Gian Piero de Bellis
Polyarchy : a Paradigm
(2002 - 2012)
From fallacious politics to sound civics
|The working of politics|
|Politics : material fallacies|
|Politics : logical fallacies|
|Politics : psychological fallacies|
Politics has been defined as "the science dealing with the regulation and control of men living in society," "a science concerned with the organization, direction and administration of political units (as nations or states) in both internal and external affairs." (Webster's Third New International Dictionary)
Regulation and control take place by direct or indirect intervention:
- Direct: by the individuals affected, as self-regulation and self-control (self-administration)
- Indirect: by a group of people professionally and institutionally in charge of regulating and controlling (representation).
Regulation and control are usually based on authority (esteem, prestige) or power (supremacy, force).
- Authority prompts the acceptance of a belief and the observance of a behaviour. The underpinning motives for authority are, generally:
- competence (connoisseurship) on the part of the leader/master
- conviction or custom (habit) on the part of the follower/disciple.
- Power imposes the acceptance of a belief and the obedience to a command. The underpinning motives for power are, generally:
- force (violence) on the part of the ruler/subjector
- fear (weakness) on the part of the ruled/subjected.
These four instances (direct-indirect and authority-power) can be represented on two continua according to their grade of intensity.
Direct regulation-control and authority do not produce, generally, problems of attrition even when the norms followed derive from the past and are not the product of the person who follows them, as long as they are freely accepted and interiorized by each individual.
As we move more and more away from the area of direct regulation and control based on authority to that of indirect regulation and control arising from power, we witness the appearance of politics. In other words, politics arises when a (small) group of people gain the power to regulate and control individuals, mainly as result of overwhelming force and minimally as the outcome of personal prestige.
The working of politics (^)
Power is the central aspect of politics.
Politics is then concerned, essentially, with:
- gaining power
- using power
- maintaining power.
In order to gain and use power, both the ruler and the ruled need justifications, confirming the former in the right to command and conforming the latter in the duty to obey.
In general, rulers have justified their access to power either by reference to God (transmitted by God) or to the people (conferred by the people and exerted in their names).
Clearly, God and the people were and are only noble (or ignoble) excuses and pious mystifications. Besides that, history has repeatedly shown that, the less those in power were certain of being supported by God or by the people, the more they were reasonable and behaved within limits of decency (towards God and the people); on the contrary, the more they thought heaven and earth were on their side, the less they acted kindly and reasonably (to say the least).
As for maintaining power, all sort of lies and tricks has been devised and delivered in the course of history so that political history is mainly a tale of the cunning or clumsy deceit of the rulers.
For this reason, given that mystifications and deceptions occupy such an important role in gaining and maintaining power, politics should not at all be considered as a science. The name of science should be given only to the study of power (gaining-using-maintaining power) not to the practice of it.
Furthermore, for something to be defined as a "science" it should be characterized by an ethos based on:
- Universalism. "Universalism finds immediate expression in the canon that truth-claims, whatever their source, are to be subjected to preestablished impersonal criteria: consonant with observation and with previously confirmed knowledge."
- Communism. "The substantive findings of science are a product of social collaboration and are assigned to the community. They constitute a common heritage." "The institutional conception of science as part of the public domain is linked with the imperative for communication of findings."
- Disinterestedness. "A passion for knowledge, idle curiosity, altruistic concern with the benefit to humanity and a host of other special motives have been attributed to the scientist."
- Organized skepticism. "The temporary suspension of judgment and the detached scrutiny of beliefs in terms of empirical and logical criteria." (Robert K. Merton, 1942)
Politics has been and still is based on methods and behaviours that run exactly counter to the basic ethos of science, on which scientific endeavours are based. As a matter of fact, politics relies on:
- ideological sectarianism (vs. universalism) that makes truth dependent on a certain ideology, beyond the need for empirical confirmation and corroboration.
- petty corporativism (vs. communism) that means keeping data and ideas for yourself, preoccupied only to present your stances in the best light, while shaming and blaming all the others, all the time.
