About uncertainty and exertion of power
On why do elites push for more power over general population.
I will start from with not obvious place but please bear with me. I will start with Buddhism. If you are from a western culture, you might not now much about that religion. One of founding beliefs of Buddhism are Four Noble Truths. They are related to problem of human suffering, why do people suffer and what to do about it. Basically the claim is that life is suffering, as doesn’t matter what are our circumstances we will always experience anxiety due to uncertainty. That’s the First Truth and I will stop there, because the rest is not relevant, you can find it on Internet. That Truth is brilliant in itself and it’s the cornerstone of most of human motifs and actions. We act to reduce anxiety due to uncertainty. Anxiety and uncertainty are defining features of human condition. That claim relates to whole population, it does not relate to classes of any society. Buddha himself, as the story goes, was a royal. Everyone in this world shares these traits from the poorest to most influential.
I was watching an interview with Edward Snowden. For a reminder he became one of US government most wanted after he disclosed classified information on NSA operations, specifically, that the agency is trying to track and listen to communications of every single person in the world and they do have technology to do just that. As a part of that interview he said that sometimes he contemplates why do governments always try to go extra mile to get even more power, more control. Why is it never enough? That’s a very good question — I thought to myself, what is the endgame for all this?
One of main motifs and goals that is being banged on is safety. Governments will not stop until we are all safe and because of always changing landscape we need more and more government services to keep us safe. We don’t need to be aware of some of the services that government provides, in case there are bad actors trying to disturb the service provision, like intelligence agencies that operate in shadows hiding. The problem is that governments go into conflicts with other parties too, parties without malevolent intent. Some people just don’t want to be safe nor saved and that’s the main issue for governments. These people understand that we are mortal, we will all die one day, there is no one to save us and all that safety talk is a pure scam that takes your life away. Like Edward Snowden said in that article, there was redefinition of dictionary and word ‘control’ was replaced with ‘safety’.
So what is driving the need for power? Let’s start with the observation that you need to be in a very specific position to exert power. Instinctively we tend to imagine our social structure as pyramid, hierarchy. It is a case doesn’t matter what government the society has. Because the tip of the pyramid is small comparing to its base being in position of power is very unique, that’s why we refer to people who have power as elites. Elites have power to influence your actions in many ways, the question was why the elites do that and what is the driving force for more and more control? Why do they want to keep you safe so much? Here I want to draw an arrow to the first paragraph about Buddhist First Truth — anxiety due to uncertainty.
If you are old enough you might remember the famous speech of Donald Rumsfeld, American politician, Secretary of Defence under POTUS George W. Bush, when he famously said this:
There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.
Deep. It sounds silly but if you think about it it’s basically rephrasing of Buddhist Truths. We suffer due to uncertainty provoking anxiety. That’s what drives us. Every time though when you ask yourself what is the purpose of what people in power are doing, why all the conspiracy, hiding in shadows, exertion of power, the answer is as simple as this, to reduce their anxiety due to uncertainty.
It works also in case of elites. As I mentioned before, Buddha was a royal too. When you are wealthy, powerful, connected you experience the same human emotions of anxiety due to uncertainty. You dread the day you might lose it all, you don’t know how, you don’t know why, but you know the day will come, as there are things that we know we don’t know, but there are also unknown unknowns. We imagine elites are lazy, which is far from truth, they are always very busy, they are just good with outsourcing the work. Every day and every night the elites are working hard building their spider webs of network connections and systems to be alarmed in case of unknown danger, but also to catch tasty flies. One of main fears they have is unpredictability of masses.
The most important capital there is in this world is human capital, it is your life and your work. There is informal agreement between the society and its elites that allows the general population to satisfy basic needs in a fair manner in exchange for work. They are supposed to cumulate and manage that capital, fruits of its labour to create culture artefacts, like science, art, architecture, technology, for a benefit of all human kind. Artefacts that advance our civilisation. We don’t mind that the elites take small share of the produce for their own benefit, it’s a hard work to act on behalf of all humanity. The sad truth is that every system becomes corrupted. It’s always the case that productive elites are eventually replaced with people who do not know how to advance the civilisation, nor even why to do that. They just like to consume the humanity produce and feel prestige related with the role. While productive elites try to exert control to keep the progress, because they believe it’s a right direction, the unproductive ones do that to stay in the position of power. Sometimes these are the same people. Good example for that would be Fidel Castro. He did have good intentions, he did exert his power on general population to keep revolution going, but eventually he turned into an old, rich guy that smokes cigars, his revolution was a wrong direction, but he still liked the power that was given to him, killing and imprisoning opposition. That’s why elites are afraid of general population, they hate uncertainty that they could be overthrown by root movements. Good example for it would be French Revolution, or October Revolution.
It’s a human reflex to try to control your environment to get more certainty, in case of elites it’s about masses.
Next time, when you hear on TV about new services that government wants to provide to you, you should remember that it’s an attempt to exert power on you, to control you, for your own money taken from the taxes you pay, to keep you safe and lethargic, so you could work to produce for elites without thinking about your life and your future. If you are lucky and your elites are not corrupted — you will contribute with your lifetime of work to produce something memorable. If they are corrupted, you basically feed them with your life.
I will finish with very uninspiring and anxiety provoking conclusion for both regular Joes and elitists. Uncertainty is a underlying human condition, that’s the First Truth. It really doesn’t matter if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in any religion, Buddhism in particular. We are wired for uncertainty, it’s in our biology, we can’t shake it off, we can’t get rid of it, just because our bodies reflect the truth, that Donald Rumsfeld so eloquently served, that: there are things that we don’t know that we don’t know. But they are there to kill us. That’s why we are destined to be anxious. The best we can do is to let it go, there is nothing we can do that will keep us for ever safe, doesn’t matter if you are a member of the elite or not.