The Deep State

Deep State.jpg

The “Deep State” has been a popular buzzword in the media lately. But what is it, exactly? As always, beginning with definitions is often illuminating. Unfortunately, the OED does not have a definition for this word, so we must approach the definition in a different way.

As is typical, reading and listening to the media is largely uninformative. The most gleaned from the media is that a “deep state” exists, but it does not clarify what this phenomenon is in any meaningful sense. Wikipedia gives a definition: a coordinated effort by career government employees and others to influence state policy without regard for democratically elected government; also, entrenched government institutions wielding power. But this definition is weak in that it doesn’t really explain what it is to the extent that one could clearly identify it. A previous post on conspiracies lays out two different types of what could easily be considered the “deep state,” but neither fully captures the meaning of the phrase.

A portion of the Farewell Address of President Dwight Eisenhower gets closer to a proper definition:

This segment contains the notorious phrase, the “military-industrial complex,” but this does not exemplify the phenomenon because it leaves out a core component. This component was originally included in the Address but was removed for fear of alienating his friends in Congress. In the original version of the speech, the term was “Military-Industrial-Congressional” complex. This omission may seem trivial but it is not because it underlies how the military-industrial complex is most able to get its way to that “unwarranted influence” and “misplaced power” against which Eisenhower warned. However, in reality, it is not just the Congressional branch but also the Executive and Judicial branches as well. Furthermore, “think tanks,” too, have come to take an increasing role in this dynamic.

In this way, the deep state is the sum of those actors from the military, the financial, the political, and epipolitical spheres that entrench themselves behind the levers of government powers to pursue aims that benefit themselves (often at the expense of the public). Sociologist, C. Wright Mills, wrote a fascinating book highlighting the actors of this deep state (and their operational dynamic), referring to them as the “power elite.” It is an insightful book that should be mandatory reading for any High School but, unfortunately, goes unread even in today’s higher institutions of learning.

Mills’ definition is the core of the meaning but it is simultaneously anachronistic and outdated in many respects. For the complex he describes is but a new iteration of the one that had existed well before his exposé and an outdated model given its recent evolution. As a result of this shifting of Deep State in practice, it is worth informing and updating our understanding. Veteran reporter and author, David Talbot, recently published a significant book that traces the development of this new deep state.

Talbot defines the deep state as, “the subterranean network of financial, intelligence, and military interests that guide national policy regardless of president.” The key components of this definition are 1) an unseen network of interests that, 2) guide national policy (despite President [or resistance therefrom]).

But even Talbot’s precision seems to miss the mark in some important ways. What Talbot describes – and what others reference when invoking the “deep state” – is nothing short of a denotative conspiracy. As mentioned previously, this author wrote a post on conspiracy, and the “deep state” that easily qualifies as either a fantasy of nightmarish proportions or a matter of fact when it comes to power politics. This author does not view the deep state as a paranoid delusion but a real phenomenon with very real consequences. But then how does the deep state as an entity unto its own differ from the real conspiratorial politics that occur every day?

For example, interest groups (financial, national security, political, military, etc.) are by nature conspiratorial, especially when they seek to remain anonymous. And many succeed in determining policy even when a President resists, as was the case with the antiwar movement during the Vietnam era. But do interest groups like these constitute the “deep state?” The answer is no – at least, not necessarily. Then what is the difference between powerful interest groups and the deep state proper?

For one, it is the duration of pursuit of the interest group’s policy objectives. An interest group is one where there is a limited interest/goal, like banning the teaching of evolution in public schools, the legalization of marijuana, or, banning gay marriage. Once the goal is achieved, the interest group no longer has a reason to exist. A deep-state “interest group,” however, has a more broad and perpetual goal, like anti-communism, the “war on drugs,” or even the “war on terror.” The former has goals that once reached removes the impetus from the interest group; the latter is a continual campaign with almost no end in sight.

Secondly, and in the same vein, is the broad scope of the interest group. So, for example, the movement to legalize marijuana wants just, and only, that. The deep-state interest groups, conversely, want much more. During – an in the name of – the Cold War, for example, much was done to out communist sympathizers, quash labor unions, embargo certain countries from the world economy, set up military installations around the world, develop propaganda campaigns against enemies and allies alike to demonize communism, and even start wars and coups to counter perceived communist threats, even if it meant overthrowing democratically elected governments.

The third defining feature is the power of those groups. There is a significant difference between a marijuana-legalization advocacy group and the bureaucracy of either the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and its principal: the Department of Justice (DOJ). But there is another important distinction worth mentioning here – one that Mills insightfully made: that between all individuals within powerful bureaucracies and those within the inner circles of those powerful institutions. Not all employees of the DEA or the DOJ think that marijuana is the threat it is deemed to be, but unfortunately, those voices rarely – if ever – make it to key positions like Secretary, Director, or Chairman. Those positions are held by individuals who have demonstrated their loyalty to an interest or ideology, which, in this particular instance, serve to guarantee the perpetuation of a particular type of bureaucracy. It should be noted that institutional survival is not the only reason that an inner circle selects its heirs. Often times it is purely ideological, like defeating communism. But the mechanism is the same: powerful figures choose like-minded, high-powered successors in order to ensure the continuation of their life’s work or philosophy. Again, this selective and self-perpetuating class in the upper echelons of power (politically, financially, militarily) is what Mills calls the “power elite.”

Lastly, and probably most importantly, as Talbot points out: that these individuals, groups, and institutions are part of a larger network. Interests groups often act alone but they can form alliances, but these alliances pale in comparison to those constituting the deep state. Coordination between power elites within the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of State (DoS), the Executive, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, CEOs and other executives of various economic summits, and high-powered lobbying groups – not to mention the interchangeability of their officers – constitute a force truly terrifying in scope and breadth.

What emerges from this line of inquiry is a more complete definition of the term “deep state.” To use Tablot’s framework, a revised and more accurate definition then becomes: a deeply entrenched, wide-ranging, and powerful subterranean network of financial, intelligence, and military interests that guide national policy regardless of President. These additions may seem redundant or minor but they are not. To demonstrate the accuracy and significance of this definition, this essay will now give an example of how the deep state works.

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Let us begin near the end of World War II. At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, President Roosevelt stated that the objective of the war was the “unconditional surrender of the axis powers [Germany, Italy, and Japan].” But before this time, Allen Dulles, then an officer of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – the precursor agency to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA, which Dulles would come to direct for decades) – had been fraternizing with Nazi leadership. This was so because the Dulles brothers’ Wall Street law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell, and their network of clients – which included banks, investment firms, and industrial conglomerates – had helped rebuild Germany after World War I, and in the process befriending many high-powered German/Nazi and Fascist leadership. In fact, many of those same interests, including Sullivan and Cromwell itself, were doing business with the Nazis during WWII, all of which were illegal.

After the Casablanca Conference, Dulles began negotiating (an alternative peace process) with Nazi leadership, ensuring them safe transportation out of Italy and Germany and immunity from substantive prosecution under the future Nuremberg Trials. In effect, Dulles was collaborating with Nazi war criminals, and all this went against the policy of unconditional surrender laid out by President Roosevelt. Notorious operations like Operation: SunriseOperation: Paperclip and Operation: Overcast, which protected and placed Nazi officers and scientists – some of whom conducted horrific human experiments on concentration camp prisoners, and some who oversaw the concentration camps themselves – in various communities within the United States as well as other countries. (And this is to say nothing of the Catholic Church’s successful efforts to protect Fascist military officers by securing their escape out of Europe and from prosecution).

That Dulles was a staunch opponent of Roosevelt and his policies had little to do with this treasonous insubordination. Instead it had to do with, first, an old-world paradigm, of which the Dulles – and even the Roosevelt – family were part, a paradigm which lays the foundation for the modern deep state. Regardless of this paradigm, we see Talbot’s definition begin to take shape: an entrenched intelligence figure (an agent of the Executive branch) dictating policy and directing agencies regardless of Presidential policy.

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To demonstrate this first paradigm, let us return to the founding of the United States (which will also reveal the first deep state of this country). At its inception, the political power delegated to “We the people” was, in fact, relegated to a small minority of individuals, namely: white, male, landowners. The thinking was that: those who owned the country – because they have a vested interest in it – ought to govern it. And, indeed, there is no shortage of historical data confirming this philosophy and socio-political arrangement. Despite the eventual freedoms and rights granted to slaves, immigrants, and ultimately women, this perspective has never faded from (those who own) the country. And it shouldn’t entirely, and this author has written a previous post demonstrating why this is.

