Freedom, Justice, and Competition

I frequently bemoan the fact that political debate starts at narrow issues, rather than at foundations. I’m also fairly certain that I’ve mentioned before some thoughts about the nature of human institutions and their relation to freedom and justice and the inherent competitive nature of them. I’d like to take a few moments to explore that concept a bit, because I think it is one of the fundamental pillars of how I think societies should be understood. I strongly believe that human institutions should have humanity as their primary goal and focus: we should focus our efforts to bettering ourselves and our habitat, as a whole. Secondarily, we should promote all life in our habitat. I think these tenets are held by a majority of people – it benefits each and every one of us. When we imagine utopia, unless you are Ayn Rand, you imagine a world of peace, of tranquility, of selflessness, and comfortable living. In my experience, this is almost universally the case. Therefore, in order to achieve these goals of transforming society into something more conducive to said goals, we must understand the way that societies are built and they way institutions exist and interact.

There seems to be an intersection of real positive growth in understanding of human culture in philosophy, economics, and sociology. Philosophers grow and develop new analyses of the human condition, while economists and sociologists confirm or deny or build upon those ideas. I think, then, we should do some armchair work and think about the nature of humanity as a whole, and from there, human institutions. Humans are fundamentally self-centered, seeking one’s own survival even at the expense of others. Even among those of us who might sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, we often do so at least somewhat begrudgingly. We do it either because it is expected of us or we hope to receive something in return at a later date. We have laws on the books protecting one’s ability to protect oneself or one’s property even to the point of killing some trespasser. I’m not stating something we all don’t already know: foremost in our minds, at least to some extent, is the fundamental belief that you are more deserving, more important than others. We lie, we cheat, we steal, we hurt in order to guarantee that we keep our jobs, that we get the last turkey on the shelf, that we win the prize. At the fore of these behaviors is a maxim that, whether consciously or unconsciously, we hold above all else: I am worth more than you. I don’t think there is much evidence to the contrary, and the evidence required to disprove this observation seems enormous.

Human institutions are, at bottom, groups of humans working together to some end. Whether its the church, the state, or your company, each of these institutions can be understood as a collaboration of individual powers and skills to a combined purpose. That collaboration need not be voluntary to be exist, and that power need not be recognized to exist. I think this is the key observation: human institutions multiply (or at least combine) the power of numbers of individuals into one single entity, such that that entity is much more difficult to overcome by those of lesser power. In other words, a bigger company, a bigger government, a bigger labor union are all more difficult to topple compared to smaller ones. The combined effort of each individual to survive is multiplied into the behavior of the larger entity, simply based on the fact that all its members of human. The entity, then, operates in such a way that it adopts the same maxim as humans themselves: I am worth more than you.

Consequently, institutions lie, cheat, steal, and hurt in order to guarantee their survival. This behavior extends even to the members of that entity. Anyone who has been an employee of an especially unreserved corporation knows the cutthroat nature of some policies that, while harming members of the entity, fundamentally strengthen the entity’s chances of survival. We further see this in nuclear arms races, in stagnant wages, in destruction of the planet. A government is more likely to survive if it has more nuclear weapons than everyone else, a corporation is more likely to survive if it keeps wages as low as possible, and both are more likely to survive if they value productivity at the expense of the environment.

Generally speaking, this survivalist behavior is fundamentally short-sighted. We value a short-term guarantee of our survival against long-term goals beyond that. We can see this in individuals, too, and it seems to reflect Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in both cases. When we do not perceive our survival as guaranteed, we are more likely to behave rashly in order to improve our chances. Conversely, when we perceive our survival as more or less guaranteed, we are more willing to spend our time or money on pleasures or even on other people. Similarly, a human institution not guaranteed its own survival is more likely to behave more rashly.

At this point, I think we can make some arguments about how we should structure our societies and institutions, given the aforementioned goals and observations about human nature. If we want guarantee of survival as individuals, we must guarantee methods of survival (income, food sources, etc.). If we want to guarantee survival for ourselves, we must guarantee survival for most (preferably all) people, otherwise we run the risk of being subject to the unhappy end of our selectivist policies. Moreover, our institutions must be guaranteed some form of survival. Guaranteeing individual survival seems at least hypothetically doable, but in most theories I have encountered, guaranteeing survival of institutions runs contrary to that. I’ll examine a few.

