Sunday, February 27, 2005

Guns, Germs, Bush 

Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, Steel has been on the New York Times bestseller list forever, despite—or, dare I say, because of—its scientific, reality-based subject matter and tone. On page 277, Professor Diamond discusses kleptocracy. The concept is that in any society that's made it past hunting and gathering, there's a surplus, and there are kleptocrats, the kind of people who—human nature being what it is—have appropriated the surplus, and have to figure out how to hold onto as much of it as they can. From page 277 and 278 of the Norton paperback:

Kleptocrats throughout the ages have resorted to a mixture of four solutions:

1. Disarm the populace, and arm the elite. That's much easier in these days of high-tech weaponry, produced only in industrial plants and easily monopolized by an elite, than in ancient times of spears and clubs easily made at home.

2. Make the masses happy by redistributing much of the tribute received, in popular ways. This principle was as valid for Hawaiian chiefs as it is for American politicians today.

3. Use the monopoly of force to promote happiness, by maintaining public order and curbing violence....

4. Construct an ideology or religion justifying kleptocracy. ... The supernatural beliefs of bands and tribes did not serve to justify central authority, justify transfer of wealth, or maintain peace between unrelated individuals. When supernatural beliefs gained those powers and became institutionalized, they were thereby transformed into what we term a religion. Hawaiian chiefs were typical of chiefs elsewhere, in asserting divinity, divine descent, or at least a hotline to the Gods. The chief claimed to serve the people by interceding for them with the gods and reciting the ritual formulas required....

Chiefdoms characteristically have an ideology, precursor to an institutionalized religion, that butresses the chief's authority. The chief may either combine the offices of political leader and priest in a single person, or may support a separate group of kleptocrats (that is, priests) whose function is to provide ideological justifications for the chiefs. That is why chiefdoms devote so much collected tribute to constructing temples and other public works, which serve as centers of the official religion and visible signs of the chief's power.

A long quote, but revealing of the present day, for two reasons.

First, the fundamental conflicts between Democrats and Republicans are finally becoming clear, revealed by the Social Security battle.

The Democrats, in the FDR tradition, are klepocrats in style #2 ("make the masses happy by redistributing much of the tribute received") The Republicans, in the person of George Bush, are attempting to change the nature of the kleptocracy under which we live to from #2 to #3 ("Construct an ideology or religion justifying kleptocracy"). And there's no question I'd prefer to live in an FDR-style kleptocracy; eating half a shit sandwich is always preferable to eating a whole one.

Second, Diamond's acute analysis of the nature of chiefdoms reveals much about our enemies, the Republicans, as well.

The "priests" who provide "ideological justifications" are the VRWC of media whores, talking heads, pundits, dirty tricksters, and Federalist Society operatives (F/Buckhead; Scalia).

And the "visible signs of the chief's powers" are things like the troops at the inaugural.

You thought that was about security? Silly!

Or the [snort] missile defense system. You thought that was about protecting us? Silly! It's a high tech temple, a multibillion dollar artificial dick that shoots into the air and blows up, as an offering to the sky gods! The point is not whether it works—that's so reality based! The point is: Big Chief can do it! So he does it!

Bush, Big Chief! Bow down before Him! I'm going to give him and his priests all my retirement money because since they already have so much, they must deserve more!

corrente SBL - New Location
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The Washington Chestnut
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