A site on the future of psychology

Developing a unified theory is a humbling process, even to  those of us with fairly fortified egos. The problem, of course, is that there  is simply too much information that can be brought to bear, and thus one inevitably will remain in a state of ignorance, relative to what one would want  to know. For me, economics and political theory are two areas in which I am woefully ignorant relative to what would be ideal. Like many in the helping professions, I have, at an intuitive level, social democratic leanings. Yet, I
am not able to argue deeply why such a position is a viable theory of governance.

Indeed, recently a commentator on a post blasted me and my  support for Obama as being like a fundamentalist creationist who wraps themselves in ideology, blindly worships an authority, and cannot accept the error of my ways. My first reaction, of course, was to dismiss such criticism as completely off base. Yet, one of the things the Justification Hypothesis has taught me is that such a knee jerk dismissal is exactly how the human mind is designed to function. We are invested and entrenched in our justification
narratives. Claims that our system of justification is wrong activates a state of dissonance, and the natural response to restore equilibrium is to discredit the source. This basic design feature of the justification system explains much of what passes for debate on the internet (and elsewhere).

Awareness of the design features of our minds allows us to alter habits. So now when I find myself “activated”, rather than
immediately moving toward a more closed state, I remember research on wrongology (what happens when we are accused of being wrong or discover that we are wrong) and my little essay on verbals, which together allow me some perspective. Here is a TED talk on wrongology. And here is my little essay on verbals…

“Without a doubt, the most interesting animal on earth is the verbal. In a span of less than a hundred thousand years, verbals have
gone from an inconsequential little species to a world dominator. They exhibit more control over the environment than any other creature. Verbals are named as such because perhaps their most unique feature is that they have complicated systems of symbolic communication. One of the most interesting and amusing thing about verbals is the enormous variety of ideas they generate in order to explain things. Indeed, it seems verbals can come to believe just about anything and everything. And they passionately pronounce these beliefs, often trying to persuade others. The problem with verbals really is their success–they are causing all sorts of extinctions and changes to the planet they live on. The other problem is that because verbals really believe the stories they tell themselves and because the stories are different, verbals have all sorts of conflicts. The combination of their ability to successfully control the environment in the short-term and the rampant conflict they have between various groups of them makes the future of the species of verbals uncertain.”

With these perspectives in mind, I have spent the last 24 hours surfing the web, exploring the essences of various political ideologies, most notably Liberal-Democrat, Conservative-Republican and Libertarian viewpoints in America.  As I did so, a
striking parallel with these three parties and the Influence Matrix began to emerge. Before I note what I saw, a caveat is that I recognize that there are two dominant domains (the economic and the social) that notions of liberal and conservative apply, and just because these are the three major parties in America today, does not mean that such perspectives are always present. Also, I recognize that by drawing such parallels I am glossing over enormous complexity.

Given those caveats, what did I see? Namely, that the foundational concerns of the three major political parties in America parallel the three relational process dimensions in the Influence Matrix. For those not as familiar with the Influence Matrix (I have written the least about it, although use it clinically all the time), it is the subject of chapter four in A New Unified Theory of Psychology, and here is a powerpoint presentation on it…MatSymp11b

In a nutshell, the essence of the Matrix is the notion that social influence, which is the capacity to influence important others in accordance with one’s interest, was a crucial resource related to survival and reproduction. As such, humans monitor their social influence in their social spheres, and are motivated to approach high influence situations and avoid the loss of influence. A second key feature of the Matrix–and this is what is relevant here–is that it argues that there are three primary relational process dimensions that relate to social influence. A relational process is the process by which we engage in social exchange with others. Those three processes are cooperative influence (called the dimension of Love), competitive influence (called the dimension of Power) and freedom from influence (called the dimension of Freedom).

In this context then, my guess is that no one would have trouble lining up the foundational concerns of our three primary political parties and these three relational process dimensions. The core concern of the Liberal-Democratic party is equality and egalitarianism, and it advocates that the central role of governance is to ensure these values. This, of course, is the Love dimension. The core concern of the Republican-Conservative is order, tradition, and respect for a (Christian) authority. This aligns with the Power dimension, in that it emphasizes hierarchy.(The alignment with Power is perhaps clearest if we go to the extreme right, Fascism). Finally, the core value of Libertarianism is freedom from governmental influence, which is the core concern of the Freedom dimension. Although I was aware of these core concerns before, it was in reading them side by side that made me conscious that their relative positions paralleled the dimensions of the Matrix. And, as I thought about how each side operates and defines themselves in relationship to one another, the parallels resonated with me.

