The creeping hand of power

mission_creep“Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” they told me in high school, with stern expressions to let me know I had been exposed to profundity.

I have a different supposition: Power is a virus. If not taken out of the hands of individuals and directed toward some abstract but realistic goal like the growth of a civilization, power serves only itself — but it does so through the individualism and self-importance of unorganized people.

This is where politics leaves politics itself, because now we’re talking about the nature of power, not values (right, left) or manipulation (compromise, spin, ideology). We’re talking about how the human herd organizes itself, and not what it intends, but what corrupts its intention.

Now, all of this is out the window if power has a goal. Power with a goal is a three way switch — did it: (a) come closer to achieving the goal, (b) move farther away from the goal, or (c) do nothing? For all practical purposes, #b and #c are so close together that they get measured the same way. This is what holds power in check; comparison to the objective.

However, where there is no goal or only a vague maintenance-style goal like we have in the modern west, power has nothing to check it. Like a government employee or non-profit, it has no measurement of its success or failure; it just is. It keeps meeting its own internal goals, and so it assumes it is OK.

Wherever this kind of power goes, it expands. This can be a volunteer group, a friend group, a government, a non-profit, a corporation or even one aspect of your own mind. Once power exists, and has no outlet (goal), it starts working to further itself — because if it doesn’t do that, or stagnates, it declines (options #b and #c above).

Bureaucratic institutions never get smaller, only bigger. When a need arises, a bureaucracy is created. It begins addressing that need. Unless it can fix the situation immediately, it sets in for the long haul. At this point, it starts working to perpetuate itself. The situation is removed, and replaced by internal goals and external appearances.

Each year, the bureaucracy needs to find a way to justify itself. It can almost never do that by pointing to what it has been doing all this time and saying, “Yep, we’re just doing the same stuff, year after year.” People mistake that for option #c, stagnation, even though for most non-immediately-solvable problems the answer is to keep doing the same stuff that is known to ameliorate them, or do nothing about them and design around them (this is difficult).

As a result, the bureau must come out with a new initiative ever year. It’s doing that to defend the jobs of the people who work for it. A consequence of this however is mission creep, or the tendency to keep tacking on new goals as “sub-items” of whatever ostensible goal it was founded to have.

This means that every year, the bureau gets bigger, hires more people, and does more stuff. This is a form of entropy because it is becoming less organized, less effective, and more likely to be internally “gamed” by people who are fulfilling its internal demands, which are a step removed from actually addressing the problem. If the managers are check-writers are happy, the organization has succeeded; the actual problem is a secondary concern.

You might then ask, why does government turn leftist over time, and why are most government agencies leftist in outlook? The answer is that barring agencies which deal with specific reality-based concerns, like economics or the military, government agencies need to perpetuate themselves.

Conservative politics favor results over intentions, and as a result, will never expand government or give infinite job security to its employees. Conservatives are neither pro-government or anti-government, but favor the right tool for the job. The minority of problems are best served with permanent government agencies, hence most people see conservatives as “anti-government,” even though that’s illogical in a government-based system.

The result is that government turns leftist because leftists favor intentions over results. Intentions are what bureaus do best; they announce the new initiative, hire more people and spend more money, and when the problem goes unsolved, they haul out their mission document and show they’ve met their internal targets, even if their external ones went unaddressed.

Leftism builds more government. It allows government to justify itself by intention, and thus to grow itself. Power is a virus, and it is expressed by finding more dependents that require it so that it cannot be removed. This is a fundamentally defensive strategy.

Think about government welfare programs. When does the number of welfare recipients decrease? Never, if the welfare program can help it. If the number drops, so does the number of employees, the budget, the perks, and the job security. So any welfare program will find new dependents every year and if they aren’t there, it will invent them by expanding its mission. If society ever runs out of poor, the welfare agencies will quickly expand to covering people with mental stress, exhaustion, compulsive masturbation, etc.

