July 14, 2012
|Crisis: Government and Capital (Proudhon)|
I want to quote some From Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and since it is the 14th of July quote a bit from the Marseillaise. It is somewhat relevant to what follows, but the main reasons I put it here are that it is France's National Day today, and I had youthful misgivings about the morality expressed, that I now know most don't have - see 
2. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
In fact this is another Nederlog in the Crisis-series, and one of the more theoretical ones: Two fine passages from Proudhon - and see the above link to the Wikipedia in case you are interested in the man, from which I quote so that the reader has some background:
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (..) 15 January 1809 – 19 January 1865) was a French politician, mutualist philosopher, economist, and socialist. He was a member of the French Parliament, and he was the first person to call himself an "anarchist". He is considered among the most influential theorists and organisers of anarchism.
His anarchism was not of the bloody revolutionary kind, and he has the distinction of working himself up from being a working class member without formal education to a well known intellectual, and to being one of the founding fathers of anarchism. 
3. On government
''To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place[d] under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.''This seems to me quite correct and well put, but it is mostly limited to the feelings an intelligent person will tend to have when oppressed by governments, governors, their bureaucrats, their police or their military, so it makes sense to add some. (And yes: The government and its employees also exists to safeguard you from plunder, exploitation and crimes, and should help you in cases you really need help - but then it often doesn't, and Quis custodiet ipsos custodes if they are effectively only guarding the elites of society?)
First, while large groups, and large groups of groups, of human beings (and other social animals) need some coordination by a small group that benefits all members, contributes to peace within the group, and makes members work together for the common ends of the group, this fairly logical and rational demand for coordination to further cooperation in the individual interests of all, the small groups of governing members of most societies and most groups have tended to be far more than guides or counsellors:
Sofar almost all human societies have been pyramidical, with very few men at the top of power or income, a few more but still a minority with positions of some power or a high income, mostly excercising power or maintaining the laws, and with the large majority of little effective power over their own lives and with medium or low incomes.
Here is a simple picture of such a social pyramid, where the Dutch translates from the top down as follows:
In brief, there you have the outline of human society: In almost all human societies, the coordinators or counsellors that seem necessary for the continued existence and success of any large group of human beings tend to be also the small ruling elite, whose numerical somewhat larger managerial class - bureaucrats - suppresses, deceives and exploits the rest, and does so with the help of the class of guardians - aka police and soldiers. In general terms the rulers, bureaucrats and soldiers tend to comprise less than 10% of society, and tend to owe more than 90% of the riches the ordinary people produce.
Thus it is and was nearly always nearly everywhere, for which reason this sort of conception can already be found in Plato's Republic, who didn't originate it either: This social set up seems quite human, and seems to be the way of all complex and large human societies so far. 
Besides, four very important points about government and governors that Proudhon does not cover in the given quote are that
(1) while the government, governors, leaders, managers and bureaucrats invariably claim to act in the interest of all, of society, of the nation, of mankind, or of God himself, the fact is that, being human, they all work first and foremost in their own interests, which are the only interests they can feel, and almost the only ones they know intimately and well; that
(2) the point Proudhon makes is about power: Why should anyone have to allow or consent that some - usually arbitrary - other person has power over one, without one's personal consent, often without effectively feasible appeal, and usually not based on any rational or reasonable justification, other than that the person exercising power over you holds some governmental - managerial, bureaucratic, military - job, also in view of the fact that
(3) those in power, and those managing things for those in power, and those guarding these folks and their interests, are rarely morally good or intellectually wise persons, and far more often morally bad and/or intellectually dishonest persons, who rose to the top by having no conscience or through being willing to do most things that helped them rise, without considering the harm they did to others; and that
(4) apart from the moral corruption and intellectual dishonesty that allowed leaders to become leaders: "All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" (Lord Acton), and indeed nearly alll bureaucrats and politicians feel loyal and committed to their colleagues before feeling responsible, accountable, or loyal to the public they claim to serve, or to the ideals they are regularly paid for to help maintain and further.
In any case, in any complex and large human society some sort of government needs to be in place, namely to keep the peace, implement the laws, and coordinate the actions of its members somehow, and the overall aim of any rational government of such a society should be a balance of power between its various members, groups, and institutions, so that no one person, group, institution, party or religion can take over the power over all others.
