Sunday 5 April 2009

Communitariansim and the Fall of Civilization

Many people believe that "individual greed" caused the current worldwide financial crisis. This belief tends to go hand in hand with the view, put forward repeatedly by the financial editors of many newspapers, that "nobody saw this coming" or the subtly but significantly different "none of us could have seen this coming."

Well, as long as they were "one of us" that is, part of the financial community and the press and politicians so intimately interwoven with it, it was certainly impossible for them to accept that it was coming, but their faculties as sentient individuals must surely have informed them of the obvious! It was their membership of, and obedience to, that community, which became their perception filter, preventing them from seeing what was clearly there.

But since the crash actually happened, it's become clear that there's not a single culpable institution involved that hasn't gagged and stifled at least one whistle-blower. (Link updated as of June 2017, having finally found where the article is now!) In other words, anyone within that financial community who failed to accept the gold-tinted perception filter and looked at what was actually there, saw and said the obvious -and was immediately punished for it.

If it had been a case of individual greed alone, then the counsel and opposition of other individuals could have corrected those who were going too far. In every case, there were individuals who saw the problems and tried their best to convince the community that something was wrong. It was the community heedlessness, the harsh and inflexible discipline of the wolf-pack, that allowed individual greed to go unchecked and even, publicly, unremarked. Even within that framework, a lot of the damage was done by people, such as Gordon Brown and Kate Barker, who were not individually greedy, but were pushing ahead with what that gold-tinted perception filter told them was the right thing to do. They could commit this error, because the community heedlessness protected them from anyone who might counsel them otherwise -or actually oppose them! The lesson clearly has not been learned: in the last week, one of Gordon Brown's ministers has said publicly that wind turbines are such a good thing, that no-one should be allowed to object to any scheme to erect them.

This "we decide what's good and then we do it obsessively" attitude is typical of all Communitarians. They are not the same as Communists; Edward Heath was by no means a Communist, but he was an arch Communitarian before anyone much was using the term. British readers will know what I mean when I say that they are all somewhat like Gordon Brittas, American readers will be baffled. (The article on the link doesn't entirely grasp the Brittas Empire. Brittas behaved like a different historical tyrant in each episode, all of which involved some catastrophe inherent to that personality. Each series, and some individual episodes, tended to end in apocalypse: poolfuls of evangelical Christians would be electrocuted, a marksman who only wanted a refund from the coffee machine would be driven to firing a rifle wildly into the ceiling in frustration, and so on. But whilst being Nero, Hitler, Napoleon or Caligua, Brittas was also always the epitome of the Blair-era minor but locally all-powerful bureaucrat, starting six years before Blair was elected...)

Community heedlessness, or the "herd instinct" or "behaving like lemmings" is the self-destruct mechanism of all human communities and civilizations. Because it is impossible for everybody to see new truths at the same time, nor should they. (The truths might not be true!) In a communitarian society, which is inherently coercive, it isn't just the majority view that prevails and becomes policy, the majority view is the only one which can be spoken, the only one which can be even heard.

Hence the article "The Trillion Dollar Millstone" (see link to post at top of this article,) which was pretty bang-on about the "crunch" ten years beforehand, and which no editor would publish. But as that article is also proof of, every time the community is being heedless and heading towards disaster, there are individuals who can see that and who counsel caution or offer a strategy which allows forward progress to continue in a different form.

Communitarians cannot help but hate such individuals, and they will always attempt to suppress them, whether by stalking, or by arrest or even arbitrary execution, depending entirely on what level of overt power they have managed to achieve and entrench. They hate individuals and their opinions for several reasons, but the main one is this:

The deepest and most genuine survival instinct of the human species is to constantly test situations and information against the individual's power of reason; this is all "science" is when it's being done properly and honestly. But in a Communitarian society, you are punished for not agreeing with the community and especially its leaders. So agreement with what others are doing quickly becomes The survival instinct, and when it displaces the power of individual reason, a communitarian follower is born. He or she will then do anything a communitarian leader orders, even if it's wicked and destructive. It is like a virus: it starts with a little intolerance towards contrary opinions and quickly grows because people can escape that intolerance by agreeing with something that their reason would otherwise reject. As soon as they have rejected their own reason and agreement with the community is their survival mechanism, they start to genuinely fear opinions, ideas and any individual who expresses them. They become increasingly willing to oppress individual thought -and individuals, this makes agreement with the community even more a matter of life and death, the perverse survival instinct becomes more deeply ingrained.

