The Hydra’s Heads – Blind Faith in Authorities

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The Milgram experiment has shown it in a frightening and penetrating way: authority figures trigger uncritical subservience in us – a blind spot with very far-reaching consequences. Not only do we take far too much without opposition, we also identify with power structures, right up to the abundantly abstract idea of the state itself, making us attack and rebuke others when they protest.

When decisions are made against the interests of the majority of the population, we tend to blame it on individual actors rather than questioning the government’s motivations as a whole. After all, we are told that the state is a kind of treaty:

To receive protection and infrastructure, citizens pay a portion of their income and elect representatives from their midst, who decide how to use these resources wisely and for the good of everyone. This is the very function of the government, serving its people in fulfilling it, and caring for them like kind parents.

So much for the theory, which incidentally was never the foundation which led to the formation of governments, but was developed in retrospect.

Let us take a look at where and why this model deviates from reality – not by means of examples of the misdeeds of one side or the other, but by logic.

Uncomfortable truths

No matter how many well-meaning political players are opposed; It is in the nature of every form of government to tilt unstoppably towards the interests of the richest and thus most influental citizens. And this is by no means a small fault in the system, which could be remedied with adjustments here and there, but rather sits in the deepest core of the concept itself.

What does a government or office mean?

The higher the position, the more information and possibility of influence (ie power) it yields. As various matters converge in one place – namely, the Parliament, which is competent and responsible for anything from cough syrup ingredients through traffic regulations, it is also possible to exert great influence from the outside at this very switching center without great effort.

Those who ultimately decide on all the different subjects and laws are, of course, not fully aware of everything, but have to rely on consultants and ministries, or simply follow the party line (which degenerates decisions into a currency between parties).

Even with fairly manageable issues, it is unrealistic to think that every delegate could have looked into it thoroughly enough – but when it comes to issues such as chemistry, medicine, or internet law, there is most definitely good reason for doubt. This makes it all the easier for lobbyists, who can conveniently deal both with individual members of parliament as well as the party heads.

If, for example, they were to spread outright lies behind closed doors, which is at least a conceivable strategy, it would become really problematic:

The opposing party can’t very well argue against an erroneous belief they don’t know about. How many of the decisions made are based on a lack of information and how many are based on misinformation, cleverly twisted facts or half-truths? Even if half-hearted attempts are made to prevent this:

As long as decisions are made centrally and thus emanate from people who are not themselves affected by the outcome, the flood gates are open to these mechanisms. Moreover, it is to be expected that one or the other delegate will knowingly abuse their decision-making power for their own benefit.

Who is drawn to a government office?

For narcissistic or even sociopathic personalities – to begin with the most unpleasant examples – such a position represents a playing field that meets all their needs while allowing to become rich in passing, or at least to assure the gratitude of influential personalities.

An aspiration to political power, is thus rewarding, satisfying, and unencumbering for such a person (since narcissists can arbitrarily correct their truth and sociopaths are precisely characterized by having no conscience).

For particularly altruistic and conscientious people on the other hand, whose presence in high offices would be very desirable, any position of power primarily means a life full of difficult decisions, pondering and second-guessing, as well as a constant conflict with powerful interest groups and little recognition for successes achieved. Not a very attractive overall package.

What are the traits that prevail?

A straightforward person has a few crucial drawbacks on the way up:

On the one hand, they are predictable through their principles and can thus be easily brought into dilemmas. On the other hand, a whole arsenal of tools is not at their disposal, which more unscrupulous people won’t hesitate to use to their heart’s content: by utilising intrigue, lies, betrayal etc., they can get ahead much faster and rid themselves of competitors.

These reasons alone are a good reason to exercise a healthy degree of caution against any government. There is a climate in every power center that has ever existed, which repels well-meaning people from the get-go, and the few of them who try their luck against all odds, are either corrupted or considered as unwelcome disturbances, quickly reaching the ladder’s end .

The best way to go, is to care for nothing in an entirely pragmatic manner, simultaneously assume as many positions as possible and generally give no offence. How open and distinctive this mechanics are, varies from country to country and always worsens the more centralized (and thus separated from the effects of their decisions) a state government operates, the more resources converge there and the larger and more complex the administrative apparatus is.

On occasion, some honest politicians may reach the top with luck and charisma, but indisputably, the evil is inextricably intertwined with the system, making it a gathering point for unpleasant or at least opportunist characters. But there are external influences, too.

Which way does the wind blow?

A system exerted from both directions is in equilibrium. If the pressure decreases on one side, it will move and constrict the place of the weaker, more compliant side.

Now one might say that the pressure of the majority and the pressure of the upper five to ten percent are about the same, because with the means of democracy there is power in numbers. Yet, this majority could never make the actual decisions at any point, but was only allowed to decide who should make the actual decisions for them – in the often disappointed hope, that the promises made would be kept and the wishes of the people would be enforced.

