Ernest Dempsey — Dave Scotese, founder of the online literary community Litmocracy, is a brain at work – whether online or offline. Dave is a software consultant whose interest borders on the language of advanced gadgets, philosophical matters, and the human situation in the broader context. Above all, Dave is a critic gifted with the faculty of looking beyond the obvious. No wonder then that a question I recently happened to ask him led us into talking about power and subordination. Dave pointed to Tolkien’s popular fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings in which the bearer of the ring is influenced by its immense power, compelling him to venture into dangerous situations. What parallels we find in our lives with the motifs of slavery, possession, and power are the central element of the following discussion with Dave Scotese.
Ernest: Dave, let’s get directly to “power”. What does it mean to you and how do you relate it to “authority”?
Dave: Power, to me, is the ability to intentionally cause change. Of course, there are uses of the word that attribute it to things that can’t have intention (powerful cars, powerful lights, etc.), but I’m assuming that you mean powerful human beings. So how does the ability to intentionally cause change relate to “authority”? Authority is two-faced. On one hand, the marriage of openness and intellect can make a human being into an authority on whatever subject the human wishes. I am an authority on the computer systems of my largest client. On the other hand, the marriage of secrecy and coercion can make a human being into an authority over other human beings. My father explained a distinction he’d heard from someone that this second kind of authority is “official” whereas the first is not. There is no office that recognizes the authority of an expert whose openness and intellect put him in the position he holds. Without an office to legitimize the use of coercion, however, the other kind of authority cannot exist. How does the ability to intentionally cause change relate to these two versions of authority? Both kinds are effective at enhancing a human being’s power, but one leads to war and the other to peace. Since I believe that the pen is mightier than the sword, it follows that over time, we move closer to peace.
Ernest: What determines whether a relationship—particularly between humans—is one of “master” and “slave”?
Dave: There are many factors that contribute to the division of people into slave/master relationships and the, unfortunately, small minority who refuse the game. At the top of my list are the conditions under which one is raised. While good parents will help turn their children into creatures who will always struggle against slavery, “effective schools” can turn them into creatures who offer up their liberty for security. When such creatures have their own children to raise, the parental efforts to raise free people are much weaker and it takes a loud minority to remind them that individuals do not own each other, and that happiness flows from choice.
The Rite of Passage seems to me to be a point in the life of a child where they are to choose the mindset: Am I to remain a slave to whatever force I think can care for me, or become my own responsible party? I am an example of a creature who will always struggle against slavery, because I saw that choice after I finished college and took the second route. I have enough faith in myself to take the red pill, so I did. I was once an employee; but, since I wasn’t playing that master/slave game, I quit when I didn’t like the conditions. The same group of people still uses my services, but I have to please them, and they have to please me in return in order for us to continue our relationship. Many people with jobs have replaced their parents with their employer, or their government. They have chosen the blue pill, perhaps because their childhood drained them of faith in themselves. I think most people can see that happen a lot in schools.
Ernest: Let’s take the point a little deeper here. Do you see close similarity between the way a computer is programmed and how a child is led into, or away from, a particular way of living?
Dave: Certainly there is a similarity, but it’s quite shallow. The intent of the programmer is met to whatever degree the programmer follows the deterministic workings of the machine. The programmer aims to arrange the computer to exhibit certain behaviors. Likewise, a teacher or parent aims to arrange a child to exhibit certain behaviors – at least the poor ones do – but the crucial distinction is the will of the child. Computers have no will, but children do. The better approach for teachers and parents is to guide that will in achieving whatever goals it sets for itself.
Ernest: How have religions—and I mean organized, institutionalized religions like Christianity, Islam, etc—used and still use the average human through authoritarianism and dominance?
Dave: Your question makes an assumption with which I strongly agree, but which many people will find offensive. The trick here is to help them see freedom in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, who wrote “the law of God is written on the hearts of men.” It’s actually right there in the book of Genesis too – to eat of the Tree of Knowledge is to claim for oneself a knowledge of Good and Evil. To avoid making a claim for yourself on such knowledge is to discard the gift of self-determination. This is what most religions unfortunately encourage by providing earthly authorities and books (books “authored” by God himself, according to… the books themselves…?) to interpret and explain “the law of God”. While religions attempt to make people better at living together in peace, the individual people need to cross that Rite of Passage: if you think a behavior will do more harm than good, but it is “evil” according to your religion, which will you follow, your reason, or your religion? Which does your religion tell you to follow? Don Eminizer interpreted Nietzsche as explaining it thus: Religion tends to replace the self with a godhead.
Ernest: Now from a political angle. In our contemporary, mainly democratic world, we choose our own leaders—at least it appears so—and determine our own laws. Are we “free” in this sense, like living in “self-rule”?
