Gian Piero de Bellis
Polyarchy : a Paradigm
(2002 - 2012)
From magic words to meaningful concepts
|Work - Employment|
|Left - Right|
|Liberté - Egalité - Fraternité|
|Public - Private|
|Roots - Identity - Nationality|
The building bricks of any argument are words that represent concepts.
In the course of time it might happen that:
- words lose their original meaning following some modification in their use;
- words lose any possible (sensible, real) meaning due to some transformation of the reality to which they were applied and are kept only for their magical worth.
In both cases, it would be advisable to drop the term and to replace it with something more appropriate, manageable, precise.
In any case, a new paradigm, capable of interpreting and representing a new reality, requires the use of new terms.
This equates to leaving behind magic words employed to obscure reality and to keep or bring about essential terms that permit us to master reality in a meaningful way.
It is like moving from the stage of alchemy to chemistry, when some terms were dropped, practices transformed, aims changed.
Eventually, only when alchemy got rid of the magic vocabulary (e.g. phlogiston), especially through the work of Lavoisier, it succeeded in acquiring the status of science under the name of chemistry.
The execution of Lavoisier by the so called French revolutionaries (May 8th, 1794) declaring that "la république n'a pas besoin de savants" [the republic does not need scientists], could be seen almost as an emblematic episode of the fear (by the state power) of the new science of chemistry with respect to the old magic world of alchemy.
While the Jacobins and their
followers and imitators did not succeed in undermining the advancement of the science of matter, they did succeed in hampering the science of societies and individuals.
It is time to defeat them also in that field, clearing the air of the obnoxious fumes of magic and mystifying words.
In this paper, only a few words are examined and an attempt to put forward more appropriate terms is made.
Many magic (deceitful) words are used almost exclusively in the economic domain; because of this restriction, they have assumed heavily charged tones that convey a negative attitude. For this reason we should bear in mind that their place is within the full spectrum of the sciences and their use should not be restricted to the field of economics.
The word 'capital' comes from the Latin caput = head. Similarly to the head in the human body, it is usually meant to designate something important, preeminent, playing a key role, being at the centre or at the beginning.
In current language, besides economics, it is still used in such
a way; the capital of a country is the preeminent political centre;
a capital matter is a matter of highly importance, to be dealt
On the contrary, in the social sciences, and particularly in economics, capital has become a very abused and misused term, evoking fat people counting money with greedy eyes.
To avoid emotionally misleading associations, the original etymological meaning of the term should be fully regained in the economic domain too, i.e. it should play the same general function of qualifying something important and central.
The term capital should refer, in economics, to the most important factor (of production) in a specific time and place. The classical economists, writing in a period in which mechanical tools (e.g. the power loom) were playing a central role, taking over hand production, used the word "capital" as synonym of "industrial capital," designating with it the mechanical instruments of production (machines, tools). For this reason capitalism, or better industrial capitalism, is the historic period where the mechanical instruments of production came to dominate economic and social life, replacing the craft of the artisan. The epoch of capitalism can be temporally located from the end of the XVIII to the end of the XIX century.
In a later period, with the displacement of capitalism by statism, another factor became of central importance and, as in the past for the industrial capital, received the qualification of capital tout court. This new factor is money, that is financial capital.
Financial capital is made of monetary resources employed in the production and distribution of goods and services.
In this role financial capital plays a central function in the economy of statism; that is why, in the epoch of statism, the control of money is more important than the control of machines and industrial tools. Under the state, financial capital dominates industrial capital. Financial capital becomes so important that a rich country, with a fertile land, could become a barren place just because of the mismanagement of money by the state (as shown from the Big Crash to the Argentinean collapse).
Nowadays, in the most advanced economies of the most advanced regions, thanks also to the possibilities offered by the technology, we are moving beyond statism. A new capital factor is appearing, more and more, on the scene, made by intangible aspects defined as know-how, creativity, esprit de finesse, digital information, art of problem solving.
The new capital factor of the post-statism era is virtual capital, superseding and taking over industrial and financial capital.
To sum it up, we could say that during the last few centuries there has been one actor (the human being) and three succeeding central factors of production, that is capital, namely:
- Industrial capital (machines): it refers to physical resources, especially productive tools and implements.
- Financial capital (money): it refers to movable, exchangeable resources and especially financial assets.
- Virtual capital (mind): it refers to intangible resources that have to do with creativity and projections of the mind and of the spirit that become incorporated into artifacts and benefits.
What we are witnessing is the emergence and coming to preeminence of virtual capital (e.g. the knowledge domain, the communication domain, the software domain, etc.). The more this process advances, the more the identification of capital with machines and, especially, with money will come to rest and with it, perhaps, the ideological use of the word capital.
Furthermore, the end of the physical coins and banknotes and the replacement by all sort of alternative or unconventional means of transaction (electronic pursues, vouchers, bartering, etc.) will make the figure of the money-counting Scrooge totally obsolete, and of the money-sucking state pretty impracticable. At that point, the word capital will become a normal word, with or without capital importance, according to the case.
The etymology of the word interest (inter + esse) refers to a relation, i.e. something that is (esse) in between (inter) two or many entities.
The matter in between the entities (somebody-something; somebody-somebody else) is what arouses feelings of concern, sympathy, curiosity, that is: interest.
Within the new paradigm, interests are seen as characterized by the following aspects:
- interests are always personal. There are no so-called public interests other than personal interests, i.e. shared personal interests or, in other words, common personal interests.
- interests are signs of vitality. A person without any interest does not exist other than as a corpse; a person showing no interest in many things he/she does is a troubled unhappy person.
- interests are good (positive, enhancing) or bad (negative, destructive) not according to the actor, but according to the action (the matter of interest) and the way it is expressed/carried out.
