Archives for posts with tag: authoritarianism

How do we vote?
For a candidate/party or against? Usually against the incumbent… Or against what we dislike…

What do we vote for? What do we expect?
Leadership or stewardship?
Do we expect our elected officials to take us by our collective hand and lead us through darkness or just want them to turn on the light?
To make it so that we may lead whatever lives we choose for ourselves ? For as long as we behave in a generally acceptable manner, of course…

Which brings us to ‘what democracy really is’ and ‘how can we make it work for real’?

First of all, let me point out that no democratic ‘arrangement’ had ever failed. For as long as it managed to maintain its democratic nature, of course….
Secondly, no authoritarian regime had survived for long. And most of them had fallen under their own weight rather than under outside pressure.

You see, even the ‘weakest’ democracies are way more adaptable than any authoritarian regime. The fact that anybody can voice their concerns sheds light on each problem, as it arises. The fact that all positions under the despot are filled with yes-sayers actually blinds all authoritarian regimes.
Furthermore, the fact that ‘we, the people’ has peaceful means to ‘fire’ those who do not rise to the occasion makes it possible for the society, as a whole, to survive ‘the event’. Even if the previous ‘decision maker’ could not find a way out. Faced with the same predicament, an authoritarian regime must first pass through a revolutionary transformation…

Then, if democratic regimes have such an evolutionary advantage compared to the authoritarian ones, why are we still confronted by so many dictatorships?

Because democracy demands something which is in short supply.
Mutual respect among all members of a given society!
Furthermore, democracy works only when the questions seeking answers are about the ‘how-s’ of the matter and not about the ‘what-s’.
A democratic society will remain democratic for only as long as its members continue to stick together. To have a common goal. To share a common weltanschauung.

As soon as a society allows itself to be divided into ‘parties’ promoting antagonistic interests its previously democratic arrangement will fade into ‘mob-rule’. Which is the ante-chamber of authoritarianism.

Liberty is freedom from being constricted, in any way, shape or form. Period.

Liberty is more of an adjective rather than a verb. A situation more than an action.

Liberty can be attached to a space, to an agent or to both.

A free space would be a space where no constriction may occur, whatsoever.
A free agent would be an individual entity outside any constriction, whatsoever.

Mathematically, both definitions are possible.
Philosophically, both definitions are imaginable. By philosophers, of course.

Oscar Hoffman, a Teacher, kept telling us, his students, “For a proposition to be true it is not enough for it to be logically correct. It also has to make ontological sense. For those of you who don’t remember what ontological means, a true proposition must describe something which has to be at least possible”

In the real world, where there is no such thing as absolute freedom, liberty has to be first noticed/invented. And then constantly negotiated.

‘No such thing as absolute freedom?!? But liberty is a (God given) (human) right!!!’

Do you remember what Hoffman had (just) said about things which can exist in practice and things which can exist only in our minds?
Liberty might be a right – for those who enjoy it, but that doesn’t mean that everybody has it. And, even more important, that there is – or ever will be, something even close to absolute liberty.
If you don’t believe me, try to fly off a balcony without any ‘mechanical’ help. Or stop eating for a day or two. The Earth will surely ‘constrict’ you back towards its center and your stomach will certainly constrict itself for lack of food. And both Earth and stomach will constrict you back to reality.

‘OK, so no absolute freedom for individuals. How about ‘free spaces’?’
‘As in spaces where no constriction, whatsoever, may be exercised?’
‘Well, that would be possible. If a space is completely empty… no constriction might be exercised in there, right? On the other hand, as soon as something, anything, populates that space, constrictions start to appear. For instance, since no two things can simultaneously exist in the very same place, the mere existence of a speck of dust in a whole stadium induces the restriction that no other speck of dust may exist in the very same spot. Sounds trivial, true, but this is it… No absolute freedom. Not for individual agents and nor for spaces.’

‘Then why are writing a post about ‘Free market’? Doesn’t make much sense, isn’t it?’

