I was studying Demosthenes’s treatises on Rhetoric in college and I noticed an interesting insight. I had expected him to expound upon delivery, but he also emphasized preparation. It was not only important to have good arguments and the right presentation, you also had to make sure that the audience was prepared to receive your argument.
What that meant was: if your ideas were seeds for future action and growth, you had to also prepare the ground for the seeds to be sown. In Aristotelian terms, the Material Cause of the audience’s capacity for action had to be ready for the Agent Cause of your speech. The ground had to be tilled, before the seed was sown.
In business school at Duke this ancient insight was confirmed in our communications class where they taught us to get feedback from key stakeholders about a presentation before giving the presentation. The idea was to prepare them for the ideas you were going to present, to cultivate the field as it were, before sowing the seeds.
Aristotle’s four major works are the Rhetoric, the Poetics, the Ethics, and the Politics. Aristotle was very practical and realistic. His works also conform to his Four Causes -the Rhetoric is about Agency, the Poetics is about Formal cause, the Ethics about Material cause, and the Politics is about the Final Cause.
In the US, politics has become the essential final cause of all things. For Aristotle, Politics was a necessity and a reality, but it was not a religion. So if we look at partisan strategies from a practical view, they make sense in practical ways, often with religious-style morality as a cover.
In the US, the practical politics means that when parties are in power they try to gerrymander districts to ensure their party stays in power. [Overall, the two-party duopoly stays in power and very few incumbents ever lose.] Recently Republicans in North Carolina have been under federal scrutiny about gerrymandering districts to keep control of state politics. On the face of it the Republicans may seem to be wrong in terms of the civic religion, but you also have to realize that there has been a lot of migration from liberal, expensive, and bankrupt Northern states to the Charlotte and Research Triangle area of North Carolina.
Do native Carolinians have a right to control their state, and the laws and ethos of their state, in the face of a massive influx of outsiders moving into two tiny specific regions?
Because citizenship and voting laws in the U.S. are federal and not local (like Switzerland), theoretically a mass of voters from another state can move to North Carolina and by majority out-vote the families that have been there for over 250 years.
The Republicans in North Carolina are trying to control the Formal Cause of politics in order to ensure that legacy Carolinians are not out-voted by newcomers (most of whom are extremely condescending to the native population).
What I find interesting about this, aside from how useful Aristotle and Demosthenes remain to analyze issues in a clear way, is that Democrats are also attempting a very big gerrymander of their own, but their move has been imbued with a moral cover.
Democrats are trying to gerrymander the Material Cause of political life via mass immigration. (True, it is not a purely Democratic issue, the Chamber of Commerce Republican party puppets want cheap labor, local coherent communities be damned).
In fact, the Democrats have made immigration a major part of their electoral strategy.
The fight to protect Dreamers is not only a moral imperative, it is also a critical component of the Democratic Party’s future electoral success. -Jennifer Palmieri
As pundit Steve Sailer has pointed out, with the emergence of Identity Politics, the Republican Party has become the default “White Party” while the Democratic Party has become the “Coalition of the Ascendant” -a coalition that is organized around being not-white-middle-class.
Republicans, if they want to win, try to get legislation passed that suppresses non-white votes, and the Democrats advocate legislation that increases non-white votes. It’s politics, it’s dirty, it makes sense -both parties want to make the potential energy (the Material Cause) of the voting population more likely to emit an outcome positive for them. They each have different desired political outcomes, they each have different seeds, so they each need to condition the electoral soil to favor their seeds and their outcomes.
So, Republicans, who tend to be reactive to progressive movements, try to gerrymander the Form of elections. The Democrats want to gerrymander the Material of the election.
When the Hart-Cellar Act on immigration was passed in 1965, Ted Kennedy said it would not change the demographics of the country. Yet the country has gone from roughly 90% European descent and roughly 10% African descent to 62% European-descent.
Rhetoric depends both upon the agency of the argument and the material disposition of the audience. One party wants to change the material cause of the population in order to win elections, the other party wants to change the formal cause of the election process in order to win elections.
If the Democrats can stop gerrymandering against outsiders in North Carolina, is Trump allowed to stop Democratic gerrymandering against the current citizenry?
When ideologues want to change the world, they often find that regular folks are their biggest obstacle and so they eliminate them. As German author Bertolt Brecht wrote:
After the uprising of the 17th June The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
If Wall Street wants mass immigration to lower wages and increased consumer demand, and if the Democrats want mass immigration in order to win a demographic war for votes, I say those who already live here are allowed to use tools like “gerrymandering” to fight that. Because it licit tools are not allowed, beware the illicit ones that will come.
Metrics are not the real things that we are doing in our businesses, they exist to help us do the real things better. Metrics must not be confused with goals. Once metrics become goals then we start to game the system of our own devising.
Metrics should be simple, so that they reveal reality easily. They should be sensitive, so that they easily and quickly reveal the effects of effort in one way or another. Finally, following these two ideas, Form should follow Function -the Metrics must be as close to the reality of the work as possible.
There are essentially four types of metrics: quality, scale, engagement, and revenue. If you are working on your metrics instead of the things the metrics reveal, you are tricking yourself. Metrics help us work on real things.
Aristotle says that we know a thing when we know it according to the Four Causes. Those causes are the Telos (the purpose or goal), the Material (what makes up the thing), the Form (the shape of a thing) and the Agent Cause (what gives Form to the Material).
