Saturday, April 23, 2005

Without power ideas mean nothing,

However power is not typically universally easy to obtain. As the old adage goes, if it were easy (and obvious) then everybody would be doing it. It might be easy for a few lucky persons who happen to have the right background and happen to be convenient to the general forces of politics, but in general it is not.

Even if one does have the right background, there are others who do also. Being born into the right family does not guarentee that one will become a political leader and even if one does there are others who are also competing. Be born a Bush and you might be President, governor, or maybe just a failed S&L banking executive. By any measure it still is not easy, simply in some cases more possible than others. Nixon and Clinton were both from impoverished or rocky households, but then again so far all our Presidents whatever their humble beginnings have been white men.

Therefore all power requires sacrifices. First it is not easy and then on top of that others are competing for it. This is a truism of every field and profession. However in cases of power it requires sacrifices beyond the discipline and competition itself and having purely to do with manipulating the rules of competition. This is how we can define politics. Politics is politics not merely because it requires sacrifices to master a subject or sacrifices to win a competition but it requires sacrifices in order to manipulate the rules of the system.

A university administrator or departmental provost usually starts out an academic just like other academics. However at some point in time they make a choice. This choice usually involves being offered some key responsibilities for Administration. In order to expand these, they curtail their scholarly teaching and research activities. It is difficult to have both a full scholarly career and to advance in administration. So there are two sacrifices already, one for the mastery of the subject of administration and the other for cutting back scholarly activities to improve the chances of advancement for bureaucratic openings. However this job has not itself yet become political. When the provost or administrator begins shaping their decisions not according to the bureaucratic rules they must master but to advance or maintain themselves in a more favorable light compared to other competitors for reasons outside the strict technical criteria of competition then this becomes political.

So what is the sacrifice in the political? It is freedom. The freedom to make choices about what is the best course to pursue. From this comes the maxim of 'power is its own policy'. Those who tend to rise within a system or stay within it are those who over time are willing to make compromises away from the best course of action and toward that which advances their position within the system. This is why John Kerry did not contest the votes in the Presidential election.

In one sense, it would have cost him little. First of all, he owed it to the people who had voted for him so that they would feel that they had their interests represented aggressively. Secondly, the American electoral system is flawed on a technical basis and forcing these flaws to be exposed would have assisted in its eventual reform. Thirdly, he was at the end of a long and distinguished career of public service. If he had been ostracized for prolonging the vote count and contesting the election it would have only meant a departure to a quite luxurious private life.

On one level, the tatical level his decision makes perfect sense. To understand why we have to refer to a previous historical case. It was the election of John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon. Nixon lost a very close election and did not choose to contest it. Years later, eight years later in fact, he would return and win the Presidency and in fact go on to win a second term (though of course he resigned partway through the second term).

We can contrast that with the case of Albert Gore. He ran a very close election with GWB. Even if the tally were accounted as the Bush campaign contends it is acknowledged that Gore won the popular vote and only lost the key electoral college Florida vote by a few hundred or thousand votes. In a system rife with errors that is a very small and shaky margin to lose by. However he contested the election and eventually conceded. In doing so he did all the right things from an ethical point of view, but he was still effectively exiled from political life.

To his side he was an embaressing failure and to the the other side he was an uneasy reminder of the shaky mandate and legitimacy of their standard bearer. So he started teaching college and grew a beard and spent more time with his family. Overall I would argue that he is happier, since being the President is no picnic but he was definitely the loser.

So John Kerry is a person who has spent his whole life making compromises to maintain viability. He thinks back to Nixon, and he considers what happened to Gore, and he quickly and quietly concedes defeat. However this begs two questions. The first is that if a person of John Kerry's stature and legacy of public service cannot make sacrifices of power on principle then who can feel free to do so? The second is that Nixon may indeed have become President, but the same monomaniacal focus on power and obtaining it led to the growth a paranoia that would make him cross the line and bring his own Presidency down over a "third rate burglary".

The very sacrifices the power entails: the sacrifices of principle, of opportunities elsewhere, and of public scrutiny cause the power to become very dear to the person. It is indeed what they have given up everything else for. Yet that power by the very nature of its compromised origin will always be beholden to the system that produced it. This is why year after year new persons in the mold of the idealistic "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" seek to go into government and in the end become a part of the system instead of changing it.

The reason is that that whose who won't play ball don't last that long and those that do play ball soon lose track of why they were doing it. They're like these major league baseball players that have competed and slaved an entire lifestime to get to the literal big leagues as far as pay and perks go and then become assholes because they forget why people liked watching baseball: because it was fun. This is why Lord Acton wrote power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. A collary should be that all power requires sacrifice, and the more power the more sacrifices, and the more is sacrificed for it the harder it is to let go of the power for its own sake.

