The Tao of Dictatorship

Builds Upon: Fairness Is Irrelevant On The Macroscale: A Truth of Human Nature

We look at history and at the present and what pattern do we see? Millennia of dominance of the most aggressive, ruthless, and pragmatic individuals. Idealists and moralists have triumphed on occasion only to discover that their ideas don’t actually work in real life. In a frenzied attempt to make the world fit their vision, they sometimes become worse than the tyrants they replaced.

We also see:
Benevolent rulers tend to be assassinated and betrayed, tyrants more often die in their sleep. In our times, even third world dictators who get deposed end up living a horrible life in exile on the French Riviera with mountains of cash embezzled from their own people.

Why do the most ruthless people tend to succeed while idealists usually fail miserably?

The answer is fairly simple. As horrible as tyrants may be, they are much more in tune with the true nature of things.

Idealists live off of theory and dreams.
Tyrants face the world in terms of stark realities.

The successful ruler stays safe from his own followers through fear. If the risk of an attempt to grab power outweighs potential benefits the system stays stable.

The common people? If kept on the bare brink of survival, they have no time or energy to organize and rebel. The slightest concession to the commoners will only enable them to engage in civil unrest.

So many successful rulers have been tyrants for a reason. They are what the system selects for. If not already a tyrannical, corrupt person at their accession to power, the ruler must get in tune with the Tao of Dictatorship if they want to survive for long.

In such a world, what is a person of benevolent intentions to do? Engage in more moral theory? Create more fictions in which the bad guy is easily winning until an improbable plot twist at the very end?

Clearly staying within the cocoon of idealism is a recipe for failure. Yet the persistence of idealists is summed up by the good guy who fails to take advantage of the bad guy’s moment of weakness with the rationalization: “If I did that, I would be just like you.”
Every time, the bad guy responds by taking advantage of the hero’s moment of hesitation. Every time the bad guy dies, often by some ridiculous self-inflicted accident in order to keep the hero’s hands clean to the end.

In real life, the hero would die while prevaricating. The bad guy wins.

The fictional hero always rejects the Way of the world, preferring to live on a mythical Olympus.
The real hero ends up dead or disenfranchised.
Or worse, the idealists actually end up in power. A month of Thermidor, Puritan England, Calvinist Geneva, or Bolshevik Russia fueled by righteous frenzy ensues.

Are we to despair of any good in our world then?

Well, what about embracing instead of eschewing the Way of the universe?

Is the universe such a bad place or do the benevolent insist on keeping their hands clean while leaving the ruthless as unchallenged kings of the hill?

Could the benevolent person get further by focusing on the way things work before the way they should work?

As a teenager, I was inspired when I came across the ‘Art of Worldly Wisdom’ by a 17th century Jesuit monk named Baltasar Gracian. No other source I’d read offered such a gentle, benevolent, and insightful alternative to a ruthless Machiavellian approach.
He was the first writer I encountered who showed me that the benevolent person need not, must not be willfully ignorant of the ways of society and human nature.

I also remember being blown away when I first read about a Bangladeshi banker named Muhammad Yunus. This man had come up with the idea of jumpstarting commerce in impoverished communities through a system of microloans. The idea proved to be self-sustaining and even profitable. It remains for me a great example of intelligent benevolence.
This man showed himself superior in every way to the simplistic idealists who perpetuate and exacerbate the root problems they’re fighting by continuously throwing donations at dysfunctional countries and keeping their populations locked in increasingly desperate, poverty-stricken cycles of unsustainable population growth.

If benevolence can be in harmony with the Way, why does it seem to be the exception rather than the rule?

Perhaps because humans still operate on impulses of morality and justice that worked in tribal sized groups but which lead to a dysfunctional dynamic in a mass society?
When one’s loved ones are people and the faceless millions of others are a statistic, perhaps the result is a system that selects for those who divide and conquer through the most brutal of tyranny.

One who strives to observe intelligent benevolence would first cultivate an understanding of the underlying problems and then harness a certain Tao of things just as the dictators have. In this perhaps lies hope of breaking the same old cycles that pervade the human story thus far.

Self Elimination of Ideas

Builds Upon: The Proper Place of Reason,
When Should Instinct Be Ignored?,
The Bicycle and the Chasm

Those who habitually engage their intellect are notorious for becoming obsessed with abstract ideas that are of little relevance in an actual human life. Or rather, they set out to ponder an issue of critical importance and invariably end up stuck somewhere in the intricate machinery of assumptions and arguments that underpin the most basic ideas. To the layman, nothing seems more absurd than pondering whether or not we actually exist.

