Friday, August 11, 2006

Social Engineering

There are some poisonous snakes in the jungle that are actually creepier than the average activist passivist. Yes, it's true. I encountered a snake once that to this day that gives me shudders. This thing came from somewhere slimy and slithered in front of us and was so deadly that if he'd penetrated my boot I'd have died on the spot. It's all the creepier because two of my companions weren't wearing boots. They were totally at risk and survived only because this thing came for me instead of them. Let's not go into the details of my reaction. Instead of going on about that snake, let's look at Determinists, particularly at Social Engineers.

There are two kinds of people on this Earth: those who are active and and interested in taking care of their own lives to the best of their abilities and interests on their own. Those people are agents of their own lives, those who feel that they have free will and personal volition. Those people feel that they can do what they can do because they are free in the universe of life to act and to do and to be simply because they are alive. They have choice, responsibity, and are deserving of whatever comes to them, good or bad. And they also accept that sometimes things happen that simply out of their control, that there are Act of God, that there are quirks and follies and weirdnesses and accidents and innate properties of existence that are because of the nature of living. They accept that men are men, that trees are green, that this is this, and that is that, and that one might within ones abilities and reason make something into something else if possible. Life is set within boundaries but within those boundaries is as open as the infinity of chess moves in three dimensions or more, tossing in for fun lots of accident. Even Marx, in a moment of poetic inspiration and good sense, writes:

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs on the minds of the living like a mountain."
Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.

And typically he screws it all up. Of course we live from point to point in the course of our time. Within that we are bounded to do as we can. Marx takes it further, out of reality and into the idiot zone. There we find him in company with some of the snakiest intellectuals of our day. We find him in company with our Social Engineers.

Pull on your boots and let's take a hike through the jungle of slimy ideology to see these low and poisonous creatures who would rule from on high. They are the activists of Passivity, the nattering nabobs of nihilism, the Gnostics of Gnada.

Skim over the following dozen or so paragraphs from wikipedia and I'll meet you at the end of it to continue our tour of Gnostic Jungle Phantasy Land.

Social engineering is a concept in political science that refers to efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behavior on a large scale, whether by governments or private groups. In the political arena the counterpart of Social engineering is: Political engineering.

For various reasons, the term has been imbued with negative connotations. However, virtually all law and governance has the effect of changing behavior and can be considered "social engineering" to some extent. Prohibitions on murder, rape, suicide and littering are all policies aimed at discouraging perceived undesirable behaviors. In British and Canadian jurisprudence, changing public attitudes about a behaviour is accepted as one of the key functions of laws prohibiting it. Governments also influence behavior more subtly through incentives and disincentives built into economic policy and tax policy, for instance, and have done so for centuries.

In practice, whether any specific policy is labeled as "social engineering" is often a question of intent. The term is most often employed by the political right as an accusation against any who propose to use law, tax policy, or other kinds of state influence to change existing power relationships: for instance, between men and women, or between different ethnic groups. Political conservatives in the United States have accused their opponents of social engineering through their promotion of political correctness, insofar as it may change social attitudes by defining "acceptable" and "unacceptable" language or acts.

Social engineering through history

Before one can engage in social engineering, one must have reliable information about the society that is to be engineered, and one must have effective tools to carry out the engineering. Both of these only became available relatively recently - roughly within the past one hundred years. The development of social science made it possible to gather and analyze information about social attitudes and trends, which is necessary in order to judge the initial state of society before an engineering attempt and the success or failure of that attempt after it has been implemented. At the same time, the development of modern communications technology and the media provided the tools through which social engineering could be carried out.

While social engineering can be carried out by any organization - whether large or small, public or private - the most comprehensive (and often the most effective) campaigns of social engineering are those initiated by powerful central governments.

Extremely intensive social engineering campaigns occurred in countries with authoritarian governments. In the 1920s, the revolutionary government of the Soviet Union embarked on a campaign to fundamentally alter the behavior and ideals of Soviet citizens, to replace the old social frameworks of Tsarist Russia with a new Soviet culture, to create the New Soviet man. The Soviets used newspapers, books, film, mass relocations, and even architectural design tactics to serve as "social condenser" and change personal values and private relationships. Similar examples are the Chinese "Great Leap Forward" and "Cultural Revolution" program and the Khmer Rouge's plan of deurbanization of Cambodia.

Non-authoritarian regimes tend to rely on more sustained social engineering campaigns that create more gradual, but ultimately as far-reaching, change. Examples include the "War on Drugs" in the United States, the increasing reach of intellectual property rights and copyright, and the promotion of elections as a political tool. The campaign for promoting elections, which is by far the most successful of the three examples, has been in place for over two centuries.