In business the achievement of Telos is mostly revealed by Revenue, but the Form must match the Function (a non-profit has a different form that a for-profit because the goals are different). And the Material (Human Capital, Equipment, Product) must have the potential energy to achieve the goal. Likewise, we must have processes, training, and feedback (Efficient Causes) drive the potential Energy into the Form that will achieve the Goal.
Quality measures the material cause of our business, the thing we are doing
Scale measures the formal cause of our business, the structure of us in the market
Engagement measures the effectiveness of our Agency in the market, does out Product lead us to our Goal?
The Enemy has the English and French armies surrounded at Dunkirk. We never see the faces of the Enemy. The score of Dunkirk is incessant and driving. The film is a masterpiece. I was skeptical that this military disaster could be rendered as something heroic. Christopher Nolan has captured a change in the zeitgeist. This may be first patriotic movie of the 21st Century. “When 400,000 men couldn’t get home, home came for them.”
The Enemy had bombed the British fleet and the main port facilities of Dunkirk, the larger ships of the British navy could not dock and take aboard the soldiers piled up on the beaches of Dunkirk. The Enemy is faceless, industrial, devastating, and terrifying as it bombs and strafes from the sky.
An English officer holds back French (European and African) soldiers from the last deep water dock. “This is for Englishmen,” he says as they all wait in line to be bombed and strafed. Then Englishmen sail what would come to be known as the “Little Ships of Dunkirk”, a flotilla of pleasure boats, yachts, and launches to bring Englishmen back to England. Was this the last gasp of “Little England” that had lived tensely within the British Empire?
The returning soldiers imagine that they will be spat upon and jeered as cowards and failures, but they are greeted with cheers and embraced by their countrymen. As Englishman G.K. Chesterton said about patriotism, “we admire things with reasons, but love them without reasons. [Kipling] admires England because she is strong, not because she is English.”
The British navy lost six destroyers and nineteen were damaged. They could not dock and the men could not get out to them in deeper water. The call goes out, “But if Not,” to the moorings of the Thames and the ports of Southeast England. Seven hundred ships answer the call. The British Expeditionary Force is successfully evacuated as is a large remnant of the French army.
“It is a good sign in a nation when things are done badly. It shows that all the people are doing them. And it is bad sign in a nation when such things are done very well, for it shows that only a few experts and eccentrics are doing them, and that the nation is merely looking on.” -G.K. Chesterton
But if the Little Ships of Dunkirk was that last gasp of Little England, local patriotic love as opposed to brutal imperial pride, Nolan’s Dunkirk may signify its rebirth. As Englishman J.R.R Tolkien said,
“But of bliss and glad life there is little to be said, before it ends; as works fair and wonderful, while they still endure for eyes to see, are ever their own record, and only when they are in peril or broken for ever do they pass into song.”
By “song” Tolkien means “artistic memory”. Nolan is singing an epic tale about an event that happened 77 years ago for a reason, and his song is rendered in a certain manner for certain reasons. What does Nolan think is in peril or broken forever?
“This is for English only,” said the officer. But once the English had saved their countrymen, they were able to save the French and Belgians.
The Enemy, an admiral suggests on the dock, if they wipe out the British army at Dunkirk will then conquer England, and then the world.
In another English war movie, Master and Commander, Captain Jack Aubrey echoes the local patriotism of the English as they fight off Napoleon and his citizen armies of the first global revolutionary movement.
“England is under threat of invasion, and though we be on the far side of the world, this ship is our home. This ship, is England.” -Jack Aubrey
At Dunkirk the Enemy is faceless and unnamed because, as we look back, it is just another “-ism,” a manifestation of the ongoing Revolution, a destruction of the Faith and Culture of place and nation for the new, the efficient, the rational, the modern. Nolan doesn’t even use the words “Nazis” or “Germans”. The Enemy starts with the regicide of the French Revolution and its attempt to squash the Catholicism of France, through the 1848 revolutions, Marxism, National Socialism, Communism, and finally the McWorld of Global Consumer Capitalism -all antithetical to the Christian religious culture that made Europe; that gave the West a Localism that flourished under the universal umbrella of Christianity -Lombardy, Galicia, Wales, Orleans, Bavaria, Bohemia, etc.
“God bade me love one spot and serve it, and do all things however wild in praise of it, so that this one spot might be a witness against all the infinities and the sophistries, that Paradise is somewhere and not anywhere, is something and not anything.” -G.K. Chesterton
I suspect that Nolan has captured somehow the changing zeitgeist against global systems in favor of returning to national and local systems -Brexit, Trump and America First, the Visegrad Group. In the global mono-culture, do the English get to have a home? Do Europeans in general get to have homelands?
In the 1990s Francis Fukuyama stated that it was The End of History and the status quo moving forward would be Global Capitalism and liberal democracy which had defeated Communism. He failed to trace the contention back far enough. In response Benjamin Barber wrote Jihad vs. McWorld , which suggested an emerging struggle between local culture and a global consumer mono-culture that seeks to annihilate the local.
In the face of this Enemy, the parochialism of time of Whig Progress, just as the English can only help the French if they preserve themselves first, so too the West can only be saved if the nations that make up the West are saved.
As President Trump said recently in Poland:
“Poland is the geographic heart of Europe, but more importantly, in the Polish people, we see the soul of Europe. Your nation is great because your spirit is great and your spirit is strong. For two centuries, Poland suffered constant and brutal attacks… So it is with true admiration that I can say today, that from the farms and villages of your countryside to the cathedrals and squares of your great cities, Poland lives, Poland prospers, and Poland prevails.”