On the basis of these qualifications and with reference to the new paradigm, we suggest as follows:
- the narrow application of the word 'interest' (when taken without further qualification) to economic matters should be superseded in favour of a use that recaptures the original etymological width and flavour of the term;
- the deceitful expression of 'public interest' should be abolished and replaced by the meaningful concepts of personal interest and personal common interest;
- the attention should be focused on the content of the interest and the way it is expressed without being derailed by subordinate or non relevant aspects (actors, legal prescriptions, etc.). For instance, it is not because the state legalises brothels or justifies capital punishment that pimping and the carrying out of an execution become honourable activities and matters of highly esteemed interest.
Profit is one of the most strongly emotionally negatively charged words.
It should not be so if we consider its etymology: profit comes from pro + facio, that is, I do (facio) something in favour (pro) of somebody (myself or somebody else).
Following the obsession with economics that characterized previously capitalism and still more dominates presently statism, the word profit has come to refer almost exclusively to monetary gains through the selling of goods or services.
Moreover, it is (almost always) implicitly assumed that
your profit (usually exorbitant) is in direct causal relation with
my losses, as a consequence of exploitation or deception.
This vision of social reality prevails even when the actual reality does not support it. This is because no distinction whatsoever is made between different types of social intercourse.
Social intercourse can be seen as a series of games. These games can be arranged on a continuum and characterized as:
- Non-zero sum gamesThe rules of the game permit everybody to gain, if not immediately, at least in the medium-long term. This is the situation we encounter in the area of free social intercourse (e.g. communication).
- Zero sum gamesThe rules let only one of the two (or more) players to gain. This is the situation we encounter in most recreational games (chess, snooker, cards, etc.) and sport tournaments (basketball, football, tennis, etc.). But, even in this case, the players, sometimes, could both get something out of the game (equalizing, sharing the prize, or just being happy to have taken part in it).
We could qualify the non-zero sum games as those in which cooperation prevails and the zero sum games those in which competition plays a bigger role, without attributing a moral preference to one over the other as they both are necessary for the functioning and development of individuals and communities.
In general, the games amongst producers are (mainly) competitive games and those between producers and consumers are (mainly) cooperative games because all the participants have something to gain from the intercourse. In this latter case the intercourse produces, or should produce if the intercourse has to continue, what in French is called 'benefice partagé' (shared benefit).
The total reality is a mix of cooperation and competition and, in many cases, free and fair competition (i.e. emulation) stimulates and enhances fine and fruitful cooperation (for instance, between the members of a team). And, in this case, the benefits would be higher for everybody (players, spectators, etc.)
If games of cooperation and competition are allowed to go on undisturbed, the areas of non-zero and zero sum games are likely to grow as needed according to the interests and desires of individuals and communities.
The opposite is true when there appears on the scene a monopolistic power (e.g. the state) capable of assuming or assigning monopolistic positions (e.g. an exclusive right of exploitation). In this case, the area of zero sum games comes, forcibly, to cover almost everything and the gains of the producers protected by the state (Cheating & Stealing UnLtd.) grow in direct relation to the pains inflicted on the consumers (i.e. higher prices, lower quality, limited choice, etc.).
Pro-fit becomes mis-fit, that is gains extorted by lousy producers under the protection of the state, from disgruntled but powerless consumers (e.g. the situation in practically all the state run monopolies all over the world). That is why, and rightly so, the word profit evokes bad feelings and bad attitudes.
Yet, the term has still some useful function to perform and it should be brought to its etymologically positive meaning, the more the state goes into obsolescence.
Within the new paradigm:
- the word profit should lose the almost exclusive application to economic matters and be applied to any situation in which something positive results;
- the word profit, when used in economics (non-monopolistic sphere), should lose the almost automatic association with undeserved gains derived from inflicting pains on exploited producers or cheated consumers;
- the word profit, when used with reference to monopolistic practices, should be replaced by more appropriate terms as, for instance: surcharge revenues, tax gains, expropriation gains, etc. or, when appropriate, by plain and simple words like stealing, cheating, pilfering and so on.
The removal of emotional deceitful feelings associated with the existence of a profit per se (by the way, a positive outcome) should allow the critical mind to focus on the real issue, that is how the profit came into existence: through the production and sale of arms or apples, and, in the case of apples, of tasty or unsavoury apples. These are the relevant questions that we risk omitting if led astray by a questionable (mystifying) use of the word.
A magic despicable term that has been abused for very long but that is coming back into acceptance is the word 'market.'
In the past, the anthropomorphized market has been accused of all sort of atrocities (imperialism, wars, slavery, etc.) that were, in actual fact, committed by some human beings (in power) against other human beings (powerless).
Attributing most evils to the greedy instinct of men operating on the world market, has given to the nation states the fabricated 'moral' justification to intervene in order to tame and master the 'monster.'
In fact the state, being an instrument of war, and following an economic philosophy (mercantilism) based on rivalry and booty, could only see in the market a force of destructive competition while totally ignoring (or cunningly passing over in silence) the aspects of cooperation (producers and consumers acting for the personal-reciprocal profit) and emulation (firms improving via competing).
Moreover, the idea that the state can regulate the market for the so called 'public' (i.e. common) good more and better than the 'public' itself (i.e. each individual singularly or in association) is theoretically ludicrous and empirically mendacious. Especially considering the fact that the state dominated market was and, in some cases, is still based on state monopolies (gas, electricity, telephone, radio, tv, air and railway transport, postal services, etc.) surreptitiously called natural or public monopolies as if nature had anything to do with it or the public had something to rejoice in about prices always on the rise, because of lack of competition, via state protectionism and dirigism.
The suppression of the free market and the imposition of the state-controlled market has allowed the state to play, more effectively, two basic roles indispensable to its survival:
- tax collector. The state needs to control the economy in order to assure for itself a specific quota of revenues. Most of these revenues are in the form of a surcharge on the purchase of goods and services (i.e. V.A.T.). The control of the market is essential for the state as tax collector.
- favours distributor. The state-controlled market is the familiar pond for state controlled and state protected firms. Throughout their existence, these firms have acted as centres for the distribution of a series of favours (money, employment, etc.) to the clique in power and to their supporters.
In the last decades of the XX century, with state monopolies like inflated dinosaurs advancing towards extinction (that is bankruptcy), and with state regulations strangling people's initiative and driving society right into recession and depression, the state-controlled market is not, any longer, unanimously popular with the press.
