Why I am a political pessimist (realist?)

The primary reason that I am a pessimist is that from a Martian point of view the trajectory of human history is towards an ecological self-destruction, and there is no remedy in sight.

There are proposed remedies, but the politicians — if they know them, either can’t or don’t want to implement them. As to the masses of people, they are — what can I say? — ignorant and uninterested.

Let me unpack what I just said. The world over — except for Switzerland — executive power is in the hands of single individuals. These individuals are either dictators (or monarchs), or presidents, or prime ministers. In the case of macro liberal democracies — in which thousands or millions vote — both the president and the parliaments are in the hands of the rich. Why? Because it takes advertisement to win elections where thousands and millions are voting. And advertisement takes money which is contributed mostly by the rich. And the rich will support only a candidate that will be beneficial to them. And, as in the United States, we can see that all the Presidents have served the rich. And the trajectory for the future is more of the same: Biden or Trump. Go ahead pick the lesser of your two evils!

With Prime Ministers, the situation is equally dismal. Remember that parliamentarians too have to be elected by thousands or millions of voters; so, they too will predominantly represent the interests of the rich. And the Party with the most members will pick the Prime Minister — obviously he or she will serve the interests of the rich. Take note of Great Britain: Thatcher, Blair, May, Johnson.

What could change these political trajectories? A change, for example, towards Swiss style democracy. But is it in the offing? I am afraid not.

I come now to the masses — the voters. The masses are pessimistic as to any influence they may have on politics; so, many don’t bother voting. Of those who vote, I think that they too are disillusioned, but feel that they must choose the lesser of the evils.

As to my proposal about Switzerland, how many voters even know that there is such a country? And even if they have heard of it, can they locate it on a map?

Here is a video in which people on the street are asked to name any country on a map of the world. Here is the result:

As to knowing what kind of government Switzerland has . . . Ask first if they know what a government is!

People on the Street: What is the Purpose of Government?

What is needed is a change in the system of governments. But such changes in the system of governments occur only rarely, and under starvation or chaotic situations. The so-called recent “revolutions” have not been more than changes in leaderships. And, as far as ordinary people are concerned, changing leaders is a revolution. Consequently, even if conditions become dire, people will clamor for a leader savior. And that is why I am a political pessimist.

John Mearsheimer, the American Machiavelli

John Mearsheimer calls himself a Realist. What does this mean? If we look at the world as a chess game, then Mearsheimer is either a master observer and commentator of chess, or the coach to an American chess player. Below are his thoughts in Feb. 2020.

His thoughts in Jan. 2019:

See also:

Political Realism of John Mearsheimer

Is the United States really interested in a liberal (democracy) hegemony?

My criticism of John Mearsheimer and Timothy Snyder for focusing on ideologies rather than the interests of individual leaders

Police and Soldiers: the Banality of Evil

Hannah Arendt, after studying Adolf Eichmann, concluded that he was just an ordinary man doing his job; though doing his job was a link in the extermination of Jews. When you think about what kinds of jobs people are willing to do . . . well, almost anything.

Look at this image. It is disgusting to see an African in the Congo (during Leopold II of Belgium reign) guarding other Africans as slaves.

[See: Atrocities in the Congo Free State]

It is with same disgust that I look at policemen and soldiers beating and killing their own fellow countrymen. Why do they do this? Because it is their “job” to do so. So, how much do they get paid to do their “job”? [See: The brutal attack of protesters by Chicago police in 1968: ]

In the United States the median salary as reported by Police Officer Salary in the United States is $59,900 per year. And a soldier’s pay with benefits is roughly the same. See MILITARY COMPENSATION: ARMY BENEFITS.

I am reflecting on this because of what is happening in Kazakhstan. According to the following chart, Police Officer Average Salary in Kazakhstan 2022, the average salary is $549.28 per month.

“In Kazakhstan, 4.3% of the population lives below the national poverty line in 2018.”

“The minimum income level below the subsistence minimum in Kazakhstan is $35 per month. Any amount below the minimum is considered as poverty. Between 1998 and 2003, the number of people living in poverty in the country fell from 5 million to 3 million.”

