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The Matrix Can Not Tell You Who You Are

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November 08, 2009 – Comments (11)

Sometimes a creative work means more to those who enjoy it than those who create it.

If we take a bird's eye view of the planet, besides admiring its beauty we may notice that there are no natural boundaries that prevent the passage of organisms and entities through and around. A mountain restricts travel, but man and bird easily fly over. The island may appear remote, yet there is no island on Earth that hasn't been discovered by some other organism. Nature doesn't prevent passage.

Let's do a brief theoretical experiment. In this scenario I imagine teaching my 12 year old self about the origin of government. I show younger-me a globe without any political markings, just the naked Earth on its tilted access. I ask him to show me the boundaries of Earth. He takes a pencil and carefully draws the northern border that separates the United States and Canada. That's what 12 year old me would do. (I can't say for certain what anyone else would do.)

So the question I have for the Fool community is this: what is the origin of government? The other day, you submitted thoughtful and amusing questions for me. That is my question for you.

In my opinion, government is a form of possession. It is an artificial construct of humans. Humans attempt to create clearly defined, unchanging boundaries from which we can identify who belongs to whom (in which case, I would always prefer to be the whom rather than the who.) Throughout history, man and his possessions (wife, children, property) belonged to the Gods or the Kings. Then came the libertarian-ish revolutions of the 17th-19th centuries. They attempted to turn this relationship on its head. The government became the who and the people were now the whom. The government is our possession. It answers to us. We the People hold these truths to be self evident.

So in the latter relationship, my opinion stays the same. I'd rather be the one possessing than the one possessed. Wouldn't you? Wouldn't anyone? Who among us wishes to be owned by another? Raise your hand so that I may take my cut of your possessions.

See How Far the Rabbit Hole Goes

Let's do another quick thought exercise. You are now an aspiring young servant of the State. Your dream is to make the world less hungry, more equitable, more humane, and more peaceful. Before you enter your service, the government belongs to you. But once you run for election and win, you are now the State. You belong to others. The relationship has shifted and you no longer possess, but are possessed. You must be re-elected. You must raise money, pander, and promise. This is how you are owned. For a few noble people among us, this is of no concern. For the rest of us, this is a big deal. I ask again, who among us wishes to be owned by another? You didn't raise your hand before. Why do you raise it now? What has changed?

Even Ron Paul Does It

What has changed is that you are now, as a State functionary, in a position to turn this relationship of possession right back on its head. Through some creative work of your mind, you can easily flip things so that the people are where they belong: owned by you. You can gerrymander your district, award yourself a lifetime pension, get in bed with lobbyists and special interests that can assure your re-election. With any brains at all, you can absolutely guarantee that you will never again be owned by the people. You will certainly be able to own them!

Even the noble Ron Paul, my greatest influence, refuses to be owned by the people. (My friends are howling at me right now. I love it.) In his decision to return to Congress, he made it clear. He would only continue in politics if he was re-elected with ever increasing vote totals and he could raise money. He wouldn't pander for your vote. He wouldn't put a great deal of effort into re-election campaigns. The people do not own him.

However, the relationship is different in one respect. He chooses not to be owned by the special interests either. It's a rare feat to be sure and the reason I so greatly admire him.

My Memories Aren't My Own. What Does That Mean?

Does the existence of Ron Paul, however rare, prove that government works? Does it prove that a coercive State can exist, an artificial construct of possession, in which public servants can choose to live and govern by their own principles rather than by the whims of others?

Emphatically, no. In fact, the reason Ron Paul governs in the manner he does is because he believes that government isn't necessary (see Rothbard: Power and Market to get a deeper understanding of Ron Paul's market anarchy philosophical foundation.) If enough people ruled their own lives and governed their neighbors in the same way as Ron Paul, he would indeed be right.

In every form every constructed, government is a restriction of the freedom of the who by the whom. The flags, the patriotic songs, the communal brotherhood shared among people who rally around the symbols of the State are all relevant so long as the people owned see no better alternative to their current situation.