It is at this very moment that those who have championed freedom all the time, who have seen with anguish the assault by the state on the free market, rightly viewing it as an assault on personal freedom, should not commit the mistake of making the newly recovered free-market (still not so free) their idol. And this for mainly two reasons:
- historical reason
Throughout history, kings and rulers have, generally, been in favour of merchants and their trade as a way to fill their coffers. State and market are not antithetical terms. In fact, mercantilism has been the name given to the economic ideology of the state. The state has not been against the market, but against the uncontrollable untaxable market; that is, against any free intercourse (transaction), where individuals are free to attend undisturbed to their interests as producers and consumers, in a process whose aims are distributed (shared) and multiplied (increased) benefits for all.
For this reason, whatever goes in the direction of freedom should be favoured, without unduly stressing one aspect, as would be in the case of a market only approach.
- semantic reason
The term market applies to a time and a society based essentially on material goods where the transactions happened in a specific place, be it the "piazza" (town square), or the "foire" (fair) where the merchants convened to show and sell their goods. It is less appropriate for a time and a society where services prevail over merchandise, software over hardware, virtuality over materiality. In this society, to declare that somebody bought a software program or a e-book in the market sounds quite odd while it seems perfectly natural and more appropriate when the purchase refers to fruit and vegetables.
Before and alongside the market, there were and there are other expressions of socio-economic intercourse. Within the new paradigm we should use terms that portray actions that convey the full range of contemporary transactions not adequately covered by the term 'market.' These action/transaction terms are:
- Exchange. It involves generally two specific individuals or groups of people. The term exchange gives the idea of reciprocity and includes all sort of transactions (monetary and non-monetary, with vouchers, with time currency, and so on).
- Share. It could involve many people, sometimes unknown to each other. In a society based on knowledge, sharing is becoming a very common and a widely-practised occurrence. For instance, people share expertise in a variety of give and take processes (e.g. through the Web) that go almost unnoticed.
- Give. A considerable number of socio-economic intercourse (more than we imagine) is based on the giving of gifts. In this case, what somebody gets back (at least in material terms and in the short period) is less than what he/she has given away, but the personal and social effect is a gigantic condivision and multiplication of good feeling and good will.
These three actions/transactions, from exchange to gift giving, can be seen as on a continuum, from mirroring behaviour (exchange = reciprocating intercourse) to marvelling at somebody's action (give = initiating intercourse).
So, even keeping the word 'market' as a usable term for plain economic
intercourse concerning physical goods of everyday use (food, clothes,
etc.) or raw materials (petrol, coal, etc.), in the other cases it would
be more appropriate to start using these three words: exchange, share, give.
And the more we use them the more we diffuse and pay attention to the reality
Work - Employment (^)
In the course of history, peasants, artisans, merchants, however harsh their life, were nevertheless independent in the running of their affairs. Even the apprentices were only temporarily dependent workers, just for the period necessary to learn the art before starting their own workshop. The peasants tilled their field and, when tired of paying the tithe or performing some tasks for their masters, could always pack and leave for good (usually heading for a town). The urban revolution that took place in the Middle Ages meant that their feudal lords were rarely successful in bringing them back.
It is only during the last two centuries (XIX and XX) that people have moved, more and more, from independent activities to dependent employment.
In modern times, vast industrial and bureaucratic complexes have sprouted, filled by an army of workers in a working situation that conspired in making them more and more:
Hiring, performing, sacking, in a word, the entire working life of the individual has been in the hand of the master. Even the tremendous improvement in the working conditions has not cancelled this situation of dependency, unless the workers have become co-participants or co-protagonists in the business.
The dependent job has become the job to be cherished for life, even if that meant the closure of any hope for a better brighter future. This was the result of a strong feeling of insecurity and an even stronger lack of confidence in the personal capacity for autonomy.
The dullness of the work has numbed the cerebral faculties of the human being. It is even more so where meaningless work (e.g. bureaucratic tasks) is performed at a high salary. The good pay disguises only a ghastly job.
It is then not surprising that individuals that had become unaccustomed to playing an independent role and performing an independent activity, have been quickly fascinated and attracted by whoever put on his banners the magic words of: 'work,' 'occupation,' 'full employment.'
The situation has radically changed in the last decades of the XX century: the state, the biggest manufacturer of dependency, despondency and dullness, is on the retreat, and a new scenario has appeared, composed of millions of computers and robots carrying out (or assisting in carrying out) the most repetitive functions and the less creative tasks.
Given these considerable changes in technology and its social uses and potentialities, the terms 'work' and 'employment' need a total overhaul.
There are then sharp differences between the old and the new paradigm, that need to be pointed out:
- the old paradigm stressed security and uniformity; the new paradigm stresses autonomy and creativity;
- the old paradigm gave high marks to a society with a high number of people occupied in dependent jobs; the new paradigm considers more advanced and more progressive a society with less people sucked into dependent jobs and more individuals engaged in autonomous activities.
On the whole, the new paradigm requires:
- the replacement of the term work by the concept of activities and by the dynamic image of starting, conducting, performing, being involved in activities.
- the going into oblivion of the magic word 'employment' that has filled the mouths of every politician and trade union representative.
In actual fact, what is taking place in the most stimulating and encouraging experiences, is the continuous move from dependent, despondent, dull, work to independent, inspiring, interesting activities.
These activities could be manual or intellectual or, better, they could present a variable mix of the two aspects, as this would be morally satisfying, mentally gratifying and physically healthy.
Furthermore, no one, unless he/she desires so, should be frozen for life in a specific job or working place, with the working time and working methods imposed by some external power. On the contrary, everyone should be involved in different activities during the course of their life, and in various tasks during the course of an activity. For instance, some tasks should be carried out by everybody, as in a small egalitarian club where all the adherents run, at regular intervals, the day-to-day affairs and perform on a rota the necessary chores.
So, behind the move from the use of the word 'work' to that of 'activities' a totally new conception of personal life should appear on the horizon, portraying a new world that is already taking shape around us.