Dunkirk ends with a soldier reading Churchill’s speech.
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
But Churchill’s Empire was also another “-ism”, now gone. Dunkirk is a rebuke of Churchill’s empire. In Dunkirk Christopher Nolan is telling us that an epoch has ended, the epoch that began with the French Revolution has come to an end as the mighty forces of The Enemy cannot prevail against the small armies and flotillas of local peoples who want to preserve their nations and cultures and not be swamped by the global mono-culture. Henceforth the old will liberate the new, as the armies of the dead liberated Gondor in Tolkien’s Return of the King, because:
“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” -G.K. Chesterton
The English army couldn’t get home, so “home” can to them. Dunkirk may be a sort of Homecoming for little Englanders and patriots everywhere. “God bade me love one spot…”
B.H. Liddell Hart is sometimes credited as the founder of Third Generation, “maneuver” warfare. He wrote Strategy: An Indirect Approach after witnessing first-hand the horrible casualties of direct assaults during his time as an English soldier in the First World War.
“In Strategy the longest way around is often the shortest way there. A direct approach to the object exhausts the attacker and hardens the resistance by compression, where as an indirect approach loosens the defender’s hold by upsetting his balance”.
This echoes the famous Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu:
“In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory.”
Ironically it was the Germans were the first to take his approach seriously in their development of the Blitzkrieg.
While advocating this maneuver warfare and indirect approach, Liddell Hart was adamantly against covert operations, also know as “black operations”. Although covert operations achieve the intended end of disrupting the equilibrium of an enemy, Liddell Hart says, “they always get out of control.”
“As Vice-president under Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush revived all of the covert operations that Carter wanted to ban, and most significantly armed the Mujahideen in Afghanistan as America’s proxy warriors against the Soviet Union.
When these proxy warriors do what they are told–as in Libya, where they toppled Khaddafi, and in Syria, where they almost toppled Assad–they are known as ‘freedom fighters’”. “When they get out of control, as they are now in Iraq, they are known as terrorists.”
We know that the Mujahideen became Al-Qaeda and that their leader, Saudi Arabian Osama Bin Laden eventually “got out of control.”
Now there is evidence that the recent U.K. attacks have roots in British covert operations, that this is yet again an example of black operations getting out of control.
Evidence suggests that one of the London attackers, Rachid Redouane, was part of the broad UK-backed covert strategy to oust Syria’s Assad, following his similar role in Libya in 2011.
Carter wanted to end black operations, and apparently Kennedy wanted to shatter the C.I.A. into a thousand pieces. How much more blow back and “black operations gone out of control” do we need to learn Liddell Hart’s fundamental insight?
Molly McHugh recently wrote in The Ringer about new communal living arrangements in Oakland and New York City. I recommend her whole essay.
The Nook is a microhousing apartment complex with communal spaces that residents share… This building -mild, modern, and far from ostentatious- could very well be the future of middle class housing in America.
Middle-class America must not include children at this point. Children are only for the rich to repopulate the ruling class or for the poor drone workers who can’t, or don’t care to, live in hip urban vibrancy zones.
But what really got me thinking was the contextualization of this communal living -the Sharing Economy. The author of course references AirBNB, Uber, etc.
Technology created the possibility of, and opportunity for, the communal living movement.
The Sharing Economy has been trendy for a few years now. McHugh acknowledges that communal living is not new, but this version breaks it out of its hippie, granola past. But going back farther into the mists of time, renting out rooms is something a family did during The Great Depression to make extra money.
So was driving a hack, an unauthorized taxi cab. And so was contract work, piece meal sewing, barter, growing and selling your own food. A google search of “How people made extra money during the Depression” is basically a list of hot new sharing economy business ideas and lifestyle options. Uber and Lyft are Hack taxis, AirBNB a flophouse, the gig economy is piece work…
Is the Sharing Economy just a gloss for massively reduced living standards? Probably. I have no doubt that suburbs have been a massive waste of resources, a dissolution of social capital, resting on the wealth explosion of the post war economy, which was a one-off gain until Europe and Japan rebuilt. From the Economist:
These Boomers have lived a charmed life, easily topping previous generations in income earned at every age… Households became smaller, populated with more earners and fewer children. And Boomers enjoyed the distinction of being among the best-educated of American generations at a time when the return on education was soaring.
Yet these gains were one-offs… boomer income growth relied on a number of one-off gains.
The one-off gain fueled massive dislocation from traditional communities as G.I.s moved their families to the new suburbs, draining rural towns and urban ethnic enclaves, not only of people, but of social capital, which had to be recreated in the suburbs. But the suburbs keep moving out, regenerating farther and farther out, dissipating social capital and family wealth with each move.
Generation X has a lower standard of living than their Boomer parents. Of course there was going to be a reset -both economically and socially. McMansions are cancer, are tiny homes chemo? The hype around the Sharing Economy masks the wasted capital of decades of consumerism and skirts the reduced living standards of the Middle Class. We call Tiny Houses a movement as if it is not just a natural result after decades of dissipation and decadence.
Pro Tip: Google “How people Made Extra Money in the Great Depression” and find your million dollar Sharing Economy Start-up Idea!
Gentlemen’s Quarterly UK translated some interesting excerpts from newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron’s book Macron Par Marcon (Macron by Macron)
“Democracy is always presented as if it were incomplete, because democracy is not enough by itself,” says Macron, elaborating that there is always something missing in the democratic process; some sort of void.
