I was wondering about how we organise human societies and whether or not the very constructs of our societies are conducive to creativity, or whether it is the case that the structures of our society serve to kill creativity.
It’s an important question. If we live in a society whose very constitution and makeup destroys the ability of the populace to think creative thoughts and bring creative ideas to life, then progress ceases and we live in a world that tends toward sclerotic ossification and intellectual stasis. It becomes a place saturated in traditions, but unable to adapt to changing, threatening circumstances. If our collective ship is heading for the rocks, there will be no course correction possible.
On the other hand, if the structures in society foster creativity, then there remains the hope that, regardless of the failings and flaws of the current situation, the future can be hopeful and brighter. If we are organised so that creativity is encouraged and respected, then the possibility remains that we can solve our collective problems and move toward a better life for all.
So which is it? Is our society constructed with a pro or anti creativity bias?
First, we must understand how our society is constructed, so that we can find the answer. We need to go back in time, to the origins of our methods of human organisation, tracing the evolution of our societal structures, so that we can understand how we got to the present state. We need to understand the mindset that gave rise to these ways of organising human affairs, understand the motivations and successes of these structures and also examine the costs. Finally, we need to ask whether these historical, evolved methods of conducting societal affairs serve us well today, if they ever did.
This article began as a number of separate articles. Each one was its own intellectual wrestling match, but no single article got to the crux of the matter. There was complexity in each, yet each lead to only a partial conclusion and only shed light on a part of the question. In drawing the various component threads together here, I have given myself a much bigger headache, in trying to cover all the subject matter and keep it coherent. I’ve also made it harder to reach a conclusion that is all encompassing and self-explanatory. The task I’ve set myself is a difficult one, so hopefully I can achieve what I set out to achieve, in writing this article. In short, I want to know if we’re doomed, or if salvation, through new ideas, is possible.
How this impinges on art is that creativity is something that artists and those with an artistic mindset are intimately familiar. Creativity is their thing. It’s what they do. Whether the world will be saved by a philosopher, poet, writer, painter, musician, engineer, or software programmer (or some other creative practitioner) remains to be seen, but all of these people use creativity to achieve their ends.
If you are an artist, starving or otherwise, this article is about your permitted degrees of freedom, the limits to the scope of your actions and about whether you are emancipated enough and free enough, in your thinking, to make a creative contribution of genuine value to humanity and all life on earth. It examines whether or not your work can have lasting meaning. You may discover uncomfortable things about yourself, as an artist, in these writings. This article is about you.
What appears to be reasonably certain is that the solution to the world’s problems is unlikely to come from somebody making a lucrative deal, issuing a new financial instrument, drafting of a new global trade treaty, or by arguing in a court of law about the balance sheet entries in a corporation’s accounts. Markets will not save us. Bankers will not produce the solution. Neither will politicians. Finance is not the route to solving anything. The solution will come from the creation of genuine value – that is, value that directly and unarguably improves the human condition and conditions for all life on the planet. Anything else is just distracting, wasteful play-acting. In fact, most other activities detract from genuine value creation. You can be as creative as you like, as an accountant, but if the result of your work is tax evasion by the wealthiest, who do very little of genuine value to others, with their wealth, then your “creativity” will have been in the service of net value destruction. In short, your contribution is not required.
Without further ado, let us now turn our attention to the origins of the structures we have come to assume as givens, in the way we organise human societies. It turns out that these structures have ancient roots and that they are quite primitive, in their motivations. The lineage, from early communities to modern nation states, is traceable and fascinating. In examining the evolution of ways of organising human societies, you come to realise that they are still very tribal and brutish, in nature. They’re also focussed on a goal that, today, leads to our extinction, rather than our proliferation. Indeed, it is our successful proliferation that threatens us all with extinction.
What separates humans from other animals is our capacity to think abstract ideas and our ability to communicate these abstract ideas using language. Animals that do not think up imaginative ideas, or who cannot convey them to other members of their species, rely on instinct and demonstration to organise their societies. Compared to the ability to conceive and share abstract ideas, organisation by demonstration and displays of dominance, non-verbally or without resort to pictorial storytelling or writing, has proven to be far less effective, in permitting species to proliferate, than the capabilities that humans happen to have developed. Our ideas and our ability to communicate them have helped humans, as a species, spread to all parts of the globe and to proliferate in large numbers, so that we now displace other species and take over their habitats and hunting grounds, to their ultimate exclusion.
One of our species’ great big ideas is the notion of society. Society is just an idea – an abstraction that has no counterpart in the real world, unless we agree, as a species, to act upon that abstract idea and organise ourselves according to its imagined rules and structures. We make the whole thing up. Without our beliefs about society and our compliance to those beliefs, there really is no society. It’s a notion we share. We adhere to it because we think it provides human and personal advantage, but what is that advantage exactly?
Other abstract ideas we cling to doggedly, that have their roots in primitive animal behaviour, include leadership, hierarchy, deference to the leader, rules, enforcement, subjugation, submission, group sanctions such as ostracising individuals, violent punishments, rewards, collusion, suppression of dissenters, and reinforcement of the established “order” and its assumed rules, by ordinary members of the group. We also adhere to summary rejection, often extremely violently, of alternative systems of organisation of the group. We don’t readily tolerate our apple carts being overturned or upset.
Empires have their origins in the behaviour of tribes and ape troupes. The “pecking order” was an idea that humans were capable of forming and sharing, through language and behaviour, that allowed the group to organise and flourish. Deference to the alpha male was at the heart of what was needed, so that all members of the group remained peaceable within their group. The price the alpha male paid was that he had to intervene to stop the infighting. He had to maintain the conditions for group collaboration, rather than individual self-interest, which was expressed as constant undermining of the community, continual fighting and debilitating injuries. The essence of leadership was to prevent and quell conflict inside the group. The price each member of the group paid was a loss of freedom over individual actions.
The fact that the group found a way to eliminate the costly and wasteful internal conflicts that hampered its ability to procreate with such fecundity says nothing about conflicts between rival groups. The fact that groups of early humans became more internally organised, as a community, often lead to conflicts with other groups, who were similarly organised. The prize, as ever, was the seizure, by force, of the other group’s resources, thus boosting the procreative chances of the conqueror at the expense of the vanquished. The problem we face today is that humanity, as a group, has conquered all other species and the resources of our planet. When our own group becomes global, as it already has, there are no other groups left to fight. What happens then? We’ll return to that question shortly.
This ability to breed more successfully, due to relative peace within the group and the conquest of resources, is why we have hierarchies, leaders, authority, deference, subjugation, obedience, compliance, and violence and intimidation as an organising principle, in the modern day. They came from ape troupes trying to increase their numbers successfully. Breeding was made possible because those in leadership positions were required to act in the interests of the whole group, to find food for all, to avoid conflicts with other groups that might kill or injure breeding members of the community and to guide the community toward joint prosperity, through seeking out the needed resources. The price for subservient members of the community was more fear and less autonomy. We exchanged happiness, contentment, dignity and freedom of action as individuals for the ability to propagate our genes more successfully, by association with a group, whose rules we had to obey. This is a price we still pay, today, when we back our governments.
Ape troupes, human communities, corporations, government bureaucracies, autocratic kingdoms, modern nation states and empires share this in common: they are all a kind of hierarchical organisation, with a nominal leader and which require obedience to the leader and the rules of the organisation, by its members. They’re the same species of human construct, with a common ancestor dating back to the days of roaming on the Savannah as hunter gatherers.
It is clear that these species and sub-species of empires, at different scales, have been used to increase human organisation and co-operation, so that members of the empire can more readily propagate and multiply. There is safety and efficacy in organised numbers, as opposed to disorganised groups of the same number of members, but is a top down hierarchy the best and only form of group organisation that is possible? Is violence and obedience the only possible organising principle and is it the optimum strategy to allow every member to flourish to their maximum potential? I doubt it.
Private global corporations have become the dominant, new empires, rather than nation states. The scale of operations and control over wealth and resources wielded by the larger global corporations dwarfs the influence and control exerted by individual nation states, but without the democratic accountability and consent to rule signified by each member of the population’s vote. Private corporations are decidedly not democracies and see themselves as accountable only to their owners and shareholders, not to each and every person who their operations impact or affect.
We have very few sanctions and little power to rein in the excesses of global corporations, in reality. The politicians we appeal to are paid for by them. The regulatory organs of government are routinely subverted by their agents and stooges. Sure, we can boycott their products, but in a world where the beneficial owners of most companies remain anonymous or cloaked, shifting your business to what is supposed to be a competitor often simply enriches the very owner you are seeking to boycott. You just don’t know it. The pattern of company ownership is more concentrated and Byzantine than you can imagine.
In short, corporations of every size are private tyrannies, with a self-appointed “king”, who we call the CEO, able to act on whim, with goals that may be at odds with serving the best interests of the most people. It’s a hierarchical structure that we preserve and support, because we, as members of the human species, fear thinking about alternative structures of action and effect, even though many of these have been experimentally tried and shown to be successful.
It’s an unfortunate characteristic of leadership positions that they tend to attract the most psychopathically inclined, who lack empathy for those they lead. We often employ narcissists and criminals as our leaders, because the hierarchy decides who its leaders will be through dog-eat-dog competitions, where those willing to cheat and lie have the upper hand over other competitors. It’s an equally unfortunate characteristic of those who are obediently led and a sad fact that, knowing how flawed and dangerous these leaders are, we all support them anyway, because we figure that the bad guy is going to win and we all side with the winner, irrespective of his crimes. We’re too afraid to side with an underdog.
A community of individuals led by a bad guy will side with the mass opinion of the community and the consensus judgement about who the likely winner will be, who will prevail over other candidates for leadership. We don’t follow any moral compass in this judgement and determination. In fact, we ignore it. Evil leaders prevail because we figure they’re going to anyway and we, as individuals, don’t want to be seen as having been disloyal to the leader we must subsequently obey. That’s personally dangerous. We’re too scared to oppose any leader of a hierarchy that wields violence and punishment as its organising principle. If we disobey, we will be punished.
The propaganda put out about any empire, of any scale, is that it’s for your benefit. Historically, it was for the benefit of increasing the human population. Indeed, population went up, but lots of atrocity and suffering accompanied this imposed idea. However, when leaders and emperors renege on their obligations to those they command, things go very wrong. The deal is broken. Individual members of the community no longer gain access to resources they need to thrive. Their leaders are not wise or interested in preventing infighting or wars and death from conflicts with other groups. In some cases, they turn on the community and treat them with suspicion and violence, as disposable, commodity citizens. They police them, incarcerate them, terrorise them, lie to them, cheat them of their wealth, spy on them and do everything they can to coercively control them. They do not have a vision of where to lead their people to, so that they might flourish. The leaders of the empire become greedy and self-centred, indolent and parasitic. In short, they stop doing what they were supposed to do, when we all agreed to follow them. All too often, we find that the hierarchy we supported and upheld has duped us.
As a species, we have been in denial of some increasingly irrelevant facts about the leaders we empower and to whom we grant our consent to be ruled. The truth is that our emperors want only one thing: more. The Roman philosopher of antiquity, Epicurus, is said to have proclaimed that, “Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little”. Not only do our leaders want to have more for themselves; they also want to never have any less. This is why so many career politicians are so fervently engaged in feathering their post career nests, while in office. It explains why ex-prime ministers and CEOs are often wealthier in retirement than they were when tenured.
The thing about narcissistic, psychopathically-inclined leaders, such as those that gravitate toward positions of leadership, is that they can’t say why they want more or what “more” will do for them and us. In reality, their desire for material enrichment and unconditional adoration is a mis-targeted attempt to fill a childhood void. Perhaps they lacked unconditional love, support and affection from their parents. Perhaps they were severely traumatised or abused, as children. In either case, they seek to compensate for these injuries by an insatiable appetite for things that can never act as plausible substitutes for what they lacked. Nevertheless, such leaders are adept at spinning fictions, which they tell to those of us they lead, to reverse justify their appetites.
Could a narcissistic leader be so desperate to obtain and maintain power that they would be willing to murder, assassinate and commit genocide, or other crimes against humanity, in order to achieve their goals? You bet they would and a careful reading of history (unvarnished by the propaganda and spin, typically employed by adherents to the hierarchy they obey, to protect the integrity of its structure and its leaders) will reveal that many of the people that have held our highest offices, in point of fact, did commit such crimes. There is no shortage of crimes to unearth, but we typically focus exclusively on the crimes of the emperors and leaders of empires that opposed our own. Our leaders and our empires are always beyond reproach, as if they alone have the monopoly on virtue.
Cover ups, conducted by people loyal to the criminal leader, to the very idea of leadership and to the empire they ruled, perhaps funded by the perpetrators of major crimes, carry on for decades after the fact. Those that discover evidence of such crimes are typically publicly labelled as “conspiracy theorists”, their reputations, motivations, expertise and sanity called into question and their evidence dismissed in hateful attacks on the person, rather than on the facts presented, in a pejorative attempt to keep the crimes hidden and the hierarchy intact.
Two of the things that narcissists most desire are money (lots and lots of money) and power (the more the better, because…power). These two assets can be tightly interwoven. Consider, though, that many individuals vying for high office, especially in the political arena, have already made their fortunes, or inherited it. There are more millionaires in government, per capita, than in most other organisations. Given they already have plenty of money, then, we can conclude that what drives them to seek leadership positions is a lust for power, prestige, status and authority. These “objects of admiration”, for want of a better term, not only gratify their need for self-aggrandisement, by feeding their oversized ego. They also provide them with compelling evidence to confirm their sense of superiority to others – probably their most coveted and sought after need of all. As a consequence of granting them the position of power, whereas before they put themselves on a pedestal, now the whole constituency obligingly follows suit.
When the emperor gets what he wants, he never knows what to do with it or with all of us and yet he still wants more – “greedism” takes hold. The modern perversion of the American Dream no longer says that if you work hard, you can be more comfortable than your parents. Instead, it holds that if you connive well, game the rules and rule the game, your take from others is unlimited. In this paradigm and thought framework, human empathy, caring, sharing, compassion and connection have been devalued and jettisoned from the outset. This is the flaw in the entire premise of the American Dream, which has traditionally been the sole raison d’être for maintaining support for our structures of capitalist societal organisation, but it’s a baseless sham. Today, the belief is that we can have it all, but it must by definition be at someone else’s expense. We’ve turned a human game of growth and increasing prosperity for all into a zero-sum game of “beggar thy neighbour”. What holds in America holds in most of the rest of the developed world, because of globalism (another form of empire).
