Corona Choke-Hold

Well, I don’t know how many Chinese readers I have, but for God’s sake, people. You can’t claim that your authoritarian “brook-no-nonsense” system is responsible for preventing any new local infections today, when:

The reason the virus got out in the first place is because the Chinese state’s choke-hold on the news media prevented the world from knowing that it was loose.

Burn in hell, assholes!

Separation of Church and State III

My response to the Freedom From Religion Foundation turned their position on its head. Rather than keeping religious leaders out of politics, we need to keep political leaders out of religion. The tendency for leaders to cross lines is one of the greatest dangers to religious practice.

Steve Matichuk offers a summary of the absolutist Christian position. Essentially, as Christ seeks a universal brotherhood, any celebration of national identity dilutes his message. Steve holds out for some accommodation. My response below:

This is very close to my mind at this point, as I am just working through a video teaching on Revelation 13. In Revelation 12 the dragon (or Satan) is expelled from heaven, and in 13 he plots his dominance of earth by raising up tyrannical governments that are supported by hypocritical religious practices.

On the other hand, in Christian terms some governments are better than others. We should celebrate actions that manifest Christian ideals, while avoiding at all cost the use of government to enforce Christian morality.

As I emphasize in the video, the real battle is in the human mind, which continues to evolve after birth. Beginning with the collaborative experience of nursing, the brain actually develops centers that support socialization, culminating in adulthood with the center responsible for altruism – or what Christians would call “Unconditional Love.”

The holidays that you list are manifestations of many of the virtues listed in 2 Peter 1:5-8. But it is those virtues that should be celebrated – not some abstract ideal like our “freedom.” We are all yoked to God’s purpose, and so none of us should consider ourselves to be privileged with absolute freedom.

Tyranny Vanquished by Love

As an advocate of the healing manifested in the world through divine love – that is to say, as an apologist – the most painful apology is that offered by those that justify violence in the defense of received truth.

In modern America, those justifications are flavored with desperation. For many years, Christian culture was synonymous with the dominant Caucasian culture. The twenty-first century promises an end to that dominance, but that eventuality was clearly forecast in the last century. The misguided hope that change and accommodation can be avoided breeds irrationality, manifested in the religious extremism that spawned death-threats against doctors that prescribe chemical abortions or that drives parents to resist education in evolutionary biology. Fundamentalism bred in the military, where “Warriors for Christ” sometimes coerce religious conduct in their subordinates, and issue death threats against leaders in organizations (such as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation) that oppose that unconstitutional practice. In each case, the instigators see the tenets of their faith as justifying imposition of their values upon others, and therefore implicitly justifying a broader defense of inherited social privilege.

In both Judaism and Islam, this tendency is heightened by the intervention of God in martial struggles against those seeking to subdue the faithful. It is only in Christianity that radical non-violence is upheld. That the bookends to Christianity both deny the divinity of Christ may be symptomatic of a pragmatism that makes violence inescapable.

In Islam and the Destiny of Man, Eaton explicitly upholds this principle. A Sunni scholar, his survey of Muslim history after the death of the prophet concludes with the observation that the practical realities of maintaining control of an Islamic culture meant at least paying lip-service to its theology, which was often solidified by investments in public works that facilitated its spread. Through that means, tyranny was turned to the service of faith. But it goes beyond that – Eaton makes a deep statement that truth cannot survive in the world unless evil is divided from it, and that division requires violence. Indeed, the hypocrites of the ruling class in the Umayyad and Abbassid dynasties were short-lived.

In discussion with my Shia colleague at work, I have been slowly establishing the validity of the contrasting proposition of Christian faith: Jesus demonstrated that the pragmatic truths of this world are dust in the hands of those that manipulate them. What is known to be “true” is far less meaningful than what is possible. While the common reaction is “good luck with that,” I keep on pointing out that far more power is available to us than is required to solve the problems we face. A billion times as much energy leaves the sun as reaches the earth. It is not allowed us for the same reason that parents don’t give matches to children – one selfish miss-step can destroy us all.