Then again, it seems to me that three excellent means of helping a balance of power are that
(A) all citizens have the right to bear arms: The power of the government and social groups are in principle so large and so easily abused that the only somewhat safe guarantee that governments of group do not find it easy to take over all the powers in society and make the subservient to their own is that the human individuals are capable of defending themselves, and not automatically the inferior of the armed and trained personell of the state or of large groups trying to take over the state; that
(B) all citizens have the right and the duty to be civil servants: A major part of the abuse of governments happens through bureaucrats, which as a rule are the least educated, the laziest, the easiest to corrupt, and the best protected by their colleagues and superiors, for which reason it would be much better if bureaucrats in most functions are totally replaced by citizens exercising those functions for a limited period of time; and that
(C) governments of cities and states are elected by educated citizens: Rather than handing over powers 'democratically' to populist rabblerousers who then can rise high or take over power in society by deceiving the uneducated unintelligent majority, it makes a lot of sense to let only the educated - better than a certain minimal level - have the right to vote on who are going to be the governors of the state or the city, in the interest of all inhabitatants: One wants competent and honest people in power, not demagogues. 
4. On capital
We turn to Proudhon on capital (which in this and other political texts tends to mean the owners of the means of production rather than sums of money or commodities):
"Capital"... in the political field is analogous to "government"... The economic idea of capitalism, the politics of government or of authority, and the theological idea of the Church are three identical ideas, linked in various ways. To attack one of them is equivalent to attacking all of them . . . What capital does to labour, and the State to liberty, the Church does to the spirit. This trinity of absolutism is as baneful in practice as it is in philosophy. The most effective means for oppressing the people would be simultaneously to enslave its body, its will and its reason.
To put it in modern terms: Once the big corporations are deregulated - in fact, by law, or both - they tend to try to take over the government, which is what is happening now, and has happened under Mussolini and Hitler, though indeed it is also true that under fascism and nazism the corporations and their leaders or owners were subject to the dictators and their parties.
I have mentioned the fact that "capital" in these contexts tends to mean "capitalists" or "rulers of economical institutions", and should add that it is not very relevant who owns them (usually, in the case of most major corporations, an anonymous mass of shareholders) but that it is relevant who controls them (their CEOs and managerial top) , and, in this time of crisis, also highly relevant who controls these controllers: Effectively no one, for the regulations tying down the powers and payments to managers have been deregulated systematically since the end of the previous century - with the current crisis as a predictable outcome (for all power corrupts, and unregulated power corrupts the easiest and the quickest). 
Proudhon is mostly right - it seems to me - that the State, the Church, and the Corporations are each and all systems of exploitation and control of the masses (see the above figure), and serve the personal enrichment of the leaders of these three institutions  through the exercise of power and the propaganda of ideology, but he misses (in the given quotation) that human beings have a very strong need for some ideology, because they are too intelligent to be ruled by their instincts, and nearly always too unintelligent or uninformed to reason things out rationally for themselves: They need some set of ideas about how things ought to be (ethics or morals) and some set of ideas about how things are (politics, metaphysics or religion, for almost all, and those not in terms of what is rational, reasonable or practically feasible, but in terms of wishful thinking). 
Again, it is especially ideologies, including religions, and the men and women who produce or spread them, that are used to keep populations well behaved and docile and wiling to follow their leaders, which in turn for a large part happens through the powers of groups and groupthinking.
And the basic concepts to understand politics and the actions of men acting in concert are power and ideology, that motivate, enthrall and control, in ways that most who are motivated, enthralled or controlled by them do not really understand, and the workings of which also tend to be hidden.
So far for some ideas that may make you help make sense of the ongoing crisis and see what needs to be done about it:
Keep a democratic state, that is strong enough to control what needs to be controlled, but is not a dictatorship nor an authoritarian government; regulate the banks and the bank managers, and indeed much of the rest of the economical bosses who enrich themselves at the cost of the rest of society; stop paying millions to managerial thieves and frauds; do not believe the ordinary media (they exist to deceive rather than inform); keep things on a personal and individual level; do not make corporations persons; and uphold the rule of fair laws, including those that forbid the payment of millions to mere employees.