For a full, insightful and damning characterisation of the narcissist as leader, follow this link:
The most tragic consequence of a narcissistic leader’s “successful” rise to prominence and power is that the whole diseased condition of their lives infects all of us as well. In devoting their lives almost exclusively to selfish, ill-conceived goals, the needs of the larger community surrounding them either get ignored or abandoned. Inevitably, we all suffer from the fraud that so thoroughly envelops them.
In order to fulfil their role as protector of the community, as required by any empire of any size, there must be conflicts in which to prove it. Enemies and adversaries must be manufactured, if no ready opposition is obvious. Whether these are competitor companies, immigrants, the unemployed on benefits, or other races, the “others” are portrayed as impure pollution, sub-human and contact with them is a threat.
We grant a lot of scope to our leaders, in deciding what they want to pursue. We assume that our leaders’ goals will always be in our best interests. Indeed, that is the basis of our support for this hierarchy and his leadership of it. However, we know that emperors can and do concoct arbitrary projects, many of which are quixotic or utterly insane, inimical to our best interests. What if the enemy of the empire, which the emperor designates, is part or all of the community that brought him to power and which sustains his position, by their obedience to him and his projects? What happens when the emperor wants to get rid of human life, diminish our population numbers, reduce the propagation of the species, destroy creativity, and reduce genetic diversity? What happens when the emperor’s project is to get rid of the rest of us, who nevertheless still try to support him, because we think he will win anyway and we want to be on the winning side? What happens when emperors prey on their people? This is nothing less than a betrayal of our expectations of the leadership and hierarchy, for which we traded away our self-determination.
Why does the populace, finding themselves in these circumstances, not rise up against the rogue leadership hierarchy and depose them all? Indeed, why do we not jettison the idea of being led by anybody, when it is clear that leaders will so readily use their positions of power and authority to do us harm? History provides us with clues.
When royal power, supported by aristocracies, governed nations, society, despite all its wretchedness and privations, enjoyed several types of happiness which are difficult to grasp and appreciate today. Having never imagined the possibility of a social state other than the one they knew, because they were born into it and never holding any expectation of becoming equal to their leaders, the people did not question their rights. They “knew their place”. They felt neither repugnance nor degradation in submitting to severities and abuse, which seemed to them like inevitable ills, sent by God, as punishment for their sins or low-born status. The serf considered his inferiority as a by-product of the immutable order of nature and the universe. Consequently, a sort of fatalistic goodwill was established between classes so differently favoured by fortune and accidents of birth. Inequality was everywhere, in society, but men’s souls did not feel the keen degradation of it. It wasn’t a thinkable thought.
Their ignorance of alternative ways of organising societies rendered them more or less content with their lot, in life, no matter how unpleasant or denigrating. Acquiescence to the excesses of leaders is a product of ignorance of alternatives and a willingness to naively believe the stories told to them, by their leaders and their faithful lieutenants, in justification of the blatant, illegitimate inequalities. In short, people allow abusive tyrants to rule over them, because they don’t have a better idea in their collective heads.
Consider, now, the following scenario. What if one empire entraps and compromises the leaders of a different empire, with a view to blackmailing them over their complicity in crimes unacceptable to those they rule, so that they will covertly carry out the wishes of the first empire, without protestation or revealing the source of their orders? In this case, the subjects of the blackmailed emperor are wholly unaware of the invisible hand of influence, over them, of another leadership and hierarchy entirely, which has no desire or agreement to uphold the interests of those subjects. They are ruled, but they know not whom they are ruled by, in actuality, or for what end purpose.
In a similar scenario, what if the emperor is hidden (as in a covert, intelligence community-run, secret government or via anonymous company ownership, to cite two examples); because the real emperor didn’t think he could command the consent of the people to rule, out in the open? What if his project was so repugnant to the ruled, that they would never accept it, but the emperor intends to see his project through, all the same. What if the real emperor remains obscure and the figurehead emperor, whom the people acknowledge as their leader, is a mere puppet doing the bidding of the real and hidden emperor, and that we, the ruled, are his prey and his enemy?
As unlikely and convoluted as these two example scenarios, given above, sound, there is plenty of historical precedent for both and arguably, contemporary politics actually works this way, though substantive evidence is much harder to unearth, due to the concerted efforts of supporters of the regimes to keep the games going. The point is, when people accept leadership and being led, their assumptions about who leads them, for what purpose and that their leadership will act in the best interests of those ruled, is and has been demonstrably false on numerous occasions, throughout history.
You can easily find yourself in a company that exhorts you to innovate, for example, while the executive team is busy inflating the value of their company’s shares, by various creative ruses, so that they can cash out at the earliest opportunity. Employees of the company may be faithfully engineering a world-beating product, as directed, while their managers are fervently engineering a liquidity event, behind their backs. One set of people is busy creating real value, while another set of people is working out how to co-opt that value and make it their own. The employees may think that the company they work for has one shared mission and set of values, whereas their managers are secretly following a completely different agenda, for their own benefit, disregarding the fate or earnings of their loyal employees.
This leads us to an important question. Could any empire work without the artisans, artists and creative people to make it work? Would the empire be viable without the creative talents applied, to make the propaganda, to convince other members of the empire to make it work? I don’t think it would. I think that empires, of any size and scope, require the complicity of their most creative members, in order for the emperor to achieve his goals, whatever they are, irrespective of what they are stated to be. If emperors have their way, in any empire, it is because the creative people in that empire empower them. Odd, then, that the emperors so frequently take steps to stifle the very creativity that sustains their power, in order to maintain the illusion of control. Yet, they do.
What if the most powerful and wealthy in an empire, the elite, decided they wanted to stifle dissent by cutting dissenters off from the Internet, or other similar means of group communication and idea dissemination? Could the Internet be controlled by the elite alone? Do they have the technical skills? Could this elite still control who is permitted onto the Internet and who is not, if the technologists that created and maintained it, who the elite think they control by drip feeding them small amounts of money in the form of a salary, decided, instead, to act for humanity, rather than on behalf of wealth and power? Don’t the creative people that actually build and run the Internet have the ultimate say and don’t they actually wield the power to topple the elite, their leaders and the existing hierarchical order, through their control of the technology, if only they were to realise where true power really lies – in the united masses? Couldn’t the technologists be rewarded in real wealth, as produced by the masses, such as with food, shelter, a sense of belonging and the adoration of grateful, liberated people, rather than with essentially valueless paper money, which only works while the regime that issues it remains in power? Of course, that would require that technologists held an idea of a better, alternative way of existing, which many of them show not the least interest in exploring. They’re content enough, while the hierarchy throws them a few crumbs in order to uphold the structure and preserve and protect the power of the elite.
Preservation and protection foot soldiers are how all leaders maintain their authority and the social structure they sit astride. Would empires be sustainable, at all scales, if we banned private security? Would even national governments stand, if private security and black ops contractors were outlawed? Would there be any police and militia to enforce the diktats (or “laws”) of the rulers, if the job was seen as so traitorous and unworthy, in the eyes of the masses, that people were repulsed by the idea of even considering joining. Of course, that would require that these recruits who, today, see their role as noble and heroic defender of the people, were instead to understand that they actually serve as puppets of capricious leaders, ordered to attack and offend the populace, in cowardly acts of self-serving regime preservation and protection.
The population, too, would have to abandon the myth of heroic defenders and lose their lust for controlling and constraining the freedom of other people, who we call our enemies, in order for an idea like this to take root. While we individually crave the power of government to violently coerce and force other people to act according to our own peculiar preferences and values, there will be soldiers and policemen, who can be readily diverted, co-opted and abused by leaders, and who will willingly obey orders to attack and oppress those we think they are there to serve and protect.
Their justification for their treachery, against the ordinary person in society, is always that they were “just doing their job” and “just following orders”. Well, why was there such a job at all? Whose orders did they really uphold? Was it to maintain law and order, or merely to shore up illegitimate power and privilege? Was it a cause worth upholding? In short, did they remain loyal to the people or to their pay check? These thoughts never enter their heads. The inability to think for themselves and take responsibility for what are, patently, their own actions is, in fact, a selection criterion for the role. Blind obedience is a job requirement.
We think of this opting out of matters of conscience and the abandonment of basic human decency as “discipline” and we’re all in favour of it. We endorse and encourage it. Our sons will blithely commit murder on command, rather than question why, provided they are in uniform. They will readily beat the brains out of dissenters with heavy, wooden batons, rather than attempt to understand the alternative ideas being proposed. Our children are lined up in rows at school, required to wear uniforms, regimented by inflexible timetables and their daily movements conditioned by Pavlovian, time-synchronised bells, so that they might adopt this brain-dead tendency toward unquestioning obedience, as part of what we consider to be a sound upbringing.
They are never taught to think critically, to challenge orders that offend common decency or to question the random pronouncements of venal, self-interested leaders. Creative thinking is frowned up. We discourage curiosity, intellectual exploration, independent thought and the examination of unorthodox ideas. Our children’s creativity is systematically, surgically removed from them, making concessions only to those whose creative talents serve to prolong the empire and its ideals. We think that all of this is a good idea. No matter who we elect, we vote for this. We think it will preserve our empire. We think the empire serves our interests well, when even that thought may be easily demolished by the available evidence to the contrary, if only we cared to consider it. But we don’t consider it. We steadfastly, chauvinistically, stubbornly ignore it. Our empire is our religion.
Would empires stand if the emperors and leaders couldn’t hide themselves away from the people they rule, behind gated walls, or in executive suites? If everybody knew their names and where they lived, what times they were at home and how to access them, whenever it was important to do so, could these leaders rule so heartlessly and capriciously? Perhaps they are thick skinned and lacking in empathy to a sufficient degree that this level of direct accountability would not trouble them, or divert them from their subversion of the system they command. I would like to think that the remnants of their humanity would cause them to at least pause for thought, if held directly accountable to people whose faces they could see in front of them and whose hands could reach out and hold them tightly around their throats, if need be. Of course, I may be wrong in that.
Would empires continue to work if we didn’t offer our uncritical fealty, deference, respect and obedience to the idealised, mythical role the leader occupies, as opposed to judging him on his merits as a human being? Empires are very fragile things, based as they are on ideas alone. An empire can only work because of fear of it vanishing, fear used as a tool of coercion and fear of being in the “out” group, rather than the “in” group. Empires rely on inequalities and a desire, by those ruled, to limit change. Subjects need to be change averse and status conscious. For any structure of a hierarchical nature to remain viable, there must be “out” groups – victims to blame for all the failings of the structure itself. Those ruled need to desire simplistic solutions, which appear to offer them closure, in response to complex issues. Ambiguity and subtle solutions cannot be tolerated. Widespread closed-mindedness is necessary to sustain an empire.
As members of an empire, no matter what its size and scope, we default to inaction; hoping things will turn out fine, even when we know they won’t. We’re happy to follow anybody that promises to fix things for us and we’re equally well aware that they won’t. We keep trying to reason with people above us in the hierarchy that are unreasonable, in the hope that they will start behaving reasonably, even though we really know that won’t happen either. We think our new allies, within our empire, will help us defeat our old enemies, outside of it, without ever realising that our new allies are actually our new enemies. We follow the leaders who tell us they will be winners and saviours, even though there is no evidence to believe in them and their hollow promises.
When we adhere to the idea of national government or a corporation, we know that growth can’t continue indefinitely and that enough is enough, but we doggedly adhere to a system of our choosing that absolutely requires it, in order to function at all. Hierarchy, order, injustice and inequity comfort the conservative mind, as does a lack of change. There is a bias toward aversion to change that is widespread in the human species. Oh sure, everybody is in favour of change if it is efficacious, but if nothing is ever tried, how do you ever know which changes are?
These tendencies are entirely at odds with fostering creativity. A desire to conform and preserve the status quo is anathema to the conditions required for creative thought and activity. The way we, as a population, behave, in order to preserve our empires, is what kills creativity. It’s how you do it. It’s no good asking for governments to support creativity, when the very idea of government is what constrains it. We are, as a society, organised to limit, rather than openly encourage, creativity.
Let’s suppose that all of us, within an empire, have been under attack for some time, but those that attack us are our leaders and elites, so they have a vested interest in keeping us unaware that we are under attack. How could such an attack take place and nobody know it? Well, the harm could be attributed to random “events”, beyond anybody’s control, to disguise the engineered, orchestrated nature of them, as one example. Brainwashing could be used to make you believe that the laws of physics, thought to be the same everywhere in the universe, don’t hold, where official explanations for local events are concerned. It may be that the introduction of carcinogens, invented bio-weapons and endocrine disruptors are all part of an orchestrated campaign of ecocide for profit, for example, with the aim of destroying our survivability and procreative prospects as human beings, so that there are fewer people to have to rule and share the community’s resources with.
This may be far-fetched, but the point is that it would be possible for an inside attack on the populace to take place and for nobody to know it even was an attack. Inconvenient dissenters could be gunned down and assassinated by covert, secret government operatives and the execution pinned on unstable, lone gunmen. Buildings could fall down in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world, defying the known laws of physics, while asserting that some rabid fanatics from a cave in a remote country, thousands of miles away, conducted the entire operation. We wouldn’t even suspect the upper echelons of the hierarchy as being the perpetrators because of our blind devotion to the idea of empire.
While holding that the operation was not too complex to conduct from a remote cave, we would, at the very same time, hold that the whole thing would be beyond the capability of the government and its agents to carry out, due to the complexity of it all. In the same breath that we assert a secret, criminal conspiracy by fanatics, involving dozens of players, we simultaneously claim that private, local agencies couldn’t have possibly brought about the destruction, because in a conspiracy that large, somebody would have been bound to talk and expose the plot before it could be enacted. We claim that aircraft were a necessary part of the scenario, so that the explosive and potent combination of jet fuel and aircraft aluminium would sufficiently weaken steel columns to bring down two skyscrapers, while insisting that an ordinary office furniture fire was potent enough to bring down a third. We’re not even consistent in our fictitious justifications. Our zealous drive to preserve our empire permits all manner of self-contradictory statements, in support of our chosen narrative. Above all, we must maintain the belief that our leader acts for us, not against us. That’s a given.
