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Satyajit Das: Book Reviews – Politics and Political Posers

By Satyajit Das, a former banker and author of Extreme Money and Traders Guns & Money.

Edmund Fawcett (2014) Liberalism: The Life of an Idea, Princeton University Press

Henry Kissinger (2014) World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History, Allen Lane

Geoffrey Hosking (2014) Trust – A History, Oxford University Press

Jan-Willem van Prooijen and Paul A.M.van Lange (2014) Power, Politics and Paranoia, Cambridge University Press

For those interested in politics, it is, similar to all pursuits, addictive and all encompassing. This is especially true of career politicians, their acolytes and supporting staff, members of the media who commentate on it, academics that theorise about the field and a small group of interested bystanders who think it matters. But the average citizen is indifferent to politics. This indifference increases with the distance between the voter’s personal interests and the political issue under consideration.

The inherent contradiction creates problems. Politicians and those absorbed in politics have an imperfect understanding of the citizen, whom they purport to represent and in whose interests they are supposed to govern. The population misunderstands the political process and machinery, increasingly distrusting it. Lee Kuan Yew, the recently deceased leader of Singapore, was unconvinced that the democracy, with its principle of one person one vote, was actually the best form of government. His genius was successfully cloaking a benevolent authoritarianism in a democratic guise to implement his preferred agenda. Winston Churchill put it more colourfully stating that: “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”. Churchill held that democracy was merely the worst form of Government except for all other forms available and tried.

Each of these books poses interesting political questions: on ideology, international relations, and the relationship between the political apparatus and citizens.

Former Economist journalist Edmund Fawcett’s Liberalism: the Life of an Idea concerns itself with political philosophy. Mr. Fawcett focuses on four ideas that he believes characterizes liberalism: “acknowledgment of inescapable ethical and material conflict within society, distrust of power, faith in human progress, and respect for people whatever they think and whoever they are.” These four ideas, he writes “distinguish the liberal outlook from those of its nineteenth-century rivals, conservatism and socialism, as well as from its twentieth-century competitors, fascism and communism, and from present-day contenders, notably competitive authoritarianism, national populism, and Islamic theocracy”. The book explores the development of these ideals over the last few centuries, using a narrative that consists of portraits of key thinkers and liberal-minded politicians and their work.

Smoothly written reflecting the author’s background, Liberalism is an interesting history of ideas and philosophies. The author’s desire to be inclusive perhaps results in arguably an overly liberal range of people being represented. This makes some of text feel somewhat truncated and will undoubtedly lead some readers to question the emphasis on one or other party as biography and accounts of policies whizz past rapidly. But overall the effort is insightful. John Stuart Mill emerges, unsurprisingly, as the most interesting character. Many of Mr. Fawcett’s readers will agree with his assessment: “Nobody since has offered as many-sided or candid a statement of the conflicting pressures within the liberal creed”.

The problem is that like all ideologies, liberalism proves itself to be flexible and accommodating of historical context. The term itself, as Mr. Fawcett recognises, becomes one which different people use to further naked ambition and their quest for influence rather than maintenance of doctrinal purity. Today, liberal, used as a term of approbation or insult, can define a belief in government intervention to resolve social and economic problems or resistance to government interference on individual freedoms.

Mr. Fawcett’s approach based on his wider definitional scope leads to some problems. It is difficult to reconcile Adam Smith’s liberalism as embodied in the impersonal market of The Wealth of Nations with his arguments in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Friedrich Hayek’s laissez-faire economics with its emphasis on freedom conflicts with his mistrust of progress and lack of focus on social justice. These difficulties are most acute in the last part of the book which covers period after post World War II. The inclusion of everyone –Hayek, Isaiah Berlin, George Orwell, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Milton Friedman, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and François Mitterrand- suggests an overly capacious definition whose only distinguishing feature is that it is not totalitarian or authoritarian. One suspects that these individuals would have liked the label at least insofar as it helped their argument or agenda and made them seem more compassionate than they were in reality.

