Alexander Hellene

Only the Fear of Death Will Save Us

Nothing can get done. No one is responsible for anything, nobody appears to be in charge, and the buck stops nowhere. Faceless, unknown men and women in suits make decisions that affect your life, draft regulations that you must comply with, and yet where this power emanates from is a mystery.

What on Earth is going on?

I am, of course, talking about the United States government, both at the Federal and State levels. Capable of wielding enough destructive power to destroy the Earth dozens of times over, yet incapable of keeping our cities from being violent, decaying dumps.

Being a writer of fiction allows one to play with certain ideas and think through possibilities in a far safer way than actually implementing them with the full force of the state monopoly on violence behind them. I am writing a story now that takes place in a reimagined USA with a governmental system both recognizable and yet vastly different. As my thought process for this story dovetails with my utter disgust and contempt at this farce of a system we currently operate under, I thought it would be interesting to share my ideas here.  

This isn’t the first time I’ve broached these issues. In my piece “Hierarchies in Space,” I wrote about how spacefaring science fiction where the world of the future is some sort of democracy is a bridge too far when it comes to my disbelief being suspended:

What bothered me about Star Trek is not what happens in space, but about what, presumably, happens on Earth. The franchise’s framing story, that society somehow evolved to where everyone is a peaceful cog in a great peaceful machine that provides all material wants, needs, and comforts, while still somehow nurturing man’s exploratory nature to rocket off into space—and is atheist, of course—utterly ridiculous to anyone with even a remedial grasp of human nature and basic pattern recognition skills.

Such a utopian system, the type dreamed up by Marxists and Jacobins and Liberals and Libertarians and Globalists, never works. Because of humans. All you need is one defector for the whole thing to fall apart. It’s a ridiculous system that does nothing to mitigate the worst tendencies of human nature and funnel them to a positive end; instead, it just pretends human nature can be changed with the passing of magic laws. Any system like Star Trek’s global Earth government would not be filled with sunny skies, green grass, and happy people free from want and strife.

Better historians of sci-fi will be able to correct me, but I’m reasonably sure this tendency began in the 1930s and reached its apotheosis in the 1960s.

What is so laughable is that all of these utopian science fiction futures posit a world free of hierarchies, save for one: in this case, Starfleet. I think this reflects an unconscious recognition that any organization worth a damn, that wants to actually accomplish things, needs a clearly defined and delineated hierarchy with authority flowing from the top down.

We have not been able to put people on the moon for over fifty years, and I’m supposed to believe that liberal democracy, without any functioning sort of chain-of-command structure, is able to devise faster-than-light travel and get human beings to other planets? Come on . . .

I am always amused by how the most pro-capitalist big business boosting people tend to hate the idea of hierarchy and, dare I say it, executive autocracy or even authority when it comes to political systems.

Imagine trying to run any sort of business, even a hamburger stand, by committee with every single person getting a vote in every decision, with authority diffused through multiple channels, with there being some mechanism for a single disaffected person to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of the organization. You can’t imagine a lot of burgers getting made that way.

“But when it comes to important stuff, no one should have authority!”

Sure, and our infrastructure is decaying, inflation is rampant, gas prices are through the roof, young people aren’t marrying and starting families, and third-world countries are laughing at us.

Nothing gets done because there’s no decision maker. Nobody has the authority to say “Do that,” and have confidence that it will get done. Nobody has the ability to make things happen and, just as important and maybe even more so, nobody has the responsibility to accept blame if things go tits up.

You know, like a CEO. In a business. The kind of organization that rah-rah ‘Murica types say they love. For most of my adult life, I’ve been hearing mostly right-leaning people say “We need someone to run this country like a business!” And then they refuse to acknowledge that our system does not allow anyone to run this country like a business . . . emphasis on the one part of that word.

America is run by a kleptocratic oligarchy who controls the people who supposedly represent us in order to continually enrich itself, while allowing the elected officials to skim just enough off the top to keep them happy. No one runs the government.  

*     *     *

These are some of the points serving as a backdrop for my current work-in-progress:

Any successful organization is successful and does great things because it is run like a dictatorship. I’m not even going to apologize for this insight because you all know that it’s true. The term “dictatorship” has so many negative connotations, but look at the root word: “dictate.” As in, the leader says dictates a command and it gets carried out by subordinates who are granted authority to do so. NASA was run like this during its heyday—arguably, the only time the entire organization was worth a damn thing.

At the end of the day, only the person with absolute power gets absolute blame. In layman’s terms, the people know who to hang when things go south.

Laugh if you want, but look at where America is now. Who is to blame for our woes? Who is actually doing these bad things that are immiserating us all. Who is exercising power? The bureaucracy. The unelected bureaucracy, I might add. And that consists of literally millions of people at the state and federal levels. Who are they? What is their duty? What are they legally allowed to do?