From this time on, the elites – those who owned the country and dictated its policy and course  – came from the same backgrounds, went to the same elite schools, socialized in the same social circles, and worked together, ultimately assuming leadership of the governing agencies that oversaw the great American experiment. In short, this privileged elite formed its own self-perpetuating class and network of like-minded individuals that governed the country (with few exceptions), similar to feudalistic, aristocratic, and monarchic dynasties of the past: this is the power elite.

This was especially pronounced in the early to mid twentieth century. In fact, most high-office individuals came from this (upper/capitalist) class, including both Roosevelt and Dulles (the “good old boys” or the “boys club” phrases are a reflection and epitome of this state of affairs). While the rest of the century saw a more “democratized” opportunity of power, the most powerful agents came from this privileged class, like Roosevelt and Dulles. And during that first half, the privileged elites cemented their positions.

Let us return to WWII…

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President Roosevelt saw the Soviet Union as an integral component to the post-war New World Order. For they were the decisive sword that cut down the axis powers, and he thought, rightly, that they would be a key figure in shaping that new world (this is why Russia today still has permanent member status at the U.N.). Unfortunately, Dulles – and this was the second paradigm that motivated his treason – saw the world and the Soviets differently. Dulles was a staunch ideologue who was even more against the “communist threat” than he was of Roosevelt. For that reason, he antagonized the U.S.S.R., especially after Roosevelt died in April of 1945 (and Dulles was hardly the only US official to do so). His Operation: Sunrise, for example, was a betrayal of the alliance between the U.S., the U.K., and the U.S.S.R. – and the Soviets, in particular: a paranoid Stalin, did not take this as a reassuring sign of post-war relations.

In fact, it was under the influence of Dulles’ that the U.S., under President Harry Truman (though, Truman needed little nudging from Dulles given his own anti-Soviet ideology and racism towards the Japanese), bombed the Japanese despite their several attempts to surrender earlier that year. Moreover, many Nazi intelligence officers that Dulles spared from Nuremberg came to constitute the West German intelligence agencies fighting against the U.S.S.R. after the end of WWII. Dulles, and other powerful figures like him, wanted to send a message to the Soviets — and that message was received. The ultimate result was the Cold War.

So now we see that a powerful intelligence figure, defying the policies and intents of a U.S. President, to carry out policy objectives that he saw more fit, and in the process altering the course of history. And this influence succeeds Presidents, (from even before) Roosevelt up until Kennedy (and beyond). And it hardly ends here. But before going on, let us spend some time understanding Operation: Sunrise and the networks that made it possible.

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Allen Dulles had been in contact with SS General, Karl Wolff, a/k/a the “bureacrat of death” (chief of all SS and Gestapo units in Italy), negotiating the surrender of Nazis in Italy that protected the lives of the several high-ranking Nazi officers. This action was undertaken by Dulles despite express instructions to the contrary by both Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. In order to distance himself from any implication, Dulles employed an intermediary and upper-class German counterpart, Gero von Schultz-Gaevernitz, to carry the terms of this new surrender and to facilitate Wolff’s escape from Northern Italy at the war’s end.

Gero, a German economist and a Weimar minister, was also a scion of a wealthy European family that had at one time supported the Nazis, and was a relative of the Stinnes family, who were responsible for financially supporting Hitler’s rise to power. He and Dulles held the view that “moderate” members of the Nazi party must be salvaged and incorporated into “post-war plans for Germany.” Dulles also employed his top agent, Don Jones, within the OSS to lead the rescue mission of Wolff.

In addition to these contacts, Dulles was still a board member at Sullivan and Cromwell, and as such sought to protect his clients’ interests in Italy and Germany. For example, part of the terms negotiated were that Wolff and his soldiers not destroy any of the manufacturing and power plants owned by the multinational holding company, the Italian Superpower Corporation (incorporated in Delaware in 1928, whose executive board were made up of Italians and Americans, 50/50). Incidentally, one of these executives, James Russel Fogan, took over as the London chief for the OSS at the end of the war, professedly making him Dulles’ “boss.”

Dulles’ efforts weren’t entirely successful, though. For Wolff was “prosecuted” but not at Nuremberg – there he was only called on as a witness, not a criminal – but at a de-Nazification court. A major reason Wolff was never prosecuted at Nuremberg initially is that Dulles suppressed an OSS report detailing the horrific crimes Wolff had committed under the Third Reich. Instead, what the Nuremberg prosecutors received were reports from Dulles himself painting a picture of a neutral and moderate officer who was just following orders and knew nothing about the horrors of the “final solution.” Furthermore, at his trial at the de-Nazification court, Gero von Shultz-Gaevernitz testified on his behalf, lauding his character and stressing that he had made no deal with the Americans to save his own skin (which was false).

Despite all these mitigating efforts, Wolff was still jailed – but not for long. For Dulles had arranged that Wolff be diagnosed with a nervous disorder and had him transferred to a more comfortable psychiatric institution. But Wolff grew impatient and began to speak of Operation: Sunrise, even writing letters to Dulles and Major General Lyman Lemnitzer threatening to expose the embarrassing and treasonous truth of that alternative peace agreement. Major General Lemnitzer also shared with Dulles a deep anti-Soviet ideology and, since he too, had helped coordinate the operation, urged Dulles to do what they could to get Wolff total freedom. And this is ultimately what happened. Incidentally, this General went on to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and eventually the Army Chief of Staff under President Kennedy.

Wolff went on to live a fairly innocuous life, even selling information to US intelligence agencies at one point. He was prosecuted a number of times, jailed only a minimal amount of time (5 years), and despite finally being convicted of war crimes in 1964, he lived out his days as a lecturer and minor public figure that one would think a Nazi War criminal ought never to have – and all thanks to Allen Dulles and his deep-state networks.

In sum, we see the workings of the deep state here on a minor scale. A powerful intelligence figure, who himself was already a powerful financial and legal broker, who protected his company’s clients (often illegally); tapping others within the intelligence community, the military, and the financial sectors of the United States, as well as other foreign agents to carry out his own operations; who made treasonous deals with war criminals against the behest of presidents due to his class affiliations with those war criminals, and his ultimate geopolitical, anti-communist ambitions. What we have here is a power player within the intelligence community, coordinating with other sympathetic power players in the military and financial sectors in order to affect policy against both a democratic functioning and the President of the United States: this dynamic is the deep state.

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So, what does the deep state want? What is its raison d’être? In short: to survive and pursue its objectives. The specific goals and the operations it undertakes to attain those goals differs from state to state. But there are some similarities between different regimes.

First, the deep state is almost always made up of individuals from the upper class (of wealth and power), particularly the ones who own (the means of production of a) society, and those goals sought are those of that upper class, i.e. the power elite. Often, however, individuals from the upper-middle classes – usually certain intellectuals and politicians – are recruited to serve on behalf of that power elite.

Second, are the goals of the deep state – the primary one being the protection of this wealth and power; the secondary goal is the accumulation of more power and wealth. This happens primarily through the exploitation of others, usually against the lower classes, occasionally against other upper/capitalist class members. Again, how these goals and operations play out depends upon the nation-state and the restrictive/protective (i.e. regulatory) nature of its laws.

Given this example of Dulles as well as other features of the phrase, “deep state,” one is inclined to think that this phenomena is much more sinister or cloak-and-dagger that it typically is. To disabuse this perspective, another more-recent, example will help to further clarify the influential and mundane extent of this opaque dynamic (at least within the United States): the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

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To put it in simplistic, yet clear, terms:

In September of 2008, investment banks in the U.S. became illiquid. This means that these banks no longer had any money with which to do anything banks normally do, i.e. to invest and pay share- and stockholders (particularly those who had put their retirement funds into mutual funds managed by these banks). Anyone who wanted to withdraw money from their investments or savings (since these banks also operate as commercial banks) could no longer get this money because these banks simply did not have the cash. This is what is known as a “run on the bank.” This is what happened to the banking system that led to the Great Depression: banks no longer had the money to give back to those who put money into them. In other words: there was no more money: no savings, no payrolls to pay to workers, no funds for investors to invest, and no returns to give to investors.

This affected local commercial banks because they, too, had assets in investment banks. So, this means that banks on city and state levels also didn’t have money because they couldn’t withdraw their money from the investment banks – that had no money – into which they were invested, to repay those who (on local and state levels) wanted to withdraw the money they put into these banks. In essence, there was no more money in the financial economy to pay debts/make good on assets held.

However, this was plain and simple: a HUGE lie. The reason for this is the simple reason of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or more simply: the FDIC.