Henry Kissinger would not have cared to be described as “liberal”, though he did once identify himself in the 1960s to a journalist as a “swinger” (when such things were fashionable). World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History is focused less on ideology than on practical statecraft.

Dr. Kissinger is a deeply divisive and divided figure. He is reviled by many for his association with controversial American foreign policies, such as the Vietnam War and the overthrow of Allende regime in Chile. This view was forcibly argued by the late Christopher Hitchens’ in the 2001 The Trial of Henry Kissinger. There is the diplomat who played an important role in pivotal initiatives such as detent with Russia and the opening of China to the West. There is the intellectual, informed by Central European sensibilities, theorising about contemporary politics, statesmanship and power relationships; for example, in his excellent book Diplomacy. There is also the deeply insecure émigré, concerned about the company he keeps and his status. World Order is informed by all these influences.

Described as “the summation of Henry Kissinger’s thinking about history, strategy and statecraft”, the book attempts to set out a worldview based on the Westphalian system and the balance of power. Dr. Kissinger favours realism to idealism: “Moral prescriptions without concern for equilibrium… tend toward either crusades or an impotent policy tempting challenge.” His lifelong attachment to realpolitik (at least to justify his position) is most evident in the figures he favours (Richelieu, Talleyrand, Metternich and Teddy Roosevelt) or rejects (Woodrow Wilson). He believes that the balance of power or terror is the only viable system for managing relations between states. Allied to this is the principle of non-interference in another country’s domestic affairs, even when they are abhorrent. The need to engage with alternative power complexes and cultures to preserve national interest is paramount. 

Lacking the authority of Diplomacy or the personal intimacy of his On China, World Order is, in the end, deeply unsatisfying. There is little that is new. The writing does not flow. Attempts to give it a contemporaneous relevance are forced. The sections on ISIL and evolving US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan feel hurried and artificial. The new global order is more questions than a coherent thesis and less than convincing.

Ultimately, World Order founders on its facile and unedifying attempt at self-justification. Dr. Kissinger seeks to justify his work and policies as diplomat, US Secretary of State and advisor over the last half century. At one point, he directly addresses his critics relying on the merits of his realistic view of the world: “idealists do not have a monopoly on moral values; realists must recognise that ideals are also part of reality.” It is interesting to see the contrast between Dr. Kissinger’s and former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s (in the film Unknown Unknowns) denial of errors or true effects of their actions and Robert McNamara’s sorrowful attempt to understand his past (in another Errol Morris film The Fog of War). It is the difference between the political and the human.

Geoffrey Hosking’s Trust – a History concerns itself with the underpinnings of social systems. Adam Smith argued, at least in one context, that self-interest serves as the key foundation. But complexity and lack of perfect information mean it may be difficult to pursue self-interest rationally. Professor Hosking, a scholar of Russian history, would argue that trust is the inevitable if irrational companion to self-interest.

Trust is a vital ingredient, allowing citizens to rely on the state, politicians, police, banks, and media on the basis of slight knowledge and infrequent contact. It acts through symbolic systems like governments, courts, religion and money forming what Professor Hosking refers to as the “deep grammar of society” which provides the framework of modern life. In its coverage, Trust traverses territory covered by scholars such as Adam Seligman (The Problem of Trust) and Paul Seabright (The Company of Strangers).

But trust is an inherently slippery and difficult concept. Professor Hosking does not clearly define the term he is dealing with. He argues that trust has been eroded but offers little convincing evidence in support. For example, the book makes the argument that the recent behaviour of banks and policymakers has reduced trust in them. Yet, since 2008, the same banks which have been found to have breached the trust of their clients and shareholders have prospered and grown even larger and more dominant. Savers continue to trust them with their savings. Similarly, there is little evidence that faith and acceptance of money and the payment system has eroded. Ironically, despite the evidence that central banks are poor at policy and forecasting, investors now place almost unlimited faith in their ability to maintain high asset prices and economic activity.