Michael Shermer, the non-skeptical myopic liberal democrat

While searching for interviews with David Wengrow, I came across the podcasts of Michael Shermer, the co-founder of the Skeptic magazine. Since he too is in the business of exposing bullshit, I watched some of his other interviews, and on the basis of what I have watched, it seems to me that he is in the business of Practicing Safe Philosophy.

Let me explain. He espouses critical thinking, but he seems to confine this criticism to exposing pseudo-science and superstitions, including a criticism of religion. But such criticism was already done during the Enlightenment, and those who have not absorbed these criticisms are The Unenlightened. As to the existence of God, there is no need to duplicate such articles as that of C.D. Broad’s Arguments for the Existence of God and The Validity of Belief in a Personal God. As to debunking pseudoscience, there is Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.

Debunking of this sort is fine, but a critical thinker must distinguish between important problems and puzzles. The important problems are “existential,” by which I mean those problems which hinder human animal existence: problems of food, water, shelter, and such. These are economic and political problems.

I wanted to find out Shermer’s stance on political and economic issues. What I found out so far is that he seems to be a moderate conservative. By this I mean that he accepts capitalism and the type of liberal (mass, macro) democracy as found in the United States. His concern is to improve the policies of the government of the United States — like abortion or immigration policies. He is not concerned with, for example, comparing the democratic government of the United States with that of Switzerland. And he seems to be oblivious to an anarchistic federalist alternative. And because he does not consider such varieties of democracy, he is — in my view — myopic.

As an example of what I am saying, let’s consider his latest interview with Brian Klaas, the author of Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us, 2021. Here is the interview:

Comment: Klaas is interested in the question whether corruptible people seek power or whether power corrupts? And Klaas said that his question is ultimately how to fix the system. Both were interested in how to better recruit leaders. But it never even came up to ask the question of whether instead of a single leader, such as a President or a Prime Minister, a Federal Council of seven individuals, as exists in Switzerland, was preferable.

Klaas made a distinction between a dysfunctional democracy and a functional democracy. But what alternative democracies are possible never even came up, except for a sortition (lottery) shadow parliament.

Shermer thinks that the United States is a functional democracy. His criterion of a functional democracy seems to be whether there is free and universal mass voting. That’s all. He also was non-critical about promoting liberal democracy around the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact that both countries were invaded by the United States was — as it were — justified if the US was successful in promoting liberal democracy. And Shermer seems to be ok with the hundreds of US military posts around the world, and proposed that some troops should have remained in Afghanistan.

My impression is that he is playing it politically safe with liberal democracy in having an ongoing popular talk show.

Commentary by Daniel Bitton on David Graeber and David Wengrow’s book, “The Dawn of Everything”

I have read and watched a few reviews and commentaries of the book, and the best of these so far is the following:

7. The Origins of Male Dominance and Hierarchy; what David Graeber and Jordan Peterson get wrong

10. David Graeber & David Wengrow “The Dawn of Everything” critique: The Wisdom of Kandiaronk

10.1 David Graeber & David Wengrow’s “The Dawn of Everything”: What is an “Egalitarian Society”?

Comment: Daniel Bitton, in his video, claimed that David Graeber either ignored or was ignorant of “immediate return societies.” This is not true. [His comments may only apply to material he has read in Graeber before the present book.] On page 128 of their book, we find the following opening sentence: “The greatest modern authority on hunter-gatherer egalitarianism is by general consent, the British anthropologist James Woodburn.” And they go on to talk about the distinction between “immediate return” and “delayed return” economies. And they go on to conclude: “This might sound like the basis of something hopeful or optimistic. Actually, it’s anything but. What it suggests is, again, that any equality worth the name is essentially impossible for all but the very simplest foragers.” [129] Given this judgment, the question is whether an “equality worth the name” is possible or impossible for a complex(?) or larger (?) society. I suggest that to anwer this question we should take note of the various socialistic experiments which were done in the 19th century in the United States (e.g. Shakers, Rappites, etc.), the anarchistic experiments of Nestor Makhno in Ukraine, the Spanish anarchists (1936-9), and the Zapatistas and Rojava today.