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The FDIC is an agency of the U.S. government that insures/guarantees that commercial banking deposits will always be available. Those funds are ensured by the United States government. This is in order to prevent another run on banks. That said, the FDIC does not insure the deposits of investment banks, because investing is a risky behavior; putting money into a commercial bank is not. What this means is that during that crisis, many investment banks would have gone bankrupt, would have been purchased by other banks at discount prices, what good stocks remained would have been salvaged, and no doubt, new investment banks would have sprout up in their stead. All commercial banks – and their deposits – would have remained solvent because they are insured by the federal government (just like the bailouts [as well as U.S. debt in general] that were ultimately given to those investment banks).

What happened was one of the greatest scams of the 21st century (yes, there were others). The American public was plundered, and then when their plunderers got in trouble, they – in conjunction with their friends in the government – bailed most of them out, all at the extra expense of the American public.

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So, the U.S. government (beginning under President Bush but continuing under President Obama) began to pour – initially $700 billion, but ultimately $16.7 trillion – dollars into the financial banking system by purchasing those banks’ “toxic assets” {i.e. worthless loans/investments (mostly the bundled mortgages, called collateralized debt obligations [CDOs]) that could never be repaid}. In effect, the U.S. government bought the bad assets (loans) of these banks in order to ensure the survival of those investment banks, ostensibly. And these banks, then, could pay the other state and local banks, their commercial clients, as well as lend in general in order to keep the banking system solvent, i.e. functioning as banks in which people have faith.

It should be noted that these toxic assets are still on the accounting books of the U.S. government. They didn’t just disappear, and more importantly: they will never have any value because they will never be repaid. What this means is that the United States government didn’t just “bail out” the banks, but bought an expensive piece of junk. In other words, the U.S. government bought a worthless multitrillion dollar investment at the taxpayers’ expense. And how did these investment bank respond to such a generous public gesture? By giving their officers – the same ones that created the crises – raises, generous severance packages, and foreclosing (often illegally) on homebuyers.

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So, what does this have to do with the deep state? First, remember the power paradigm mentioned earlier: all of domestic political history has been a struggle between the rich and powerful (the power elite) versus the poor and powerless (i.e., everyone else). This isn’t a bad thing necessarily; fundamentally, it is the strife endemic to the human condition. A good government balances the interests of these two groups, while these two groups seek to have the government rule in their favor as much as possible.

Using this framework: what happened with the bailout? Obviously, the power elite had a policy passed that directly benefited them at the expense – literally – of everyone else (remember the government’s money is the people’s [tax] money). The bailout begs the question: was this transfer of wealth just(ified)? In order to answer this question, let us first look at those who proposed the bank bailout. Addressing this component will give us the second indicator of the deep state at work.

In the middle of September 2008, Secretary of Treasury, Henry Paulson, announced a bank bailout under the program called the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). Initially, $700-800 billion was to be spent purchasing banks’ toxic assets in order to keep financial markets liquid, banks solvent, and the economy operating. This program was endorsed by both then-Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, and then-Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the S.E.C.), Christopher Cox. Then-President, George W. Bush, seeing TARP as necessary backed the program and helped sign it into law. Who are these people, and why does it matter? In a few words: powerful deep state actors; and, because these individuals oversaw the networks that allowed the bailout to happen in the first place).

First on the list is Henry Paulson, a Dartmouth and Harvard graduate. In addition to being Treasury Secretary starting in 2006, he previously worked for Goldman Sachs for 20 years before becoming Chairman and CEO of the corporation in 1999. It is little wonder that the former Chairman and CEO endorsed a $10 billion package in aid to Goldman Sachs from the U.S. Treasury, despite the fact that this same bank short-sold these CDOs – betting that they would fail – and making $4 billion dollars in profit in the process (off the bad debts they helped to create and knew were bad) before being given this $10 billion.

It is this connection between being the top executive of a major investment bank and being Secretary of Treasury – the agency entrusted with managing government revenue – that is telling here. How else would a former investment banker rule, especially given his long history with that investment bank? It really is no surprise that such a powerful figure in both the economic and political spheres would push a policy to protect large investment banks like his former employer. But what really happened was that this former Investment Banker, using his position as leader of the Government’s bank account, transferred public wealth (tax revenue) to private banks!

Second, is then-Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke. Bernanke was an academic (a Harvard and MIT graduate) in his professional life before becoming Fed Chairman. He taught at Standford Graduate School of Business for six years before becoming a professor at Princeton University Department of Economics from 1996 until 2005 when he was named Chairman of the Federal Reserve (though, he previously served for three years on its governing board) by President George W. Bush. This affiliation is not insignificant, and serves as an example of an “ideological soldier” who becomes a representative for the regime in power.

Bernanke was able to obtain his position as Fed Chairman because he holds a certain ideological position. Namely, that powerful economic actors, such as investment banks, can do no-to-little harm (despite the vast, ample evidence) while the government and regulatory measures do moderate-to-great harm (while not without some element of truth to validate) to economies, a position he was able to solidify both as a mainstream, fundamentalist-“capitalist” economist and as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.

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At the risk of another aside section, it is important to note that the American/Western view of economics operates much like a religion. Notions such as “free markets,” “laissez-faire,” “deregulation,” and “privatization” are taken as commandments – often without context, and more often wilfully blind to the caveats and negative effects of those commandments. Most economics classes in this country instill the virtues of “free enterprise” in their “students” but are silent on the excesses and evils of these so-called virtues. Furthermore, the history of capitalism as it is primarily understood is ignored altogether, and for this reason it is a flawed guide to sound economic and social policy. It is a profound problem, not only in the curriculum but in the American/Western mind when it comes to creating informed and fair economic policy. Ben Bernanke is a priest of this skewed curriculum, which is itself a reaction against the communism/socialism of the Cold War, but has its roots in feudalism.

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The third major player here is the then-Chairman of the S.E.C., Christopher Cox. Cox has an impressive resume but some of the highlights of his career will demonstrate both that he is a deep-state figure and why this is so. First, he is a graduate of Harvard, receiving his M.B.A. and J.D. in 1977. He worked for the prestigious law firm, Latham & Watkins for 9 years, eventually becoming partner. In 1988 he began his political career, being elected Representative to the 40th district in California. He has worked on several commissions, most notably Clinton’s Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform where he helped publish a recommendation that entitlements (like Medicare) should not continue to be an increasing share of the federal budget. He also helped to enact the Private Securities and Litigation Reform Act which helped to protect investors (like investment banks) from “frivolous” lawsuits. He also coauthored legislation that privatized the National Helium Reserve. In short, what these key details demonstrate is that Cox is also a free-market fundamentalist who has worked in the government with much success and in various roles — a veritable career, neoliberal politician.

Unfortunately, his role as S.E.C. chairman, before and during, the financial crisis is not as impressive as the rest of his C.V., and it is telling of whose interests he was protecting. For example, during the lead-up to the crisis the S.E.C. had been working to deregulate markets, and downsizing the S.E.C. itself. Enforcement, too, was hamstrung in numerous ways by Cox; for example, he repeatedly urged regulators not to be so adversarial/aggressive with the banks. And this is to say nothing of the fact that the S.E.C. didn’t see the crisis until it happened, which is, in part, what it is supposed to do. During and after the crisis, the S.E.C. played little role in pursuing and prosecuting the banks that were criminally responsible for the crisis. Cox’s role at the S.E.C. was part of the well-known problem of financial regulators not doing their jobs like they should because of the type of relationships developed and maintained with those investment banks, i.e. behaving more as friends than watchmen. It is little wonder that he supported the bailout, or that the S.E.C. never saw the crisis coming.

While playing a minor role respective to the others in the bailout, it is worth noting that then-President Bush himself (also a Yale and Harvard graduate) is a former C.E.O. of his own oil exploration company, and then board member of the firm that took over his business. He also served as the managing general partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. In short, the President is pro-business, and did not ultimately object to bailing out the investment banks (for obvious reasons).

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Those were the major architects and proponents of the bank bailout. But why did they advocate for this policy? So-called free-market proponents argued that without the bailout, the U.S. (and global) economy would see a downturn that would rival the Great Depression. There is some truth to this fear because financial runs on investment banks would have a systemic effect nationwide similar to what happened just before the Great Depression. The bailout was touted as the only solution to avoid an even worse catastrophe. However, and this is the crucial point: it was not the only solution, just the only one presented to the American people.