Anarcho-capitalism is absolutely fascinating, and honestly, I would love it if I thought it were at all viable. It relies on the belief (with which I agree) that humans, on an individual level, are more likely to be responsible and compassionate to others without government mediation. It tacks on free-market principles in a very neoliberal fashion, holding that capitalism holds the secret to human happiness. I reject the latter notion out of hand, because capitalism without government mediation results in different all-powerful institutions fighting for survival at the expense of individuals (i.e. feudalism).

Socialism is, I think, a step in the right direction. Varying forms hold differing methods and results, but in general, socialism promotes the ownership of the means of production collectively by the citizenry. In many cases, socialism becomes necessarily hostile to other institutions, gobbling up all sorts of functions under a single monopolistic hegemonic monster. I reject this (simplistic) form of socialism out of hand because it still harms individuals by promoting the institution at their expense.

The next few theories are actually strangely similar, in that they recognize a few of the same problems with the former theories and in that they recognize the inherent flaw in our quest for utopia. Forms of social democracy (Marxian, et al.), anarcho-syndicalism, and some forms of anarcho-communism I think learn a lot of the lessons of our economic history and attempt to account for flaws in our behaviors. I do not want to delve into any detail, but I would invite the interested reader to look through the linked articles and perhaps read some other material on the subject. The important points, though, are that these libertarian forms recognize the need to level the playing field, so to speak, of institutions against one another. Government should never exceed the power of corporations so as to usurp them, and vice versa. Corporations, similarly, should never have the power to usurp one another. Indeed, maintenance of equality among all people and institutions is what makes these theories tick. In recognizing that the survivalist instinct is an unerasable element of human nature, they instead try to effectively lock it down in a standstill. By guaranteeing that one person or institution cannot overcome another, they simultaneously guarantee individual and institutional survivability. Helpfully, social democracy and syndicalism both retain much of the sort of hierarchy in society to which we are accustomed, maintaining the roles of leader and follower many people (including myself) agree are necessary.

I ended up writing a good bit more than I originally intended to, so I will leave a short summary to tie this together and to help those who skipped some (or all) of the post. Because humans and their institutions are fundamentally selfish, we need a system of economics and government that either eliminates or ties down those selfish tendencies so that we can realize greater happiness. Left-libertarian forms of government and societal organization retain the individual freedoms we cherish while transforming institutions in such a way that they retain their productive power while significantly reducing their capacity for harm. It’s not utopia, but it’s a gigantic leap in the right direction.

Freedom, Justice, and Competition

Morality and Politics

One of the most frustrating parts about modern politics (and perhaps politics throughout history) is that it seems to me that behind the scenes, we are still duking it out over some of the oldest moral debates: is something moral because of its results (what we attribute to it), or is something moral in and of itself? In other words, do we construct moral principles or are moral principles discoverable objects of the universe?

It’s very easy to see this in political discourse. There are some certain groups of people who act purely egoistically, seeking their own personal gain and satisfaction purely, even at the expense of vast numbers of people. Think Charles and David Koch, Wall Street bankers, and a significant number of our politicians (if not all of them). There are other certain groups of people who discuss high-minded idealisms, seeking some sort of end goal in society through their political action. Think Occupy (yeah, I know), the Tea Party (yeah, I know), and all sorts of people across the spectrum who are involved in politics to effect some sort of change change in the system. I want to differentiate these two groups from the outset. The first group is purely selfish: the only change they ever seek is change which improves their own personal lot in life. They are nihilistic in the worst way. The other group, regardless of how you feel about their individual beliefs, is revolutionary. Rather than seeking to benefit only themselves, they seek to reach some end goal that they believe is morally better. It is, at least potentially, an altruistic goal.

I want to set aside the egoists for now. As far as I’m concerned, they should have no say in the political system, because we cannot trust their actions or their words. That’s a discussion for another time, though. Let’s focus on the altruists, who I believe are the majority (numerically speaking; by definition the egoists have more money). Within this group, I believe we find the moral debate I referenced in the first paragraph. You have the top-down ethicists (deontologists) who want to enact change based on a set of principles, regardless of their consequences. On the other hand, you have the bottom-up ethicists (consequentialists) who want to enact change based on results. There have been studies that compare people that have found evidence supporting the idea that we might be naturally deontologists or consquentialists, but that’s another discussion for another time. Moreover, I think studies like that might only lend some small amount of wisdom.

