Archive for May, 2017

A view of Marx: left, right or something else?

May 31, 2017

If a ‘rightist’ is a person who supports corporate dominance and plutocracy, or established chains of authority, then Marx was clearly not a rightist.

If a ‘leftist’ is a person who supports state control over everyone and everything for the common good, then Marx was not a leftist – the state was to wither away under communism.

Marx believed that oppressed people should understand the system of suppression, then organize and rebel against it, constructing their own forms of governance using their active experience (praxis). This is one reason why he did not spend much time trying to describe the systems that might arise after the revolution.

The ongoing problem has been that revolutions produce chaos, as well as resistance, so that the revolutionaries, need to establish a system of order for the new regime to survive, and they tend to use the one that is already available, and so suppression starts again. Lenin promised this suppression would be temporary, but the system is always attacked from outside, so the suppression needs to be maintained, and it becomes easy for the dictators to take over.

Paradoxically, in many ways Marx was a conservative egalitarian. He believed that capitalism corrupted virtue, destroyed relationships between people, diminished craft skills, eliminated local cultures, and produced dependency and poverty – much of the Communist Manifesto could have been written by a 19th conservative hostile to the newly emergent industrial capitalism. However, he also believed it was possible to change things for the better, if you understood what was going on.

Marx’s primary legacies are: a) the understanding that capitalism is oppressive and destructive in its very nature and not because of the vices of the dominant people themselves, and b) that economics is never independent of political struggle.

He showed that capitalism is not trade, or mutual exchange, which is normal to most societies, it is a specific political form of organizing exchange, profit, production, dependency and distribution which requires and creates inequality and state based oppression.

Finally, in Marx’s view, history is driven by the struggle between groups of people and their ways of life, survival and economic organization. In that sense the drivers of history are primarily material.

Group identity and ideas

May 27, 2017

The roles served by communication, information and reasoning are primarily social. That is, these acts/events are primarily about getting on in groups and orienting the person in the world in relation to others, with whom they ally, and against others who are perceived as threats. Accuracy is secondary.

1) Ideas don’t have to be accurate to be accepted

For example, people believe in ‘free market’ economics despite the fact that it has never delivered the general prosperity, liberty or virtue, it has been used to promise. It may deliver wealth and power to the corporate elites but that is another matter. Lots of ideas/actions do not deliver, or even produce the opposite result to what is promised for them, but people fiercely defend them anyway.

Acceptance has nothing to do with the ‘accuracy’ of the idea, or their ability to deliver promised results.

2) Sharing ideas is about group bonding

What a set of ideas needs for it to gain influence, is to produce (or be associated with), social bonding and a sense of identity.

Any group bonding process is boosted by working together, or by specifying some other groups, or set of groups, as an enemy outgroup from which the group needs to be distinguished or defended – socialists, liberals, Muslims, Christians, capitalists etc…

It is not necessary that the favoured outgroup actually does attack the ingroup; all that is necessary is for the group’s ideas to frame the outgroup as an attacking force. This will help the sense of ‘working together’ in the ingroup and, eventually, one sided hostility will promoted the desired reprisals.

For example, Scientology provides a close bonding organization which claims to represent an elite (you in potentia), with a strong sense of being persecuted by evil outgroups, as well as a set of ideas which may or may not deliver, but which a person’s adherence to, defines them as members of the group.

Sometimes inaccurate ideas can give more of a sense of identity than accurate ones, particularly if the groups are driven by a sense of resistance to groups which profess more accurate ideas – for example climate change denial.

3) The group is marked by the ideas it promotes

The group, as marked by the ideas, provides support and social bonding, so that people have loyalties to fellow ingroup members, beyond loyalties to outgroup members (although this can be complicated). They also have loyalties to group ideas which symbolise the group’s loyalties. The ideas are more like flags of allegiance than tools to help understand the world.

Attacking and defending these ‘flagging’ ideas is often seen as the same as attacking or defending both the group that promotes them and the sense of identity and bonding it provides. Attacking ideas can appear to be an attack on the self, its social position, its associates, and its right to exist.

Ingroup members support each other in attack those who attack the ideas of the group. This states the virtue of the group, and further cements the bonds of loyalty and working together, thus reinforcing the ideas, irrespective of whether the ideas are shown to be accurate or not.

4) Identity is about loyalty and opposition between categories.

As implied, the identity provided by the group is often partly provided by its distinction from other groups.

Men are not supposed to be like women or vice versa, Muslims are not supposed to be like Christians and so on. Being-not-the-relevant-other is important to many (but not all) human groups or identity categories.

Furthermore a person can see the differences between fellow ingroup members with greater ease than they see differences between outgroup members. The type of attention applied is different. It is easier to believe all Republicans are the same, if you are not a Republican. Outgroups tend to be perceived as uniform and less human.

Some groups claim that eventually, all good hearted people, will be like them. Therefore people who resist them are clearly not good hearted. Such groups always seek outgroups, and will manufacture them if everyone becomes the same.