It must be noted that the Influence Matrix was developed with a focus on how individuals navigate the social environment, and much additional consideration must be paid to how well such a formulation would translate into large-scale social systems. That said, the parallels were striking enough for me to want to share them.

Gregg

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Comments on: "Politics, Wrongology, and the Influence Matrix" (20)

  1. jasonbessey said:

    Nice post! And I liked the “Wrongology” video, as well. She made an interesting point about how, as human beings, that of course we are often wrong, yet we really desire to feel right.

    You noted that those in the helping professions tend to have “social democratic” leanings. And I suspect that is probably correct. You also made an important point when you stated, “…that there is simply too much information that can be brought to bear, and thus one inevitably will remain in a state of ignorance, relative to what one would want to know”.

    A few more points, and then a question, (which I think is relevant to Matt’s criticism that you mentioned)…

    Social democracy requires, (at least to some degree), some measure of top-down centralized planning, (though not to the degree of a totally socialistic state). Yet, “planning” requires “planners” and “planners” are people — and people (as you noted) will inevitably remain in a state of ignorance, relative to what one would want to know simply because there is too much information that can be brought to bear.

    Whatever the planners plan will inevitably have, for good or for bad, real life consequences on the lives of other people, even if those planners have the noblest of intentions.

    So here’s my question:

    What if “the planners”, with their imperfect information, (and even with the best of intentions), are in fact wrong…

    …but FEEL that they are right?

    —Jason

    • Hi Jason,
      You bring up a crucial point at the end of your post, regarding people having good intentions, feeling they are doing good, but actually not. This notion, of course, is enormously broad, not only applying to social democrats (e.g., libertarians might have noble intentions, feel certain that small government is the right way to go, get elected, dismantle the government in an ineffective way and watch as disasterous unintended consequences unfold). Given that, I am not sure how to respond directly to your point. I could speak to how I approach the problem as a professional psychologist. Or I could speak to how I hope the government would handle the issue, and the importance of living in a democracy for the people, by the people and so forth.

      I am of the opinion that we need a centralized government because the ‘nation’ is a group level reality that needs coordination. In response to your point, I see an inherent tension between the group and the individual, and the central problem that one needs to solve in developing an effective governance structure is the effective navigation of that tension.

      Does this begin to address the issue you are raising?

      Gregg

      • jasonbessey said:

        Hi Gregg,

        I completely agree that people with the best of intentions, regardless of ideology, can engage in behavior with disastrous consequences.

        However, I am of the opinion that your belief in a need for centralized government for group coordination actually contradicts your position on “best of intentions/unintended consequences” position. Just the opposite is needed — radical decentralization. For if a centralized government, (which amounts to a really small group of people, relative to a nation’s overall population), makes the wrong decision, then those unintended consequences unfold for everyone.

        You also raise the issue of democracy. However, I think that MASS democracy is highly problematic, and actually only gives the mere appearance of democracy. For example, if you are one of a million and one people to vote between two candidates, then the statistical reality is that your one vote won’t actually matter. For the only way that your vote would actually matter is that if 500,000 people voted for one candidate, and the other 500,000 people voted for the other candidate, then your one vote would be a tie-breaker…and the probability that that would happen is somewhere between slim and none.

        Furthermore, in order for candidates to appeal to so many people, lots of money is needed. And that money will inevitably come from big special interests. Also, in order to get a majority vote from so many people, a candidate has an incentive to be vague, ambiguous, engage in rhetorical nonsense, talking points, and downright demagoguary.

        In short, democracy can only effectively function in small groups where individual’s vote’s actually have a statistical chance of making a true difference, where the voices of those individuals can actually be heard, and large sums of campaign money wouldn’t even be needed.

        Thus, I’m inclined to think that a more “bottom-up” approach to government would be best, (something along the lines of “cellular democracy” or “libertarian municipalism”).

        Beginning at the local level, divide up a municipality into districts where people in each district vote for a representative on a town/city council. (In large municipalities, even subdivide districts into subdistricts). This way, you’d have small groups of people democratically deciding who would represent them at that smallest unit of government.

        Add to that “recall powers” for those groups of people….just to keep those who represent them “in line”!

        Members of municipal governments, in turn, could select representatives of the municipality to the next level, (say, a county subdistrict). Members of the municipal government have recall powers, as well.