Social theorists of the Frankfurt School in Wiemar Germany like Theodor Adorno had also observed the new phenomenon of mass culture and commented on its new manipulative power, when the rise of the Nazis drove them out of the country around 1930 (many of them became connected with the Institute for Social Research in the United States). The Nazis themselves were no strangers to the idea of influencing political attitudes and re-defining personal relationships. The Nazi propaganda machine under Joseph Goebbels was a synchronized, sophisticated and effective tool for creating public opinion.

Social engineering can be used as a means to achieve a wide variety of different results, as illustrated by the different governments and other organizations that have employed it. The discussion of the possibilities for such manipulation became especially active following World War II, with the advent of television, and continuing discussion of techniques of social engineering - particularly in advertising - is still quite pertinent in the western model of consumer capitalism.

Karl Popper

In his classic political science book, The Open Society and Its Enemies, volume I, The Spell of Plato, Karl Popper examined the application of the critical and rational methods of science to the problems of the open society. In this respect, he made a crucial distinction between the principles of democratic social reconstruction (called 'piecemeal social engineering') and 'Utopian social engineering' [1]

Popper wrote "the piecemeal engineer will adopt the method of searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evil of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its greatest ultimate good." For him, the difference between 'piecemeal social engineering' and 'Utopian social engineering' is "the difference between a reasonable method of improving the lot of man, and a method which, if really tried, may easily lead to an intolerable increase in human suffering. It is the difference between a method which can be applied at any moment, and a method whose advocacy may easily become a means of continually postponing action until a later date, when conditions are more favorable. And it is also the difference between the only method of improving matters which has so far been really successful, at any time, and in any place, and a method which, wherever it has been tried, has led only to the use of violence in place of reason, and if not to its own abandonment, at any rate to that of its original blueprint" [2]

Wikipedia, "Social Engineering."

Plato and Skinner and their ugly babies are Social Engineers. I hate these people because they deny Man's free will and then go about proving themselves hypocrites by actively attempting to control Man by manipulating his life according to their own activist schemes.

Social engineers decide that Man is infantile, and that the social engineer is better suited to arrange the life of Man than the average man himself. The social engineer decides that Man is infantile and is in need of the services of the Gnostic genius who will mould the man's environment to make him suitable for his own existence. It transcends hubris and even contempt for Humanity. It rises to the level of poisonous jungle snakes.

Plato begins this contempt for Man in his proto-fascist utopian nightmare, The Republic, in which Man is divided into metaphoric metals according to Plato's concept of the varying worth of people's abilities to understand and live in their right places in the nature of things. Plato, having no love or respect for the individual as person, reduces all to categories, the Golden Ones at the top, the Gnostics who see further and deeper, those who will become by innate ability, breeding, and training, Philosopher Kings. They will take on the knowledge of the way it really is and then lie to the masses for their own good, the ambiguity being intentional. the Gnostics will have a special knowledge they will use to guide and form the mass of man for his own good. It is exactly social engineering. BF Skinner's utopian Walden Two is little different in tone and temper. People are animals who must be lead, fed, and tended. They are not good in themselves, they are animals. To tend them is a priestly calling reserved for the specialfew.

Man's will, to the extent he has any, is malleable, and he is in need of the special person to make the life of Man good if not perfect. Well, yes, even perfect. It requires the sacrifice and expertise of the specialist, the highly trained social engineer to know what to do to change the environment of Man into something man can live rightly within, in reaction to his social conditions, like a pin ball in a machine going only where he is guided.

Conditions make the man
, according to the social engineer. If one can adjust the conditions, man will fall into right behaviour. He has so little will of his own that he will adapt to conditions regardless. Experts, the Gnostics who know by talent and training, can create such conditions for the right life of Man. Today we see this in practice in nearly every aspect of our daily lives, not as the writer above tries to explain it but in details we reduce to "politically correct" ideology. And of course it's all for our own good. Only a renegade or social wrecker or Kulak would try to prevent this wondrous New Man from arising.

To create the New Man one must create new conditions for him to emerge from. Those new conditions need to be engineered. If the conditions arise organically, they are the same old conditions that give rise to the old world of competition and war and sexism, racism, homophobia, and capitalism. Those, by the by, are bad things. To eliminate those bad things from the Human experience, one must destroy the structures that allow them to arise and then to replace them with new structures that allow for the emergence of the New Man who is free of the ability to do bad or to think bad thoughts, and who knows better how to create the perfect system for Man than the specialist, the special person, the Gnostic?