But, you see, it wasn’t a solar eclipse on Good Friday. It was the sun pouring its power through him.

I discovered Lauren Naigle through BJ out at The River Runs. The compositions on Lauren’s debut album don’t rival those found in the secular (and often profane) debuts of Ricky Lee Jones or Norah Jones, and subscribe to a simple lyrical formula. But they encapsulate the fundamental truths of Christian experience: it is the loving heart that bled for humanity that demonstrates the preconditions for true power. Surrender self-concern and trust that all those that you love ultimately will love you in return.

Lauren is young, and among her tracks are jingles that might be dismissed as overly exuberant. But she has not been without suffering, losing two years of high school to an auto-immune disorder and a beloved grandfather. In How Can It Be’s closing homage, she pleads for self-surrender:

There is victory in my Savior’s loss
In the crimson flowing from the Cross
Pour over me, pour over me. (Yes!)

Oh let this be where I die
My Lord with thee crucified.
Be lifted high, as my kingdoms fall
Once and for all, once and for all.

Oh Lord I lay it down.
Oh Lord I lay it down.
Help me to lay it down.
Oh Lord I lay it down.

Bad things happen to good people not because they are weak.

Evil walks in the world, and hungers for the power that originates from love, but love recoils from its grasp. In Richard Nixon, the great lesson of abused power was visible when he bade farewell to his staff, tears streaming down his face as he juxtaposed his experience of political life with the love he had received from his mother. That is another way of reading Lauren’s lyrics: “Be lifted high, as my kingdoms fall. Oh Lord I lay it down.

There are those immune to these realizations – Beria, Stalin’s security chief, spat on the corpse just moments after his master’s death. But Stalin has already been forgotten by history, replaced by Vladimir Putin, a man who justifies his power by promising to allocate money for road repairs left undone by the local governments impoverished by the corruption he organizes.

Putin’s political aspirations were conceived when unrest in East Germany paralyzed the embassy staff. Stepping in with a firm will, he saw people galvanized to action. It is this strength of will that he relies upon, but the lesson that is demonstrated by history is that the will to power is no match for the discipline required of those that love unconditionally. Tyrants can concentrate spiritual power, but they cannot hold it in any confrontation with a wise and loving adversary. The tyrant simply serves as a dark well in which light shines more brilliantly into the spirits of the oppressed.

The mistake of religious fanaticism is to believe that the institutions of tyranny must be dismantled, for that strategy only justifies oppression. The truth found in Christianity is that we don’t need to destroy the institutions of tyranny. Instead, in service with he that died once and for all, we can dismantle the personalities of the tyrants.

Oh, Lauren, what an joy it is to celebrate your wise old soul!

Future Challenge

During conversations at work this week, I was reminded of how fortunate we are in America. A Veitnamese engineer observed that he was astonished by the amount of emotional energy we build in our presidential campaigns, when in fact nothing changes when an new occupant sits in the Oval Office. In Vietnam, people would take their money and bury it out in a field, because they didn’t know whether they would be forced from their homes after an election. And those serving in high office might find themselves jailed or executed.

This sentiment was echoed by our Hungarian visitor, the majority owner who complained that US policy had transformed Syrian, Egypt and Libya from stable dictatorships into violent anarchies. Of course, that’s not what happened – we simply chose not to throw our weight behond the dictators when their people rose against them. And the anarchy that resulted is symptomatic of nations whose institutions have been weakened by purges. Without any experienced leadership, those assuming power have to build civil society from ground zero against the resistance of those that benefited from the cronyism used by dictators to spread influence from government into the economic sector. The economic elite knows that dictatorship is essential to its privilege, and works hard to justify its restoration.