        Keep this same pattern going from the “bottom-up”. Something like, “county subdistrict” to “county” to “state” to “national region” to “national” —- or something to that effect. And with recall powers at every level.

        The point is, is that democratic processes would always be small groups at every level, with millions of small groups of citizens at the very foundation. If people don’t like what they see at the national level, all they have to do is put pressure on that local rep . The local rep can do what is asked, (and put pressure on the next level up, then that level can put pressure on the next level up, and so forth), or be replaced.

        Like I said, I’m a radical decentralist!

        —Jason

        P.S. Of course, if all of this funded purely from land values and natural resources, all the better! :-)

  2. “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

    F.A. Hayek

  3. Great post, Gregg.

    I had two points in mind in my somewhat rambling blast. First, does it make sense to blame the right for their rejection of science when Obama and his supporters (along with much of the GOP) seem to reject basic math and logic regarding spending and debt? My second point was to address your question of dignity, well-being and integrity in society. Without major changes to our government in the way it degrades human dignity I do not see that as possible.

    Have you every read about praxeology? It seems like a worthy topic for this blog.

    • Matt,
      Thanks for your note. You and Jason clearly are on similar wave lengths, as he and I were just having a discussion about praxeology a month or so ago. Jason, a post on praxeology and how it frames human action would be very appropriate given Matt’s comment, don’t you think? It could go lots of different directions.

      In regards to Obama and the government, you see black and white and I see many shades of grey. Certainly, I understand why, from a Libertarian perspective, Obama looks like Bush and they both look like disasters. Fair enough. Although I am definitely intrigued by a Libertarian perspective, I don’t agree with much of it., and I don’t think that the perspective would stand up to the actual complexities of governing. Indeed, it is very easy (for me at least) to imagine a Libertarian President unraveling the government in a way that led to absolute disaster. Of course, given that libertarians have done virtually no actual governing, it is hard to know what the consequences would be.

      You talk about math and logic. It just is not that simple, IMO. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman is an extremely smart, logical, and mathematically astute individual. He argued with much passion and conviction that the stimulus package was only 1/2 the size it needed to be, and that while we certainly have a long term debt problem, the obvious (though counterintuitive) solution was to temporarily increase the deficit to jump start the economy. Now, of course, from a Libertarian perspective, Krugman is a fool. It would be wonderful if we had omnipotent power and could run through multiple trials with the US and global economies, trying out different visions. That would be the way to test who was correct. Of course, large-scale national or global level experimentation is impossible. And without the benefit of experimentation, we are left with complicated, conflicting arguments for what we ought to do. Bottom line is, from my perspective, the right course of action is enormously complicated, and many, many smart people come to very different conclusions about what we ought to do.

      And ultimately this brings me back to young earth creationism, and why I keep harping on it. It is one major area where we actually can know the right answer, black and white, with mathematical, scientific and logical certainty.

      Peace (a value I share with my libertarian friends!),
      Gregg

      • jasonbessey said:

        Hi Gregg,

        One thing you should keep in mind about libertarianism is that it’s not a monolithic perspective. Just as there are many schools of thought in psychology, there are many schools of thought in libertarianism, as well. Personally, I tend to lean in the direction of “left-libertarianism”, which is definitely a “minor” school of thought in libertarianism. (Even then, “left-libertarianism” itself could be broken down into even smaller, sub-schools of thought.)

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-libertarianism

        Also, the three political ideologies you mentioned, (liberal, conservative, and libertarian), do share one thing in common: they all have roots in the classical liberal tradition.

      • Gregg, you say:

        “Although I am definitely intrigued by a Libertarian perspective, I don’t agree with much of it., and I don’t think that the perspective would stand up to the actual complexities of governing.”

        This perfectly illustrates how far apart we are. Governing is not and should not be as complex as viewed by statists. The mainstream (Democrat/Republican) view is that everything (obesity, office chairs, drugs, bedwetting) is a problem requiring a complex government solution (every single one requiring more money and power). That is exactly the wrong approach. Decentralization is the answer. People are capable of much more than you give them credit for. They don’t need their lives micromanaged by government. And if you want to debate whether or not government micromanages people’s lives, I’m happy to do it. It’s astonishing the level of regulation the federal government has in our lives, in violation of the Constitution (see amendment 10).

