Power and incompetence

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..

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