We've discussed numerous times here and at least as often during our weekly Thursday evening meeting the concept of faith. We often discuss it in relation to the opposite, the gnosis of the hater. The gnostic goes beyond a simple disregard for his fellows and actively decides and then acts to remake the man in the image of the Gnostic's phantasy of what man should be. You and your life, according to the Gnostic, are no good as you are, and you not only must not be and act as you are, you must change according to the visions of the Gnostic. And like it or not, the Gnostic will often have the power, the social and political and practical power to have you killed. Even those who stop short of murder and extermination will go out of their ways to fuck up you life just because you do not conform to their idea of the phantasy they have of how things should be. It would merely be creepy if not for the fact that so many of these snakes are poisoning so many people to the point of death.

Our Human life has a deep suspicion of Human life. We see it clearly and brilliantly even in the works of Plato, and we see it today in the work of our social engineers around the world and in every aspect of our daily lives. The paranoid phantasies of the conspiracy theorist pale to nothing in comparison to the realities of the average school teacher's work in the classroom in a modern city.

Our intelligentsia seem to have bought into the idea that they know something special that the rest of us are too stupid or venal to grasp on our own. But this: Not only are we stupid and venal and barely under control, we actually suffer from false consciousness in thinking we are pretty much OK in our private lives when in fact we are not, according to the knowing Gnostic who sees reality as it is, who sees Moore than the rest of us, who knows that the West is an evil thing destroying The! Palestinian! Peeple!, that the masses of the consumerist West are raping Mother Nature, and so on. These Gnostic creatures, these snakes, are our public intellectuals, and they try to convince the masses, often successfully, that the West is bad and must be either remade or destroyed. Our own hate us because the special people don't see us as Human at all, merely as beasts who must be tended. They have no faith in Humanity as good because they hate Humanity in itself. If the Gnostics didn't hate people they'd leave people alone to do what people do by their own lights. The gnostic hates people, and therefore determines to remake them according to the Gnostic awareness he is blessed with.

The social engineer is a gnostic who hates people. Those who would create a better world are those who would murder millions in a blink of an eye. Yes, we should hunt them down and kill them. They are poisonous snakes in our midsts. But we, not being Gnostics, have the sense to realise that people have the sense often enough to come to a better understanding of their own lives than the Gnostics give them credit for. Most people will, if not already, see the Gnostic vipers for what they are, and then, if we don't lynch these slithery things, we'll at least contain them and display them in glass cages so they can't poison others unawares. Intelligent and sensitive people will spot the snakes for what they are and will take right precautions once it's known who to look for and what. One must have faith that the average person is bright enough to know a snake from a saint. In the meantime, lace up your boots as you walk through the jungle of Modernity. The snakes are hiding. Know who and what they are, and then make sure they don't get too close to get their fangs into you. They will tell you they have some special knowledge you too can have if you follow their advice, but I suspect you have the good sense to know in advance what they offer.


truepeers said...

The problem with the gnostic engineer looking to create "the conditions" for the new man is that his attempt to impose "the conditions" will entail a need to radically reduce the amount of social differentiations that can be recognized as ideologically correct in the gnostic polity. In order to create a model society, he must first reduce an actually existing society to a mental model, and no mental model can possibly take into account all the significant differences on which an actually existing society depends.

Thus the attempt at gnostic social engineering always turns into a Pol Potian nightmare in which social complexity and the freedom it allows are reduced to the basic terms of an ideology.

Though the Gnostics are not very aware of this, what the attempt to impose an ideology and its language on people entails is an attempt to manage, or freeze, the generative source of our social differences, which is the sacred. Instead of allowing the paradoxical effect of any sacred sign to play itself out through various iterations that produce more signs until the paradox is worked through and discounted and a new event of sacred significance emerges within the marketplace to be worked through according to the freedom of the market, the Gnostic works backwards, using the kind of unparadoxical "scientific" language that has evolved out of so many ironings out of generative sources in his attempt to go back and control that sacred source. The futility and danger of this is evident to all except the most hubristic.

Finally, re your Wikipedia article. The authors want to find some basis to defend "social engineering" against those conservatives who lampoon the idea. They want to distinguish bad totalitarian social engineering from things like tax policy - good engineering - and yet still call each "social engineering" to piss off conservatices and justify the professions of bureaucrats. But if a change in a tax policy adds information to our social and economic systems, its results will not be in any way predictable, or comparable to the totalitarian engineer who attempts to reduce the information in the system: the more information, the more complexity, and most likely the more freedom. Even something that at first seems to reduce freedom, say an increase in taxes, can have the opposite effect if it is a genuine addition of something to the system: e.g. raise tobacco taxes and you might create a new underground market that increases people's freedom of choice.

Adding information to the system is the exact opposite of the totalitarian social engineer who must reduce the information in the system and ban all inappropriate speech and thought in order to impose his model of the rational socity. Poliitcal correctness and "multiculturalism" are evil, not because they allow for the "diversity" they pretend to promote, but rather because they have the opposite effect: they reduce the number of meaningful differences in the system in their attempts to control and banish thought(s).

truepeers said...

