Ab absurdo, ad libertatem
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The Good Delusion

Apr 11, 2008

Do not trust those who presume to command others. The president, prime minister, and corporate manager are one of two things: a power hungry elitist, or a deluded altruist who fervently believes that they possess knowledge of the true path that everyone must follow. Note the absence of a goal, as each individual will define a goal particular to their delusion.

The former case is readily understood by a brief examination of world history, and I will leave it to the fair-minded, critical, and motivated reader to research this matter for themselves. It is a testament to our plasticity that the latter case is not so readily perceived. The error of appointing the uninformed altruist as master is exposed by a simple question: who among your acquaintances would you trust as ultimate arbiter of the activities in which you may engage, and as the immutable policy maker that defines the acceptable boundaries of your every interaction? Interesting that we elect people we know nothing about to do these very things. How could one person or a group of like minded people -- or any group of any composition -- ever be established as ruler(s)? To answer 'supreme arrogance' is to downplay the problem.

"Why abdicate one's own liberty, one's own initiative in favor of other individuals? Why give them the power to be the masters, with or against the wish of each, to dispose of the forces of all in their own way? Are the governors such exceptionally gifted men as to enable them, with some show of reason, to represent the masses and act in the interests of all men better than all men would be able to act for themselves? Are they so infallible and incorruptible that one can confide to them, with any semblance of prudence, the fate of each and all, trusting to their knowledge and goodness?

And even if there existed men of infinite goodness and knowledge, even if we assume what has never happened in history and what we believe could never happen, namely, that the government might devolve upon the ablest and best, would the possession of government power add anything to their beneficent influence? Would it not rather paralyze or destroy it? For those who govern find it necessary to occupy themselves with things which they do not understand, and, above all, to waste the greater part of their energy in keeping themselves in power, striving to satisfy their friends, holding the discontented in check, and mastering the rebellious."

Healthy homo sapiens are, on average, endowed with congruent cognitive and intellectual potential. Potential however speaks nothing of ability. Healthy individuals know what is best for their lives and for their work, and if they do not or if they remain ambiguous it is because they have not been permitted to develop the required intellectual scaffolding. "When one works, one suffers and there is no time to think."

"[I]t is clear that being subjected to hierarchy ... subverts our abilities to think and judge for ourselves ... Like any skill, critical analysis and independent thought have to be practised continually in order to remain at their full potential."

"The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments ... the man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects too are, perhaps, always the same, or nearly the same, has no occasion to extend his understanding ... and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to be ... But in every improved and civilised society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is the great body of the people, must necessarily fall."

This holds true for uneducated/unskilled labourers and educated/skilled labourers alike.

Mental evolution reduces to biological evolution. Just as our more obvious physical attributes are responses to our physical environment, so are our mental attributes responses to our mental environment. Accordingly, it is innocence of the mind for a person to believe that an event, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, has not changed them. Experience is precisely that which defines us. In a relative sense, some events produce more radical effects than others, but even in the act of saying hello to a stranger or choosing to avoid eye contact we see a reflection of ourselves and can discover the path we have taken and the path we are traveling. Every event is a life changing event, it's just that some events produce more obvious changes than others. In measuring the influence of phenomenon on the self the potency of gradual metamorphosis must not be discounted; gradual metamorphosis possesses a cumulative force which by its very nature is difficult to perceive. "[O]ur personalities come into existence because of our interactions."

We are the product of nature and of nurture. With every choice we make and every activity that we engage in, we are at the same time choosing against something else. The choice may be active or passive, conscious or unconscious, but it is nonetheless a personal choice that we are responsible for. When we choose to watch television we are at the same time choosing to avoid discussion with another person. The plastic paradox states that any neural pathway may be taken, however once a path has been taken it is more likely to be chosen again over another path because it is more developed. Understanding this helps to raise personal consciousness, and provides an etiology and prognosis of our intellect and personality.

Hierarchical structures concentrate power, leaving the masses subject to the emotional convulsions and phrenic inanity of the few. Even modest experience within a hierarchical environment provides ample evidence of its fruitless and demoralizing character. If hierarchy does not work at the lowest level between manager and employee then how could it possibly work at the highest level between the wage labourer and the national president, an arrangement in which there is no communication at all? Elected representation you say? I say show me a senate or congress whose historical record displays their every action as benevolent. It's not that all politicians are corrupt, no, but that power systems are corruptive. "There are appetites of a terrible, savage, and lawless kind in everyone."

"A government that does not abuse its power, and that is not oppressive, an impartial and honest government acting only for the interests of all classes and not ignoring such interests in exclusive concern for the persons standing at its head - such a government is, like squaring the circle, an unattainable ideal because it runs counter to human nature. And human nature, the nature of every man, is such that, given power over others, he will invariably oppress them; placed in an exceptional position and withdrawn from human equality, he becomes a scoundrel. Equality and the absence of authority are the only conditions essential to the morality of every man. Take the most radical revolutionist and place him upon the all-Russian throne or give him dictatorial power, of which so many of our green revolutionists daydream, and within a year he will have become worse than the Emperor himself."