Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Right wing policy is never about political or economic effectiveness.

It's always about creating hierarchies, and excluding those lower down the hierarchy from power and opportunity.

Whatever other arguments are used, that's always the bottom line.

So although asking what universities are for is a valid question, I think it's more important to underline again that all of the economic and political arguments reduce to an excuse to punch the poor in the face.

That may not seem very helpful, but I think it's useful to understand what the aim is - and also to understand that the only useful opposition is a broad-scale movement aimed at keeping the kinds of people who enjoy punching the poor in the face away from political and economic power.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Dec 3rd, 2010 at 08:40:33 AM EST
a broad-scale movement aimed at keeping the kinds of people who enjoy punching the poor in the face away from political and economic power.

great idea, but how?

psychotherapists on every corner, (next to the lottery ticket sellers)?

emotional intelligence SATs?

old kindergarten cctv footage of kids pulling wings off flies used as filter for political aspirants?

i have some weird vision of how they test for peoples' gay tendencies, showing them porn and seeing what they get excited for...

showing people getting bribes and shilling for invisible hucksters and seeing who perks up?

you must have some ideas on how to effect this noble dream, or are they all in the next book?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Dec 3rd, 2010 at 09:48:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If I understand you well, there are two postulates in your comment:

First, for most of the people in (political, economic...) power, their main (only?) motivation is a sadistic need to "punch the poor in the face" and they enjoy it.  

Second, a significant number of people are by essence, psychopaths who "enjoy punching the poor in the face" and, in the current system, they tend to reach powerful positions. Conversely, other people are immune from this "disease", and deserve to be in power without any risk for them to abuse this power.

Am I rightly understanding your vision of society?

"People only accept change when they are faced with necessity, and only recognize necessity when a crisis is upon them." - Jean Monnet

by Melanchthon on Fri Dec 3rd, 2010 at 10:18:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd be more nuanced than that. The sociopathy runs on a continuum from simple stupidity and lack of awareness at one extreme to outright clinical personality disorder at the other.

As someone I know who used to work for an MP said - "These people are nuts."

Usefully, politics is set up so that it's possible to avoid awareness of political consequences until a mob turns up and burns your house down.

Lack of direct experience of consequences is built into economics as a feature. If I have to fire X people to cut costs, the fate of those people no longer interests me. But the state of my balance sheet does.

Exploring all of this in detail would be a book-sized project.

But in practice, it does boil down to poor punching - unrestrainedly so in the US, slightly less so in the UK (at least for now), and moderately less so in countries like France, perhaps because the poor have more of a history of punching back.

Anyone who wants to know more about how far rhetoric and action by the Right would go without opposition could do worse than review the 19th century history of the English Poor Laws - which I had to write about recently for a UK magazine, and which I'm still traumatised by.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Dec 3rd, 2010 at 11:31:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But you didn't answer my second remark. Do you think these people are psycho-sociopaths from the beginning and once and for all? And the non-sociopathic ones cannot adopt the same behaviour once in power. If so, as you say, the solution is very simple: we just have to prevent these psycho-sociopaths from reaching powerful positions. Now, we have the problem mentioned by melo: how can we detect them? And how to detect them early enough, before they can do harm? In kindergarten?

Oh, and while I've seen some managers go a long way to avoid firing people, some of the worst management practices I've witnessed were taking place within non-profit organisations led by sincere leftists...

"People only accept change when they are faced with necessity, and only recognize necessity when a crisis is upon them." - Jean Monnet

by Melanchthon on Fri Dec 3rd, 2010 at 12:24:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Clinically, psychopathy seems to be related to brain measurable brain dysfunction. Sociopathy is slightly fuzzier, but there are established clinical questionnaires that are used for diagnosis, and they seem fairly reliable.

My suggestion is that the political feedback loops we have now - many of which are fall under that thing called "economics" - reward and enforce sociopathic behaviour in corporate and political contexts. Individuals who are that way inclined find it easy to thrive. Individuals who aren't, don't, but may find themselves acting in ways that perpetuate that culture in opposition to their private values.

Pre-university education matters too, but that's a different topic.

