Friday, April 18, 2014

For Good Friday: The Ruthlessness Dynamic

"When force is made the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket." [Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged]

Once you accept that politicians put the acquisition and retention of power above all other considerations, including the moral and ethical constraints you and I regard as absolute, it becomes possible to believe just about anything about them.

Did Richard Nixon knowingly dispatch the "plumbers" to burgle the offices of the Democratic National Committee, to engineer his 1972 landslide? Unclear, but it's not implausible.

Did the Clintons have Vince Foster murdered to prevent him from blowing the whistle on one or another of their many abuses? Unclear, but it's not implausible.

Did someone in the Obama Administration threaten Lois Lerner with death should she "spill the beans" about the IRS's targeting of conservative groups to Darrell Issa's Oversight Committee? Unclear, but it's not implausible.

Knowing, by reason of the evolutionary dynamic of politics, that our contemporary power-seeker is utterly unscrupulous, we are therefore unable to trust him. This is a great part of the core problem of politics in the present day. It is therefore imperative in the highest degree that we should grasp the mechanism that facilitates such ruthlessness in men -- the impulse or emotion that looses the chains of conscience and makes of a man a moral solipsist, ever ready to reduce other men to mere means to his ends.

There is no need in human life so great as that men should trust one another and should trust their government, should believe in promises, and should keep promises in order that future promises may be believed in and in order that confident cooperation may be possible. Good faith -- personal, national, and international -- is the first prerequisite of decent living, of the steady going on of industry, of governmental financial strength, and of international peace. -- Benjamin M. Anderson, Economics and the Public Welfare: A Financial and Economic History of the United States, 1914 -- 1946

I wrote some time ago about how we've squandered the trust that once made America the greatest nation in history:

In a discussion of the big AGW scandal issuing from the Hadley CRU leak, one participant expressed bewilderment, averring that:
...a hoax on this scale would require the collusion of a whole lot of people…

Not so, in the traditional sense of "collusion." Scientists, just like the rest of humanity, respond to incentives and penalties. The warmistas in the scientific community were drawn there by a variety of incentives.

Some were undoubtedly sincere, certain that with enough evidence they could validate the greenhouse-gas thesis and willing to explain away "inconvenient data" with the usual dismissals of the true believer.

Some were loyal Hessians, willing to go wherever their idols and masters might point them.

Some were "following the money," as ever greater amounts of money poured from government coffers and the treasuries of left-leaning foundations to support the promulgation of the anthropogenic-global-warming thesis.

Some were merely publicity hounds, who would ride any wagon that appeared to have the media's attention.

Some were flogged into sullen support of AGW, fearful that refraining would cause them to be stripped of their funding and relegated to the outer darkness.

No doubt there are other light of the fraud the Hadley CRU documents have revealed, none of them in any way connected to the core doctrines of science.

What matters is the fraud itself. Some thousands of "scientists" were moved to abandon science as it's been practiced for centuries by motives that, if they're to be summed up in one word, could only be called evil. Yes, tens of millions of persons worldwide cheered them on, but that's hardly an exculpation.

We have created -- and institutionalized -- incentives for fraud and penalties for honesty and candor. Not just for men of science; for virtually every trade and walk of life. For many men, the touchstone of ethical judgment is no longer "Is it right?" It's "Can I get away with it?"

We have destroyed the bedrock of freedom: our ability to trust.

How does such destruction come about? How does it begin?

It strikes me as near to certain that, in keeping with the old maxim that "the fish rots from the head," the rot in our formerly trusting and trustworthy culture began at the top: with our political class.

A polity which elevates its officials to authority by a democratic process -- i.e., by majority vote in a popular election -- is always theoretically vulnerable to demagoguery. However, demagoguery only works if the populace can be numbed to ethical constraints. Thomas Babington Macaulay captured the essence of it more than a century ago:

The day will come when a multitude of people will choose the legislature. Is it possible to doubt what sort of a legislature will be chosen? On the one side is a statesman preaching patience, respect for rights, strict observance of public faith. On the other is a demagogue ranting about the tyranny of capitalism and usury and asking why anyone should be permitted to drink champagne and to ride in a carriage while thousands of honest people are in want of necessaries. Which of the candidates is likely to be preferred by a workman? When Society has entered on this downward progress, either civilization or liberty must perish. Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand, or your Republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire in the fifth, with this difference, that the Huns and Vandals who ravaged Rome came from without, and that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your country, by your own institutions. [Thomas Babington Macaulay]

It is critical at this juncture to note that a demagogue is impotent without a large and willing audience. If those to whom he appeals are unwilling to accept his slanders and follow out their implications, he will achieve nothing. As in the Macaulay passage above, the demagogue must strive to elicit malicious envy from the crowd. That is, he must persuade them by non-rational means that the superior material condition of some entitles those less well off to hate them and, ultimately, to dispossess them.

