By Chic Hollis – Philosophical Musings
(A musing written in November 2002 after the sell-off of the hi-tech stocks listed on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange.)
The title may be misleading. I’m not talking about training savage animals for the Circus Maximus. I’m thinking about how to motivate all the colorful human clowns who perform under this nation’s Big Top in Washington, D.C. The carrot and the stick may work in the menagerie, but positive and negative rewards must be much more sophisticated if you are interested in training humans. Their internal motivation comes primarily from satisfying their basic survival needs first, and then avoiding threats from outsiders that might interrupt their tranquility in pursuing frivolous amusements.
Pain and pleasure are the most effective motivational tools. That’s why goading underlings on occasion in necessary, and pleasing them with bread and circuses is appropriate – as the ancient Romans suggested – when all else fails. Somewhere between the ominous threats of punishment and confinement for despicable social behavior and the attractive promises of pleasureful compensation for exemplary performance are various kinds of attention grabbing energizers.
The earliest witch doctors and religious shamans noticed how effective the pain/pleasure tools were in controlling human behavior. Consequently, they invented a fable about life after death which demanded specific behavior prior to dying in order to assure a desirable future life afterward. This fable was turned into the more compelling concept of “heaven and hell” by Biblical scribes and adopted as dogma by Christian and Muslim religious leaders. To escape from being sent to hell, humans must constantly try to live acceptable social and religious lives. If not, they must seek (and hopefully obtain through some intercessor) divine forgiveness of their sins from an understanding, benevolent, and merciful Deity.
So much for our basic religious history. This approach worked up to the moment when unions discovered that unified active resistence to authority was a better option in obtaining what the members wanted. Gandhi pioneered the passive resistence movement that successfully freed India from the colonialism of an unenlightened and die-hard English.
Throughout the world today violent demonstrations have replaced passive resistence and brought out more police with their night sticks, mace, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Patient, orderly civil disobedience is not being observed any longer by activists because the process of rewriting legislation and changing the laws that are considered unjust has been too slow and always delayed by the influence of the wealthy with their interest in maintaining the status quo.
The escalation of violence in seeking changes in the attitudes of our government leaders was exhibited recently in the take-over of a theater in Moscow. People are ready to die for their beliefs and become martyrs to their local causes. That was made obvious to all the world by the 9/11/2001 attacks on our country’s imperialism and by the individual acts of Palestinian suicide bombers who were protesting the abusive treatment of the Israeli government. The lack of success in negotiating agreements acceptable to opposing groups has led to the violence by the weaker party. “Sticks” work, “carrots” are rarely tried. Peace among unequals seems to be impossible to negotiate. The rich and powerful always end up with the sweeter deal.
People in the United States recently believed that the rulers of this self-declared Superpower could dictate terms in a political negotiation. Our leaders have been eager to exhibit our impressive array of high tech weapons and threaten anyone who won’t bow down and worship us and our way of life.
Every empire had its day. After its supremacy lost momentum, the unwary leaders faced armed challenges from the ignored masses of exploited citizens and jealous neighbors. The high life always leads to softness of the imperialistic nation’s people. Most of the citizens are not interested in fighting and defending their superiority. They are blind to the needs of the poor, the conquered, and the insulted. They are deaf to the words shouted by agitators and revolutionaries.
Powerful leaders want all the disruption to be put down and the agitators silenced so that these rabble rousers can’t disturb the peace. Use of force is necessary, especially when it is in the interest of providing security for the privileged. But when all hell breaks loose, as it eventually does, then the enforcers fight for whomever – maybe even the original enemy!
“That can’t happen to us” is the feeling of the innocent, like the honest and dedicated workers for Enron and Worldcom. But this can happen to any lowlife who allows the powerful to exploit their position of advantage. What possibly can restrain a dictator, an emperor, or even a president in a democracy where secrecy is used to hide intent and the abuse of the weak to achieve imperialistic ends?
The “American way” of life might have a standard of living second to none, but that is because we have created the wealth to dominate temporarily the rest of the world. And at their expense, since they have little hope that they will be able to raise the capital and develop their industries to be competitive with ours without our investment.