        You say:

        “It would be wonderful if we had omnipotent power and could run through multiple trials with the US and global economies, trying out different visions. That would be the way to test who was correct. Of course, large-scale national or global level experimentation is impossible. And without the benefit of experimentation, we are left with complicated, conflicting arguments for what we ought to do.”

        I see this as an argument for decentralization. You acknowledge the complexity of things. Does is not make sense to send decision making back to individuals? We can all keep the money we earn and spend / invest it as we chose, rather than having it confiscated by the braintrust in Washington who primarily spend it on war and redistribution to the rich. That is the only moral solution. How does Harrisonburg get fed? Think of the complexity of one city in one state. What government agency ensures that the right food is on the right plate at the right time? Is it remotely conceivable that a government solution to feeding Harrisonburg would work? There is no government entity that feeds Harrisonburg. Yet Harrisonburg gets fed every day. The market is an amazing entity. We get Halloween candy on the shelves every year without an executive order from the president. Once a person begins to see the capabilities of a free market to deliver goods and services they will begin to see how problems are truly solved. It’s not by power hungry maniacs who’s skill set is centered on winning elections. Markets will cure disease and provide food, not government.

        You say:

        “ And ultimately this brings me back to young earth creationism, and why I keep harping on it. It is one major area where we actually can know the right answer, black and white, with mathematical, scientific and logical certainty.”

        I’m still curious to see examples of when Obama had an opportunity to draw a line in the sand with creationists and passed. Again, I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, but I certainly can’t think of when it has.

        Last point: I think there is more we can be certain of than just the age of the earth and the absolute scientific rejection of creationism. I suppose it could be argued that these facts do not have the math and science behind them that evolution has, but I think the facts are solid and they are *much* more applicable to our current situation:

        1) perpetual war is devastating to people, the economy and society in general.

        2) deficit spending / massive debt (100% of GDP) cannot be continued, destroys the economy, and ultimately harms society in general.

        Do you disagree with those facts? Is there any doubt in your mind that Obama will continue both perpetual war and perpetual deficit spending?

        Peace,

        Matt

      • jasonbessey said:

        Gregg: “…ultimately this brings me back to young earth creationism, and why I keep harping on it. It is one major area where we actually can know the right answer, black and white, with mathematical, scientific and logical certainty.”

        And

        “I am of the opinion that we need a centralized government because the ‘nation’ is a group level reality that needs coordination.”
        ———
        Jason: When creationists see the enormous complexity of life, they simply assume that life must be something that requires an “Intelligent Designer” precisely because of life’s enormous complexity.

        Of course, those who are scientifically informed scoff at such a notion because they understand that an “Intelligent Designer” is not necessary for the enormous complexity of life. All that is needed is variation, selection, and retention for the feedback loop of natural selection to build biological complexity.

        So when it comes to human society, why is it that some of these same people believe that, in a manner of speaking, an “Intelligent Designer”, (i.e., a centralized government), is required for the enormous complexity of society? Why is it that there cannot simply be variation, selection, and retention for the feedback loop of cultural selection to build societal complexity?

        Is there a double-standard here? A contradiction, perhaps?

  4. Nice post.

    2 notes:
    1) You said (essentially) that everyone covets social influence. I am suspicious of almost all claims that all people are a certain way. Though I am fine with the slightly toned down claim that certain societies reliably produce certain types of people, and that those are the societies we tend to be interested in. I have met lots of people who show very little interest in social influence (though to be fair, in many of those cases it was because bad things happened when those people last had influence).

    2) One of the big problem with politics is that while I think you give a very good read of the theoretical ideologies of the theoretical parties, the actual parties don’t categorize well in practice. For example, in practice, because they advocate a top-down solution to social problems, the democrats spend most of their time being concerned about Power. Similarly, because they can’t live with the bigoted implications of their parochial ways, the republicans actually spend most of their time awkwardly trying to advocating Egalitarianism. Finally, part of the reason that many people become Libertarian is a belief that the best way to get Egalitarianism is through freedom – which restores Power to individuals. It is all a big mess.

    There was a great article in the Atlantic about gun control. Forty years ago the NRA and the Republican party (including Saint Regan) were the biggest gun control advocates in the country, and the Black Panthers were the group most important in fighting for gun rights. Meanwhile Mitt Romney tries to convince the “occupy wall street” crowd that he feels their pain, and that we are all in this together. Sigh.

    Eric

    • Eric,
      I agree with what you say. All of it. Here are some brief thoughts.

