Gian Piero de Bellis
Polyarchy : a Paradigm
(2002 - 2013)
From vicious interests to virtuous choices
|Interests : the down-to-earth hypothesis|
|Interests : the up-in-the-sky myth|
|Interests : the professional figures
|Interests : the state figures
- The law workers
- The police workers
- The paper workers
- The social workers
|The nature of interests|
|Vested-hidden interests as vicious interests|
|Competing-visible interests for virtuous choices|
Interests : the down-to-earth hypothesis (^)
We, the common people, assume the existence of material personal interests that guide the behaviour of all or most individuals operating in a business: monetary gain.
The existence of material personal interests is taken almost for granted in any business endeavour, always and everywhere, even when the gain is not so certain, is not so high as supposed, or when other motives play a stronger role (power, adventure, influence, recognition, mission, etc.).
The corollary to this, is the other assumption and attitude that the interests of the producer/seller are not only different but divergent from that of the consumer/buyer; so that, any gain secured by the former, is in almost direct relation to some pain or loss incurred by the latter.
To contrast this general disenchantment about the producer's motives (i.e. pure and simple maximization of monetary gains), the businessmen, by means of glossy publicity and edulcorated press releases, try to portray their interests as the interests of society at large, especially when they are big corporations grown fat through state protectionism.
To complete the picture, it must be said that not many consumers actually believe a word of what the businessmen proclaim (i.e. their being paladins of the general interest) and keep safeguarding personally their own interests, especially when the financial resources are limited.
This sketchy presentation of a specific reality has been made just
to stress that, in the economic domain, we have formed a mental image
(hypothesis) and an empirical attitude (habit) based on the following
- there are no general universal interests
- there are only specific personal interests.
Given these premisses, the conclusion reached by most individuals is that, as far as economic behaviour is concerned, to forfeit the right to look after his/her own interests, could lead to disaster; consequently, the surest way to avert it, is for everybody to attend carefully to those interests (personally or with personal assistance by a professional expert).
This is, basically, the Adam Smith position, with the addition that each one, cleverly looking after his/her own long-term interests, could contribute to the realization of other individual personal interests.
Interests : the up-in-the-sky myth (^)
Given this mental image and empirical attitude in the economic domain, it is quite strange to realize that similar images and attitudes do not prevail, with the same vigour and the same consistency, in other spheres of life and activity.
In actual fact, putting aside cynical remarks and occasional outbursts of rage, people, generally, think and act as if under the illusion that, in many sectors of life, apart from the economy:
- there are no material interests (or they are not so strong)
- there are no particular interests (or they are not prevalent)
- there are general interests (different from personal interests)
- there are individuals and organisations that are mandated to provide and grant these presumed general interests.
The individuals here referred to, as providers and guarantors of
the general interests, are:
- the professional figures (doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.)
- the state figures (policemen, state clerks, social workers, etc.).
Contrary to this image and attitude, we intend to point out that,
also in those cases, as in any other case affecting human beings
- there are strong material interests
- there are exclusively particular interests.
These are certainly not new ideas. Intervening in front of the Selected Committee on Privileges (1947) Winston Churchill had this to say with reference to Members of Parliament: "Everybody here has private interests which may be affected by legislation which is passing and so forth ... Then there are those people who come to represent public bodies, particular groups of a non-political character in the general sense, and there again we must recognise that as one of the conditions of our varied life ... We are not supposed to be an assembly of gentlemen who have no interests of any kind and no association of any kind. That is ridiculous. That might apply in Heaven, but not, happily, here ... ."
Having said that, it must be added that there is nothing strange
nor reproachable with this situation, as some would have us to believe.
As previously pointed out, as long as we refer to the earth and to
its inhabitants, we have argued that:
- there are no purely immaterial interests, other than for angels and saints;
- there are no general interests other than, or in another form than, the particular shared interests of specific individuals.
If this is the case, there should not be any problem with respect to these two large categories of individuals (professional and state figures), the nature of their interests being similar to that of everybody else.