Among American youth, the evidence of recidivism in liberated lands must be demoralizing. They fought and died to create the opportunity for change in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now the societies tear themselves apart in ethnic conflict and class warfare. Any such frustration would only strengthen the political anomie that I hear expressed by young engineers, hair-cutters and baristas.

What saddens me about this is that the coming generation, while facing enormous burdens, also has awesomely powerful tools available to it. My youngest son complains that modern educational standards far surpass those required of my generation, but I remember in high school having to drive down to UCLA to get source materials for my AP History reports. When he was struggling last year with a paper covering the prophetic writings of Verne, Asimov and Clarke, I shared my perspective, and he came back thirty minutes later reporting that he had been able to find supporting references through the search engines.

In social action, Facebook and other engines (some devoted solely to social action) allow organization across geographic and cultural boundaries. They have their defects – internet trolls have mastered the subtle sociology of fomenting hostility. But researchers at MIT and elsewhere are using network theory and content analysis to identify such actors. I expect that within the next three years we’ll see a blooming of collaborative social communities on the internet.

As that process evolved, particularly among business leaders used through years of social media to transparency in their relationships, we’ll eventually reach a tipping point in social control. The relationships established and maintained online will evolve so rapidly that they’ll be beyond the control of bricks-and-mortar tyrannies.

What is critical is that the youth of the world recognize that they are still working within systems dominated by relationships established through face-to-face interactions. They need to temper their expectations for progress until they have managed to infiltrate those systems. That may seem counter-revolutionary, but it’s simply the way of the world. While the opportunities of the future seem obvious to our youth, the world is not structured at this time to transmit power through those channels. They need to pull up their bootstraps and play the role of midwife to the future that awaits their children.

The Struggle for Truth

When I was last asked to speak at my employer’s all-hands meeting, it was in a context of crisis in our relationship with our biggest customer. The tone of internal discussions was denigrating, focusing on their manipulative contract negotiations and technical indecision.

I had been privy to two experiences, however, that gave me a different perspective on the matter. The first occurred during a site visit to the Netherlands. The other three representatives got smashed each night, which is a way of maintaining a coherent gestalt. My approach was rather to walk gently among our hosts. When we went to look at the machine that they were upgrading, I crouched down to look at the cable route, wondering how in the heck they would be moved to replace a critical component. The mechanical designer, who had projected some hostility regarding the project, stepped behind me, and I suddenly understood that a wing nut on a retaining bar, if loosened, would allow me to bend the cables out of the way. I turned around to find him looking approvingly at me.

The second experience occurred during a reciprocal visit to our facility. We produce electronics that can fail catastrophically, and the customer works in the health care industry. The lead engineer asked specifically whether we had tested the logic that prevented this failure mode, emphasizing that “in no circumstances can we have a fire in the operating theater.” He was assured that we had manually tested the fault logic, forcing the failure mode and verifying that power was shut down.

Four months after deploying the solution, our electronics caught fire in the operating room. The assurances offered to our customer were simply a lie.

It was in part to counter-act the mounting hostility that I offered this perspective:

As engineers, we come in every day to wrestle against the laws of nature to help our customers do things that most people think are impossible. In that struggle, fighting against our competition is far less rewarding that fighting against nature for our customers. When we fight for our customers, we enter into their dreams. They offer us their insights and understanding, and help us to make our products better.

Our customer understood that fundamental difference in me. Even though my role was limited to creation of software that integrated with their user interface, I was the first person they contacted whenever a problem came up. They knew that I wouldn’t pull out the contract or demand irrefutable proof that the problem was in our equipment. I would sit down and try to emulate their scenario so that we could evaluate the problem on our end. In turn, they would get a rapid assessment of likelihood that would help them to focus efforts on their end.

This attitude was emphasized by a comment made by the lead engineer in a discussion of welfare policy. He said,

If somebody wants to go fishing every day, I would rather that he just didn’t come in to work. I’d be happy to see him paid to fish, if that meant that I wouldn’t have to fix the problems in his work.

