The problem of ideal social systems - reprint
This article was orginally published in Romanian, as Problema sistemelor sociale ideale.
Man can desire two kinds of things. Firstly, he can desire things with a concrete reference. "I want a beer" or "I want a fast car". Man can also desire things without a concrete reference. "I wish to be happy" or "I want a beautiful woman".
In all the stories where the devil offers three wishes and things end up badly, saved in extremis by the third wish - "I want everything as before" - the mistake of the wisher is to wish for things without concrete reference.
The advantage of the concrete reference is large and important : it makes measurement possible. If I want two tons of potatoes I can readily know when I have them : when confronted with a pile of objects, all potatoes, which weighed comes to two tons. Simple.
Absent this, I can no longer measure. If I want a beautiful woman I can never know for sure whether I've found her or should still be looking, as you might have noticed yourself taking a stroll down the street. All those whose eyes run around in all directions are belabouring upon an unresolvable problem : have they found their beautiful woman, or not yet ?
Social systems being made by people, they're obviously not protected from the problems of the people. There can be devised and in practice applied social systems with a concrete reference, like "I want to have as many objects as possible" for instance. Capitalism resolves this problem, quantifiably so. As time goes by, the number of objects grows. The problem is being resolved, and this truth is verifiable and measurable.
Unfortunately, there can also be devised social systems devoid of a concrete reference. These can't obviously be also applied, but that has not so far stopped anyone from trying. "I want people to be generous" or "I want people to live equitably" or however you may try to introduce the socialist utopia, the problem grins again and again : fulfillment is unmeasurable.
Not having anything to measure, anyone in the position of taking a decision finds himself devoid of the point of work. Suppose there's a prime minister being proposed two sets of measures, set A and set B. His job is to choose exactly one of the two.
For a capitalist prime-minister, the problem reduces to finding out whether A will bring more objects than B or not. That's all. For a third party, the PM's choice carries meaning : if indeed the chosen measure brings more objects, the third party is in agreement. If it doesn't, he isn't. Either he believes him stupid, incompetent, corrupted or otherwise, the problem as far as the third party is concerned is localised, and therefore solvable : the prime-minister.
For a socialist prime-minister, the problem is quite inapproacheable. Which of the two measures is "more socialist" ? This is, en passant why "being socialist" is a theme recurring to obsession in the discourse of socialism, but "being capitalist" is rarely if ever heard in capitalism. The lack of reference induces a compensatory complex.
The quality of being socialist is in and of itself unmeasurable, and for that reason the problem is replaced by self-referential insanity : "Which measure do people believe to be more socialist ?" Since measurement now depends on interpretation, this immediately forces a splitting in the language : the social convention behind words evolves to reflect relationships of power, while the form of words remains anchored in the ideal.
"This is unprincipled"i will be used by the opponents of measure B to indicate their opposition to the measure's proponents, and, later on, by the opponents of measure F and L, X and Z to indicate their opposition to the respective proponents. The words themselves cease to mean anything in particular, following a merely relational game. To ask "how specifically is it unprincipled" does not yield an answer, at any rate not above and beyond identifying the party asking with the enemy.
Words and expressions thus become mere slogans, empty of notional content, or more properly they become recipients empited and refilled with dizzying speed, thus giving birth to the so called "wooden tongue".
Words become a simple magic wand. Standing up in the plenaryii and saying "this or that thing is unprincipled" does not mean something in particular, but merely denotes purely political opposition.iii In this situation where communication is impossible, the rational reaction of individuals is to form power groups : A promises that he won't use the weapon "unprincipled" against measures promoted by B, provided B similarly promises not to use it against A.iv
The problem rapidly degenerates into ever more complex negotiations among social actors ever more numerous, quickly paralyzing the organisation of labourv : before establishing what to say we must actualize the list of friends and the list of foes ; before building the offical discourse we must construct a plethora of behind the scenes discourses and so on.