10.2 The Dawn of Everything: How Graeber & Wengrow’s book makes us bad at politics

Comment: Daniel Bitton is too optimistic as to what the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381 could have done, as well as to what the Occupy Movement in 2011 could have done. In the former, they made demands which were returned with rhetorical promises; in the latter, if demands were made, they would have been answered with something like: “we will take your demands into consideration.” In both cases, the uprisings were either crushed or disbanded. And if the so-called “colored revolutions” were the inspiration, all they managed to do is to replace one individual with another. Perhaps the right word for this is “coups,” but I would not call them “revolutions.”

After listening to Daniel Bitton’s criticism of David Graeber, which is to the point and very sensible, I listened to some of his other podcasts on “What is politics?” as well as the following two interviews in which he offers his criticisms of Graeber and his own anthropological views.

#155 Anthropology and Materialism Part 1 w/ Daniel Bitton

Comment: Daniel Bitton mentions a video of an interview with Chris Knight. Here is the video:

Chris Knight – The Anthropology of David Graeber

#156 Anthropology and Materialism Part 2 w/ Daniel Bitton

My sixth commentary on the book: The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow

On page 426, they write: “Over the course of this book we have had occasion to refer to the three primordial principles of freedom, those which for most of human history were simply assumed: the freedom to move, the freedom to disobey and the freedom to create or transform social relationships.”

Commentary: I have no objection to these freedoms. But I do have an objection to calling them “primordial.” A better approach is provided by Joel Feinberg in the book Social Philosophy, 1973. In the first chapter, “The Concept of Freedom,” he analyzes the concept of freedom as the absence of constraints, and then he distinguished internal from external constrains, on the one hand, and positive from negative constrains, on the other. Thus giving us a fourfold classification with examples:

Positive ConstraintNegative Constraint
Internal Constraintheadache,
obsessive thought,
compulsive desires
defieciencies in talent or skill
External Constraintbarred windows,
locked doors,
pointed bayonets
lack of money,
lack of transportation,
lack of weapons

If there is to be a primordial principle, it surely should be the freedom to strive to survive. This means the freedom to be a hunter, gatherer, farmer, and pastoralist. And all these freedoms can be summed up as the freedom to use subsistence land.

An internal negative constraint is beautifully illustrated in the film “Walkabout,” in which a young boy and girl are stranded in the Australian outback, and without the fortunate encounter with an Aborigine youth, they would have died. He has the knowledge and the skills to get food and water which are necessary for survival. Below is a trailer:

My fifth commentary on the book: The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow

Graeber and Wengrow wrote: “The first thing to emphasize is that the ‘the origin of social inequality’ is not a problem which would have made sense to anyone in the Middle Ages.” p. 14

I find this to be a self-serving claim. If it were true, then the claim that contact with American indigenous people was an eye opener — as the authors claim — becomes credible.

But is it true?

Before the discovery of the New World, there were various peasant disturbances. [See: Popular revolts in late-medieval Europe] What were peasants grumbling about? Since most peasants were illiterate, we have to go by what they did and by reports of what they said they did. But we can do better by following the sequence of events following the Black Death (1346-1353), in which about a third of the European population died.

From an economic perspective of supply and demand, the demand for peasants increased while the supply of peasants decreased. The result was a wage inflation for peasants.

Consequently in England King Edward III in 1349 passed the Ordinance of Labourers, and Parliament in 1351 passed the Statue of Labourers. These laws made work compulsory, and set controls on wages and the price of goods.

In 1381, the discontent with the prevailing state of affairs burst forth as the English Peasants’ Revolt.

We may take the sermon of the priest John Ball (preaching at Blackheath in 1381) as expressing the sentiments of the peasants.

“When Adam delved and Eve span,[a] Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty[b] men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, He would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.” [a. Delved meaning dug the fields, and span meaning spun fabric (or flax). b. “Naughty” then having a stronger sense of “evil, malicious”.]

And here we have an expression of a grievance against inequality, which contradicts the claim of Graeber and Wengrow that no one in the Middle Ages would or could make sense of the problem of inequality.