Another way to look at this is to try to think about how is it that so many people in history have been enslaved, murdered, or disenfranchised without so much as a wimper by the various governments that have covered our Earth like a cancer since ancient times. Promises. They are always promised great things. It is not through fear that we submit, but through promises of a better life. Fear is a negative thought. It's has finite value. Hope has infinite value. With fear, you reach a threshold where you are no longer afraid. With hope, there is no threshold. Anything is possible, is it not? Promises bring hope.

It is when these promises become so far disconnected with reality that they can no longer be rationalized by even the simplest drone, that the relationship between the owned and the owner falls apart. Then there is violence.

But violence for what purpose? Unfortunately, tragically, sadly, history shows me that every Revolution is merely an effort to flip the relationship of possession on its head, to change the ownership dynamic within which our artificial construct of possession exists.

So the real question is, when are we going to stop attempting to own each other and instead attempt to voluntarily associate and exchange ideas with whomever we want, however we mutually agree? Doesn't this appear to be a better solution than constanlty exchanging one set of owners for another, only to see them reverse the relationship anyway? Is this revolving door of ownership really the secret to human advancement, or was it our ability to work together without attempting to own each other that sparked our greatest achievements. One is barbarism. The other is civilization. Which do you prefer?

David in Qatar

11 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On November 08, 2009 at 2:07 AM, angusthermopylae (39.90) wrote:

So the question I have for the Fool community is this: what is the origin of government?

My own opinion:  At heart, humans have always been, and always will be, herd animals.  Everything else is just that, taken to its comic extreme.

Think about it.  Chickens have pecking order (the purest "org chart").  Cattle, elephants, elephant-nose seals; they all have "The Bull" (mob mentality with the head lyncher).  Monkeys, apes, and canines have the alpha male or female (military discipline).  Lions have this, too.

Even flocking birds follow "the guy in front"...probably the purest form of democracy around ("Hey!  Let's follow that guy--he's in front now!")

Somewhere between being too primitive to hold two cells together and being smart enough to bang to rocks together, we developed/discovered/were infected by the desire to hang around in groups.  After that, it's just philosophy and the Comedy of the Absurd.

Think of the most individualistic animal on the earth...say, for instance, the mountain lion or the polar bear.  Absolutely no desire to gather in groups--heck, the only reason you'll see two adults is for the purpose of mating, right?  Because they are keystone predators, they can't gather in groups--they'll eat themselves out of house and home...literally*.

I propose that "government" as we view it is impossible for those species. With no desire to exist in units of more than one (occasionally two) grown-up(s), they would be entirely unable to grok the need for government...much as I find it impossible to understand the attraction of "Melrose Place."

 

* Funnily enough, humans are pretty much the keystone predators wherever they settle down...but have no problem eating themselves out of house and home.  Or, as Robert Heinlein put it:

If you put too many monkeys in a cage, they will begin killing each other.  Man is the only animal to do this to himself on purpose.

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#2) On November 08, 2009 at 2:14 AM, whereaminow (22.15) wrote:

angusthermopylae,

Even flocking birds follow "the guy in front"...probably the purest form of democracy around ("Hey! Let's follow that guy--he's in front now!")

That cracked me up.

Thanks for your thoughts. Very clever.

David in Qatar

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#3) On November 08, 2009 at 2:43 AM, whereaminow (22.15) wrote:

As a follow up to those curious, Oppenheimer's The State makes a compelling case that the origin of the State is in conquest and migration, as opposed to the idea that it's just the natural order of things. I have yet to see a compelling argument disproving Oppenheimer's thesis.

The book is free on pdf here.

David in Qatar

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#4) On November 08, 2009 at 7:57 AM, caterpillar10 wrote:

Nature doesn't prevent passage. ..... actually there is one natural barrier - time. Much of what a society does is about attempting to bargain w/ time or 'buy' it. And we can & do - for awhile - then it's over. War is one method of bargaining - every war, in my opinion, at its root, involves slavery - always. Therefore I must definitely agree w/ government being a form of possession. Thru it all time alone remains undefeated.