“In French politics, this absence is the presence of a King, a King whom, fundamentally, I don’t think the French people wanted dead,” said Macron. “The Revolution dug a deep emotional abyss, one that was imaginary and shared: the King is no more!” According to Macron, since the Revolution France has tried to fill this void, most notably with Napoleon and then Charles de Gaulle, which was only partially successful. “The rest of the time,” said Macron, “French democracy does not manage to fill this void.”
French Democracy is not alone in failing to fill this void. From Homer’s Iliad to the Eighteenth Century, the Occident had a nuanced understanding of leadership: the Rex/Dux partnership. Rex is Latin for King, and Dux is Latin for leader, in particular “War Leader”. Think Agamemnon/Achilles, Arthur/Lancelot, Charlemagne/Roland. But from the regicide of the French Revolution, through the toppling of monarchies after World War I, the West has conflated the role of Rex and the role of Dux in the term “leadership”.
While a Dux accomplishes tasks, implements strategies, the Rex creates the vision, creates the strategy and the milieu within which the Dux operates. The brilliant Lancelot needs an Arthur. As Hans Herman-Hoppe points out in Democracy: The God that Failed, monarchs see the nation as their private property and tend towards prudence in state affairs in order to pass or their property to their heirs. In Arthurian legend, “the land and the king are one.” In other words, the telos of the monarch is to maximize the potential of the land. When the king rules with justice, the land and the people flourish.
In the Iliad Agamemnon is neither the greatest warrior (Achilles is), nor the most cunning (Odysseus is), but he has the most to lose. He organized the expedition to rescue Helen and committed the most personal wealth. Every warrior in the Iliad can become a hero, remembered forever for his exploits on the battlefield no matter if he or his side wins or loses in the end. Except Agamemnon.
The telos for each warrior is excellence in battle, the telos for king Agamemnon is the success of the whole enterprise. His heroic name will be remembered only if his men succeed. The most important thing that Agamemnon has to learn to do is sublimate his personal will and desire to the will of his men and the goal of the whole expedition. He may be the first monarch in history who has to build consensus. He creates and protects the space for others to operate at their highest level. Here, will of the people and will of the king must become one.
Macron’s insights are important. Democracy is not enough. Democratic republics elect temporary caretakers of the nation, whose vision often extends no farther than the next election cycle. As Hoppe points out, temporary caretakers tend to deplete the wealth of the nation to win short-term political victories, whereas monarchs seek to increase the wealth of the nation, the Commonwealth.
This caretaker/owner problem also exists in business, similar to the principal/agent problem. Modern corporate governance has been notoriously short term in pursuit of quarterly returns. The conflation of Rex and Dux into “leadership” literature and training negates the mutually beneficial roles. It leads to emphasis on task-accomplishment even when bereft of vision and negates the Regal check on Ducal charisma and ambition.
Work is one of the ways that we participate in God’s creation, the second-most enjoyable way to procreate. A monarchic vision of the sovereign space of work enlarges the timeline and allows for work to become craft, allows for more creativity, for more learning and innovation, instead of work being a series of tasks to be accomplished before play time.
The longest, continuously-running organization in the West is the Roman Catholic Church. Like Agamemnon, St. Peter was neither the most brilliant nor the strongest. G.K. Chesterton describes the moment when Christ chose Peter:
“When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its cornerstone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward — in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms have failed, because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.” -Heretics
The kings may never return, but we should encourage leaders to disentangle the two roles of Rex and Dux, to develop a monarchic temperament both to create the long term sustainable space for doing work well, as well as the milieu within which task accomplishment is tied to a bigger picture of human excellence. The land and the king are one. The people and the king are one. The land and the people are one.
Emmanuel Macron founded a new party, and his election as France’s president is said to herald the “revival of Europe.” Interestingly, Macron has no children.
This is not that notable in itself. After all, George Washington had no biological children. But across the continent Macron wants to bind closer together, there’s a stark pattern:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also has no children. British prime minister Theresa May has no children. Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni has no children. Holland’s Mark Rutte has no children. Sweden’s Stefan Löfven has no biological children. Luxembourg’s Xavier Bettel has no children. Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon has no children. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, has no children.
This is too remarkable to ignore. While Macron is young—39 years old—the rest of Europe is being governed by childless Baby Boomers.
Tom Wolfe wrote about Baby Boomers and the Me Decade:
Most people, historically, have not lived their lives as if thinking, “I have only one life to live.” Instead they have lived as if they are living their ancestors’ lives and their offspring’s lives and perhaps their neighbors’ lives as well. They have seen themselves as inseparable from the great tide of chromosomes of which they are created and which they pass on. The mere fact that you were only going to be here a short time and would be dead soon enough did not give you the license to try to climb out of the stream and change the natural order of things.
The Boomers first grabbed the reins of political power in the West in the 1990s, as Communism collapsed and Francis Fukuyama declared “The End of History.” The Boomers live like they believe it. If history is over, if all that is left is consumer capitalism in a liberal democracy, if the stream has stopped flowing, why not climb out?
The late Benjamin Barber wrote a response to Fukuyama called Jihad vs McWorld. Barber argued that the death of the old conflicts—between nations—would go hand in hand with a new conflict: the clash between the McWorld of global consumer capitalism and the “jihad” of local, traditional, and “conservative” cultures.
It’s clear which side has political power now. But the demographics point to a different future. In 2009 Phillip Longman noted that in France (for example) a tiny minority of women are giving birth to over 50% of the children every year. These women are either practicing Catholics or immigrant Muslims.