For example, Sal Khan (an academic polymath and MIT & Harvard graduate) presented an incredible option that a hedge fund manager and friend of his outlined. This option allowed these bad banks to fail but ensured that money would still be available for lending in the U.S. (and global) economy. In effect, capitalism takes effect – failed investment banks are free to fail – yet, the economy is protected from systemic failure, all the while minimizing moral hazard by setting an example. It is not a novel idea but it is one that was not presented by Paulson, Bernanke, Cox, Bush, or any others in the centers of power. Why is this so?

Sal and Todd makes the reason very clear: “it would be political suicide with key financial donations to political campaigns.” Banking lobbyists do have a strong hold on the government and an unwarranted influence on the types of policies that are passed — this comes as no great shock. However, the issue is more than just lobbying and campaign donations. Remember, these 4 powerful politicians described previously all came from the financial sector. The don’t just take directions from lobbyists, they think like those whom employ lobbyists in the first place (a process known as indoctrination). As former bankers, CEOs, and graduates of elite universities responsible for dictating “sound” economic policy, there really was no need for the lobbyists to exert this influence [lobbyists work mostly on the uninitiated, undecided, and ambitious/opportunistic/greedy]; for the influence had been instilled in their schooling and experience in the private sectors. These individuals then go into economic and political spheres where they occupy high-ranking positions, and then act on behalf of the institutions that molded their minds. This is the deep state at work on an economic/financial level. And this deep state benefits, again, the power elite.

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A quick point of consideration. When outlined in this way, the Deep State seems intimately tied to ideology. In this, and the Dulles, instances: that ideology serves the perpetuation of the power elite, but also (in the U.S.) so-called capitalism (as the means to ensure that perpetuation). Other power elites in different countries will uphold different ideologies but the end is the same: self-preservation of the power elite and its privileges. In this way, we must be vigilant not only against the power elite but also of ideology itself, especially when it is propounded by the power elite. This is why a vigilant and thorough epistemology is necessary (on a socio-political level): to protect and make prosperous all those within a society and not just certain segments within it, as well as society as a whole.

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In closing, this author hopes that a few things have become more clear. First, is the definition of the deep state: a deeply entrenched, wide-ranging, and powerful subterranean network of financial, intelligence, and military interests that guide national policy regardless of President. Second, is how this dynamic plays out, and what makes it different from other interest groups and factions within any given socio-political system. Namely, that certain powerful actors within these spheres of influence uphold the power elites’ will, and that they do this by being an interchangeable class of people who move from one sector to another.

Third, that the deep state doesn’t necessarly involve cloak-and-dagger operations, though when it comes to the Executive office, particularly when it involves intelligence agencies, the military, and financial sectors, this is often the case; however, more often than not, the deep state is a mundane force hiding in plain sight. Lastly, that to understand the totality of the deep state, one must understand the history of a nation-state, its institutions, the figures leading these institutions, and how they all interact with one another. It is no easy task, but it is one most imperative to the proper functioning of a good government (regardless of size).

There is still much to be explored concerning the deep state but this will serve as a proper introduction to this fascinating phenomenon.

Epistemology: What it is and Why it is Important.

This post has been a long time brewing. It is essentially a summarized primer on knowing, and knowing how one knows. It is foundational to the perspective arching throughout the various posts of this blog, but the same may be said for its relevance for individual point-of-view and socially-constructed realities.

First things first: definitions. “Epistemology” derives from the Greek, “episteme” and “logos” which translates as “knowledge” + “discourse.” The OED defines it as, “the theory or science of the method or grounds of knowledge.” Put in other words: “Epistemology” is the study of how (human) conscious beings know, properly speaking. But “epistemology” can also mean the specific method chosen to know, essentially a chosen framework for a point-of-view. To differentiate between these two definitions the former will be spelled with an “E” and the latter with an “e.”

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There are essentially five types of epistemologies, and each (often a combination of) type is taken as a practical system of knowledge.

  1. Experience: what an individual lives on a daily basis, informing their knowledge of what is known and real. Specifically, what an individual, or group, experiences.
  2. Folk Wisdom and Superstition: a “loose” collection of knowledge passed down through culture.
  3. Faith/Religion: a lot like folk wisdom and superstition except that this epistemology constitutes a more established doctrine and as such more pervasive, influential, and accepted.
  4. Empiricism/Science: a systematized body of laws, truths, and rules for understanding the world in a specific way.
  5. Reason, Logic, and Mathematics: like empiricism and science, these epistemologies are systematized but unlike the former, the latter uses solely thought to determine knowledge and each has its own variable effect upon reality.

There are strengths and weaknesses to each type of epistemology. What follows is a very brief summary:

Experience, for example, is often limited by the person who experiences their own personal reality. So a person who’s had bad experiences with a business, institution, etc will tend to generalize; while another person who has positive experiences will do the same. Who is right, who is wrong? Both and neither. But without some sort of system to investigate the phenomenon at large, and in more objective ways, it becomes difficult to make definitive conclusions about a particular phenomenon. Its simultaneous strength and weakness is that it is personal, and that it informs an individual on a visceral level, thus making it profoundly strong.

Folk Wisdom and Superstition incorporates the personal and turns it into the social. What has happened to an individual, a tribe, or even a (segment of) society becomes a generally accepted truth, .e.g. black cats are bad luck, mirrors on window-sills scare away demons, opening an umbrella indoors is bad luck, etc. Like personal experience, these epistemologies exert a strong influence, and similarly they are often limited in terms of being true.

Belief systems like Faith and Religion are also particularly susceptible to fault since what is often believed has no verifiable basis in reality. For example, the belief that there is life after death has no verifiable justification for that belief. It is simply something we cannot know since it involves an experience after life that cannot be neither confirmed nor denied. Despite the several accounts of life after death, the entire near-death experience can be explained in other ways, i.e. the experience of death itself as a common neurobiological process, like love. In other words: it amounts to a personal conviction – at best – and wishful thinking – at worst – much like the belief in Santa Claus, omens, or any other such phenomenon. Its strength is that beliefs are commonly shared and exert a strong influence, thus informing personal actions – in other words: they are powerful social guides.

Science and – the philosophy on which it is based – Empiricism have their shortcomings, too. They assume, for example, – because it cannot be proved; in other words, it believes – that the observable and testable world is an accurate representation of reality. It is also a fairly specialized epistemological system (despite its simplicity), requiring education to how the process by which it explains the world works. It is for this reason that science is often misunderstood (even by those who “believe” in it), and being fairly new in human history makes it weak to assault by other established epistemological systems, propaganda, and junk science. Despite these shortcomings, Empiricism/Science provide tangible results that we all enjoy today, like skyscrapers, cell phones, modern medicine and agriculture, space exploration… the list goes on. And this bountiful effect of its system demonstrates its practical value and its value as true.

The more ephemeral epistemologies of Reason, Logic, and Math, too, share similarities to all the others. For example, Reason, is a process by which truths are arrived at by (oft, individually) thinking about a particular phenomenon, like reality, human nature, society, etc. Almost all the systems presented here involve a reasoning that justify their validity. But herein lies its weakness: not all reasoning is created equal, and the quality of the conclusion(s) reached depends in large part on the quality of the reasoning. Logic is an outgrowth of the reasoning process and was invented to limit the shortcomings of the process of undisciplined reasoning. By laying out concepts like premises and conclusions, Logic specialized reasoning in a strict way. In so doing, Logic has become a difficult system to learn and apply correctly, and it also suffers the shortcomings of such a closed system. Despite this shortcoming, it is still a very effective tool to knowing. Mathematics is an extension of reason and logic but utilizes a different set of symbols entirely: numbers. The effects of mathematics cannot be denied – it explains the physical world in ways that seem to make it the preeminent epistemology of all those that have been explored previously. However, it has a serious flaw. For example, there is an earnest debate as to whether or not Mathematics is a phenomenon intrinsically tied to the nature of realty or whether it is an invention of the human mind. In other words, mathematics may not reflect the nature of reality, but it can explain, in the greatest detail , the world by which human minds can conceive in ways only the human mind can conceive. To use a corollary: dogs sense the world primarily through their noses; humans through the eyes, and, especially, through their languages as a conscious function. Perhaps, this world that humans perceive to be true are as limited as the dogs’ sophisticated and sensitive understanding of the olfactory world. In fact, Emmanuel Kant argued just this: that the reality humans perceive is a function of the brain by which human consciousness is bound – to extrapolate that ultimate reality conforms to this perspective beyond human understanding is fallacious. Just as dogs are limited by their exquisite senses, so, too are humans, limited by theirs – and cannot be taken as a totality.

