I have for some time now been contemplating a series of logical arguments, which, when linked together, would form a cohesive whole around which can be worked the forming of a base of some comprehensive world view. We must start somewhere, and that is what I will endeavor to do here.
The goal of such task is to actively and accurately correct the logical flow in our thinking, conceptions about ourselves and our societies, and history, and thus upon this improved logical conception continue to advance and propose such futuristic societies that would foster peace, abundance and harmony for all participants.
While this is 'Chapter 1', we inevitably hit the ground running, such is the torroidal form of our reality, where everything connects to everything else if you talk for long enough. As we observe and contemplate, examine our past histories and present struggles, what is most noticeable?
Many things are wrong. This is our first observation today, while just 20 years ago we looked out over the world with Pride and Promise! The post modern era would free us from violence and the possibilities were endless. History had ended!.
Today, the world looks completely different, the exposed edges of behind-the-scenes control reveals a distinctly Malthusian bent; the predominant mythologies are similar to the pre-Adamites, bad humans just waiting to get balanced (read: annihilated) by a new Noah's Flood called Climate Change. Only by surrendering our Sovereignty to Higher Designs can we be safe, or so goes the legend.
"The Multitude will be Punished for the Sins of the Humans. Swear Obedience to the Collective and you will be Spared."
We can see these wrong things, wrong ideas, and I also believe we can see, historically, a lot of harm that has been caused by very similar bad ideas.
What is a 'Bad Idea'?
An idea, defined as 'a formulated thought or opinion' by Merriam Webster, also comes charged with a few other connotations, such as 'whatever is known or supposed about something' and 'an entity (such as a thought, concept, sensation, or image) actually or potentially present to consciousness'.
In this case, we will stick with the 'formulated thoughts' definition, since we will be discussing the 'consequences of ideas'. Thus, when referring to an idea as 'bad', we naturally mean that such idea has 'bad consequences', consequences not necessarily associated with such idea or consequences for people other than those associated with promotion of such an idea.
Continuing with the definition 'a formulated thought or opinion', it should be fair to say that an opinion which is factually wrong would necessarily also be a 'bad idea', since we are assuming that living in a state of false beliefs, whether it causes actual harm or not (though we believe it is likely to do so), is a harm unto itself, which is the 'bad consequence' referred to above.
Seeing Like a State
Today I am working from a fantastic text from the Yale University Press, Seeing like a State, How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, by James C. Scott. I got tired of working with the PDF, available here, and printed it out.
You could say this is a book about bad ideas, but specifically one particular bad idea taken and applied all over the world in different flavors and contexts. Scott himself will use the term "High Modernism" in the quotes we take from later chapters, but he attributes a few other conditions as necessary for the 'big fiascoes'. From the Introduction:
'But "fiasco" is too lighthearted a word for the disasters I have in mind. The Great Leap Forward in China, collectivization in Russia, and compulsory villagization in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Ethiopia are among the great human tragedies of the twentieth century, in terms of both lives lost and lives irretrievably disrupted. At a less dramatic but far more common level, the history of Third World development is littered with the debris of huge agricultural schemes and new cities (think of Brasilia or Chandigarh) that have failed their residents. Its is not so difficult, alas, to understand why so many human lives have been destroyed by mobilized violence between ethnic groups, religious sects, or linguistic communities. But it is harder to grasp why so many well-intentioned schemes to improve the human condition have gone to tragically awry. [This book aims] to provide a convincing account of the logic behind the failure of some of the great utopian social engineering schemes of the twentieth century.'
Scott links these tragedies to 4 processes, which are Administrative Simplification, High Modernism Ideology (ie "Faith in Science"), Authoritarianism, and a Prostrate Civil Society.
Today I want to talk about 'High Modernism", a misplaced faith in our ability to 'order the world', which I believe we are, at a massive level at least, still desperately mired in. This false belief continues to do much damage, and is poised to do even more now with recent scares and justifications. But before we cut into the meat, let's briefly take a look at the other necessary ingredients according to Scott.