Going through such exercises is important; it teaches one to use the mind in new ways, to think deeply of things we take for granted. These exercises disrupt and challenge the mind’s habitual complacency.

However, these are exercises. Many thinkers make the error of treating such questions as an end unto themselves.
Philosophy at the academic level in particular seems to have receded into the endless consideration of irrelevant minutia.

Let’s take a classic question:

Do our senses lie to us?

Well, it’s clear our senses don’t give us a completely accurate representation, but most of us are confident that we’re given a representation of something real. What choice do we have? What good can we possibly do by asking whether the feedback from our senses could be counterfeit? What reason do we have to seriously suppose that the universe we perceive is counterfeit? Who or what would create the counterfeit? If counterfeit, why does acting on our perception generally seem to work? If it works, does it matter whether our senses lie or not?

Generally, we live life without asking such questions at every turn. By default, we eliminate such ideas and questions from our stream of thought. These are types of thoughts that will not only cause distraction, they will lead nowhere. When it comes to the veracity of our senses, we can speculate, but we really can’t get anywhere.

A thinker is generally on a quest for truth. Yet just what truth are they looking for? Often, it is truth in the most logical sense. An idea that is logically reasoned to be true must be embraced even should it means one’s own potential destruction. To do so is touted as being intellectually honest and logical.

Let us look at a person who embraces nihilism because it seems to be the most likely truth. What are the results of seriously adopting nihilism? There is no purpose, no point, nothing to life. There is no reason why a nihilist shouldn’t immediately shoot and then eat their own family members.
Indeed, plenty of academics and philosophers have gotten caught in the trap of meaninglessness and ennui. So much so, that a fashionably depressed academic/playwright/poet/author with suicidal tendencies has become little more than a cliché.

The intellect is very like money.
The more one has,
The more rope to hang oneself with.
The more one has,
The greater the potential for wellbeing

How do we know if we’re doing well with the gifts life has given us? The answer I suppose lies in watching a dog excitedly wag its tail as it greets its master. It is simple minded in comparison to a human and lives in the present.
The critical question is to look at a contented animal and ask: “Has my intellect made me better off?”
For one who has reason to believe they are of above average intelligence, they may look at the layman and ask themselves, “Am I truly better off?”

Judging by this standard, I would suppose your stereotypical depressed professor is someone very deep in debt. They have used their gifts poorly and would be better off as a happy dog, unable to comprehend the crushing pointlessness of the universe.

Thus in a way, the idea of nihilism self eliminates.

To judge the veracity of an idea solely on its formal logical truth is a mistake.

More importantly:

What fruit does it bear in actual implementation?

Like a lot of bibliophilic young people I spent hours pondering classic questions of philosophy and debating them with my friends at our favorite Chinese buffet. It got my cranial juices flowing and encouraged me to think critically.

Yet once one has been through a lot of the issues and gotten nowhere, one starts seeing the critical weaknesses in every idea and ideology out there. Nothing seems to really hold up any more against deep examination. The most brilliant of apologetics seem mere rationalizations. There are shadows of doubt in every aspect of life. Reason begins to show its ability to become a suffocating, crippling influence.

I think the depressed poet/professor is someone who gets sucked into this and never again gets out.

In my case, I spent enough time wrestling with the big issues eventually to realize there was no definite answer, that I could spend a lifetime at it. Relative(nihilism, determinism) and Absolute(theodicy, lack of evidence) morality for instance were both riddled with gaping holes. Most of the writers on the subject seemed like apologists on a technical level looking always for clever loopholes no one’s ever thought of before to justify their respective side.

Thus one must find a way to bypass the problem and move on to inquiries that have the potential to yield results.

In other words: What works?

One can become lost in formal method and start to move from philosophy into mathematics.
If one predicates one’s chain of reasoning from actual results, there is something to anchor to and prevent oneself from drifting into irrelevancy.

Let’s take a monotheistic religion: Christianity because it’s going to be familiar to most English speakers.

Using pure reason, there doesn’t seem to be any particularly compelling argument to believe in it. There are no youtube videos of (the original)Christ’s death and resurrection. There seems to have been several different schools of Christianity that arose from the first followers. The school that’s been passed down to us is just the victor that wrote all the history books. Which school would have been closest to Christ’s actual teachings?