The system can only change when those who obtain power at the greatest personal cost then sacrifice the power itself to change the system. To change the system means to change the basis of power. It means to undermine one's own power base. Changing the system is the only change that matters, because everything else is produced by the system. The purpose of power is to spend itself in order to make the world a better place. If you end up with power you can either cling to it or you can use it up for the knowledge that you've improved the world.

I'm not sure I know where this line of reasoning is going exactly. This line of thinking is somewhat personally disturbing. Perhaps the only justification for power is that it allows one to move from addressing symptoms and phenomenas and that it gives one the opportunity to address the systemic and root causes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Why I Made A Mistake and How I View it

I would like to apologize to any supporters of John Kerry, apparently I made a mistake when I accused him of blowing a spies' cover. Furthermore though I was careful enough to prevent attribution and source myself, the journalistic level of cover your ass work on BOPnews I was more loose here and wrongly attributed the CIA operative identity to be Otto Reich. I fully acknowledge these errors and would like to discuss what they reveal about my own state of mind.

I believe that if you make an error that you should acknowledge it. Furthermore since acknowledging it publicly is harder because of the feedback of social scrutiny I believe that it is more important to acknowledge errors publicly than it is privately. Admitting errors privately simply is the price of belonging to the "reality-based community". Admitting errors publicly is the price of leadership.

My conclusions about this were formed a long time ago when I first began my search for the truth. I had this radical proposition that if one was seeking the truth, then the voyage would begin by being truthful. I know it sounds almost simple minded. Apparently it was a method that so far had been almost untried by the various philosophers of truth.

Instead of holding forth and dialoging and arguing about what I thought was truth, I would simply start by being as truthful as possible. Well it sounds straight forward but it wasn't. It started a multi-decade journey that I have still not finished and brought me all sorts of trouble.

For instance like everyone else, I occasionally tell white lies. However my commitment to the truth made me try to minimize these and to at the very least face up to the reasons why I would tell them. It was uncomfortable and it was sometimes quite embaressing, but it made me supremely aware of the difference between our self image and our projected social image and how our sense of identity was bound up in them. It also cost me a few relationships and jobs.

This didn't mean that I was uniformly and unerringly honest, but like a asymptope over time I started with some deviations here and there to approach it. Moreover it forced me to be over time the kind of person who could take public scrutiny without psychologically collapsing.

Another challenge I ran into was the standard of epistemology I was going to pursue. Was truth going to be defined in a factual and scientific way? At first this seemed like an objective way to approach things. However over time I found that while I could argumentatively win discussions and I could in a legalistic fashion tie other people up in knots that there was a difference between argument and reality.

That is simply because someone had a wrong rationale did not mean that they were wrong. It also meant that just because I had a technically correct argument I learned that didn't mean that I had all the facts about their situation. I learned that if I did not try to understand people, try to see where they were coming from, whether or not their arguments made sense then I could end up hurting people or their feelings. That was a very hard lesson for me.

In addition, not all truth could be reduced to scientific evidence or legalistic proof. This became apparent once I investigated the limitations of logical positivism and the nature of Godel's incompleteness theorem. Any logical system of thought has underlying assumptions that cannot be derived from the system. This means that any form of rationality is inherently an aesthetic rather than epistemological choice. You can critique certain systems of thought as being more or less consistent internally or externally with experience, but beyond that there are certain choices which are purely aesthetic and arbitrary. The layperson would call these things "values" erroneously but you get the idea.

Furthermore through the process of simply trying everyday to live with the truth, not an easy burden as it required constant self examination and investigation of hidden assumptions, and living through a few quite harsh moments of revelation where my assumptions crumbled about me brought me into contact with strange places and people. I learned that almost no one thinks of themselves as evil. Evil is the label we give to either self-consciously perverse behavior or to behavior by others that is antisocial in our estimation. Saddam Hussein let me assure you simply thought of himself as having made the best of his environment and was a misunderstood guy.

There is something called General Attribution Error. In psychology this means that people tend to blame the character of a person rather than failing to see that the choices were relative to their environment. I do not think that this absolves the individual of responsibility, but certainly without carrying it to the extreme that we are all "victims of our environment" or "helpless prisoners of our nature" that the primary characteristic from my point of view of human behavior is not morality.

After all everybody thinks for the most part that they are doing the best that they can. I'm sure even Paul Pot thought that. No instead what I see as the primary characterstic of people are ignorance, short-sightedness, and rigidity of thinking. People cannot solve their problems constructively and so they resort to highly negative fashions of externalizing their frustrations. I apply this to the sociopaths.

I mean is it really in the best interest of the sociopath to commit crimes which are nasty, risky, and have a large social opprobrium? If they want to kill somebody they can just become a mercenary or soldier and get the same thrill. As a matter of fact I have met some soldiers who were no more than just relatively well behaived sociopaths. You could even argue that it is a variably expressed trait in a population of a ambivalent social behavior trait. In a dog-eat-dog world being able to kill someone without remorse to a certain extent, as long as it doesn't get out of hand, can actually be a useful trait. However modern society has less and less room for such individuals. In Rome's gladiator pits or on the frontier subduing the provinces in the empire some two thousand years ago this kind of individual would have fit right in.