The problem arises because, contrary to the situation of almost
everybody else, their interests (material and particular) are:
- vested: highly protected and defended by a large apparatus of propaganda that has put them in a position of strength and dominance, increasing the gap between the safeguard of their interests and that of other individuals;
- hidden: deeply concealed by an aura of deontological respectability, an esoteric jargon, or behind a thick screen, covering secret practices and mysterious collusion.
Before giving some evidence and putting forward some observations concerning these supposed vested-hidden interests, it is necessary to stress that the remarks that will be made do not affect all individuals belonging to a category, nor, those affected, in the same measure. Furthermore, it must be said that most of professional and state figures are not conscious of being part of a category with vested-hidden interests, as many aristocrats, in the Ancien Régime,
never realized that their privileges were not the design of a celestial
God but the outcome of a terrestrial power.
Interests : the professional figures (^)
The so-called liberal and intellectual professions have, in the course of time, surrounded themselves with an aura of respectability and sacrality that has spared them the animosity and acrimony (to say the least) that have been addressed to the economic (business) sector.
This image of propriety and correctness is not always reliable.
A brief sketch of the actual situation and current practices of some of these professional figures is necessary for demystifying myths and shattering pious illusions.
The medical profession (including in this category the healers of the body and the mind) has become a powerful lobby from the time when Koch and Charcot practised the art.
The profession has undergone a process of specialization aiming at training doctors to focus either on the body or on the mind (but not on both at the same time).
As for the body, they are trained to intervene on a specific disease affecting only a specific part of it. Even general practitioners very rarely see and examine the full person and the multiple inter-relations with the natural and social environment in which the person lives. This would probably be an impossible demand, considering that, on average, only a few minutes (in England, 7 minutes in the year 2001), are reserved to each individual seeking medical advice.
As a professional group, not only are they not in the forefront of the ecological movement, but, in many places, they do not even seem to notice and warn about the destruction and ravages of the environment that affects and compromises the health of human beings. And this is very odd, to say the least, because they are the professional group that is closest to the manifestation of the problem, that is the decline of people's health and well-being as a result of the deterioration of the environment, and with plenty of data at their disposal. Perhaps, they feel pretty satisfied by the fact that a general betterment in living conditions (i.e. food, clothes, houses, etc.) has lengthened the span of life, and attribute (undeservedly) to themselves most of the merit.
In general, they are more worried about shielding themselves from
what they qualify as intruders (e.g. alternative medicine practitioners)
than protecting human beings from large and small ecological disasters.
This is easily understandable. In actual fact, the situation for the medical profession is a totally paradoxical one: the worse the environmental stress and the psychological distress, the better for business. They are caught in a tragical dilemma, not of their making, between prevention of disease or provision of medical care. For a series of reason (time, energies, training, etc.) they have opted, in large majority, exclusively, for the latter.
So, it is neither in the attitude nor in the interest of the medical profession, as a whole, to inquire into the causes of physical disease and mental malaise. It is neither in their attitude nor in their interest to diffuse information about self-care and self-healing.
Furthermore, their practice puts in their hands, as pointed out, a wealth of data they do not want, do not intend or are not prepared to use for advancing radical proposals. Besides that, it would be ruinous for their interests. Their attempted solutions, in general, must be limited to a specific case, using conventional means (mostly chemical drugs), under their strict control.
Inside the present paradigm they are doing brisk business; they are in great demand and the demand is increasing dramatically. If things continue like this, the triad doctor-psychologist-pharmacist can really become the new holy trinity, i.e. the indispensable figures of reference for surviving in modern life.
Lawyers have existed for centuries, to professionally assist individuals in reaching an agreement concerning a controversy. In Roman times, with no written code up to the Justinian Corpus Juris Civilis (a.D. 529-565), the lawyers were also the producers of law, working out rules of settlement, derived from secular customs and deemed acceptable to their fellow citizens.