The term 'anarchy' represents the pinnacle of magic words, to which the most despicable connotations have been attributed by many people attracted or manipulated by the ideology of statism.
Piotr Kropotkin, in his article "Anarchism" written in 1905 for the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, clarifies from the start the etymology of the word, i.e. αν + αρχη = contrary to dominion. The term is then meant to convey the meaning of opposition to a supreme power who wants to control and constrict everybody and everything, as is the case of the government of a centralized state. This opposition to oppression, means a refusal to be bound by a centre of power, external (not freely chosen) and totalitarian (affecting all aspects of life).
The name of anarchist could then be applied to all those who fought power, i.e. dominion, from Benjamin Franklin and Mahatma Gandhi (against the dominion of the British Crown) to Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela (against the dominion of the white man), at least during the period they were engaged in their struggle. In many cases, these fighters for freedom were actually branded as anarchists and their names were in the archives of the police, besides being regular visitors or permanent guests of state prisons.
Following, rightly and correctly, the etymological original meaning, many scholars have used the term anarchy in a very positive way.
For Kant, anarchy is the union of freedom and rules in the absence of force (1798, Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht).
John Dewey, rebutting the devious use of the word as synonym of chaos and absence of any restraint, affirms that "even the theoretical anarchist, whose philosophy commits him to the idea that state or government control is an unmitigated evil, believes that with the abolition of the political state other forms of social control would operate: indeed, his opposition to governmental regulation springs from his belief that other and to him more normal modes of control would operate with abolition of the state." (1938, John Dewey, Experience and Education)
Unfortunately, the consistent lifelong anarchist is a rebel bound to fail, at least in politics, because politics has to do with gaining and maintaining power and the true anarchist is not interested in any game in which the reward is power (dominion over individuals and communities). Anarchists not only oppose power; they do not look for power. If they succeeded in politics, they would be called patriots or even statesmen and this would mean that they have totally and utterly failed as anarchists. This is also the main reason why, in the game of politics, they have been regularly smashed and pulverized either by the old power they fail to erase or by the new power whose rising they fail to prevent. They were playing the wrong game.
The history of the people who have lived and fought for anarchy, is a long tale of deportation, incarceration, death. A chronicle of violence suffered more than of violence committed. To compile the list of individuals (kings and heads of state) killed by anarchists, a small piece of paper would suffice; for the homicidal and genocidal crimes perpetrated by the states, many volumes would not be enough.
The state used the anarchists as a useful (and providential) scapegoat. They were the powerless, isolated human beings whose imprisonment and condemnation nobody would object to or even take notice of; they (and their presumed violent activities) were also the necessary justification for introducing further authoritarian measures (more police, more controls, etc.) that produced the illusion of security under the "protective" wings of the state.
The fact that the word 'anarchy' still evokes violence and disorder and the word 'state' is, even after the horrors of two world wars, unbelievably, associated to peace and order, can be explained in various ways, namely:
- Provocations. The free loose organization (or lack of organization) of the anarchist movement, meant that the state power could easily infiltrate it with informers and saboteurs. Sometimes violence was instigated by these agent-provocateurs in order for the police to intervene and show that the state was the real guarantor of order and security.
- Propaganda. Anarchists were, in many cases, isolated individuals, on the run from place to place, unable to contrast the lies and fabrication of the state, whose control of the means of communication grew parallel to the weakening in the diffusion of anarchist ideas.
- Puerility. Not only the people outside the anarchist movement were like small children, ignorant of the practice and ends of anarchism. Sometimes also the so-professed anarchists were expounding solutions that were more in tune with crass selfishness than with wise self-realization. Others, who joined the movement, were motivated by reasons that had nothing to do with anarchy, often boasting about blasting and so playing right in the hands of the state.
The combination of these three aspects, one reinforcing the other, made almost inevitable the demise of the anarchist movement and the rising of statism. At the same time, the word anarchy became an epithet of scorn and injury, to be applied just to looters and troublemakers, with almost no one openly contesting this mendacious use.
The term seems now, at least in the short run, irrecoverable.
For this reason, we need to employ new or apparently new words which stress the building of something desirable more than the opposition to something despicable.
Within the new paradigm, and with reference to the conceptions/attitudes of the individuals, we could use the terms:
- libertarian, stressing the aspect of freedom and autonomy, that is self-regulation;
- cosmopolitan, stressing the aspect of being citizen of the world, feeling at home in every place where freedom and fairness are practised.
With reference to the organization of individuals in communities and taking the term arch¢ with the meaning of beginning/source, we could use the terms:
- polyarchy, stressing the aspect of varieties of cooperating realities/entities (sources) in different times/spaces;
- panarchy, stressing the aspect of varieties of competing realities/entities (sources) in the same time/space.
In this way, the silent personal journey beyond statism could be carried on focusing all the energies on conceiving/constructing the future more than on recriminating/rebutting the past.
Left - Right (^)
The left-right divide is one of the many (obtrusive and obsolete) remnants of the time of the French Revolution of 1789. When the French Estates General convened, in order to facilitate the counting of votes concerning the opportunity of a royal veto, the nobility (favouring the veto) regrouped on the right of the Speaker while the Third Estate (opposing the veto) took place on the left. As usual, the winners were those in the centre, proposing the compromise of upholding the veto for two more years.
From that time and from such humble beginning (i.e. the counting of votes), the left-right divide has stuck in politics as a quick terminological way for differentiating conservative and reactionaries on one side (right) and progressive and revolutionaries on the other (left).
The success of this pair of terms was due also to the existence, in some European societies (e.g. France during the XIX century) of clashes between ideas and groups (e.g. Monarchists vs. Republicans) in which one side represented (or was made to represent) tradition and conservation (the past) while the other personified innovation and progress (the future).
Besides this contrast, concerning the institutional form of the state, a new contraposition was making its mark on the scene, namely that of bourgeoisie or industrial entrepreneurs vs. proletariat or manual workers. In the political arena, the interests of these two social groups were represented by parties that defined themselves as of the right or of the left from the position of the seats of their members elected to the Parliament.