The book equates trust with economic prosperity and growth. Befitting his specialisation, the author illustrates the destruction of social trust in the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. Yet the Soviet economy grew strongly during that period. Similarly in many Asian countries, ranging from China to Singapore, the correlation between trust and economic indicators is weak.

The real question may be different: why do we trust certain instruments and institutions when our experience tells us that our faith in them may not always be justified? For example, most investors do know that the unprecedented experiment being conducted by the central banks currently probably will fail with disastrous consequence. Yet, they choose to suspend disbelief. What is interesting is that they choose to continue to maintain their trust even when experience suggests the contrary. Politicians through the centuries have promised real change but rarely delivered. Religious figures have promised spiritual salvation without proof.

One possible explanation is that the real genius of most social, political and economic control systems is to ensure compliance and engagement, irrespective of trust. In essence, we continue to participate in the current political and economic system because we have no choice. In effect, we trust not because we can and choose to but because we must and cannot avoid it in modern societies, suffering the consequences with increasing frequency.

Editors Jan-Willem van Prooijen and Paul van Lange in Power, Politics and Paranoia: why People are Suspicious of their Leaders examine why societal leaders, such as politicians and Chief Executives, are frequently deeply distrusted by the public. Contributions by a broad group of researchers in social science examine issues of power, trust, political psychology and leadership. The findings confirm that the lack of trust derives from actual or perceived unethical and fraudulent behaviour, the fact that major decisions which affect a lot of people differently is always likely to be treated suspiciously and paranoia and conspiracy theories with little basis. The empirical research presented is generally inconclusive, but confirms there are both known unknowns and unknown unknowns.

The barren academic style employed requires dedication to make sense of the epistemological expansion within existing paradigmatic frameworks which avoid comprehensibility for fear of discovery of the inherent shallowness of the argument. The objective is to facilitate the authors’ academic progression and access to grant funding to add to the collective confusion.

These books merely confirm our worst fears.

Politics is practised today at an industrial level. The amount of money needed to complete (Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign will require more than US$2 billion) alone ensures this. It creates political machines rivalling large corporations with attendant professional politicians and staffers. Today, politics is a career choice involving a steady succession of roles from student leader, staffer, adviser to political office; all without having a real job at any stage. This breed oligopolies and oligarchies. The Bush or Clinton political mafias are matched by the Nehru’s in India and similar cliques in other countries. Association through elite schools, foundations or think tanks and professional networks create a narrow and limited political spectrum. The concept of public service, much mentioned, is evident only by its absence.

Today, acquisition and preservation of power is all. The self-interest of politicians and their associated apparatchiks dominate. Policies are devoid of content. The emphasis is on combat – minimise exposure to attack from opponents and maximise the discomfort of political competitors. Unpopular or divisive issues are avoided. Leadership is reversed with most “leaders” agreeing with French politician Alexandre Ledru-Rollin: “There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader”.

Politicians move in each other company, totally insulated from the real world and real people. This insularity is aggravated by language. Politics has its own linguistic codes and subtle semantics. Most professions are similar. The major difference is that politics, in theory, requires a modicum of understanding of the broader electorate. In practice, most professionals involved in the political process are unable to comprehend the needs and desires of an increasingly cynical and disengaged general public. The limited knowledge they have is gained through marketing techniques such as polls and focus groups as well as increasing social media trending patterns.

The dysfunction manifests itself in several ways. Most politicians now follow Machiavelli in flattering the electorate (usually at election time) or crushing them (at all others). The political formula is the age old one prescribed by Roman satirical poet Juvenal: “bread and circuses”. Bread is some semblance of economic prosperity and the possibility of improvement. Circuses are anything from wars, political scandals and fist fights, celebrity, electronic wiz-bangs and reality TV.