A charismatic personality with sufficient eloquence can pull a crowd toward such a conclusion. It helps if the crowd is poorly educated, out of touch with relevant history, and generally indisposed to reason. It helps even more if the crowd has not been inculcated with Christian precepts concerning justice and love of neighbor. And it starts with the demagogue's willingness, out of an unchecked desire for unchecked power, to exploit human weakness and ignorance for his own gain.

Except for the most deteriorated societies, tottering upon the edge of the abyss, such a demagogue will know something that the crowd must not: that the policies he urges upon them will cost them more than they could ever gain by it. He must despise the very people he seeks to sway.

Hatred is best combined with Fear. Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful—horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember; Hatred has its pleasures. It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear. The more he fears, the more he will hate. [C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters]
Fear always springs from ignorance! -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

He who can make a man fear can induce him to hate. To make a man fear, one must detach his rational faculty -- his reason and his learning capacity -- from his appreciation of his present state. Thus, he becomes incapable of reasoning out how he got to where he is and how he can get to somewhere better. The next step, of course, is to get him to adopt a devil-thesis, in which his miseries and unmet desires are someone else's doing.

Assembling people into crowds is a great assistance to this process, for a crowd can smother an individual's willingness to disagree, to diverge from what "everyone knows," or to assert a moral premise that would deflect the crowd from its chosen course:

There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations doubts, and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgement. -- Eric Hoffer

A crowd demanded that a murderer's life be spared and Christ be crucified.

We of Hell see the connecting link, which is Hatred. [C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters]
Easier to get people to hate than to get them to love. [Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress]
Power, like the diamond, dazzles the beholder, and also the wearer; it dignifies meanness; it magnifies littleness; to what is contemptible, it gives authority; to what is low, exaltation. -- Charles Colton
"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." -- The Gospel According To John, 8:32

The traditional American education included a great deal of factual American history. Anyone who absorbed that history and accepted it as correct could hardly avoid loving this country and desiring its preservation. But learning takes effort; ignorance does not. A kind of Newton's First Law of the human intellect suggests that the demagogue will strive to prevent young persons from learning, especially about the principles upon which the United States was founded, and will succeed more easily than the would-be educator. A populace maintained in such ignorance is the most fertile ground for demagogic appeals.

But one cannot desire that others be maintained in ignorance without despising them. This, too, is intrinsic to the ruthless dynamic of power-seeking. For how could one possibly desire the rule of others without despising them, demoting them to a lower moral and intellectual plane? Such an attitude must be concealed, of course, but it will be present in any demagogue. Indeed, it will dominate his whole psyche.

The implication for disarming a demagogue should be clear.

At first I was undecided about writing something for today, it being Good Friday, but the most recent political events, both domestic and international, impelled me beyond my resistance. Awareness of the terrible power of hatred, and its inseparability from the desire for power over others, simply overwhelmed me as I thought about what Christians worldwide commemorate today: the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Redeemer of Mankind.

Jesus preached a New Covenant of stunning simplicity:

"You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and your whole soul, and your whole mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." [The Gospel According To Matthew, 22:37-40]
Now a man came up to him and said, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?" He said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." "Which ones?" he asked. Jesus replied, "You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false witness, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself." [Matthew, 19:16-19.]

Whether one accepts or rejects Jesus's divine status, a decent man can find little to quarrel with in the above. Our consciences say the very same things to us, when we trouble to listen to them. But once we accept them, it is mandatory that we accept their political implications, which far too many Americans have proved unwilling to do.

The Commandments Jesus articulated are the liberating truths. Indeed, without them, liberty and justice are impossible. It is the ultimate demonstration of their importance that Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin feared them so greatly -- and that Jesus went unresisting to death by torture, as have many of His followers down the ages, to seal them with His divine authority.

One must hate them to dismiss them.
But one cannot hate His Commandments without also hating Him.
Such hatred is undergirded by fear: the fear that His preachments will thwart the hater's drive for power.
Thus, the power-seeker must detach those he seeks to corrupt from Him.
The vileness of contemporary politics follows.

May God bless and keep you all.


pj said...

"For how could one possibly desire the rule of others without despising them, demoting them to a lower moral and intellectual plane? Such an attitude must be concealed, of course, but it will be present in any demagogue. Indeed, it will dominate his whole psyche.

The implication for disarming a demagogue should be clear."

After that buildup, I was sure you were going to explain that to disarm a demagogue, one has to unmask his contempt for people. Strangely, you did not.

I have been fighting the tendency for contempt among the freedom-lovers for a while:

It seems almost everyone has contempt. It's a tendency that does not serve our ends, I think.

Francis W. Porretto said...

I felt the buildup made the matter so clear that a bald statement of the thing was unnecessary, PJ. I have very highly intelligent readers; I try not to insult that intelligence.

F.J. Dagg said...


Your writings here are always very good, but in the last couple of days you've risen to brilliance. Thank you so much, and my God bless you and yours.

Warm regards,

Francis W. Porretto said...

Thank you, James. You're far too kind, as always.