The fact is that the perpetrators could remain in the shadows and the cover up could be completed by the simple expedient of calling into doubt and ridicule any element of the truth revealed and branding the messenger a liar. Here is an example scenario where life-limiting harm could be done to the subjects of an empire, entirely enabled by their own belief that the empire exists to help them propagate and thrive. A mistake in thinking, such as this one, where the orthodox belief in the benevolence of the empire and its leaders is entirely misplaced, because the leaders and elite have turned upon the people, is a plausible possibility which can only be rejected on the grounds of another false belief: that they wouldn’t do that to us. Why wouldn’t they do that to us, if it furthered their own self interests? That’s not to say that it did happen this way; only that it could.
Extending our thought experiment just a little further, what if the latest incarnation of empire has the goal of leaving the elites as the only people remaining? Could they do that? Who would stop them? If narcissistic leaders are already characterised by a lack of empathy for the plight of the common man, by a feeling of superiority and entitlement and by coming to see human life as a commodity, why would this be inconsistent with such a goal? If narcissistic, psychopathically inclined leaders always want more for themselves, then why would they want to share the resources of the empire with more, rather than fewer people? What would be inconsistent about them seeking to feather their own nests, as the planet loses its ability to sustain life, rather than everybody else’s? Why do we insist on attributing altruism to the leaders of our empires, when we attract leaders that self-evidently have selfish egoism as their defining characteristic? What would such an elite cadre do, if they succeeded in leaving only the elites alive? Well, they wouldn’t stop there, would they? They’d have to subdivide even the elites left alive into “in” groups and “out” groups and cull again. There is no limit to their greed for more.
What happens when empires run out of enemies, such as when globalisation is complete, as it nearly is now? Who does the empire fight against, when the whole purpose of this way of organising human affairs was specifically to win resources for itself at the expense of other communities? Nation states, for example, always seem to need an external enemy to fight against, and lose their way and purpose when their enemy dissipates or collapses. The author, Morris Berman, notes that American was founded within a conceptual framework of being in opposition to something. At first, it was opposition to the British and the Native Americans. This framework of opposition has never really been abandoned. The nation state has no clear idea of what it is for, in a positive sense. This lack of a clear, positive mission generates a kind of national neurosis. American was in real trouble, when the Soviet Union collapsed, from the point of view of its identity. Suddenly, there was no enemy, until the attacks of 9/11 provided one. War is the empire’s drug of choice. Without an enemy, the nation state enters a kind of nervous breakdown mode.
Because we think our empires are there to permit unlimited human growth and propagation, to multiply our numbers, we have come to believe that bigger empires are better than smaller ones, but this isn’t true, once an empire gets beyond a certain size and scale.
I came across this interesting article about the scale and scope of competing empires:
I’ll see if I can condense and summarise the thrust of this article. There are a few things that are growing faster than anything else, in the modern day, and at an accelerating rate; corporations, databases, and storehouses of personal and institutional wealth. Once big empires, like these, grow beyond a certain size, they keep on getting bigger, due to a runaway, positive feedback effect. They reach a scale that threatens to overwhelm us all, our governments and the empires we think we belong to.
In other words, there are empires that grow faster than, and eclipse, our nation states and government empires. These empires act only in the interests of their own leaders and constituents, not ours. We are seen as belonging to “out” groups, from their point of view. They have declared us to be their enemies and so they wage war upon us, to forcibly take our resources from us, so that their own empires might continue to grow and propagate. Many of these rapid growth empires are in private hands, lead by people wholly unaccountable to the rest of humanity. They do not share a common purpose with us at all, or so they think. Here is a list of some of those dangerously large empires:
- Bigger Corporations – At large enough scale, corporations are big enough to buy off the leadership of governments and compel them to act in the corporations’ interests, rather than in the interests of the people that elected the government. They routinely challenge governments to trials of strength and defy the laws of a country. Being global, they can move their capital around the globe, unimpeded and avoid paying taxes, which fund much of the activity of national governments. CEOs and banking corporations can be more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy and more selfish than bureaucracy. They become the de-facto masters of the population, suppressing real wages, through their monopoly over employment and creating anti-competitive monopolies and hidden oligopolies that the public remain ignorant of, because the pattern of ownership can be concealed. They have become adept at transferring wealth from consumers and suppliers and accumulating it in their own coffers, mainly to pay inflated executive salaries and benefits. In short, they cannibalise value creation from the wider economy and siphon it into their own accounts.
- Bigger Banks – We’ve all heard the term, “Too big to fail”. Strangely, they’re never too big to bail (out). When a small number of private corporations, such as these larger banks, control the lion’s share of the nation’s (and, in fact, the globe’s) wealth, a toxic situation, ripe for corruption, is established. They have grown and grown their profits, even in the midst of the banking melt down, yet customers have not seen lower rates or reduced charges, as banks consolidate into larger entities, arguing “economies of scale”. Rather, the largest banks hold the populace to ransom, threatening to bring down the whole economy, if made to wear the consequences of their own mistakes and corruptions. They have also been strangely immune from prosecution, so far, despite numerous scandals and exposures of blatant market rigging and wrong doing. The largest banks have become bigger than the law. To whose jurisdiction is the World Bank ultimately accountable?
- Bigger Investors – Holding companies, hedge funds and private equity firms own more and more of the private sector economy. These mega-investors aren’t like the entrepreneurs and investors of the past, who put their money and backing into businesses they believed in and built them up, over the long term, to last. The new crop of big investors want immediate returns and push the executives in the companies they own, bought using highly leveraged funds to achieve hostile takeovers, to make the bottom line look as good as possible as quickly as possible. Invariably, this is achieved by cannibalising the assets of the company, sacrificing its long term viability, stripping assets, to make a fast-buck for these holding companies. Dividends and share buybacks are increasing, while investing in infrastructure and employees is decreasing. Customer and supplier relationships are even sacrificed, to extract value for shareholders. Companies are being hollowed out, rapidly, by these bigger investors.
- Bigger Charities – The philanthropic world is now dominated by a tiny number of big players. These foundations, which provide tax efficiencies for their benefactors, attract the lion’s share of donations, while smaller charities are less and less likely to receive funds. This concentration translates into smaller numbers of people making decisions about how the charitable funds are spent, making it likely that some exceptionally good causes are simply passed over. Some foundations use their funding clout to score propaganda points, substituting ideology for charity. They attract their donations using aggressive sales tactics and by suing other charities that use similar phrases or symbols (e.g. the word “cure” or the colour “pink”) in their fund raising campaigns. Charities of this scale sometimes abruptly defund previously supported works, seemingly for political reasons.
- Bigger Corporate Data – Companies are taking copious quantities of your data, or content you create for free and selling it for their own profit. Some big data vendors have this as their central business model. We are the objects of surveillance, by private interests, as never before. Even large databases are consolidating into just a few gigantic ones. Highly centralised databases leave businesses, economies and societies more vulnerable to disruptions caused by accidents, natural disasters, acts of terror and sabotage. There is now evidence that stock trading is taking place in dark pools, which are outside of the normal stock markets. Banks and service companies, whose data platforms provide this service, have been “front-running” trades, using customer information from their data systems to enrich themselves. In other words, they execute orders on a security for their own account while taking advantage of advance knowledge of pending orders from its customers. News organisations are also entering the data selling business, offering subscribers to their premium services access to key economic reports, two seconds before they’re released to the public. In a high-speed computerised trading environment, two seconds is a lot of time in which to use that advance information to gain advantage. Big data corporations are typically valued well in excess of what their actual revenues would suggest, because in a world that believes that bigger empires ultimately prevail, the power and value of comprehensive data is thought to be immense. Your privacy is being exploited aggressively. The dangers of placing so much sensitive data into private hands, whose primary interest is in monetising that information for profit, are manifold and obvious.
- Bigger Government Data – Big Data has already created a national security and surveillance apparatus of staggering proportions, previously only imagined in dystopian science fiction, now made real. Inference algorithms are notoriously stupid, insensitive and lacking in nuance, yet these are now characterising the motivations and intentions of citizens on an industrial scale. We are entering an era where mistaken or falsified data about people is taken as gospel truth and lives may be devastated based on computer generated inferences from a large data set. The overlap between corporate big data and government big data has blurred, with Amazon having been contracted to create the CIA’s half trillion dollar private cloud. When empires merge, whose interests do they really serve and are members of each of the empires part of the “in” group, or are they in the “out” group? With so little transparency and accountability, how can anybody know? For what purpose is all this data being gathered and analysed? We don’t know. Information that hints at combining blanket citizen profiling with weather modification initiatives indicate that the end game may be to target localised, adverse weather events at those deemed to be a threat or enemy. Enemy of whom? Threat to what? Far-fetched? Fragmentary evidence indicates serious intention. We already have proof that at least one national security “fusion centre” (data aggregation warehouse) strayed from its anti-terrorism remit and targeted citizens conducting peaceful protests. Money, data and influence can intersect in unexpected and harmful ways and we are left in the dark about who ultimately pulls the strings, what their motivations are and whether or not we are considered friend or foe. To say that big government data is Orwellian is to underestimate and understate the scope and threat of this development. The darkest dreams of Big Brother have already been surpassed.
- Bigger Cronyism – Another name for this is “big corruption”. As institutions and databases become larger, accumulating more information about the citizenry of the planet, the temptations of power and the ease with which it can be abused, by those close to the usually self-appointed emperors, become irresistible. There already exists a revolving door between government and private concerns, where the same people move from one job to another, all the while serving a master and ideology different to the apparent leadership and mission of the empire they join. Ex prime ministers and presidents become board members of private equity firms or consultants to private interests, whereupon they enrich themselves on the basis of insider knowledge, given to them, in trust, when they were our leader. They carry out their own agendas, for who knows whom, all the while appearing to uphold the common values and mission of the government or agency they work for. These people are cuckolds. They are traitors in our midst, yet they enjoy the protection of larger empires than our national governments. Former Secretary of State and presidential contender, Hillary Clinton, served on the board of directors of Wal-Mart. To whom does she pledge her primary allegiance? It’s not clear.
- Bigger Covert Agencies – We have a gigantic national security and intelligence apparatus, the largest in history, that works in total secrecy and whose accountability to the citizens of nations is virtually zero. Even when brought out into the cold light of day, to answer for crimes and irregularities, the exchanges are characterised by obfuscation, redaction, outright denial, destruction of evidence, and a total lack of transparency. We don’t know what they’re up to and yet they absorb resources, like some dead economic weight, far out of proportion to the actual threats to national security that we face. Their justification for the covert nature of their operations is that to reveal the facts to the citizenry would be to damage their national security protection capabilities, yet there are well documented cases of illicit activity, involving assassinations, murder squads, drug and gun running, manipulation of markets and foreign governments, political coup d’états and all manner of unsavoury activities. Again, they have become too big to challenge or control. They are, in effect, way out of control. This is an empire that answers to nobody that can easily toy with the empire we call government. We rarely even know who the ultimate emperor is.
It’s an unfortunate aspect of the kinds of leaders that we choose in our empires that big power often follows big money. The power afforded to a leader, by the votes and support of the citizens of an empire, is as nothing, compared to the temptations for personal enrichment, on a lavish and opulent scale. Big wealth displaces all the fine words and promises made, in order to secure power. In the process, who speaks for and protects the individual citizens of a country? Nobody. There is a vacuum at the top, where our leader ought to be and yet the citizens still act as if the leader will save us all, and as if the edifice we call “our government” functions according to our idealistic imaginations, rather than as it actually does in reality.
It is clear that our traditional understanding of empires is way out of date and that we need a new system of checks and balances. Bigger needs to be tempered by fairer and top down control needs to be replaced by lateral decision-making, perhaps via direct democracy, where citizens are engaged and consulted on the decisions made. A centralised financial, corporate and government complex must never replace the smaller, more local and more humane systems of democracy, small business, free enterprise and creative endeavour. Yet, it already has. The globalists have already won and the rest of us are mere collateral damage. How this will ever be unwound, if that is even possible in the face of such goliaths, is unclear.
Each one of these new, big empires has drawn its strength from an erosion of our individual liberties, freedoms and rights. That’s the fuel that drives their growth. Shadowy interests are enriched at our general expense. Our degrees of freedom to think creatively and to create new and better forms of organisation, or products in opposition to the current incumbents, or even to spread ideas and media products that disagree with the orthodoxy, endorsed by the emperors of these new empires, is severely compromised. You simply cannot. The plucky, lone gunslinger with a great idea that he wants to bring to the world is no match for these behemoths, which are capable of crushing him and his great new idea, before he even gets started. Dissent is controlled out of the equation, by organisations that are too large to challenge. These are the engines of creativity destruction.
Perhaps the solution is to clip the emperors’ wings. It might be that we need to stop honouring and recognising their authority over us and stop pretending there is something magical and special about our leaders. Maybe the elites need to be divided and ruled, or better yet – divided and not ruled, because ruling them would simply be supplanting an old hierarchy with a new one.
The conclusion is inescapable. The emperor is an oppressor. This applies to any empire you care to choose, at any scale. The emperor also has no legitimacy to rule. He’s no different to the rest of us. In many cases, he is a psychologically damaged individual and therefore an unstable leader, due to his background and narcissism. He may be the worst possible human being for the role of leadership.
The least we can do is to demand transparency. You can do this, for example, by abandoning the idea that you need national security against other nations. No you don’t. You need security against these other overgrown empires, which are not nation states. They are a far bigger threat than the so-called terrorists and reigning in the power of these new, bigger empires may actually serve to satisfy those with terrorist sentiments that justice is finally being done. The end of oppression will require an overhaul of many more of our modern day empires than simple national governments. The biggest ones have already been enumerated above.
These empires maintain their hold over us by spinning us the illusion that they are “giving” us something of value, when all they are really doing is gate-keeping the exchange of your own value, which you created, with somebody else’s value, that they created. The gatekeeper, like a protection racket Mafiosi, provides nothing for the money we pay them, other than the promise to not prevent the trade, if you pay their interest rates. It’s a con. Their contribution to every exchange adds no value whatsoever, yet they extract value from every transaction. They are a drain on us.
Far from giving us anything, what they really do is take from us. Banks don’t give you a loan, they take a considerable slice of your labour for the privilege of letting you own something you would have had to work to create the value to own anyway, only now you have to create more value, to also pay the bank for letting you proceed with the transaction. All the bank did was to allow the transaction to take place, instead of stepping in and preventing it. Other ways of making that transaction, without a bank and an interest charge, are readily available, but are suppressed by the immense power of banks and bankers, so that their shell game can continue.