      1. According to the Matrix (and its comcomitant assumptions associated with the unified theory), social influence can be conceptualized as a primary reinforcer. That is my essential point. That said, it certainly does not mean that social influence is THE prime mover for all people all the time. Dispositional variation (i.e., very low extraversion), disease or disorder (e.g., autism, schizoid/schizotypal personality configurations), and reinforcement history all need to be considered when we look at one individual’s tendencies in the social context. Also note that the dimension of autonomy provides a conceptual frame for folks who distance themselves. Failing effective social exchanges, (especially if they are effective in controlling the nonsocial environment), individuals are predicted to distance themselves and become increasingly asocial and self-reliant. That said, though, this distancing is not an ideal state of health and we would predict that not getting key social belonging needs met would have some significant impact on well-being.

      2. Totally agree with your point about messiness; indeed, my thoughts about it almost made me not share the alignment. Don’t know what else to add…

      Gregg

    • jasonbessey said:

      Hi Eric,

      Another argument that could be made about democrats/modern liberals and republicans/conservatives is in regards to their differences in how the institution of the State ought to relate to other institutions.

      For example, the word “conservative” is clearly derived from the word “conserve”. But what is it that conservatives want to conserve? Well, traditional institutions of course. But then, there’s more to it than that. For it’s not just about “the ends” of conserving social institutions that is relevant, but more importantly, “the means to those ends”, as well. And the means to those ends is through the power of the state. Conservatives strive to conserve various social institutions under the auspices of the State.

      Modern liberals, on the other hand, strive to alter or amend various social institutions through the auspices of the state.

      So in this sense, conservatives and modern liberals have opposing ends, but share similar means to their opposing ends, (i.e., “statist” means).

      This is why I shake my head whenever I hear conservatives say they desire “small government”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Conservatives desire “big government” just as much as their modern liberal counterparts — they just desire it in different areas!

      A perfect example is the current issue of gay marriage. Conservatives believe the State should define marriage as between one man and one woman, (i.e., use the State to conserve a particular social institution). Modern liberals believe the State should expand that definition to include gay couples, (i.e., use the State to amend/alter a particular social institution).

      Bring libertarians into the picture, and they typically throw the following curveball…

      …libertarians ask, “Ought the State even be defining marriage in the first place?” To which the typical answer is a resounding “No! The State has no business defining marriage, or any other type of personal relationship, in the first place.” Thus, to a typical libertarian, the issue as to how the State should define marriage is beside the point.

      But then, libertarians have their own divisions. One division is the anarchist / minarchist divide. “Anarchism”, (which literally means, “rule by no one”), is a philosophy of anti-Statism which, in it’s various manifestations, argues for a social order without the institution of the State, (i.e., a stateless society). Indeed, anarchists will argue that the State is not a social institution, but in fact an anti-social institution.

      “Minarchism” (a play off the word “anarchism” meaning “minimal rule”), on the other hand, will basically concede that a minimal State is required for some basic things, (i.e., the State is a necessary evil).

      Another divide is between “left libertarians” amd “right libertarians”. One common dispute here is over how to deal with land and natural resources, with those on the left seeing land as being held in common, with the right arguing that land should be held privately.

      Another dispute between left and right libertarians can be in regards to other social institutions. Right libertarians might have more traditional views about other social institutions. Left libertarians might see other social institutions as not only being just as oppressive as the State, but might even see the State and these other institutions as mutually reinforcing systems of oppression. For example, nineteenth century libertarian Voltairine de Cleyre was adamantly opposed to the very institution of marriage, (let alone state-sanctioned marriage), and even thought it best that lovers should have separate residences so that each could maintain their autonomy, (and she felt that women would be the ones who woud lose their autonomy more than men would if they shared a residence).

      Many left-libertarians might actually be sympathetic towards certain issues that people don’t typically associate with libertarianism, like labor unions, workers’ cooperatives, and mutual banking. The distinction, though, is that left-libertarians tend to support these activities provided that they are carried out outside the institution of the State, (i.e., counter-instituions).

      But then this brings us to the issue of “left” and “right” and where these terms came from. Write Sheldon Richman sums it up nicely:

      —- “The terms were apparently first used in the French Legislative Assembly after the revolution of 1789. In that context those who sat on the right side of the assembly were steadfast supporters of the dethroned monarchy and aristocracy — the ancien régime — (and hence were conservatives) while those who sat on the left opposed its reinstatement (and hence were radicals). It should follow from this that libertarians, or classical liberals, would sit on the left.”