I will try to cut through a lot of the less important information and get to something resembling a point. What I conclude from this observation is that even if we adjust for the fact that moneyed interests (egoists) have influenced our political debate in their favor, it seems to me that change is very difficult to enact. This is because agreement is hard to come by. Those of us who argue for results-based policy have a hard time arguing against those who believe in principled policy, simply because a lot of the time we might want results that conflict with those principles. I do think that there is a way out, though. We need to agree on a new set of principles. Behind the scenes, I think that deontologists and consequentialists are secretly envious of the other side. Sometimes we engage in the other’s tactics in order to get our larger point across. In other words, we’re not as intellectually consistent as we pretend to be. Because of this, I think there’s an opening.

What principles should we agree upon? That’s a matter of debate, but I think there’s one that we must all agree upon. I think it’s non-negotiable. I think that without this principle, we are doomed to continually repeat the cycle of oppression and revolution that has existed throughout history. We must value human life above all else. I don’t mean human life in the categorical sense. I mean each individual human life. We must seek the maximization of every individual person. From this, I believe we get certain resultant principles: people shouldn’t harm one another, people shouldn’t seek personal gain at another’s expense, people should treat each other as equals, etc. I think this satisfies both the deontologists and the consequentialists, and if we argue from these principles (and we argue honestly!), we can reach some conclusions upon which we all agree.

It’s lofty. It’s kind of ridiculous, and it will likely not happen. I think it is at least possible, though, and that hope is worth my time and effort. I want to develop these ideas quite a bit further, but I think they should be considered.

Morality and Politics

Competition

I got into a debate on Twitter earlier that helped me to sift through a lot of the reasons I have for thinking the way I do about the economy and ethics in general. The main point, I believe, is that human selfishness and competition are simple facts and that we must decide how we can manipulate those factors in order to produce a better system. The failings of past systems were the result of human nature and the way we responded to social structures, so we need to design a social structure that reduces the likelihood of unfairness or injustice or what have you.

I doubt I need to delve into feudalism or mercantilism to explain why they were bad systems. They were bad because they were less efficient and they distributed the fruits of labor unjustly (I’m vastly oversimplifying the case). With that in mind, we should analyze the history of capitalism against the criteria of it being just and fair and efficient. Volumes have been written on this subject, so I intend to provide a very summary view of what I think are some of the most important critiques of capitalism and how they relate back to the title of this post.

For anyone that has taken even only a single economics course, capitalism sounds fantastic. It distributes goods efficiently and people are rewarded for work in such a way that it is perfectly in fair with regards to the rest of the market. However, it seems to fly over everyone’s heads that these sorts of results are only possible under conditions of perfection: perfect information, perfect competition, etc. It should be no surprise to anyone that we have nothing like perfection in reality. People and corporations lie and there is hardly perfect competition anywhere in the market. In fact, it seems that there is vastly more competition among buyers than there is among sellers. There is vastly more competition among employees than there is among employers. Not only do we lack perfection, but the ratio of power leans heavily against the average individual.

What results from this? Unjust distribution of wealth. People lie and manipulate to make sure the die is cast in their favor. People group together to form corporations and use their combined power (reduced competition!) to prevent those whom they employ from grouping together also. By necessity it seems, there must be fewer businesses than there are people. Therefore, there is less competition among businesses than there is among individuals. As buyers of labor, employers therefore hold more power than the potential employee, the seller of labor, because while there are only n businesses, there are some 2n (or whatever the number may be) people who could potentially fill that job. The idea here is, “If you don’t work for $7.25 an hour, I guarantee the next person in line will.” This creates a race to the bottom, resulting in incomes for people that are lower than what their work is actually worth. In other words, you are paid less than your production value to your company. Conversely, when a product is sold to you, it is sold with profit margin. That means that while you, in terms of productivity, are being shortchanged, the businesses and their owners are getting more than what they put in. This is all due to the competition mismatch and guarantees that without some sort of outside intervention, the economy will tend towards a polarized distribution of wealth with workers on the poorest end and capitalists on the richest.

It should come as no surprise that workers, historically, have revolted against this pattern in capitalism (cue the populist response to the Industrial Era). From this we get government intervention and labor unions. Governments come in and attempt to distribute some of the profit back to workers who were unfairly paid (and, later on, we get more welfare). Labor unions attempt to unite workers as one entity in order to reduce competition among them, thereby decreasing the buying power of the employers. Cue the prosperity of the middle class.