How do our financial services organisations and empires behave? Do they adhere to the highest standards of carefully considered wisdom, caution, ethics, trustworthiness and probity, as per their public relations, or do they act in a different way entirely? For some discussion on how banks, bankers and financiers behave, with the power they wield and whether or not these banking empires benefit the ordinary citizen, permitting them to thrive, follow this link:
A summary of this article is as follows:
- Currency markets are rigged.
- Gold and silver prices are rigged.
- Derivatives are manipulated
- Interest rates are manipulated
- Energy prices are manipulated
- Oil prices are manipulated
- Commodities are manipulated
- Everything (stocks, bonds, options, currencies, commodities) can be manipulated through high-frequency trading
- Numerous markets are manipulated in myriad ways (through fraud, intimidation, front running, fees, charges, cheating, wash trades, Ponzi schemes, cooking their books, bribing)
The price of just about everything you need to survive and every kind of investment you might make is artificially and illicitly inflated. Even the interest rates and service charges for the money you borrow, in order to survive, are fixed in their favour and subject to change on a whim. Governments are cheated as often and openly as ordinary customers.
Big banks will keep manipulating prices and markets until their emperors, their executives, are thrown in jail for fraud. The empire is rigged to allow the big banks to commit continuous and massive fraud, paying only small fines periodically, as a token gesture. They factor these fines into their business model, as a cost of doing business. Their customers ultimately pay the fines anyway. It’s simply added to the interest rates they pay and their service charges.
If the banking empire has the government empire in its control, as appears to be the case, then instead of arresting and jailing executives for fraud, the government instead goes easy on big banks, settles prosecutions for pennies on the dollar of their ill-gotten gains and doesn’t force banks to admit any guilt as part of their settlements. Wall Street and the City of London have manipulated virtually every market, both in the financial sector and the real economy, where people live and try to create value. They’ve also broken virtually every law on the books. This will continue while the hierarchy we support, the government, is in thrall to a private hierarchy, finance.
The criminality and blatant manipulation will grow, spread and metastasize, taking over and killing off more and more of the real, value creating, economy, like an out of control leech with an insatiable appetite, which can eat us all. This empire consumes creative capacity and returns nothing of real and lasting value. It’s possible that the banking empire, itself, will suck up such vast concentrations of value and wealth, that there will be nothing left to buy, with all that money, in the real economy. This monster is capable of destroying all creativity and value creation activities, so that there is nothing at all left to purchase.
The behaviour of these financial and banking empires kills creativity for the simple reason that those who create are constantly burdened by the criminality and manipulation of the money system, yet locked into an economy that demands one earns and has money to even exist, let alone create. We’re so preoccupied with survival and distracted taking care of business that the time, space and peace of mind we need to create always seems ever so slightly out of our reach. If the choice is between allowing us to spend time creating value, for our own benefit or for the general benefit of humanity as a whole, versus working to pay interest charges on debt and to pay higher prices for everything, in order to enrich parasitic bankers and financiers, whose powerful empires are capable of changing our laws to suit themselves and co-opting our governments and our legal system to keep our noses to that particular grindstone, which do you think the financial emperors choose? What is to stop them imposing that choice? This is one of the biggest reasons why artists are starving.
We’re being hunted by our own leaders and the leaders of these new, big empires. This causes us chronic stress, which ultimately kills us prematurely. We’re not designed, physiologically or psychologically, to be in a state of “fight or flight” permanently. None of this is conducive to breeding and flourishing, as a community. In fact, it’s anathema to those goals. While we’re in that state, we’re hardly likely to create.
Hierarchy has run its course. Empires no longer work for their original purpose. We do not thrive by having them, so we should stop creating and upholding them.
There will be no revolution until we can think our way out of our constraints and assumptions. That’s going to be hard to achieve, since the empires we’ve built totally crush creativity. Thinking our way out of this mess of malevolent empires may no longer be an available option.
Domination and Control
At the core of every hierarchy, every desire to lead and the common need to be lead by some social construct that can carry more weight and influence than we can, as individuals, is the primitive desire to dominate and control. This emotional drive has its origins in the survival instinct. Organisms, such as humans, face many adverse situations over which we must prevail, to survive and thrive. When our power increases, it’s no longer enough just to get by. We want to conquer and vanquish all competition and all aspects of our environment.
You might say that the need to dominate and control is like the survival instinct and the urge to multiply, but drunk on power. We learn to coerce others and our world. We go beyond simply surviving and propagating, to a lust for not only winning, but ensuring our adversary loses. We don’t want it to simply submit to our will, we wish to crush it, so that it can never challenge us ever again.
Our appetite for domination and our hunger and compulsion to prevail leads to insisting that others become subservient to us. We require their submission. We want to own them. Thus, hierarchies are born.
Companies are hierarchical in nature simply because the founders wish to dominate and control; not only markets and competitors, but also the people that work to make what the company offers. It’s a control freak’s playground. Anybody that challenges the authority of the company’s leadership will find themselves sanctioned, punished or removed. There is a strict pecking order, whose maintenance is vital for the owners of the company to remain the principal beneficiaries of the company’s earnings. In effect, those that really create the value are intimidated out of their claims for proportional recompense for their role in company value creation, so that those higher up, in the hierarchy, are able to disproportionately benefit, relative to the value of their individual contributions to the success of the company. This is why CEO salaries are growing to be increasingly outrageous and unjustifiable multiples of the average salaries, within the companies they preside over.
The art world is riddled with similar iniquitous inequities and pecking orders. Even art classes have a sort of hierarchy within them too. Artists are not immune to the lust for hierarchy.
If you happen to be somebody that questions the power of the hierarchy that confronts you, your choices are pretty stark. Do you opt for compliance or open defiance? What if all you want is alliance? Sadly, you are forced to take a position on one of the polar opposite positions.
Your existence reduces to a series of rewards and punishments, depending on whether you conform or rebel. You are subject to random and arbitrary inclusions and exclusions. In some hierarchies, you are required to be submissive; in others you must be dominant. To some people, being ruler feels not better than being ruled. If you have genuine human empathy, the idea of having to spend your days controlling other people doesn’t really appeal.
Ultimately, though, you need to choose whether you want to live on your knees, in subservience and diffidence to your leaders, or alternatively, stand on your own two feet and live a life of self-confidence and independence. Breaking out of all the hierarchies that bind you is exceedingly difficult, when they are so ubiquitous, there are so many of them and such a common feature of life, that you stop noticing them and your place within them.
It’s important to ask if pecking orders are necessary. Hierarchies are rarely (if ever) legitimate, because the leaders, and the values and ideas they embody, are objectively no better or worse than anybody else or their values and ideas. There is no selection, by God, of one superior leader or system over another. When placed under close scrutiny, the most self-deluded leader, with a superiority and entitlement complex, is easily and demonstrably shown to be average, if that.
Can we live without a pecking order? Are we able, as a species, to snap out of the ubiquitous conditioning, now millennia old, which has utterly convinced us that there is no alternative to joining a hierarchy, to get ahead? Can we opt out of hierarchies? Is getting a job and playing our designated part in the corporate hierarchy really the only possibility for our lives? Must we exist in constant competition to command and control, dominating and conquering, or are there other ways to successfully thrive, as an organism?
Hierarchies are very cleverly run. Small rewards are granted, by the leaders and elites in the hierarchy, to keep the rest happy and passive. Having purpose and meaning, in life, is traded cheaply for crumbs, trinkets and gimmicks. It amazes me just how cheaply people will exchange their sense of purpose and meaning, in order to get a few, new, shiny objects, or prevent being seen as a member of the “out” group.
Debt and consumer credit serve as tools of constraint and control. Our sense of obligation and honour to repay these debts, as if they deprived the lender of something they could have otherwise spent on something else, compels us to work hard, five days a week, for forty years, to repay something that came into existence only with the stroke of a banker’s pen, or as a number in a computer. Nobody’s deposits were touched to make a loan to us. There was no opportunity cost, to the lender. The money didn’t even exist, until the moment we pledged to repay it with interest! Despite these shackles of debt repayment obligation, we still believe the rhetoric that we’re free. No we’re not.
We’re constantly monitored, influenced and nudged toward “desirable” behaviours by those at the top of the hierarchy. Our thoughts and opinions are created for us, homogenised and packaged, by the mainstream media, which drip feeds them into our brains. Freedom is a meaningless term when we are controlled by saturation manipulation, the whole time. Markets and prices are not the only thing that is rigged and manipulated. People are too.
Whereas hierarchies were once, in pre-history, supposed to benefit all members of the hierarchy, differentially to be sure, but with nobody left behind, they have come to benefit only the self-appointed elites who declare themselves to be in charge (i.e. at the top of the hierarchy). It makes them very rich, while everybody else stays (or becomes) very poor. Hierarchies, as societal organisations, have failed to help the majority thrive for perhaps hundreds, if not thousands, of years. This is not a new phenomenon.
Straighteners and correctors, who tend to rise to the upper levels, in any hierarchy, believe in the rectitude of their own imagined utopia, in which they are in charge and everybody else submits to their will. A managed utopia is not a utopia; it’s a dystopia. We could be living in what historian, sociologist and philosopher, Lewis Mumford described as hell.
To illustrate just how hard it is to break out of a hierarchy and the hierarchical way of thinking, Karl Marx once theorised that, once workers came together, in large factories, they would realise that they were the value creators, who really owned the means of production and that they would therefore unite, rise up and overthrow their oppressors, the owners and managers of the factory, who were mere parasites on the backs of these workers, profiting from their creativity, but returning only subsistence wages. What Marx didn’t factor into his theory was that factories were organised and run along strictly hierarchical lines, where deference to management was assumed and expected. The hierarchical way of thinking was so deeply embedded in each worker’s consciousness, because they spent every waking second inside the hierarchy that they become more passive and accepting of their oppression, rather than incensed or enraged by it. Far from encouraging the workers to become a united revolutionary force, this arrangement had no potential for revolution against the oppressors, because each worker believed, fervently and whole-heartedly, in the existing pecking order. Hierarchical thinking was their default mode of thinking about collective working. A flatter, more equitable structure was an unthinkable thought.
So much of our rebellion reduces to changing the leaders, but leaving the hierarchical structure in place. We think that the problem was the leader and his failings, not the structure that brought him to prominence and power and then maintained him in that position. Our default action is to constantly tinker with the structure’s leaders, rather than considering dismantling it entirely and doing something else.
Can creativity be ordered and controlled; commanded and demanded? Not really. That isn’t how creativity works. When you have a group of people, at the top of a hierarchy, demanding those lower in the hierarchy create, you usually get something lacking in creativity. After all, they’ve been conditioned to look to their leaders for direction and here their leaders are telling them to find their own way. Creativity just doesn’t happen under these circumstances. You cannot double creativity by doubling the rewards for creating, for example.
Since the 1960s, two contrasting schools of thought have emerged about human motivations. On the one hand, there are those that believe human fulfilment requires that human beings exist in a state of freedom and dignity, so that they can pursue their creative impulses, unimpeded, leading to the best outcomes for the individual and for society as a whole. The opposing school of thought is that human beings are organisms that require constant monitoring, management and supervision, rewarded when they do what is desired, to make them happy and punished when they act independently of these goals. In this world view, humans are infinitely malleable and concepts of freedom and dignity depend only on the history of each individual’s behavioural reinforcements. The second school of thought appeals much more to those that lead hierarchies, because it accepts that there are leaders, with an entitlement to control others, who have no moral compunction to do anything other than reinforce and discourage behaviours in their underlings. This is a far more convenient construct, if your goal is to maintain power and control, in a hierarchy (or empire).
An experimental psychologist, B.F. Skinner, came to prominence in the 1960s as a proponent of the domination and control school of thought. He outlined a new way of controlling and ordering people. He held that it was no longer possible to tell people what to do. In an age of individualism and mass democracy, people won’t accept orders like that, any longer. Instead, he taught, you have to reward them for behaving in ways you want them to. You make them happy and they feel they are in control, because by doing something, they get the reward. This, of course, is an illusory sort of feeling of self determination. The people receiving the rewards are being manipulated, but the rewards are designed to keep them unaware of the fact.
Skinner, in promoting his ideas, conducted an experiment in a mental hospital in San Bernardino, California. The patients were given rewards, in the form of plastic fake money, if they exhibited what the doctors considered to be the right social behaviour. That money was useful, at meal times, to buy their way onto a “nice” table, with tablecloth and flowers. Those without rewards to spend had to eat in less elegant conditions. What emerged from the experiment was a new, ordered hierarchy, created by the system of reward, but one where patients don’t feel controlled. Instead, they feel empowered, because it was through their actions that they received the reward. Skinner saw this as a model for how to run a future society.
Fast forward to the 1980s, to the ascendancy of the neo-liberal right and the free market ideology they brought with them, to see the origins of the society we live in today. What we have, today, is far closer to a system managed by a technocratic elite, who have no real interest in politics, but rather in creating a system of rewards that both keeps us passive and happy and which also makes the elite a lot of money. In the mid 1980s, the new networks of computers allowed everyone to borrow money to fund lifestyle consumerism, creating a system of social management almost indistinguishable from Skinner’s conception. Just like the mental hospital experiment, we are all given fake money in the form of credit, which we can then use to get rewards, which keep us happy and passive. Those same technologies that feed us the fake money can also be used to monitor our behaviour in extraordinarily fine-grained detail. That information is used to nudge us gently towards the right rewards and the right behaviours. If we transgress and fail to do what we should, we can be cut off from the rewards entirely.
Unfortunately for the behaviourists, the controlled masses may be getting restless. Not only has this system of rewards not worked properly since the financial crash of 2008, but the growing inequalities it creates are also becoming too obvious and too great. The elite have overplayed their hand and the masses, passive or not, are starting to notice.
An alternative way of living, the vision put forward by sociologists and philosophers Lewis Mumford and later, by Morris Bookchin, who elaborated further on Mumford’s ideas, seems more attractive. Mumford criticised the behaviourist vision, saying that a managed utopia turns people into sleepwalkers. He regarded Skinner’s utopia as the most dangerous of all systems of compulsions, because although people were actually living in a kind of hell, manipulated at every moment, they wouldn’t realise they were there and would still imagine they were in heaven. Such a system of domination and control would not be conducive to independent thought or to creativity. People would, instead, enjoy their captivity, in blissful ignorance of their plight, unconcerned and unaware of what they had sacrificed, in order to receive the sugar coated rewards they literally lived for.