As we shift more production facilities abroad and become more dependent on the Third World countries for manufacturing, they are becoming educated about how to employ the capital of our knowledge. They eventually will be in a position of withholding essential supplies and gradually leveling the power at the negotiating table. Our leaders will yield slowly and concede as countries like China gain economic power. The only “stick” we’ll have is our paper wealth, which can quickly vanish once our credibility is proven only to be backed by trillions of dollars of unpayable revolving debt.
No one in the United States wants to read this sci-fi forecast nor believe the eventual consequences. The leaders of the world will be ready in an instant to turn against us, to laugh at our fall from prominence, and to cheer our misfortune. As we did when the Soviet Union collapsed. Our government and business leaders will continue to “push the envelope” to ensure their livelihoods and positions of power.
The average worker is powerless to rein in our CEOs, our deficit spending bureaucrats, our ambitious military, and our fun-loving youth. Everyday we are expanding the extension of credit by millions of dollars, borrowing from the future that has an unknown capacity to liquidate the growing debt. A day of reckoning comes for the poorer countries when devaluation wrecks havoc for foreign creditors. Look at Argentina for an example. Debt forgiveness is the only solution. But who in this world can “forgive us our debts?”
Abundant credit and debt forgiveness are “carrots” that make us smile and breath easier. The “stick” of bankruptcy will follow one day. It always has, but maybe not in our lifetime. The Baby Boomers will see the beginning of the constriction of money and credit, either through higher taxes or reduced Social Security benefits. Already CEO remuneration is beyond any criteria except a valid license to steal. The poverty level of income in today’s economy is a joke circulated by economists who are employed by the government. Greenspan and the Federal Reserve Board know that, but of course they won’t say anything nor admit what the assumptions are behind their unrealistic definition of local “poverty.”
Eventually internal poverty and lack of privilege arouse daredevil revolutionaries. The action to establish greater “homeland security” is nothing more than an obvious move to strengthen the power of the state over the individual. The 9/11 attacks, horrendous as they were, provide our leaders with an excuse to rationalize more secretive pursuit of suspected and imagined enemies.
Who are these enemies? Anyone who challenges the power of the state. Which is why whistle blowers are so afraid of acting against large companies and our sprawling local, state, and federal bureaucracy. Throw the alleged offender into jail to rot, and let an underpaid and over-committed public defender handle the legal defense in front of a biased judge.
So, “What’s the alternative?” you ask? The individual has no carrots and sticks. The vote is managed by the spin meisters who spend millions of dollars of contributions “donated” by the moneyed interests to manipulate the minds of the apathetic and malleable voters. Aggressive demonstrations and violence are the only ways to gain the attention of the powerful, but counter-demonstrations can nullify progress as we have seen in Israel. The middle ground disappears as violence escalates.
There is a way out of the predicament, but it takes time, infinite patience, and a world of experience. Aggressive leaders seldom have the time, the patience, and the experience. They think restless masses want immediate change and a definite program aimed at achieving impossible objectives: equality and a fair distribution of wealth.
These wily politicians offer grandiose promises while they are hoping that something dire will come along to distract the unruly elements: a recession, a war, or an Act of God that they can’t be blamed for. No matter what kind of government is in power, the incumbent politicians and the aspiring candidates are making promises they can rarely fulfil.
The solution is to develop leaders as Plato suggested in The Republic who are honest and fair, and not greedy. Who possess the integrity for guiding the forces of government toward a society where CEOs are aware of the needs of the corporation’s shareholders, the workers, and the customers, not just their supporting executives. Where a leader’s ambitions are to improve the society within the confines of their authority and sovereignty, not to try to change the governments and societies of their neighbors. Where their vision is attainable, where their leadership is humane, and where their nobility automatically enables them to respect the dignity of their subjects or citizens. It is not too late to go back 2,500 years and look at the virtues of a responsible leader defined by Plato. A person genuinely interested in helping everyone progress, not just him or herself!
Continuing as we are in selecting our leaders will only assure the eventual demise of Democracy in Imperial America. Do we want the Lady who often changes her make-up or the Tiger who can’t change his spots? In choosing anyone, remember friends, humans have a proclivity for believing one side of an argument, when both sides of the argument are wrong!