To arms citizens!
Form you battalions!
Let impure blood
Water our furrows!
Perhaps relating to Kohlberg's stages of morality: I had to learn the Marseillaise when learning French at age 12, and wondered at the time why French adults felt comfortable singing such things in masses. Well... see groups and groupthinking, and features of moral norms. That is, in moral terms, most human beings tend to care about other human beings only if these are members of the group(s) they are member of, and judge human beings who lack the distinction of belonging to Us indifferently at best, normally.
 In fact, both anarchism and communism got first clearly articulated by Proudhon and by Marx, respectively, around the middle of the 19th Century, though in in each case there were precursors, while they also based themselves on sentiments and values that existed probably for milleniums. Some interesting precursors are Plato, the Cynics, Thomas More, and Gerard Winstanley. About the last I wrote a Dutch Nederlog five years ago: Over Winstanley
 The keywords modulating "all" are "complex and large": It surely is true that there have been some egalitarian societies - but they generally were not large nor complex, and if surrounded with or bordering on non-egalitarian societies tended to be taken over and disappear.
Another thing that should be mentioned here is that human slavery has been very widespread: Much of the heavy labor in many societies has been done by slaves (or inmates of concentration camps or victims of 're-education through labor' in the last century), for ages and ages on end - Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, medieval economy, colonies and slavery in the US: There certainly is no widespread humane impulse "not to do unto others as you would yourself not want to be done onto", at least if the others are not members of one's own group, family or friends. (Again, see Kohlberg on moral stages: humans differ in this respect. Those who tend to to feel naturally as Jesus taught are in a minority of 1 in 10 at most. The other 9 usually are closer to 'do unto others as serves your own interest best, if you can get away with it'.)
 For more of this, see my Bureaucracy Plan, Democracy Plan,
Democracy-plan: Mark Twain was there first (and better) and Democracy-plan: Educated democratic voting - and yes: I am aware most of this is original with me, and not what ordinary folks believe to be right. And I am in favour of individual citizens' rights to bear arms after having run repeatedly into the corruption of the Dutch police, and also in point of principle: I do not see why my life, rights, happiness, chances or survival should be left to the discretion of some government tool dressed as a person, and I know - literally and at least - several hundreds of millions of persons have been cruelly murdered by state servants in the 20th century because they had not means to defend themselves. See also On "The Logic of Moral Discourse", especially Chapter 11 (summary and extension of the 10 other chapters).
 For readers of Dutch, see Iets over managers-typen and Iets over bonussen, both from 2009. Also, I should add here that I find it quite suspicuous that Dutch politicians - towards the right - seem to sing from precisely the same hymn sheet as the US Republicans: I would not be amazed to find this whole crisis to be engineered behind the scenes, with the purpose of giving the ruling elites far more power and riches than they had before, including the obscene bonuses - up to tens of millions of dollars a year - that psychopaths who are bankmanagers now receive, as if those kinds of freaks are entitled to or deserve such amounts, which are unparalleled, except in the Soviet Union (where the leaders tended to reward themselves in commodities rather than sums of money).
 That the holders of office hold office also, and perhaps mostly or only for their own benefit should come as no surprise, but it is well to note that people need not be in it for the money (alone): Many also crave power and status, and may even be willing to receive less money as long as they keep power and are socially looked up to or admired.
 It deserves stressing that religions and political ideologies - systems of ideas about how things are and should be - are not regulated or believed on rational grounds, like real science is, but on the basis of wishful thinking, and what the masses desire to hear. As was already clear to Plato, who has interesting bits about this in his Republic - where the res publica also turns out to be the lies that are carefully crafted by the elite to deceive the masses and keep them subservient.
To quote Orwell about the central idea of Animal Farm:
"Orwell marked this passage in a copy he gave to Geoffrey Gorer, telling him that it was the key passage" and that "all the pigs were in agreement on this point, even Snowball and Napoleon:"
(Quoted from Crick's biography of Orwell)
P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.
-- Jul 16, 2012: Corrected some typos and added quite a few links.
As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):
Short descriptions of the above:
1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understa, but nds ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
and computer-scientist takes a look at
See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources
The last has many files, all on my site to keep them accessible.
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