Mumford’s alternative, eloquently described by him, is a system of direct democracy, where we were all awake and genuinely empowered, able to take part properly in deciding our destiny, unconstrained by hierarchy of compulsion.
The Triumph of Behaviourism
The following article, on the link below, gives a good account of how behaviourism came to triumph and dominate our current society, thereby killing creativity:
Skinner was an authoritarian. He was fascinated by having total control of a living organism and didn’t, for one second, question his fitness or legitimacy for the role of controller. The corporatisation of society, a favourite idea of neo-liberals, who have more or less been running the global economy for the past four decades, requires a population that accepts control by authorities, so it was little wonder that Skinner’s ideas, providing techniques that could control people, were enthusiastically embraced by corporatists. He argued that freedom and dignity are illusions that hinder the science of behaviour modification, which he claimed could create a better-organised and happier society, as if those were the paramount goals of humanity. Efficiency and happiness were provided, at the expense of living a life with meaning and purpose, which perhaps meandered a little on its way to finding itself. Organisation prevented mistakes, which were thought to be wasteful (hence, inefficient), whereas creativity requires the courage and freedom to get things wrong, learn from it and try again.
To anti-authoritarians, such as Mumford and linguistics luminary Noam Chomsky, Skinner’s world view, consisting of a society ruled by benevolent control freaks, was antithetical to democracy. It could also, in no way, guarantee benevolent authoritarianism, but would leave the populace with no democratic recourse to remove the offending tyrant. Skinner, expressing his thoughts through the behaviourist hero in one of his novels, states, “We do not take history seriously.” Mumford retorted. “And no wonder: if man knew no history, the Skinners would govern the world, as Skinner himself has modestly proposed in his behaviourist utopia.” At the height of this debate, psychologies remained silent about the political ramifications of Skinner and his behaviour modification ideas.
Anti-authoritarians try their best to resist behaviour modification. If rewarded, for “pro-social” behaviour, they will contemptuously give the reward to somebody else, at random, to assert their independence from the insulting and demeaning calculus of, “if you do this, you will get that”. Their dignity requires that they be credited with more intelligence than a lab rat, trained to hit the reward button at the sound of a bell. Is it any wonder that the medical establishment’s default response to depression or long term stress is to zombify the patient, with brain altering medications, to passivate and control them, justifying their treatment on the basis of making the patient “happy”? Increasingly, we have come to understand that such a course of action solves nothing, often exacerbates the conditions that lead to the depression and results in people who might appear to be superficially happy, but who long to be genuinely, deeply happy, connected to loving and supportive human beings, in attentive relationships and living their life with purpose and meaning.
In fact, the anger and rage at being chemically-coshed, for the convenience of the medical profession, frequently boils over, with the patient erupting in a frightening display of sudden, unexpected, extreme violence. For all their pharmacologically-induced “happiness”, they know, deep in their psyche, that they have been prevented from having the alertness and denied the clarity of thinking needed to address and solve their underlying problems effectively. This sudden, violent outburst of anger is listed as a common “side effect” of such medications. Look it up.
Anti-authoritarians, who resist and rebel against behaviourists, are not beyond freedom and dignity. Those, who don’t take the rewards and punishments of control-freak authorities seriously, deprive authoritarian leaders and their ideologies, such as behaviour modification, from total domination.
The thing about behaviour modification is that it excites authoritarians. Emperors of self-created empires love the idea of “operant conditioning”, where people exhibit a Pavlovian response to a stimulus. It’s why advertisers, acting on behalf of corporate empires and their emperors, will feature a scantily clad, attractive woman in ads for some crappy, industrially produced beer, to condition men to sexually salivate at the sight of the brand label and buy the beer. They insult our intelligence and hold us in contempt by this very message.
Operant conditioning is a world of constant “positive reinforcements”- rewards, like money. The removal of rewards is a “negative reinforcement”. Punishments, such as electric shocks, are labelled as what they are – “punishments”. Operant conditioning universally pervades the classroom, workplace and mental health treatment. Skinner was influenced by John B. Watson, who in his 1924 book on Behaviourism, advocated mechanical, rigid, affectionless child rearing. It was his assertion that he could take any healthy infant and, given complete control of the infant’s environment and upbringing, train him for any profession, as if this was a desirable goal and the loss of autonomy, for the infant, of no consequence. When Watson was in his early forties, he quit academia and began a new career in advertising, at J. Walter Thompson.
This switch in careers tells us that behaviourism and consumerism are two ideologies that are very closely related. They both achieved tremendous power in the twentieth century. The student, worker and voter are all seen, by these two ideologies, in the same way – as passive, malleable, conditionable objects. Advertising addresses us in precisely this way.
Those who rise to power in the corporatocracy (or any of the many other empires we have previously discussed) are control freaks, often lacking in empathy, narcissistic and exhibiting psychopathic tendencies to varying degrees. They are positively addicted to the feeling of being in charge and of having power over other human beings. It’s not surprising that such “authorities” have become so enamoured with and excited by behaviour modification techniques.
However, copious research has revealed that behaviour modification works best on dependent, powerless, infantilised, bored and institutionalised people. People, whose life is worth living to the full, who create and have meaningful, purposeful lives, are less susceptible. Consequently, authorities who get their thrills from controlling others, have a perverse, terrifying incentive to construct a society that creates dependent, powerless, infantilised, bored and institutionalised people. And so they have.
We have become dependent on the entertainment media and rolling news channels for our intellectual stimulation, such that it is. We are encouraged to sign petitions and buy charity singles, rather than take direct, positive and powerful actions to change the situation in the world. We are told there is no alternative and that to fight against big empires is futile, so we feel powerless. The media constantly dumbs us down, infantilising us, through glorification of youth culture. We are easily distracted and easily bored, because our attention spans have been shattered into shards, by the constant onslaught of “information”, much of which is irrelevant, useless, pointless, puerile and pure distraction. We are shepherded into the world of work, where we are fully institutionalised, or otherwise institutionalised by our schooling, our dependency on government and so on. We have been transformed and shaped into precisely the sorts of people that behaviour modification will work successfully and effectively on. This is no accident.
The dirty secret of behaviour modification is that most of the successful applications of the technique have involved laboratory animals, children or institutionalised adults, where the subjects are necessarily dependent on powerful others for many of the things they want or need. As a consequence of their neediness, their behaviour can usually be shaped relatively easily. It appears that subjects need to be needy enough so that rewards reinforce the desired behaviour. This makes me think that the experimenters are being “gamed” by the subjects, as if they are thinking to themselves, “Ok, I can transparently see that you want me to do what you want me to do, which I would ordinarily resist, but given that I am currently needy, I’ll play along to get the reward.” If that is the thought, then what does their experimentation prove about behaviourism? Only that if you make people sufficiently desperate and dependent, they will perform tricks to get prizes?
It turns out that it is also easiest to condition people who dislike what they are doing. Rewards work best for those who are alienated from their work, which is why ADHD labelled kids perform as well as so-called “normals” on boring schoolwork, when paid to do it. Is that the kind of workforce and society that we want? A disengaged, bored cohort with little interest in what they are doing? Do we want them to actively detest making the products they are required to make, to earn their pay? How much creativity will that bring forth and what are the implications for product quality?
Conversely, rewards are least effective when people are doing something that isn’t boring and that they find interesting, engaging, purposeful and challenging. In other words, if they are allowed to do creative work, which captures their imagination and which they love to do, rewards lose their power. When the task is interesting enough for the subjects that the offer of incentives is a superfluous source of motivation, or when the solution to the task is open-ended enough that the steps leading to a solution are not mechanical or immediately obvious, then rewards fail to modify behaviour. Could this be why hierarchies design creative work out of their industrial processes, wherever possible and make them as repetitive and mechanical as it is possible to make them? If you let people create, the power that the elites hold over the ordinary members of an empire is diluted. Rewards and creativity stand in mutual opposition to each other. Consequently, a behaviourist regime, using hierarchy and rewards as a tool of control, is fundamentally anti-creative. Creativity is killed at source, to maintain dominance and control.
Rewards work best on simplistic and predictable tasks. More demanding tasks are avoided, when there are rewards for doing the simple and predictable. The bigger the reward, the easier the task that is chosen; while without rewards, human beings are more likely to accept a challenge. The conclusion is that rewards do nothing to encourage the accomplishment of stretch goals. If anything, they motivate people to work well within their comfort zones. Again, the behaviourist approach runs counter to the requirements of creativity. To be truly creative, you have to be willing to accept challenges and to step outside your zone of comfort. If rewards actually dissuade this behaviour, then they are creativity killers.
There is an insidious incentive for the control freaks, in society, our leaders of empires, such as psychologists, CEOs, politicians, teachers, advertisers, managers and other authorities, who use behaviour modification as their chosen tool of control, to make their subjects infantilised, dependent, alienated and bored. Rest assured, they put a lot of time, money and energy into ensuring that those conditions prevail. They do everything within their power to ensure it is so. Only when they have accomplished this, do they feel the “power buzz” that comes from controlling their subjects. If that isn’t a predator-prey relationship, I don’t know what is.
Behaviour modification, at its fundamental core, is a means of controlling people and hence, almost by definition, inimical to democracy, critical reasoning and the free exchange of ideas between equal peers. For creativity to flourish, on the other hand, there needs to be some levelling of the playing field, so that anybody’s idea gets considered. If you make it hard to come up with ideas, because you discourage critical reasoning and easy to squash an idea, because those higher in the hierarchy can readily discard and dismiss an idea brought forth from within the ranks of the hierarchy, you kill creativity stone dead. We’ve all been in brainstorming sessions where the flow of ideas volunteered from the assembly stops abruptly, because the boss contemptuously dismissed a novel suggestion from an employee, simply to exert their authority and superiority, rather than on the objective merits of the idea proposed.
For Skinner, it was an article of his faith that all behaviour is externally controlled. He held that we don’t truly have freedom and choice, seeing these intrinsic motivations as illusory phantoms. Of course, Skinner’s view of science was deeply unscientific, because he felt that science should be prohibited from examining internal states and intrinsic forces. If you ban investigation into the very thing that can disprove your theory, you can never be wrong, can you? What Skinner presented as science was nothing of the sort. In fact, his theories were little more than the collected prejudices of a man who sought to pass off his opinions as scientifically provable facts, without permitting scientific examination of his assertions. He was a model control freak.
In a democracy, citizens are free to think for themselves and explore. Indeed, they should be encouraged and taught how to do so, rather than deliberately discouraged and bamboozled, as they seem to be in modern democracies. Citizens in a democracy are motivated by very real, not phantom, intrinsic forces, including curiosity and a desire for justice, community and solidarity.
Behaviourism fails to account for the spontaneous of play, in infants, for example. Nobody modifies their behaviour with rewards and punishments until they pick up the Lego bricks and start building whatever they see in their imaginations. They just launch into it. That’s intrinsic motivation. Curiosity and joy drive the activity, not external forces.
Behaviourism would be an ignorable, semi-amusing, eccentric aberration in thinking, were it not for the harm it does. External controls can actually destroy the intrinsic forces of our humanity that are necessary for a democratic society. It has been shown, for example, that you can diminish young children’s intrinsic joy of drawing with Magic Markers by awarding them personalised certificates for colouring with a Magic Marker. Even a single, one-time reward for doing something enjoyable can take all the joy out of it and kill interest in it, for weeks. Yet, schools and businesses love to award the highest achievers with just such certificates, killing the person’s intrinsic joy and satisfaction with their activity, possibly forever.
Behaviour modification can also destroy our intrinsic desire for compassion, which is necessary for a democratic society. Children who are raised with rewards to motivate them are less co-operative and generous than their peers and less likely than other children to care and share at home. The kids become mercenary, focused only on obtaining the reward, to the exclusion of all other concerns. Why should they help somebody or do something that does not further their endeavour to get the reward? Anything not furthering their quest for rewards is ignorable and superfluous. To create ethical, caring adults, from children, they need a history of being cared about, taken seriously and respected. This gives them a model which they can replicate and reciprocate.
Today, the mental health profession has jettisoned its ethics, going way beyond behavioural modification technologies of control. It increasingly and routinely diagnoses non-compliant and non-conformant toddlers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder and paediatric bipolar disorder. They are controlled, not with rewards and punishments, but with heavily sedating drugs. Psychiatrists are assaulting these children’s very consciousnesses and experience of life and living. While Big Pharma makes a handsome profit from drug prescribing, the entire corporatocracy benefits from the legitimisation of conditioning and controlling. This is pure evil.
Some of the most potent tools of domination and control, in modern society, are the rewards and punishments associated with labour market flexibility. To quote Noam Chomsky, “Another factor is job insecurity, what economists like to call ‘flexibility in the labour markets”, which is a good thing under the reigning academic theology, but a pretty rotten thing for human beings, whose fate doesn’t enter into the calculations of sober thinking. Flexibility means you better work extra hours or else. There are no contracts and no rights. That’s flexibility. We’ve got to get rid of market rigidities. Economists can explain it.”
In the behaviourist universe, where hierarchies are constructed by systems of rewards and punishments, should I control you or should you control me? If we can’t agree between us, then who should we get to control us both and how can we remove them, if we don’t like their decisions concerning us? What would qualify somebody else to rule over us?
The alternative way of living, rather than being subject to the whims of authorities in self-designated positions of powers in their empires, is with dignity, freedom and respect, setting our own agendas according to our intrinsic motivations, gaining satisfaction through living a life with meaning and purpose. Instead of being infantilised and dependent, taking control of our lives, thereby creating and making something of ourselves, seems infinitely preferable and far less dangerous. Placing our fates in the hands of illegitimate, control freak emperors, of every stripe, exposes us to the risk that the idiot, who thinks he is entitled to be in charge, might do something so stupid and wrong, that it imperils the rest of us. I think it’s a better alternative to live outside of such hierarchies, as much as possible, and it thwarts the control freaks and psychopaths.
My wise old friend, Garner Clayton, said “It takes the joy out of life to spend so much time trying to get people to do what you want them to do. Only a control freak would enjoy it.” Could there be a more succinct indictment of the pathology of these dominating, controlling individuals?