The networked well-to-do on the other hand, have numerous additional means of influence at their disposal. Politics and the legal system are ultimately not occupied by the common man. Thus, in the end all institutions feel obliged not to the small man, but to the upper class, from whom they are derived.

Not only do all their friends and relatives belong to the cultural and monetary elite, which, to put it mildly, is a bias. They also have no experience with what being penniless really means, and can all the more easily cherish the illusion that everyone has a fair chance of social advancement and poverty is a self-inflicted destiny.

Perhaps they even think they are doing a good deed in giving the allegedly lazy people reason to make greater efforts.

In addition, over the past few decades, there has been a complete disinterest of a large part of the population, who have simply let go of the helm and quietly watched as all their hard-won rights were more and more curtailed. Either way, there is far more pressure from above than from below, with the expected result:

Perfect inefficiency

Without going into detail this time, it is safe to say that in practically all matters, decisions are made over our heads without our being able to do much about it, even though our entire life is directly affected. Concerns of the utmost importance for the masses (but practically without any consequence for the private life of those who decide about it) are endlessly pushed onto the long bank and superimposed by day politics.

The roof is on fire in countless places, but we focus on attacks that kill a few people (which is horrible and inexcusable), but forget that due to the growing scarcity of the social network (and many other shortcomings) thousands of people die before their time, and that more and more of us become mentally ill.

The accusation is by no means aimed at our government in particular. Everywhere in the world the same thing is happening, in fact much more ruthlessly elsewhere than here. The general trend, however, is clear and it bodes no good.

Is the trust in the wisdom of our leaders justified?

We believe in boundless naivete, that someone “up there” is looking out for us, that between all the mouse-skipping and lying, ultimately everything will somehow run properly. That some well-meaning politicians can change something fundamental. That nobody would ever knowingly expose us to any risk, that they feel responsible and fight for our good.

Although we are constantly finding that it is not the case, that powerful groups of interest prevent or propel laws as they like, that we hear official denials on certain issues for many years until the evidence suddenly becomes so overwhelming that a u-turn is made… we remain unshakeable in our conviction that everything is alright at its core.

This completely irrational and unjustified basic trust remains ineradicable and does us no favors. The greatest achievements that really benefit us – the many – have always been won by movements from our midst, and were never simply given to us.

As long as we believe that the “administrators of the world” will somehow arrange for the common good, without us looking over their shoulders at all time, we keep racing towards the abyss. Governments are, at best, benevolent but more or less incapable of acting, and downright hostile to their own people in the worst possible scenario.

Why else would the obsessive monitoring be getting so overwhelming? Would a government, which really acts in the interest of the people, have to protect itself from them at all? (And even if the fear of external threats is mentioned again and again, it is obvious that we have not gained any security through more monitoring, but only lost privacy.)

No matter how deep it really is or how bad or harmless the explanation may be: There are more and more tragedies going on around the world (From hunger and war to terror and environmental destruction), which nobody wants and yet – apparently – nobody can stop.

And that means the time for blind trust is over.

Governments do not create any improvement for us, so we must fundamentally change our vision and mindset and quickly seek solutions together. Not with the pitchfork, but – as always – with hearts and brains.

There are countless approaches to how it could be better, a lot of clever minds who spend their lives thinking about alternative models, but nobody is listening to them because of the system suppressing everything that could lead to its own deposition in self-perpetuating automated mechanisms. We must use the means of democracy to dismantle it in its current form, in a determined but cautious process. Time is running out.

What could alternatives look like?

Mind you, this is not about the tasks that a better form of government would have to tackle as quickly as possible, but about the changes that could even lead to a government capable of action at all. Some basic weaknesses in our system are easy to recognize:

We must counter the disadvantages of power concentration by decentralizing and decoupling responsibilities – while maintaining the necessary networking to solve global problems. (Nevertheless, there can be no world government – do you know the phrase “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”? It hardly bears imagining the megalomania members of such an institution would sooner or later fall into.)

We have to find ways of making political offices unattractive for people who strive for them for the wrong reasons, and satisfying rather than frustrating for those who are eager to improve. Lies and broken promises should not be without consequence, and they can not be, as now, simply political everyday life in which no one bats an eye over it.

Decisions must be made and carried by all, while on the other hand, we must make sure that anyone who wants to take part in the process is really well-informed. And so on, and so on … the highest and most beautiful goal would be to get by without any ruling (which does not mean ‘no structure’!) – but I’m guessing centuries will go by before each individual human being is sufficiently responsible, social and humble for that – especially if we continue to be hindered in our personal growth by persistent, artificially generated stress.

Whatever we will try, there will be setbacks and mistakes. First of all, however, we must accept that our present form of global coexistence has served its time, that it leads to unnecessary and manifold suffering, and that we have to rearrange ourselves comprehensively. It remains to be hoped that in attempting this, the power of the people doesn’t turn out to be no more than a grand illusion – yet if so, well, at least the cards would be put on the table.

Credits

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photo-manipulation photo-manipulation Tracy Torres CC0 Public Domain