In this updated version, the right would stress the values of freedom and nation while the left would champion those of equality and internationalism.
Throughout the XX century, the use of the left-right categories, with these contrasting qualifications, that is
- freedom vs. equality
- nationalism vs. internationalism
has proved untenable in reality.
In fact, the pretended freedom of the right could very well include state totalitarianism and, in economic matters, its alleged laissez-faire could easily accommodate the most stringent protectionism.
As for the left, egalitarianism was branded by Stalin as a "petty-bourgeois deviation" and so a sharp inequality of pay became, in the very land of "real socialism," a fundamental aspect of working life.
With regard to the nationalism-internationalism contrast, this was just a mythical invention. During the first half of the XX century almost everybody engaged in politics was a nationalist; the mask of vaunted internationalism eventually fell when most socialist parties of Europe embraced war and nationalistic policies, and the communist parties started theorizing socialism in one country and promoting national versions of communism.
It is then clear from what has been said so far that the left-right divide is, especially now, only a sort of political game of role-playing, devoid of serious and consistent substance.
As a matter of principle and as far as the most important aspects of life are concerned, the characterization left-right does not mean anything. This is especially true for attitudes and actions towards nature and freedom; neither freedom nor nature has any left or right qualification.
Furthermore, real current processes and social actors (e.g. globalization, migrations, non governmental organizations, etc.) cannot be confined/dealt within the straitjacket of the right-left divide.
Finally, what is most striking in all this nonsense of right and left, is the fact that on many aspects of contemporary life, people and politicians who profess to be on opposite sides present the same (fake) remedies, using the same (fallacious) arguments with even the same (phony) words. Sometimes, some of them change their political allegiances, put another mask, and the game (or joke) goes on as usual.
All this was and is made possible by a state of affairs in which it is permitted to some figures (called people's representatives) to convene in a room (called parliament) and it is given them the authorization of meddling in the lives of everybody and taking decisions binding for everybody. This leads to the formation of two competing factions, vying for the electorate's favours, differentiated only by external labels (left and right) but, to a closer and careful examination, indistinguishable in all the rest (values, ideas, projects, actions, etc.) except in their attempt to drain resources towards their own faction.
As for now, these categories are becoming more and more out of touch with reality; hopefully, quite soon, a point will be reached when the absurdities generated by the use of these categories will be so evident to even the most naive journalist/commentator that these two terms will be suddenly dropped as a dead body.
We should accelerate this dismissal.
Left and right are and must remain as simple terms for qualifying physical position or direction. In the political or ethical discourse we need to use terms that produce more precise and robust statements, portraying decisions and actions, that is, what somebody has decided/would decide and what has done/would do with respect to a specific problem.
In this case, if there are differences between two positions they would be real and not fictitious.
At that point we could assess decisions and actions on the basis of meaningful essential values and not according to manipulated empty words.
In this way alienation will stop and real decisions and actions with associated real responsibilities and duties will be the substance of everybody's life.
Ortega y Gasset, already in 1937, in his Prologue to La rebelión
de las masas, gave one of the best clarifications of what actually means
to accept the left and right categorization: "Ser de la izquierda es, como ser de la derecha, una de las infinitas maneras que el hombre puede elegir para ser un imbécil: ambas, en efecto, son formas de la hemiplejia moral." ("To be on the Left or to be on the Right is to choose one of the many ways available to people for being an idiot; both are, actually, forms of moral paralysis").
Liberté - Egalité - Fraternité (^)
The French Revolution put on his banners and left as a heritage, impressed on people's minds, three magic words: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.
While recognizing the eternal value of these words, it is also necessary to add that they are sometimes used in a conventional ritualistic way by people who pay respect to them without paying much attention to what they mean. It would be then better if more precise terms were employed to convey the same feelings and attitudes attached to those words but in a clearer and more cogent way.
In a celebrated passage, Montesquieu states that freedom is "the right to do all that the laws allow us to do." Given the fact that the political and juridical thinking in the western world has been heavily influenced by Montesquieu's writings, the conception of Liberty as acting within the limits of the law should be taken into consideration and analysed because it still represents a widely accepted interpretation of the word.
At that time the term 'law' was employed as referring, mainly, to 'natural law,' that is the inviolable and unalterable rights of the human beings (law as human reason), rather than to 'positive law' (law as state's commands).
Since then, the unfolding of political and juridical history, in many parts of the world, has been in the direction of representative democracy, in which elected individuals convene in a Parliament to elaborate and promulgate laws binding for all those living within a certain territory and subject to a certain jurisdiction.
Following this shift, from 'natural' laws, originated by moral rational principles and customary uses, to 'positive' laws, made by elected representatives, the law has become a pliable affair, linked to the wishes of the current electoral majority and to the will of the current political power.
Within this scenario, it could very well happen (as it has happened) that laws are introduced, (unreasonably) harming somebody, (unduly) restricting the range of decisions of somebody else, discriminating against a minority group, all this not only in the name of democracy but in the very name of liberty
Given this paradoxical outcome, in order to keep the link between freedom (enjoyment of liberty) and norms (respect of rules), it would be better to modify the conception of liberty from a passive duty (i.e. obey the law) to an active concern (i.e. produce and administer the rules that permit a smooth intercourse between individuals).
In this respect, it would be better to replace the term liberty with the term autonomy,
that is self-rule (autos = self; nomos = norm, rule).
Autonomy means that the rules are:
- directly produced (e.g. by the members, as in a club)
- personally accepted (e.g. interiorized freely and willingly)
- collectively administered (e.g. a jury)
by the same individuals that are affected by them.
Freedom as autonomy includes also the possibility of peacefully seceding in order to form a separate independent community (or to live independently of any community) if there are irreconcilable objections to the existing rules or for whatever personal reason might arise.
In a society divided into hierarchical, non permeable 'estates,' as was the French society before the Revolution, the cry of equality (egalité) had a very powerful and fully justifiable appeal.
