A Paradox – Inclusive Elites I: Only the Best of the Best, Research Time, 03/11/2016

It feels intuitive that we obey the people in charge. Being in charge of something – a boss of a company, a manager of a department, a parent of a family – means that they’re to be obeyed.

It’s a tautology. The definition of being in charge means that you obey them. That your obedience is legitimate and expected.

Be suspicious of your intuitions.

Here's a warning about the intuitions that can grow out of speaking English, for example. Don’t confuse the two senses of authority. There’s the authority of expertise and experience, whose directions you obey because they’re the wisest person around to handle the situation you’re in together.

Some of my personal favourite undeserving authority figures in pop
culture are the products of Graham Linehan's mind.
Then there's the other kind of authority, which is that more tautologous sense. An authority is someone you obey because your proper relationship to them is obedience. All the comedy and oppression of our lives in big state or corporate institutions lies in this confusion.

It’s the central joke of modernity – Kafka did it best, but Graham Linehan and Michael Schur are pretty good at it too. People who have institutional authority of any kind who have no justification for your loyalty in their intelligence, know-how, morals, sanity, or any kind of basic life competence that would otherwise earn your respect.

Even though it's a recurring joke from The Castle to Brazil to The Office, it’s also a very serious political concept. It’s the core idea of our democratic drive – That there is no cause or even correlation between our owing obedience to someone in some institution and their actually deserving it.

This is a pretty new and weird idea. It’s freaky that our political philosophy instruction in universities usually starts with the ancient Greeks, and only with Plato and Aristotle. Neither of them had much faith in democracy as a form of government. While Plato was the most idealistic about it, they both preferred rule by the wise.

An elite who held permanent leadership places in our institutions and societies, but who actually deserved their authority. But that's a fantasy, because we’re dealing with human beings here.

I’m not about to make some cynical argument that democracy is the least terrible form of government. That puts too much focus on democratic institutions. No, we’re dealing with human beings here, which means that we can’t trust someone to stay in a permanent position of power and not become corrupt.

Just look at this man. Eric Trump barely even looks like a human. Now
imagine how many people's lives he controls with money. It's
disgusting – Literally revolting.
Even a benevolent dictator or kind lives in a palace of opulence surrounded by courtiers and governs a state and population of millions. A person won't necessarily remain wise forever, even if he’s wise and kind today. And their appointed successors won't be that wise.

If they fall into most elite human habits, they’ll become self-entitled egotistical twats. Like the Trumps, from Donald onward.

This is why populism usually takes the form of anti-elite resentment. The tension between having social and institutional authority and actually deserving it becomes too much in some circumstances.

Circumstances like a long-running economic stagnation after decades of policies that have promised prosperity for all in the name of solving the old system’s problems.

Democracy is the spirit of revolt, and democratic institutions should function to institutionalize revolt. Regularly churning people in and out of positions of power. It's a form of accountability, but it’s also a form of quality control.

Any institution creates elites and elitism – that’s a simple fact of the matter that only a few people can actually occupy institutional positions of power. That’s true even for democratic institutions like parliaments and accountable bureaucracies.

So if this is the bog we’re stuck in, what’s an actual democrat to do? . . . To Be Continued

No comments:

Post a Comment