- vicious vested interests (vs. disinterestedness) that favour the diffusion of false opinions instead of the development of true beliefs.
- organized propaganda (vs. organized skepticism) that encourages the blind/soporific acceptance of ideologies instead of the stringent verification of beliefs. Through political propaganda, words are used with distorted meaning (e.g. anarchy = disorder) as convenient to the group in power.
If we add to the lack of scientific values, the lack of scientific methods (e.g. operationalization of hypotheses, post-factum verifications, etc.) we are bound to conclude that the definition of politics as a science ("the science dealing with the regulation and control of men living in society" - Webster) is totally inaccurate and misleading.
Furthermore, while science is free from fallacies (otherwise it would not be science, i.e. knowledge), politics is intrinsically fallacy-based/biased; in other words, it fundamentally relies on the cultivation and propagation (conscious or unconscious) of fallacies.
A fallacy is an error in knowledge or in knowledge engineering, that is in the way knowledge gets organized and presented.
Fallacies can be classified into three main categories:
- material fallacies: false knowledge (lack of truth). The data contained in a statement are devoid of truth.
- logical fallacies: invalid knowledge (lack of validity). The statements are linked in a way that makes the argument devoid of validity.
- psychological fallacies: irrelevant knowledge (lack of relevancy). The beliefs (e.g. hypotheses, theories) advanced to support a statement are not relevant to the matter under examination.
In the process of putting forward an argument, it might happen that
we make mistakes of one sort or the other, committing fallacies pertaining
to these three categories.
While we might do it occasionally, either consciously (e.g. lying for personal reasons) or unconsciously (e.g. ignorance of the matter), in politics fallacies are routinely employed, being, for a large part, the tools of the trade.
In order to show the truthfulness of this statement, some examples of political practice are presented in relation to each of the three categories of fallacies.
Politics : material fallacies (^)
Presenting wrong evidence - Denying sound evidence
In politics, manipulating historical reality, that is stating something that is not true, is the most common way to keep afloat.
The biggest distortion of reality, common to all political actors, is that of presenting the state as the originator of order and the granter of peace and security while, actually, it has been and still is the main source of disorder and the chief warmonger. In this respect, a classic example of manipulation of reality concerns nuclear testing and the massive weapons build-up carried out by states, presented as a way to keep peace and promote security.
Denying sound evidence is the other half of the coin. If something goes against a political position, the weapons of politics are concealment if possible, denial if necessary.
Take for example the case of state intervention in the economy. The evidence against a state-controlled economy is overwhelming. History has even produced a sort of laboratory experiment in the case of divided countries (East-West Germany, North-South Korea) where the side with less state control has been the more economically successful. Even so, there are still politicians (and so called political scientists) talking and writing positively about state intervention in the economy and warning about the risks deriving from economic freedom.
Besides these macroscopic examples of denial of evidence, we have the infinite list of daily political lies, where what is said is the opposite of what is or will be done.
Without these distortions and manipulations, politics and politicians would be too naked to survive the brief space of a season.
The fallacy of faulty generalization is a classic fallacy present in almost every political discourse.
In fact, politics being the pure and simple promotion of some (personal) preferences and their dispensation (as propaganda) to everybody in view of their imposition (as laws) upon everybody, it elevates this fallacy to some sort of supreme guideline.
Party politicians play continuously with generalizations as deemed suitable to their aims. Their profession consists in trying to pass off the will of somebody as the will of everybody and the interest of some individuals as the interest of each and every one.
Another example of faulty generalization might be considered the attribution to everybody (i.e. to individuals from all walks of life) of one dominant characteristics. For instance, for Hobbes, all people are power or security hungry; for Marx (or better for his naive followers), all people's actions are determined by the economy, and so on. These absurd generalizations fit well with the strong impulse to homogenization and simplification proper to political ideologies.
Faulty causal connection
One classic example of faulty causal connection can be taken from the economy: if there is an economic growth and a rise in employment it is attributed (self-attributed) to the policies of the government; if there is a slump and a rise in unemployment, it is attributed (partly or totally) to the international situation, for which the national government cannot be reproached. The opposite is true for the party in opposition.
