Monday, August 16, 2010

Spanner: When Power Corrupts

Lord Acton famously said: "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." Sure, he was writing to a bishop about the then new Catholic dogma of papal infallibility, but it applies to any organization. If someone gains too much power, they are bound to become corrupt. The famous Peter Principle explains why: In any hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence. The mechanism is groupthink, or collective narcissism resulting from the leader's delusion that the fact that he is in power makes everything right and his increasing intolerance for negative feedback.

The advantage of a strictly democratic organization, one that minimizes or (even more rarely) eliminates hierarchy, is that it allows people to perform complex tasks efficiently. Authoritarianism is based on central planning, which is known to be highly inefficient because it assumes omniscience on the part of the central planner. Since omniscience is impossible (or possible only to God, if he exists), the central planner invariably loses touch with reality and becomes not only incompetent but power-hungry and brutal. The structural principle behind democracy is networking; the sociological principle is the wisdom of the crowd (here's the book on it). It is far more responsive to both positive and negative feedback because people can find other people within the network to help them evaluate evidence that would be summarily rejected by an authoritarian central planner. "The wisdom of the crowd" is the principle behind crowdsourcing.

Now, there are surely those among you who will criticize the above (and my previous entries) and say that no such thing as "democracy" as I define it is possible. Some will invoke the Christian dogma of "original sin", also known as "innate depravity"; some will invoke the "iron law of oligarchy" and say that someone will always muscle his way to the top and impose an authoritarian hierarchy, and that this is also inherent in human nature, likely because it's inherently corrupt; and some will likely quote Federalist #10:
From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
Original sin, iron law of oligarchy, factionalism: in other words, the bad guys always win. Always. Freedom will always degenerate into depraved tyranny; some believe that the Law of Entropy "decrees" this.

Such a tyranny is Spanner's "Corporate Empire", the United Corporations (or simply the Cartel). The Cartel is predicated on the premise that only the richest corporate chairmen and CEOs deserve to rule the world, based on their elitist principle of "one dollar, one vote". The Cartel's detractors accuse it of being "corporate socialism", or socialism for big business. Which, in fact, it is. It's called Corporatism. The Cartel's leadership is top-heavy with egomaniacs (or "Egoists" in the lingo of 2014), every one of them determined to be Number One at any cost. Naturally, the Cartel is quickly getting progressively more rigid and brittle; sooner or later (read: 2016), it will crash to the ground, the same way Soviet Communism did.

For the problem with authoritarian organizations is that they do not respond well to change. They try to put a stop to change so that everything can remain the same, especially the rigid social structure. Everything in the organization is subordinated to the leaders' narcissistic power needs. This is not a danger of power, but a structural flaw of hierarchical organization.

The challenge of democracy is to develop a system of ambition control so as to keep psychopaths — people enslaved to the instinct to dominate, also known as bullies and terrorists — from seizing power and inflicting the "iron law of oligarchy" and therefore the entropic Peter Principle on the organization.

On the individual level, some people have more personal power than others, whether they were born with it or developed it. Intelligence, beauty, charisma, fame, and talent are forms of power. Some people realize that "with great power comes great responsibility" and use their powers to help others. Others become corrupt and become bullies, using their powers to oppress and exploit others. This is the essential moral/ethical distinction between heroes and villains. There are people who actually believe ideologies that embrace corruption for its own sake, such as Spanner's egomaniacal Egoists. The minor villainess Charmian Fleer, for instance, allows her beauty (and her relatively lofty hierarchical position as student council president) to get to her head so that her personality ends up ugly. The Cartel, as I've mentioned above, is full of power-hungry Egoists, some of whom (like Spanner book 1's doomed gang warlord Anticristo and book 2's future Confederate President Charles Manson) make Charmian look like a sweetheart in comparison.

Always, "eternal vigilance is the price of freedom." You must always keep an eye on yourself to make sure you aren't falling victim to the temptations of power and allowing yourself to become a bully. Together, we must keep an eye on each other so that none of us gives in to hubris and corruption and becomes dictator over the others. There are more than enough people corrupt enough to embark on a life of crime, so that Spanner (as "The Civet" or as one of the Slasher Hunters) can make a more than healthy living bounty hunting. But Spanner too must remain vigilant: for, as Nietzsche famously warned, "Be careful when hunting monsters, lest you become a monster yourself..."

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