The simplifying assumptions made by a state, the making homogeneous of the multitudes of tribes into large nation states is still linked to most of the conflicts in the world today. What percentage of destabilized regions can be linked to British elites drawing some lines on a map representing regions they had never visited? Much of the conflict in Colombia, where we live, can be traced to strict centralized control over a would-be federalized populace of hundreds of villages. Colombia's 1991 constitution recognized this reality with the statement admitting that Colombia is a 'multi-ethnic, Pluri-cultural Nation' (translation mine).
Weights and measures, last names (smith, baker, johnson (Son of John), social numbering systems (ID), certificates of birth, catastral studies, private property and fixed lot lines - these simplifications, some of which we will talk more deeply about in future chapters of this series, are all required pre-conditions for big, oft-blunderous bureaucracy to attain and act upon the High Modernist Ideals on the highest scales.
Authoritarianism has been much misunderstood as well. Less a type of person, authoritarianism, in my eyes, refers more to the times at which the State is moved to exercise its full authority, and expand such authority. If, in the US example, something like the 10th amendment nominally protects certain state rights, in a time of authoritarianism is when the federal government is straining and expanding, pushing against its limits. Recently much talk has been made about the related concept - the so-called "Overton Window", the range of politically palatable options that politicians can discuss at any fixed point in time. As many before me, and before James C. Scott have noted, "...emergency conditions foster the seizure of emergency powers and frequently delegitimize the previous regime." Thus the current conditions reflect a certain range of discussable options, and in desperate times, authoritarianism, or the expansion of authority, usually by the executive, comes into view through Overton's window.
The last point, a 'prostrate civil society', is at this point just an excuse to promote the corollary:
A strong, local and diverse Civil Society can change everything.
It is no coincidence that social structures, so important to previous generations, are crumbling. 'One Laptop per Child', and we might never need to talk to each other again!
We need to be more social, and it is clear to me that 'Social Media' has not achieved this goal. It has not strengthened civil capacity, but perhaps weakened it. Who now presents us with a coherent social world view? It is my perception that we are without a 'social north star', which raises the possibility of a 'star to appear'. Are we being primed to follow such a star?
Wouldn't it be better to look to new levels of social arrangements? That is what I hope to do. More local, thus more decentralized. Voluntary organizations, whether they be physical or digital, that are structured in such a way as to empower the participants.
But before we get there, before we nail this to the church, we must add a few more theses to this document, because the upcoming or perhaps 'in progress' revolution has been 'pre-hijacked'.
Simplification of History
So I am deep in Chapter 5 of Seeing Like a State, where Scott breaks down the history and writing of V. Lenin, which is not the one from the Beetles but the one from the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The story of the Red Russian Revolution is interesting, because the details on the ground differ quite substantially from the mythical version.
"After seizing state power, the victors have a powerful interest in moving the revolution out of the streets and into the museums and schoolbooks as quickly as possible, lest the people decide to repeat the experience."
This historical episode is important to review before trying to replicate, because while the Bolsheviks did seize power in 1917, with the help of widespread non-Bolshevik and agrarian, anarchist and unaffiliated agitator populations, they then spent the next 4 years (between 1917 and 1921) consolidating power FROM the independent farm and factory collectives formed in 1917 by these same groups, going against any form of ideology and transforming the masses they rose to power over the backs of into subservience.
"[In 'The Agrarian Question'] and in other writings, Lenin denounced all the cultivation and social practices associated with the customary, communal, three-field system of land allotments that still pertained in much of Russia. In this case, the idea of common property prevented the full development of capitalism, which, in turn, was a condition of revolution."
In terms of the frequently derided concept of capitalism, we have another one of those terms that requires a definition, which we will dive more deeply into, along with other First Principles, in a future chapter of this series. Suffice it to say now, that capitalism is not something governments do, capitalism is what people do when governments leave them alone. Thus every act by a government can be seen as a 'distortion of capitalism', and whether those distortions have positive or negative effects is within the scope of human analysis to determine.
In the case of Germany, new technology led the society to implement what became known as 'mechanized agriculture', and the results, while efficient, were not all great. In the case of Russia, the rural peasants, familiar with some of the associated problems known to mechanized agriculture, were less eager to rush into the immediate implementations of these new technologies.