Let me finish with liberty before going any further.
I mentioned earlier that liberty must be first noticed and then negotiated.
You see, right or no right, liberty is, above all, a concept.
We’d first observed that a flying bird is freer that a crawling worm and bam!!! We realized that some of us were freer than the others. Then that freer groups/societies fared better than the more ‘stifled’ ones.
But only where liberty was more or less spread around, not concentrated in one hand. Dictatorships – where all liberty is concentrated at the top, are way more fragile than any democracy. I’ll come back to this.
Now, for the negotiation part.
‘Your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins’. And vice-versa. Only this is rather incomplete.
Let me examine the situation where you are a person who likes to swing your fist. In the air, not with any aggressive intent, of course. So you were swinging your fist, after you had determined, in good faith, that there was no nose close enough to hurt. But what if I am a ‘nosy’ guy? ‘Nosy’ enough to bring my actual nose inside your reach? You having to restrict your swings – or to go somewhere else, isn’t a limitation of your freedom? An absolutely unnatural limitation of your freedom?
Has it become a little clearer? What I mean by negotiation when it comes to individual freedom?

OK, time has come for me to go to market. To the free market!

A market is a place. Obviously, right?
A place where people trade their wares. Because they have noticed that it is easier for each of them to do what each of them do better and then trade the results of their work instead of each of them providing everything for themselves. As in everything each of them needs. Or fancy.

Initially, markets were far from being free. First of all, supply was sorely limited. Transportation means were practically nonexistent so supply varied seasonally and was severely influenced by weather, soil and other similar factors. And, maybe even more importantly, supply was influenced by the sheer will of the most powerful ‘free agent’ who happened to be around. Or, more exactly, supply was heavily influenced by the whims of the most powerful free-agent who happened to be around.
Don’t believe me? Then consider the extreme famine experienced by the Bengalis in 1943. Or by the Romanians during the last years of Ceausescu’s reign.
Slowly, people have learned that freer markets tend to be a lot more stable than the less free. ‘Freer’ markets meaning freer from both exterior and interior limitations. For a market to become free(ish) the participants need to have a big enough pool of resources at their disposal and to be wise enough to organize themselves in a ‘free’ manner.

And what happens when at least one of the two conditions remains unfulfilled?
Time has taught us that while markets tend to be limited in space and that some of the participants tent to impose themselves over the rest there is one dimension where the liberty of the market is very hard to be limited. ‘Liberty’ here meaning that things tend to evolve more in their own terms rather than ‘according to plan’. Or according to anybody’s wishes.

Whenever the available resources dry up, the participants to the market move someplace else. Or die of starvation.
Whenever a market looses too much of its freedom – as in some agent controls too much of what is going on there, the market itself no longer functions properly. Whenever too many of the participants loose their ability to determine their fate/future they slowly become ‘sitting ducks’. Not as much easy to hunt down but actually unable to feed themselves.
And since hunger is the best teacher, they either learn to fight for their freedom or… die of starvation. Pol Pot’s Cambodia would be a good example, even if somewhat extreme. The fall of most communist regimes also makes a compelling case for what I have in mind.
Even more interesting, though, is what had happened to the American Automobile Industry. General Motors and Chrysler Corporation, once the dominant stars of the market – along with Ford, had to be rescued by the government. Quasi monopolistic positions tend to be bad for the monopolists also, not only for the rest of the market. Given enough time, true enough…

Reading this excellent article by James Poulter, BBC Three, I was reminded of Marx. Karl, not Groucho.

“The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.”

 Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848.

The XX-th century had been torn apart by two totalitarian lines of thought. Communism and fascism/nazism.
The communists had backed their claims on Marx’s class struggle while the fascists/nazists had used a plethora of other authors as pretexts. Despite the differences, the results had been the same. Callous spin doctors had used popular discontent to get uncontested possession of the political levers. And kept playing with them until entire countries crumbled under their own weight.

But what was it that made some nations destroy themselves on the left side of the authoritarian spectrum while others have done the same thing but on the right side?

The nature of the popular discontent!

At any given point, the majority of the people living in a country might see itself as being in one of the following three situations:
– Leading a relatively comfortable life and having a decent perspective to improve its lot or at least to maintain its present status.
– Having always led a bad life and finding absolutely no perspective of improvement.
– Having led a relatively good life for a while, lost that status and finding no way to resume it.

According to Marx, the first situation would have necessarily led to the third and, eventually, to communism.
According to history, people living in the second situation had always been manipulated into communism while people struggling in the third have been led into fascism/nazism.

Meanwhile, people living in the first situation have remained there for as long as they maintained their social cohesion. But that will be the subject of another post.


Democracy works. Authoritarianism works too.