As to origins of government: I don't know if I could disprove Oppenheimer, however I would definitely question the separability of conquest & migration from the natural order. Considering how finely some lowly insect populations are able to organize themselves, it should be no surprise to find higher apes like ourselves naturally doing likewise. Can I break this down further? I will try.     

Survival and the continuum of life via reproduction provides the promise of a 'loophole' to penetrate the barrier of time; but so far (as I know) it has only kept us even or in the game, so to speak.  

All life forms utilize 'pre programmed', inherent behaviors or instinct. Instinct = reproduction + sensory apparatus (in our case roughly 5 clusters) to process impressions into rapid and/or autonomic responses assuring continued survival/reproduction. 

All forms exceeding plant life also involve motor control. Motor control = a complex of programs of learned behavior that function as if instinctive once learning completed (i.e. typing by touch or driving a car) + 5 clusters of 3 survival behaviors each that we are instinctively predisposed to learn. All mobile life shares all but the last cluster of 3 - these are uniquely human as far as I can tell....

1. stalk - hide - ambush

2. elude - mimic - flee 

3. defend - store - share

4. gather - signal - migrate

5. talk - record - envision

You really only need the first 4 sets for fundamental governmental structures to form. The 3 functions of the last set are enabled by intellect. I find it all the more interesting if that can get into the mix at some point and to some extent but it seems to be optional.

Think I'm kidding? Contemplate the hive building and honey production of bees or the agriculture of termites growing and farming fungi - that's why they need the sawdust. I'm ready to saw some wood myself - nite y'all:)    

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#5) On November 08, 2009 at 8:18 AM, whereaminow (22.15) wrote:

caterpillar10,

I really enjoyed reading your response.

Survival and the continuum of life via reproduction provides the promise of a 'loophole' to penetrate the barrier of time; but so far (as I know) it has only kept us even or in the game, so to speak

That is an interesting take that I have never considered. Very cool insight.

Also, I think misrepresented Oppenheimer. In fact, he was stating that migration and conquest were the natural order of things, as such we should not be surprised that The State so often resembles a group of robber on the one hand, while also performing acts that would fall under categories 3 and 5 above (share and envision) on the other hand without skipping a beat.

Funnny you bring up the bee colonies. In his book, Oppenheimer shows that bees also learn that once they can exploit the work of other bees by robbing their hives, they soon choose this method over building and producing themselves. Talk about the brith of the Democratic Bee Party!

David in Qatar

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#6) On November 08, 2009 at 9:24 AM, devoish (98.59) wrote:

If we take a bird's eye view of the planet, besides admiring its beauty we may notice that there are no natural boundaries that prevent the passage of organisms and entities through and around. A mountain restricts travel, but man and bird easily fly over.

You lost me right here. Antelope do not fly over mountains, birds do not swim ocean canyons. Nature sets boundarys for every creature, great and small. Different boundarys for each, but boundarys none the less.

And all of natures creatures endeavor to overcome boundarys, each to their own ability. Some cooperatively, such as ants building a bridge out of their own bodys until all cross, some individually such as August's mountain lions who spread so thin there is no food competition, just competition for territory.

Emphatically, no. In fact, the reason Ron Paul governs in the manner he does is because he believes that government isn't necessary (see Rothbard: Power and Market to get a deeper understanding of Ron Paul's market anarchy philosophical foundation.) If enough people ruled their own lives and governed their neighbors in the same way as Ron Paul, he would indeed be right.

Do you want to reword this conflicted paragraph? Or make it less general? You do understand the crushing idealistic flaw that is completely exposed in that last sentence. If enough people... If enough people were like that, we would not fence our yards or have security cameras. And most people do respect property rights, even though posession just like Gov't "is an artificial construct of humans". No animal respects my claim of property. I construct artificial boundarys that mimic the natural ones you say do not exist. Nowhere in nature, except humans, does any creature attempt to control who benefits from "property or posession" after their own death, or at least I can think of no example. Government is merely a tool to define what and where the limits of "possession" should be. Your version places that limit as "I have it, I decide". Government is a more formal version of the dirty looks that might stop you but do not stop some, if you piss in the drinking water. Laws are merely an agreement about where to far is. Some people do not need the law, some do.