The process is ossified by the lack of voter choice. Keynes saw elections in his time as a choice between two camps, equally if differently incompetent. There was the ‘stupid’ party – the conservatives. They were hereditary, defensive and deeply bigoted. Keynes saw them as incapable of even identifying their own best interest, unable to distinguish between novel measures for safeguarding capitalism from what they called bolshevism. Then there was the ‘silly’ party – the left of centre Labour party, obsessed with social justice, resistant to business and profit motivated activities, and instinctively resentful and anti-elitist. Keynes identified sensible elements of the sillies, who were inevitable outflanked by catastrophists who believed that capitalism was violently unstable and replaceable by something that they were unable to describe.

In a world where crucial decisions about the economy, living standards, equality of opportunity, environment, non-renewable resources and geo-political matters are urgently required, our existing arrangements are no longer sustainable. In March 2007 edition of the magazine Prospect, historian Eric Hobsbawn argued that: “none of the major problems facing humanity can be solved by the principles that still dominate the developed countries of the West: unlimited economic growth and technical progress, the ideal of individual autonomy, freedom of choice, electoral democracy”.

At its core, all political systems may be doomed to failure and are likely to disappoint. In his 1979 novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera identified the dream of paradise “where everybody would live in harmony, united by a single common will and faith, without secrets from one another.” He also knew the reality: “Once the dream of paradise starts to turn into reality, however, here and there people begin to crop up who stand in its way. And so the rulers of paradise must build a little gulag on the side of Eden. In the course of time this gulag grows ever bigger and more perfect while the adjoining paradise gets even smaller and poorer”. It remains the most acute and accurate analysis of our political aspirations.

© 2015 Satyajit Das

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

33 comments

  1. Carla

    “The population misunderstands the political process and machinery, increasingly distrusting it.”

    An unfortunate sentence. It implies that a misunderstanding of the political process and machinery has led the population to distrust same, where it seems to me that precisely the opposite would be the case.

    1. Steve H.

      “Design the machine that will produce the result your analysis indicates occurs routinely in the situation you have studied. Make sure you have included all the parts – all the social gears, cranks, belts, buttons, and other widgets -and all the specifications of materials and their qualities necessary to get the desired result.”

      – Howard Becker

  2. James Levy

    Agreed. Many people do misunderstand how the political process is technically supposed to work, but abstractly they get it–it’s supposed to be a representative democracy where the reps work for the betterment of the people who elected them, representing their values and interests in the larger body politic. This is the deeper reality the pundit class won’t touch with a barge pole. They’ve bought into the Washington insider “we know better than the rubes” paradigm that so angers and insults the voters, and leads to that distrust the author keeps talking about.

    My take is simple: Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton may have more insider information that the average voter, but I believe the average voter’s heart is in the right place (they care about their communities and their country) whereas Bush and Clinton are heartless, manipulative egomaniacs (as are most of the people who run this country). Although the citizenry are souring and getting a bit nutty, I still think if the politicians did what the majority of Americans wanted them to do, without the undue influence of billionaires and the pundits, politicians, and media they control, we’d be much better off than having the political class make up its own insular mind about what is good for us. The people would make mistakes, but so do the politicians. I see no reason to assume that the people would make a higher percentage of bad calls.

    1. Ulysses

      “I still think if the politicians did what the majority of Americans wanted them to do, without the undue influence of billionaires and the pundits, politicians, and media they control, we’d be much better off than having the political class make up its own insular mind about what is good for us.”

      Very well said!
      X1000

      1. FederalismForever

        @James Levy. You seem awfully sanguine about the prospect of what “the majority of Americans want.” Do you realize that the majority of Americans cannot find Afghanistan on a map?

        History cautions us against any belief in the supposed “wisdom of the majority.” If America’s founding fathers had simply relied on the “wisdom of the majority” would
        they have embraced the concept of separation of church and state? It’s likely only a small minority of the population at that time would have agreed. Similarly, would they have embraced the idea of public education? Back in the 1830s to 1850s, public education was often viewed as a part of an agenda pushed by the “elites” – such as the American Whig party – and was therefore rejected by many of the “common folk” who worshiped (and voted in large numbers for) Andrew Jackson.