The strictly rational response is to look at all the lack of substantial evidence for the entire religion and the violent squabbles and power politics of early Christians. Far from being sacred, they behaved like any other group in their struggles for dominance.

Yet millions of faithful Christians recoil from these justifications. The strict reasoner quickly dismisses them as gullible fools.

Now, lets look at the physical truth of a religion. It hasn’t done much to prevent bad behavior in humans towards groups of outsiders, but it does seem like it has a great effect on internal social cohesion. Faith provides a sense of purpose to believers, churches are important communal meeting places where anyone can go and find a group of people to associate with. Christianity has no flawless justification; faith is required. But for many people it manifests in their lives in a good way. A way that has the potential to put them above the simple contentedness of an animal. Even the aspect of faith and uncertainty has a way of helping one face all of life’s uncertainties. Thus it feels right and rings true for them.

To an exhaustive reasoner, nothing is so odious as to accept something because it has the right feel.
To do so is to sell out and succumb to our illogical instincts and delusional wishful thinking.

Yet how does reasoned skepticism towards everything manifest in our lives? Too often, as another depressed professor deep in intellectual debt.

I do not consider myself Christian, but by reasoning from the universe rather than from the immaterial, I can much better understand why even most critically minded people have historically chosen religion despite its obvious shortcomings.

By judging an idea first by its results rather than becoming stuck in technicalities, one can allow irrelevant or unprofitable concerns to self-eliminate, leaving one free to deal rationally and decisively with the most important matters: matters with the potential for meaningful resolution, the potential to move forward.

The Proper Place of Reason

Builds Upon: Photography, Transience, Memories

Reason is not a religion, it is a tool.

There are those who have attained a state of pure reason after sustaining brain damage. Rather than being paragons of a new rational humanity, they usually have trouble getting out of bed in the morning.
Without emotion, staying in bed indefinitely is just as good as saving humanity. It makes no difference.
Someone who can no longer feel is perfectly reasonable but they have lost all ability to make value judgments about what reason ought to be applied to.

Reason is a tool, and a human being of pure reason is but a tool without a user. Without any emotionally driven will, one’s haphazard efforts collapse into confusion. If choices cannot be emotionally weighed, all choices are effectively the same. How then does one choose?

It is our inner drive and desire that make doing anything worthwhile. It is the emotional being that tells us where we want to be. Reason is our tool for actually getting there.

Once we have something to reason about, we use our imaginations to create a model of the universe without all the things we are unable to define. This leaves us with a body of information our faculty of reason can properly work with.

Unfortunately, it has become commonplace to confuse a quantitative model of the universe for the universe itself.

Those who see the observable and quantifiable as the sole reality are bound to hit barriers. Barriers that can only be removed through incontrovertible proof. Such a meticulous approach has allowed humans to achieve amazing levels of understanding of the universe but it is not necessarily the best approach outside of controlled laboratory conditions.
Consider a courtroom:
Criminals generally don’t want to commit crimes in front of witnesses. Thus the essential role of circumstantial evidence that can eliminate all reasonable doubts. A scientific approach to the case would only be able to produce convictions in the most obvious of cases.
Jurors are forced to rely on their instincts and intuition in arriving at a verdict.

In every day life, reason is indispensable in telling us what possibilities are most likely, but it is either too time consuming or impossible to be absolutely sure in most situations.

Reason is like a ship that can get us as far as the next land. Without it, we would be lost at sea. But once arrived, it is the intuition that must disembark and explore inland.

The intuition can lead us astray, but once astray we can return to reason and figure out what most likely went wrong. By repeating this refining process we arrive at an answer that would be inaccessible to pure reason. By repeating, we hold our intuition accountable to truths achievable by reason and thereby keep it fine tuned to the nature of the universe.
This process involves applying a sort of intuitive calculus:
We can’t ever be completely certain, any given hypothesis can only approach certainty. It’s all about eliminating reasonable doubts.
Where no reasonable doubts remain, formal science can attempt to produce a proof.

As a man with no emotions cannot make value judgments, a stubbornly literal minded scientist won’t be able to figure out the right questions to ask or the best ways of exploring them.
Though the power of reason cannot be doubted, it is still a tool in the hands of the intuitive self.