Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » September 2005 » Top-Down-Management and Worldviews:

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09/08/2005: Top-Down-Management and Worldviews:

This is a piece I’ve been working on about the larger and far reaching conclusions to be drawn from “Collapse” (by Jared Diamond) and the analogies he posits to current problem solving situations are relevant to this national and wider worldview level.

This is NOT a “political diatribe” at any particular person, governments or agencies, and the references to the Hurricane Katrina disaster are only as necessary (by others) to illustrate certain points.

To read these views, click on the “more” button.

From “Collapse”:

“[E]ven after a society has anticipated, perceived, or tried to solve a problem, it may still fail for obvious possible reasons: the problem may be beyond our present capacities to solve, a solution may exist but be too prohibitively expensive, or our efforts might be too little too late. Some attempted solutions backfire and make the problem worse…[and] many past societies lacked the detailed ecological knowledge that now permits us to cope better with the problems they faced. Other of those problems continue to resist solution today…

Thus, human societies and smaller groups may make disastrous decisions for a whole sequence of reasons: failure to anticipate a problem, failure to perceive it once it has arisen, failure to attempt to solve it after it has been perceived, and failure to succeed in attempts to solve it….

But its’ also obvious that societies don’t regularly fail to solve their problems. If that were true, all of us would now be dead of else living again under the Stone Age conditions of 13,000 years ago….

It’s a large subject why some groups (or individual leaders) followed one of the paths to failure…while others didn’t. The answer partly depends on idiosyncrasies of particular individuals and will defy prediction…

[There are] examples of courageous leaders and courageous peoples [to] give me hope. They make me believe that this book on a seemingly pessimistic topic is really an optimistic book. By reflecting deeply on causes of past failures, we too…may be able to mend our ways and increase our chances for future success...”

and what you have to consider is this point by Timothy Ash about what he calls a It always lies below : A hurricane produces anarchy. Decivilisation is not as far away as we like to think, by Timothy Garton Ash (The Guardian):
”... Katrina's big lesson is that the crust of civilisation on which we tread is always wafer thin. One tremor, and you've fallen through, scratching and gouging for your life like a wild dog.

You think the looting, rape and armed terror that emerged within hours in New Orleans would never happen in nice, civilised Europe? Think again. It happened here, all over our continent only 60 years ago. Read the memoirs of Holocaust and gulag survivors, Norman Lewis's account of Naples in 1944, or the recently republished anonymous diary of a German woman in Berlin in 1945. It happened again in Bosnia just 10 years ago. And that wasn't even the force majeure of a natural disaster. Europe's were man-made hurricanes.

The basic point is the same: remove the elementary staples of organised, civilised life - food, shelter, drinkable water, minimal personal security - and we go back within hours to a Hobbesian state of nature, a war of all against all. Some people, some of the time, behave with heroic solidarity; most people, most of the time, engage in a ruthless fight for individual and genetic survival. A few become temporary angels, most revert to being apes.

The word civilisation, in one of its earliest senses, referred to the process of human animals being civilised - by which we mean, I suppose, achieving a mutual recognition of human dignity, or at least accepting in principle the desirability of such a recognition. (As the slave-owning Thomas Jefferson did, even if he failed to practise what he preached.) Reading Jack London the other day, I came across an unusual word: decivilisation. The opposite process, that is, the one by which people cease to be civilised and become barbaric. Katrina tells us about the ever-present possibility of decivilisation.

So never mind Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilisations". That, as the old Russian saying goes, was long ago and not true anyway. What's under threat here is simply civilisation, the thin crust we lay across the seething magma of nature, including human nature. New Orleans opened a small hole through which we glimpsed what always lies below. The Big Easy shows us the Big Difficult, which is to preserve that crust.

In political preaching mode, we may take Katrina as an appeal to get serious about addressing these challenges, which means the great blocs and the great powers of the world - Europe, America, China, India, Russia, Japan, Latin America, the UN - reaching for a new level of international cooperation. But on a sober analysis, we may venture a more pessimistic conclusion: that somewhere around the year 2000 the world reached a high point in the diffusion of civilisation, to which future generations may look back with nostalgia and envy.