The Cult of Government
We’ve been behaviourally conditioned to become unthinking, complacent drones, dependent, infantilised, bored and vacuous. Our governments and other empires have us exactly where they want us. We’re serving their interests and they don’t have to do much to serve ours. The sad fact is that we’re all complicit in our own enslavement and we don’t even recognise it as such. It is difficult to imagine in how many ways the world is upside down and the exact opposite of what you have been taught to believe.
Much of what follows, in this section, is a paraphrasing of a fictional speech by a character in a novel, written by Larken Rose, but it has a surprising resonance to real life.
We applaud the police officer as a good guy, when he drags a man away from his family and friends, destroying his work prospects forever and throwing him in prison for ten years, for the offence of smoking a leaf in the privacy of his own home, but see anybody that attempts to defend themselves against such barbaric fascism as the lowest form of life – a cop killer.
We support military personnel unconditionally, even the ones that spend their days in the safety of air conditioned control rooms, located in our own country, killing innocent children by remote controlled drone in countries far away, whose resources our corporations want to own.
It can be argued that a drug dealer is more virtuous than a government social worker and a prostitute has far less to be ashamed of than a bought and paid for political whore, because they trade only with what it rightfully theirs and only with those who want to trade with them. Their activities may be predatory on customers that want something that may not be good for them, which they are willing to supply, but that has to be compared to government social workers who have to power to take other people’s children, sometimes without any reasonable justification, or leave them in positions of peril, as the recent child abuse scandals in the UK amply demonstrate. We have to weigh up the activities of a person selling their body for sex against politicians who co-opt vast publicly-owned resources and sell them, for the benefit of the private individuals that paid to lobby them.
Our finest, most upstanding, church-going, law-abiding, taxpaying citizens, who vote for leaders of either political party offered to them, can act more despicably and are a bigger threat to humanity, than the most promiscuous, work-shy, drug-addled, unwashed hippie, because the hippie is willing to let others be free and the voter is not. The damage done to society by bad habits and loose morality is nothing compared to the carnage inflicted by the self-righteous violence, committed in the name of the state, through the brutal enforcement of its laws and through wars.
Most people believe themselves to be charitable and tolerant, because they say “please” and “thank you” and think upholding the edifice of the state makes them noble and righteous. They are nothing of the sort. Even the extermination-crazed and land-greedy Nazis had table manners and observed proper etiquette. The difference between the ordinary citizen and a common thief is that the thief has the honesty to commit the crime himself, while citizens demand that their government does their stealing for them, through military conquests, law enforcement, so-called free trade agreements and invasive, regressive taxes. A citizen differs from a street thug in that the street thug is open about the violence he commits, while citizens of a nation state let others forcibly control their neighbours on their behalf. We employ vast workforces to physically, emotionally and economically hurt other people, if they don’t do what we want them to do and insist the victims pay for their own oppression, through fines, the seizure of their assets and their taxes.
Through our support of our state hierarchy, we advocate and condone theft, harassment, assault and even murder, but accept no personal responsibility for doing so.
We authorise our governments to run up debts to private interests, to pay for the things we want our governments to provide now, saddling our children and grandchildren with the repayments and interest charges, when we could just as easily authorise that same government to instead issue sovereign money, underwritten by our gross domestic product. We all vote for whatever crook tells us the lies we want to hear, who promises to steal money from other people, most of who are not even born yet, to pay for what we want.
We demand that those people that engage in behaviours we don’t like and don’t approve of be dragged away, by force and locked up, but feel no guilt for the countless lives our whims have destroyed, not the least of which are the lives of innocent children and dependents of the people we require our government to prosecute. We even have the audacity to call the government thugs we vote for “our representatives” and yet we never take responsibility for the crimes and evil they commit. Do they represent us and our directives, or not?
We proudly, unconditionally and patriotically, without question, support the troops, who kill whomever the liars leading our government tell us are our enemies and we feel good about it, like no wrongs have ever been committed with our national resources and in our name. Do we ever check? Do we ever intercede to prevent wrongful murder?
People designate themselves as Christians or Jews, or claim to follow some other religion, or no religion at all, but the truth is what we call our religion or our committed beliefs are empty window dressing. What we truly worship, the deity we really bow to and what we really believe in is the State. We believe in our own chosen empire, our particular hierarchy, our leaders – our government.
Our religion and our moral codes tell us, “thou shalt not steal”, and, “thou shalt not murder”, but we think it’s fine and ok, if we can do it by way of government. If we call it “the interest due on government borrowing” or “war”, it stops being a sin, isn’t that right? If the State says it’s ok, then who is God to argue? The churches, synagogues and mosques around the nation are irrelevant. The nation has one God, only one God and the name of that God is “Government”. Most religions teach you to love your neighbour, but the state encourages you to vote for people who will use the violent capabilities of government to intrude into every aspect of everyone else’s life. Jesus taught that only he who is without sin should cast the first stone, but the state says it is perfectly acceptable to lock someone up, if they do something you find distasteful, such as prostitution. Our religious convictions are hypocritical.
The Christian God says, “Thou shalt not covet”, but coveting is the basis and lifeblood of the hierarchical, inequitable system of dominance and control – the beast that is the state. We’re taught to resent, despise and hate anyone who has anything we don’t have. It’s a message reinforced several times daily. We clamour for our state, our empire, to tear other people down, steal their property and resources, and give it to us and we call this fairness, rather than coveting and stealing.
Blind worship of government, we have to face it, makes us all members of the most evil, insane and destructive cult in history. People worship government with all their heart and soul, praying to it to solve every problem, to satisfy all their needs and to smite their enemies and shower its blessings upon them. Government is the coldest of all cold monsters, in the words of Nietzsche, and yet we all bow down to it. The greatest sin, in our eyes, is disobeying this deity. We call it “breaking the law”, as if anyone could possibly have any moral obligation whatsoever to obey the arbitrary commands and demands of the corrupt, lying, delusional, self-serving megalomaniacs who made those laws. We are taught, even by religious leaders, that human authority should supersede adherence to the laws of the Gods they say they believe in. We are taught the virtue of subjugating yourself to mortals who claim to have the right to rule you.
We speak of the liars and thieves that lead us with sickening reverence, even while their feet are so firmly planted on our necks. Judges and political representatives are called “honourable” and we swoon and fawn at the magnificence of the grandiose halls they inhabit, as if they are in some kind of cathedral to justice and wisdom. These are the temples they built to celebrate the domination and control of mankind.
We speak of Prime Ministers and Presidents as if we are referring to God Almighty. Our vocabulary has changed somewhat, but our mindset is no different from that of the grovelling peasants of the Middle Ages, who bowed low, faces in the dirt, with a feeling of humility and unworthiness, in the presence of whatever narcissist declared himself to be rightful lord and master. This human tendency pre-dates behavioural modification techniques, save for the crude grants of graces and favours handed out by Kings to their favourites. It is a very old flaw in humanity, as old as social hierarchies. The denied truth, then as now, is that these parasites who call themselves leaders are not superior beings, or great men and women. They’re not honourable or even average. They’re just ordinary, mortals with an inflated sense of their entitlement to control other people.
Those people that earn an honest living, creating real value with their hands and fertile intellects, deserve our respect, courtesy and civility. The frauds who claim the right to rule over us and demand our subservience and obedience, on the other hand, deserve only scorn and contempt. Those who seek high office are the lowest of the low. They might dress better and speak with larger vocabularies and may do a better job of planning out and executing their nefarious schemes, but they are no better than pick-pockets, muggers and car jackers.
Arguably, they’re worse, because they rob you not only of your possessions, but also your very humanity. They deprive you of your free will, by slowly leeching away your ability to judge, act, and think independently, reducing us all to slaves, in both mind and body. Yet we still persist in calling them leaders, as if we were all going to some place, together, that would require us to have a leader. If you were living your own life, minding your own business, exercising your own talents, pursuing your own dreams, and striving to become what you believe you should become, what possible need or use would you have for a leader?
We’ve stopped thinking about the words we actually hear and repeat. We parrot oxymoronic terms, such as, “leader of the free world”, without flinching or even noticing. We’ve put the “moronic” into “oxymoronic”. Even pretending, for one moment, that there is some epic journey or some giant, righteous battle, that everyone in the entire nation is undertaking together, that would require a virtuous and courageous leader, why would we even think, even for a second, that the crooks, liars and cheats that infest government are the sort of people we should listen to, emulate, or follow anywhere?
We all intuitively know that politicians are corrupt liars and thieves, opportunistic con men, exploiters and fear mongers. We know it. Yet, we still speak as if we are the ones that are the stupid, vicious animals who require constant control, while the politicians are the great, wise role models, teachers and leaders, without whom civilisation could not exist. How did they make the sudden transition from stupid, vicious animal to deified leader? Yet, we act as if these crooks are the ones that make civilisation possible. It’s an utterly absurd belief, bordering on sheer insanity.
Our reverence for the pseudo-religious rituals of our leaders, while they decide how to control us more comprehensively this week, has us treating their arbitrary demands, which we still dignify with the label “the law”, as if they were moral decrees from the Gods, that no decent person would ever consider disobeying. So thoroughly indoctrinated into the cult of state worship have we become, that we are truly shocked when the occasional sane person states the obvious. It is obvious that the mere fact that the political crooks wrote something down and declared their threats to be law does not mean that any human being, anywhere, has the slightest moral obligation to obey. Every moment of every day, in every location and every situation, you have a moral obligation to do what you deem to be right, not what some delusional, bloated, sociopathic windbag says is legal. That requires you to first determine right and wrong for yourself; a responsibility we spend much time and effort trying to dodge. Following orders is no excuse.
We proclaim how proud we are to be law abiding citizens and express our utter contempt for anyone who considers themself above our so-called laws – laws that are nothing more than the selfish whims of tyrants and thieves. The word “crime” once meant an act harmful to another person. Now it means disobedience to any one of the myriad, arbitrary commands coming from a parasitic criminal class. To use the word “crime” is nearly synonymous with the word “sin”, implying that the ones whose commands are being disobeyed must be something akin to Gods, when in truth they are more akin to leeches. The very phrase, “Taking the law into your own hands” perfectly expresses what a sacrilege it is, in our eyes, for a mere human being to take upon themselves the responsibility to judge right from wrong and to act accordingly, instead of doing what we do; unthinkingly obeying whatever capricious commands this cess pool of psychopathically-inclined narcissists spews forth.
The criminal, leadership class, in government, is glorified as lawmakers and we believe that no-one is lower than a law breaker, meaning somebody that would dare disobey the diktats of the politicians. They thought that in East Germany, before the Berlin Wall came down, too. The older and longer standing the law; the more we forget how corrupt and unjust the drafting of the law may have been. We speak, likewise, with pious reverence for law enforcers, who forcibly impose the politicians’ every whim upon the rest of us, with tasers, pepper sprays, water cannon, clubs, guns and physical restraints. We don’t see them as thuggish henchmen, but perhaps we should, especially when what they enforce is plainly unjust.
When the state uses violence against our neighbours, we imagine it to be inherently righteous and just and if anyone resists, they are, by common agreement, contemptible low-lifes, who we brand lawless, terrorist criminals. We don’t imagine, for a moment, that they may have an idea worth hearing, or that they are heroically standing up for natural justice, which will benefit all of us. Instead, we dismiss and write them off as scum. The same sort of scum who helped Jews escape the killing machine of the Third Reich, or who were crushed to death under the tanks in Tiananmen Square. Like all the lawless, terrorist criminals in history, who had the courage and moral fortitude to disobey the never-ending stream of tyrants and oppressors, who have called their violence, “authority”, and, “law”. Authorised by whom? By us! These tyrants and oppressors are our creatures. We permit and endorse their crimes and excesses, either with our votes, or else by our acquiescence and unquestioning obedience. We’re the ones that let these monsters run rampant.
Our view of authority and law is now so twisted that we view as violent terrorists the only people on the planet who steadfastly oppose the initiation of violence against their fellow men. We call out the riot police to beat into submission the occupy protestors, the anarchists, voluntaryists and libertarians. We direct state violence, with overwhelming force, against people that teach that we should only use violence against someone who initiates violence against us and to use violence for no other reason. While we teach the young slaves that violence is never the answer, out of the other side of our mouths, we advocate that everyone and everything, everywhere and at all times, be controlled, monitored, taxed and regulated, through the violent force of government. In short, we teach our children that the masters may use violence whenever they please, but the slaves should never resist. We teach that the justification for their use of violence is that the masters are superior to the slaves and always have the slaves’ best interests at heart, when this is patently untrue. The lie we tell our children is that the masters know best and it’s for our own good. Clearly they don’t and it isn’t.
We indoctrinate our children into a life of unthinking, helpless subservience, just as our parents did before us. It is we who place the chains around their little necks and we who fasten the locks tight, just as our own mothers and fathers did to us. We do this to our own children and worst of all, we feel good about it. We condemn the evil excesses of Fascism and Communism, lamenting the murderous injustices of the regimes of Hitler, Stalin and Mao, while preaching the same gospel they did – worship of the collective and the subjugation of every individual to the evil insanity that wears the deceptive label: “The common good”. The difference is only in degree. We proclaim support for diversity and open-mindedness, and then beg our masters to regulate and control every aspect of everyone’s life, creating a giant herd of unthinking, conformist drones, whose every utterance and click stream preference is recorded, for posterity and all time, in gigantic, secret, data centres. We wear different clothes and hair styles, listen to different music and proclaim ourselves to be unique individuals, but all our minds are enslaved to this same club of masters and controllers. We might prefer that master, over another, but we never question the existence of the hierarchy or our obedience to it. We imagine ourselves to be progressive, thinking and enlightened. From our position of relative comfort and security, we condemn the evils of other lands and other times, while turning a wilful blind eye to the egregious injustices happening right in front of us, in our own time and land. We’re deluding ourselves.
We tell ourselves that, had we lived in those other places, in those other times, we would have been among those who stood up against oppression and injustice. We claim we would have courageously and selflessly defended the downtrodden, but that is a lie. We know it’s a lie, because we barely raise a finger to stop the oppression that is everywhere around us today and rather than defend the downtrodden, we instead kick them again, only harder. The truth is that we would have been right there, with the rest of the flock of well-trained sheep, conforming to what we thought was expected of us by our hierarchical masters. As citizens of our empire, we would have been loudly demanding that the slaves be beaten, the natives driven from their lands and killed, that the witches be burned and that the non-conformists and rebels be destroyed. We’d have demanded the expulsion of suspected Communists in our midst. We would be seeking safety in numbers by going along with whatever barbarism we were instructed to go along with, by our leaders; compliantly and enthusiastically. The injustices and oppressions we uphold today, like persecution of refugees, the disabled and the unemployed, mistrust of Muslims, and the imposition of poverty on the whole continent of Africa, are fashionable and popular. Those who resist them, we tell ourselves, are malcontents, cranks and freaks. We still persecute people whose rights don’t matter and designate them as people who deserve to be crushed under the boot of authority, even the babies and children.