With the installation in power of the state and its propagation to almost every sphere of life, the law, its emanation and application, became state prerogatives. Natural right came to be replaced by the so-called positive laws, and morality gave way to legality. Where few moral steady principles existed, thousands of changeable contradictory laws were put in place (e.g. in Italy 50.000, as up to the year 2000). With regard to this, it has already been remarked, long time ago, that "corruptissima republica, plurimae leges" in
other words, the more corrupt the republic, the higher the number of laws
The multiplication of laws in modern times is the invaluable bequest that the lawyers Robespierre, Danton and Saint-Just, amongst others, all working so hard for the establishment of the omnipotent state, have left to their fellows in the trade.
For the category this proliferation of laws has been a god-send, or better, a state-send, insofar as it has permitted to its members to grow and multiply and even to add to the juridical list new professional figures (e.g. the 'notaires' in France and Italy).
The state has given to the lawyers the reasons for and the means
of existence. In exchange, the lawyers act as secular priests (justifying
the existence and the power of the state) and guard dogs (providing
the state with juridical ammunition to exercise and keep the power).
The task of the lawyers is, as proclaimed, to assist in reestablishing the smooth operational intercourse of individuals in society, when some controversy arises.
However, the development of good social relations and understanding amongst individuals would leave the mass of lawyers not in much demand and so in deep trouble (meagre earnings).
As a matter of fact, and this should not be taken as a moral reproach addressed to them, the lawyers fish, predominantly, in the turbid waters of deceitful behaviour, ambiguous interpretation, formalistic punctiliousness.
So, willingly or unwillingly, their interests lay in the multiplications of Byzantine indecipherable laws, giving rise of all sort of litigation or pretext for litigation. And the state gives them aplenty.
To this fertile ground for social and personal morass, the lawyers add some of their own: misrepresentation, procrastination, legalistic cavils; in a word, simple and plain trickery.
When deceit is not a viable tool (e.g. in the case of the notaires), the juridical professionals play a parasitic and costly role that could be very well performed, more cheaply and effectively, by a register, manned by a group of citizens or by a local agency.
The more these categories succeed and prosper, the more it might mean that parasitism is growing and morality is declining. Both of which are likely to bring more disorder. This will be eagerly assumed by the legal profession as the need for more state and so more laws, and then more lawyers, in a process of upholding vested-hidden interests that feeds itself until it is unmasked and overturned by critical reflection and firm resolution.
The situation of the accountants is, in many respect, similar to that of the lawyers. The absorption of huge economic resources by the state, and the multiplication of financial obligations towards the state, has boasted the profession of accountants to an unbelievable degree.
The fiscal jungle brought about by the state ha made the accountant one of the central figures of contemporary life. The minutiae of fiscal dispositions, changing all too often, have become one of the major painful realities to be dealt with, from the business enterprise down to families and individuals. The accountant, working for these subjects, is required to untangle this gigantic mess and to please both the state and the client.
So, notwithstanding the mumbling about the never-ending flow of new state financial dispositions, the real interest of the accountants resides firmly in the continuous existence of the bureaucratic regulations in every aspect of economic life, in their extension to every possible subject (pimps and prostitutes possibly included) and in their continuous alteration and complication.
What is common to all these professions (doctors, lawyers, accountants) is that they exist and prosper in direct relation to the existence and enlargement of what can be generally defined 'problematic states' (diseases, litigations, compulsory payments, etc.), in most cases, directly manufactured by the 'bureaucratic state.'
The reduction, not to say the disappearance, of most of these 'problematic states' and of their generator, the 'bureaucratic state,' would spell disaster for the vested-hidden interests of these professions up to the point of threatening their survival (for instance, in the case of the 'notaires').
Intellectuals (paid by the state and working for the state)
Amongst the professional figures, we include also some who are paid by the state but whose interest and survival are not (necessarily) coincident or dependent on the survival of the state.
We examine here two figures: teachers and economists.
