.

Its in this light that anti-elitism needs to be understood. Most forms of it are okay, the elites are not superior due to any genes or divine graces, but most often luck, birth or drive coupled with skill/training. Elites should be limited as much as possible, we can do without their commonly parasitic and predatory behavior, deferring to your betters is a social habit that deserved to be thrown out (to an extent however deference to authority is often a good idea) and so on. There are forms of anti-elitism that are not okay, one because they completely miss the point or they are dangerous, the other is because of the word itself.

The word elite can simply mean the best of something. Elite soldiers is a common form of this, but their exist others, elite doctors, elite horses etc. The fact is some people are better than others at doing certain things and some people are smarter, stronger etc than others. The anti-elitism that seeks to get rid of these differences or eliminate elitism in the meaning of the best is not very productive. Also it still reinforces the idea that elites are innately better by associating superior abilities with being upper class. Its not exactly a constructive set of actions. Democracy requires the idea that every person can form an idea and is of equal worth, which is still compatible with the idea that some people are better than others at certain tasks. We may be equal, but we are not equivalent.

The other form of bad anti-elitism is much more dangerous, especially since it often descends into an espousal of violence and is good fodder for demagogues or violent revolutionaries (how well has that  worked out before). In the first post of this series I mentioned a debate between RE of Doomstead diner and Ashvin Pandurangi of The Automatic Earth, here and here respectively, about whether or not enacting a physical purge of the world's elites that are causing the current problems is a good idea. To quote from Ashvin "Surly [a colleague of Ashvin]and I both agree that, in the last instance, it comes down to a question of morality and personal values." Which shows that she and Surly share the same assumptions as RE, that is that it is primarily a problem of the elites, that killing lots of them would enact the changes necessary and so on. To quote RE "'save the human species and the planet from total annihilation at the hands of minority elites." This entire debate is structured around faulty assumptions, a bad understanding of how modern societies work and not understanding the underlying causes that are currently stopping constructive action. 

If the idea was (somehow despite it's impossibility) enacted there are two main sources of the organizations (the world is big) that would carry out the purge. Either the organizations are drawn from the peak oil sphere (or related) as an unelected and unanswerable elite who makes the decisions and then supplants the current elites around the world, since were going to have elites anyway (or face total and complete collapse) and these groups have no chance of being elected in a large enough way to replace the elites so they'd have to be self appointed. Needless to say this isn't a good idea, since it would create resistance and anger in the general populace (you'd be proving the conspiracy nuts right and causing great problems and disruptions to common, decent people), more removal of legitimacy than otherwise as well as requiring much violence. This resistance would inevitably derail the whole effort as the surviving elites use this resistance to fight back and then new up and coming elites use it to grab power or to defend their homes and people (as in they would be fighting both for immoral and moral reasons).  And then there's the problem of power corrupting, That sort of absolute power would certainly corrupt those in charge of it.

Or you could draw the organization from the common people either via democracy or appointment of an unelected, unanswerable elite and then they go on a  merry purge. Needless to say this also wouldn't work and most importantly wouldn't replace the ideology of the elites, meaning no fundamental change has happened while also causing massive chaos and uncertainties likely to make our responses to the crisis even worse. The end result would likely be similar to the above as resistance would still be encountered.

The core problem is not as RE states a minority elite, but the shared ideology/religion of the modern human world, that of progress. That is the problem and a physical solution cannot fully or even partially solve this. It isn't physical in the sense of people who can be shot, but mental in the realm of ideas, beliefs and motives (and can only be gotten rid of through genocide and wholesale destruction). All a physical purge would do is add more problems to the ones we already have, not a particularly constructive set of actions. It would also eliminate modern democracy and likely leave either mob rule or authoritarianism, both are as bad as each other, along with massive civil strife most likely including civil wars to outright total continental wide wars. That would be a tragedy, especially since modern representative democracy has solved a huge range of problems, such as democracy being historically limited to at most a city or civil wars between alternate rulers (the American civil war was about ideology/economics, not who ruled), innate to most other political systems. Using the elites as scapegoats simply focuses attention away from the actual causes and fuels the sort of class warfare that's best avoided. 

Now there are currently problems with the worlds elites, especially the financial subsection. The solution however is simple, head James Kunstler when he says the rule of law needs to be brought back into finance. If you want a more prestigious voice, then there is Machiavelli who in the prince said much the same thing, or don't let the nobles (his name for elites) get corrupt and strictly enforce your laws on them. It should be noted that abandoning the rule of law for the lower or middle classes would create corruption and crime among them just as abandoning it for the upper creates corruption and crime among the elites, those classes are human and therefore not perfect. Idealizing them is just as bad as calling the elites evil.

There are many approaches to social and political systems, some of them are better than others, though often that is largely subjective. Me, I like Machiavelli's approach as it is free from moralizing and based on what actually happens as well as human nature, rather than an abstract idea of those things. Its no wonder he's had such a high level of influence. Considering that he founded quite a few of the founding ideas of modern democracies; division of power, checks and balance, 'impure' forms of government (Dictator, republic, democracy) and so on in political thought, his basic approach most likely offers a great deal. Even Marx hasn't had that much influence on large scale and working human societies. Its certainly better than the untempered idealism (though in his own way Machiavelli was an idealist), scapegoating and utopian thinking that is far more commonly found.

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