It is like an iron necessity of politics that the explanation of events be made in such a way that some roles are enlarged or minimized according to the rules of convenience and opportunity. Needless to say, all this has nothing to do with the advancement of knowledge.
Politics : logical fallacies (^)
In the fallacy of "non sequitur" the premisses put forward are not pertinent or not substantial enough to support the conclusion.
In politics, for instance, the existence of a law is considered a necessary premiss for the existence of order in a specific field as if order is a logical consequence of the presence of a law. But this logically plausible sequence is contradicted by historical evidence. For instance, contracts of exchange have existed and have produced orderly trade long before commercial laws have been enacted by the states. Other examples of this fallacy are, the implicitly accepted causal relation between number of policemen and levels of security; the view that sees parties indispensably connected to the working of democracy; the conception that associates the state with the spread of civilization. These are all logical fallacies based on material fallacies (i.e. ignorance of reality).
The fallacy of inconsistency arises when an argument is based on premisses that cannot all be true (or not all true at the same time).
Politics as the tricky art of squaring the circle or, in other words, of having it both ways, is very prone to this type of fallacy. The most striking example is the claim that individuals, left to themselves, would be dominated by power and greed. So politics comes to the fore to put these malevolent drives under control. The inconsistency resides in the fact that this argument assumes, implicitly and improperly, that the controllers (the politicians) are not motivated by power and greed.
Another example of inconsistency concerns the relation between the growth of production-consumption on one side and the protection of the environment on the other. Generally, politicians claim to be, at the same time, for continuous growth (of production and consumption) and for the protection of the environment. In this case, they are putting forward two premisses
(a) the prosperity of people is based on continuous growth of production and consumption;
(b) the prosperity of people is based on the careful protection of the environment;
that lead straight to an inconsistent conclusion
(c) favour an unlimited growth and advocate limits to the exploitation of the environment.
The inconsistencies of politicians is the reason why nothing much can be expected of them in controversial areas, where rational decisions and actions are urgently needed.
The fallacy of hypostatization is to attribute empirical reality to theoretical constructs. Politicians fall regularly into this fallacy when they talk about state, society, nation, public good, general interest, and so on as if these where actual realities, having a life of their own, and not relations between individuals, and so existing only in that respect. The most evident example of hypostatization is the use of the name of the country (e.g. "la France," "l'Italia," "the USA") as referring to a living being/entity. This because the politicians are, as a whole, too attracted by spuriously lofty concepts (the nation) and big impressive numbers (the masses) to take notice of a real individual of flesh and blood.
The fallacy of circularity is the most clear example of the working of politics. In this fallacy, the conclusion is used to uphold the premisses instead of the premisses being capable of supporting the conclusion.
To clarify the point, state politics is generally based on nationalism (national interests), racism (xenophobia), militarism (army build up). This pestiferous concoction of myths and attitudes (the premisses of state politics) brings clashes that generate insecurity (the inevitable conclusion). Political leaders take the conclusion (existence of insecurity) not as an outcome of certain premisses (nationalism, racism, militarism) but as a starting point in order to justify the existence of those premisses. In other words, in politics, more insecurity demands more of those policies that have created insecurity, in a sort of vicious circle, a continuous tit-for-tat leading to universal disaster.
Politics : psychological fallacies (^)
Improper appeal to authority
A fallacious appeal to authority is a way of blocking a discussion about a contentious subject by invoking some authority considered as beyond dispute because of his prestige or ascendancy.
In the political arena, more importance is given to the relevant historical personage (e.g. Lenin, Mussolini, De Gaulle, Mao, etc.) or the powerful contemporary figure than to what they said or say. Their words had/have the magical aura of being beyond criticism. This situation is best shown by the phrase circulating in Italy under fascism: "Mussolini ha sempre ragione" [Mussolini is always right]. It is only at a later stage that the critical examination of those statements takes place and their deviousness or plain emptiness is brought to the attention. But for a certain period these figures are the undisputed point of reference in whose name every critical and creative discourse is blocked from the start.