Since the time when the state expropriated the parishes and the local communities, taking over the care and education of children and adults, and imposing compulsory state schooling, the teachers have been the longa manus of the central power in shaping minds.
Teachers are granted a job by the state; so, it is clear enough that, in exchange, they should grant to the state the formation of obedient subjects (from sub - jacere = to stay under). There is nothing to be ashamed of when a person believes in the progressive indispensable role of the state and he/she wants the message to be passed on for other people to believe it too.
Nevertheless, there are some points that should be very clear to
- the state means somebody in power and so, when the state is in control of the education, it means also that, whoever is in power, he can exact from the personnel he employs, the same unquestioned obedience and eagerness in shaping the minds of people, with the current dominant ideology;
- within this situation, the interest of the teachers as state paid employees, is not that of diffusing and developing knowledge, but that of transmitting, besides a wealth of data, ideological messages whose underlying content is to stress the necessary progressive role of the present state power, to show the negative regressive role of all the previous or different forms of power and, overall and to instill the fear for the absence of the state power.
This is not at all a recommendable outcome because there is an irreconcilable
contrast between the interest of knowledge, founded on experimentation
and introduction of original ideas, and the interest of the state,
based on conservation and transmission of conventional notions. And most
teachers, consciously or unconsciously, play the role of state ideological
messengers instead of being universal knowledge seekers.
In a state-run schooling system, unconventional figures of educators are like fish in unfamiliar waters and their behaviour is clearly at odds with the oath of fidelity to the state they are requested to undergo in some countries.
The development of knowledge requires a universal free competition in the pursuit of truth, that is incompatible with the semi-monopolistic state hold on education and with the misconceived vested-hidden interests of the state educators.
The taking over by the state of (almost) the entire economy of a country (owning, controlling, directing), throughout the most part of the XX century, has greatly increased the role and the power of the economists.
They have been active, managing and giving advice, in advanced and backward countries. The entire profession has been so keen on intervening at every possible opportunity in the running of the economy, that those streams of thought opposite to their pervasive intrusion, have been totally sidelined and their spokespersons almost branded as crooks.
The general acceptance of the role of the economists, at least up
to recent times, has, more or less, given to them the status of doctors
of economic welfare.
For this reason, the more backward or awkward the economic situation is, the more their prescriptions are considered necessary.
We are once again in the contradictory and paradoxical position that, only the permanence of a problem, not its radical solution, assures the prosperity of the professional figures concerned with its treatment. This would be acceptable only if the problem/task is recurrent (e.g. the daily preparation of food for feeding the body) but should not apply in other cases and especially not in the case of a process of development that, from a certain point onwards, should become self-sustaining.
The situation is especially puzzling in so-called underdeveloped countries, where poverty and backwardness are mainly related to exploitation, oppression and corruption on the part of the state. Here, the economist is (or has generally been) the propagator of state recipes for a development that never happened and is never likely to happen insofar as the main cause of the problem (i.e. the state running, that is ruining, the economy) was and is taken also as its solution (i.e. more state, running, that is ruining, more of the economy).
The persistence of the economists in advancing, year after year, until recently, the same proposals leading to the same impasse (or to a worsening of the situation) show how strong vicious interests can be, so strong as to cloud the critical faculties and to silence the moral sense.
Certainly, there are economists sincerely committed to promoting development (assuming that development is an economic matter and could be promoted by economists and their policies); but, the category, as a whole, has a (unconscious) vicious interest in preserving a negative situation, that is a state of backwardness, that requires their continuous and dominant presence.
Interests : the state figures (^)
The existence (function) and permanence (survival) of the state and of the state figures who operate for and within it, is based on an insoluble contradiction that needs to be highlighted.
The state proclaims that its fundamental 'raison d'être' derives from the presence of malevolence between individuals due to lack of civilization or to the partly evil nature of human beings.