        There are MANY examples like this throughout history, which is why founders like Hamilton warned us against the “disease” of democracy. The solution is not blind faith in the elites (and certainly not in today’s elites!) but rather lies in designing a system that will attract a better class of ruling elites. In America, repealing the 17th Amendment would be a good first step.

        1. James Levy

          Huh? Who do you think Andrew Cuomo and Bush and Walker and Perry et al. are going to appoint to be Senators, worthy selfless patricians devoted to the common good? You think the clowns in Austin or Sacramento or Trenton or Boston are going to appoint better people than the ones we voted for? What evidence from the Gilded Age do you have that appointed senators were better than elected ones?

          You are embracing “golden age” poppycock. By your example the Supreme Court must be the “finest” branch of government because it is unelected! Look at all those learned Ivy League men and women sitting nobly on the bench, unstained by the approval of the masses. They must be paragons!

          I have no illusions that the masses will rule nobly or even well. But giving them a turn at bat can’t be worse than letting Obama, Boehner, McConnell and Schumer run the show.

          1. FederalismForever

            @James Levy. Before you criticize the “unelected” members of the Supreme Court, I respectfully suggest you compare the anti-dr*g and prison/incarceration policies embraced by “the public” with those recently espoused by Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice Roberts in recent addresses to Bar Association meetings over the past few years. The comparison may shock you! “The public” was the political body that rushed to embrace “three strikes” laws and mandatory minimum sentencing laws. (“Three strikes” – an utterly stupid and vapid marketing slogan perfectly pitched to the level of intelligence of our average “public” voter!) The sheer scope of the damage wrought by these and other similar laws voted into existence by the virtuous “public” has been so great that it has even caused otherwise die-hard conservative Supreme Court justices to question these policies and issue decisions affording justices greater discretion to ignore the inflexible mandatory minimums passed into law by our politicians. All of this is a perfect example of why the “public” often is NOT a font of wisdom and virtue when it comes to dealing with complex issues. Unelected judges, by contrast, have much greater expertise in this area – even the conservative ones! – and are therefore better able to fashion policy solutions that makes sense.

            Please also re-consider the era from 1830 to 1860. Can’t you admit that things would have been a lot better during this era if the elitist Whigs had triumphed over Jacksonian populism? Of course, that was the golden age of the Senate in American history – long before the 17th Amendment came along and ruined it.

            1. Lambert Strether Post author

              A set up for the rejoinder that democracy is the worst system, except for all the others. For example, I’d certainly take the judgment of “the public” over (a) the judgement of the neo-liberal economics departments of our major universities, or (b) the nascent aristocracy in Silicon Valley.

              1. FederalismForever

                @Lambert Strether. I would too. Our “elites” these days are truly awful. But it’s worth keeping in mind that “democracy” can cover a broad spectrum of governments, from Anglo-Saxon style Parliamentary democracy and its early American variant (with a powerful executive rather than a king, and a larger role for judicial review) to the frightening and massively destructive popular democracy of the French National Assembly circa 1790. I think the early American variant – as articulated by the Federalists such as John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall – has much to recommend it, including a healthy suspicion of “pure” popular democracy. Ideally, a House of Lords or “aristocratic” Senate can check popular abuses and provide a steadying influence, provided its members are suitably virtuous and wise and all that.

            2. hunkerdown

              FederalismForever, “win” how? Even if the corporation didn’t win, their progress-is-lord schtick is, arguably, the basis of most, if not all, “modern” “political” “thought”.