As so often, I hope I'm wrong….”

Or this idoelogival worldview of judicial philosophy as explained in this piece: The Real World: Why judicial philosophies matter, by Risa Goluboff and Richard Schragger. This article is about what the authors refer to as the “Constitution in exile;” a judicial philosophy that debates “a parsimonious view of federal power, the answer to that question is: not much. Their philosophy of limited government, states' rights, and local control belittles the place of the federal government in our system. To the conservative jurist, the federal government is inevitably something to be feared; they assume that centralized power only leads to a loss of liberty.”

A further except is below:
” The two key constitutional commitments of those who would make government small enough to "drown in a bathtub"—as conservative Grover Norquist puts it—are the doctrines of federalism and individual property rights. Together, these two doctrines comprise what some conservatives call the "Constitution in Exile." The Constitution in Exile sees government as the enemy of individual rights. It insists that the preservation of such rights requires that government refrain from amassing power. And the individual rights it deems paramount are those of property and contract—rights that, if taken to the lengths the conservative jurists propose, would hobble government power as we now know it. The Constitution in Exile is, in many ways, the Constitution that existed before the New Deal.

Since at least the New Deal, and in some circumstances even earlier, federal officials, Supreme Court justices, and the American populace have replaced that limited vision with an alternative model of federal power. The modern constitutional vision remembers that the purpose of the Constitution is to provide for the general welfare. The general welfare in turn requires the government to affirmatively ensure the safety and security of the person, to maintain the minimal material conditions necessary to sustain one's civil and political life.

Under this vision, federal power is used to protect the weak and the vulnerable rather than harm them. Under this vision, individual rights require affirmative steps by the government, rather than passive restraint. Private power—and in the case of Katrina, the forces of nature—can pose greater threats to individual liberty than public power. It is, this New Deal vision holds, only government power that creates such liberty...

Yet shrinking government even more than it's been trimmed already is precisely the goal of the Constitution in Exile. Such a Constitution is a figment. It invokes nostalgia for an agrarian society with individualistic values of self-reliance that may never have existed, and that certainly disappeared entirely more than a century ago. It is a world in which FEMA, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services—not to mention Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance—do not exist or are severely constrained.

The outrage Americans on both sides of the political spectrum have expressed toward the sluggish federal response to Katrina suggests just how divorced the Constitution in Exile, and those who reify it, is from the expectations of the great majority of the population. Those left stranded in New Orleans felt acutely the absence, the national government's abdication of responsibility, but they were hardly alone. Reporters, commentators, and politicians everywhere had no doubt that resolution of this crisis was a job for the national government—and that the national government had failed miserably. None of them could possibly support a Constitution in Exile. The very idea offends, when the need for government is so dire.

Judicial philosophies are not abstractions. They represent visions of a Constitution that are used to govern our very real world. Those who would reinstate the so-called Constitution In Exile would turn their backs on 75 years of federal commitment to protecting individuals. They would indeed have a federal government that they can "drown in a bathtub"; an unfortunate but telling metaphor after the events of the last week. No judge should be confirmed to the Supreme Court unless he or she repudiates that worldview. The consequences are no longer merely academic.”

What these various pieces illustrate is that the entire notion of reverting to an “originality” of some Constitutional and Federal governance to a 1700’s view of individual reliance and operating as a mere collection of 50 states, or even worldwide as *country by country*, may not be sufficient Top-Down- Management to prevent just these types of societal disasters and eventual collapses if enough of them are allowed to occur.

This concept as stated by Timothy Ash above:”which means the great blocs and the great powers of the world - Europe, America, China, India, Russia, Japan, Latin America, the UN - reaching for a new level of international cooperation;” IS the issue on a greater global scale, but also about our own very National worldview in a microcosm of the larger issues facing an entire interconnected planetary system of resources and consequences. Each succeeding generation that views this long-term look as *too abstract*- too distant - to affect the “here and now” to worry about, put yet another nail in the coffin of our ability to handle far ranging and potentially devastating consequences for all.

I believe we need not only a sufficient Top-Down-Managment on a National level, but to work more aggressively on a worldwide level too.

Karen on 09.08.05 @ 11:43 AM CST

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