When we look in the mirror, do we see spineless, unthinking hypocrites, or do we imagine ourselves to be righteous and kind? The crowds of thousands, wildly applauding the speeches of Adolph Hitler were people exactly like us – adherents to the religion of hierarchical government, with a sacred leader at the helm. The mob demanding that Jesus Christ be nailed to the cross were people exactly like us. The white invaders who celebrated the genocide and slaughter of heathen redskins were people no different to us, who held the same beliefs and values about themselves and their empire. The throngs filling the Coliseum, applauding as the Christians were fed to the lions were people who believed in conquest and vanquishing, just like we do. Throughout history, the perpetual suffering and injustice, occurring on a colossal, incomprehensible, unconscionable scale, was all because of people just like us, who were well-trained and thoroughly indoctrinated conformists; the obedient people who do as they’re told by tyrants and crooks, who proudly bow, deferentially and respectfully, to their masters, who follow the crowd for safety, believing what everyone else believes and thinking whatever authority tells them to think. Do we really think we’re any different? Have we become so thoroughly indoctrinated that we’ve lost sight of our own serious flaws and inconsistencies?
Our ignorance is a choice. It isn’t because the truth is not available to us. There have been radicals alerting us to it for thousands of years. We are ignorant because we shun the truth with all our hearts and souls. We close our eyes and run away, when a hint of reality confronts us. We condemn as extremists, conspiracy theorists and fringe kooks those who try to show us the chains we wear, because we don’t, in truth, want to be free. We don’t even want to be human. Responsibility, accountability and reality scare the hell out of us, so we cling tightly to our own enslavement and lash out at any that seek to free us from it. When someone opens the door to our cage, we cower back in the corner and yell for it to be closed again. We sprout back what our masters have taught us, to our would-be liberators – that being free only leads to chaos and destruction, while being obedient and subservient leads to peace and prosperity. Anarchy simply means a lack of hierarchy, with nobody holding a legitimate claim to rule over anybody else, but we have made the word synonymous with Armageddon, the end of days and the collapse of civilisation. To be cast into a state of anarchy is held to mean that we are in an inescapable black hole, where everything is torn apart and nothing can escape unscathed. That’s how indoctrinated by hierarchies and those that benefit most from them we have become.
You might think you’re uniquely exempt and wring your hands in despair for the rest of humanity, thinking that the problem is all of them and not you. To hold that view is to refuse to admit to your own level of support for hierarchies and empires of all sorts, your own worship of and reliance upon leaders, your own lust for domination and control, your own bias toward conquest and vanquishing your enemies and your own complicity and obedience in the whole sorry mess. The problem is you, just as much as it is me and everybody else included. The world we have is the one we made and the one we perpetuate.
Americans, in particular, it has been noted, simply cannot tolerate, cannot even hear, fundamental critiques of America, but the same chauvinism is exhibited in many other countries. We don’t want to be told that our favourite empires no longer serve us well, if they ever did, or that adherence to empires and hierarchies is what can and probably will destroy us all. We don’t care that empires and hierarchies kill creativity, even as we recognise that the current ideas have run out of efficacy.
And yet we are told we must vote, or the worst crooks will come to power, all the while ignoring the fact that we have developed no alternative democratic processes whatsoever, to carry on without crooked leaders entirely, even though we could. Direct democracy is ours for the taking, if only we had the will. Again, we believe the oft-repeated lie that without a crooked leader, chaos would ensue. Chaos has ensued. Wake up! Our crooked leaders cause chaos in our lives all the time. It’s not a theoretical potential, we’re living with it now.
We’d rather lend our support, even if grudgingly, for leaders in a hierarchical system that oversees rises in child malnutrition, an explosion in the rate suicides among the young and the imprisoned, a decade long fall in real living standards for the majority, massive increases in the stress of daily living for most people, an erosion of rights and safety nets, especially for the vulnerable and least advantaged, continual war and maimed, disabled, amputee veterans abandoned without the necessary after care. We require that everybody earn money to survive, but progressively replace their jobs with robots. We’d rather support that destruction, in society, than abandon our support for the hierarchy and its leaders, whoever they happen to be. We believe that all that suffering and misery is preferable to living without our invented structures, which are self-evidently serving us poorly, for fear of “the destruction of civil society”. We’re witnessing the end of civility before our very eyes, caused entirely by the venality and dishonesty of the politicians and leaders, whose tenure we support with our votes and we don’t lift a finger to stop it. We’d rather leave our leaders and government to get on with whatever they will, while we get back to our shopping and to entertaining ourselves. Pass me my smart phone.
Most people, living within the hierarchy, cannot see any possibilities outside of it. They cannot imagine a world without big, evil corporations, even while acknowledging them as being big and evil. Somehow, these are excused as “necessary evils” and they believe there is no alternative. They are taught there is no alternative precisely because there are many alternatives, which have been tried and proven, then quietly destroyed, to maintain the hegemony of the big, evil corporations. There are plenty of alternatives and believing there is none is nothing more than a wrong idea.
The Consequences of Conquest
So, what have we created with our overgrown empires and hierarchies? What have our self-serving, sociopathic leaders achieved on our behalf? What happens when one of these empires “wins”? It seems to mainly revolve around enforcing compliance, blanket surveillance, and the suppression and/or discrediting of rebels, dissenters and other outliers. In short, our empires and hierarchies have become behaviour modification behemoths.
As the recent revelations about the management of Uber, who indicated they were willing to perform Nixon-like smear campaigns on journalists that enquire too closely into the company’s more unsavoury aspects, amply demonstrates, we have all manner of self-appointed leaders, psychopaths and control freaks labelling themselves as “the authorities” and they’re running amok, unimpeded, because we blindly and unthinkingly support their leadership.
The average citizen presses management, or government, to violently and menacingly compel those they feel are not working as hard as they are, or pulling their weight, to do so, even though most of those same citizens confuse and equate their efforts at value destruction to others’ efforts at genuine value creation. Because the money flows to value destruction exercises more readily than to value creation, whose proof takes time, they mistake those activities as being more valuable, as objectively measured by money flows. This is nonsense.
We look to privatised empires, also known as corporations, for the answers to life’s big questions and to solve difficult societal problems. We want the leaders of those empires, the CEOs, to provide us with the solutions. Many people have bought into the notion that government is incompetent, when faced with long term challenges or tricky situations, but instead of questioning the efficacy of hierarchies and leaders, they instead switch their allegiance to private empires, believing that this kind of leader, with this type of hierarchy will be effective. Privatisation of what were previously public services, run by government, has been popular for several decades now. But where is the evidence that these leaders and hierarchies are any better at considering the wider public interest? The fact is, they don’t care and they’re quite open about it. Wall Street cares about the business model. It cares far less about changing the world.
The reality of being a senior executive at a fast-growing public internet company, for example, is quite illustrative, as an example of elite leaders of a private empire, redolent with strict hierarchy. They are surrounded by thousands, or even tens of thousands, of people who make millions of dollars, every time the stock price of the corporation goes up by a dollar. This is where the seeds of demise and corruption are sown. All the people around the executive are only paying attention to the stock price and Wall Street is driving the executive to mediocrity, to breaking their promises, to interrupting, to cutting corners and most of all, getting stuck.
What the investors think they want is industrial style, reliable, incremental growth, like they were accustomed to getting from the Generals – General Electric, General Mills and General Dynamics. What they have actually put their money into, however, are enterprises that are attempting to change the world and initially succeeding at doing so. The fact is, those changes will continue, with or without the particular public company they invested in. It’s a rough conflict for innocent bystanders, such as customers and the rest of society, because they trusted the companies that are now owned by people who want something else entirely. Investors’ interests are misaligned with the company’s and its customers (and anybody else that their activities impinge upon).
When the Peter Principle was first proposed, it made perfect sense for the industrial age. The principle states: “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence.” In other words, organisations keep promoting people up the organisation, until the people they promote reach a job for which they are now incompetent. Competence compounded until it turns into widespread incompetence. We have typically understood the Peter Principle to be an admonishment of the incompetence of people, suggesting that they should refuse to take a promotion for a job they are not capable of doing. The reality is that the problem is systemic. It’s an inherent feature of hierarchies. It is, in fact, a powerful argument against the very idea of organising human affairs with hierarchies. They cannot possibly work, because of the fundamental nature of hierarchies. Leaders, who are mortal human beings, after all, can never live up to the imagined virtues of the highest roles.
Our belief in hierarchies and leaders is now so pathological, that we will take an ordinary mortal, raise them up to the level of leader and install them in their role, through the power of our collective voices. As soon as they are the leader, suddenly they are regarded as some kind of deity, invested with superpowers by their office. When they begin to display criminality or reveal their mortal weaknesses, we feel too unworthy to remove them from the exalted position we gave them, because they are now considered to be some kind of leadership demigod and we are mere followers. Even after their removal, if it happens by some miracle, we still pay deference to these deposed leaders, who we created, as if they were a gift from the heavens. It makes no sense.
As human beings, we absolutely crave connection and yet hierarchies seek to separate and isolate us, placing us in endless competition with everybody else in the empire (and everyone else outside of it). Some argue that organising hierarchies is a default human state – a natural, organic behaviour, if you will. However, I counter that a more fundamental need is for inclusion and connection and that the habit of creating hierarchies was a chosen path, which actually did damage to our more fundamental and basic human needs for love and affection from other human beings. Far from being a natural human proclivity, I feel hierarchies were one of our earliest inventions, invented soon after we gained the capacity to conceive of and communicate such fantasies and ideas. They got us to the position of top predator on the planet, despite our physiological disadvantages, but I think they have taken us as far as they usefully can. We now need some other form of human organisation, which serves us all better than hierarchies can from now on, which encourages creativity (for that is our best and only hope for solving the problems we have created, through our overuse of empires and hierarchies) and which respect the human urge for connection with one another.
Our Belief in Pure Fictions
There is a growing number of people that now believe that government and nations states are not necessary and that human society would, on a practical, prosaic level, work a lot better without it. Others argue that, irrespective of which system of human organisation “works” better, or is more effective at helping humans to thrive, society without a coercive state is the only moral choice, as it is the only choice that does not support the initiation of violence against innocent people, or the constant manipulation of those lower in the hierarchy by those above them. Whether or not these are valid and worthwhile arguments, a more fundamental argument is this: authority, whether or not it works, cannot exist. This is not a theoretical argument; it’s a statement of actual, observable fact. There is no fundamental quality of a leader, who claims authority, to legitimately justify their claim. They’re not wiser, more courageous, braver, brighter, worldlier, chosen by God, fitter, born with “better” blood or genes, saner, more compassionate, more moral, more benign, and less fallible than other mortal human beings. They’re just people; ordinary people. The logical conclusion, if authority cannot exist, is that any argument about whether we need it or how well it works is rendered meaningless.
A knock –on conclusion that follows from the absence of authority is not that government should be abolished, but that government, as imagined today, led by a legitimate ruling class, does not and cannot exist. The government that we are all familiar with has no legitimacy whatsoever, because the leaders cannot be authorities. A failure to recognise this has led to immeasurable suffering and injustice. Even most of those who recognise government as a huge threat to humanity speak of doing away with it, as if it actually exists, as if there is a choice between having a government and not having one. There is no such choice. We have no government, just human beings claiming authority illegitimately. That’s all we have. The same applies to all hierarchies and empires. The problem is not actually government; it is the belief in the idea of an idealised government, which so many people hold dearly. To illustrate, when you realise that Santa Claus is not real, you do not start a crusade to abolish Santa and a petition to evict him from the North Pole. He simply ceases to exist because you stop believing in him. Santa Claus, as a shared human idea and myth, does relatively little harm, while the belief in the mythical entity called “authority” has led to unimaginable pain, suffering, oppression and injustice.
We shouldn’t be trying to create a world without authority. We already have it. What would be better would be to accept that a world without legitimate authority is all that has ever existed, irrespective of our collective myths and idealised beliefs. There never was and can never be such a thing as an authority. It’s just a pretend game that we all play. Mankind would be far better off and people would behave in a far more rational, moral, humane, honest, compassionate and civilised manner, if that fact were widely understood and internalised. We’re all just muddling along, making it up as we go along, hoping for benign, rather than catastrophic, outcomes, without any certainty about what we’re doing or any genuine idea of where we’re going. There is no magical leader, endowed with magical superpowers that can circumvent that struggle for us, on our behalf. There never was and there never will be. We all intuitively know this, but we live in denial of the facts.
The Chilling Effect of Hierarchies on Creativity
Can zombie drones, constrained to following orders from their so-called superiors, watched and regulated, create anything of genuine value? It’s highly doubtful. When you are subject to rule by so many empires and hierarchies, of all sizes and complexions, concurrently, it doesn’t leave much freedom of action or room to manoeuvre. It’s like wearing a straight jacket, over a straight jacket, over a straight jacket, iterated as many times as there are hierarchies seeking to exert control over one aspect of your life or another.
As I have mentioned before, if you happen to be in a hierarchy or corporation and happen to have a creative, innovative idea, you inevitably find you have to spend much of your time educating the rest of the hierarchy and lobbying them to adopt it, plus you have to deal with the jealousies of peers and the perceived threat to superiors that the emergence of your creative idea represents. None of this actually develops the idea any further. It’s all countermeasures, to prevent the idea being killed at birth, which so many creative ideas are. When you work in such a stifling hierarchy, it’s far easier to keep your head down and have no creative ideas at all.
When people become set in their ways of thinking, by the hierarchy they most identify with, they become very dull conversationalists. The more fully they identify with the hierarchy, the less of their innate humanity remains. You’ve heard the phrase “talking shop”. At every social encounter, whether it’s a party, a barbeque, dinner, lunch, breakfast, or even on one of those God-awful team-building, off-site days, that hierarchies are so fond of sponsoring, if one tries to reach out and make a genuine human connection, it is met with gossip from inside their hierarchy, talk about the concerns of the hierarchy and whether or not the hierarchy is succeeding or failing in its mission, as understood by your interlocutor. You almost never glimpse the talents and interests of the human being underneath the hierarchical role and position. There is no possibility of forging an allegiance and building some interpersonal solidarity in a context other than the hierarchy. Without the solidarity, there can be no joint rebellion, or coalition of people, to introduce a creative idea into the hierarchy from below. People stay separated, in their designated slots, suspicious of each other and creative ideas are frozen out.