              And you can’t properly judge the outcomes of the popular vote as reflective of the people’s sense of discernment any more than you can judge someone’s future driving skills by how well they drive the blow-molded, lead-painted polypro driver consoles for two-year-olds. Both are open-loop systems, detached from actual power by design and intent, just barely simulating what they claim to control. That is, toys. Do you think people who are insulted by having such frauds jammed in their faces mendaciously care enough about you to suit your interests with it?

              For all that voting actually *does* for living conditions, why treat it seriously?

        2. Demeter

          If Americans cannot find Afghanistan on a map, they will say it’s not worth one drop of US blood or penny of US treasure. And it isn’t.

          What is valuable is the stuff that keeps America alive and healthy. War ain’t it. Empire isn’t healthy.

          1. jrs

            Empire is never democratic anyway. Everything is not only complex but often classified. The people most affected (the countries being bombed) aren’t the people voting – like that’s not a recipe for all kinds of distortions right there. How could an empire be democratic? But that’s a negative on the side of empire not democracy.

  3. monday1929

    Speaking of language, and words that may or may not describe reality, or at least WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED, about 10 minutes ago on CBS This Morning with a jovial Charlie Rose, Hank Paulson’s upcoming appearance was heralded as : “Hank Paulson, the former secretary of treasury WHO KEPT WALL STREET FROM CRASHING in 2008”.
    Notice there is never any mention in MSM of that day Hank stood before Congress and stated there would be Martial Law and a dissolution of the Banking System and Economy unless a Trillion or so was given strings-free to him on the spot. An admission that the Crimes of the Bankers WAS Treason.
    Negative Interest Rates 7 years later confirm the tissue thin fragility of the System.
    And Geithner, Paulson and Dimon still walk free.

  4. monday1929

    Was CBS devious enough to use “Wall Street”, and not “The Stock Market” ?
    Sleight of Mind

  5. Ulysses

    “Politicians move in each other company, totally insulated from the real world and real people. This insularity is aggravated by language. Politics has its own linguistic codes and subtle semantics. Most professions are similar. The major difference is that politics, in theory, requires a modicum of understanding of the broader electorate. In practice, most professionals involved in the political process are unable to comprehend the needs and desires of an increasingly cynical and disengaged general public. The limited knowledge they have is gained through marketing techniques such as polls and focus groups as well as increasing social media trending patterns.”

    This problem is what makes The Death of the Liberal Class, so well described by Chris Hedges, such a tragic story. If we had plenty of people around– like Prof. Cornel West– pushing back against the neoliberal indoctrination going on, at places like Princeton, we might have a fighting chance of infiltrating a class traitor or two into the power structure of the ruling regime. These allies, inside the palace as it were, could help us accelerate real revolutionary change.

    The sad reality is that our new neoliberal totalitarian system has become so firmly entrenched– as to render “peaceful revolution” (to use President Kennedy’s phrase) nearly impossible.

  6. Watt4Bob

    Lately I’ve been wondering why no one has pointed out that rule by the 1% (A full-court-press for ALEC inspired legislation for instance) has resulted in, NOT free, and open markets, but a Centrally Planned Economy.

    Isn’t central planning the Great Satan we’ve been warned against for a hundred years?

    Nothing means what it used to mean anymore, Liberalism is ‘evil’ , The New World Order is no longer fascism, and Trust means “you have no right to ask” ?

    Now they want us to believe Hank Paulson et al are not pirates who mugged us all, but really our saviors?

    What we have is a Centrally Planned Economy, planned by and for .01% of us.

    Do you really think those .01% believe the fairy tale they’re feeding the rest of us?

    1. Demeter

      You call this a Plan? A plan for disaster, maybe.

      No, there’s no planning going on. Just looting and destruction and fraud. Go back to sleep.

      1. jrs

        I get what he’s saying. If you don’t like the term planned how about rigged. How many asset markets are rigged by this point? I don’t know. And the entire economy depends on entirely created near zero interest rates.

        It’s not planned to achieve an objective like long term human survival with widespread well being or something, but it doesn’t mean it’s not planned.