Athens, the Ancient version, had become the dominant power of the Ancient Greece as a democracy. Only the Parthenon was build under Pericle’s rule. And Pericle was, for all intents and purposes, a dictator.
Rome, the Ancient version, had build a huge empire. As a democracy. Then enlarged it some more. As a growingly authoritarian and eventually discretionary regime.

England had started as the most democratic kingdom in Europe. Building upon the democratic traditions developed by the Vikings, the barons had forced King John to sign Magna Charta Libertatum. Way back in 1215.
Meanwhile, France – England’s neighbor and long time competitor, had become the dominant power in Medieval Europe. As an increasingly absolutist monarchy.

At some point, the people living in the future United States of America had decided that they had enough. That they wanted to enjoy the same privilege as their British counterparts. “No taxation without representation”.  George III would have no such a thing so the US had been established as the first democratic modern state. And the most successful to date. By almost every measure.
Following on America’s foot steps, the French had their Revolution. After a very short – and very tumultuous, democratic stint, they had reverted to authoritarianism. And conquered almost all Europe, under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte the First. Only to be eventually defeated by a coalition led by the more democratic British empire.

On the other side of Eur-Asia, things had been more linear.

The Russian Empire was developed in fits and starts. When the dictating ruler knew what he was doing – Peter the Great, for instance, things went forward. When not…
India had been, for all but the last 70 years or so, a melting pot of feuding dictatorships. Yet had developed a fascinating culture and much of what we currently call science and technology. The numbers our computers crunch had been invented there. And the steel we use to build our cars
The Chinese Middle Kingdom had once been the most civilized country on Earth. Then had crumbled under the assault of the marauding already democratic Europeans… only to revive, like the famous Phoenix… and all these while remaining submissive to a succession of authoritarian regimes.
Japan is a story by herself. Never fully authoritarian and yet still ‘imperative’ in many ways even today, she had somehow managed to put up a relatively good show. But for the period when she had succumbed to the ‘charms’ of hard core dictatorship, of course.

Coming back to Europe, I have to note that in the last century the inevitable tension between democracy and authoritarianism has produced immense tragedy.
WWI was the consequence of the inflexibility inherent to the authoritarian regimes. The leaders of the Keiserlich und Koniglich Habsburgic Empire, the Deutches Reich and the Russian Empire were not able to solve their disputes otherwise than dragging the whole continent into a huge mess.
Which, unsolved, had given birth to a second, and more horrible, one.
To complicate things even more, the battle was not fraught between the democratic regimes and the authoritarians.

The relatively flat layout of most parliamentary chambers has induced in us the idea that society is linear. From left to right and backwards.
Also, the current almost ubiquitous existence of parliaments drove us to forget that until recently – historically speaking, of course, most societies have been punctiform. The sovereign king was the only one able/entitled to make any significant decision…

Meanwhile we are told by the political scientists that long term political stability can be achieved only through ‘checks and balances’. Meaning that the state has to be organized in such a way that nobody can get amass too much power.
Actually most modern states have an executive, a legislative body and a judiciary. Each of them performing their specific tasks while keeping a jealous eye on the other two.

The problem with long term political stability being that it is a very abstract goal while most people just want to be happy. And are willing to go at considerable lengths in order to achieve their goals….

And it’s exactly here where ideologues start to argue among themselves

Some say that the individual is sacrosanct. That individual freedom is the most important value that is and the most fundamental ‘human right’.
Others say that society is more important than any individual. That all individuals should put themselves at the service of the society and that individual liberty pales when confronted with social necessity.
And a third category consider that democracy is a waste of time and of opportunity. That the best for any society is that a capable person/group of persons to be given absolute power over it. The rationale being that ‘the capable’ will take good care of their ‘property’. A far better kind of care than any group of bickering politicians would ever be able to offer….

On the practical side, those preoccupied with ‘freedom’ consider that the main duty of the state is to preserve/protect individual liberty. That people, once free, will know how to achieve their personal happiness.
The socially minded consider that individual happiness cannot exist before/outside the well being of the entire society. Hence the ‘rational citizen’ has to postpone (read forget) any personal goals and sublimate their own persona into the society.
‘The more capable than the rest’ consider that the ‘incapable’ cannot be trusted with defining their own goals and have to be told what to do. For their own good!