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Epistemology is a subject in which it is easy to get lost, and that is why I include this (Gettier) diagram: to ground the discussion as much as possible. As such, I think it important to the discussion to include some more definitions (as always, according to the OED).

Proposition – 3.a) the action of propounding something, or that which is propounded; the setting forth of something as a subject of discourse; something proposed for discussion, or as a basis of argument.

Belief – 3) the thing believed; the proposition or set of propositions held true.

Knowledge – 11) the fact of condition of being instructed, or having information acquired by study or research; acquaintance with ascertained truths, facts, or principles; information acquired by study; learning; erudition.

Truth – II.5.a) conformity with fact; agreement with reality; accuracy, correctness, verity; 7) genuineness, reality, actual existence; III) something that is true; 9.a) true statement or account; that which is in accordance with the fact; 12.a) the fact or facts; the actual state of the case; the matter or circumstances as it really is.

It is easy to get lost in definitions when discussing E(e)pistemology, so I will untangle this web in a more straightforward manner, one that accords with Gettier’s diagram.

First, a Proposition is simply an assertion – one that is subject to investigation and debate. Second, Belief is a simple acceptance of a proposition (or a set of propositions). Third, Poorly Justified Beliefs are those that can be justified in some sort of way, i.e. personal experiences, an ideology, or a methodological system that justifies those beliefs – they are true to an extent but aren’t necessarily (or precisely) a reflection of reality. Lastly, Truth represents those propositions, beliefs, and poorly justified beliefs that have stood the test of verification, and, thus, deserve not only human credulity but the esteemed category of that which is, in fact, true.

In this way, Gettier’s diagram demonstrates that not every proposition is true, not every belief is true, not every poorly justified belief is true, and that what is considered is “true” is actually true without some sort of methodology that can actually determine truth. Moreover – and most importantly – that to be able to determine truth depends on some other process, one that can sift through the data, and make a more accurate assessment of what the data means in accordance with reality. That process is a systemic and intense scrutinization of the experience, ideologies, and the presented/accepted account of things. In other words: despite the innumerable assertions regarding fact or fiction, true or untrue, reality or unreality, that those propositions that can withstand the tests of verification and justification are those that deserve an individual’s abeyance; everything else is hopeful fiction or worse.

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Why do these technicalities matter? For one: that to know truth is no easy task. Discerning truth from fiction is a much more complicated task than is led to believe. Second, that truth itself matters – not just from a philosophical perspective but from a profoundly practical one as well. And, third, in a “post-truth” society – one in which facts without context, propaganda posing as facts, and outright lies and mis/dis-communication are the norm – understanding what is true and what is not, is imperative, not only to informed human being but to the survival of the human species itself.

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To demonstrate this point I will give an example: Global Climate Change/Global Warming. So the epistemological question is: Is it a real/true phenomenon? and, how do we know?

Let us look at the question through the afore-mentioned epistemologies. First: Experience. While the experience of hotter temperatures everywhere globally may confirm to a person uncritical of the proposition would accept without verification of this phenomenon; an individual who is inclined to believe the opposite – that it is a hoax, or at least, not a result or man-made activities (because of snow in winter or severe winter-storms) – would be as justified in denying it. Partly, the confusion is based on the ignorance of the difference between weather and climate. Without a deeper level of understanding or investigation, it is impossible to justify one proposition or the other.

Second: Folk Wisdom/Superstition: fairly limited in areas that aren’t immediately affected by the effects of these phenomenon, since this epistemology is also mediated by experience.

Third: Faith/Religion: also fairly limited since, in this example at least, global climate change/global warming is not mentioned in scripture or doctrine (unless one considers related scriptural passages like Genesis 2:15, Proverbs 12:10, Revelations 11:18, Numbers 35:33, and Leviticus 25:23, to name a few).

A necessary caveat here would be ideology. Specifically, there are political ideologies, i.e. Republican and Democrat, that make supportive pronouncements about the verity of Global Climate Change. These caveats are important because political ideology now function in ways similar to religion/faith.

The Republican platform, for example, is one that believes that Global Warming is a hoax (at worst) or not caused by human activity (at best). The Democratic platform takes the opposite position, namely: that global warming is real, and that it is caused by human activity. As such, these parties advocate for policies based on those propositions. But why do they believe those propositions? What methodology/epistemology are they using to inform their beliefs? In a word: Science… which leads us to our fourth epistemology.

Science/Empiricism: the single most important epistemology that can answer this question. For it is this epistemology that has even brought the subject to the attention of humans world-wide. So, let’s briefly discuss how science works. First, Science observes the physical world. Next, it makes a hypothesis about what is happening, i.e., that the Earth, as a whole, is warming and that this warming has an impact on climates globally. Then, Science seeks to test that hypothesis by collecting data and subjecting it through rigorous experimentation. So, for example, scientists will look at the amount of CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) in the atmosphere, land temperatures, sea temperatures, extreme weather fluctuations and natural disasters, sea-land level rises, and glacial melting (to name only a few) relative to past levels. The data of these examples is fairly conclusive – if one were so inclined to research/look – but suffice it to say: the levels of these indicators is on the rise, and has been since the beginnings of the industrial revolution.

The other half of the hypothesis is: what is causing these conditions? Again, investigators/scientists looking into the phenomena have determined that fossil-fuel use is the culprit. The data show that CO2, the by-product of burning – literally burning – fossils fuels releases the by-product, CO2, into the atmosphere which traps the solar energy from our sun in our biosphere, which in turn keeps the planet warmer than it should be. It’s exactly like wearing a coat in summer. In order to cool off, one needs to remove the coat. The CO2 acts as that coat of human activity; and the human activity (of burning fossil fuels) not only prevents the removal of that coat but raises the temperature that the jacketed individual experiences by adding layers to that jacket.

Does the warming phenomenon negate weather like snow or winter storms? The answer is “No.” What Global Warming argues is that there is a change in the climates themselves, the patterns of weather any region may experience. And this says nothing of the average-breaking heat-waves, temperatures, and increase in natural disasters like floods, droughts, and fires that go on recorded continuously.

What part is left of Reason/Logic/Mathematics to play in this debate? Quite frankly: it depends. As mentioned previously: the quality of the conclusion depends on the quality of the reasoning. If the reasoning is tethered to a particular ideology, then it is highly suspect. If, however, the reasoning is based on a systematic approach to understanding the world, then it is more credible.

Logic would dictate that if global climate change is real – and, that if it is a result of human activity – and that the goal of human activity is to enhance human survival, then something must be done to counteract the effects of man-made climate change. Mathematically: the data must be evaluated and decisions must be based on the data.

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So… how does an individual know whether or not Global Climate Change is a real phenomenon – that it is occurring? and that whether or not is the result of human activity, specifically the burning of fossil fuels?

The short answer is epistemology. How does an individual ascertain truth? The basic methods have been presented and all have their strengths and weakness, but in matters of the physical world the best epistemologies use some strict method of investigation – in other words: Science. Science is the best method to answer this question since it is intended to investigate and answer questions such as these. But another caveat is warranted: what “Science?”

There are, now, effectively two types of science. The former is a method of investigation and the body of knowledge resulting from that method described above. In science, there are necessarily debates, uncertainty, and the application of different methods of measurement. This is natural and embodies the spirit of science. An idea – a description and explanation of (Newtonian) gravity, for example – is discovered and evidence looks to disprove it (the principal of falsifiability); if it is unable to, then that idea is held on to as a functional truth. Then, eventually, a new description and explanation – Einstein’s gravity, for example – is developed (based on data) and does a better job than the previous idea at explaining the phenomenon. This is the natural progression of the body of knowledge based on science, and the falsifiability of ideas is not only legitimate to progress of knowledge, but absolutely necessitates it.

However, there is another “science” – one that uses the poor understanding of the scientific method, particularly falsifiability, as a propaganda weapon to manipulate people’s knowledge, often at their expense. This is commonly referred to as “junk science” and it takes many shapes and forms. Some major examples of junk science are the “data” presented in public and political discourse arguing that leaded gasoline is not poisonous to people; that cigarette smoking has no relation to cancer and is safe for consumption; and, that global climate change is not real, and that it is not caused by human activity. All these examples include the testimony and evidence of “experts” to make their claim, sometimes convincingly – almost all hired by interest groups to advocate for the cause of those interest groups. However, it is only convincing to a point, namely when it comes into contact with reality. Eventually, the truth does emerge but the time it takes depends on the quality of epistemologies, epistemologists, and the efficacy of those experts who fight for the truth and the good; and, in many cases, the time that goes by has a deleterious effect on people and the planet – and this is certainly the case with the current “debate” surrounding Global Climate Change.

