ESCAPING DICTATORSHIP, PART 1
By Roland Watson
In this and the next article, I will explore the links in the chain of the human experience, which so regularly leads us to dictatorship. I will examine what is happening at the deepest level, and what we need to do to break the chain.
Reappraise fear of change, and the demand for control
We live in a universe that is characterized by chaos, and a lack of certainty. In addition, in our present society the great rate of change has magnified this chaos.
But, rather than fear chaos - and change - we should accept it as an opportunity. And, to do this, we must remember that change is usually positive, or rather, that you can make the outcome of both unexpected and planned change have at a minimum a positive bias or elements. Also, since other people are regularly the agents of change, this is a good reason to be positive with and supportive of them.
Moreover, we often act, collectively, with the effect of an uncontrollable force. Because of this, the likelihood is that we will continue to destroy the natural environment; that we will succumb to the temptations of eugenics and human cloning; and that there will be more mass market and entertainment dumbness and extremes, including global sameness, cultural destruction, and increasingly intolerable pressure on individuals.
Our only recourse in the face of this is to accept that absolute control of the environment and our circumstances is not possible. We are not perfectible. However, we can use our will to achieve some semblance of control, to shape the circumstances of our lives and to minimize our negative effects on others. More generally, definitive, permanent solutions to our social problems do not exist. We can only "wing it," with reason as our guide, but tempered by emotion, specifically, by the passion of life for life.
The plague of selfishness
Next, there is our selfishness, which can be expressed as: What 'I' want is the 'only' thing that is important. And I am justified in doing anything at all to get it. My end justifies 'any' means. Furthermore, when I do not get what I want, I get 'angry.'
The result of this is that we have a world where all the "I's" compete with each other, and get angry when they lose. I can add, the view underlying this is that conflict is inevitable, hence the world is tragic, and we are entitled to act without restraint, since we are continually at war.
Is the drive to compete stronger than the desire to cooperate and share? Is free will consistent with cooperation, or only competition? Is obsession stronger than commitment? Are fear and anger stronger than reason? And, is anger - hate - the most effective motivator of all?
More broadly, can we reduce the importance of appearance and power, and can we shift our focus from the survival of self, to the celebration of life?
These questions represent great challenges, but I would say, by way of example, that anger, from any source ranging from legitimate all the way through to being the outcome of a genetic predisposition, can be counteracted by will.
The deeper question of self-interest
The problem of self-interest is that in its basic, or primitive, form, we equate it with selfishness and greed. But advanced self-interest is actually selflessness. You win in the end, and in the moment, when you learn that it is better to give than to receive.
Consider the issue of self-competition, which is really self-cooperation. When you push your limits, what really happens is that it is your mind - your self-conscious mind - that urges you on, and your body - or unconscious - that responds. But, at some point the body reaches its limit, and it tells the mind to stop. At this point, the mind says, "OK, but can you just give me a little bit more," and the body responds, and through this the limit is broken. The best results, including the greatest physical accomplishments and the highest creative expression, occur when the mind and body are so unified.
In a social context, the question is: can we achieve such a unification of purpose with other people? Put another way, should we even try to win, and to consider this, we need to look at the most basic real-world manifestation of human selfishness, which is nepotism, and its derivative, private property.
We cannot abolish private property, and we have seen that nepotism is in some ways a good form - parents helping their children, so we do not want to eliminate it, either. Our only choice, then, is to restrict it to family - to the best of our ability to eliminate nepotism-based appointments from our social institutions, and to encourage the voluntary redistribution of its proceeds through sharing and other forms of charity.
More generally, we want to encourage people not to see competition, and the power that derives from winning, as goals unto themselves. It is acceptable to try to make money, because of the security and pleasure it affords. But, the goal to make a great sum, solely to be rich, or to have more than other people, is divisive, and this is not offset by the idea that the wealthy are able to give greater amounts of charity.
This latter argument is self-serving. A billionaire, who gives one-hundred million to charity, has nonetheless led a system of destruction that has resulted in such a great loss that it is literally beyond measure. The charity of the rich are bribes, to get us to look the other way from what they are really doing.
Can different peoples coexist?
Another pattern of social behavior that is objectionable is the prevalence and continuous invention of us versus them distinctions. For example, it is commonly the case that children are taught that their culture is better than others. But, this is not true. No such judgment is possible. Indeed, it is not only the equality of individuals that we seek, but also that of cultures. The problem is, culture is so complex that it is difficult to understand from the inside or the outside. Like economics, it is more complicated than we can fully comprehend. Hence, there are frequent misunderstandings. Our challenge, then, is to recognize this and accept it, and through showing sensitivity, respect, patience and tolerance, to strive to get along.
Furthermore, there is the issue of when does celebration of your culture become divisive with others? The answer is when it is not internally focused, meaning when it positions your group relative to others, as in tribalism, nationalism, and racism.
It is important to realize that when you define your group as "us," this necessarily makes you "them" to other groups, even if such a definition does not contain a larger context that includes these other groups. Us versus them distinctions can only be minimized when the focus of a culture is on its internal beliefs, traditions and practices, and when it avoids presentations to others that have as some aspect of the presentations comparison or competition with them.
At a deeper level, though, the prevalence of us versus them distinctions reflects the fact that it is in a sense "useful" to have an enemy: to organize and channel to one target all of the frustration and anger that you have about the unfairness of life from its many sources. But, while this may be useful, it is not right. Your only defense against this tendency is the exercise of your will, to ensure that you do not take the easy way out.
Our relationship to institutions
This leads us to social structure, the main development of which has been the rise of social institutions, and the shift of their focus from our needs to theirs. In addition, this development has been compounded by the fact that the institutions have taken the form of pyramids, with greatly concentrated power. In the modern day, we want services - and pay for them, but instead we regularly get inequality, exploitation, and destructive development.
To overcome this, we must recognize a number of related issues, including those that derive from universal chaos and the limits on knowledge. We do not want to be controlled by our institutions. Rather, we seek their assistance.
But, such institutions, particularly the government, can have only limited and imperfect effects in this regard, and will themselves be difficult to control. Also, if the government is not totalitarian, other institutions will overpower it. Indeed, we are seemingly faced with the choice of ineffectual or domineering. Lastly, the institutions cannot completely or even adequately control themselves. They do not perceive their wrongs as clearly as we do, or even as wrongs. Because of this, checks and balances that are based on self-regulation, the idea that they can police themselves, will never work.
To these difficulties, we can also add the fact that, like the inherited traits of individuals, institutions have retained the most effective, and primitive, traits of their predecessors. Further, given human society such as it is, there is a need for institutional concentrations of power.
In the face of this, we must realize, first, that the concentration of power is only necessary if the world is dominated by competition. Secondly, our basic challenge is that we must take full responsibility for all of the aspects of our lives. We cannot delegate this away. We must overcome the distinctions of sheep versus lions, and the committed few versus the resigned masses. We require broad voluntary action. We must participate, directly, in the affairs of all our social institutions, starting with the government.
There is also a paradox in this, which is that people are equal, but we want leaders. In addition, some people are better suited to lead. But, even given these points, this does not mean that such individuals should lead. We will only get real equality if our system is based on participative decision making - a government with no leaders, with such decisions implemented by dedicated social servants. Plato's idea of the philosopher/king, in any of its many guises, is not the solution.
I will continue this analysis in the next article.