One of the benefits of parenthood is the daily confrontation with free will—a human nature. Parents may have their child’s life, career, and happiness planned out, but a child has other ideas -constantly. Love, patience, teaching, negotiating, scolding—nurture—can help direct the child, but the overwhelming otherness of the child is undeniable. They are not blank slates upon whom the parent exercises his will.
Political leaders without this experience of parenthood may be susceptible to the idea that people are blank-slates, interchangeable units of human capital. As a parent and a teacher, I have seen many brilliant and well-meaning parents and colleagues crash their will and intellect against the rock of a child’s independent nature. Now, scale such a hubristic paternalism to a nation. Or a continent.
Contemporary childless leaders, however ascendant they feel today, may be the last gasp of secularism. The future is won by those who show up, and only the religiously orthodox are having children.
Those still swimming in the ancient streams of Faith and Culture in France will have the observant offspring of two rival religions living within the borders of one nation. The second Battle of Tours, (or Vienna, or Lepanto) might be extra bloody due to the policies of today, but the authors of those policies will not be around because they will be dead, and their offspring will not be around, because they do not exist.
The Founding Fathers of the United States established the Constitution to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”, posterity being their offspring. Looking out for one’s posterity, having a long-term vision, is necessary for the good of society, according to Harvard Political Scientist James Wilson. Do childless political leaders have skin in the game long-term?
In Europe today, those without progeny are enacting policies that impact the posterity of others.
Surely Macron, Merkel, Juncker, and the rest would argue that they can do their crucial jobs better because they don’t have children to distract them. C.S. Lewis provides the rebuttal: “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.”
The first Artificial Intelligence ever created was Pandora, a creation of the Greek gods Hephaestus and Athena. Pandora means both “all-gifted” and “all-giving” and was constructed with attributes from every other Olympian god. Pandora was created at the request of Zeus, the king of the gods, as a punishment for Prometheus stealing fire, the first disruptive technology, and handing it over to mankind.
Zeus punishes Prometheus, the proto god of technology and intelligence, for giving fire to mankind by chaining him to a rock, and he punishes mankind by giving them Pandora, the first A.I., who has been endowed with attributes from all of the gods. But how is this gift a punishment?
Pandora is a “mythical inversion”, a story explaining the origin of evil in the world, while celebrating technology as a divine gift. Zeus, the god of Order and Justice chains (the god of) technology to hold its disruptive powers in check, while delivering a gift of technology to mankind in the form of Pandora. This gift is also disruptive.
It is Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus who actually receives Pandora from Zeus and unleashes her “evil” on mankind. Epimetheus’s name means “Afterthought”. Forethought and Intelligence can give us the gifts of technology, but only Afterthought or Hindsight recognizes and learns the possible misuses of that technology -as Epimetheus learns after Pandora opens her box, leaving only Hope inside. The Greek ambiguity about technology as a gift/punishment reflects their idea that technology itself is morally neutral. Good or evil arises from the social norms and political economy in which the technology emerges and is used.
Zeus, the god of Justice, Order, and Balance, finally allows Prometheus to be freed by Heracles after his Twelve Labors. Heracles is Zeus’ son, and his name means “the Fame of Hera.” Hera is the queen of the gods and Zeus’ wife. If Zeus represents Justice, Hera represents Governance. If Zeus is the strategic vision of Justice, Order, and Balance in the Greek Weltanschauung, Hera represents the daily governing customs that are the foundations of that Order and Justice. In consulting terms, Zeus is the strategic plan, Hera is the governing methodology, and the Labors of Heracles are the implementation.
Once Heracles has done his work -that is, once the Fame of Hera is spread and the customs of the Zeus Principle have been implemented, then Prometheus, the god of technology, can be unchained. A balanced and just society had to be established where the technology of Prometheus and Pandora can be gifts, not curses.
The ancient wisdom reveals that a strong political and ethical framework must exist in a community’s daily habits -not just in theory- within which that technology can emerge. A political economy of Justice and Governance can incorporate and enable technology, can integrate both visionary Forethought (Prometheus), and critical Afterthought (Epimetheus). A merely theoretical Justice cannot do this without a methodology of implementation and governance. Governance without Theory cannot do this either, as there is no organizing principle. As the Latin epigram states: Laws without customs are empty and vain. The corollary would be customs without laws are empty repetition.
The ethical issues surrounding emerging, disruptive technology and Artificial Intelligence are not merely the tactical uses of them, but the civilizational organizing principles and reinforcing social norms within which those technologies emerge and are used.
At the end of the Industrial Revolution, a period of massive technological disruption, Mary Shelley references Prometheus in the title of her famous book, Frankenstein, A Modern Prometheus. In seeking to create Artificial Life and Artificial Intelligence, Dr. Frankenstein creates a monster. Frankenstein is a warning about technology unchained from the civilizational order and norms, but it is also a warning about the order and norms within which new technology was emerging.
As The New York Times says in its article about Peter Thiel:
He [Thiel] does think, though, that human violence is more of a risk than a pandemic or robot army. “It’s the people behind the red-eyed robots that you need to be scared of,” he says.
The ethics of Artificial Intelligence will not be a bolt-on software update, but will already be in the ethical operating system of the civilization out of which Artificial Intelligence emerges. The questions is, is the ethical operating system that our civilization has now a sufficient framework to allow A.I. to be a blessing and not a curse? Or have we already opened Pandora’s Box? There is always Hope, but the emergence of A.I. may force us to re-engineer back to some lost or hazy ethical first principles to which Shelley and Hesiod have alluded.