On the basis of this belief concerning humankind, the state is seen as the agent of civilization and the restrainer of the malevolent nature of human beings, acting either as indispensable regulator or, when appropriate, as necessary repressor.
From this, it should logically follow that, the more the state is successful in its role as agent of civilization and of regulation of social life, the less we need it. As in a family, the more successful the parents are in bringing up their children, the less the children depend on their parents for help and assistance and the sooner they become autonomous human beings.
If this is the theoretical picture about the state as an impersonal entity, what about the people who work for the state and derive from it the daily means for survival or the undue funds for luxury? Do their vital interests reside in a reduction in their number or even in the extinction of their role, as society becomes more civilized and people learn to control their malevolence?
A plausible answer to this question has been that:
- malevolence is intrinsic to every human nature so it is a general permanent feature of all human beings;
- malevolence is reducible only through the permanent presence of the state acting through professional state figures.
If we accept this answer, we might find it wanting in two respects:
- theoretical implications: assuming that malevolence is intrinsic in every human being, why should we make exception for some individuals, that is those who take or are given the power to control (regulate and repress) malevolence; in other words, why should we be so confident about those in charge or, as the ancient question recites: "quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" ("Who controls the very same controllers?") (Iuvenalis). The lack of a convincing answer to this question would be like "to think that men are so foolish that they take care to avoid what mischiefs may be done them by polecats or foxes, but are content, nay, think it safety, to be devoured by lions." (John Locke)
- empirical reality: assuming that the role of the state is that of reducing, i.e. putting under control malevolence, does the historical reality, especially during the XX century, give any reason to substantiate the truth of this assumption? A dispassionate observer, after having listed the wars (big and small) and counted the casualties (dead and injured) engendered by the states all over the world, will conclude that the major role of this organization called "state" has been that of bringing havoc into people's lives instead of granting security against other people's mischief. And to suggest that, without the presence of the states, the number of wars and casualties would have been much higher, would be, not only a wild implausible hypothesis but also an idiotic and indecent one.
If we carry the analysis to its extreme consequences, we might be bound to admit that the actual reason for the (continuing) existence of the state is ... the (continuation of the) existence of the state. Nothing more, nothing less. In other words, the function of the state is to replicate and perpetuate itself, and to put into reality practices that will enable it to do so. And they have nothing to do (in many cases are in total contrast) with the proclaimed role of the state as producer of order, peace, security, prosperity and justice for all.
The state being nothing else than the state figures who compose it and act in its name, let us see the reality of interests that affect some of those figures, keeping in mind that, given the generality of the analysis, it will not apply to each and every state figure within a category.
The law workers
The role of the law workers, especially magistrates, is to administer justice, a function of which the state has a practical monopoly. The number of magistrates, or better the need for their enrolment, depends on the level of injustice present in a society and by the possibility and willingness of people to claim justice through the state juridical procedure.
Moreover, justice having been reduced to what the laws say, the number of magistrates needed is directly related to the number of laws whose infraction requires juridical sanction. In general, the more the laws, the more the workload for the law workers but also the greater the number of them, justifiably, required. As a matter of fact, opportunities for enrolment and career (i.e. their material interests) for the law workers, depend, as for the lawyers, on the existence of a society plagued and infested by a confusion of many juridical rules. The confusion could lead to unfairness, procrastination, deception, in a word, everything except justice. But this is a further powerful reason to justify an increase in the number and resources for those who are appointed to administer 'justice.'
The police workers
The history of the police is the history of the criminal world, in too many ways, not just as opposition but also as derivation and acquisition. The famous chief of police in Paris, under Napoleon and later Louis-Philippe, was an ex convict (Vidocq); gangsters and policemen intermingled extensively in the USA during the prohibitionist period (1919-1933). In general, considering the existence of criminals informers and criminals in uniform, the line between the two sectors has never been strictly observed. In some countries, the police charge people for extra protection or claim a share of the revenues of the criminal world.