As long as a community tolerates individuals and their opinions, whether these are insights or errors, and allows them to be expressed, then that community has a safety catch firmly applied to its natural self-destruct mechanism. Suppress the individual "for the good of the community" as the minister wants to do by banning all objections to the golden wind-turbines, and you condemn that community to error, terror at its own hands and ultimately destruction.

If it seems that Communitarians cannot manage either economies or leisure centres successfully, Communitarian thinking comes unstuck fastest in the field of ecological management. Mother nature really does not work their way!

You can always smoke out a Communitarian Ecologist, by getting him onto the subject of wolves: eyes will shine, breath will whistle through beard; he will enthuse about the harsh beauty of their efficiency. Really, what he means is that rank and file wolves do what the Alpha Male and Female order, or they die.

When a dozen wolves attack an elk or other large animal, it usually takes half an hour of mauling the prey to and fro before it loses consciousness and dies. When a lone cougar goes for an elk, the prey is probably dead before the observer's brain has registered what his eyes are telling him. Even more so with lynx.

In Croatia, there is a large area in the mountains with many lakes, formed by soil and water chemistry building natural terraces on the mountainsides. Over the years, lakes silt up and become woods, other lakes are formed. In this region there are wolf packs, there are also lynx, which have been reintroduced, both artificially and because some of them apparently made their own way to Croatia from Slovenia. (What wolf would be allowed to make that decision for himself?)

A few years ago, the wolf packs were barely clinging to life, and often reduced to hunting ridiculously small and unrewarding prey, like mice and squirrels. They were not succeeding in raising enough cubs to replace their own natural loses. The wolves could not adapt to changes in the environment and deer populations, partly caused by the recent war, but also because the whole region is in a constant state of natural change. Change is indeed the defining feature of the Croatian lake district. The harsh and beautifully "efficient" wolf packs cannot adapt.
The individualistic lynx are thriving.

(The photograph is of an orchid growing on a meadow, retrieved from thorny scrubland by conservation management at Sharpenhoe Clappers, near Barton le Clay. Many of the rules attending such work, and certainly the government grant structure which pays for it, are the product of communitarian thinking. This means that you are almost always paid and encouraged to clear scrub, and even forest, to recreate meadows and heaths. And for a few years, these beautiful flowers will reward you. Then they will disappear -and the communitarian mind cannot grasp why! Did we not clear scrub? Is this not good? Surely the community has decided that a meadow with lovely orchids in it is preferable to boring old thorn scrub?
But the ideal environment for these orchids is not a meadow, it is a meadow at a specific stage of its development: between being cleared, by whatever natural or artificial means, and it turning back into scrubland. Then it turns into forest, the trees blocking light to the thorns and clearing them away, before, eventually, fire, plagues of insect pests, landslides, hurricanes or beavers fell the trees. Then you have a clearing, it becomes a meadow -and you get orchids once more. They reproduce by tiny spores, not really seeds, and these germinate only when there are traces of rotting wood in the soil. To some, this means that they "need nutrients from rotting wood" but what's actually happening, is that the presence of those nutrients means also that there's a dead tree and therefore, for a few years, a patch of sunlight in which the orchid can grow. The spore is programmed not to germinate until it receives a chemical signal that there might be a patch of sun and therefore a decent chance.
Likewise, Great Crested Newts, the subject of many a planning and conservation battle in the UK, frustrate all efforts to "conserve their habitat" because their habitat is not a given pond or lake, but a pond or lake at a specific, immature, stage of development, where it harbours newt food, such as fresh water shrimps and small insects, but not newt predators, such as large fish. So, by the time any given planning inquiry has ordered the preservation of any given newt pond, the newts will be found to have moved to another, invariably less natural-looking, body of water. If environmental management could be left in the hands of thinking, reasoning individuals, this kind of thing could be understood and catered for. But if the environment is to be managed by communitarians, the newts, and the orchids, are probably doomed.
If you can see the sense in this, you are probably not a Communitarian.)


Anonymous said...

Communitarians would not allow for creative growth within their communities unless adapted to their ideals and theories.

It appears this communal type living would send messages to individuals with any form of creative thought, those born with innate talent, unique ideas or ground-breaking endeavors to move elsewhere to thrive and live productive lives.

It's tragic that a considerate majority could blindly stifle the ingenuity and enterprise of individual geniuses.

Surely the next would happen is cult mentality, the cyanide laced koolaid and John Jones mentality.

Communitarians would be no more.

Medawar said...

Within ours of Medawar writing the above, Italian police arrested a scientist who was touring a medieval town with a loudspeaker car, telling everyone that there was going to be an Earthquake.

He was right, of course, and 250 people died. But the Italian authorities won't admit any error: he was speaking his own mind, not theirs, and any disaster is better than letting individual opinion save the day!