This is the experience of all creative people: in the end, everything that we do is a new form of truth. Creating that truth means living in truth, and the more people that are embraced in that circle, the greater are the challenges we can overcome. That trust can only be sustained when the team members take pride and find satisfaction in the work that they do. Conversely, when falsehood enters that circle, the creative process is corrupted by indecision and mistrust. Everyone runs around checking and double-checking the facts, and defending themselves against blame.

In over thirty years as a professional, the factor that most commonly creates mistrust is when a party representing the market seizes control of creative decision making. Because they do not contribute to the creative process, ultimately they can only justify tyrannical authority by attacking the work of the creative team. Because they don’t understand the creative process, the tyrant’s attacks are arbitrary and often false. As the team fragments, more and more control is asserted, with individuals promoted and demoted largely based upon personal loyalty rather than actual creative capability. Worse, those in the creative team that decry the loss of team cohesion are pushed aside, because to recognize the validity of their perspective is to undermine the power of the tyrant.

The shift that is necessary to resolve this philosophical conundrum was proposed ten years ago out at I offered these definitions:

Power is the ability to make reality conform to our intention.

Will is a measure of our ability to sustain an engagement with reality.

Strength is power over the self.

Authority is awarded by constituents when power is validated by expressions of love.

In any situation, a resort to lies degrades power, because lies are against reality. To lie is also to flee from reality, which is a failure of will. To the sophisticated observer, then, it is a sign of personal weakness. As a violation of both self-love and as an attack on the creative team, lies undermine authority. When that trust is lost, the creative team loses its faith that accomplishment will receive satisfactory rewards. Their motivation undermined, the only way that the tyrant can maintain control, then, is to run around telling people what to do.

From these, it follows that in engineering organizations the role of senior management is in securing the cohesion of the creative team. That means giving credit where credit is due. If the team fails, nature will let them know. To the degree that success is achieved, it is the role of marketing and sales to target opportunities that will produce sustaining revenues.

The difficulty of sustaining this organizational cohesion is so daunting that anyone achieving such success will find that people flock to their defense when they are threatened. To people who care only about creating new truth, such a loss would be a tragedy without parallel.

Working the Truth Out

Among all the proofs of the efficacy of loving, none is more compelling to me than the existence of institutions of learning. I am one of the most favored and grateful recipients of the investment made by others in discovering and sharing the truth.

During my freshman year at UC Berkeley, my dorm roomie was a talented pianist named John Schmay. John would sit down at a piece of music and spin out a million notes in extemporaneous composition that wandered effortlessly across musical genres. He tried to tame the volcano within through meditation at a self-made Buddhist shrine. Inspired by that example, I turned within as well. As the year progressed, through meditation I had a series of conscious transitions, an opening of doors to ever larger realms of truth. I realize now that those transitions were facilitated by others, and reflected a judgment that I would be respectful in my navigation of those halls.

Since leaving the UC system (I worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for the first eight years of my professional life), I have tried my best to bring the gifts of truth into my work in the commercial world. It is an ongoing struggle. Our hierarchical corporate structure and the legal framework of property rights both support and sustain the exercise of tyranny. This is expressed in a psychology of management prerogatives that extend, in the most aggressive case, to the idea that a supervisor has a right to untrammeled access to the sources of truth in our minds. In my own case, access has been sought through appeals to lust and greed, and when those failed, through raw threat to my survival and the survival of those I love.

Of course, as one that has surrendered fully to Christ, this is all terribly wearisome. I don’t own the truth; I don’t control the truth that flows through me. Having been given the gift of wandering in it, perhaps to a greater degree than anyone now alive, I perceive that remit to be a jewel precious beyond measure, and something that death will not steal from me. It will only interrupt the process of living that allows truth to manifest itself in the world through me.