Improper appeal to majority
An improper appeal to majority is a way of answering a contentious question or sustaining the reasonableness of a certain point by putting forward and accepting, without critical questioning, the opinion and the will of the biggest group.
Politics is fundamentally based on this fallacy insofar as, in its current most popular formula, i.e. democracy, it gives absolute preeminence to majority decisions. And, even in the case of a dictatorship, the majority has to be, at least, acquiescent, for the dictator to be able to dominate. In actual fact, in the course of history, abominable rulers (Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin) had the support of large majorities, making their regimes truly democratic, in the real etymological meaning of the term. This should make everybody wary about appealing to the might of number in order to support the right of an idea. As forcefully expressed by Hippolyte Taine: "Dix millions d'ignorances ne forment pas un savoir" [Ten millions ignorant do not make knowledge]. Nevertheless, the appeal to the majority in matters of regulation of personal behaviour is still one of the pillars of politics in the age of democracy.
Abuse and ridicule
Abuse and ridicule are ways of diverting or distracting the attention from the pertinent question to trivial or irrelevant aspects as a pretext for dismissing, lightly and surreptitiously, the entire matter.
This fallacy is the bread and butter of political fight. To make a mockery of the adversary and to caricature his arguments are highly regarded skill that score very well in the political arena of parliamentary debates. Certainly, it introduces some lightness (of a devious sort) in sombre places; but, at the same time, it reinforces the conviction that politics has nothing to do with science (that is, knowledge and knowledge seeking) because science has nothing to do with abuse and ridicule.
A loaded question is one that implicitly:
- freezes the situation (e.g. Have you stopped destroying the economy with your policies?);
- points to the answer (e.g. Surely you are all for X, aren't you?).
It uses words in an emotional way intended to distort the answer in the direction wanted by the person who poses the question
A politician who is unable to formulate loaded questions is not worth the name of politician, this being one of the basic tools of the political armoury.
Once again it emerges that politics and politicians have nothing to do with the scientific endeavours of a scientist who is interested in posing intelligent questions in search of truthful answers.
Problem banalization (or excessive simplification) is the faulty reduction of a problem to a black and white alternative, even when the problem is a complex one and requires that several options be examined.
Politics is, fundamentally, the reduction of everything to simple alternatives in order that a simple decision be taken, that will then be applied to everybody. For this reason, politics is very much identifiable with the fallacy of problem banalization. By means of this fallacy, politics perpetrates all the time the crime of banalization of the entire society, that is the homogenization and massification of each and every individual.
Beyond fallacies (^)
The argument as presented so far stresses the fact that politics is based on a series of fallacies, material, logical, psychological, one inside or on top of the other, with the psychological ones prevailing to the point of obscuring, in some cases, both reality and logic.
When A is made to appear non-A, that is when war becomes peace, ignorance becomes knowledge, slavery becomes freedom, then it means that politics, that is politicians and their paid servants, is in total control of reality and of the entities once called individuals.
Without reaching these points of absurdity, we still generally have to accept our daily parcel of nonsense. For instance, politicians want us to believe that a part (i.e. their party) metamorphoses into the whole (that is, the guarantor of the whole society) once put into power; or that particular interests become, all of a sudden, general interests just because they are the interests of the new ruling clique.
Nevertheless, even while odd ideas keep a hold on people's minds, something new is taking place that might assist in the unmasking of deception and illusion. We are referring to the ubiquitous-instantaneous diffusion of data through the worldwide electronic network.
This ever expanding and ever quickening circulation of data seems likely to herald progression along a path consisting of:
- information: the getting hold, in an organised way, of relevant data against the misinformation and manipulation of power;
- knowledge: the structuring of information into meaningful patterns;
- wisdom: the utilization of the world wide web as an instrument for the development of world wide wisdom.