As I have said before, big Gov't might fail at the enforcement and writing of these laws, it may be corrupted by the very same people who do not self impose equally to you where their rights end and others begin. Small Gov't always fails those who can self impose limits (respect others property rights) in favor of those who do not.

Look at the healthcare legislation. It is an attempt to balance the rights of existing private insurers and their investors with the rights of their customers to get what the private insurers marketing campaigns promise. I am pretty sure if the Americans of 1950 had been able to see the America of 2005 we would have Canadian healthcare.

Personally, I believe that the private insurers forfeited any respect for the "rights" they had when they sold policys that promised to pay for healthcare bills and then did not do so.

Taking August's example of the mountain lion I think you are looking in the wrong place for people who can respect property rights. I think you should look to the "treehuggers" you mock who show they can understand the right of nearly extinct mountain lions to exist and are willing to work toward that end, vs those interests who are unable to recognize the mountain lions rights and seek to exterminate them or drive them off.

Promises. They are always promised great things. It is not through fear that we submit, but through promises of a better life.

You promise great things. And for me to have these great things, I have only to let individuals, good or bad, have free reign what to do with their possessions, whether those decisions harm me, my water, my food  or my land.

Thanks for the warnings.

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#7) On November 08, 2009 at 9:40 PM, angusthermopylae (39.90) wrote:

I think you should look to the "treehuggers" you mock who show they can understand the right of nearly extinct mountain lions to exist and are willing to work toward that end, vs those interests who are unable to recognize the mountain lions rights and seek to exterminate them or drive them off.

Ah, but within the context of my example, there is no such thing as a "right," especially when applied outside the context of a particular government.

Assume that, as I propose, "government" arises as the logical, extreme absurdity of a basic instinct...it results from (or maybe is the perversion of) the "natural order."   If that is true, then by extension any of those rulesbuilt into government only apply within the context of the governed.  The rules are properly applied to beings within the system, and do not apply at all to beings outside the system.  To do so would be the same as saying that my eating peas or carrots is equivalent to mass murder--don't living vegetables have the "right" to live?  

(Anthropomorphism--the assigning of human attributes to non-humans--leads to the fundamental paradox of those "treehuggers":   Animals have the "right" to live, but not to eat the treehuggers...even though it's perfectly natural for some to do so.  But at the same time, it's unnatural for humans to do what they do naturally--move in, kill off the threats, and breed as fast as possible.)

Back to the government debate:

Even if government, rights, and all the rest are merely constructs or outgrowths of our own weak intellect, I think this dialogue pretty much sums up why we're even having this debate:

Death: You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged.


Susan: But people have got to believe that, or what's the point?


Death: You need to believe in things that aren't true. How else can they become? 

--From Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett

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#8) On November 08, 2009 at 10:01 PM, whereaminow (22.15) wrote:

devoish,

This was a thought experiment and a fun one, nothing more. It's like letting strangers view your personal notebook as you work out ideas. Of course there are going to be inconsistencies but that's why we continue to think and learn - to work out these problems logically. Thanks for commenting.

I agree that small government always fails. It fails because government is force and coercion, so it must always be expanding.

angusthermopylae,

I'm thrilled that you bring up the concept of "political rights" in this way.

Let me go back to Oppenheimer for a minute. In his view of history, the stages of history go like this:

1. Peasants have nothing. Groups of herdsman and hunters leave him alone for the most part. There is little to gain from attacking him.

2. Peasants start to build a surplus. They are attacked and killed for the bounty.

3. The robbers realize (crucial point here) that if they leave the peasant alive, he can remain subjugated and continue to produce for them.

4. Over time, the robbers discover that they gain from this, so killing unnecessarily must be bad.

5. The concept of a right to life is formed.

So, let's say that Oppenheimer is right. (He may not be, so we can discuss that too.) If he's right, then political rights are just a representation of a person's usefulness to the political elite, and as thus are not something to be cherished or fought for. In fact, by exercising your political right, all you are doing is cementing the subjugator-subjugatee relationship!