When Ross Mayfield’s article, The Coming Tech Backlash appeared in my LinkedIn feed I was intrigued because I have been thinking a lot about the role of technology in work after several years of working in education technology. Who gets the surplus value of automation? Who gets the leisure time created?
I have been re-reading philosopher Josef Pieper’s book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture which discusses the role that technology and labor specialization had in allowing for leisure in Ancient Greece. Pieper defines “Leisure” as an activity, not a passive consumption of goods or pleasure as is often the case now. Active leisure gives rise to culture, innovation, and art -the Greek word for art is techne whence our word technology comes. Technology is an art.
In 1818, near the end of the Industrial Revolution, a period of technological disruption unprecedented in history, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. The full title of the book is Frankenstein -The Modern Prometheus. So who was Prometheus and why did Shelley call her protagonist The Modern Prometheus?
Prometheus is a Titan god from Greek mythology. He is a god of technology and his name translates as “Fore Thought”. Against Zeus’ instructions he gives fire to man, the first technology. Zeus punishes Prometheus by chaining him to a rock where an eagle gnaws on his liver. In much of modern scholarship Zeus is a villain for punishing technological progress and innovation. But the symbolism is important: Justice chains Technology. “Unleash the techne,” say the modernists. Shelley’s response is, “the techne has been unleashed and it is a monster!” Zeus also hobbled another god of Technology, Hephaestus. Can there be a balance?
Zeus is the Olympian god who overthrew the Titans, himself a revolutionary. He is the god of Justice, Order, Balance. The Oxford Classical Dictionary says that, “the order of things as it is now is Zeus’ work.” What later scientists and philosophers would call the Natural Law is this “order of things as it is now,” since only things with a nature and an order can be studied (replication of experiments, etc.).
Zeus later allows Prometheus to be freed by his son Hercules (Heracles). We know that the Greeks were technologically advanced and were not Luddites, so how did they come to terms with technology while worshiping a god who shackled the god of technology?
Heracles’s name means “the fame of Hera”. Hera was the wife and queen of Zeus. If Zeus is the god of Justice then Hera is the goddess of Governance. She is tactics, he is strategy. Hera represents the customs and habits of daily political economy, the enacted reality of the Zeus principle of Justice/Order/Balance. Heracles had to complete Twelve Labors around (the known) world. By these labors he spread the fame of Hera, not Zeus. Why? Because, as we know in business, no strategy matters without implementation. The Twelve Labors of HERAcles are the implementation methodology of the Zeus strategy.
This idea is reflected in the Latin epigram “Leges sine moribus sunt vanae”, that is, “Laws (Zeus) without customs (Hera) are empty and vain.” A de-moralized society needs mores (customs) to restore morale. Perhaps, this is why Plato wrote, “It is not who writes a nations laws, but who writes its songs.”
I have been doing some interesting work lately that involves software which increases employee engagement while linking their daily activity more tightly to overall strategy. This has really clarified my thinking on Justice/Governance, Strategy/Tactics, Zeus/Hera. No matter how great and well-articulated the Zeus Principle is regarding Justice/Order/Balance, without the implementation via the Hera Methodology of the daily economy, it lacks agency. Conversely, what are daily habits and customs without an overall goal or strategy but empty rituals -make-work?
Documentation of process improvement is a form of governance in this sense, it is necessary for strategy implementation, but how often do we experience business process improvement documentation overload, where it is all “governance” and no strategy, all Hera no Zeus? Recently I had a conversation with a potential client in the who described this very thing: documentation without a vision.
The Curse of the Methodology: Instead of having the PM work out what needs to be done and then the PM taking care of it, (all behind the scenes), there emerged methodologies (PMP or otherwise) that try to ensure that the PM follows the menu of daily activities. Don’t get me wrong, a lean methodology to enforce good governance is a good thing, but on my last engagement, every project (big or small) had to lodge a minimum of 21 documents, and often as many as 40. These documents are lengthy, repetitive, and take weeks of the PM and other team members to fill out. Then they all go into the archive where they will never be read.
If daily work is not linked to a strategy, the work is misguided and the strategy is impotent. A similar dis-junction occurs if household, family habits and local community customs are not aligned to a teleology of the overall political economy. It may be that a national vision of Justice is impossible, and this can only be dealt with at the local and company level. I don’t know.
Among the Greeks, the principle of Justice chains Technology until Justice/Order/Balance can be implemented in the daily lives of the Greek world via the spreading of the Hera methodology. Then the god of Technology can be unchained. A corporate strategic order had to come into existence into which technology can be integrated.
The order of Zeus is only established when the fame of Hera is spread. The vision of Zeus’s justice and order are not enough, the daily customs and habits of thought and action must be in place before technology can be released to have its proper role in society, which is to allow for active leisure. Technology “augmentation” is Mayfield’s “Hera principle” implementation solution.
Technology in an ordered and balanced culture allows for leisure and therefore allows for more culture, art, and technology. Automation must be governed by Justice, and both the male Zeus principle and the female Hera methodology must be brought to bear on this issue*. Until there is clarification about what Justice means, and then implementation via social norms, technology will likely run roughshod over the culture, until it is chained to a rock.
*The differentiated roles and contributions of men and women in technology is an important one and discussed quite a lot, though usually as a numbers issue -we need larger quantity of women doing what men are doing in tech, instead of “we need more women bringing governance/insight/collaboration to tech” or some such thing.
