Archive for June, 2012

Social performance, accountability and representation

Inspired by: Readings on democracy and effects on inequality, development, economic performance, famines.

I seem to be developing some sort of idea of a general theory of human social behavior. My own theory of everything if you will. It seems that it doesn’t matter what regime type exists, it is not related to particular performances. When regime type is related to certain performances I tend to think there is a conflation of variables and an unclear causal mechanism. So let me put forth what I have as a possible causal mechanism for efficient social performance by elites and leaders. Taking literature on rentierism and authoritarianism, we can apply the principal of interest and accountability to any social formation. If elites base their power on their acceptance by their people, then a translation of the interests of the clients will be made relatively intact to the elites and they will act in order to meet those interests although not necessarily successfully.

In relation to famine, capitalism, colonialism and authoritarianism. Elites whether local or foreign (though easier if foreign) owe their existence to foreign backers, (Mubarak and US) this is also true of older regimes such as the ottoman empire. The local leader was always a foreigner in order to prevent local uprisings and to maintain allegiance. Similarly the Romans has a system of foreigner judges to adjudicate between them. So a leadership in a position in which those he reigns over are not important in the maintenance of his position is prone to abuse. Ofcourse personality types play a role here but the structural conditions under which power abuse is possible are met when the led have no say in who is leading them. In peasant communities (Scott) they had a final veto in terms of violence (women cooking meals in rich people’s houses in times of famine and beating them up). In democracies there is less violence and direct interaction but institutionalized accountability. Accountability doesn’t mean that those in positions of power should be accountable through moral causes, but that the structural set up means the power of the leading depends on the led.

In any case we would expect colonial and other regime types to conduct policies that are not intended to benefit the constituents they rule over, in a sense monarchies were better.

Technology also plays a role here in making the suppression of dissent easier. So even a domestic government that fills its ranks from its own people can ignore popular protest. This requires a disproportionate representation in government or a proportional representation of society in government but once in government socialization imbues them with a specific sense of normative ideals and interests that makes them act as a class or group of their own. This could also lead to unrepresentative policy.

The question of whether unrepresentative policy is bad policy is irrelevant here, but I can see how the case can be made that it is better for society than simple representative pursuit of policies by voting through expertise and such.

Now the elite side of the equation is done (assuming stratification is present), the masses or constituent side also provides interesting insights. in regimes where channels to voice concern are available there is less protest, that is the mechanisms through which constituents can voice demands to elites matter. If they are available and are peaceful then there will be no energy spent on protests, though there will be frequent complaints. Now the french have a lot of protests, but this does not mean there is something about french culture. There is an infrequent feedback between elites and constituents and protests are the final step in times of dissatisfaction to voice their opinion  to their leaders. Actual violence and impeachment is another last resort mechanism of feedback to elites. What emerges is a gradation of resorts to interact with elites that become progressively more violent and infrequent as mechanisms to voice opinions and protests decline and become less frequent in the windows of opportunity allowed to voice opinions. So the Egyptian regime ended with mass demonstrations because of the dissonance between the power relations in society and the approach taken by their leaders.

I should clarify here that one of the assumptions is a model for election i read in Perzeworsky’s article on do institutions matter? The  theory behind why losers go home when they lose an election. According to herodotus Initially all men were equal, if a community disagreed they would fight it out and those larger in number would win. Elections were instituted to determine the results of the battle without actually battling. Men would go on different hills, yell, and the louder yell would win the vote. Thus the losers go home because they know they would lose anyway. This is a nice myth behind elections but it proves a point, if those greater in number are not represented in the institutions of governance, they could under primitive conditions simply kill the minority at the top. Now there are problems of collective action and Montesquieu comes in here and technology can give an advantage and external economic support can insulate leaders, but this can only work for so long. The greater the suppression the larger the explosion that normalizes the relation between social distribution and institutional elite distribution (again egypt, also black swan Taleb hypothesis). I would argue this is inevitable, though the more complicated the suppression the longer the time before dissonance between rulers and ruled explodes.

Now with the assumption that power relation in society eventually filter into rulers in some form we can continue with the elaboration of the masses side of the equation/. This brings us to violent revolution and social unrest and perhaps even suicide bombing. If every venue of social feedback is shut down (ofcourse rulers will try to socialize society in their image, perhaps in north korea this has been successful) if every venue for social feedback is shut down and the leaders behave in ways that are dissonant to the desires of the power relations in society, eventually more violent recourse will be pursued. In terms of suicide bombing the disparity is so great, the rulers so different from society that the structural conditions are met that would encourage certain individuals to kill themselves to send a message to the leaders. That is the language that the rulers speak to the ruled in becomes one of violence, so the ruled can only speak back through violence, that is the only discourse understood between the two partners. Continuous dissonance of the extreme sort as in palestine or in Pakistan, or in Tamil, is so extreme that the only mechanism left for feedback to the ruled is violence of self sacrifice. Ofcourse this is only one aspect i would not discount the role of ideology, interests, and institutions in structurally allowing such outcomes, but a regime in which mechanisms exist for voicing objections and allowing elites to react to them would not allow such violence. Perhaps the extreme oppression would also mean that the electoral function loses its logic, we no longer know which group of men have the loudest voice, so minorities may think they are majorities. That is perhaps what is happening in Iraq. This also does not bode well for the powerless feelings and reality caused by globalization.

So in brief I guess this is my general theory that I think operates in all human societies regardless of time and place. At base are economic interest driven assumptions about human behavior through institutions. THis ignores the role of ideas and socialization to some extent and that is unfortunate but it can take those as assumed without looking into them.

Anthropological foundation for universal morality

Reading: Frank De Waal; Desmond Morris


I am trying to find a foundational position on which to expound universal morality. Kant failed miserably, and I think others are too immersed in their own definitions of morality to be able to provide universal moral like the UN human rights charter. Reading the morality of chimps and Benobos and the moral modes of earlier forms of human society it becomes clear that there is something like a vague sense of fairness. Perhaps not morality but a sense of what is just and what is unjust emerges from these studies. Culture and religion seem to build on this but at base there is a foundational commonality in all religions (such as the golden rule).

Ofcourse this is fraught with risks of anachronism and backwards projection of present morals, perhaps I just need to find some universal moral foundation. (murder seems to be morally sanctioned for example). Perhaps it really doesn’t exist.

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Literature Review

It would be great if instead of doing this exercise over and over again, if there was a website that would have lists of lit reviews and we could just copy and paste or paraphrase them and save ourselves all that work. It would be updated and perhaps agreed upon by a community.  Maybe I’m just lazy.

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