Dave: What the voters of democratic states choose are not leaders, but rulers. Choosing your master does not make you free. It makes slavery more palatable. If that is what we are doing, and many of us appear to be doing that, then it doesn’t make us free. “We” is not a conscious being, capable of intent, freedom, or “self-rule”. Individuals are required for that. Speaking of individuals and government, Bill Thornton (of 1215.org, an homage to the Magna Charta) explains that a plaintiff is someone who holds a court. A court is a place where the sovereign (aka plaintiff) explains his own laws and then proceeds to publish evidence (to those attending court – a jury nowadays) that a defendant has violated those laws. The jury then decides, primarily whether the laws are just and reasonable; and, if they are, whether or not the defendant violated them and therefore deserves to be coerced into making restitution. If we ran things that way, then we could choose leaders (who can offer guidelines, but not enforce rules), but we wouldn’t need elections (your leader doesn’t have to be my leader), and we’d still be sovereigns, able to determine our own (individual) laws, and be free. Some of us already do that, and we recognize the state as a criminal violating our laws, but we have no court because there aren’t enough of us. However, our number grows: Check out The Dollar Vigilante (http://www.dollarvigilante.com/), the Free State Project (http://freestateproject.org/), the Fully Informed Jury Association (http://fija.org/).
Ernest: In general, does contemporary education system—like that in America—serve to enable a child to grow into a truly independent person?
Dave: In general, nowadays, as I mentioned above, it tends to postpone or even suppress the Rite of Passage, leading to the slave/master mentality. However, for those with strong wills, either inborn or developed by wisely challenging parents (as I like to think of myself), school indoctrination can provide a child with opportunities for real learning about the mechanisms of the parasite (another term for “master”), as well as a bit of useful real-world knowledge. This, however, requires constant vigilance on the part of parents and students, lest they be sucked into the trap. For example, Student Body Associations (SBAs) are political organizations that students can apply for and possibly be accepted into, and then enjoy privileges that are available not through the efforts of the SBA, but through the efforts of those who support the educational institution (usually “tax slaves”). By providing the kids with benefits, this leads them to believe that such political arrangements are good. By letting them share in the perks of the master for a while, the slavery system buys their loyalty.
Ernest: Like the ring’s power in The Lord of the Rings, is the human fascination with power or mastery a burden that makes life difficult for some segment of our population on this planet?
Dave: I suppose it does, but a warm sun likewise comes as a burden to the vacationer who has finished off his soda. It dehydrates him and will eventually kill him if he doesn’t get another drink. If he does get another drink, the warm sun can be converted back into the pleasant life-giver it was in the first place. Likewise, the fascination with power is not the essence of the burden. The essence of the burden is an unwillingness to endure that Rite of Passage through which children become adults. The Ring encourages this unwillingness, either through coercion or the sharing of the master’s benefits, and so freer people, whose freedom, by the way, makes them far more prosperous, suffer from hordes of slaves/zombies who, rather than thinking for themselves (fruit of the Tree), follow orders blindly. The Power of the Ring is “evil”, but either Frodo or Smeagol could have tossed it into the lava before it took them over. Instead, they fought like children. Every individual has the power to enslave weak-minded people, and any concentration of such power (a state, the Ring) will attract those who wish to use it. Wars are fought in earnest for the tribute of the citizens (tax slaves) in the conquered territory. When there are no such citizens, there will be no point to (earnest) war. Dishonest war, on the other hand, encouraged by the sellers of arms, might still be waged. Better people discard the wish to use concentrations of political power because they recognize the much higher value of people who will always struggle against slavery.
Ernest: So can you think of some forms of power that are essentially constructive – that don’t cause people to compromise their freedom?
Dave: The pen, as an open expression of intellect. That better kind of authority leads to “essentially constructive” power. For example, Thomas Paine wrote a pamphlet called Common Sense, which argued that the American colonies would be better off without Great Britain as a (parasitic) protector. His power came from his healthy understanding of things and his ability to write. Words themselves. Socrates, to my knowledge, never actually used a pen. He asked a lot of questions, and because his questions penetrated, he is regarded as an authority in philosophy. The names and ideas of the people who forced him to drink poison are all but forgotten, but the “Socratic Method” is still widely used to… free people’s minds. The essentially constructive forms of power don’t just avoid causing people to compromise their freedom, they actually encourage people to defend and strengthen their freedom. This power is based on the mind and its ability to reason, rather than the body and its ability to suffer.
Ernest: And my last question here: as I have read and experienced personally, in the state of creative imagination, we attain freedom—or at least have the illusion that we do. How do you respond to this view?
Dave: Watch the movie Brazil and pay attention to what the protagonist experiences at the end of the movie. His is the pinnacle of freedom. When you reach that place, you no longer have anything desirable to the parasites. When there’s no one left for it to live off, it will die. I can’t wait!
Ernest: Thank you Dave! It’s always a pleasure to discuss questions with you. Hope to have another discussion soon with another topic of human interest.
Dave: Thank you Ernest! I enjoyed your questions.