Monday, July 20, 2015

Invented In Violence



- I’ve been busy reading. Two more books, one by a Greek economist, the other by an American anthropologist. Both are recent.*
- What do they have in common?
- They're about how people act in large groups. The American, David Graeber, writes about bureaucracy, the Greek, Yanis Varoufakis, writes about international trade and finance. The anthropologist says that group members obey rules under threat of violence.
- And you don't agree?
- Of course I do. We’ve said the same thing many times. For all I know the anthropologist is getting his ideas from us. He says that when, under threat of violence, you obey a rule or force others to, you are not allowed to act with full human respect and understanding. He says further that groups pretend they are reasonable and impartial, and this is never true. Organization men and women lie by rule, but at the same time have to obey the rule ordering them to say they are not lying. Now the book by the economist describes large financial groups acting with a different kind of violence we've also talked much about. After WWII the United States had more to trade than its trading partners, so it decided to help Germany and Japan recover and be able to buy more from America. This worked, but by 1971 the United States had stopped having more to trade than the other countries. It had spent too much money on wars and tax cuts for the rich. Another strategy was come up with: the government printed money and borrowed, and the financial organizations figured out a way to make up their own money in the form of loans other countries could invest in. There was nothing behind these investments except the sense that American institutions could get away with anything because of the security provided by the military, and the well tested ability of business to get the government to act in its interest. All concerned lied about what they were really doing, as the anthropologist explained all bureaucracies do. They lied because to lie is obeying one of their rules. They lied about what they were doing, but how they ended up doing it they couldn't have said even if they wanted to. They had acted in the blindness of that other kind of violence: not the violence of being coerced into obeying rules, but the violence of investing in this new way because everyone else was investing; the violence of recklessly acting without real knowledge, not even following rules, the violence of acting together in the heat of passion, each following the other's lead like a panicked herd, each animal responding thoughtlessly to the movement of the others. My question to you is, how are the two kinds of violence related, if they are, the violence of the herd and the violence behind obedience to rules?
- They're related. Rules are created in violence, the violence of the herd is how rules are formed. In the economist's story, financial institutions, all investing in the same kind of loans based on nothing, doing this without apparent forethought, established the rule, "this is what is to be done", which then after many repetitions could be calmly followed. Reasonable explanations offered for what they were doing were simply lies repeated by rule.
- In fact it was reasonably safe for the financial groups themselves since their ability to get the governments to act in their interest and save them had been tested and confirmed.
- Nonetheless it was a lie that it was in accord with the ostensible rules of how they operated, or that how they operated was in anyone else's interest but their own. 
- Economist Varoufakis says the system collapsed in 2008 because the groups involved created their own money to add to the game of loans based on nothing. Others say the financial groups deliberately redirected the behavior of the herd, started a panic for getting rid of these loans as previously there'd been a panic for buying them. The government paid the financiers' debts, allowing them to acquire the property left as collateral or sold cheap by those not so fortunate. The question I asked you was, how are the two kinds of violence related, if they are?
- Violence, in terms of communication, is what?
- A lie.
- Yes. New rules, justified by lies, are invented in violence. A lie undermines any possibility of cooperation.  People want to know why they do things with each other, not just obey rules and lie in obedience to rules. If you can’t cooperate, see and benefit from the real person you are dealing with, you are left with no other possible action than thoughtlessly following rules and forcing others to. Violence of herd behavior is what forms the rules of the group. And the blindness that acting with violence involves hides from the liars the fact that they are liars. Once individuality has been damaged, once ability has been lost to act on one's own experience, the only security to be found is within the group. Even the violent stampede of the herd is glorious and reassuring when it can be expected to end in the safety of new rules.
- Violence is against the individual in having to obey the rules of the group, and violence is the means by which a group acquires the rules in the first place. Thanks. That's what I wanted to know.
- Don't you want to know how we might otherwise live without obeying the rules of a group?
- No. 
- Why not?
- That is a practical matter of making people materially safe so that they don't have to do violence against themselves following rules of groups they didn't choose to belong to. And people who participate freely in groups, not having lost themselves, don't panic each other creating new rules and new lies.

Further Reading:
Comic Book Heroes
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* 'The Utopia Of Rules', David Graeber
'The Global Minotaur', Yanis Varoufakis