A member of a board in a capitalist firm can at any time stand among the other members to give voice to a problem he himself sees. The understanding of the problem occurs immediately for all other members. Resolving the problem can be approached rationally if it in fact exists ; explaining the speaker's error can be approached rationally if the problem does not in fact exist.vi
In a socialist entity, standing up to voice a problem does not immediately mean anything to anyone. All that the others understand is that you do not agree. There isn't a way through which to also communicate why, or with what you do not agree. As such the immediate and pressing need for everyone is to understand what is, in fact, the problem. This can only be achieved through discussion with each of them individually.vii After you've just dropped the bomb you can't immediately start private discussions with dozens of different partiesviii and so it's the case that opposition will have to be preparedix, through discussion anterior to the meeting, with all the other participants.
This leads to the aberration that the meeting itself is a waste of time, during which the participants simply officiatex, a ritual is being satisfied, while decisions have already been taken through private negotiation previously. It is not necessarily a bad thing to take decisions through a private negotiation among the involved parties, but it is certainly stupid to turn a group of professional decision makers into a gaggle of priests singing in a chorus.
In particular soborurile de preoti din toate partile de dupa revolutie umplu, pentru politicieni, un gol. Golul lasat in viata lor de oficierea oficialului.xi
As time goes by, the cleavage between language and reality deepens, and the compensatory negotiation it entails becomes the very fundament of social life. Every individual in a position of power, no matter how minor, sees himself forced to negotiate with all the others, at all times, around the use of his magic wandlet. "Unless you broom the sidewalk in front of your house, I'll put you on the listxii of enemies of the state" ; "If I catch you sleeping I'll put you on the raport" etc.
The lack of a concrete reference quickly mixes things. "If you don't come to work my garden, I'll put you on the enemies of the state list" ; "If I catch you fucking my wife, I'll put you there too".
None of these unfortunate evolutions is necessarily the creation of the individual participants, but moreover fundamental and essential corruption induced by taking reality outside of the sphere of social preoccupation.
Be so kind then, to believe whatever you will, but never speak to anyone about something that can't be measured. They who provoke you to speak on such matters are ill intended, whether knowingly or just stupidly, and they who fall for it are damned, in the most moral sense of that term.———
- This doesn't work as well in English, because the Romanians lived for fifty years under an oppressive, evil socialist regime which they have recognised as such. The English speakers aren't quite as smart, haven't really recognised it as such so far, and consequently saying "Mordor" doesn't yield that same immediate "burn it, burn it with fire!!" reaction as it does for Romanians.
But you know how they say, time fixes all. [↩]
- Another term of socialist art. This thing. [↩]
- Here's a famous scene of an old socialist standing up and telling Romania's dictator exactly what's wrong. The results are telling, in that while the old man is exactly correct, what difference does that make ? What difference can it make ?! Among the lazy and the stupid, words are merely a distraction, an elaborate waste of time. Barn animals across the world heartily agree. [↩]
- The US academia, forerunner of all the political problems of socialism, has already long had this exact standoff baked in as part of their process for splitting the fat lamb of public money. They've recently moved it into the very core of the intimate life of the novices, undergraduates today hold each other for ransom under the weight of an "unprincipled"-lite crafted just for them, the US born pseudo-rape. [↩]
- The USAF were the first group to be completely destroyed by this, fifty years ago - they've not won a single war since, in spite of an abundance of materiel, impressive headcounts and no significant problems in either rank-and-file discipline or individual galantry. [↩]
- As far as I currently know, the only English-language institution where this holds true is #bitcoin-assets. That it holds true there you don't have to take my word for : What I enjoy about #bitcoin-assets ; that it's the only one where it does I won't take your word for, please bring proof. [↩]
- And this explains why meetings where someone drops a bomb tend to be immediately adjourned. [↩]
- This, incidentally, is perhaps the most important advantage of IRC over a live meeting - here yes, you can. Writing is non-blocking to reading, whereas speaking is blocking to hearing. Major point, this. [↩]
- Review Lenin's own papers to see just how pervasive, just how utterly married to socialism itself, this problem actually is. [↩]
- What a priest does - empty following of a preordained form. [↩]
- Leaving this untranslatable bit as it is. [↩]
- Oh boy, the lists. You're young yet, you do not know what this is. You will. [↩]