If this is the reality of things to come, the detection and disclosure of fallacies will be everybody's game, through the exchange of information (against material fallacies) and the sharpening of knowledge (against psychological and logical fallacies)
This will build up confidence and capabilities for the production and experimentation of new thinking and acting in which the role and place of fallacies will be greatly reduced, if not removed.
And going beyond fallacies means also going beyond politics.
Beyond politics (^)
Politics is the new sectarian cult of the statist age.
It is based on:
- centralized state (i.e. power) against civilized society (i.e. freedom);
- dialectics (i.e. polarities) against dialogue (i.e. pluralities)
- parties (i.e. factions) against persons (i.e. individuals).
Contemporary politics is characterized by the presence of the octopus-like party system. The political parties are the impersonators of fictitious roles and the real protagonists in the manufacturing of fallacies. In relation to the role currently played (in power, in opposition), their fallacies are meant to cover two main aspects that characterize their existence and activity:
Those in command, especially if their power extends over many aspects, as is the case of modern politics, are in permanent danger of corruption, that is of using power for exploiting others to their exclusive and excessive gain.
Those in opposition, especially if they are excluded from all gains, are in permanent exercise of disruption, blocking or ridiculing all initiative of their opponents, and the cleverer the proposals, the more vigorous and subtle the resistance. To let others do something good, or that appears good, would not bode well for the attempt to gain/regain power.
If we are not emotionally misled by the words, we can see that this dynamic of corruption and disruption is what politics is all about: on one side (those in power) the distribution of rewards to friends and supporters; on the other side (those in opposition) the objection to almost any proposal and measure, whatever its content, just because it comes from the rival faction. History is full of figures and parties that, while in opposition, have vigorously fought and rejected the ideas of those in power, but have appropriated and implemented them once the inversion of roles has taken place or the adversary has been eliminated (politically or physically).
Furthermore, corruption and disruption are not limited to politics at the local or national level. These are political tools on the international scene in the form of bribes (corruption) and wars (disruption). War, in particular, "is not merely a political act but also a real political instrument, a continuation of politics carried out by other means." (Karl von Clausewitz)
The main progressive social conceptions and movements (liberalism, socialism, anarchism) have all advocated, at least in theory, the reduction or even the extinction of politics and of the organization in which politics takes place, the state.
Nevertheless, politics and the state have survived up to now because of theoretical and practical justifications:
- reality as contraposition (theoretical justification)
The conception of reality populated by wild beasts in perpetual mortal combat (homo homini lupus) has still a strong grip on the minds of people. The paradoxical thing is that this maxim applies, overall, to people in power (state) and not to people engaged in daily intercourse (society). In fact, where a society would soon collapse without smooth interaction and free cooperation, a state prospers through violent attrition and imposed submission, with the ruling power in the role of the "lupus" towards all the "homines."
- reality as illusion (practical justification)
Politics is, for the masses, the cultivation of illusions about their future state. The role of the "deus ex machina" of the Greek tragedy whose providential intervention was capable of solving every problem, has been taken over, in the world of contemporary politics, by the machinery of government. If we rip the curtain of illusion, we see that politics, conducted under the cover of the 'benevolent' state, has been the means for unconfessed despicable interests to gain respectability under the label of common general interests; the place where dissipation of resources has taken the name of social investments and the way through which the oppression of individuals has been called maintenance of public order.
Now, both these justifications (theoretical and practical) are being shaken to the foundation by the emergence of a new more acute perception of past and present reality. The results are:
Reality is no longer seen as made of contraposition but of diversification. The obtuse simplification imposed by state politics becomes, day by day, a variegated multicolour tapestry. This diversification is becoming too rich and complex for politics to master. There are no longer any homogeneous majorities linked by the same position on many themes and interests. There is, instead, a concert of many multifarious voices ('anarchy' according to state terminology) which is badly suited to the world of state politics where the imperative is for one (leader, party, government) to get hold of (all) the levers and to act in the name of everybody.