      Richman goes on to argue that libertarianism, considered in this historical context, is properly understood to actually exist on “the left”. From this point of view, left libertarianism is redundant, and right libertarianism is an oxymoron!

      Which brings us back to modern conservatives and modern liberals. Modern liberals are commonly referred to as “left wing”. But considering the above historical context of the terms “left” and “right”, modern liberals may sit to the left of conservatives, but they BOTH sit to the right of “the ancien régime”…as do, I believe, most self-proclaimed libertarians these days, whether they realize it or not.

      Have a good one,
      Jason

      • You continue to hit it out of the park, Jason. So happy to see this kind of writing on a blog like this!

      • jasonbessey said:

        Thanks Matt!

        There’s a couple of other blog posts (yesterday and today) on other sites that I just found out about that you might like, (on LVT/Henry George/public rent collection). They were very well written.

        http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/10/24/1029505/-Time-to-resurrect-an-old-idea:-Economic-Rent

        http://discoursesonliberty.blogspot.com/2011/10/images-of-freedom-georgist-political.html

        Enjoy,
        Jason

      • Hi Jason,

        I am replying to your other comment about ID, but for some reason there was no reply button there.

        No contradiction or double standard at all, and given your normally precise line of thinking I was surprised to see you make the supposed analogy. There obviously is a big difference between claiming that the local, state, and national levels require coordination (i.e., radical things like laws, military defense, infrastructure, police) and claiming that human societies (or life or whatever) have all been designed by a designer. I am sure you can see that. Indeed, from my read of an earlier post of yours, you indicated a bottom-up approach that included different levels of government. It seemed that the higher levels of government would have some coordinating control over larger portions of the population and lower levels of government. Clearly such a proposal was not akin at any level to believing in intelligent design.

        It is conceivable to me that a complex human society could emerge without centralized control…and it is an empirical fact that many societies have emerged without a priori designer. The question from my vantage point is to what degree is any form of top down control necessary for effective functioning. If there are exemplars of complex/modern societies that function well with no or very limited top down control, I would be very interested in them. Do you know of any?

        Gregg

      • Gregg,

        I’ll jump in on this one. It’s tough to get into the weeds on this question for a number of reasons, but it’s a favorite topic of mine. No pure minarchist / libertarian society has existed in the modern era. Some argue that a few have existed (Scandinavian, native American) in the past. Those discussions often end up centering on what is libertarian and what records do we have from those societies etc…

        I think it makes more sense to look at societies over the centuries with a large degree of top down control vs. those with less central planning. When comparing and contrasting those cases the evidence is clear that less central planning leads to more successful societies. I won’t go through the entire list, but think USA vs. USSR or N. Korea vs. S. Korea. The contrast is stark.

        Any government being examined will always have more government intervention than a libertarian would consider ideal, so it’s easy for statists to say “we clearly need at least this much government”. Although there is a clear relationship between less government and a more successful society, it is impossible to say how much government is actually needed. I certainly don’t know. It’s much less than we see anywhere in the world today, but I cannot say with certainty that the Rothbardian Anarcho-Capitalist model would be successful (I tend to think it would and I would love to try!).

        There is also the issue of different types of government. Scandinavian governments have lush welfare states, but they don’t have many economic barriers and they are not constantly at war with the world. Singapore has a less than ideal criminal justice system and lacks other freedoms, but it has fairly free markets. Arguments can be cherry picked about what type of government we need and what we don’t need.

        I think this is a case where you can look at the big picture and clearly see that as government power increases, societies become less free and less successful. I also think you can look at fine details and see the same thing. Check out the relationship between poverty in the US and the government’s “war on poverty”. Check the relationship between government spending and unemployment. Check the details on Japan’s bailout / stimulus / propping up of failed companies compared to the Scandinavian approach of allowing failure. Compare the USPS with UPS or FedEx. Case after case, example after example, you will see the same thing: less government works better than more government.

    • Eric, Great points. The NRA is not concerned about anything other than the growth and power of the NRA. This is true of all bureaucracies, including and especially government. Many liberals who honestly care about protecting human rights like to think the Democratic party cares too. Many conservatives who care about outlawing abortion like to think the GOP cares too. Both points are laughable. They care about gaining and maintaining power. The current system is perfect for both parties. Republicans can blame the horror show in Iraq on Obama (it was all perfect until the muslim socialist surrendered!). Democrats will blame Bush for everything, until the next Republican is in office. I’ve yet to encounter a Democrat who will condemn Obama’s assassination program, undeclared war in Libya, and bypassing of congress by the magic of “executive order”. But they will certainly howl when a person with an (R) next to their name does the same thing. And we all go merrily along toward the abyss.

