Monday, March 15, 2010

On The Twilight of the Elites

In Time magazine, Christopher Hayes argues that it is The Twilight of the Elites. Not surprisingly, he simultaneously gets things exactly right and completely wrong.

He is right that we are facing an institutional crisis. We are facing crises in our universities, our governments, our megacorporations, our government-run schools, our banks, the Federal Reserve, etc. But what do all of these institutions have in common?

Here is where Hayes fails. He fails to recognize that each of these institutions are planned, "rationally" constructed instutitions. None of them emerged spontaneously as a part of human action, but not of human design. Each of these are designed down to the last detail -- yes, even the megacorporations and banks, which are increasingly centralized, cartelized, and given increasing protection by government. They are all designed -- and run -- from the top-down, with little if any real feedback from the bottom-up. Thus, they are unnatural organizations, both in their organization and in their structures. The government solution to the problems it has caused is to keep doing all the things that caused the problems in the first place -- just harder, faster, more. And the people may not be able to understand it in such a way as to be able to articulate what they understand to be the problem -- but they do understand that more of the same thing is hardly the solution. Only the elites think it is.

Hayes' solution is to include astroturf organizers in these institutions. But that's more of the same. I hate to say it, but the only real solution is going to be the complete collapse of many of our institutions, so that natural ones can arise in their places. Others, such as the Federal Reserve, being purely destructive institutions, should go the way of the dodo.

I have been witnessing the destruction of many of our institutions at the very hands of the elites in charge for a while now. I've seen it coming because I am in the humanities, and the postmodernist elites in the humanities have been actively trying to destroy their own fields. Stanley Fish and others argue that there is no value to what they do, though Fish does observe that the humanities professors he knows are hardly the paragons of the virtues they are supposed to study. This is much like the stupidity of CEOs who fail dismally at being greedy because they follow a corrupt path that leads to their losing everything. We see the same pattern right now with the Democrats in Congress, who are determined to pass a bill that is so unpopular that Massachusetts elected a Republican Senator and there looks to be little hope the Democrats will hold onto power in either house of Congress. The Democrats are so power-hungry and certain of their superiority that they are pushing through something that is going to make them lose power. Regardless of your position on health insurance reform, you have to admit that this is bizarre behavior for elected officials. But this is what happens with constructivist elites in power.

And that is the bottom line: the elites in power in all of these failing institutions are constructivists. They believe they know enough to construct society -- ignoring Hayek's repeated proofs to the contrary. We cannot ever have enough knowledge or information to construct society -- or even the major institutions of society. Those who think otherwise -- which are those that have taken over our institutions -- destroy everything through their ignorance of their ignorance and necessarily uninformed actions.

We like to think that our elites, being so educated, will know enough to be able to run things well. But as Socrates discovered for himself -- and which we desperately need to rediscover today -- is that wisdom is knowing what (and that) you do not know. Wise elites know they do not know enough to run your life. Wise elites will be busy trying to understand the world, to try to help people to make good decisions on their own, for themselves and those closest to them, rather than trying to run the world. They cannot know enough to do so. The world runs itself. And it runs itself most effectively and efficiently if allowed to do so without interruption and interference by those who know nothing and whose arrogance leads them inevitably into corruption.
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