Paradoxically, upon realizing that none of the afore-mentioned inducements will gain access to the truth that reaches out through me, a subtle psychological shift occurs. Instead of negotiating an exchange of value, the world itself is raised as a threat to the survival of the truth in me. The assertion of authority is not one of merit, but rather a claim of allegiance from one providing protection. Of course, this is always the last resort of the tyrant. When they no longer can command weakness in their subjects, they manufacture enemies without.

What has been essential to me, in working through this resistance, is to recognize that it is not the specific individuals that concern the truth. They are merely attempts to manifest a pattern of relation that has engendered habits of thinking – just as I manifest a pattern of relation (unconditional love) and habits of thinking (a relentless plunging into the veils that hide the truth).

Having exhausted the resistance of ownership, in America the next barrier is the defense industry, the enormously voracious “protector of liberty.”

So last night I awoke to a dream of captivity to Jihadi John, the target of yesterday’s drone strike in Syria. As I was injected into the scenario, I firmly resisted the garb of a victim, instead asserting that I saw this as a demonstration that would undermine the rhetoric of fear. Firmly enmeshed in the illusion of captivity, I shared with the jihadists that I had never finished reading the Qur’an, and asked them to provide me an English translation. With that link established, I offered them the truth as I understood it, opening my heart to reveal the love that I have received, eclipsing in measure any claims of my worth.

In that moment there was a lifting away. Something gave way, an ancient predatory spirit that has roosted in the Middle East.

Gently I asserted to the jihadists, “Isn’t this the goal you desire?” Their affirmation spread throughout the region. I then became one with that spirit that watches the world from outside, gently guiding our hearts, spreading the hope that one day we will stop fearing the consequences of receiving it – foremost being the power that it brings to elaborate wills that are not yet strong enough to resist the self-tyranny that is our self-concern.

And to my countrymen, I then turned to ask, “Did you really believe that the truth needs protection?”

You can run but you can’t hide.

It is that which is.

We were/are/will be that which we were/are/will be.

Freedom from Government through the Governance of Love

In explaining the necessity of God in Tragic Sense of Life, the Jesuit philosopher Miguel de Unamuno asserts that it arises when every man, naturally desiring to control the world, confronts the inevitability of death. As the latter treads on our heels, even the most powerful are pressed to the conclusion that the only way to live forever is to embrace a God that loves us enough to grant us life.

Atheists are inclined by this logic to conclude that faith is a delusion. Marx certainly saw it that way, declaring that “religion is the opium of the masses.” But the underlying pressure is evidenced in the pronouncements of some technologists, among them the man I described yesterday who saw our digital sensors, networks and software as empowering us to build God. Others are more humble. At the ACM fiftieth anniversary symposium in 1997, Nathan Myhrvold, then chief architect at Microsoft, envisioned (somewhat playfully) a future in which we could escape death by creating digital simulations of our brains. The video skit included Bill Gates rubbing his chin as he thoughtfully considered the reduction in Microsoft’s benefits budget.

But if delusion is pathetic, oftentimes in the powerful avoidance is grotesque. We have Vladimir Putin, assassin of Russian patriots, proclaiming that Jesus will find no fault with him on Judgment Day. Or the effrontery of Donald Trump who, protected by his army of lawyers, knows that so long as he asserts righteousness, no one has the means to contradict his claims of competency and benevolence. Thus he continues to assert – in contradiction of the actual birth certificate – that his lawyers have compelling evidence to reveal regarding President Obama’s citizenship. Both of these men suffer from the same affliction, the tendency of our bodies to respond to successful acts of aggression by manufacturing more and more testosterone, the chemical driver for aggression. This is a positive feedback loop that was broken only by death in the cases of Hitler, Franco, Mao, Stalin, Kim Yung Un and so many other tyrants. In the prelude, millions of people were sacrificed on the altars of their psychological invincibility.