Power likes to be leftist and have good intentions because that lets it expand. This seems to be why all governments except monarchies quickly plummet into oblivion. Even the totalitarians come to love their dependents, and soon they have converted society into a trough with no visible means of support. Shortly after that, the bill comes due, and it collapses.

22 Comments

  1. RiverC says:

    In a sense, even the far-left anarchism is just a recipe for creating new governments out of whole cloth, ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ and all of that. In that sense, left-anarchism definitely fits in the with the whole paradigm.

    When we were talking about a project we’re doing, one of the older guys said, “The government is now at ‘bring me a rock’ status.” When we asked what that meant he did the rest of the schtick: “Bring me a rock.” You bring them a rock. “That’s not the right rock. Bring me another rock.” Can you tell me something about the rock you want, to narrow it down? “No, that would take too long. Just bring me a rock, I’ll know it when I see it”

    In my mind, this is left anarchism – BRING ME A ROCK! Eventually we’ll get the right rock, right? At least the anarchists are honest here. No, there is no right rock. There is only bringing the rock and having it be rejected.

    1. Without culture, what the libertarians call “statism” — society driven by government, instead of by values — is inevitable. Good observation.

  2. NotTheDude says:

    I have been told when I pressed, that a reduction in unneeded jobs was unwanted because less would have jobs and security and other things that could be found outside of a make work job. i didn’t think folk could be so daft but here we are. Bureaucracy is making it hard to live a sane life.

    1. RiverC says:

      Shame is always preferable to change.

  3. crow says:

    The only one fit to lead is the one who least desires to do so.
    Of reasonable intelligence, and a verifiable history of non-catastrophic decisions.
    As opposed to a verifiable history of never having done anything, ever.

    1. I must agree with this man:

      ‘Schopenhauer reiterated his antidemocratic-eugenic thesis: “If you want Utopian plans, I would say: the only solution to the problem is the despotism of the wise and noble members of a genuine aristocracy, a genuine nobility, achieved by mating the most magnanimous men with the cleverest and most gifted women. This proposal constitutes my Utopia and my Platonic Republic”‘

      It reminds me of Pride and Prejudice, which is not only the archetype of every non-moronic romantic novel, but also the clarion call of eugenics in literature.

      1. RiverC says:

        As I recall, this is one reason why hereditary rule can work very well (but also very poorly for its converse) there is a very good chance that a born-royal both has the talent and skill to rule and no real desire for it. If my memory serves me right, this is somewhat like a good arranged marriage; the right leader grows into his position rather than becoming a giant looking for a seat big enough for his enormous ass.

        *cough*

        At least Obama’s not a giant of any kind.

      2. Meow Mix says:

        Interestingly, I recall Schopenhauer remarking in the World As Will… that great leaders aren’t necessarily very intelligent, since true geniuses are the ones who constantly over-analyze everything and constantly doubt themselves, whereas leaders often act through strong dumb resolve. Notice that it was Alexander the Great who conquered the world, not his mentor, Aristotle.

        Then again, I might be misunderstanding his point.

        1. RiverC says:

          Personally, I believe there are different kinds of intelligence and capability, what we measure as IQ being merely the simplest to quantify.

          I think we also make a mistake because our modern notion of ‘intelligence’ is roughly equal to ‘raw brain computational power’ which doesn’t really equate to notions of intelligence that preceded that.

          Is a leader like Reagan unintelligent, who is aware of his lack of know-how and gets the best advisors to help him? A mechanistic view of intelligence alone creates a contradiction here, since doing that would be a highly intelligent act, far more intelligent than trying to run it on your own.

          Though I guess crow was calling this ‘wisdom’, which is often utilized by those who have experience but lack intelligence, much to the chagrin of the clever.

          1. crow says:

            Wisdom might be thought of as intelligence refined to the point where it is able to get out of its own way.

            1. I agree. Intelligence with purpose clears aside the trappings of intelligence and focuses only on end results. It is not “intelligence for its own sake” but intelligence as a tool used to achieve an end.

              1. Loretek says:

                This is the quintessential double edged sword of being an intelligent person. In our attempt to make sure our “gut instinct” is a plausible move, we get lost in trying to explain why we succeed through it. In this we lose any chance of using the gut instinct genuinely again.