The individual sees and realizes, more and more, that politics is not the way/means to solve problems but to manufacture them, be it tyranny, terrorism or whatever terrifying event we can conceive. Moreover, the bankruptcy of the state has greatly reduced the room for manoeuvre in terms of favours bestowed upon people to buy their support. The fiction is coming to an end.
If this is the reality in progress, going beyond politics means going beyond parties and all that they represent, that is the imposition on everybody of sectorial interests portrayed as general interests, of restrictions presented as guarantees of freedom, of violence justified as the preservation of order and civilization
What is needed is a real variety of positions expressed by individuals and organizations of individuals (clubs, associations, learned societies, companies, communities, families, partnerships, cooperatives, etc.) to replace and displace the fake differences impersonated by parties, all having the same concern, that is to gain or maintain power at whatever cost, through whatever tricks and lies they deem fit to use.
The end of politics marks the coming onto the scene of something that, while always present in the life of society (i.e. in the relations between individuals), has not (yet) been openly recognized for the central role it has played: civics.
Civics is the art and craft of personal course (conduct) and social intercourse (contact).
It is based on:
- moral attitudes
- creative energy
- applied knowledge.
In order to go beyond politics and to develop civics, a series of steps needs to be undertaken.
First of all there are some aspects, belonging to the past/present, that have to be progressively lessened, up to the point of their disappearance. For instance, it is necessary:
- to reduce the area of representation (to go for direct involvement or for subsidiarity, that is the power to decide about something goes to the individuals most affected by the problem);
- to reduce the distance of delegation (to diminish the knowledge gap, to highlight fallacies, to bring vested interests into the open, etc.);
- to reduce the sphere of delegation (to transform delegation into a short term, precisely defined mandate).
At the same time, some aspects need to be affirmed and developed. They concern:
- principles (discovered and accepted)
These are the basic universal norms for civilized decent living, affecting individuals all over the world and concerning the intercourse amongst them, and between them and nature (in other words, what it means to be human and to act humanly towards all living creatures and world entities). No organization, no group, no individual should attack or disown the principles without sparking off a reparative intervention from other human beings.
- mores (developed and transmitted)
These are specific local norms, the habits of each community, all acceptable unless in conflict with universal principles (for instance, damaging life on earth). In this case cultural pressure should be applied to encourage a positive evolution of some customs.
- rules (chosen and implemented)
These are, as in a game, the signposts that delimit the area of permissible moves or the standards that suggest the way to recommended moves. Rules refer to practical matters and should be in harmony with the principles and not in contrast with the mores.
These norms should come into being as answers to precise needs related to:
- existence (principles)
Principles are the source and the guarantee of the existence of human beings and of the whole environment. They are few and universal.
- experience (mores)
Mores are the result of past experience and have the function of transmitting that experience, for assessment and consequent acceptance or refusal by new groups and generations. They are many and local.
- expedience (rules)
Rules are the product of expedience, like the standard guidelines for the performing of a task, or the worked out arrangements for some endeavour. They are appropriate in number and general in use, emerging from the requirements of the situation or derived from similar specific situations.
To sum up, civics is the theoretic condensation and practical application of the wisdom of the past as expressed, for instance by Ulpiano's definition of right as "the art of the good and the just" (ius est ars boni et aequi) and his depiction of human behaviour: "live honestly, to nobody do harm, to each one give what is due" (honeste vivere, neminem laedere, suum cuique tribuere).
To promote civics we do not need parties (factions) in competition for total power, but experimental communities and creative individuals in emulation for betterment.
The hundred of thousand of laws produced by hyper-centralized states need to be put aside and replaced by:
- a few universal principles (valid for everybody)
- many local mores (freely accepted by members of a specific group)
- some basic essential rules (appropriate in number and general in use).
At that point, conditions will be more favourable for the development of the cosmopolitan person to replace the national subject, wherever and whenever somebody wishes it. This cosmopolitan person is the one who has interiorized the few universal principles, becomes quickly familiar with many different mores and is happy to adapt to and adopt the specific rules of the organization of which he/she is willing to be participant.
The network for civics is already there. We need only the creative brainwork and energy to put it to use.