All I’ve done is described with extreme brevity what happened in history. Yet people look back on the policies of the Industrial Era with some sort of twisted nostalgia, as though it was those policies that brought on the middle class. Such is not the case, as history has shown. As I’ve explained, it is impossible for a middle class to exist for long when competition among the workers causes accelerating, increased profit margins at the end of the employer and reduced wages on the end of the employee. There is a fundamental mismatch of competition between employers and employees and there is no way around it. To pretend as many seem to want to do that we can live in this system is to think very shortsightedly. With outsourcing, automation, and other labor-saving devices combined with decreased government regulation and regressive taxation, the economy is once again chugging right along in the direction of polarization. It is inevitable by the logic of capitalist theory itself.

That’s not to say that I’m not optimistic. I’m not sold on alternate theories quite yet, as I’ve yet to see one that produces the vast amounts of wealth that capitalism does. All that said, it seems readily apparent that Marxist-socialist critiques and ideas should be fused with the current state of things. One of my favorite economists, Richard D. Wolff, has a book that I like to recommend to people that advocates for a lot of socialist reforms that could coexist with a capitalist structure. His concept of worker-directed enterprises is particularly interesting and I think it should be a major point of reform going forward. Read that or watch some of his videos if you’re at all interested in the idea of a more just economy. It’s inspiring during a time when the news is rarely good for anyone who isn’t in the top one percent.

Competition

Society’s Bogeymen

I toss around terms like “cognitive dissonance” quite a bit, and I feel the need to occasionally attempt to convey exactly what sort of baggage I carry with such terms when I use them. I am fairly certain that I’ve explained it before, but I’ll explain it again: when I refer to cognitive dissonance in society, I am specifically referring to the way that people are forced to cope with the world in which they live. We go to work and school everyday, promised a better life if only we work harder. All the while we’re bombarded with gossip about celebrities and socialites, news about philandering bankers and stock traders, stories about corrupt politicians, and so on and so forth. I shouldn’t need to explain how most of these people share something in common: they are rich, and they are lazier, more selfish, and/or more dishonest than the general population.

I am generalizing to some extent, but I don’t have the time to go through and quantify each and every statistic, but the overall truth remains the same: we are told that by being good, honest, hardworking people that we can improve our lot. However, we find that those who are at the top of the ladder are often the most unjust, dishonest, lazy people of society. Though I believe people are naturally selfish, most of us are unwilling (or unable) to be so selfish that we would thoroughly compromise our values for material gain. We sometimes make small exceptions, and perhaps we do that quite a bit. It seems evident that when it comes down to it, though, most of us would not completely sell out our fellow man for our own greed.

The most materially successful people are the greedy, yet we ourselves are not willing to compromise so thoroughly. How do we reconcile this? As much as we parrot the ideals of democracy, I think each person is largely aware that our votes change little in our society. We might donate to certain causes, we might volunteer our time, some of us even attend protests and rallies. Even then, we effect so little change that it can be demoralizing. All the while, in order to survive, we have to participate in this same system that rewards callous greed. We have jobs, some of us have nice cars, some of us take the bus. The struggle remains largely the same, though: we work for those people at the top, and they give us some percentage of the revenue we help to generate. Sometimes that percentage is more fair than others. Our very survival depends on holding up the same system that I think we all know is corrupt. This is the very essence of cognitive dissonance: we simultaneously love and hate ourselves and our livelihoods and the society in which we live.

The simple solution is to create bogeymen. We blame sexism or racism or homophobia or war or illegal immigration or the tech industry or some vague idea of social oppression. While certainly there are individual examples of oppression (sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.), the idea that modern society is inherently oppressive against these certain minority groups seems detached from the reality. (Granted, LGBTQQIAAP rights certainly are behind the legal standard of equality that other groups experience.) In other words, we take the traditional ideas of oppression (patriarchy, et al.) and apply it to the modern era in order to create an intellectual problem that can be sorted through. If we can blame society’s problems on patriarchy, we can change the system without getting rid of it! The same example rings true, I think, in other iterations of social justice. When we can identify a bogeyman that affects only some group of people, then the system seems salvageable. It seems possible that we can create this scapegoat and then the problem will be solved.