This dynamic is writ small in the lives of many businesses, congregations and families. People addicted to the rush of adrenaline and the power of testosterone manufacture experiences that stimulate their production. This is why it is said “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The desire for power arises from the biological thrill of success, and to continue to receive that thrill, the addict must continue to risk his power in ever greater contests. In the heat of passion, the suffering visited upon others is ignored.

There are three antidotes to this dynamic. The first is popular rebellion. Paradoxically, this is the very force that pushed Putin and Trump to prominence. At a stump speech yesterday, Trump opened the floor to questions, and the first person to the microphone began to rant hatefully about President Obama and an imagined domestic Muslim threat. Trump did not defuse the situation, instead responding “We need to hear this question!” But often rebellion is merely another manifestation of the drive to power. Unless tempered, it rages out of control, as happened in the Jacobian tyranny following the French Revolution.

The second antidote is reason. Reason builds discipline that forces us to reconcile our actions with their consequences, thereby disciplining our aggression with objective evidence of failure. The tension between reason and will is not just moral, however: heightened levels of adrenaline actually degrade the higher thinking centers of the brain. This creates a terribly contradictory dynamic, perhaps manifesting itself in the fact that most academics do their greatest work in their youth. While testosterone serves the reasoning mind in creating the thirst to conquer and claim ideas, as the successful mind expands, so do levels of testosterone and adrenaline, which destroys the power of reason. In that context, the methods used to sustain power are not as brutal as those used by the social tyrant, but have their own unique form of cruelty, and leave lasting scars on the psyche. Isaac Newton, cheated of credit for a scientific insight by his predecessor as head of the Royal Academy of Sciences, had the satisfaction of burning the man’s portrait. Most victims of intellectual tyranny are consigned to obscurity.

It is natural for supporters to gather around the social or intellectual tyrant during his rise to power. Claiming benevolent intention is a great way of rallying support from the oppressed. Unfortunately, this dictum holds: A man will change his beliefs before he will change his behavior. When that behavior is organized around aggression, enemies must be created when there are none left at hand. All tyrants eventually turn on their lieutenants, often using hallucinatory rhetoric to justify their actions.

A peer once offered to me that all the greatest scientists were lovers of humanity. This brings us to the third antidote: love. This arrives upon us through many pathways. It can be through sex and maternity. It can be when an infant first grasps our forefinger. It can be through service to those in want. In those moments a bond is established, a linkage that makes palpable the suffering we visit upon others. That can be rationalized in material terms: tears on a beloved face or cries of shame are evidence of our failure. That breaks the vicious cycle of success and aggression.

But there is another aspect that goes beyond negative feedback. Aggression stimulates the loins and the mind, but barely touches the heart. Exchanging love with someone just feels good. It opens us up to a world of experience that can be touched in no other way. Ultimately, its rewards are far greater because no one that loves themselves objects to being loved. They do not turn on their friends for satisfaction, because their friends offer them satisfaction every day.

Democracy attempts to combat the urge to power by institutionalizing rebellion. In America, the two Presidents that were awarded most authority were George Washington, who gracefully surrendered power after two terms of service following universal acclamation by the Electoral College, and FDR, who literally worked himself to death through four terms in office. Both those men were governed by a sense of duty and love for their country, a commitment affirmed by the popular voice that is expressed in elections. At the end of the 20th century, those that seek the freedom to act always as they please (the ultimate manifestation of power) responded to electoral constraint by attacking our faith in government. Driven by testosterone and thus unable to govern themselves, they have invested huge amounts of money creating personalities such as Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. As visible in the Oklahoma City bombing and the events surrounding the Republican nominating process, the end result has been to stimulate the resort to violence by others.

Thus we have the wisdom of Jesus: “Render unto Caesar those things that are Caesar’s.” We have the promise of Jeremiah: “For I will write my law on their hearts, and no man will be told ‘Come learn about my God’, because all will know me.” And we have Christ’s summation of the Jewish experience with law (the rule of reason) and governmental control: Love God and your neighbor.