In any case, apart from these unsavoury hidden associations, what is important to stress here is that the interests of the police workers are, in many ways, linked to the presence of criminals, in the sense that the more criminals there are, the more police workers are needed and the more important their functions and attributions become.
The paper workers
The bureaucrat is a paper worker. The paper he/she handles (typing, photocopying, transmitting, archiving, etc.) is, generally, the conveyor of an infinite continuous flow of rules. The more rules there are (for instance: registration, identification, request for permission, etc.) the more the paperwork and, consequently, the greater the number of paper workers necessarily involved.
The cycle is as follows: the state (i.e. the state rulers) generates paper work that requires paper workers to deal with it; the paper workers will generate further paper that will/would require further paper workers, in a snowballing sequence in which the usefulness or uselessness of this mountain of paper is not an issue. For this reason, the paperless society, predicted or advocated by some, cannot be other than a stateless society.
Here again we discover that the vested-hidden interests of a category of workers reside more in the pure and simple protection and expansion of its members than in the fair and fast execution of tasks benefiting the community of users.
The social workers
The state, assuming the role of the benevolent father, has given employment, under the name of welfare, to an army of social workers, with the professed mission to assist people in need.
This worthy cause has, nevertheless, meant that, in the course of time, self-help and community care have been, generally, thrown out of the window and state quasi-monopoly of assistance has been permanently installed.
This historical process of putting assistance in the hands of state-paid
employees has produced an abnormal phenomenon with respect to the interests
concerned. In fact, it happened that the interests of the people in need
and those of the people in charge of satisfying those needs have joined
to such a point that the permanence and accretion of the former (people
in need) means the maintenance and expansion of the latter (social workers).
In other words, the more the welfare recipients, the more the welfare providers.
This is an extremely pathological state of affairs because it means that the solution of any problem concerning personal welfare has to be avoided or postponed as long as possible. Otherwise, there would be those who lose their regular cheque as people in need, and those who lose their regular job as caterer and administrators of people in need.
And this is not in the material interest of either of the categories involved.
There are some elements that are common to all these state figures as far as interests are concerned:
- the existence and enlargement of their interests rely on the parallel existence and enlargement of a state of sickness in society. A substantial drop in the level of sickness and the survival of many of these figures is put at risk; a substantial rise in that level and their number expands and their total material gains increase.
- the interests of these categories sustain and reinforce each other. This would be a positive aspect if only the interests were worth preserving and worth pursuing and were compatible with the development of healthy individuals. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
From what has been presented, it should be clear that the welfare of the state is not, a priori, identifiable with the well-being of individuals and communities. On the contrary, it seems that, in too many cases, there is a fundamental (theoretical and empirical) opposition between the interests of the people who compose a community and the interests of those who derive their means of survival from the controlling and policing of that community.
We are in presence of a real zero sum game, as far as power is concerned. On the one side the individuals will feel the urge and sometimes struggle to become independent (from an external opposing power); on the other side the state figures will feel the necessity to fight this move in order to become indispensable (as an internal imposing power). Clearly, everything happens subterraneously, through the use of magic words. It might resemble the sale of an unhealthy product, for instance tobacco, where the seller emphasizes taste and flavour while keeping quiet about the likelihood of addiction and tumour.
Likewise, the states figure present themselves as the defenders and providers of a chimerical 'general interest' but, actually, are protecting and providing very well for their vested-hidden interests, that is interests more or less surreptitiously acquired (with the backing of power) and more or less dishonestly presented (through the propaganda of power).
Before assessing the reality of vested-hidden interests, let us
sketch briefly the nature of interests as seen within the new paradigm.
The nature of interests (^)
Interests are basic (instinctual and cultural) motives that foster links between (inter) a human being and something or somebody else (esse). The formation of the link allows the human being the satisfaction of the interest.
Interests can be analysed under form and content.
- Form. It refers to by whom and how the interests are expressed. In this respect, interests are or could be:
- personal. It is always some specific individual who expresses an interest, not a mythical entity like the state or the nation or the market. In this sense, there are no 'public' interests other than interests shared by each component of a certain 'public' (e.g. a group).
