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Friday, February 23, 2024

Column: Power and concepts

Capitalist coercion of information leads to the destruction of values. We have natural values. If we were to implement these values, it would undermine capitalist hierarchies. Elite institutions destroy the values, thereby destroying the threat.

Since elite groups can no longer use violence upon the population at any whim, they have evolved other mechanisms to stop us from achieving the society that we want and that we know is right. They must. We live in a world of institutions. Institutions run the society, and institutions are operating to maintain themselves.

There is a great analogy between natural selection in biology and selective forces upon institutions. Those institutions that took certain actions persisted more, so then all of them became that way. Then, as time went by, they became more and more crafted.

By this point, institutions are so well-evolved that they fiercely compete with each other for survival in a highly complex and direct manner. So, when one group of people does something that increases their collective power, other groups must do that same thing or something better. Otherwise, the first group will perpetually dominate them.

Then, after many iterations of adaptation, all of the groups have taken on many new characteristics to help them dominate. By this point, the institutions are primarily shaped by their power struggle, and they are so well-adapted at this task that human beings, if they ever even could, have extraordinary difficulty in decoding and diffusing these mechanisms.

Since public institutions are mildly accountable via the vote, people might take actions which would undermine the power that these institutions have evolved to have. Naturally, they counter-evolve, and they do it very quickly. Organisms take many generations to evolve; human institutions can do it overnight.

So the information that we all receive, that we base our lives upon, it is channeled through these institutions. In order to mitigate the threat of our vote, it filters the information in whatever way it can. Now, notice that I never talked about people doing anything in the institution, only the institution itself. People actually perform the actions of the institutions, but clearly, no single person is aware of the totality of what a major corporation actually does.

That is, the actual causes and effects of a company, they are far too complicated to know. Economists try to scientifically measure what the collective set of them do, which is far easier than analyzing what one in isolation does. Even economists admit that there are massive gaps in our knowledge and massive gaps in what we could know even in principle.

Institutional coercion of thought pops up in every one of our concepts. This leads to my favorite game, the point of this column. Take any thought, then ask yourself — how has this been poisoned by power? The simplest method is to look at how powerful groups use the concept. Then look at how it was used in the past. How has it changed? The gap between the two reveals the ideological interests of elite institutions.

What about the term “conservative”? That is a fun one. Long ago, it meant someone who wanted to uphold traditional values or traditional ways of life. Now it means something like radical upholder of elite ideology. We could get into the precise meaning of conservatism now, but a much more interesting question arises. If the concept is poisoned by power, how would the proper, non-poisoned concept apply?

Surely there is something good about conserving traditional ideologies. The imposition of new ideologies comes from the elites. So proper conservatism actually hampers the coercion of our thoughts and values. But it is a very, wildly different concept of conservatism than the one that drives the Republican Party. We should replace theirs with that earlier conception. That would be one step toward liberation by wiping out one instance of a power-infected concept.

 

BRIAN MOEN can be reached at bkmoen@ucdavis.edu. xxx

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