Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Explaining My Thesis Re: Locke and Jefferson

In response to my last post, where I said "my thesis is that both Locke and Jefferson crafted their ideas with the aim of controlling the masses, not empowering them,"  I was asked to explain how I came to that conclusion.

The journey to that conclusion has been a long one, but it ultimately comes back to Mark Twain's obervation "History doesn't repeat itself; it rhymes."  This is an aspect of what my own half-formed theory on the fractal nature of human cognition, which is based on the basic comparative mechanism by which human beings decide.  This mechanism is responsible for the fractal nature of markets observed by Mandelbrot, and for history rhyming with itself.

In every era, somebody rediscovers the basic mechanism of human decision making and seeks to use it, and the ruling elite invariably seeks to it to its advantage.  Knowledge of this mechanism, i.e., the comparing of what is experienced to what was expected (as filtered through cognitive bias), is something that predates cognitive science and behavioral economics by millenia.  Plato certainly seemed to understand it . . .

Neoliberalism has been relatively open in its purpose and its means for achieving it.  Its break from classical liberalism is marked by Walter Lippmann's The Good Society, which identifies and laments his perception of classical liberalism's shortfalls, which include the mistaken belief that educating the masses makes it easier to govern them.  Under Neoliberalism (and its offshoot. neoconservatism), we've seen a concerted dumbing down of the populace.  More importantly, however, we've seen the deliberate redefining and demeaning of important, visceral words such as "liberty," "freedom" and "democracy," all to the ends of securing the power of the elite that arose and flourished under classical liberalism.

When I realized that Neoliberalism merely recasts feudal doctrines of control such as the divine right of kings (the market is God and winners are chosen by God to win) and excommunication (the poor and unemployed have been cast out by God, the market), I recognized the possibility that classical liberalism itself was merely an earlier recasting of the same doctrines of elite control to secure the place of the then elite: the educated oligarchs like Locke and Jefferson.  The difference is that the transformation that took place in the Age of Reason was triggered by the Reformation and the realization that the Roman Catholic Church was corrupt, which resulted in classical liberalism focusing on God as man (i.e., Jesus) instead of the disembodied authority figure who will strike you dead if you do something wrong. 

Interestingly enough, however, Locked constructed his "natural law" to protect and preserve the "property" that a person already owned, regardless of how he came by that ownership, even though there is no such thing as property in nature.   Locke and Hobbes were merely two sides of the same coin, which requires a state to hold society together.  Both sought to achieve the same end of protecting the gains the elite had achieved under the prior system of feudalism.

One of the reasons that I'm worried about a new Dark Age is the fact that we are moving to completely digital media, which means that documents can be disappeared or altered without anybody being aware of it.  At least the Church of the Dark Ages had to go around burning books and killing people to purge the world of knowledge.  In another century or so, there will be no permanent record of anything.  All knowledge that is publicly available will be subject to censorship and manipulation that nobody can detect, even if they thought to look for it.

I realize that this post has been somewhat stream-of-consciousness, but I hope you get the giste of what I'm saying, which echoes and amplifies what people like Niebuhr and Myrdal have said: the ruling elite define the institutional values that set the baseline of decision making in a society.  Those values are only changed consciously in response to a clear an present danger to the elite themselves.  Marxism kicked classical liberalism in the head, which would have been fine but for the Great Depression.  So the ruling elite kicked things into overdrive to define neoliberalism, and they documented what they did every step of the way.