Scott continues, now quoting Lenin:
"Modern agricultural technique," [Lenin] concluded, "demands that all the conditions of the ancient, conservative, barbarous, ignorant, and pauper methods of economy on peasant allotments be transformed. The three-field system, the primitive implements, the patriarchical impecuniosity of the tiller, the routine methods of stock breeding and crass naive ignorance of the conditions and requirements of the market must all be thrown overboard."
Here is another look into the heart of the backwardness of the revolution. According to Marx, writing in High Modernist and highly urban (for the time) Germany, where some form of capitalism operated and yielded certain advances, with certain consequences, the next stage would be a workers revolution, this was the natural response to 'capitalism'. So eager was Lenin for this to be so, that he thus needed to first turn the rural peasant to capitalism so that the preconditions for the revolution could be set.
But if capitalism was so bad, why didn't they just stay with the traditional methods? Surely this can now be recognized as a Machiavelian version of the Broken Window Fallacy. In order to create Lenin's very logical (to him) version of the future, masses of people must first suffer and die implementing capitalism, destroying their traditional system by which they shared certain common plots, in order for that suffering to precondition the worker revolution which would then, hypothetically, usher in the Socialist Utopia.
Please note that the fallacious reasoning leading to power for the revolutionaries as a proxy of 'the people', sits atop a series of assumptions about the ability of State Power, once it is so achieved:
- Government has the power and capacity to know the 'right path' or 'proper destination' for an entire nation.
- Government has the power and capacity to avoid or prevent 'the known right path it knows' from being adjusted, corrected, coerced or perverted by elites and insiders.
- Government has the power and capacity to amass the knowledge and logistical capabilities to implement such schema and strategies as to bring about the 'right path' or 'right destination'.
- In such a time when conditions change, Government has the power and capacity to know about and implement such adjustments to the 'path' or 'destination' as is necessary in a time frame adequate to the needs of the changing conditions.
At this time, its shall be sufficient to note that all of these assumptions are dubious.
The Backward Model of Revolution
So setting aside completely (for now) the promising discussion on the definition and classification of capitalism and its distortions, what we can now see clearly emerging is what I am calling the 'Backward Model of Revolution" whereby revolutionaries seek not to fix problems nor offer solutions but instead work to instill the 'pre-conditions for revolution', which - as we have seen, are seeing and will continue to see - is misery and suffering.
Because only through the misery and suffering of the masses will those same masses be incited to rise up and overthrow the system.
Causing misery and suffering, no matter how noble the goal, is a 'Bad Idea'. But this is not even the worst of the bad ideas in this chain of logic.
This suffering and misery (bad idea) is perpetrated on the populace due to an even worse idea, which is that once these Backward Revolutionaries are able to use the suffering to obtain power, that they will be able to control the levers of the national economy, that they will be able to organize the organs of government, that they will be able to harmonize the hopes and dreams of so many individual humans to create a better world.
That no such evidence for such a claim exists is not enough to claim High Modernism dead. The idea that if only we could push the right buttons everything would be fixed is quite tempting. But the massive evidence that the failures of such experiments have lead to even more depths of suffering and misery is incredibly compelling.
In fact, in every other area of our lives and economies, we are experiencing the exact opposite tendencies. Over-weight industrial bureaucracies are becoming 'lean' and 'agile'.
Large bureaucracies are a technology of 17th and 18th centuries,
and naturally in competetive and psuedo-free markets humans have had the opportunity to innovate more adaptive and flexible structures than those of the previous era. James C. Scott calls these outdated bureaucracies 'the great human machines' of Lenin's time. Hierarchical organizations empowered by the simplification of Victorian-age education yielded inter-replaceable cells of this vast bureaucratic brain.
This idea, the 'great human machine' shaped much of what is called Modern Age history. In future chapters we will have a chance to examine these failed tendencies from the Agricultural Perspective, where we also see very dynamic solutions emerging now in the Post-Modern Age, but we need now to recognize that many of the assumptions underlying the philosophies of those previous times have proven obsolete.
We need to move past the 'bad ideas' of previous centuries.