Taken on board by the Russian revolution and by the European communist parties that followed in its wake, it has unfortunately become a pretext for massification and homogenization of individuals, while the distance between the common person (nominally in power) and the ruling élite (actually in command), instead of narrowing, grew tremendously.
To offer just a simple example from the economic domain, during the Stalin period, in the Soviet Union, the 'paradise' of the communist workers and so the kingdom of equality, the wages of the top administrators came to be 300 times higher than those of the manual workers. The equality, if we can use this term, was only in the regimentation of the workers and in the reduction of millions of individuals into an indistinguishable mass.
Because of this misuse, the word 'equality' still carries with it the unpalatable connotation of everybody being like everybody else, sameness replicated ad infinitum.
To overcome the negative aspects attached to the term 'equality' while preserving the positive ones of impartiality, justice, parity of opportunities, and so on, it would be advisable to employ the word equity that better conveys the ideas of fairness and decency towards each and everybody.
Throughout history, individuals have associated in small and large groups and have cooperated on a voluntary basis to provide assistance to people in need (e.g. physical disabilities, natural calamities). Local parishes, work and exchange cooperatives, mutual aid societies, civic bodies, individual benefactors, these are some of the ways through which the deep human tendency for succour and support has been expressed and promoted.
Unfortunately, in the course of the last two centuries, the nation states have succeeded in dismantling and destroying local means and ways of reciprocal help and assistance and have replaced (or attempted to replace) them with central state run agencies (e.g. social security).
The result is that
- (a) the number of people in need has increased tremendously, in direct relation to the amount of available distributed provision;
- (b) the people who have fallen foul of state intervention have generally become addicted to it and unable to get out of their dependency.
The economic crisis of the state has made more and more apparent that these state agencies not only did not and do not work for the well-being (actual and long lasting) of the person, but, generally, have aggravated the problem making the need for assistance a permanent condition.
In recent times, non governmental organizations, charities, groups of 'benevoles,' voluntary associations, etc. are, more and more, filling the place left vacant by the empty promises of the state and are trying to satisfy the demands for real help, left unanswered by the messy, illusory workings of the state agencies.
Through them fraternity (brotherhood/sisterhood) is reappearing on the global scene and its appropriate name is care.
Care is fraternity in action, carried out by compassionate and competent individuals and aiming at personal well-being.
The difference between care and the provision of assistance by the state is deep and comes mainly from two aspects:
- caring is a common concern of every single human being in a community; it is not the area of intervention of some administrator or the bureaucratic task assigned to some bureaucratic 'professional.'
- caring is a personal concern in which the intercourse between the giver and the receiver produces for both some material and psychological satisfaction; and this is possible if and only if the situation is meant to evolve towards a positive conclusion (e.g. the recovery from a distressful condition, the reconstruction of a disaster area, a serene ending of life, etc.).
Through care as a common and personal concern, we will be moving away from the welfare state (that is, in reality, the welfare of the state, i.e. of those who occupy and use the state as their own hunting territory) towards the well-being of the person, that is the health and wealth of the harmonious personality proper to the new paradigm.
Public - Private (^)
One of the key words that is more ambiguously and deceitfully used within the old paradigm, is that of 'public' as opposed to 'private.'
Originally, public and private were (and still are) mainly used as linked to:
- quantitative number
public = many
private = one or few.
When the force of number came to be considered as worth something in itself, it was natural that those in power appropriated for themselves the adjective 'public' to stress the fact that they were speaking and acting in the name and on behalf of the largest number of people (the majority).
Following this appropriation, a new association came into being, attributing to the word public to the
- juridical status
public = state owned/controlled/managed
private = owned/controlled/managed by other(s) than the state.
Once these mental associations came into being,
it was easy to carry them a step further, conferring to quantitative
number and juridical status a
- moral standing
public = good
private = bad (or potentially bad).
Through this process of building mental associations, 'public' has become a magic word having, practically always, a positive ring, in contrast with 'private,' taken, by default, as the negative pole.
For instance, a very common statement, uttered by everybody, is: in the 'public' interest. For something to be considered in the public interest it means, implicitly, that it is superior and is/should be accepted without further discussion; this is because it is in the interest of the many or in the interest of the state, that is the same, the state being the expression of the many if not of all (or so it is believed).
Performing a more careful analysis, we soon realize the need for untangling some of the accepted (and unquestioned) associations in which the word 'public' is used as the link that joins two terms in order to convey positive/favourable attitudes.
We have, for instance, the following associations:
- many = public = good
The equation many = public = good, has been subtly instilled into people's minds and is consonant with the mass propaganda of the mighty states keen on praising and glorifying big size and large quantity (the so-called power of numbers).
But, even to a superficial observer it should soon appear evident that, as a matter of fact and of principle, the power of numbers (size, quantity) should have nothing to do with terms like public or private and, certainly, it has nothing to do with qualifications of good or bad.
To attribute, almost automatically, positive or negative labels to public and private as expression of numbers (i.e. the many, the majority) could lead us (or the state rulers) to the abominable position of justifying or condoning a 'public’ mob lynching of a 'private' individual or a 'public' killing by the state (war, terrorism, capital execution) in response to a 'private' act of violence.
In both cases there are individuals committing violence and as individuals (neither public nor private) they should be considered responsible for their acts.
- state = public = good
The equation state = public = good is a devious (but indispensable) propaganda move by the state power in order to promote the identification between the people and the state. For this to happen, society had to be replaced by the state and the state had to pretend to be the only real social (i.e. public) body; everything else outside the state is private, that is particularistic, not general and so, not in the 'public' interest.
This appropriation of the word 'public' by the state (and its administrative bodies) has produced and is still producing paradoxical if not absurd consequences. For instance, when the state government tries to impose idiotic and unfair rules (e.g. taxation, discrimination, etc.) it invariably states that they are in the 'public' interest while the real public (those directly affected) has totally different or the most various ideas about its own interests. In this case, the state (that is the central and local bureaucrats and politicians) pretends to be more 'public' than the people at large.