And, yet, this is just one example of a subject that requires people’s critical attention. Mis- and disinformation are occurring on a sweeping scale in areas as diverse as economics, politics, international relations, intelligence, and culture. And they deserve both intense scrutinization and a disciplined epistemology.

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In closing, this author hopes that the meaning and importance of epistemology has been communicated. For it is not an easy subject, and proper knowing is no easy task. But it is an important subject and practice because living well requires knowing how to, and this requires knowing our world and the phenomena in it. Otherwise, we run the risk of unhappiness, or worse: death.

Literally, Socialism, and the Need for a Dictionary in American Discourse

Oxford-English-Dictionary-001

A recent article by the Economist magazine has exposed Bernie Sanders for what any of us familiar with the meanings of words is: NOT a socialist. Despite the obvious reasons why Sanders is not a socialist, there are many who – despite the clarification in the article – still insist that Sanders is, indeed, a socialist in the proper sense of the word. What follows is a delineation of terms (including “socialism”), a look at this phenomenon of semantic confusion, and a prescription for correcting it and, ultimately, improving not only linguistic precision but political discourse.

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A few years ago, I discovered, much to my chagrin, that the word “literally,” defined as, “in the literal or strict sense,” has come to mean its exact opposite: “in effect; in substance; very nearly; virtually.” This means that the word “literally” now literally means “figuratively!” Why? No doubt it is because it has been largely and continuously misused over time as a filler word in the conversations of most people. If it is in the nature of language to change, why is a semantic shift (a reversal) like this so irksome – and dangerous?

The most obvious problem with a reversal like this the confusion it creates. What does a person mean when they use a word like “literally” in a conversation? While context and common sense can go a long way in determining which meaning is intended, there are other instances where this is not so. The most recent example is the use of the word “socialism” vis-a-vis Bernie Sanders’ political stance.

Socialism is defined as, “a theory or system of social organism that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.” The key feature of economic -isms is who controls the means of production: in socialism, it is society as a whole; in capitalism, it is private individuals/corporations. While it is difficult to distill comprehensive and variable economic systems in a sentence, these are the essential features of those words and so anyone who claims to endorse the philosophies which those words represent must, at least, meet such basic criteria.

So, do the policies Sanders’ propose meet these basic criteria? The answer is a resounding “no,” even according to Sanders himself. In an interview with Amy Goodman, Sanders was asked to define what he meant by “socialism.” Sanders replied,

Well, I think it [socialism] means the government has got to play a very important role in making sure that as a right of citizenship, all of our people have healthcare; that as a right, all of our kids, regardless of income, have quality childcare, are able to go to college without going deeply into debt; that it means we do not allow large corporations and moneyed interests to destroy our environment; that we create a government in which it is not dominated by big money interest. I mean, to me, it means democracy, frankly. That’s all it means. And we are living in an increasingly undemocratic society in which decisions are made by people who have huge sums of money. And that’s the goal that we have to achieve.

What Sanders describes is not socialism, proper – where society controls the means of production – but a more fair and equitable form of democratic capitalism. In fact, he has said outright that, “I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street, or own the means of production.” So, Sanders is not a socialist according to the original meaning of the word; he is, in fact, a capitalist. The problem, though, is that he gives his own definition of the word, “socialism,” and if we accept and use it the way he does then, technically, Sanders is a “socialist,” but only according to this new definition.

Back to the confusion of contradictory definitions: is Sanders a socialist or not? According to traditional socialist philosophy in which society owns the means of production, “no, Sanders is not a socialist.” However, if we take his Jeffersonian-esque interpretation of democracy as a definition, then, “yes, he is.” But are the electorate making this significant distinction between socialism proper and Sanders’ version of it when “debating” his presidential bid and the policies he advocates? There are plenty of indications that the vast majority of Americans are not. But, ultimately, does this matter?

In short, yes. First, words have meaning, and when those meanings change so much that they no longer mean what they originally did, or worse: the exact opposite, then effective communication becomes all but impossible. Second, semantic shifts of the type that have occurred to “literally” and “socialism,” can be used in ways that can confuse, mislead, and deceive. A perfect example is the negative labelling of Sanders as a “socialist.” Such a label turns off many potential supporters because of the connotation the word has received due to the history of the Cold War. That said, the word “socialism” underscores the major political shift Sanders does endorse, so it does indicates a “revolution” in political goings-on that Sanders’ promises if elected. In this way, the obfuscation is strategic, even if somewhat disingenuous. In these ways, political discourse becomes double speak and there is a real danger that, if we’re not vigilant, it devolves into duckspeak.

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In conclusion: Sanders is not a socialist in any meaningful sense; he is a democrat and a capitalist, by his own admissions. Furthermore, words have meaning and we who use language have the responsibility to protect the integrity of those meanings. Though, we must allow for – and adapt to – the inevitable evolution of language when those changes do not degrade communication. The best way to do this is to know the meanings of words and to insist upon clarification and discipline when using language. And the best way to know these meanings is to read the dictionary, regularly. Look up words not known; refresh understanding of words that are known; and build vocabularies on a daily basis (David Foster Wallace went so far as to call the dictionary one of the, “great bathroom books of all times”). In this way, human communication, thought, and socio-political processes can improve in ways that will benefit us all.

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This post is a long time coming, and a desideratum in today’s political dialogue. As usual, we begin with (OED) definitions.

First, Liberty:

  1. exemption or release from captivity, bondage, or slavery
  2. exemption or freedom from arbitrary, despotic or autocratic rule
  3. natural liberty: the state in which everyone is free to act as he thinks fit, subject only to the laws of nature. civil liberty: natural liberty so far restricted by established law as is expedient or necessary for the good of the community
  4. the condition of being able to act in any desired way without hinderance or restraint; faculty or power to do as one likes
  5. (philosophical) the condition of being free from the control of fate or necessity
  6. unrestrained action, conduct, or expression; freedom of behaviour or speech, beyond what is granted or recognized as proper; license
  7. privileges, immunities, or rights enjoyed by prescription or by grant

As is evident, liberty is varied in meaning. I think it safe to say, however, that most understand liberty according to the first definition – the most basic form of liberty: freedom from objectification, the reduction of a rational subject to an thing of ownership.

The second definition, too, is well understood; however, this definition poses problems for a few reasons. First, the key words, arbitrary, despotic, or autocratic – these words indicate that not all rule denies people their liberty, or at least a specific kind of it. Only arbitrary, despotic, or autocratic governments can be considered liberty-denying. Other forms of government, as definition three infers, can restrict some liberty without being guilty of any of these three qualities.

The second problem stems from the first in that – human perception being subjective – some people will contend that government, despite its legitimacy – especially the form(s) with which they do not agree or like – is arbitrary, despotic, and/or autocratic. This is most evident in some forms of anarchism, in which all government, no matter how well-regulated by the rule of law and the people it can be, will always be: despotic (perhaps the phrase, tyranny of the majority encapsulates these extreme anarchist views). However, there are many political factions within the U.S. political system today that seem to stretch this conception of “despotic” and promise greater liberty in order to curry support for their agendas.

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The third definition is based on much enlightenment political theory. In fact, these definitions can almost be taken verbatim out of Rousseau’s Social Contract:

The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a very remarkable change in man, by substituting justice for instinct in his conduct, and giving his actions the morality they had formerly lacked. Then only, when the voice of duty takes the place of physical impulses and right of appetite, does man, who so far had considered only himself, find that he is forced to act on different principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations. Although, in this state, he deprives himself of some advantages which he got from nature, he gains in return others so great, his faculties are so stimulated and developed, his ideas so extended, his feelings so ennobled, and his whole soul so uplifted, that, did not the abuses of this new condition often degrade him below that which he left, he would be bound to bless continually the happy moment which took him from it for ever, and, instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, made him an intelligent being and a man.

Let us draw up the whole account in terms easily commensurable. What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and an unlimited right to everything he tries to get and succeeds in getting; what he gains is civil liberty and the proprietorship of all he possesses. If we are to avoid mistake in weighing one against the other, we must clearly distinguish natural liberty, which is bounded only by the strength of the individual, from civil liberty, which is limited by the general will; and possession, which is merely the effect of force or the right of the first occupier, from property, which can be founded only on a positive title.