- particular. The term 'particular' refers not only to the specific bearer of the interest but also to the specific way the interest gets satisfied. The term 'particular' should not convey feelings of selfishness and meanness. As a matter of fact, there are no general interests in the sense of abstract interests or in the sense of interests belonging to an abstract entity or being satisfied by everybody in exactly the same manner.
- partaken. Personal particular interests can be shared by some or many people. In that case we say that personal particular interests are also common similar interests. A common similar interest is a personal particular interest partaken (shared) by some or many people (in a group, in a team, in a community, etc.).
Considering the form of interests we might say that one of the most basic personal partaken interest is (or should be) the respect of particular personal interests. In fact, everybody having particular interests, there is nothing wrong with them, otherwise we would all be condemned to a tragic state of affairs. It goes without saying that all personal particular interests should not crush other personal particular interests. This is most likely to happen only when a group with particular interests wants them to appear as general interests (interests of everybody) that must be either accepted by or imposed on everybody. This is usually what a 'majority' does with respect to a 'minority' (tyranny of the many over the few) or a ruling 'minority' with respect to everybody (tyranny of the few over the many).
- Content. It refers to the substance of interests and to the relation with other interests in space and time, that is to:
- what. Interests have substance, that is concrete qualities. The substance of interests is the main aspect to consider when assessing them. Unfortunately, the analysis of interests is, mostly or exclusively, addressed to the form, leaving behind the content. To this purpose, some magic words (e.g. general, public, national) are employed in order to grant, automatically, positive connotations to the interests, irrespective of their content.
- when. Interests affect people in time. Assessing the content of an interest means to consider its repercussions from past to present to future. In this respect, interests having a long-term value are preferable to interests having only a short-term value.
- where. Interests affect people in space. Assessing the content of an interest means to consider the repercussions from here to there to everywhere. In this respect, interests having a wide-range value are preferable to interests having only a narrow-range value.
Overall, the considerations about the content of interests should bring into question the ideological use by the state propaganda of the notions of 'general' or 'national' interest. Usually, the expression 'general interest' does not include future generations, and that of 'national interest' certainly does not include humankind as a whole. This should be kept in mind when institutions employ those expressions, and objections should be made to emphasize that the term 'public' or 'general' should include the universality of every person (you, he, she, I) in every period (future, present, past) and every place (here, there, everywhere). Otherwise, it does not refer to the totality of individuals but to a particular group, however large it might be.
Having briefly sketched the nature of interests, we pass now to consider the problem concerning those interests that are here characterized as vested-hidden interests.
Vested-hidden interests as vicious interests (^)
As previously stated, vested-hidden interests are interests more or less surreptitiously acquired and more or less dishonestly presented.
The problem with these interests is that they are, at the same time and almost without exception, vicious interests, that is unconfessed and unconfessable vital interests of a disreputable nature, not to be proud of or boast about.
For this reason, a subtle propaganda is at work all the time in order to mask the real interests and to put forward, in their place, respectable interests supporting respectable actions (policies). All this is presented with apparently plausible justifications that hold until they undergo careful scrutiny and the widespread gullibility is replaced by perspicuity and wisdom.
An exemplary case of vested-hidden (i.e. vicious) interests is the contrast between the so called public (i.e. collective) and private (i.e. individual) means of transport. In many countries of Europe, the state presents itself as the champion of 'public' transport. To show and stress their determination, many governments have put very high taxes on petrol to discourage the 'private' use of cars. At the same time, more roads are built by the state (for petrol driven vehicles); other means of transport (e.g. rail) have been left to decay by the owner (i.e. the state); the situation of 'public' transport is in shambles because of state-run (dis)services; and, all in all, the state is doing a brisk business attributing to itself up to 80% of the price of each litre or gallon of petrol sold (and pointing to the multinational companies as the culprits for such high price). This is a superbly conceived and masterly implemented plot of trickery and swindle on a gigantic scale, in which the real interests (getting revenue from taxation) disappear and noble intentions (encouraging 'public' transport, protecting the environment, etc.) are put forward as a smoke screen.