At first, I did not want to believe that Oppenheimer was correct, but I find it difficult to refute him. As he says, if you are going to have a concept of the State based on history, then that concept must actually be represented in history somewhere, otherwise it is just your fanciful idea of the State and nothing more. Very true, indeed.

David in Qatar

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#9) On November 08, 2009 at 10:11 PM, selfdestruct2 (44.93) wrote:

You guys are deep. I just want to know if my stocks are going up or down. Seriously, you all have interesting blogs.

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#10) On November 09, 2009 at 12:22 AM, angusthermopylae (39.90) wrote:

Whereaminow,

That looks a lot like what the history books called "enlightened despotism."  This term was used to categorize rulers of the 1800s who would actually promote social reform because it benefited the ruler directly ("Hey! No one has tried to assassinate me today!") or indirectly ("More peasants = more money!  How can I lose?")

[As an aside, I'm actually a fan of this approach.  Once I become Evil Overlord, my second act will be full benefits for all my minions and their survivors.  Recruitment should be a breeze!]

The trouble with the enlightened despot framework is that it is difficult to reconcile with modern examples.  For example, name a president who acted in the name of The Greater Good.  I bet you'll find that, amongst the populace at the time, it was close to a 50-50 split between those who believed that and those who thought the SOB was trying something cynical and self-serving.  Worse, the waters get muddier because he actually might be doing both:  Trying to help the world and wet his beak at the same time....which means he was effectively screwing over one group to help others (and himself)!

...sound like a familiar refrain?  Here's how it fits into Oppenheimer:

Enter the Matrix concept.  Remember that line where Morpheus says that every time you pay your taxes, every time you go to work, you reinforce the Matrix?

In fact, by exercising your political right, all you are doing is cementing the subjugator-subjugatee relationship!

Instead of looking at it as a subjugator-subjugatee relationship, how about approaching it as an all-encompassing environment...the "natural order" that we work in?  Government isn't imposed from the outside--the subjugator isn't really the guy at the top--he's just keeping the seat warm for a few years or a few decades.  What allows him to occupy that position, however, is the entire societal framework that tolerates or even requires that position.

For example, tomorrow I declare myself as Evil Overlord, right here on CAPS.  Call a press conference, pass out fliers, start organizing the minions (remember those benefits, fellas!)  What are my chances of success?  Zilch.  Zero.  If I'm lucky, I'll be a household name and the butt of jokes on Leno and the Daily Show.

If I'm unlucky, I'll get the notice of a very large group of armed men...either my PO'd neighbors, the DOJ, or even the military.  Why?  Because in the framework of our country, our society, and especially our citizens' minds, there is no recognized position as Evil Overlord.  I have violated the ongoing rules of the Matrix in which we all live, and I must be stopped, destroyed, or excised.

Notice that I said "especially our citizens' minds."  That's where the basis of government lives.  Napoleon not only gained power, but he actually came back after being exiled.  There was still room for a King in the minds of the French citizens.  He wouldn't have a chance nowadays.

This is both my great fear and great hope (yes, even as a hopeful Overlord):  The rules of society exists because everyone believes so.  Change, progress, and improvement are slow because you have to work within an acceptable framework for 300+ million people...

...while at the same time, 300+ million people can suddenly say "Wow! What a great idea!" and lead us straight on the road to [unpleasant afterlife of your choice].

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#11) On November 09, 2009 at 5:30 AM, whereaminow (22.15) wrote:

angusthermopylae,

Great suff. You wrote a lot here and I absorbed it all, so don't be offended that I cherry-picked one particularly interesting item.

There was still room for a King in the minds of the French citizens. He wouldn't have a chance nowadays.

The true radical recognizes this phenomenon, while the dullard sits back and just complains that "this is how things have always been."

One of the reasons I believe that the Separation of State and Economics is possible (my intermediate goal to true human freedom) is that no one ever believed that the Separation of Church and State was possible, until a few motivated people made it happen.

(One can argue that such a concept hasn't even been fully implemented today, but they can not argue that the concept isn't universally accepted by the public as the proper state of affairs in a civilized society, a fact that would have been unthinkable among the same public before it actually happened.)

David in Qatar

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