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13. The Anatomy of Hierarchy, from Alternative Economics 101 - TAX Your Imagination!

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We are all what we love. We are also which we oppose, or hate. Nazis were an extreme example of common habits of dissonance (love of aryans, hatred of Jews). Individuals and organizations display some form of propaganda. No matter what we love or hate, it gets expressed. A grandmother carries photos of her grandchildren to show to strangers on a city bus; a nation builds museums and memorials celebrating itself. Fear, pride and greed cannot be eliminated from the human condition. In many ways, it is only our emotions that make us human and interesting. Unfortunately, the same emotions that can make us better can also make us toxic. This is why balance and virtue (trust, humility, sharing) are so critical. The belief that a conspiracy exists is why conspiracies form.

The light and dark, young and old

A nazi swastika is a symbol, just like any other symbol. Within their group dynamics, it models virtue, and they loved the strength and truth that it represented. It was their brand logo, the same as an American flag or the flag of any nation. We all believe in ourselves wholeheartedly, and do not question our pride. Leaders convince others to follow by encouraging their sense of pride and superiority. The group is "the chosen ones' to do what has never been done, and what no one else can do. Leaders make a judgment of how to survive, what is important, and how to prepare for the future. Within a group, the same virtues are always called upon: sacrifice for the good of the group. The struggle between what is good for the self, and what is good for the whole, has two different dimensions, inner group and outer group. 

There are two conditions here. First is the personal difficulty of sacrificing for others. Some people are selfish or afraid, and do not want to give up any advantage. They will only give a small amount or nothing. Second is the validity of the goal. People will make self-sacrifices for evil believing it to be an act for the good. The organization may be a religion, a nation or a business. "My organization, right or wrong' is always the first step on a slippery slope that separates virtue from virtuous action. Dissonance always has a subtle beginning. People can believe their sacrifice to be virtuous when their actions are not. When the blind follow the blind, it is not with ill intent, but dissonance is being expressed.

The first leaders in everyone's life are their parents. Our parents were exposed to the indoctrination of their time, just as we were exposed to ours. The generational sweep is both personal and organizational. Most core beliefs are a circumstance of birth. They are then adjusted based upon random experiences. Organizations, however, have the fortitude to endure across generations. This is why enlightened individuals are so important to society. Organizations are amoral, and become infused with the virtue or prejudices of those who join and control them. They are more powerful than individuals, are institutionally susceptible to dissonance, and are slower to reform themselves. Organizations are often spreading light with one hand, and darkness with the other.

The role of the head of every organization, whether the original founder or a successor, is to promote the reach of the organization. The hand of that ruler can be either gentle or harsh, depending upon both the amount of control and their personal temperament. The reach of their hand is limited by both internal and external forces. Forces are interpreted as bad when they limit growth and good when they enhance growth. For all organizations, numbers are an important determinator of success. Usually in the context of a fiscal budget, but not always. We are a number-mad society. Growth is measured because it is the criteria for success and survival. It affirms the budget myopia, provides the target and opportunity to define a vision, and affirms the organization's need for existence.

Leaders can be short-sighted because of their desire for immediate gratification and personal success, which translates into an organization that is impatient and greedy. Vendors, employees and even clients will be treated accordingly. The desire for competition to act as a force of "checks and balances' is based on the assumption that organizational self-restraint is impossible. 

The constitutional system accommodates, and thus guarantees, the perpetual existence of dissonance. That is why Islamists prefer sharia law. There is no Muslim Pope or hierarchy, but the moral code of a hypocrite (bin Laden) has the same footing as peaceful leaders. Substance and process are always separate tracks. 

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In the aftermath of the American Revolution, greed was redefined as a virtue. This was a conscious choice, made with hesitation, but was believed to be the best path to growth. Given the state of the continent, it was an unsurprising choice. Growth had long been the goal of every new society in the wilderness. Rigorous oversight was a practical impossibility, and the last thing anyone wanted was a unilateral power like the old monarchy. Checks and balances required little government overhead. Operational limitations were cast as virtuous choices, and selfishness became a patriotic duty.

Tyranny was someone else making a bad decision for you. This new system of trust based on mistrust left people free to compete, and ignored why the old system struggled. Somehow the King lacked personal virtue, but the personal virtue of greedy patriots mistrusting one another would self-regulate into an engineering marvel. It is hard to over-criticize this decision. It is akin to giving many monkeys a typewriter and expecting them to write War and Peace collaboratively. The modern pendulum-like swing between regulation and deregulation indicates that there was a deep flaw in their thinking. America was built on dissonance.

Self-reliance has always requires self-restraint, but the bulk of virtue is in self-awareness and self-sacrifice. Greed does not fit anywhere in this paradigm. The creators of the new government failed to realize was that self-restraint means failure under a competitive system. Nice guys who embraced self-sacrifice would always finish last. Rising leaders could win solely by intimidation. While genuflecting to a King may have been crazy, the new scripture was to encourage the crazy in everyone. The system favored the most ruthless, shrewd and greedy. Strong and stupid would blindly destroy the kind and wise. Not surprisingly, the genocide of the Native Americans followed, and America has been perpetually at war. The first promises of democracy, peace and prosperity, have never been realized.

It is the nature of violent rebellion and competition to never have mercy for the slow. The founders failure of political analysis, of blaming the King for things he was not responsible for, migrated to economics. The goal was to create a society where what was good for the individual was good for the whole. Greed distorted commonwealth into a position that, "What is good for me is good for you." Acts of charity attempt to blunt the effects of greed, but it is always too little too late. Philanthropy is not a systemic solution. The concentration of wealth is a byproduct of imbalanced trade. Encouraging greed would accelerate the pace of the divide. 

Today, we have a unique problem. The status quo does not work, and there is no King to scapegoat. A high standard of living encourages domestic tranquility and prevents civil war. As a result,  the inflationary numbers continue unabated. The Left and the Right attempt to blame the other, but both have had the reins of power and failed repeatedly. Their plans cannot work. We can only fix the economy with an extensive and conscious act of virtue.

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Organized Failure

Growing the economy is not a solution, since it will grow the problems, too. Growth is accomplished by squeezing more from others as well as from the land, and creating more debt to match inflation. The efficiency of production has been paired with the ruthlessness of social advancement. The landfills are bursting, along with obesity, pollution and excess. The American experiment, which started out as a family self-reliant on the land, has reduced everyone to a cog as a producer and consumer of industrial economic output. People have become the fodder of the organizations that they constructed. 

Under Hitler, Germans were reduced to a cog in a system of aryan self-infatuation. Centuries earlier, a serf labored under the Church. Millennia earlier, men were slaves to the Pharaoh. All unequal societies have a group that benefits from inequality through dominant organizations. Every organization promotes their narrow point of view, which is why there are attempts to prevent new organizations (unions, gangs, alliances) from forming. Nobody wants more competition in a competitive system. Eventually, the systems of inequality must collapse. False beliefs are not sustainable by pen or sword forever. The amount of violence the world has seen because of inner and outer group perceptions is shocking. Because of the lack of commonwealth, every organization needs to generate revenue, which guarantees that dissonance will be present in society. At some point, we will be unable to print money fast enough to cover the inflation being created by greed.

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Steve grew up in a family business, was a history major in college, and has owned a small business for 25 years. Practical experience (mistakes) have led him to recognize that political rhetoric and educated analysis often falls short of reality. (more...)

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