      2. different clue

        It certainly looks planned to me. Free Trade didn’t just happen by itself, for example. Exterminating unionized American industry in order to exterminate unions certainly looks like part of a plan to me.

      3. Watt4Bob

        What was the repeal of Glass-Stegal if not evidence of a plan?

        What was the Bankruptcy ‘Reform’ Act of 2005 if not evidence of a plan?

        What is the ALEC phenomenon if not evidence of a plan?

        Just because you don’t recognize it doesn’t mean it isn’t going on.

        That looting you mentioned is well planned and coordinated, and what’s more central than Wall St., the Fed, and captured DC?

  7. Jill

    I am trying to understand what allows our “leadership” to maintain any kind of legitimacy. This includes political, business and quite often religious “leaders”. This list of crimes committed by these groups is a long one. By crimes, I mean actual illegalities which have resulted in the destruction of our economy mentioned above by others and include murder and torture. We have people being “disappeared”, we have plans to assassinate people in the occupy movement and mass surveillance of the population. This isn’t meant as an exhaustive list. It is only a short list to show that I am speaking of serious crimes against other people which have resulted in pain, suffering and death. These actions would seem to strip out any legitimacy from the people who committed them. Yet their legitimacy remains in tact. Why?

    Two things I just recently heard about come to mind. First, I watched a program about Jim Jones and Charles Manson. Both of these men said absolutely crazy things and before murdering people, they engaged in crimes such as rape and beatings. I listened carefully to the followers who were able to speak out on their experience. Several commonalities struck me. First, society was in chaos. Secondly, people were in a kind of personal crisis and very vulnerable. Then there was the Milgram effect of an authority who ordered people to do unconscionable acts, which they did. I would say the corporate/govt. amalgam I call USGinc. uses these techniques strategically against our people.

    Although every society has turmoil, our “leaders” foment it. Nothing pleases this govt. more than a terrorism scare. It has been shown that a great many of our terrorist scares came from the actions of the govt. itself. Of course, allowing our economy to crash and recouping the loss of those who crashed it by stealing even more money from the people was another good technique. Further impoverishing the poor to help the wealthy has created a great deal of chaos. This is profound chaos as people lose their homes, life savings, jobs, health care and food. Living in the midst of this kind of radical, completely realistic fear makes thinking difficult. It makes people extremely vulnerable for the coming of a “savior”. The “leadership” works both the fear and the desire for a “savior” into a platform of legitimacy for itself.

    So many people wanted to join with Obama and many others will want to join with whomever 2 billion dollars of propaganda can make it seem like we are all in this together and will be “saved” by voting for Brand X. I will stop here as I do not wish to take up so much of the space in comments!

    1. NOTaREALmerican

      Re: I am trying to understand what allows our “leadership” to maintain any kind of legitimacy.

      Didn’t you answer your own question at the bottom?

      But, if not: leadership – in politics anyway – is delivering believable bullshit to lessor evolved humans.

      It might be a good idea to review the 1st Law of Bullshit:

      Anything + bullshit -> something new + “lots ‘o power for the bullshitter”

      morals (nearly worthless) + bullshit -> religion & “lots ‘o power for the bullshitter”
      government (nearly worthless) + bullshit -> politics & “lots ‘o power for the bullshitter”
      crafts (pretty common) + bullshit -> art & “lots ‘o power for the bullshitter”
      sex (pretty common) + bullshit -> romance & “lots ‘o power for the bullshitter”

      See where the “legitimacy” comes from now? Bullshit, ask for it by name!

      1. Jill

        NRA,
        Yes, I am trying to answer my own question but am not giving a complete answer due to space constraints and of course, I do not have all of the answer to give.

        You say power is legitimized by bullshit which is believable to lessor evolved humans. I think the situation is far more complex. I believe anyone can be vulnerable to belief in false “leadership”. In some ways, this belief in pervasive and completely normal in our society. For example, I went to a talk on the sexualization/exploitation of young girls and women in advertising/society, only to be shown a female CEO of Pepsi who was presented to me as a role model of gender equality and “successful leadership” .