With Russia and Putin hovering over our election, I thought back to Mr. Putin’s New York Times Op-Ed in 2013 regarding Syria. Mr. Putin opened his op-ed to the U.S. and its political leaders seeking to avoid devastation.
Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation [my emphasis] from ever happening again.
Devastation. The word comes from the Latin verb, devastare —to lay waste, and from the Latin adjective vastus –empty, desolate.
Putin knows devastation. Born in 1952, 7 years after the end of World War II, baptized in secret, Putin grew up in a devastated family in a devastated country. Both of Putin’s older brothers had died; the oldest son died in infancy in the 1930s, the second, of diphtheria during the Siege of Leningrad.
His family was not alone, in Russia almost 13% of the population perished during the war, with over 7 million civilian deaths and nearly that many military deaths. More Russian civilians died in WWII than soldiers, almost 14 million Russians perished. In contrast the United States lost roughly 400,000 soldiers and 1,700 civilians, altogether less than one percent of the total population.
The brutal warfare along the Eastern Front left Russia devastated economically as well: a quarter of its capital resources were destroyed and agricultural output was lower than it had been in the 1920s. Stalin killed an estimated 20 million Soviet citizens. Add the economic disaster of Communism to the destruction of WWII and you have a land made empty, desolate.
Vladimir must have been a source of hope for his parents in the devastated emptiness after the war, like his Baby Boomer peers in the U.S. were for the G.I. Generation after the Great Depression and WWII.
However, unlike post war Russia, post war America was a cornucopia. Unlike the rest of the industrialized world, the United States had not been bombed into rubble. We were the exception. We had no industrial competition. Everyone in the world bought our stuff.
In the U.S., real consumption rose by 22 percent between 1944 and 1947, and spending on durable goods more than doubled in real terms. Gross private investment rose by 223 % in real terms, with a whopping six-fold real increase in residential- housing expenditures.
The private economy boomed as the government sector stopped buying munitions and hiring soldiers. [i]
The nation’s gross national product rose from about $200,000 million in 1940 to $300,000 million in 1950 and to more than $500,000 million in 1960. It was a unique moment in history when the Boomers came of age. As the Economist writes:
These Boomers have lived a charmed life, easily topping previous generations in income earned at every age… Households became smaller, populated with more earners and fewer children. And Boomers enjoyed the distinction of being among the best-educated of American generations at a time when the return on education was soaring.
Yet these gains were one-offs… boomer income growth relied on a number of one-off gains.
Our Baby Boomer political leaders grew up as well-cared-for children in the brand-new suburbs, at a time of unprecedented optimism and wealth. The strength and wealth of the nation were so secure that they could “tune in, turn on, and drop out”; in that fit of Daddy-anger that was the late 1960s.
There was material wealth to be sure, but the Boomers were devastated in their own way, uprooted from their ethnic enclaves in the northern cities (if Catholic) and from their Midwestern towns and farms (if Protestant), devastated psychically in the wasteland of Levittown and cul de sacs. In fact, Baby Boomers now have the highest suicide rate of any generation[ii]. The Me Generation is an alienated generation. It was an exceptional mirage, material wealth masking spiritual devastation.
Tom Wolfe, himself of the Silent Generation sandwiched between the GIs and the Boomers, described the exceptional nature of Boomer self-absorption as having discarded the “age-old belief in serial immortality.”
Most people, historically, have not lived their lives as if thinking, ‘I have only one life to live.’ Instead, they have lived as if they are living their ancestors’ lives and their offsprings’ lives and perhaps their neighbors’ lives as well… The mere fact that you were only going to be here a short time and would be dead soon enough did not give you the license to try to climb out of the stream and change the natural order of things.
Climbing out of the stream upon their rise to power in the early 1990s, with the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 and the accession of Newt Gingrich as House Speaker in 1994, it was declared The End of History, by Francis Fukuyama, born in 1952 like Mr. Putin.
Revolutionary Boomers rebelled against the traditions of the past and are wrecking the future. Wolfe echoes G.K. Chesterton who wrote that:
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.
Clinton went to war in the Balkans, intervened in Somalia, and bombed Iraq. Madeline Albright suggested 500,000 dead Iraqi children, “was worth it,” whatever “it” was. Bush and Obama have warred on Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, with Boomer war-drums beating for Syria and Iran.
The LA Times, using CBO numbers, says Iraq and Afghanistan will be the most expensive war in U.S. history. Afghanistan is already the longest[iii]. The Millennial Generation “has been at war their whole lives.”
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will ultimately cost between $4 trillion and $6 trillion, with medical care and disability benefits weighing heavily for decades to come, according to a new analysis.
The bill to taxpayers so far has been $2 trillion, plus $260 billion in interest on the resulting debt. By comparison, the current federal budget is $3.8 trillion.
The largest future expenses will be medical care and disability benefits for veterans, [Linda] Bilmes [public policy expert at Harvard University] predicted. “The big, big cost comes 30 or 40 years out,” she said.
The Boomers inherited a fortuitous economic head start on their global peers. Their G.I. fathers had bombed all industrial competitors into dust. Mistaking this head start as an “unconditional election” to be global hegemon, they have proceeded to spend the principal of their exceptional economic endowment. Now they are mortgaging the future of their progeny to continue the fiction. Boomer Bernanke did not taper. Yellen continues. Boomers exempt themselves from history and borrow against their posterity.
Are the Boomers on an extended ballistic tantrum? A cruise-missile hissy fit? Are they just acting out? They have proceeded to lay waste to the foundations of their inheritance, graduating from waging ideological wars on the institutions that raised them, to waging whimsical wars abroad, costing billions, from Clinton through Bush and Obama. As Baby Boomer Chris Hedges writes, “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.”