Yet this is a stellar example of using an emotional coping mechanism that is passive. We comfort ourselves by creating an internal paradigm where there is some battle being waged by men versus women, or whites versus minorities, and so on. The reality is that people are inherently selfish. Yes, there are racists; yes, there are sexists; yes, there are prejudiced people who simply hold wrongheaded, stereotyping views. The reality seems to be that people are insecure. The more insecure a person is, the more selfish he or she is likely to be. If I don’t know how I will get my next meal, I’m much more likely to do something bad to you in order to guarantee that I’ll eat tonight. The more chaotic the system is, the less predictable it is. The less predictable it is, the less security we have. Therefore, the more chaotic the system, the less secure we are. We live in a society where our jobs, our retirements, our homes, and so on cannot be guaranteed. It is chaotic and unpredictable, and we therefore are more likely to be greedy and selfish towards one another. That seems fully apparent to me.

Using these passive coping mechanisms only serve to perpetuate the system that seems to be spiraling into further chaos and unpredictability. It seems to me that the best way, if not the only way we can counteract this is to throw off our bogeymen and to be a little kinder towards one another. Live moderately, and show people that you can be trusted. If we learn to voluntarily trust one another, we might not yet be slaves to greed. We ought to stop blaming each other and find an active solution. We ought to show compassion and altruism, because it seems to me that there is no other way that we can thwart our descent. I think that by showing compassion as opposed to self-centered egoism that there is some progress to be made yet. Perhaps the only way we can redress our cognitive dissonance with society is to quell our own greed and selfishness by fostering trust and security.

Society’s Bogeymen

Freedom Isn’t Free

I’m going to hijack a phrase used commonly by American nationalists for the purposes of this post. “Freedom isn’t free” to the average American refers to the idea that a primary reason that Americans have the freedoms they do due to the fact that American soldiers die on the battlefield to protect the freedoms of the civilians. I’m not here to dispute this or to agree with it, but I am here to apply this phrase to something rather different.

I’ve written before about how I feel about the idea of freedom. I do not believe that a society with a smaller government inherently has more freedoms than those societies with larger governments. A society that allows oppressive corporations to exist is no more or less free than a society with an equally oppressive government. Freedoms are not about government – they are about the exercise of power over the individual. If anything has the power to influence my decisionmaking, then I lack some amount of freedom in that situation. If the government taxes me less, but my employer also pays me less, then my freedom with my money is neither greater nor lesser – it has not changed. Anyone or thing that exercises some amount of power over another is limiting the freedom of that other person.

The general lesson to learn from this point is that my actions affect yours, and vice versa, even though we may not ever meet. The decisions I make have consequences beyond my own life and my own circumstances, whether I like it or not. This may seem obvious, but most of us do not live our lives as though this were true. Most of us try to live moral lives, though we slip up. We sometimes say things we don’t mean or do things that we regret. We understand how our actions like telling a lie can have negative consequences, but we have been well trained to ignore many of the impacts of our financial decisions. How many of us concern ourselves with who our money is going to when we spend it? Do we consider what corners are being cut when we try to save a dollar by buying our socks or our broccoli from a different company?

It seems to me that the blame for the negative changes in America are largely the fault of average Americans. Though it feels better to blame politicians and big bankers and so on (and they are hardly faultless themselves), they are merely the consequence of a larger problem: us. The fact is that we pushed the facts out of our mind that people were getting rich by exploiting workers and paying them a pittance, by spraying our vegetables with chemicals that slowly kill us, by feeding our livestock grain they weren’t meant to digest and medication to hide it, and the list goes on and on and on. It didn’t take a whole lot of investigation to figure things out, but only now are we beginning to really have a significant reaction about it as a society. Only now is it becoming common talk.

This should come as no surprise if you understand that burying our heads in the sand is a common pasttime of Americans. We were the people who defeated the oppressive regimes! We stomped out the influence of the British, we took in the immigrants and gave them jobs, etc. We have been taught from birth that the American story is unique in that we did not begin as oppressors (right native Americans?), but as the conquerors of the oppressors. American history quite frankly has not had enough questioning of authority built into it. Sure, we have a few examples, but they, for one reason or another, are largely glossed over in the classroom. By the time we leave the classroom, most of us are more than eager to go out and pursue that American dream or we are so disillusioned with the lie of that dream that we give up and try for second best. So few of us think back and wonder how it truly came to be this way.

