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Power And Corruption

December 31, 2009

Just today I received a comment from Yamin, related to my post on whether engineers should rule the world or not.  I thought the conversation was worthy of its own post, and wanted to share it:

Yamin commented:

No, engineers should not rule the world.
This is just another variation on Plato’s philosopher kings…

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The only reason people think engineers should rule the world is because engineers have no power today… and thus appear the most honest and capable.

Women used to say if they ruled the world, there would be no war… Until of course they get power. They behave the same as men. Just today Kelly from AIG wants to quit because of government pay limits on her bailed out company. So much for ‘better morality’.

No ‘group’ of people is inherently better at running society, because power will corrupt them all, or the positions of power will only attract the worst of them Priests, bureaucrats, scientists, bankers, engineers, nurses, teachers… none of them.

As a matter of fact, if you want to keep science and engineering factual and honest, make sure they reject every attempt at political power.

Hint… the first sign of the demise of science is the scientific community’s involvement in global warming politics and increasingly in education. The money, power to make laws, influence politics will corrupt science. I’d say it already has.

Here was my response to his comment:

I agree with you yamin. A great comment. Thanks for sharing. I would only make one small qualification. I wouldn’t always say that the power itself always corrupts them, though there’s no doubt with power comes corruption. I think inside of each one of us is an inner dissatisfaction with the world and how things are being run. We can’t do anything about it so that “nasty” side of us rarely comes out for others to see. We keep our mouths shut, and go along with the flow, mainly because we don’t want to cause trouble for ourselves, and get into unnecessary conflicts. Because of this, our inner “corruption” never has a chance to manifest itself. I think it’s always been there, and lies dormant in all of us.

I think this same principle applies when people get rich. When you don’t have money you’re forced to conform to various social systems, such as treating your annoying boss with respect, silently enduring opinions of co-workers, and things like that. But once you come into money, you’re no longer dependent on them, so you begin to speak your mind. That nastiness wasn’t caused by the money. It was there the whole time, but earning a livelihood was more important to the person than speaking their mind, so they stayed silent.

I frequently find myself wondering what people are truly like on the inside, but then again, it’s probably better that I don’t know. I don’t think I’d like what I found.

I think the reason for the corruption is because there’s no limit to how much men hate the world they find themselves in. People hate hard work, and toiling to survive. They hate living in dingy homes, and not being comfortable. I frequently wonder why men have evolved the way they have, considering they hate the world they find themselves in so much, to their own detriment I might add. In our own struggle to escape the natural conditions of this world, we end up destroying ourselves and others along with us.

We wish to live in a mansion, because we hate the outdoors as we find it. We wish to build an artificial environment to live in. We hate food as we find it naturally, so we want it prepared and cooked just right, with all the spices and added flavors. We hate sickness and disease, and want access to the best medical care available to keep our bodies functioning. We even hide our nude bodies, and cover it in clothing. This hatred of this world… this continual attempt at escaping the world as we find it, is I think the real meaning behind “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Some refer to it as the uncontrollable human passions. When I look at this world, I just see evolution creating beings who are just incompatible with the world, and society in general. Life is just cruel.

And even when we do get power to change the world, we don’t understand ourselves well enough to know what to do with it. Our social institutions are growing in complexity every day, and educating ourselves in the big picture is getting harder and harder. I’ve recently been reading history books, and economic history books. The economic books cover all the major economic thought over time. After studying it all, I see clearly that we don’t understand money, or banking, or free markets. We don’t understand the economy. It’s too complicated.

When I see liberals and conservatives arguing various approaches, I see that in many ways they’re both right. I can see things from the angle of letting the invisible hand run things because no man can really wrap his head around the whole system in order to properly plan it all. In many ways its more efficient, because it tends to let more people contribute. It’s chaotic, but it sort of models how life has evolved on this planet. The economy becomes similar to life in a jungle. It’s a struggle to survive, but what does survive tends to be fit — at least, sometimes. But even so, nobody can deny that the massive corporations sprung up and began taking over everything, and are exploiting the workers and not sharing in the profits. The invisible hand led to a small handful running the show, and they’re not necessarily even the most fit. The comparison of free markets with natural biological evolution really isn’t a good parallel. The people at the top tend to think themselves the greatest, but that’s only because they’re too stupid to see themselves for what they are. From what I see, most are too stupid to even see the reasons behind their success. Many powerful politicians and CEOs have mindsets which aren’t much different than young beautiful teens, who get record deals when they’re 15 years old, and make millions before they’re even of legal age. They’re interviewed and talk about “chasing your dreams,” and “you can do anything you set your mind to. Just stick with it,” not realizing that all of their own success is due to being artificially being propped up. And many businessmen who are now wealthy seem to credit themselves with all their success, when really that magical opportunity which made it all happen, which opened the door to all their success, isn’t available to everyone. There’s a large degree of luck to it. It’s always annoying to hear successful people tell those who are struggling that, “It’s all your fault. You’re completely responsible for where you’ve currently found yourself in this life.”

All in all, no system we’ve devised creates a world we find enjoyable, and allows us the freedom we desire. But what do you do? Centralize through government and plan? With more centralization more power tends to go into fewer hands, which as you said, brings corruption. There hasn’t really been a real solution to the problems. It comes to human nature, and stupidity. A self-serving, greedy nature, combined with a mind that isn’t powerful enough to even run its own life, much less everyone else’s. Only by working together can we have the strength to do anything worthwhile, but what is our common goal? How do we work together? What does that entail? Nobody can agree on that one.

Society will have to advance in baby steps because it’s just too much for any one person to handle. Life’s really something else.

Topics: Economics, Philosophy | No Comments »

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