In complicated societies there are overlapping spheres of identity in social life. Disjointed spheres may mean that it is harder to distinguish yourself from others, so you become more complacent about difference. However, the more your identity is defined by categories which smoothly overlap or concatenate, then the more you might perceive the difference between your group and out groups, and the more that outgroups can become sites for projection of fantasies. So groups can drive each other apart. But sometimes you get a dynamic whereby one group wants to be more like the other, and the other repels them – so the groups move further towards a similar extreme. In the US Democrats become more Republican, and Republicans move further to the ‘right’ to distinguish themselves.

5) The more the ideas expressed by a person praise the shared information and biases of the group, the more persuasive they are, and the higher status they gain. The more the ideas expressed by a person appear to resemble the ideas expressed by the outgroup, the less persuasive they are and the more marginal and threatened their status – they may even risk expulsion.

6) Ideas become relevant in different circumstances and different conflicts with the out groups…

Hence group members do not have to worry, or even notice, if those ideas are compatible with each other or not. There is no necessity for ideas to be coherent because they primarily serve as markers of self-identity, loyalty and differentiation from the outgroups in different circumstances.

Power and incompetence

May 19, 2017

People in power are often structurally incompetent. Not only because they get promoted above their ability to handle the situations they are supposedly in charge of (as explained in the Peter Principle), but because they suffer from the power/ignorance nexus (David Graeber). That is, because all the information they receive tends to be tailored towards what those beneath them, think that they want to hear or see. The more the people in power have access to violence, or can threaten those beneath them, the more this is the case. ‘Superiors’ don’t have to understand people or events that they can hit, or order to be hit. Managers can also be cut off from reality by their immediate underlings who try to control them by feeding them ‘useful’ information – this is the evil advisor motif. Similarly, those in power rarely explain truthfully what is going on to those beneath them, as this would render them more vulnerable to criticism and challenge. Thus those beneath them have to guess what is meant to happen, or what is happening, and this opens the organization to complete fantasy where people know that everything they are told is untrue, but don’t know what the lies are covering. This further confuses the information that the ‘superiors’ receive.

The less competent the people in power become, the less they are likely to realise that they do not understand what is going on or recognize competence (Kruger Dunning effect) – they see everything as all someone else’s fault, or the result of a vast conspiracy against them. Given that power is always exercised in a complex process with active ‘counter power’, were events are non-predictable, then incompetent people are not only likely to generate unintended results all the time, but they are likely to blame those beneath them for that incompetence, punish them, or not learn from mistakes, and thus reinforce the power/ignorance nexus.

Problems with incompetents in power tend to get worse, because they like to appoint other incompetents, or people who engage in flattery to positions of power beneath them, or of giving advice to them. Knowledgeable people scare them. Knowledgeable people, who don’t lie to please them, will tend to get sacked as incompetents will not take advice from people who might be less incompetent; they will not recognise the possibility of accuracy which goes against their biases, and so on.

Given this, incompetent people tend to set up (or reinforce) organisational structures based upon, and generative of, incompetence and ignorance. If they can, then they will destroy ‘checks and balances’ which have evolved to give social stability and responsiveness, as these seem to be part of the conspiracy which supposedly opposes them; these checks and balances are merely obstacles.

It is, therefore, not unreasonable to assume that incompetent politicians and corporate commanders will generate a dysfunctional educational system, which then reinforces the power of those politicians, by corrupting knowledge and thinking and giving people a truly false sense of reality. Having an education system which taught people to recognise the problems that the politicians and the corporate bosses generate, would appear counterproductive to their power and simply seem untrue.

Incompetence and ignorance can be further magnified when, as with capitalism, the economic system only recognises the virtue of profit and wealth – all other competence, benefits and virtue are to be dismissed. Organizations based on profit and incompetence, may tend to select for certain types of psychopathology, which further distorts the processes and feedback perception, rendering the superiors even more incompetent, and focused on profit alone. If you want to get ahead in this system you have to be able to lie, misdirect and deceive others. You have to be able to dismiss others without regret. You have to be able to assume that money is the only thing in life, and that it should be distributed only to the few, of which you are one.

In such an environment, everyone becomes nervous of everyone else, and most people end up communicating strategically rather than truthfully. Hence not only the collapse of education and collapse of virtue, but the collapse of our ecology and the likely collapse of society..

Monlogue from my latest novel in progress:

May 6, 2017

“The cliché is that the monsters hide in the countryside in some remote village, where everyone is supposedly inbred and stupid. But what’s the point of hiding away if you want power, or efficacy? It’s pointless. Vampires if they existed would be in Washington, Moscow and Beijing. They’d be in General Electric, Exxon, and Sinopec. Plenty of ambitious food, and they could control or remove anyone who might oppose them. So, even if they started in the country, I’d expect they would work up the food chain, and use each person they controlled to take over someone bigger in the hierarchy – until they controlled the world. And few of us would notice. It might explain why our ruling class refuse to do anything about climate change. Because the aliens like warmer conditions, and they don’t care how many humans die in engineering them. There’ll be some left and they may be more disorganised given the catastrophes, and so easier to control….”