        Now I thought it was really interesting that a woman who was responsible for the exploitation of workers around the globe and a person who was selling a very unhealthy product was presented to me as someone I should admire and strive to be like. The woman who was giving the talk was extremely intelligent. She obviously thought what was happening to young girls and women was destructive but she saw absolutely no contradiction in presenting a person who exploited others (to include other women) as a role model. That would be really weird in a sane society whose people had truly thought out what it means to live a good life and be a genuinely good person.

        The people who “killed” in the Milgram experiment were ordinary people. Thinking of them as lessor evolved misses the reasons why people who would not normally do such things, did them. Further, it misses the fact that many of the people who did throw the kill switch, thought about what they had done afterwards. They are now far less vulnerable to ever following authoritarianism of any kind than many of the rest of us. I think there is much to understand and a breezy dismissal of others as being lessor evolved will stand in the way of naming what is going wrong.

        1. Lexington

          The people who “killed” in the Milgram experiment were ordinary people. Thinking of them as lessor evolved misses the reasons why people who would not normally do such things, did them.

          No one was “killed” in the Milgram experiment. The learners pretended to respond to electric shocks when they gave incorrect answers but it never progressed to someone faking a serious injury let alone death – in fact the participants were explicitly told beforehand that no permanent harm would come to the learners.

          Also your comment about “people who would not normally do such things” suggests to me that you have completely missed the point of the experiment, which is that under the right circumstances most people will do such things, so their behaviour is in fact “normal”. It is the minority (about 1 in 3 in Milgram’s original experiment) who ultimately defied the experimenter’s authority who are “abnormal”.

          Your interpretation of the experiment starts from the assumption that when confronted with a moral dilemma most people will naturally “do the right thing”. The results of the Milgram experiment suggests that assumption is at best deeply flawed.

  8. NOTaREALmerican

    Nice to see nothing has changes since Keynes wrote about the ‘stupid’ party and ‘silly’ party.
    I guess those of us with morality OCD keep hoping there’s more to it than that tho.
    Stupid silly us.

  9. fresno dan

    More than any time in history, mankind now faces a
    crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness,
    the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the
    wisdom to choose correctly.
    Woody Allen

    I think that’s far too optimistic….

  10. participant-observer-observed

    His genius was successfully cloaking a benevolent authoritarianism in a democratic guise to implement his preferred agenda

    I have been saying for years that Pres. Obama fancies himself as pseudo-Singapore leader- alas, the people of Singapore with their schools, housing, and white BMWs have fared better…that pesky us constitution keeps getting in the way and keeps bouncing back like a virus, dontcha know!

    (TPP fast track goes to committee today-take care of the disease of democratic representation once and for all!)

      1. Vatch

        This is not definitive; it’s just an article about what we being planned as of April 2:

        http://www.politico.com/story/2015/04/trade-promotion-authority-tpa-bill-timeline-could-push-senate-to-act-116640.html

        Senate aides have circulated a tentative date of mid-April for advancing “fast-track” trade legislation in the recognition that Sens. Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden have to move quickly to finalize a deal on the bill or risk losing their chance to get it passed by the end of the spring session, several lobbyists and congressional sources have told POLITICO.

        Under the proposed schedule, the senators would introduce the trade promotion authority bill on April 13, the day lawmakers return from their two-week recess, followed by a Senate Finance Committee hearing April 15 and a markup on April 21, the sources said.

  11. Steve

    Just yesterday I was having a similar discussion with a friend. I suggested we should implement a system to appoint senators and congresspeople like the system we have to select jurors. Lust send out post cards every 6 months or so and get a new group. I don’t think the results could be worse. And, the ones that serve will have a better understanding of how difficult it is to get consensus.
    I would also be interesting to see how many “please excuse me” letters would be received.

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