It is through self-regulation that we discover truth and peace[NIV Matt. 7:13-14]:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

But what other government would we choose, except the governance of our hearts? And to what other authority would be choose to submit, other than the authority of compassion in another? Why do we delude ourselves that there is any other way?

The Abuses of Tyranny

As I considered in The Uses of Tyranny, communities lacking experience in self-management often call forth people with over-sized egos to lead. Even when they are reviled, as was King Juan Carlos in Spain, the psychological bond is deep. Many Spaniards wept upon learning of his death, for fear of what the future might bring.

In the case of monarchy, at least there is some institutional structure passed on from generation to generation, which means that the monarch is bound, at the very least, by dependency on people who actually know how to get things done. This is something seen in growing up, and helps to check the ego of the ruler.

For nations undergoing dramatic social change, such as occurred after the retreat of the colonial powers, no such institutional checks exist. Leadership is established through visceral struggle, and held largely through intimidation and fear. Once the opposition has been beaten down, there is no brake upon the ego of the ruler, who may even imagine himself to be a divine favorite. Witness, for example, Idi Amin of Uganda.

Of course, it is rare for such nations to be able to project much power on the international scene. This can make them dupes for more sophisticated partners, such as negotiators from multi-national corporations. The convenience of the dictator as single point-of-contact are tempting to those negotiators. It is little known that militant Islam actually was born in Northern Africa, where the people used the ethics of the Qu’ran to structure their criticism of exploitative resource extraction. When Western governments and multi-nationals propped up the abusive regimes, jihad was declared against the West as a whole – and deservedly so, under the circumstances.

So perhaps the grossest abuse of tyranny is the tendency of tyrants to form privileged clubs that prop each other up. The ultimate downfall of such clubs is that they devolve into echo chambers, with the tyrants agreeing upon self-serving policies that cannot actually be implemented by the communities they control. This occurs in two parts: first, the tyrants become divorced from reality, and then they destroy social cohesion and resilience in their attempts to coerce their impossible outcomes. Such was the downfall of the planned economies in China and Russia.

It was this realization – that institutional structure was the ultimate victim of tyranny – that prompted Western philosophers to concern themselves with the creation of institutional forms that mitigated against tyranny. This has manifested not only in the constitutions of governments, but in the legal framework of corporate governance. Separation of powers is visible in the three branches of US government, but also in the allocation of responsibilities between corporate boards and executives. One of the primary benefits of these arrangements is survival of institutional memory, which means that situations that seem new and exciting to the surging tyrant are just old hat to the grey-beards in the institutions.

It is amusing to watch this psychology unfold in Putin’s relationship with the West. Putin paints Obama as his primary adversary, and broadcasts propaganda that projects the image that tensions will dissolve when he leaves office. As a tyrant, Putin does not understand that the West has a huge number of historians and policy analysts in corporate, academic and governmental circles that have studied Russian history, and recognize this view as the view of Stalin and Kruschev and Brezhnev and Andropov. Attack Obama all you want, and circulate as much propaganda among the European public as you want: our institutions have played this game before, and will win it again.

Understand, Putin: you are who you are because Western nations agreed to trade with Russia, providing you with the opportunity to siphon hundreds of billions of dollars into your personal accounts. Do you really think that they don’t have the means to discipline your international adventurism?

And what our institutions also remember is that, following Juan Carlos and Stalin, their nations adapted to the experience to establish systems that regulated tyrannical behavior. When that occurs, the tyrant’s legacy is erased. Yes, Vladimir, you are a big noise now in the world. You’re able to force a lot of people to think about you. But you’re on the wrong side of history. Your destruction and perversion of the institutions of the Russian state ensure that you will leave no lasting mark.

And hear as much, Koch brothers! How much money are you spending to force people to do what makes you money? And how much more could you make if you invested, as did Henry Ford, in their capacity to participate in new markets and opportunities?