We might, over and above all this, add, to what man acquires in the civil state, moral liberty, which alone makes him truly master of himself; for the mere impulse of appetite is slavery, while obedience to a law which we prescribe to ourselves is liberty. (Book I, chapter viii)

According to this, man, in the state of nature is free to do what he wills, whenever he wills it, however he wills it because there is no legitimate restrictions upon his liberty. However, when man enters society, he forfeits some of his liberty to a legitimate government in exchange for safety, social well-being, and civil liberties; he concedes that he has bears responsibility for his actions and society – this is what is known as the social contract.

However, there is another element to liberty that Rosseau articulates that often goes unmentioned, and that takes precedence over political/civil liberty: moral liberty. For Rosseau, and many pre-enlightenment thinkers, too, it is moral liberty that made one a free, enlightened individual. Indeed, very few today would consider an addict to be free in any meaningful sense (although, and strangely enough, [s]he may have been free to choose to try the drug the first few instances – which calls attention to the process of moving from liberty to servitude); and indeed an addict is not free because the addict is at the mercy of his/her addiction, incapable of choosing not to use – they are in bondage to the drug, a slave to it. And the same can be said of addictions beyond the realm of illegal drugs – think: food, alcohol, cigarettes, etc; compulsions, obsessions, and impulses, too, rob an individual of his/her agency. This is why many holy men, monks, priests, etc practiced lives of self-denial. And it is no wonder that this hard-earned liberty is attained by so few – usually the spiritual leaders of great renown.

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The fourth definition begins from the natural liberty of the third definition and leads into the sixth. Simply put, according to this meaning: liberty is acting in an way one chooses for their self.

The fifth definition shares some of the same meaning as the previous discussion on moral liberty.

The sixth definition is probably the second-most important definition (behind the third) in terms of political implications. For it lays out that – and we must deduce that this is the case only in a civil society where civil liberties are granted in exchange for natural liberties – that there is such a thing as too much libertytoo much freedom. In the state of nature, theft is acceptable (in fact, it doesn’t even exist because “theft” is a moral, civil liberty construction) because there was no legitimate authority to reasonably stop it; however, in society, as a result of the social contract, theft is against the law because it violates the liberty (specifically the property rights) of another. The freedom that is acceptable in a state of nature is no longer acceptable in the civil state, and exercising this former-natural liberty is an excess within the legitimate confines of civil liberty. This excess of freedom is known as license.

A prime example of the seventh definition (as well as the first, second, third, and sixth) is most-easily identified in arguments laid out in the Declaration of Independence and codified in the Constitution of the United States. Unalienable rights which are self-evidently true are granted to us as rational, civil agents – and these documents confirm these privileges.

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Second, Freedom:

  1. exemption or release from slavery or imprisonment; personal liberty
  2. exemption from arbitrary, despotic, or autocratic control; independence; civil liberty

The rest of the definitions of freedom are almost as exactly as identical to those as liberty. I think it fair to say that freedom, for the political-theoretical purposes of this post, is synonymous with liberty. And enough has already been said about liberty.

Third, License:

  1. excessive liberty; abuse of freedom; disregard of law and propriety

There are other definitions of the word license; however, they are of little use to this discussion. This one definition here gets to the heart of the matter concerning this discussion: that liberty exists, that it is legitimate, but that it also, in a civil society, needs limitations to protect the individual (in more or less ways, depending) but, especially, the rest of society, of which the individual is a part. Embedded within the social contract, within civil liberties, is the stipulation – an obligation – that an individual be responsible with their freedom.

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The foundations for liberty are well established, and now clarified; what is left to do is debate and engage in order to create the kind of civil society we as a people want to have. What remains are a few thoughts for consideration.

First, whenever someone talks about “liberty” in a political, economic, or social sense, it is imperative to ask, “Which do you mean?” The necessity for this is obvious now: for there are so many conceptions, and they’re not always mutual exclusive or inclusive; and this is to say nothing of the new meanings being created by modern context. Furthermore, it is standard operating procedure for politicians, pundits, and other opinion makers to double speak and otherwise confuse the meaning of their words so as to fool people into agreeing with them. We must be very wary of this practice, especially today.

Second, the conception of civil liberty – those which contemporary societies laud – emphasize the community over the individual by nature and definition. Being part of society and community is so good (and some say: inherent to our natures) that the individual is subservient to it. Indeed, the social contract is nothing but an articulation of this dynamic. Yes, the individual is important (to varying degrees, depending) but not so much more important that one can benefit at the expense of the whole. In fact, the individual has a duty to society: not to harm but protect it. Crime is a violation of this contract; although, it is important to remember that laws don’t always suffice in articulating moral or civil transgressions or enforcing the individual’s obligation to the group.

Today, the conception of “liberty” and “freedom” inverts the social contract; it raises the individual above the whole, glorifies him/her, deifies him/her; it seems to dismiss that the individual is but a part of the whole, is molded by it, and benefits greatly from it (with its public schools, infrastructure, legal and penal systems, etc, etc). Perhaps this is part of why society is “breaking down:” too many people are more concerned with themselves than they are the communities which raised them like their own parents, allowing them to survive and flourish.

Third, what do we do about the excess? the too much freedom/liberty: the license? and what about, as contemporary thinkers are wont to describe it, the negative externalities? What do we do with individuals, as a society, who cannot or will not restrain their destructive, often immoral, yet perfectly legal, behaviors? This important and controversial question will be the subject of a subsequent post, as this one is already too long. Instead, I leave off with the apropos musings of John Milton; a few lines from his sonnet, On the Same:

That bawl for freedom in their senseless mood,

And still revolt when truth would set them free.

Licence they mean when they cry liberty;

For who loves that must first be wise and good;

But from that mark how far they rove we see

For all this waste of wealth, and loss of blood.

Equality — Which?

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A recent academic debate has both disturbed and motivated me. Disturbed because of many reasons but the most relevant, intellectually, is that very smart individuals speak of equality but seem unclear as to what it means, exactly, and how it translates operationally into the various social arrangements. And it has motivated me to inquire and expound upon a concept that I think we all take for granted in thinking that we know what it means.

Let us begin with basics: denotative definitions. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines equality in several ways:

  1. The condition of being equal in quantity, amount, value, intensity, etc
  2. The exact correspondence between magnitude and number in respect of quantity, the existence of is which is sometimes expressed by the sign =
  3. The condition of having equal dignity, rank, or privileges with others
  4. The condition of being equal in power, ability, achievement, or excellence
  5. In persons: fairness, impartiality, equity; In things: due proportion, proportionateness

The first definition is the essential meaning, it describes the condition/relationship between two objects and their identicalness, correspondence, or sameness. I will call this Platonic Equality in that it describes the purest, most fundamental essence (or form) of equality – all other descriptions of equality have this essence contained within its meaning. The second definition is Mathematical Equality in that it refers to quantity and/or magnitude. It bears little significance to the upcoming discussion but is worth mentioning.

The third, fourth and fifth definitions are all related in kind but differ in degree. For that reason I will refer to them as Aristotelian Equalities given that they have an operational relevance in politics, economics, and society in general. Moreover, each definition in turn can be further classified by their functioning within human social systems. For example, the third definition describes what can be considered as the basis for liberal democracies. In this way, people are equal to each other in that they all have the self-evident, inalienable human rights codified in the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of Human Rights, and as such an equal share in directing their sociopolitical system(s). For this reason, I will refer to this as (AristotelianPolitical Equality.

The Fourth definition refers to the capability or capacity of an individual. These abilities are those we are each born with or develop over time, which helps to make us unique. When people say that “we are not all equal” it is usually this equality to which they refer – “Not everyone can play basketball like a MIchael Jordan; not everyone can lift weights like Arnold Schwarzenegger; and not everyone is an Einstein.” And while this is true, most certainly, there are equalities even in ability. For many of us make the same grades as others; or score identically on IQ tests; or even have the exact same top running speed or high jump. Indeed, one need look no further than statistical standard deviations to see the truth of this. This definition is problematic because it is often cited to highlight inequalities more than equalities, and thus seems to contradict the tenet of equality. However, as I’ve pointed out, even though the extremes of any deviation referred to are rare, most of us fall within similar deviations/categories and are equal in that respect. Given the contradictory and counterintuitive nature – and use – of this definition, I will refer to this as (Aristotelian) Statistical Equality.

The fifth definition refers to a judicial system. Under this meaning, equality means equality under the Law. This means that all are culpable (or commendable) for their actions; whether President or pauper, if one breaks the law, one is subject to punishment. In other words: No one is above the law; we are all equal under it. For this reason, I will refer to this equality as (AristotelianLegal Equality. It should be noted that there are other specific forms of equality, like gender equality, that are manifest but I find, so far, that they fall under one of these mentioned categories. Gender equality would fall under the Aristotelian Political (and Legal) Equality, for example.

