I’m writing this short essay as an exploration into power structures. As an opinion piece, I’m sure that many could have significant issues with the assumptions herein. If so, I welcome feedback since I’m still exploring ideas.
I’d like to start out with a thought about semantics and fallacies.
It’s easy to get distracted by details. The further you can get from something, the easier it is to see it in relation to everything around it. Environment and context is so important to fully understanding the importance and effect of a subject, that it’s worth stripping away as much superfluous information as possible.
That’s why I think avoiding semantics is quite important when you’re having an abstract high-level discussion. Even using a term like “marxism” can torpedo an argument when someone starts disagreeing about what that actually means…one academic will conjure up images of the Siberian gulag, while another will conjure up images of a communal utopia.
I’ve found that there are some common logical fallacies that surface in almost every argument that’s executed in an academic manner. The first and foremost is appeal to authority. It’s a very self-referential sort of fallacy, and one that’s particularly incestual at best. When a Ph.D at Purdue says this, and a published essayist says this, and research from George Mason says this, the discussion inevitably descends into a maelstrom of papers, books, studies, and other chaff discarded from academics sitting upon tenured ivory thrones.
But, like Nassim Taleb is fond of saying, they don’t have skin in the game. And I think skin in the game is very, very important.
A few other common fallacies when discussing politically sensitive subjects are quantitative fallacy, which depends upon numbers and facts to make assumptions about global situations, and appeals to tradition (not challenging enough assumptions).
With that said, let’s try to leave aside some commonly held assumptions and try to think about the world from as fresh a perspective as possible.
My proposal is simple: there is no actual difference between any form of government, from the perspective of the people.
I am hypothesizing that there is actually only a semantic change in governmental and societal structure, from the dawn of civilization to the current age. At the basis of all governments (and, further, all power structures) we simply have feudalism.
This feudalism is merely cloaked in screens that serve to assure ourselves we are progressing, or that we have some form of personal independence. It is cloaked in screens of democracy, oligarchy, kleptocracy, communism, socialism, fascism, plutocracy, technocracy, or any other form imaginable. These ever-evolving cloaks simply serve as ways to keep us believing we are progressive and palatable.
Let’s take a look at a very simple form of government: feudalism. At the core, you have a simple construct of control. One leads; another follows. One rules; another obeys. To extend this simplistic definition, the controller grants the controlled something (life, protection, land) in return for something (crops, labor). The estates of the realm of traditional feudalism, which were nobility, clergy, and peasantry, are mirrored in every structure of authority.
Where you had the nobility, you now have politicians and executives of public corporations. Where you had the clergy, you now still have the clergy along with academia & the press. Where you had the peasantry, you still have the peasantry…and depending upon what system you’re in, these are called either the workers, the proletariat, the citizens, the people, or the employees.
The functions are the same. The nobility/politicians enact law and create policy. The clergy/academia/press act as the mouthpiece of the nobility, spreading beliefs. The people, in the end, just do what they are told…either by force, from the politicians, or by convincing from the church, education, and the media.
Whether nobility/peasantry, companies/employees, party/people, the power dynamic is identical.
In the end, someone in control grants the other people, who aren’t in control, something in return for their services. Ironically, these services (whether a peasant giving a portion of his crop to the lord, or a worker manufacturing items for the party, or a citizen paying taxes to the government) are the very things that keep the ruling controller in power.
Now, some might argue that this is a symbiotic relationship. And in a way it is, which is why it has been this way for thousands of years. The first caveman leader offered something (strength & protection) in return for something else (followers & his pick of the cavewomen). Now, it’s quite the same. But I’d be careful about calling it symbiotic. If anything, it’s parasitic since the lower ranks don’t have much of a choice about it.
Symbiosis requires an equal amount of give & take. A lion and an antelope do not have a symbiotic relationship: the lion feeds off the antelope, but the antelope never gains anything from the lion’s existence. The antelope could be perfectly happy without a lion prowling about.
In reality, we could assume the unpleasant possibility that perhaps the people are not able to survive without a feudal master. Perhaps they need the clergy and the academics telling them what the nobility wants them to hear. But if this is the case, and if the peasantry really does need lords, then we must be honest about the rest of the reality: it means that the peasantry does not have a choice. It means, ultimately, that we are slaves. Even academia, media, and clergy are slaves to what the lords want. The nobility, after all, is who pays the mouthpiece. The peasantry do nothing except generate.
So let’s back up to think about our own place in the world.
It is no secret that I am an anarchist in the classical sense. I do not believe that any human has the right to assert dominance over another, without their express desire and consent. But that last phrase is the catch: their express desire and consent. I am fine if some people want a leader. That is their right. But what about those who do not? Who are we to say they must have a ruler. Do we have authority over them? And if we do, by what virtue? Meritocracy, birth, wealth, race?
It seems as if forcing someone into a system by virtue of where they’re born is dangerously colonial. If I was born in America, and must therefore support the democratic system, does that mean someone born in Papua New Guinea must accept the status quo? Why do they not deserve just as much personal freedom as others?
I’d like to pose this question: if we are cogs in the machine, do we have the right to stop turning?