Hierarchies, of course, like things to be that way, because it solidifies the power structure and denies any end-running, or working-around of the hierarchy, through personal connections. No CEO, for example, has ever been in a jam session with a VP or even enjoyed a game of Scrabble, without exerting his power and influence, as conferred to him by his working relationship with his underling. Even when playing music together, or playing a board game, in a situation unrelated to the work context entirely, the pecking order of the hierarchy is still asserted. The VP must never forget to worship and defer, irrespective of their relative abilities in playing music or playing Scrabble, or there will be consequences for the VP. The CEO’s ego is such that they must never admit evidence of their ordinary mortality. To do so is to surrender their “authority”. It also explains why CEOs so rarely socialise with their VPs in anything other than a work context.
It’s always amazing, to me, to realise just how much people are willing to compromise their principles and personal beliefs, or bring something into the world for other people to deal with, which they would not accept in their own lives, all to play by the rules of the hierarchy (i.e. usually to earn just enough money to survive comfortably). People will readily sell out the rest of humanity for crumbs. Who among us has not been compelled by the need to belong to a hierarchy to create, make or do something they feel, in the depths of their heart and soul, was somewhat regrettable and of which they were ashamed (or worse, defiantly defensive about)? This conflict between ones internal values and what one is prepared to do to satisfy the hierarchy is another corrosive effect on genuine, unalloyed creativity. Feeling bad about yourself and things that you have had to do, sometimes for mere money, isn’t conducive to producing one’s best creative work. I’d also hate to be in a room full of angry people, adversely affected by the work I have done, on behalf of the hierarchy, and had to explain myself. Perhaps fewer compromises would be made, if this were a more common occurrence.
The presence of a hierarchy permits organisational decisions to be made that go against the collective wisdom, conscience and interests of all in that organisation, simply because people are required to defer to the leader or those higher in the hierarchy. You get situations where the most brain-dead decisions are taken, which deeply upset and frustrate everybody else in the organisation, simply because everybody else is required to trust in the superior wisdom and ultimate authority of the leader, when there is no objective basis to do so. The leader is no smarter than anybody else and often far less. Yet we all fall in line with one stupid or reprehensible initiative after another, because the leadership team decided we should all do so, as if our own brains and judgement were inoperable and untrustworthy.
The history of cancer research is illuminating. There are documented cases where promising lines of enquiry were not only not pursued with vigour, but abandoned and the proposer professionally discredited, not on the merits or otherwise of the potential treatment, but to safeguard and uphold the reputations of respected luminaries within the cancer treatment research industry, who had vested interests in other treatments. It may (or may not) have been the case that these alternative treatments could have yielded important insights and relief for thousands, but rather than being investigated with open minds, the hierarchy came into play and protected the status and position of the incumbents as its primary concern. That’s not science. That’s preservation of an empire. People may have died needlessly and painfully as the price of this irrational mania to protect the pecking order. The default assumption that most people hold, which is that their particular hierarchy must be protected at all costs, because only their hierarchy can bring about the thriving of the human species, is not an assumption that withstands objective scrutiny, much of the time.
Our leaders have no vision and no destination toward which they are leading us all. They lack wisdom and judgement and are self-interested. Many lack genuine empathy for their fellow man or for other life on earth. They are not drawn from the creative classes and are not creative by inclination, yet we continue to place our faith in leadership. Uncreative leaders rarely foster and nurture creativity. They don’t know what it is. It’s beyond their experience. Being beyond their understanding, they naturally seek to minimise its importance and significance.
Even those people inside a hierarchy that correctly identify the problems and seek solutions to them are still wedded to the idea of authority, hierarchy, deference, law, debt, leadership and government. They still endorse the idea of using force to compel others to do the right thing. Our solutions are thwarted by clinging to the mechanisms that permitted our problems to take root and become problems of serious consequence. You can’t use the cause to bring about a cure.
Why Is There Any Creativity At All?
Creativity exists because there are still seers, visionaries, rebels and those that want to live a life of dignity, not being programmed to obey, who still, for the sake of their humanity and at great personal cost, stand up to the violent forces of state and authority. As weird as that tendency appears to be, in the face of overwhelming odds against, it seems to be a hard-wired aspect of our humanity. We appear to need to create, above all else.
Dissenters believe that there is something precious and valuable about their dissent, despite the violence and coercion that seeks to snuff it out. Who can argue, convincingly, that they are wrong?
What Would it Take to Enhance Creativity?
An alternative to hierarchies is a collaborative, collegiate organising principle, where the best ideas prevail. If it isn’t obvious which ideas are best, or nobody can agree what those are, then experiment and gather data. See how the competing ideas do. Choose the one that produces the best results for all. Return value to those who consistently have the best ideas, or those who produce the most number of clearly plausible ideas to try. Make creativity the organising principle of the society. A few weeks, or months, of trying out a plausible idea beats weeks, or months, of protracted, bitter argument and debate about whether or not the idea might work. Trying it determines if it does work.
Studies showing we are innately selfless debunk the idea that dog-eat-dog capitalism, typified and dominated by private and state empires and hierarchies, is our only option for organising human affairs. In studies where subjects could pay money to avoid receiving an electric shock or to prevent one being administered to a stranger, on average, the subjects sacrificed about twice as much money to save a stranger from getting a shock as they would give up to avoid it themselves. For each subject, nothing was gained by acting selflessly to strangers. The human guinea pigs simply felt worse doling out punishments to others. What is to be concluded about that?
Research at Princeton University found evidence that compassion is an innate human response, embedded into the folds of our brains. The reason we feel good when we help others has also possibly been discovered: compassion makes our bodies release more oxytocin into our bloodstream, the hormone that encourages bonding and friendship. We’re hard wired for high quality human relationships.
Humans would have wiped themselves out if they were selfish above all else, yet selfishness appears to be a necessary ingredient for hierarchies to form, or at least hierarchies seem to encourage the trait. Indeed, selfishness was actually weeded out by evolution. Put crudely, women did not want to have sex with selfish men in primitive hunting times, meaning their genes were less likely to be passed on. Even today, it has been found that the happiest and longest lasting marriages have mutual kindness and generosity at their heart.
Our earliest state was rather different from the dog-eat-dog, highly hierarchical neoliberalism that reigns today, contradicting the idea that it’s simply the inevitable expression of our humanity. As primitive hunter-gatherers, we were supremely co-operative, unlike our ape relatives, dividing food fairly between ourselves. Modern hunter-gatherer tribes have been found to punish selfish behaviour that violates an equitable order. See: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/24/grotesque-inequality-greed-human-nature-capitalism?CMP=share_btn_tw for more.
A refusal to organise around leaders, a true desire to allow people to live and let live, a turning away from violence and coercion, leaving people alone, and a binding resolution to stop trying to do things to them and to control them, instead trying to do things with them, in collaboration, partnership and conjunction, would be ways to enhance creativity. If kindness and generosity are capable of holding marriages together, then why would they not be the glue that holds other forms of human organisation together? Why would creativity not flourish in a society based on kindness, generosity and respect?
The key is to recognise that hierarchies and authorities don’t really exist. They’re just fictional ideas. A better idea, even if fictional, is to sincerely attempt to work with people rather than trying to control them in top down fashion.
IDEO is a company that is renowned for human centred designs and innovations. They are the creativity bellwether. Their recruitment literature looks for people who share specific characteristics. It is interesting to look at those characteristics and speculate on the kind of training and experience you would need to have undergone, to have those specific characteristics.
- Human centredness – empathic first-hand understanding of user needs and behaviours – obtained by studying programmes in anthropology, ethnography, sociology, design research, or via professional experience in qualitative market research.
- Prototyping and visualisation – a bias toward building a rough version of an idea and trying it out – obtained by studying design in a design school (building a portfolio of work in interaction design, industrial design, graphic design or some combination of these), engineering courses with a focus on new product development, or via entrepreneurship, where you were part of the new product team.
- System thinking – considering the major interdependencies, in a design, including the design, interface, sales channel, staff training, business model and technology strategy – obtained through business experience, especially in start ups or in new product development. Management consulting experience can be a help, as can engineering and development skills, obtained while working with multidisciplinary teams. Service design is another good background for system thinking.
- Generative thinking – also known as brainstorming – obtained by no specific training. You just have to be one of those people that react to a question with lots of near in and far out ideas. Curiosity, lateral thinking and practice are the required characteristics.
There is no single human being that can gather all of this expertise, to become the ideal employee of IDEO, so they take people with broad curiosity and deep skills in one specialised area. However, even this solution is still utterly reliant on organisations, leaders, deference, hierarchy, knowing your place – all the way from the courses the literature says you need to do to get the job, to the privatised tyranny represented by IDEO itself. IDEO, the watchword for creativity, still hampers creativity by its adherence to all manner of hierarchies.
Note also that the requirements for IDEO style thinking come not from one single, authorised course of study, but many. You have to be a polymath to achieve all the requirements, which is to say you have to be a maverick and misfit, that doesn’t fit within the strictures and structures of traditionally sanctioned university learning. There is no single course of study leading to the satisfaction of all of IDEO’s entry requirements. The real answer is obvious – work outside of these structures, if you want to cause real innovation and change – go your own way and follow your own path. Creativity doesn’t come from a course and it can’t flourish in a top down hierarchy. You wouldn’t want to work for a so-called creative company that thinks it does.
Rather than creating dependent, powerless, infantilised, bored and institutionalised people, as hierarchies and empires do today, the way to enhance creativity is to create independent, powerful, mature, engaged, enthusiastic people, freed from institutional structures.
For each individual in society, the way to enhance creativity is clear. Either accept the fallibility and mortality of everybody, including yourself and get along in life with that accommodation in mind, or else strive to become the leader of your own life, in the image of the leaders whose virtues you invented in your own imagination. Whatever you do, don’t seek to attract followers.
Can Change Happen?
Is further propagation of the human species really the goal, anymore? Hierarchies may have served a purpose in getting our species to multiply, but is that the correct goal and response to the current situation, where we have clearly become top predator and are now well on the way to eating ourselves out of planetary house and home? In short, does a strategy adopted by our ancient ancestors to ensure the fecundity of the species, but which carried with it significant costs and suffering, do us any good at all, today? Do we even need hierarchies?
There is a paradox. We need change but change can’t happen, while on the current path and trajectory. We still believe in hierarchies and authorities, even though neither legitimately exists. It would take a mass of people to suddenly abandon the whole leadership and hierarchy idea and to take personal responsibility for doing what is right, the whole time, for change to happen. We’d all have to do the equivalent of ceasing to believe in Santa Claus.
Under current circumstances, change feels unlikely. If anybody can cause change, though, it’s the artists and those with a creative mindset, who are willing to bravely defy authority to achieve it. However, while authority, government, leadership and hierarchy cults remain, we’re not in a good situation. We won’t be able to see the solution, because it will be obscured by the problem.
No single person can change the world from being in thrall to leaders to being in charge of their own lives, because that prospect, in of itself, would be defaulting to being in thrall to a single, revolutionary leader, once again. Even a wholly benign leader demands subservience. Hierarchy has become the problem, rather than the solution.
If you think you are that benevolent, world-saving leader, you’re wasting your life trying, because this is a change that must not be lead by a leader. It has to be a collective shift in shared ideas, or it won’t change anything at all. Everybody needs to take responsibility for changing the world from one where empires rule, to one where fairness and freedom prevails. Even if we change our ideas, en masse, we must treasure and preserve our dissenters, because a mass movement of common agreement, even a leaderless one, is still something that creates oppression in its sleep. People have to be free to opt out of the groupthink and suggest better ideas than those held as orthodoxy.
While our beliefs cause us to be led in such a way that it is destructive to humanity, creativity is stifled to death. We cannot create if we cannot thrive. Instead, it’s all we can do to survive. Ironically, hierarchies were invented to help us thrive, but now they do the opposite.
The title of this article promised to explain how to kill creativity. The way you kill creativity is to adhere obediently to the idea of being led somewhere by someone. Who knows where? Surrendering our self-determination, as we have done for millennia, now causes the death of creativity and creation.
Why do creative people commute far distances from where they live, to an office, in order to do their creative work? For one reason only: to give their managers the illusion of control and ownership over that creative work. It’s to pay deference and homage to a hierarchy that no longer acts in their own interests. Creative people don’t actually need managers and soon realise as much. Commuting is just a waste of their life – hours they waste in traffic or on planes or trains, where they could have been creating or ruminating.
Apathy is a learned, protective response. If we care about changing things, because of our empathy and then try to effect those changes, but are frustrated in our efforts, then we have two choices – go crazy from being thwarted in our desire to make change happen, or stop caring. Apathy is the consequence of having hit your head against a brick wall for too long and, having done so, opted out of the fight, settling for a life of quiet desperation, instead of active self-harm. However, when we stop caring, even if to protect ourselves against the madness of trying and failing to change the world, the process of change stops happening, too. We default to the terrible status quo.
This has been a difficult article to write, because the root of the problem is so ingrained and pernicious and has been for thousands of years. The conclusions make me sad, depressed, angry, frustrated and despairing, all of which are not pleasant emotions to carry around, while writing.
Creativity is hampered. There can be little doubt of it. Our best ideas do not always surface. Dissenting voices are systematically and violently suppressed. Many radical thinkers, with positive ideas and correct solutions, have always been and are still made to suffer and recant their ideas.
Humanity, for its part, has remained amazingly resistant to jettisoning ideas which, while perhaps useful to the species once, long ago, are no longer serving us well and are, in fact, causing us irreparable harm. Those brave souls that resist and dissent are destroyed and ignored, rather than embraced and supported. In most cases, they are written out of history. The leaders we prefer are charlatans and crooks, whose only objective is to cling to power and enjoy the benefits of their privilege. We are, as a society, too indoctrinated to even imagine better scenarios being possible, let alone enacting them. We steadfastly refuse to change.
We systematically kill creativity, through our endorsement and support for empires, hierarchies and States. Then, we eat each other. It’s time we stopped doing that.