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The context of the debate that sparked this inquiry was a discussion about Vladmir Lenin and the establishment of the U.S.S.R.. Under Lenin’s system there were essentially two castes: the vanguard (and later the Politburo) and the masses – both inaccurately subsumed under the term, the Proletariat. In Communism, all were equal workers entitled to the means of production and what was produced. However, Lenin established an inner circle of cronies, with himself at the center, who received more – in all ways possible – than those outside of it. This two-tier system is perfectly exemplified in the memorable phrase, and Animal Farm commandment, in George Orwell’s novella about Leninism/Stalinism: “All Animals Are Equal, But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.”

Here emerges a new type of equality. It is a hypocritical equality, a contradiction, and utter nonsense – for there is no such thing as more equal. Yet, this was the way that Soviet Russia operated under its dictatorship of the proletariat, and this “logic” was accepted and enforced. But, again, this is nonsense. But fear is a powerful motivator, and history is rife with examples of human beings accepting illogic as logic, and inequality as equality, all due to fear. This definition of “equality” is not given in the OED but I think it should be. I will refer to this conception of a two-tier equality – really just another form of inequality, but accepted as its opposite – as (Aristotelian) Orwellian Equality.

The argument was made that Orwellian equality was equality proper, despite the fact that all the participants to the discussion knew this to be a false equivalence. Several times the contradiction was pointed out, and several times it was denied, even though everyone knew it to be otherwise. Then there came a new argument:

Soviet Russia was a “closed system.” There was an authority that determined “truths,” and his cronies were responsible for disseminating it. All the rest were equal in their submission to it; and the inner circle insisted that itself, too, was equal to those outside of it. But this was not the case; clearly, the inner circle had privileges the masses did not. And by definition, this is no type of equality other than Orwellian equality, which is, in fact, a contradiction of equality. I understood the analogy, it was accurate in describing the social system developed by Lenin, but it was in no meaningful (or literal) way, equal.

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So, why make these distinctions; why write out this inquiry; and why try to clarify? In short, because it is important. First, and in the context of the discussion mentioned, it is important because what the Soviets practiced was not proper equality (nor was it Communism in the Marxist, denotative-philosophical sense). It was a practice very similar in our times of people calling themselves Christians but living very unChristian lives – just because one calls oneself something or claims to live under certain principles, does not mean that that is, in fact, the case. In order to determine the veracity of such statements, they must be judged according to the standard of its definition(s) or practice(s). Equality is equality only if it satisfies the condition of sameness; and a Christian is a Christian only if (s)he satisfies the doctrine, i.e. definition, of Christianity.

Second, it is important because the world is getting more complex and yet our language (or maybe it’s our thinking) is not evolving with it. And this matters because the more precise our language the more our ideas, and ultimately our lives, approximate truth (about what we talk and think). Without this precision, we cannot be sure that we are talking about the same thing, thus confusing terms and keeping ourselves unnecessarily divided and powerless. This phenomenon is prevalent in modern-day politics, so much so that it has an official term: double speak. Politicians use words like “freedom,” “equality,” “fairness,” “liberty,” “capitalism,” and “free markets” but, like Lenin and his comrades, they often mean different things than what those who hear these words think. This is a major problem with American society today: ignorance, and exploitation of that ignorance through tactics such as double speak.

It is absolutely critical that we develop this linguistic precision so as to communicate more effectively, and, ultimately, shape our world with these words and ideas; and even hold those accountable who lie to us in such duplicitous ways. By doing this way, we maintain the vigilance that is a citizen’s duty; earn our intelligence as rational agents; and develop our humanity as conscious beings.

Utopias: Old and New

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The significant problems we face today cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein

In the most general political sense, the Oxford English Dictionary defines utopia as “a place, state, or condition ideally perfect in respect of politics, laws, customs, and conditions.” Etymologically, the term derives from the Greek words ou and topos, and literally translates as not a place or no place.

This inquiry is the result of a conversation I had with a renown theorist and practitioner of international relations, national security, and policy. The original debate circled around the the argument that the original idea of communism has been appropriated to mean something different – what most people understand it to be in contemporary times – and that the significant distinction between the two conceptions is neglected to our detriment.

Similarly, a following debate ensued about the term utopia and that, similarly, there is an important distinction between the meanings with important political implications. However, in this instance, it wasn’t about two simultaneous denotative conceptions, but between an existing conception and a burgeoning one. In short, the argument was that the aforementioned definition of utopia is part of an old paradigm; that a new conception is possible, if not necessary, and with it, a commensurate political paradigm.

“Utopia means ‘no place,’ it is an unrealizable goal,” went the assertion. “Yes, under an old conception of the term but here it is proposed that utopia means something different, something subtle yet significant,” went the rebuttal. The discussion continued, “This new conception isn’t a refutation of the old conception; in fact, it embraces the old definition – it relies upon it for its own definition – it sees the truth in it, but sees that truth more deeply and ironically. Indeed, utopia is not a place, but a process; it no more an independent entity than running is an independent entity from the legs that hurriedly move.”

There is a growing consensus among the psychological, neurological, neuro-philosophical communities that the mind is not a separate entity from the body. Rather, the mind is (the product of) the functioning of a holistic information processor identified as the brain. Without the brain – a working brain – there is no mind. With no mind, there is no self – and often they are understood as one and the same. In fact the word mind is a misnomer under this scientific conception – a better and more precise term would be minding, since the gerund form of the word indicates the true nature of the mind as an action, a process (like running). This is both an empirical refutation and solution to the “mind-body duality (problem)” that emerged thousands of years ago.

Similarly, utopia should be viewed etymologically/literally as not a place but a process. But not a innate process of political objects, i.e. human beings, like minding is to brains, but a willed process – the continuation of a decision made, much like the continued decision to stay in a marriage, a healthy lifestyle, or a consistent moral life. The reason being that the former oversimplifies the concept and renders it an impossible goal.

Most people’s conception of utopia is understood as some end state that is free from conflict, diversity, individuality, and change – this is because people incorrectly view it as a form of human perfection (which also, incidentally, is in need of a similar redefinition). And since human perfection is impossible, so, too, the reasoning goes, must be any political product humanity creates. Again, this is correct, but only if the concepts such as utopia and perfection are understood as end states and not processes.

The word process implies the interaction with(in) time. This is key for several reasons. One, it means that utopia is not a heaven – it’s not some final state where humanity solves all the problems of the human condition and everyone is happy all the time. This is likely never to be the case, even within this new conception of utopia – human existence takes place within the Universe, which is in a constant state of flux between creation and destruction; humans will always reflect this nature since they are an embodiment of that nature. Two, it means that utopia can, and eventually will, mean different things at different times. Sociopolitical architects will decide on what is the best form of government at the time and, hopefully, when new information emerges and people are ready, changes will occur and a new government will be constructed to suit these people under new conceptions of the best form of government. In this way, humans are allowed to grow and evolve, donning new sociopolitical systems when they need to and, similarly, doffing them when they must. In this sense then, utopia, is the process by which human political systems are perpetually improved with certain goals in mind (for example, reducing war, poverty and famine, needless suffering, crime, etc – notice the word reducing and opposed to eliminating – remember perfection [under the old paradigm] is not a realizable goal to which we should work; instead, we should continually strive to be better than before – morally, intellectually, personally, etc).

When combined with Reason and the scientific method, human beings can not only enhance their governments but develop entirely new ones altogether! This is an endeavor limited only by the imagination of human hope and effort; and tempered by the understanding of human nature and the limits of their technology. The technology of our age gives the people of our time the advantages of greater information and mobilization than the generations before could ever have imagined – and still don’t. It is time that we begin in earnest to start thinking about utopias again, but this time equipped with the knowledge of our time and its best methods. For it seems unlikely that the way things are currently progressing (and promise to continue to do so) are ever going to bring about the kind of changes worthy of the word utopian.

So this begs the question(s): “But wait – don’t we do that already? Isn’t that what democracy is in the West – people changing laws so that their governments and societies are better than they were before?” Not in the sense I mean: the changes I have in mind are those similar to that between changing from a feudal monarchy to a capitalist democracy, for example. A capitalist democracy is an improvement in many ways but it is not the final best form of government – there are better ones awaiting us still, and we are long overdue. However, in the grand scheme of things, we do, indeed, engage in utopianism when we petition our government and change our laws. In short, if we are vigilant and meaningfully participate, we are engaged in a continual, if albeit gradual, process of change and readjustment – a micro version of utopia argued for in this post.

How about that?