                Knowing this can a true leader be intelligent? Or must his perception stop before he deconstructs himself. Alternatively can a true leader only be an intelligent person who has deconstructed himself and realized that his gut instinct is all that he can truly follow.

                My father recently made the point to me when I tried to explain that the last few years have shown a degradation in my GPA but I have grown so much mentally. His response was “you can learn from my experience, or you can set out to learn from your own”.

                I had unknowingly set out on my own. And I am so frightened because I see how quickly I was going down the “intelligence for its own sake” when I set out on what I thought was a noble endeavor. He also said, “its okay that you had to go out and “soul search” but now its time to get back to reality and use the opportunities around you as a means to an end”.

                Society, up until now, has taught me that using my intelligence and opportunity as a means to an end was selfish and amoral/immoral (I need more practice using these two words, im sure one is more appropriate here). Maybe it is society that is holding me back. Maybe I need to be a little more “evil” and start using my advantages I was dealt in life to further myself, and not just my “floaty” soul searching understanding. Which in turn may further society. I don’t know this answer yet but I’m beginning to feel that burning sensation that somethings wrong, that the “good” society talks about is really the stagnent evil that exists in the world.

                1. crow says:

                  Intelligence is a useful tool, but not the whole toolkit.
                  The more it can be put aside, the more useful it becomes.
                  Insight, intuition, just plain calmness, all may serve better, while intelligence merely adds questions needing to be answered.
                  The most useful tool of all is detached observation: see what it is, before any notion of improvement occurs.

        2. I think the great leaders are intelligent enough to not need to surround themselves with what others recognize as “intelligence,” which is always portrayed in popular media as knowing lots of things, reading a lot, etc.

          Leadership intelligence requires a genius at a level lower than the forebrain, namely what we’d call “gut instinct.” It assesses multiple factors quickly to produce good results; it synthesizes many different things into one outcome. It’s not the kind of “clever” intelligence you see at universities or mid-level jobs, but it’s more of what you would see in a great artist or philosopher.

  4. NotTheDude says:

    Although the Aristocracy is the most important class in society, surely everyone that is of reasonable worth should be looking to breed better children? Smarter, healthier, more responsible workers and craftsmen will raise society up too.

    1. Owl says:

      Well yeah, everyone should breed up.

      What good would it do us to be led by philosopher kings if all they did was play chimp rancher all day long?

  5. 1349 says:

    Intentions are what bureaus do best

    A friend of mine compares democratic/bureaucratic intentions, formulated as slogans and party planks, to toasts (in the sense of table speeches). “Let’s end poverty and oppression!” – “Yeah! Nice toast.”

    Bureaucratic institutions never get smaller, only bigger.


    This seems to be why all governments except monarchies quickly plummet into oblivion.

    The mention of monarchy is an interesting spin. (Maybe just for me.) A more elaborate explanation of why/how monarchies are immune to bureaucratic growth could be quite useful. I can probably explain this to a right-leaning person, but hardly to a liberal.

    1. Meow Mix says:

      Actually, I was confused about this point. I would like an explanation. Is it because Monarchs distribute power and decision making to their subordinate lords (the dukes, and so on)?

      1. crow says:

        Yes, more or less. There is continuity with a monarch, rather than a short repetetive cycle of doing/undoing. If a monarch was the ultimate authority, much could be accomplished, and a continuity assured.
        Being monarch, he/she would have access to the finest and wisest the nation had to offer, and also be able to delegate downwards.
        All this would, of course, be dependent upon retention or re-establishment of the idea of a nation.

  6. josef haddad says:

    forgive the question if it seems lame/stupid but doesnt reality today, show us that it’s monarchies who rather disappeared into oblivion and not governments?

    1. Monarchies disappeared into oblivion as part of the decay that currently is causing us problems; governments will also disappear, proving that they were not a solution, but a false alternative that ended up being more destructive than the falsely-identified “problem” they claimed to cure.

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