Monday, September 14, 2015

Investigating How Things Work

I was yakking with my physical therapist today about how in Roman times, before the Empire, a so-called Fable of the Belly persuaded Plebes and Patricians to hold it together a little while longer.

Body-based metaphors sometimes go a long way in making sense.  We each have one after all, and know health is a function of each part doing its job.

That got my therapist thinking about the analogy between human bodies and governing bodies.  We both agreed that both are complicated and knowing something about how they work really helps with developing effective treatments or even cures.

My next observation was about this English word "corruption", which comes up so easily when a set of rules is not followed.

People dream up a bunch of rules, a game, and seek to have this game played as envisioned, but then in practice these rules often get bent or broken.  The response, rather than to accept the rules might be inappropriate or the game poorly designed (insufficient checks and balances), is to claim "corruption" is destroying whatever, and that there's no point looking for "fixes" until we might first end said corruption -- a prescription for paralysis.

More apropos than moralizing or pointing out all the criminal behaviors, would be the Anthropology of it all.  Anthropologists are trained to wade into a culture without exuding moral judgements.

For one thing, it messes up the data when the observers are putting out strong signals, being judgmental and commanding about their expectations, what they hope to find.  That's not anthropology, that's missionary work.

I grabbed a bus home, not wanting to overdo it with the ankle and having some work to attend to, but the train of thought continues...

We have a way of probing animal bodies and discussing their various pathologies, without moralizing a lot.  We also have ways of describing biological systems (ecosystems) without necessarily deciding which of the natural process is "out of line" and/or "corrupting".

If we have a definite goal, say a maximal yield of some cash crop, then of course we'll have some cues as to what needs curing.  We get out the insecticides and go after the bugs.  We enter the scene with the intention to fix known wrongs, to effect repairs.  But have we done enough homework?

In other cases, where we're not so vested, the analysis isn't so biased.

What's needed, in world development circles, is more of an ability to describe without applying a lot of premature judgements, our minds already made up about what "the rules" should really be.

One often finds the police, criminal investigators, detectives, becoming "corrupt" and/or "jaded" as they come to understand how the game imposed in the first place, from on high, was in some ways unplayable from the get go.

They lose some of their initial ethnocentrism, these police.  The criminal underworld has its own codes, its own rules.  Such cops become more like go-betweens, explaining and interpreting the underworld to more ideological audiences.  Some will say they've become corrupted, and become servants of the devil.

Prohibition was a lot of crock to begin with.  Of course bootlegging was going on.  Many police on the beat could see that.  One could even buy their cooperation.  Police like to drink, off duty.  It's somewhat unworkable to be busting your friends, the ones who watch your back on the day job.

This pattern applies to diplomats as well. Of course policies X and Y beget side-effect Z.  It's our language that calls them "side effects" usually meaning "effects other than intended".

Another way of saying "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" is that "hell is all the side effects to which those good intentions gave rise" (so much corruption, right?).

Nietzsche was onto something with his "beyond good and evil" approach.

He wanted to dissect and investigate the way language actually works, without the overhead of "should" and "ought".  He wanted moralizing to get out of the way and stop hogging so much bandwidth.  He subsumed the Will to Truth to the Will to Power.

One might agree to define Power as that which actually does occur, as opposed to what we Wish and/or Command to occur.

When people say "absolute power corrupts absolutely" what do they mean?  How about "the way it is is not at all how we think it should be".

Lets start with how it is, suspending judgement.

R. Buckminster Fuller introduces his poetic science fiction, Critical Path, saying he has "no good or bad people" in his account.  He's not looking for saints to worship.

J. P. Morgan gets his attention, but not because he's some saint or villain.  He's simply powerful, good at making a difference.  Powerful people come off more as rule makers than rule followers sometimes.  Rather than playing by the rules, they come up with new games.

Anthropology need not begin with moral judgements, whereas religion seems to always want to go there.

If we want to understand how things work, best to investigate without too much prejudice.  Unless we can do that, we'll just see "corruption" and not how things are actually getting done in some circles.