It is very easy to observe that none of the three ‘ideal types’ described above doesn’t work on its own. That each have been experimented and found to be ‘unpractical’, to say the least.

Individual absolute freedom exists. The Saan living in the Kalahari desert and the  Baka in the Cameroon don’t have any formal rules, no social hierarchy and are absolutely free to do as they please. Both have been easily overcome, their habitat is being encroached/destroyed by their ‘neighbors’ and have been able to survive only by going further and further away from anything.
Socially minded people have, time and time again, congregated. Only to witness their communities dissolve or develop malignantly. From the early christian settlements to the XiX-th century phalansters.
The ‘know better’ is, apparently at least, the most successful arrangement. All kingdoms and empires have been organized according to this principle.
And all of them eventually failed. Even Plato’s idea of ‘king priests’ has led to Alexander the Great’s ultimately disastrous campaign into the Middle East. Not to mention the fact that the erstwhile mighty Athens had fallen into anonymity just after starting to be governed by specially trained rulers.

Since the pure ideal types didn’t work, let’s see what we get if we combine them.

Since I’ve been experimenting it for the first 30 years of my life, I’ll start with the result of crossing ‘social minded’ with ‘know better’. Does ‘communism’ ring any bells with you?
Let’s cross ‘liberty’ with ‘know better’. Actually this has already been done. It was about liberty for those who knew better… Nazism, and its newer variants, are the first examples which come to mind.
And the most interesting result comes from crossing freedom with social minded. This has also been experimented. In the democratic Ancient Athens and in during the truly Republican phase of the Roman Empire. The same combination was used by the vikings and somehow perpetuated to this day. Its offshoots being the western style democracy.

Which democracy – just like the Roman Empire, will survive for only as long as it will conserve both individual freedom and social mindedness while allowing, but only when needed, the ‘know better’ to take over for the short periods of time when their presence at the helm is absolutely necessary.

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

This is probably the biggest bone of contention between the conventional sides of the political spectrum.

The conventional right claims that we’d be a lot happier with a considerably smaller government while the conventional left would, if left to its own devices, transform the government into a huge, and ‘smothering’, nanny.

Is there any reasonable way of determining the right size of the government or we should just try to reach a compromise between the warring factions?

I don’t think I’m smart enough to determine how big a government should be.
I also dislike the very concept of compromise – if I have to settle something I prefer to negotiate instead of compromising.
And that’s is why I’d rather approach this problem from another angle.

What KIND of government!

Let me take you on a short, and very condensed, historical ride.

Basically humankind has used, somewhat alternatively, two systems of running things.

Authoritarianism and democracy.

Specifics do not matter much. If decision making was centralized it was authoritarianism, if decisions were made by those directly affected by the results of those decisions being put in practice it was democracy.

What’s really important here is the fact that those two different manners of decision making generated different forms of government.

Authoritarian regimes employed ‘administrative’ (meaning ‘directorial’) forms of government while democracies were served by ‘referential’ forms of government.
And it was only natural that things happened this way.
Authoritarian regimes need nothing more than a ‘transmission belt’ to convey orders from the very top to the base of the social pyramid while democracies need a team of referees to keep the playing field level and nothing more than that.

Of course that I’m presenting a very simple sketch here. Things are more complicated than that.

And there are at least two main complications. ‘Human greed’ and ‘international relations’.

It doesn’t really matter if that greed is for money of for power. Whenever greedy individuals are allowed to enter the government and to cater for their ‘special needs’ things are headed south. And the only difference between this situation occurring in a democracy or under an authoritarian regime is that the latter has no natural defense against this kind of ‘mishaps’.

‘International relations’ play a less obvious role. The main job a government has to fulfill is to keep the state together. If a hypothetical state would exist in a vacuum – and have no neighbors, things would be a lot simpler. Since in the real world states do have neighbors the governments have to organize armies, secret services, engage in arms races…
Also in the real world states are very different. In size, for instance.

For all these reasons it’s very hard to ‘calculate’ the ‘proper’ size of a government.

Specially so without defining clearly what’s expected from that government.
An authoritarian regime would ask the government to preserve the privileges of those at the helm of the regime while a truly democratic minded people would expect their government to safeguard, using legitimate means, the independence of their country on the international level while simultaneously making sure that the individual members of that people enjoy enough personal autonomy so that their political regime remains democratic.