To begin my conclusion, we may be stuck at the bottom of a dank hole with the boots of the elites holding us down, but we were the ones that started digging. There were no boots holding us down at the beginning, but the promise of lower prices, of cheaper products, of endless entertainment, and so forth enthralled so many of us that we began to dig. We dug deeper and deeper, eventually trading in the shovels we wrought on our own power tools bought on loan from the elites. Eventually we found ourselves at the bottom of the hole. Some of us still believe we can (and should!) find those legendary artifacts of the myth of consumerism, but more still are angry at those who hastened our digging with their power tools and hold us down with their boots. They have forgotten who started it all – it was we who began digging, and with our own shovels no less. The elites with their boots were merely opportunists.

As I’ve said, I don’t mean to justify selfish opportunism, but we’re the ones who rewarded the opportunists by giving more of our money away. We looked at a system that we knew (or should have known) was unsustainable. It sent our money straight from our pockets into a few select individuals, all the while poisoning our neighbors and even ourselves. We even protected that system when it came around to hard times by authorizing our politicians to bail these people out when they screwed up, all while we remain wrecked. It seems rather clear to me that maybe we got what we deserved for keeping our heads in the clouds and believing that consumerism could save us. I think it’s about time we turned away from those myths and stopped rewarding a system and a group of elites for perpetuating that consumerism. I think it’s about time that we try something new – something that heals the soul and mind instead of distracting the body.

Freedom Isn’t Free

Dissonance in Life

The modern mind is filled with incredible amounts of cognitive dissonance. We are inundated with incredible amounts of information, especially now in the era of the internet, to the point that I don’t know if our minds can fully cope. I don’t think this idea is particularly nuanced, but I also do not believe it is very common at all (at least in my own experience). I think one of the major flaws of human thinking throughout the millenia is that we tend to view our own systems of logic and reasoning to be inherently perfect. Even those who did not believe them to be perfect at least usually thought they are fairly reliable. However, such a belief is circular. Even my argument here is circular.

For this reason, then, I find that all human reasoning seems to be circular, at bottom. It is remarkably useful, though, and it at least appears to have a rather excellent track record when we test our reasoning against the world around us and against the reasoning of others. I do not consider this to be really a profound statement at all, but it is still quite humbling to know that, regardless of how intelligent I think I might be, my knowledge cannot be known to be truth. My beliefs are likely to be founded on shaky ground that I do not understand (ground which many of us, and in cases all of us, do not understand). It therefore is, I think, imperative to be glad to hear the thoughts of others, and especially those of people who also recognize the inherent uncertainty of human reasoning.

To return to my thoughts on cognitive dissonance, I believe that the modern society (primarily in the West, with which I am most familiar) is based on an ideal that is almost utopian in thought and militant in action. To preface, I have to mention that I am a major believer in technology, in learning, and in modernity. As much as I enjoy fantasy books, I also very much like to work with computers and to drive a car and have modern medicine. Given that, I also think that we should be careful with technology. Technology should not be an end in and of itself – it should serve the greater good. (I also believe that because we all, in our participation in the economy, enable the use of technology to increase production, should all benefit similarly from that increase in production. That is another topic for another time, though.) I grow concerned that we use the tool for its own sake rather than to benefit from it somehow. Whether that is because we naturally like bright screens or we like sitting around and not doing anything active, it is something we must recognize as detrimental to human health and happiness.

Being constantly hooked into the system, we are susceptible to cursory understanding of things, and therefore are likely to experience cognitive dissonance. We know that television is harmful to our health, but we also love to read culture articles raving about how great House of Cards is. To create a dissonance where we want to avoid television because it is harmful but we want to watch because it’s just so good seems to create almost an anxiety (or perhaps guilt) in people. Understanding that advertisements are meant to sucker us in, and then happily humming along to tune to the advertisement we just heard, is, I think, a form of cognitive dissonance. We recognize the purpose of an advertisement and many of us are able to rebuff it, but we still allow the advertisement to achieve its purpose. The same things are used in politics constantly. When we willfully participate and legitimize a political system we know is corrupt, we create a dissonance that makes us feel entirely helpless. Others happily participate and indeed feel like they are making a positive difference (and hopefully they are!), but often they have to push those feelings of helplessness aside. Perhaps I am wrong about many people, but I think for a significant number, these examples of cognitive dissonance are reality and they are huge problems.

