Archives for posts with tag: honesty

Can we do without it?
And if not, how much of it?

– If ‘no government’, then who would pay for the army we need to defend ourselves?

Ooops… you’ve just answered the ‘why does Russia ‘encourage’ the trolls who push ludicrous libertarian ideas’ question. Which trolls attempt to achieve two things at once. Weaken the concept of free government and give libertarian-ism a bad rep. Transforming libertarian-ism into yet another form of extremism.

Let’s get serious and try to find an answer to ‘why, and how much of it, do we need government?’

The boring one would be: ‘Whenever one government falls, another one takes over. The interregnum is always bad so… let’s get used to it’.

‘Getting used to it’ works only for very short expanses of time. Left on its own, all ‘government’ becomes sloppy. So sloppy that it soon becomes such a burden that even the most ‘used to it’ lose their patience.
Government, all of them, need to be kept on a tight leash. Otherwise it will soon cease to perform as intended.

– But if you have to keep it on a tight leash, why bother with any in the first place?
Can’t we do without such a bothersome pet?
What’s the point of the whole thing, anyway?

Instinctively, we’re against ‘government’ for two reasons.
It costs us a lot and it used to represent the interests of the ruler.

Until 10 000 or so years ago, we didn’t need ‘government’.
People were living more or less like the modern day Sun People still do. In the Kalahari desert… small bands roam the place, living of the land. The bands are small – so that they might find sustenance, they don’t have any ‘private’ property to protect, hence they don’t need government. Neither did our ancestors.

As soon as people ‘invented’ agriculture – raising ‘tame’ animals at first and working the land soon after, things had changed dramatically.
The advent of agriculture brought two things. An increased productivity and private property.
Soil has not been born equal. Both pastures and arable land can be good, passable or bad. People wish to have the best. Those who already have it are willing to defend it and those who don’t are willing to steal it.
Increased productivity means that those who produce are able to hire people to protect their ‘means of production’. Their property. As a consequence of fighting for it, some people accumulate more and more of it.
More and more ‘means of productions’ – property, means an ever increasing need for ‘management’ and an ever increasing need for ‘protection’. Soon you have a very ‘wealthy’ owner – the lord of the place, call it what you like or use the name given to him by his subjects, the people who perform the day to day management of the ‘whole-sale property’ and those who protect it from ‘marauders’. Both the ‘managers’ – read ‘government’, and the ‘protectors’ – read ‘army’, used to be under the direct supervision of the local lord.
For a while – for as long as the lord kept everything in balance, everybody was happy. The ‘peasants’ were happy because thy were safe, the ‘managers’ were happy because the wise lord used to appreciate their work and ‘compensated’ them accordingly, the ‘protectors’ were happy because they were well fed and taken care of. According to this article, the great Egyptian had been built by willing people, not by slaves.
But soon enough, the lord had become estranged from his people. Government had become an instrument used to extract more and more wealth from the peasants while the army was used to protect the government against the people and, whenever possible, to increase the property of the ruling lord by stealing some from the neighboring ‘lords’. The ’empire’ was born.

But this development could take place only in certain circumstances. Where those below the ruling lord had nothing more to do than to obey. Where the best subject was the disciplined one. Where autonomous thinking and imagination were frown upon by the ruler. Where one mind was enough.
Whenever the ‘environment’ mandated the individuals to remain relatively autonomous, proto-democratic forms of self government had been experimented. From the nomadic pastoralists of the Central Asia to the sailing communities in Ancient Greece and Medieval Scandinavia. Those driving herds or sailing ships need to be a lot more independent-minded that those who just tile the earth. No offense intended here! Simple observation will notice that where the geography of the place had allowed it, somebody had ‘built’ an empire. The Nile Valley, the Middle East, the Russian plain, China, Mexico…
Where ever the geography of the place was fragmented enough by sail-able sea, proto-democratic forms of self-management had been developed. The sailing Ancient Athens versus the land-locked Sparta, Medieval Scandinavia versus Medieval France…

Fast forward to present day.
When we have two forms of government.
The more or less democratic ones. Those under whose ‘guidance’ discussions like the present one can happen.
And the more or less authoritarian ones. Which actively discourage autonomous thinking.

Mind you, there are no ‘perfect’ governments.
There’s no perfectly democratic arrangement anywhere on Earth. Because we are imperfect human beings.
And there’s no ‘perfect’ authoritarian government. Because no government can survive for long if it attempts to centralize the decision power. The closer a government gets to being perfectly authoritarian, the smaller is the crisis needed to topple it. Unless it is supported from the out-side but that’s another topic.

So. It is fairly simple to understand how authoritarian governments fail. Too much ‘stiffness’ makes it impossible for authoritarian governments to evolve. To find solutions for whatever challenges pop up constantly.

But what can go wrong with the collective forms of self-rule? With the participative forms of social self management? Otherwise known as democracies?
Lack of enough popular involvement. Due to a sense of apparent safety, initially. And to a feeling of apparent impotence, soon after.
Lack of enough fore-sight. Those who should know better become distracted, for whatever reasons.
Too much opportunism. More and more of the ‘insiders’ use ‘the power of the government’ to fulfill their own, private, goals instead of making sure that ‘government’ works properly.

And what does that mean?

A government works properly when the community which self manages itself using that particular (form of democratic) government survives in the long run.
When those momentarily working inside the government make things happen for the community at large.
When people, both inside and outside the government, follow, in spirit, Kennedy’s words.

Am I being naive?
Maybe… But wouldn’t it be a nice thing to have?
A nice thing to chase, anyway?

And what better way to chase ‘it’ than voting for people who at least pretend to be honest? Who at least make the ‘right’ noises? Whom we can hold accountable whenever they break their promises?
Instead of voting for those who promise barrels and barrels of ‘pork‘?

Ideological pork or hands-on pork, I don’t know which is worse…


The Rorschach test consists of a trained specialist encouraging a subject to share his interpretations on 10 “ambiguous images“.
At the end of the discussion the trained specialist more or less ‘determines the fate’ of the subject, by filing his interpretation of the subject’s reactions.

The democratic process consists of everybody freely expressing their concerns about things.
Periodically some people are invested with enough power to solve the problems encountered by the community, in a manner consistent with the values agreed upon by that community. At the end of each such period the activity of these people is analyzed (interpreted ?!?) by those at the ‘receiving end’ of the political mechanism, with the intended goal of improving the ‘political process’.
The fate of the entire community being under a double determination. The diligence of the politicians invested to run the show and the diligence of the people when evaluating the results of the political process.

As you can see with a naked eye, there are a few striking similarities between  Democracy and the Rorschach test. Both depend heavily on the participants being honest and straightforward.

If the patient ‘doesn’t trust his doctor’ or ‘doesn’t feel like talking’ the ‘trained person’ will undoubtedly have problems in reaching a ‘fair conclusion’. Both will have to ‘suffer some consequences’.
If the ‘doctor’ has ‘ulterior motives’ and ‘unfairly labels’ his patient, it will be the patient to suffer the initial consequences but, eventually, those consequences will ‘bounce back’ to their source.

Same things happen in any society.
The difference between a democratic and an authoritarian one being that in a democratic environment ‘consequences’ become apparent, and are dealt with, a lot easier than in an authoritarian one.
This being the reason for which true, functional, democracies work better than any form of authoritarianism.

As long as both parties involved ‘interpret’ their roles appropriately, of course.

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’.

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