Another classic example is represented by the provision of security. The state justifies its existence as the supreme guarantor of peace and security. As many historians have repeatedly pointed out, states have acquired/appropriated most of their power in times of (state-made) conflicts and (state-manufactured) fear and have enlarged it through the deepening of instability and insecurity. So, the vital interest for the survival of the state is, contrary to conventional and plausible belief, the permanence of a situation of fear and insecurity. The actual paradoxical reality is that the organization which is in charge of combating fear and insecurity is, also, the one most interested in maintaining and spreading them. In some countries, the consolidation of a troubled ruling power has resulted in manufacturing, on purpose, a situation of tension abroad (verbal aggression and wars) and at home (sabotage and bombs).
Certainly, the granting of peace and security to the citizens has been considered, by many statesmen, a very secondary task with respect to the survival of the state power and its aggrandizement. And when they collide, security goes out of the window, because the more insecure the individuals are, the more secure is the grip of the state on them.
A way out of this vicious situation produced by vicious interests (i.e. vested-hidden interests presented as universal noble interests) consists in:
- eliminating vested interests (acquired and backed with the support of a monopolistic power) and making all interests compete for recognition and survival;
- transforming hidden interests (covered by propaganda) into visible ones in order that visibility of interests might breed soundness in choices.
Competing-visible interests for virtuous choices (^)
What we all do is the result of our interests, taking the term in its broadest possible sense.
For this reason it is important to be aware of the presence and manifestation of them, in ourselves and in others. Otherwise, we can take or be taken for a ride.
The benevolent statesman, the immaculate professional, the paternalistic
bureaucrat, all those figures who assure us with their apparent guardianship
from the top, breed irresponsibility and impotence at the bottom. Naivety
needs to be replaced by perspicacity.
This mean, first of all, the discarding of misleading faked oppositions such as the one between particular and general interests. Interests are all particular (i.e. specific to a certain part), even when shared by many, and they are not good (or bad) because shared by many . When many or even most of people express the interest of driving cars (or smoking cigarettes, or drinking beer), this does not make the interest something good (or bad), just because of the number of people involved and the fact of being a general interest.
What is, then, very important with respect to interests is the presence
- competing interests
Interests should not be backed by any monopolistic power but in free competition with other interests. To each one the choice and care of interests of his/her liking.
- visible interests
Interests should be clearly stated by each one and everybody should expect the same from everybody else, not only in words (voiced interests) but also in deeds (verifiable interests).
In other words, for the safeguard of the interests of individuals
and communities, we should favour situations in which:
- the quality and worth of every product/service is directly and speedily verifiable (instead of generic and unsubstantiated promises, as in the electoral process);
- the reward or the sanction is easily applicable on a recurrent basis, through an appropriate and timely feed-back (instead of every 4-5 years, as in the electoral process); this could take place by using or discounting the use and support of some product/service.
Competing and visible interests, coupled with personal perspicacity,
represent the best recipe for producing virtuous choices.
To favour virtuous choices does not mean to demand or impose a society of angels and saints.
In actual fact, the practice of unhealthy interests (e.g. smoking) should be left undisturbed in the name of another personal, particular and partaken interest, that is individual freedom. It is only when one's individual behaviour collides with somebody else's individual freedom, that rules appear necessary (e.g. smoking and non smoking areas).
What is really necessary is to minimise and finally abolish the role of those who enjoy protected interests, acting for the perpetuation of a negative situation. In other words, what needs to be broken is the vicious link that makes the survival of those in charge of a sick situation dependent on the permanence of the sick situation.
Only then, faked interests and forced options might be replaced by fair interests and free options, where the full development of each is the condition for the full development of all.