I don’t myself know if the society is so corrupt that there is nothing to be done. Perhaps; perhaps not. I have found that rooting out cognitive dissonance in my own mind is highly encouraging and has helped me to be happier with the world we live in. At some point I would like to post also about my thoughts on human happiness, but I think that I will also save for another time. I do truly encourage you to begin to search for evidence of cognitive dissonance in your life and try to remove it. Being consistent in my mind and in my life has helped me to both be able to analyze the elements of society I encounter, to be a better person, and to simply be happier – a very human, very ethical goal.

Dissonance in Life

Why I Can’t Trust the State

I’m taking a quick break from coding to write briefly about some thoughts I have had buzzing throughout my mind the last several days. I have made it at least implicitly clear in my writing and in my tweets that I believe there is good evidence to think that a significant portion of human thought is based on connotation and that without an equally significant effort in analysis, that connotation will rule our thoughts. I am quite certain that we cannot escape that. (Or, at least, I usually can’t.) I may write more on that specific idea at another time, but please keep it in mind as you read on.

I frequently relabel my different beliefs because they are rather fluid. I am always changing my political beliefs, specifically, because humans and the societies they create are so vastly complex. I find it an egregious error of pride for someone to claim that they have all the answers in politics (e.g. politicians). I am moderately certain that I have been following some sort of an illustratable trajectory, though, so I will try to explain that pithily. From my upbringing onward, I have made pit-stops in neoconservatism, neoliberalism, modern liberalism (of the FDR variety), and lately I have been reanalyzing my ideas. As I learn more about the institutions of society, I become increasingly aware of how language is used and how connotation is used against people. Those with knowledge (who are generally identical to those with power and money) are able to sway the public mind with mostly-truths (denotatively) that have totally different meanings to the rest of us. The fact that this is even a possibility is troubling, and it is therefore incumbent upon those of us without knowledge to be highly skeptical of what a person with knowledge in power (i.e. someone who has something to gain from manipulation of the truth) might say.

As an example, consider the advertising industry. An advertiser is either part of a company or is hired by a company that has a product or service to sell. In order to sell the product, the advertiser should appeal to the potential buyer somehow. They are in a position of knowledge, and therefore power, because they know the details of the product or service (both positive and negative). We are therefore hesitant to trust advertisers. We read reviews from people who have nothing to gain from our purchase of that product. We want independent verification. We are naturally and understandably skeptical, as we should be.

With these thoughts in mind, I firmly believe that we, humans existing in a society, should be highly skeptical of the words spoken and written by those in the upper echelons of our societies. When you examine the backgrounds of the people in power, you find a vast number of qualities in common among those people. Let me give you some adjectives: lawyer, millionaire, Ivy League, the list goes on. The specifics, while troubling, are not the point. The point is that our State is only barely indistinguishable from something rather oligarchical or plutocratic. (I wouldn’t say aristocratic – the cool kids club here isn’t only open to those born to wealth.) As a body primarily consisting of lawyers (skills in language), as a body primarily consisting of people with similar backgrounds (therefore, often similar goals), I believe we have good reason to be extremely skeptical of the State (specifically the United States “federal” government).

I do not believe I need to explain why we ought to be skeptical of those who are moneyed. People who are vastly wealthy often became that way by some form of exploitation. (Does the CEO of a company really do hundreds of times more work than the other people in the company? I don’t think so.)

The conclusion I think that is fair to draw from these thoughts is that authority is something about which we should be explicitly skeptical. If we can endeavor to reduce subservience to authority and instead pursue what I think is fair to call real freedom, I think our societies can truly become something quite enviable. Encouragingly, I think a lot of the tech industry is based on some of this sort of thought. As an example, Mark Zuckerberg may have made out with a lot of wealth, but his employees get significant restricted shares in Facebook as part of employment. In that way, Facebook, to a tiny degree, becomes partially their own, and they become less subservient. A more interesting case would be Mondragon.

To summarize, then, be skeptical of those in power. Remember that power corrupts, and that it corrupts absolutely. Remember that if we are all truly created equal, then we have equal freedom. With equal freedom, I think that happiness and the power of innovation can soar to heights unknown to previous civilizations.

Why I Can’t Trust the State