I might add that I think Plato did quite a lot to add information to the human social systems. Just because some who follow in his path become fascists is not yet reason to denounce Plato. Neoplatonism may be a regrettable intellectual movement, but that's not to say the guy who earlier helped get us beyond primitive religion with his introduction to philosophy should be figured a bad guy. Shouldn't we judge a thinker by the revelatory value of his creation, not by what later folks did with it?

truepeers said...

In other words, should we blame Jesus for the countless gnostics who have come in the wake of his revelation? If Jesus were with us today, would he be a gnostic? I don't think so.

ScottSA said...

As a topic of philosophical discussion, Plato should be given all credit. As a topic of practical contemporary politics, Plato should be dragged behind a pickup truck.

Mind you the same can be said for most philosophers; as western Marxists like Lukacs noted, the transition from theory to praxis can be an insurmountable step. His mistake, along with Hitler and Marx, was in trying. Not once, ever, has changing the circumstance succeeded in changing the nature of Man.

dag said...

Someone rightly claimed that all philosophy is a footnote to Plato. He is the towering genius of philosophical thought, and without him we would likely not have the world opf good we do. Socrates didn't write anything down, and those others who tried to write for him later did such a poor job as to make Socrates a buffon. But in his own terms, Plato is worthwhile beyond nearly all others. My problem with Plato is in his social engineering projects, both theoretical and practical. One of the great jokes in the history of ideas is that Plato was imprisoned by his politcal science pupil who didn't like Plato's totalitarian approach to governance.

I pick on Plato primarily because he is the best of the lot of those who represent the urge to control the masses. He was a categoriser to an extreme extent, sorting people into metals, for example, and promoting the gnostic concept of the philosopher king. And then he also came up with Idealism, a concept in itself that is so stunningly smart and beautiful one can only sit back in admiration of his genius.

The problem I have with Plato is his fear of change. That fear of change is evident in most fascists. Regardless of what it is they don't want it to change. Hence, most fascism is a cranky urge to restore reality to a fantasy past where and when things were perfect; and, as according to Plato's observation, perfection cannot change without becoming less. To restore the Golden Age and to then set it in amber is to indulge in phantasy. To return to Eden is a bad thing, and one the utopians work for as a life project. Marx acts for it as much as does Plato. The perfect place of perfect harmony. In nearly each case I can find, the philosopher demands a return to the the natural, and in doing so he demands a destruction of the city, the ulitimate in unnatural. Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, many of these creatures emptied cities and ordered people into a pre-lapsarian state of subsistence agriculture. One thinker who doesn't argue for this kind of fascist regimentation and perfect order is St Augustine as he writes the City of God. I find that pretty strange. Augustine knew Plato well enough and the neo-platonists far better, and Augustine came out with ideas that transcend the lot. How does this happen? I have no idea. When I compare The City of God to The Republic and The Laws I cannot understand how a clear thinker like Plato, having studied under Socrates could go so wrong while a thinker like Augustine who studied neo-Platonism and became a Christian could get it so right.

So, no, I won't condemn Plato for things the neo-Platonists do; but Plato was not a democrat in any sense, and that, especially given his deep grasp of Socratic elenchus and aporia should have made his work, if not democratic, at least dialectical, which it is not. And Augustine, no great democrat at all, is dialectiacal in ways Plato doesn't begin to approach. It leaves me smiling in the end because the possiblities are so endless after all. TYhe crazed mix of hard core fascists and misogynist Christians turn out to be so hugely complex that one can never say rightly that this is a person born under that sign and therefore this, or some variation on whatever fad from horoscopy to phrenology....

No, I don't blame writers for their followers' efforts and crimes. People are responsible for their own actions at some point. Even those who read the Qur'an are responsible, and I can't rightly advocate banning the damned book. It's just a book, like Mien Kampf is just a book. there are lots of books. It's up to people to act as they will. It's those who don't act as they will but who act as others will them to, there we are in trouble because there is no lack of volunteers for that duty.

On the good side, Plato and Marx and Derrida and the lot of them today are good for us as people generally because they are the opposite side we can argue and fight against, our antitheses, the yins that make our yangs possible. Without these creatures we would possibly find ourselves at the end of histroy and have nothing interesting or exciting to think about. I hate BF Skinner, but when we've trounced him we will certainly find someone else to get worked up about. And if not, there is always sports or space exploration. Regardless, there is a movement and a competition that makes us better in the doing. The socialist nightmare of engineered cooperation and so on is the death of life. I'm happier, as are the totalitarians, when I argue against BF Skinner. The difference is that I'm not going to cut off anyone's head for disagreeing with me.

Yes, more and better ideas, adding to the polity and making it rich. Even taxes! I never would have thought of that.