Nobody knows.

Any successful organization has a clearly defined power structure with identified individuals wielding power. The President is a figurehead. All of our elected officials are puppets bought and sold by the real powers—whose identities are mostly hidden from everyone—to trick you and me into thinking we have a say in things. We don’t.

When things go wrong in a business, the CEO gets fired. And after the CEO gets fired, things change. When a President gets “fired”—which has happened once in American history when Nixon was forced to resign—does anything change? No. The new boss is the same as the old boss. Power remains in the shadows.  

Give me an honest situation any day. I’ll take a national CEO who has the absolute power to make his dictates reality, as long as there are mechanisms to both overrule truly bad decisions and to remove the son of a bitch—and I mean for real—if he proves to be evil or incompetent.

Any successful organization needs clear, swift, and severe penalties for not just failure of mission, but for graft, corruption, and other forms of illegal activity. No one in power is afraid of the consequences of their actions because there aren’t any save for some mean articles being written about them in state propaganda organs. In fact, far too many fail upwards, either in the public or the private sectors. Here are a few such ideas that I am utilizing as a backdrop for my current work in progress that I think could 100 percent work wonders in real life:

  1. Death penalty for corruption. This goes for the leader and for anyone involved in government, be they elected or unelected. Judges, Congressmen, civil servants, the works. If you’re corrupt, you get the rope. And don’t give me this “That’s what China does and it’s used and abused!” Whatever. If we tolerate the death penalty for street crime, we should tolerate it for violations of the public trust.
  2. Total asset forfeiture for corruption. If a governmental official or worker or even the national CEO is convicted of corruption, in addition to dying, all of their wealth is confiscated and put into the Treasury. Every last penny. Their family’s wealth, too.
  3. No member of the convicted’s family is allowed to ever hold any position in government for at least three generations. And this seems too lenient. Maybe it should be forever.

The Sword of Damocles should be a real threat over the heads of every single person involved in government. They have a duty to us. Maybe the threat of death would be enough to get some leaders who actually don’t hate us in charge. And if not, then at least we’ll have legal remedies for clearing away the dead wood until we can.

This is not “Waiting for big daddy government to save us.” This is acknowledging the practical reality that (1) hierarchies exist, (2) hierarchies will always exist, (3) hierarchies are necessary, and (4) you can’t run a nation without some form of governmental structure, ideally set up as a hierarchy where those at the top have power over and responsibility towards those they rule.

Paying taxes would be fine and dandy if we the people actually got some benefit in return from them.

Both the people running our system and the system itself have proven woefully incapable of doing much of anything of value. Both need to change. Anarcho-tyranny, the idea that the state lets the worst of the worst go free because it’s too much work tracking them down yet will vigorously and gleefully enforce the most minor of regulations against the law-abiding, has been the case for decades. Go fly somewhere and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Speaking of airplanes, about the only thing our current system does well is keep airplanes from crashing into each other. Who knows for how long this will last though, as certain initiatives to promote people into important and high-paying positions regardless of actual qualifications start to have their effects felt.  

As for the rest? There’s no way our system and the people in charge will ever put anyone else on the moon, whether it be a black female or another white dude. They can’t even keep Amazon delivery trains from getting looted, groomers out of our schools, and our cities, once the  envy of the world, from turning into crime- and filth-infested dumps.

I didn’t vote for any of this. Neither did you. And yet, here we are.  

– Alexander

2 thoughts on “Only the Fear of Death Will Save Us”

  1. Alexander,

    I read through the post. A couple of suggestions: Head over to @nntaleb’s twitter. He sometimes has brief tweets on political theory.
    cf https://twitter.com/nntaleb/status/150776698688502580
    He’s sure to make some heads explode 🙂

    He’s come up with 2 aphorisms: 1) Public service is to serve, not for resume building. Any lobybing, etc done by politicians is 100% owned by the public. 2) All institutions come with an expiry date. If they still fulfill their mission, they’re renewed, if not, gone.

    I emailed you his Politica Principa. Don’t worry it’s very terse with 13 succient points.

    Hierarchies also come with checks and balances. They can be meritocratic, bureaucratic, voluntary and nepotistic. Hierarchies can be virtuous or vicious; lawful or unlawful.

    As Mediterraneans, we recognize societies possess a mix of these topologies, so they’re not pire uideals from one extreme or other but muddled..

    1. Xavier,

      Thanks! I’ll have to read that. I guess I’m just not a true believer in liberal democracy. I look at its fruits, and I’m told that what I’m seeing isn’t happening, and that we have the best system ever designed by humankind, it’s not perfect but every single system ever is worse, and that I should just shut up and roll with it. Nonsense.

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