Another absurd example of this use of the word 'public' is in the economic domain. Take for example a company, employing thousands of people, whose shares are owned by hundreds of thousand of individuals, producing goods and services for millions of customers all over the world and whose products affect the life and the way of living of millions of direct or indirect users. And, in contrast, take a secretive elitist organization within the state. Now, following current definitions, the first is labelled as private and the second as a public body. Clearly, this is not only silly or ludicrous, but patently absurd.
Moreover, to make another example, when a firm is denationalized and the shares are bought by hundreds of thousand of individuals, this is called 'privatising'; in actual fact it now belongs to a very great number of shareholders instead of being the personal feud of a very few bureaucrats and politicians.
Given these realities, some proposals are urgently needed in order to avoid the most blatant absurdities and to suggest a more precise use of terms.
Most of all, we need to take out from the terms public and private undue emotional overtones (good-bad, positive-negative) and we should devise and employ more appropriate definitions.
Here we present some suggestions and advance some proposals.
- Use the word 'public' preferably only with reference to things and places with the sense of open-accessible to anyone (e.g. a park is a public amenity; a cinema is a public place, accessible to everybody willing to pay an entrance fee).
- Replace the word 'public' with specific terms (e.g. group, community, crowd, audience, spectators, etc.) when referring to human beings.
- Replace the word 'public' with the terms 'collective' or 'mass' when it refers to many individuals and it is important to stress the aspects of quantity and whole (e.g. collective transport as opposed to individual transport).
- Replace the word 'public' with the term 'common' when referring to characteristics shared by a specific group of people (e.g. common interests, as the interests that some individuals have in common).
- Replace the word 'public' with the terms 'state' ; 'regional' ; 'municipal' when referring to activities, decisions, properties of these political or administrative bodies of power.
- Use the word private preferably only with reference to things and places, with the sense of reserved-restricted (access, availability, etc.) to specific individuals or groups (e.g. a house is a private place, for the members of the family and their guests).
- Replace the word private with specific terms (e.g. man, woman, person, individual) when referring to human beings. This means that there are no 'private individuals' unless we intend to use the word 'private' in the old original sense of deprived (of basic rights, of state office, of goods, etc.) or withdrawn (from social life).
- Replace the word private with the terms 'personal' or 'individual' when referring to a specific object linked to a single human being (e.g. personal computer, individual property, etc.).
- Replace the word private with the terms 'group' or 'company' (or any appropriate definition) when referring to something linked to an entity composed by several individuals (e.g. group ownership, company property, etc.).
In general, given the vagueness, ambiguity and manipulative power of the two adjectives public and private we should try to use them sparingly and we should critically question whoever uses them inappropriately and inaccurately.
Roots - Identity - Nationality (^)
In a world of many despondent people, dependently performing dull work, deep seated needs of security and belonginess were stirred and conveyed by two words that had quite a large appeal and still evoke positive feelings.
These words are: roots and identity.
With reference to human beings, roots basically means to have a firm ground (physical, cultural) to which one is firmly anchored. In contrast, to have no roots, to be 'déraciné,' was/is considered an unfortunate situation, like floating aimlessly in the air, in a state of psychological malaise and uneasiness.
To have no roots is believed also similar to having no identity, to be a phantom with no face, no legible past and no foreseeable future. In actual fact, having an identity has now become like a byword for existing.
All this seems quite unobjectionable.
A more careful and critical examination of these two terms brings to the fore less appealing aspects.
For instance, the naturalistic image of having roots should mean that, like a tree, a person is bound to the soil, incapable of moving. So, to compare the dynamic human being to a fixed vegetable specimen does not seem a compliment at all.
As for identity, the word comes from the Latin "idem" meaning 'the same' or "identidem" that means 'repeatedly,' 'in the same way.' Referring to a human being, these characteristics do not seem to portray very appealing/interesting traits.
In actual fact, the healthy human being is a person in a process of becoming, playing different roles in syntony and harmony with a changing environment. One of the basic features of the living and flourishing individual is the ability to adapt and this requires a fit (i.e. appropriate) flexibility not a fixed (i.e. frozen) identity.
But, the real trouble with these two words, roots and identity, and the main reason for suggesting they be dropped from the vocabulary of the social sciences, derives from their association with the word 'nationality.'
The term nationality, in its etymology, simply means that a person is born (natus) in a certain place. Nothing more, nothing less, and certainly nothing to fight or die about.
Nationality becomes something obnoxious when the words 'roots' and 'identity' are attached to it with mystically charged implications.
The process of attributing roots to people (fixing them to the soil) and ascribing to them a frozen identity (personal, cultural, etc.) found its accomplishment through the coming to dominance of the nation state.
From that moment, the word 'roots' became associated with absorbing and propagating the dominant culture of the national state (the fatherland) and the word 'identity' came to be a shorthand for national identity.
A series of changes, i.e. impositions and restrictions, were then introduced, through which the concepts of roots, identity and nationality became glorified and codified. For instance:
In the first half of the XX century, some states (fascist Italy, communist Soviet Union) introduced measures to attach people to the soil, as in the feudal system, by issuing internal passports to restrict movements of people from rural to urban areas.
Besides that, in almost every country, the introduction of the passport differentiated (bureaucratically and juridically) between people born in different regions of the world, making more difficult, and so discouraging, moving and intermingling, rooting people to the place where they happened to be born. This in stark contrast to the XIX and early XX centuries when vast migrations took place, especially between Europe and the Americas.
Nowadays, In some countries (e.g. France) to be on the move, without a fixed abode, is still equivalent to being a non citizen, that is a person without rights and, generally, the target of deep suspicion.
In order to firmly root and control somebody, the state needed to clearly identify him/her, and so identity cards and all sort of documents and papers were invented to register each and every person subjected to a central state power. In some countries (e.g. Italy), everybody has to carry an identity document at all times, otherwise they might be stopped and detained by the state police.
To have no identity (stateless person) or many identities (cosmopolitan person) or an identity that does not match with the (national) one imposed/accepted by the state, is a sure recipe for trouble (especially in times of insecurity and nationalistic frenzy).