After those expectations are clearly formulated, the size of the government will simply be a consequence…


A FB friend of mine shared this old video with the following caption:

“He is the only president in the world to do this, and defend the workers’ labor RESPECT”

And this was my reaction to this:

“Are you that sure that he did this in order to ‘defend worker’s labor’? Or in order to present himself as the (God) ‘father of the nation’? Or maybe, just maybe, he needed the aluminum produced at that factory?

And even if he was animated by the purest ideals, the mere fact that he acted like he did – in a dictatorial manner – is extremely malignant for the rest of the society.
What will stop, from now on, the oligarchs from following his example – act dictatorially on their own feuds? Fright from being reprimanded by the ‘big boss’?
Are you sure this is what you wish for? A society drenched in fright?
I’m not defending the Deripasca’s of this world. Each of them would do exactly as Putin does, if he’d have enough power.
The point of all this being that our only defense against the arbitrary is to stop lionizing individuals who act in this manner.
I know it’s hard to do that when their actions coincide with our  short term wishes. It would help to keep in mind that on the longer term their manner of running things will eventually induce terminal fragility into our livelihood.

black driver pulled from job

The Root reports that a customer “asked that no black delivery driver be sent to her home” and that a manager decided to “honor” that request.

As most of you already know Maslow’s five leveled pyramid can be simplified into a three three tiered one: Physiological needs, Relational needs (safety, emotion and esteem) and Self Actualization. Maslow said that you cannot skip any one of this levels, for instance you can not deal with your emotional needs on an empty stomach. And who cares about self actualization if he doesn’t know where he’s going to sleep tonight?

Well…intuitively we have to admit that Maslow’s words do make some sense…

Studying this example we can draw some interesting conclusions on this subject.

For instance simply climbing to a certain level doesn’t mean one is mature enough for it.

The customer had certainly satisfied her basic needs yet she has some deep emotional problems.
OK, I can imagine that a person can be so ‘dense’ as to be able to make such a demand but no second thoughts after you produced such a frack-ass?
“”I got a right to have whatever I want and that’s it,” the woman said. “No, I don’t feel bad about nothing.””

But the most interesting examples here are the manager and the driver.

Lowe’s is not at all a small operation. Rising to management level is not a simple thing and should provide some security and self esteem to an individual. Enough for that individual to start thinking with his own head. After all that’s what managers are supposed to do, right? That would also help that individual bring himself up to date – ‘self actualization’, that is…
Was that particular manager capable of fulfilling his duty? Lowe’s didn’t think so… Me neither, on different grounds though.

Let’s see what the driver has to say:
“”To me, it just ain’t right for a business that we work at to go on with the woman’s wishes,” Brooks told the news station.
“It was one of those things like, ‘These guys will get over it, they’re tough guys, they’re delivery guys,’ ” Brooks said. “And that’s kind of where I just had to put my foot down and say I couldn’t do it with them.””
So a “mere” driver has more guts than a manager…
No matter if the manager shared the customer’s racist feelings. He had to have the wisdom to understand that catering for such kind of wishes – specially in this manner,  is extremely bad for the company. And for himself as an employee of that company.
So he should have solved that situation properly, not botchedly – he was a manager, remember?

“Despite the letdown, Bradley added that he won’t be missing any time at work.
“I mean, I gotta work,” he said. “I’m going to keep going to work like I’ve always done. But I would think Lowe’s would take it into consideration to think about what they’re doing next time.””

So the driver has a clearer view of the situation – including his own standing – than the manager…

What’s going on here? Did Maslow got his pyramid upside down or the whole world has turned over and is now standing on its head?

Maybe that is the whole ‘self-actualization’ thing. Being able to use wisely the amount of autonomy one happens to have at his disposal.

We are very proud of our ability to make ‘rational decisions’.

So proud as to delude ourselves into believing that if we have enough information about something and enough time to consider it our opinion/decision about that subject will be “true”.

Take as much time as you wish.

“Alex prays on his own now, studying the Koran to work out what it really seems to say about gender and sexuality.

Yet he fantasizes about attending Eid festivities in Oakland next year where his mother celebrates. “She can’t deny me when I’m right there in front of her friends,” he says.

But it now feels like the hardest fight is in the past, not the future.

“When your mother hurts you, no one can hurt you as much as that,” he says. “My strength comes from that.” ”

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