Boomers have indebted their children and grandchildren with these wars of theirs, for some notional, Platonic ghost of Democracy, which also [just happens] to bring with it market-opening opportunities for Democracy! Whisky! and Sex![iv] to these bedraggled traditional peoples who only know the ways of their ancestors and not our enlightened, modern ways; not for any real national threat, but spuriously, based upon lies and/or to cover up lies.
On the other hand, Putin knows about the wasteland left by Great Patriotic Wars, about the economic and moral collapse of a people broken by war. He knows about the decades of U.S. sponsored jihad on his country’s southern borders, and the unintended consequences and blowback of such sponsorship and intervention. (see: Boston Marathon Bombing)
Putin’s Mother Russia was not just devastated economically, it was devastated morally and spiritually after WWII, annihilating its own future with some of the highest abortion rates in the developed world through the 1990s, with alcoholism and other social pathologies devastating their ability to continue as a people Rus.
Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward. -Vernon Law, baseball player, Silent Generation
Russia in general, and Putin in particular, have experienced the test of war and devastation, they learned the lessons. Recently, Russian birthrates surpassed those of the US. As Tom Wolfe noted, this is an indication of belief in a future and a sense of continuity for themselves as a people and as a civilization. Putin the practical politician does not want devastation again.
Having experienced the devastation of war across his country’s borders and in his own family, Mr. Putin finishes his Op Ed using the crusading, religious terminology of the American Baby Boomer political class -teleological “democracy”, while echoing the Declaration of Independence:
There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.
America is exceptional to us because it is ours, not because of the historical, economic anomaly of the post war years, not because it stands astride the world as a Colossus. It is not merely a consumer market nor a labor pool. It is our nation, and we can love because it is ours, not because it is “Number 1!”
Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, Mexicans, Somalis, Vietnamese, etc. are not deformed Americans waiting to be fully Americanized. They can love their countries too, to think that their country is exceptional because it is theirs, whose blessings they hope to pass on to their posterity, as we hope to pass on our nation to our posterity.
The devastation of WWII and the devastation of Communism led to a devastation of the soul of the great Russian people and their civilization, a civilization that is literally being born again.
The spiritual devastation of the Baby Boomers, their antiseptic yet materially rich upbringing in suburban alienation, has resulted in the material devastation of whomever gets in the way of their tantrums –be it the civic institutions they inherited, or the indigenous cultures of small countries who rub them the wrong way.
Baby Boomers took for granted the material wealth and security in which they were raised. They attacked the very civilization and institutions that had made them the best-raised and most educated generation of children in the history of the world to that point. They exempted themselves from their legacy and borrowed against their posterity.
Tom Wolfe recognized the unintended consequences for the Boomers’ rejection of civilizational norms in the 1960s:
In 1968, in San Francisco, I came across a curious footnote to the hippie movement. At the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, there were doctors treating diseases no living doctor had ever encountered before, diseases that had disappeared so long ago they had never even picked up Latin names, diseases such as the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot. And how was it that they now returned? It had to do with the fact that thousands of young men and women had migrated to San Francisco to live communally in what I think history will record as one of the most extraordinary religious fevers of all time.
The hippies sought nothing less than to sweep aside all codes and restraints of the past and start from zero. At one point, the novelist Ken Kesey, leader of a commune called the Merry Pranksters, organized a pilgrimage to Stonehenge with the idea of returning to Anglo-Saxon’s point zero, which he figured was Stonehenge, and heading out all over again to do it better. Among the codes and restraints that people in the communes swept aside–quite purposely–were those that said you shouldn’t use other people’s toothbrushes or sleep on other people’s mattresses without changing the sheets, or as was more likely, without using any sheets at all, or that you and five other people shouldn’t drink from the same bottle of Shasta or take tokes from the same cigarette. And now, in 1968, they were relearning…the laws of hygiene…by getting the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot.
This process, namely the relearning–following a Promethean and unprecedented start from zero–seems to me to be the leitmotif of the twenty-first century in America. -from Hooking Up
The whimsical way in which Boomers go to war suggests a need for a great relearning of the rules of civilization. But it also suggests “war as psychotherapy” and is reminiscent of the “World War as an Afterthought” theme in the background of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, when a sick and decadent nation continually goes to war abroad while waging a domestic war on the minds of its pharmacologically pacified citizens, and on culture itself:
[Montag has just come home to find his interactive-television addicted wife overdosed on sleeping pills.]
The object he had sent tumbling with his foot now glinted under the edge of his own bed. The small crystal bottle of sleeping-tablets which earlier today had been filled with thirty capsules and which now lay uncapped and empty in the light of the tiny flare.
As he stood there the sky over the house screamed. There was a tremendous ripping sound as if two giant hands had torn ten thousand miles of black linen down the seam. Montag was cut in half. He felt his chest chopped down and split apart. The jet-bombs going over, going over, going over, one two, one two, one two, six of them, nine of them, twelve of them, one and one and one and another and another and another, did all the screaming for him. He opened his own mouth and let their shriek come down and out between his bared teeth. The house shook.
The Boomer devastation, because it is wholly spiritual, is worse than the material and economic devastation that informed Putin’s childhood, which probably made him all the more practical and ruthless.
Boomer devastation is in their psyche, the pain of their desolation screams out in cruise-missiles and F-16s. They are pissing away the material wealth that they inherited by bombing deserts.