The Uses of Tyranny

Given the libertarian cachet of the software “Open Source” movement, I was taken aback, when reading through the Git source-control system manual, to discover that the model used to prevent incoherent updates was labelled “Dictator and Lieutenants.” Linus Torvalds, the acclaimed “Dictator” of the Linux kernel, is famous for abusive tirades on the discussion boards. I guess that it fits.

The Greeks used the word “tyrant” without any negative connotations. Tyranny was a practical response to the fact that most people are going to do what feels good to them in the moment. If a society is going to grow, somebody has to take charge and force them to move in the same direction – what we typically think of as getting them to “work together.” That’s going to make some of them unhappy, and unhappy people complain, and eventually band together to defend their liberties.

The reaction of the tyrant is often to interpret such claims as a threat to the society as a whole, which justifies brutal suppression. That has led, in the modern era, for us to view “tyranny” as an evil thing. But if consensus (the alternative to tyranny) really generated more power in ancient times, then we wouldn’t have had a 2000-year gap between the democracy of Athens and the democracy of the United States of America. Even so, the latter nearly failed the transition from tyranny during the distrustful era of the Confederacy.

What are the preconditions for a transition from tyranny to consensus? Widespread understanding of the forms and practices of government is one, which requires universal public education. Codification of citizen rights and creation of institutions to defend them are others. We might also uphold renunciation of political aspirations by the leaders of the agencies that manage coercion, such as the police and military.

Even in modern societies, these preconditions are somewhat tenuous, and the rights of freedom are all too often abused as libertine privilege. For this reason, many institutions still revert to the model of tyranny. Someone has to be in charge, and preventing the dilution of that individual’s authority is often critical to the success (or even survival) of the institution as a whole.

This presents a real problem to women, I believe, who are often psychologically predisposed to consensus. They tend to get people talking, find out what they need to be happy and effective, and raise alarms against the practices that prevent those results. They undermine the practices of tyranny, and so are pushed aside in order to preserve the integrity of the institution and its tyrant.

The cracks in human tyranny are becoming impossible to ignore, however. Controlling the thought processes of the creative knowledge worker is to contradict their purpose – they are supposed to come up with new ideas. The growing number of women in the workforce has already been mentioned. And the political strategy of non-violent dissent, which became so pronounced in the Communist countries, broke down all the practices of tyranny by pushing responsibility for failure back up to the leadership. “I’ll do it if you show me exactly what you want done” eventually left many with time to moonlight in a second job.

But pushing tyranny out of our lives, I believe, is going to require a sea-change. For the average citizen, we need a moral framework that enables people to regulate the assumptions of rights as privileges. I raised my sons with the mantra that my goal was to make them “able, healthy and happy”, and that to have all three was almost impossible. When we got down to negotiation of “I need”, I clearly articulated the difference between needs (healthy) and wants (happy), and declared that unless I saw a personal commitment to “able”, I was unlikely to accede to their desires for the latter. In the long term, happy depends on health, and both depend upon the ability to create value for others.

And for those at the top of the food-chain?

As a scientist and engineer, I am privileged to work among a community that does not require political structures to arbitrate consensus. Nature is its own tyrant, with its diseases, predators, and disasters. It also has a set of unalterable rules that beat down our most narcissistic flights of fantasy. It provides plenty for us to struggle against.

I believe that we are entering an era in which that struggle will be unavoidable for most of us. This means a change from “extensive” social orders, that grow through predatory acquisition of resources, to “intensive” social orders, that require effective performance from every member to avoid universal hardship. In that future, the imposition of will by the tyrant will no longer be enough to ensure institutional survival, unless couple with compassionate concern for the well-being of individuals. The indulgence of privilege by individuals will be punished by nature, requiring of each of us a commitment to our fellow citizens. The combine constraints on tyranny and anarchy will make the destructive political dialog of our era a luxury that we can no longer afford. Loud-mouths will be told to pick up a shovel and work, or go and shout in the wilderness.