  5. jasonbessey said:

    Hi Gregg,

    Your points are well taken. However, I think we may be conceptualizing “centralized government” a little differently. I think the Wikipedia definition is sufficient for our purposes:

    –“A centralized government is one in which power or legal authority is exerted or coordinated by a de facto political executive to which federal states, local authorities, and smaller units are considered subject.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centralized_government

    Now, when I express my bias towards decentralized government, I’m suggesting just the opposite…that the power of higher levels of government are subject to the power of lower levels of government. This is not to say that the highest level of government ought not have “coordination abilities” — just that those coordination abilities must ultimately be constrained and answerable to the lower levels. (This would be a major reason why I think “recall powers” should be available for the lower levels of government in my example, as a robust form of checks-and-balances from bottom-to-top.)

    Also, to be clear, I wasn’t claiming that “…human societies…have all been designed by a designer”. I was claiming that proponents of centralized government are claiming that human societies NEED an “Intelligent Designer”, (metaphorically-speaking), in order to function. The term “Intelligent Designer” was intended as a metaphor for centralized government in the context of my argument. Since, in practice, a centralized government means a small group of people (relative to the population) exerting power over the vast majority, the metaphor was intended to (disparagingly) refer to such a small group as “The Intelligent Designers”…or so they must think they are!

    The metaphor of “cultural” selection was simply intended to refer to variation, selection, and retention (from the bottom-up), of things like goods, services, ideas, social institutions, and so forth. I was arguing that just as “Life” only needs variation, selection, and retention in order to emerge, I see no reason why “Society”, (which refers to the lives of humans), cannot emerge by the very same principles. (Indeed, I think that centralized government actually hinders this “cultural selection” process to such a degree, that such a society will ultimately, and inevitably, collapse — it will be “selected out”, so to speak!)

    Lastly, I need to add the caveat that all of this needs to be funded purely from (full) land and natural resource values, for a variety of reasons, in order to function properly. But a major reason is that increases in location values are caused by the growth and development of the community-as-a-whole. There are some goods and services that, properly understood, need to be public goods and services. You listed a few, like infrastructure and police. It is important to make the connection that these things contribute to increases in location values, (i.e., people like living in safe communities with good infrastructure). If government recoups these location values that are created by the community-as-a-whole, (and nothing more), then a government is incentivized to optimally allocate those (limited) resources in such a way as maximize overall increases in future location values, (i.e., a positive feedback loop). Those things that we typically associate with public goods and services, (e.g., infrastructure, police, fire departments, schools, and so forth), do precisely that.

    —Jason

    • Jason,

      Thanks for the clarification. You have a fascinating economic/political vision, one that seems quite appealing to me. It might make for an interesting post in and of itself. Given that record numbers of people are expressing disappointment over the current dysfunctional state of affairs, the time might be right for a new vision of government.

      My only point is this. The national level is a crucial level of government, one that faces a unique set of challenges, and it requires coordination abilities. That is what I meant by a centralized government. (Note, there is a very fine line between coordination and control). I, of course, do not believe in a completely top-down totalitarian state, designed by and for a small group of people (that seemed to be the ID implication).

      Although I believe the founders set up a good basic system, I furthermore agree that currently our national government is not functioning well. Crony capitalizism, debt and deficit spending, accelerating health care costs, polarized politics, ignorance, a massively complicated tax system, and a complicated, turbulent world/ecological atmosphere are all combining to make the situation very troubling, and it seems the United States is in decline. Unlike Matt, I do not think that the answer is to completely dismantle the government. But I am, personally, open to new systems, and yours is quite appealing.

      Jason (and Matt), I think I am going to leave this topic for now. I happy to see additional posts and comments, but politics can become a blackhole of discussion, and I will be writing a new post soon…on why a unified theory of psychology is essentially impossible!

      Peace,
      Gregg

      • jasonbessey said:

        Thank you for your thoughts, Gregg. :-) And in regards to politics being a blackhole of discussion…ain’t that the truth!

        I look forward to your upcoming post!

        —Jason

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