Saturday, August 29, 2009

Evolving Utopia Part 17

Part 17: Elitism

We can assume that the population of a Utopia might contain a scattering of Autonomous individuals, but it is not something we can count on. We have had no experience of situations where Autonomous individuals constitute a significant fraction of the population.
What we need to do, then, is figure out how relatively ordinary people will behave in a society where they have a chance to make free choices. Although living in an idiosyncratic culture gives us a larger degree of freedom than, say, an ideological culture like China or Saudi Arabia; we still have to have a strong conditioning to conformity to be able to use language. This means that whenever we are not conforming to the ordinary people around us, such as when we are in an elite minority stratum, we have to do something to compensate for the anxiety that results from the nonconformity.

In fact there is a general pattern of compensatory behavior that we can call the "Elitist Syndrome". There are three aspects:

1. The elite tend to live or engage in activities in areas that are restricted, by law or custom, to members of the elite stratum. We call these areas "Golden Ghettos".

2. When in contact with the non-elite the elite tend to behave in some stereotypical way. The classic example is the Englishman who "dresses for dinner" in a tropical jungle so as not to "go native". An elite wife might say "Not in front of the [children][servants]".

3. The elitist ideology generally contains a myth that explains the stratification, e.g., that their blood is "blue" rather than red, or that the non-elite are a different species.

This syndrome does not only occur in broad social stratification, but in personal relations. The classic example here is "Father knows best", which may be true in specific cases but is not a valid general principle. The attitudes of doctors and lawyers toward their clients, or managers toward employees, are often based on the elitist syndrome.

If point of fact, however, the non-elite are just as human as the elite so they respond with a reflection of the same syndrome.

1. The non-elite tend to live or engage in activities in areas that are (by law or custom) restricted to members of the non-elite stratum. We call this a "Ghetto".
2. When in contact with the elite the non-elite tend to behave in some stereotypical way. The classic example is the servile "Uncle Tom" syndrome. A more negative response is an attitude (real or false) of obdurate ignorance or dumb insolence.

3.The non-elite ideology generally contains a myth that explains the stratification, e.g., that the elite are an enemy and they are (temporarily) defeated warriors, or that they are elite in some esoteruc way that the elite dont know about. The "Warrior" ideology was institutionalized in the "Black Panther" movement. The classic form of "Esoteric superiority" is the Jewish myth that they are "God's Chosen People" which they maintained through centuries of persecution.

There is a particularly poignant example of the syndrome: the Nixon White House during the Watergate affair. What makes this interesting is that generally there are few or no reporters with an eye on the behavior of the non-elite. During Watergate the Nixon White House staff:

1. Made the Oval Office into a "Golden Ghetto"

2. Asked "Would this [behavior] play in Peoria?", as a test for maintaining the facade of having the same stereotypical behavior as middle-class, middle-west Americans.

3. Nixon was quoted as saying "The people are like children waiting to be led."

These are the ordinary reactions of a power elite; the kinds of things that justify Lord Acton's proverb "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". Those actions are typical for a White House that has not totally banished toadies and sycophants. There is little new in this aspect.
What made the Watergate situation so special were the reactions of the non-elite; the rest of us.

1. Some of us said "Don't tell me, I don't want to know about it", thus creating a kind of intellectual ghetto.
2. Some of us said: "That can't be true:--he's the President", which is a symptom of an "Uncle Tom" attitude.

3.a Some of us said "All politicians are like that", which is an ideology of Esoteric Superiority, asserting that all politicians are morally inferior to all nonpoliticians. That is not likely to be true as there are probably a few honest and honorable politicians.

3.b Some of us said "Impeach now" long before there was any evidence of behavior that an uninvolved person would consider to demonstrate an impeachable activity; which is the expression of an ideology of Warrior Hostility.

What this shows us is that a large part of our reactions to Watergate were determined by the elite status of the President (and his hangers-on) in American life, rather than the facts of the case or any reasonably considered political attitude. We were simply reacting to the relatively elite status of the White House and its occupants.
This is not to say that there was no content to the Watergate affair, simply that the way we worked it out depended more on the Elitist syndrome than the ostensible content of the controversy.

The Gnostics in the period after Jesus crucifixion had an interesting type of organization.

When they met they cast lots and attendees were randomly assigned the roles of priest, bishop, deacon, etc., to carry out the appropriate parts of the mass. The orthodox were shocked, as most churchgoers would be now.

But it may provide a way to get out of the trap of the elitest syndrome.

Let's assume that we have a global population of 5-billion people. If there were councils of 12 people for each locality, with every member of the council representing 20,000 or so people, there would be 20,000 or so of these local councils. Each of these would send a representative to one of 1700 or so district councils.

Each of these 1700-odd district councils would send a representative to one of 144 regional councils. Each of these regional councils would send a representative to one of 12 "continental" councils. They would each send a representative to a global council who would make global policy. In every case effort would be made to settle any matter at the lowest possible level.

The way to avoid elitism is to have the members of the local council picked at random from the 250,000 people the local council represents. It would be easy to have that done by computer.

Then each of the representatives from each council would be chosen at random from the members of that council.

That way the governance of the globe would involve less than 250,000 people (Not counting staff, but most staff work would be done by computers.) In addition, the higher the level of council that one was involved in, the more council meetings one would have to attend, and so the more effort one would have to exert. That will make the members of the global council "Equal-on-the-average".

The officers of any of the councils, such as Chairperson and Secretary, along with the representative to the next higher council, would be chosen at random. That would emphasize that everyone is equal.

Whether or not this kind of structure would be effective is hard to judge because we don't know whether contemporary political ideas are simply accidents of circumstances or are based on inherent human qualities. I suspect this would work in something like the Utopia I have described elsewhere but whether it could solve the problems of a population of 5-billion is not obvious.

At any rate it is a way of organizing a global governmental infrastructure that doesn't require a political ideology because it works with units of 12 people or less.

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