Friday, February 1, 2013

State, Church, School, Charity, Part 5

Succeeding Part 4. Series begins here.

Great Bureaucrats

As evil evolves, its tools were not all evil. Great leaders actually tried to use the idea of "State" to organize collective, appropriate responses to banditry or interpersonal violence; to insure against individualized loss in harvest, labor, or health by a mandatory sharing borne of decency. Great bureaucrats actually tried to make things happen sensibly and efficiently. Great priests actually tried to give selfless comfort to people unfamiliar with a passing, or to guide them to turn the other cheek; great teachers believed in the theoretical spirit of what they were supposed to be teaching, and used the connection of the institution to informally share real healthy habits or critical skills with students. Most of these were forced to hide their genuine concern, as the systematic efficiency demanded that the caring behave otherwise. These systems rewarded callousness, ignorance, and indifference (thus cute stuff like the Dilbert principle), making it more likely that the caring will be eliminated from the system. Nonetheless, good people do exist and are trying, naively or not. The proper path of studying evil is not to hate its every tool, whether unwitting believers or savvy administrators.

The Evolution of Domination

Over several human generations, elites came to understand that the original State--based on honest repression and formal castes--could not endure. The Church-State, similarly exposed, had to go. This all occurred as part of an evolution of (choose your preferred phrasing) either 1. the collective sociological understandings of the relationships between individuals, institutions, and societies or 2. the complexity of Planet consciousness.

What is this evolution? Consider that the best assassin, like the best Executive Director of Public Relations, is the one who doesn't know he's an assassin/PR stooge. These truisms are generally true: an assassin who doesn't know he's an assassin is less likely to give himself away, to be stymied by moral doubts, or to otherwise interfere, even unintentionally, with elite targeted killing. Similarly, the best PR spokesperson actually believes that Tide(R)(C) is the best detergent, or its current parent company environmentally and socially responsible. The most complicated question or blunt accusation from a critical reporter cannot cause the PR spokesperson to break down and admit that yes, it was wrong to test the product by inserting it secretly into the water supply of an impoverished nation--the spokesperson who is a true believer might cry, end the press conference, or offer a heartfelt apology, but will never have even a subtle glimmer of understanding in her/his eyes. True believers--the necessarily ignorant--are the evolution of spokespeople. The act of lying itself evolves to a point where the liar is no longer cognizant that s/he is lying, but actually believes the lie until his/her dying day.

From Externalization to Internalization

"Externalization" is most discernible through a corporate lens. Corporations strive to externalize costs. If a new drug needs to be developed for a cost of $31 million, producing medical waste that will cost an additional $8 million to safely dispose of, a good CEO is one who can encourage a local city council to subtly alter industrial zoning regulations to allow medical waste disposal as an appropriate usage for certain arcane classes of industrial zones. For the cost of a few $800 power lunches, three or four 6 figure term jobs for some council relatives, $1,500 in rented garbage trucks, a 10 year lease on a crumbling building near the docks, and $160K in hush bonuses to a couple managers in the Safety Division, the zoning regulations will be changed, and the waste left in tubs in the rented building. The $8 million in cleanup costs are ultimately paid, not by the drug company, but by the city. After years of contamination, long after that particular set of corrupt councilmen and city managers have retired, the waste can be discovered. A news event is created, awareness is raised, and bonds issued to allow the taxpayers to borrow against future revenues and get the waste cleaned up. Social catharsis ensues as people allow themselves to discover hints of the improper influence that may have been exerted over certain outgoing councilmen. Elections are held, stern letters to the editor written, and the show must go on.

Easier examples of externalization abound. Sending Chinese immigrants over a cliff in a basket to set the dynamite, then detonating it before pulling them back up, is cheaper than paying the promised wages. Once dynamite is outlawed, firing senior employees and replacing them with college interns accomplishes a similar result on the balance sheet. Capital ventures are creatures of avarice, and behave accordingly. Any cost that can be borne by someone else is a cost the company doesn't have to pay, ergo a higher profit.

So, that's externalization. Internalization is its twisted cousin: the version that Facebook has helped so many people begin to see. Through Facebook, we quite easily observe that our friends, neighbors, and relatives are not mere passive observers of popular culture--they are, in fact, pop culture. We may see that it doesn't take a BA in journalism to be able to take a picture of the front of a restaurant, the menu, and one's entree, lay them out in an album for everyone to look at, then gush banally for four paragraphs about how cool it was to eat at that particular restaurant. Any casual observer can now disseminate a news story with the same un-critical repetition of official fact that you would expect to see from a highly-trained professional. For decades, news organizations had certain acceptable boundaries for debate, and those have worked their way so deeply into the American psyche that most people can't respond to them in any other way than a political spokesperson.

No more scandals. No more inappropriate responses. The cultural consciousness has so grown up that we already know it. The age of revelation is over. G. Gordon Liddy could rob the Watergate in 2013, and while he might be punished, it wouldn't be the major political incident that it was (which incident was drastically un-incidental, compared to what should have theoretically happened in a constitutional republic). When someone shoots someone, a Republican gropes a secretary, a Democrat fudges some numbers, or a loose dog bites a handicapped Korean girl who doesn't have health insurance in a city with no leash laws, most people have ready a template for an appropriate gush or condemnation.

Under internalization, people learn to identify their own interests with elite interests. Internalization follows the marketing "bandwagon" model, where being part of an illusory group is supposed to mean something. Taking pride in your country's GDP or average life expectancy, while poor and ill, or rooting enthusiastically for a local football team that prices you out of tickets and is composed of men flown in from out of town for a couple years' play before they're traded away, is a form of internalization. Living vicariously through celebrities, and so forth.

More later on internalization, but for now, we'll return to the direct Charity gamesmanship in Part 6.


  1. You have described something I've tried to explain, to no avail, to other people: That I find myself disillusioned with being an educator for basically the same reasons I got out of public relations.

    When I look back, I am amazed that I lasted two years in PR because I never actually believed the messages I was helping to promulgate. All right, I'll tell you what kept me going: self-medication.

    On the other hand, I entered education with some notion that I could pursue my passions and "make a difference." What I've learned is that you're not in a school--whether a kindergarten or post-doctoral program--to be creative and help your students. Rather, you're there to uphold "the institution"--which those who rule it define as being, basically, themselves.

    1. There's some wiggle room, as part of many institutions--even horrendously corrupt and destructive ones--to make a real human connection, and insulate the people below you from some of the BS from above. Even a concentration camp guard could occasionally sneak an extra slice of bread to a prisoner, and that tiny differentiation in the role can mean a lot--but it's done while upholding the institution.

      At the same time, if you leave your job as a camp guard, someone else will fill it, and it will be someone who doesn't slip that extra bread to the prisoners. If you try to destroy the camp, they'll kill you, and someone else will then fill the job anyway.

      So, what's the most moral choice?

      Do we work at Walmart, being the one "nice" manager who doesn't pressure cashiers to pull unpaid overtime? Do we do some extra cashier work ourselves when the store director isn't looking, so that he doesn't figure out we're not getting maximum value from the hourly people? Or, do we leave the job so that someone else can apply the pressure?

      Anecdotally, this one has known people who've been able to be, in a sense, the nice managers, and the underlings have been grateful to tears. Can their gratitude wash away the sin of upholding the institution?

      Gotta feed the monster. So the show goes on.