Friday, May 24, 2019

Distributed Power

I have known both conservatives and liberals who believe that a relative few people control much of what happens in the world, and they usually believe this is largely clandestine. I am not referring to those who believe in an Illuminati, though sometimes they come a lot closer than they would likely admit.  At the moment I read and hear far more liberals saying these things, beginning with “the 1%” and “corporate interests,” but that may simply be because I largely work with liberals, while my conservative associations are largely voluntary and a decidedly non-paranoid lot, even at mild levels. It does get weird hearing them talk about Donald Trump and “the government” doing many secret things while they distract us with news about investigations – as if there suddenly is a Deep State after all and it supports Trump, who has devised all these investigations of himself as distractions. If you put it that baldly to them (which I sometimes do, just because I still take the bait), they recoil and say that this isn’t what they meant really, then clarify their earlier statements by saying exactly that, though with different words that don’t sound so bad. Social workers, psychiatrists, and various advocates, mostly.  Perhaps not representative. When conservatives go down this road it is usually centered around a few possibilities – a large portion of the federal government, especially select agencies; major journalism figures and the string-pullers behind them, in cahoots with academia; or the “elites” in general.  That seems to be a larger group, more dispersed, a 5% of the country who are semi-secretly ruling us rather than a 1%.

And of course from many different sides there are those who go straight to believing it’s the Jews, who seem to be a crossing-street with every other type of paranoia.

As with full paranoia, depression, anxiety, and other states of mind, the general mildly paranoid belief precedes all the specific knowledge. They have long had the impression of the few working underhandedly with great skill to dupe the public at large, and this impression perseveres even when new facts go against it.  Even contradictory information is reshaped to support the narrative. I now think of it as a personality trait, rather than an intellectual one. People just think that’s how the world works. Yet power is widely distributed in America. Yes, rich people are sometimes able to influence legislation, regulations, or policy to help them become richer. That’s not a good thing, and as such rent-seeking does diminish the efficiency of the economy we all live in it does affect us.  Also, governments both local and national do prevent us from doing a few things and compel us to do others. Yet we still travel where we want, build houses we like, choose our hobbies, eat different foods, change jobs, have children or not. Government is mostly about taking money from us and doing stuff it claims is good for all of us.  Which it is, sometimes. It’s the few places it actually does touch strongly on individual decisions, such as abortion or buying guns, that everyone sits up and takes notice. We get strongly irritated at the rest, especially if we think we shouldn’t be paying for any of it, never mind an increase, but we mostly just grouse and work around it. When rich people try and change the government they are much less successful than they would like to be, and much less than our fears of them would success.  Yes, they do give money, sometimes secretly and illegally, and this is deeply offensive. On the other hand, they have to keep giving that much next year and the year after, so perhaps they have not the awesome power we attribute to them.

There is power to do what you want, and power over others to make them do what you want, and many shades in between of influence and permissions. When I was very liberal I believed that a very few evil conservatives were running all sorts of stuff and were forever on the brink of establishing fascist control over us – but fortunately, good free-spirited and well-meaning socialist types were breaking through that all over the late 60s and good times were coming.


Christopher B said...

The endless debate over whether change is happening by design or organically. Lots of people are changing their minds about their political affiliations, is that happening independently or being driven by opinion shapers?

Texan99 said...

Poking into my county's more or less clandestine power operations, I can see that there is a small group of like-minded people who appoint each other to things and form a kind of oligarchy. It's neither very powerful nor very tight, but it's there. It consists of people who generally believe that things are best if a few of the right people make most of the public decisions, and who are willing to spend a large part of their time and energy on public works, committees, offices, etc. They prefer to operate in private, which is understandable, because operating in public is a real pain and not something you'd bother doing if you didn't believe very strongly in the dangers of secrecy and oligarchy. They're naturally a minority, because both the skill and the desire to do public administrative work at all well is not particularly widespread in the population.

Some of them are merely public-spirited, others busybodies who get off on control and exclusiveness, many a bit of both. For the most part they're rather wealthy, but not enormously so. They network constantly.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@T99 - Thank you. I would say that this is likely so, and occurs in every one of the 3,000 counties in America. They have real power, but it is narrow.

Texan99 said...

Right, it's nothing as deliberate or organized as a conspiracy, just an emergent order.

Unknown said...

I think you vastly underestimate the power of someone like George Soros, putting money into specific targets. Having pushed forward a collection of like-minded DAs and other local powers, he has managed to create tremendous havoc and disruptive ill-will in a number of cities -- seattle, portland, chicago, minneapolis, and an array of others, all ready to look the other way when it comes to violence, all seeking to derail any semblance of police order, and, using the examples of Kyle Rittenhouse and the McCloskeys, attempted to cow anyone willing to act to defend themselves and others into submission with blatantly vindictive prosecutions. And, thanks to the fact that prosecutors have total immunity for their actions thanks to earlier SCotUS decisions... hey, wonderful... They're also immune to clearly illegal prosecutions for which they should be disbarred for pushing through.