Identity is also forced upon individuals by a system of cultural indoctrination, when the ruling clique dictate on everybody the acceptance of the same language and laws. As a matter of fact, the national identity is essentially a manufactured identity, obtained by crushing local cultures, rather than a real common bond joining people living next to each other.
Under the nation state, a person, from birth to death, is put under a category (English, French, Italian, etc.) from which it is not easy to escape. This ascribed imposed label is like the branding of cattle by the owner, to keep and control it within a fence (fixed borders).
Furthermore, being assigned to a narrow category instead of being part of humanity at large, your destiny is (willingly or unwillingly) the destiny of your category, for good or bad (progression, decadence, destruction).
To make a historical parallel, in some places, during the Middle Ages, people were assigned the same religion as the master in which territory they happened to be born (cuius regio, eius religio); now people are generally and automatically given the nationality of the state in whose territory they are born, with all the juridical obligations and compulsions that follow from it; a situation not really different from the one in the Middle Ages.
And, in the course of history, some people, without moving from their place of birth, found themselves changing nationality (sometimes more than once) just because of the intromission of a different state ruling power. Perhaps, future generations, pondering on these facts, would consider our personal freedom under the nation state on the par with that of the serfs under the feudal system, that is very limited indeed.
In the world of nation states, nationality, based on attached/fixed roots and ascribed/imposed cultural identity, froze people into rival groups (natives - foreigners) and gave rise to senseless destructive conflicts. These absurd distinctions, deviously manufactured, have to disappear, taking with them the terms 'roots' and 'identity' as applied to human beings.
The new world and the new paradigm present many substantial differences with respect to the old one. With regard to the terms under exam, the main mental and material changes proposed are the following ones:
- from fixed roots to fresh seeds
The person is not a tree attached to the soil by order of a nation state. The freedom of anybody, as world citizen, to move and settle anywhere on the earth should not be limited other than by personal wishes or logistic matters.
If we want to convey the idea that the human being takes vital (natural, cultural) substances from the environment and uses them for self development, the image of 'seeds' could be a more appropriate one than that of 'roots.' Human beings could be then seen as strong seeds that grow in any soil, as long as it is rich in the appropriate nutrients, and as long as they keep their seed-like freshness.
- from imposed identity (national mono culture) to interbreeding cultural patterns (transnational cultural mix)
If we look at interesting personalities, we see them being at home in various courts of Europe (Voltaire), expressing themselves in various cultural domains (Leonardo), changing styles through different phases of their artistic life (Picasso), impersonating many different characters (Laurence Olivier).
To give to them a single identity would be to deprive them (and the world) of their worth and richness. It is only the bureaucrat that has always the same face and the same immutable identity, at work and at home, during the course of the entire life.
In the new paradigm (as in actual reality) there is no imposed identity because there is no national culture; in fact, there are only cultures developing from a dazzling plurality of contributions from individuals in near or far away places and from current or far remote times.
If we want to convey the image of some recognisable features, something familiar but not fixed forever, the word pattern, instead of identity, would appear more appropriate.
- from ascribed nationality to asserted multinationality
Nationality is not and should not be something a person finds imposed upon him at her birth, unless it is simply a birth note stating the place and time the event happened. Nothing more.
For this reason, in the new paradigm, the concept of nationality as it has been manufactured and imposed with violence by the state, has no place whatsoever.
We have all one country: the world.
To mark a break with the past and knowing the hatred inspired and spread by the states towards 'multinational' firms, we could say that we are all 'multinationals,' (or transnationals), meaning that we are the result of the mixing of many people and many cultures, from various places, since the beginning of time.
So, in the new paradigm, the old smelly bag of magic words qualifying a piece of soil as fatherland, mother country, patrie, nation or referring to groups of people as nationals or foreigners, loses any empirical meaning and emotional appeal.
The basic, meaningful concepts to be employed are those of geographical region and birthplace; and, with reference to human beings, the simple terms of person (per sonum = somebody having a voice) and individual (somebody unique).
Not long ago, in some parts of the western world, anyone from the next village was considered a foreigner, a stranger, i.e. coming from the outside (foris, extraneus). Now, for the multicultural cosmopolitan open-minded citizen/traveller/communicator of this world, there are no foreigners, at least not in a permanent way. Foreigner is or might be only the one(s) we are not familiar with, we do not know, until we do know him/her/them.
As for the nation, what was supposed to link and bond people was, essentially, the fact that they were born on the same soil, spoke the same language and were subject to the same jurisdiction. A very static (always the same soil), limiting (just one language) and artificial (under the same jurisdiction) condition, that is and will be more and more uncongenial even for the simple person of the XXI century.
Communities instead arise from what individuals have in common (common interests, common attitudes, common views) and are matter of choice(s), not ascription.
The best example of community is the community of scientists. For them, through the centuries, the barriers of birth-place and mother-tongue did not apply. In fact, the more notions they have about this world, the less they are bound by one or any nation.
Science has no country and speaks a universal idiom; the scientist is at home in every place, where the pursuit of knowledge is promoted, and communicates in all languages, for those who pay attention, listen and participate.
As is the case for the polyvalent, polycultural, polyglot person to whom the new paradigm refers.
General considerations (^)
In the course of time language undergoes transformations, with terms modified in their use and meaning.
In contrast, the seminal everlasting values survive basically unchanged and withstand even the most atrocious assaults.
What has happened is that, in a world dominated by nation states, war has been passed for peace, ignorance for knowledge and slavery for freedom. But, since the beginning of history, it is clear inside our mind and our heart, what is peace, what is knowledge and what is freedom.
Nevertheless, to make things smoother and to avoid that the use and meanings of words be unduly manipulated in order to manipulate human beings, we should, generally, follow a simple precaution: when we use terms that affect people's life in practical ways, we should actualize and operationalize them.
To actualize and operationalize words means to brings them down to reality and see how they work in practice.
For instance, if the states talk
about freedom while introducing all sort of controls and restrictions
to people's movement, we know which freedom they are talking about (freedom
Through actualization and operationalization, it would be then more difficult to use a term as a screen to hide either their manipulative deception or our misleading illusion.