This doesn't excuse such individuals however. To borrow a bit from Star Trek, what defines humanity is not what it is but its struggle to be more than it was. Each person is given a nature and certain opportunities. It is up to them and up to society to attempt to transcend these circumstances and make something constructive, always wary of our own flaws, out of the original legacy which is always less than perfect and characterized by temptations and weaknesses.

From my perspective, people are always making mistakes but they rarely learn from them or attempt to redress them. Their particular beliefs are almost irrelevant. Left, right, capitalistic, socialist, good, evil, popes, kings, janitors, and tyrants they're all trying their best and at the same time rather narrow minded and rigid and rarely learning from their mistakes. This doesn't mean they're all the same. Some are better than others at trying to improve themselves and some are better than others at managing their flaws constructively.

What did I learn from my mistake? I learned that I had an emotional feeling that I detested John Kerry because I felt that he didn't fight hard enough after the election. I detested him for it because I felt that even at the end of a long and honored career he felt it apparently more important to preserve his status within the system than to sacrifice his own personal good for the common cause. I detested him because I felt that if at the end of such a long and honored career and with such a relatively light penalty - ending a career to go into private life at the same time when most people retire - that he could not sacrifice then who or when or how was there going to be a time when someone could do it? If he could not do it with so little to lose then when would be the time when someone could do it?

Furthermore I detested him because he put himself forth as a leader of courage and conviction but he folded without a fight for what I believe to be to merely cling to power. I think he would have lost, but that his fighting would have made a difference in improving the American electoral system.

I do not pretend that such a choice would have been easy. I know my own agony over clinging to things that I thought mine by right when the soul prompts another path. However that is what divides human beings from animals. Animals are often nicer than human beings, but they cannot help but be what they are. Human beings are sentient, ensouled, precisely because we have free will. And free will is ability to mold our characters by going against the grain, by refusing the obvious or path of least resistance, and the ability to define who and what we will be.

Yet because I detested his failure I was too quick to believe an accusation against him without checking it out. Recognizing this taught me that I still have work to do on striving to be neutral and objective, and judging issues by their merits as opposed to my estimation of the character of the person. The act however of admitting this, of forcing myself to think about it and reconcile it with my actions, of bringing to the crisis point of decision making consciousness is the very act of changing myself for the better. The next time a similar situation comes up, I will be slightly more cautious and a bit more patient in assigning blame. It may be almost subliminal but forcing myself to face this will have changed me ever so slightly.

The price of the quest for truth is being truthful. The reward for the quest for truth is insight. It is painful to force ourselves to not just be aware of our flaws but to force ourselves to examine the aspects of ourselves that lead to such mistakes. However that very consciousness illumines our own minds and allows us to take control of our own beings instead of being thoughtless products of them. It is no different from closing or opening your hand.

First you become aware of it. Then you become aware of how it is connected to you. Then you simply will it to open or close. So childishly easy and taken for granted commonly, until accident or disease interpose a barrier to such connection.

I am still prone I think to thinking the worst of people, that is something I think I shall have to work on.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Kerry Blows Spy Cover,

I had a sinking feeling the entire democratic campaign for Presidency that Kerry was the wrong man at the right time for the job. What I means is that I could not accept voting for Bush's continuance in office. The cartoons, snidely drawn, of him domestically gardening with Condi overseas in a subtle European comment on Condi's "husband remark" in the Economist if anything tells me that the Europeans just don't take us seriously anymore except in a bull in a China shop fashion. Look at it yourself.

I don't care that GWB has a mistress. I don't even care that he and she and Laura are either in complete denial or having old people menage a trois in Crawford, TX when Condi stays there for long weekends. I just don't care. I do care that our country is the subject of a snide European joke because Condi isn't respected as a diplomat other than being GWB's squeeze.

Just look at the picture! The Europeans are laughing at us!!! Look at it! No wonder why nothing ever goes right at the White House!

However I can understand why some people couldn't bring themselves to vote for Kerry either. Apparently Kerry blew Otto Reich's cover. Now I don't care if Kerry wanted to blow Otto Reich's cover. If he did he should have had one of his minions quietly do it! Just like Bush and Cheney did when they blew Plame's cover! You can't be seriously considered for President of the United States of America if you can't even remember how to use your minions properly so that you can wash your hands of the whole situation. Now I don't recommend what Bush or Cheney did either. That was a fairly fumbled mess which is why it made it in front of a grand jury. Rove really screwed up on that one because there's hard evidence out there to implicate him. However what Kerry did was even more ham-handed. I've never met a bunch of such utter fucking incompetents at skullduggery.

Maybe I should just fucking conquer the world myself and run it.