Left/Right is a one-dimensional measure for a multi-dimensional phenomenon. You can of course have Left-wing sociopathy. But there's not so much of it around at the moment and it's not so visible, because active sociopaths will go where the power is - and that's not currently on the Left. At the moment there isn't enough juice in the Left to keep the crazies happy there. It's true this might change in the future.

In practice the distinction is between empathetic and exploitative behaviour. Currently rather a lot of the latter has pooled on the Right.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Dec 3rd, 2010 at 02:07:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So you're suggesting that every candidate to an election should  undergo a test to detect potential sociopathy and that those whose result is positive should be barred from running? I suppose this should apply to any position involving some power, be it political, economical or other...

This raises a few questions:

  • at what level of power should the testing start?
  • as you said there is "a continuum from simple stupidity and lack of awareness at one extreme to outright clinical personality disorder ", wher should be the threshold and who would decide about it?
  • what should be done with those who are identified as sociopaths? Should they wear a badge in order to warn other people about them?
  • what about the false positives?


"People only accept change when they are faced with necessity, and only recognize necessity when a crisis is upon them." - Jean Monnet
by Melanchthon on Fri Dec 3rd, 2010 at 05:57:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually the main question it raises is why we seem to fill important decision-making posts on the basis of irrelevant qualities, such as scripted speech-making, glibness, media presence, seriousness™ and visual appeal.

Would you fill an engineering position without evidence of competence? Would you hire a plumber because of their charm?

Why do we set the bar so low for politicians, economists and bankers?

Let's be clear about this - this isn't about dining room discussion. This is about selecting individuals who are given powers that include ecocide, genocide, state-sanctioned violence of all kinds including economic violence against their own populations, and international war-making.

Should we not select the people who make these decisions on the basis of aptitude, emotional stability, basic competence and ability to accurately model consequences?

How many more people have to die because of preventable wars and preventable poverty before the risk of a false positive becomes acceptable, in your opinion?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Dec 3rd, 2010 at 06:24:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My own sense and observation of the last fifty years of US society tends to confirm TGB's thesis that US business and political structures are such that people with what reasonably could be called socio-pathic characteristics have an advantage in business and politics. But it is complicated.

The contracting company for which I worked the longest time as an employee had a president who was a very astute businessman. A colleague who worked closely with him as an estimator was of the opinion that, to be successful, a company had to have a president with the morals of a thief, and that our CEO qualified well in those regards. I always felt that I was limited in what I could do for that company because he feared that I was not sufficiently ruthless. But our president had another side as well and was genuinely concerned with the welfare of his long time employees and with fair treatment. One year, when all of the business turned out to be work that I was involved with, I was the only employee to get a bonus.

After I became self-employed I found my reluctance to follow the official line when I knew it to be bullshit to be a detriment to my success, both when working for public and private companies. Those situations are what taught me that there was an analog to Gresham's Law that operated in organizations: that counterfeit competence and integrity would drive the genuine article out of circulation.

It was my experience with educational institutions as a consultant that revealed the extent to which careerist considerations trumped technical and economic factors in decision making. The people I saw doing these things were not fools -- far from it. Neither were they unambiguously evil. But the consequences came to be that vast amounts of public monies were squandered as a result of turf wars, personal power plays and, in some cases, personal gain. The result is that the public got only about two thirds of what it could have gotten under the culture and methods that had existed up to the mid-'70s.

It was also my experience that the higher one went in the organizational chart, the more callous the people could be -- not always -- but often enough. The pattern seemed worse in private companies. It is built into the culture. People use that fact to justify what otherwise would be unjustifiable. "Only doing what they have to do to survive." "If I don't do it, you know somebody else will." And so they will.

The problem is finding something effective that can be done about this situation. Many who are likely the most serious cases of sociopathy, or outright psychopathy, are brilliant people who could respond to a psychological assessment instrument in a way that would make them look like a saint, but they are scarcely likely to ever be subjected to such an ordeal. But denying the existence of the problem doesn't help either. It is a quandary.

The problem is that it costs so much more to build things today than it did 40 years ago while, at the same time, we are now less able to afford to build needed facilities than we then were. It is with such considerations in mind that I recommend making all dealings with public money, at a minimum, subject to anonymous recording by any and all participants while providing substantial rewards for whistle-blowing and protections for the whistle-blowers.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Dec 7th, 2010 at 09:14:43 PM EST
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