October 29, 2018

Truth, Power, Authority, and Corruption

Warriors think knowledge is a sort of power: You can use it to control the world.

Intellectuals think power is a sort of knowledge: You are able to know the future, because you control it.

Corrupted warriors, who forget their philosophy, think that truth answers to power. They try to dictate what others believe by force. This doesn’t work out well for them. Our society is well educated in the corruption of warriors, because we are ruled by intellectuals who are sure to cast shade on them.

Corrupted intellectuals, who also forget their philosophy, think that they themselves have power, because they have truth, and are trusted to speak it.

It is true that they thereby have some power. They can chose whether to speak the truth or not, which truth to speak, how to speak it, and to whom. This offers power over world affairs. Intellectuals can thus enrich themselves and amass other forms of power.

But there is an additional power that intellectuals have, which is the power to lie.

It is impossible to lie profitably unless you are trusted. Intellectuals are generally trusted to speak the truth, governed by systems and rules, so that they are incentivised to speak that truth. Generally they act to earn that trust.

If intellectuals consistently speak the truth, and others notice this, then others will come to trust that the utterances of the intellectuals are true, without checking the logic themselves. Thus intellectuals who have earned trust have the power to lie.

If they lie too much, they break a lot of things, and lose the trust.

Lies are a highly disordered form of power. Highly destructive. Violence is destructive, but is destructive of your enemies. Lies are destructive towards your friends. Lies are thus a more antisocial kind of power than force. Of course you can lie to your enemies and point guns at your friends, which flip the evaluations, but here we are talking about the kind of lies that constitute abuse of trusting friends.

The warrior caste, that is organized power, that is the state, requires a trusted source of truth. Truth both about the world, and about proper the proper ends towards which power is organized. Typically this takes the form of an intellectual caste, because specialization is useful. But sometimes the warriors have only themselves, because there are no trustworthy intellectuals. This is a bad situation, because it is hard to have mastery in two different domains.

Intellectuals are thus in a sense superior to warriors, because they create the worldview that the warriors work from and which gives purpose to their power. Warriors are in turn superior to productives, as they create the order that the productives serve and work within.

It is disordered for power to meddle in the information systems of the other castes: if prices are set by fiat, bad things happen. Islamic economists claimed prices were set by the hand of God, and thus beyond the authority of the state. Post-christian economists copied this idea and called it the “invisible hand of the market”.

Likewise, if warriors dictate truth to intellectuals for political purposes, bad things happen. People’s beliefs are in fact a political variable, in the sense that it is possible to influence them falsely for political purpose. But actually doing so corrupts key axioms which ordered society relies upon. It is thus a bad idea for the state or state-aligned factions to engage in lies or corruption of truth processes. Revolutionary factions face no such contradiction, so they lie freely.

Intellectuals occasionally get the idea that because they are “superior” to warriors, they actually rule over them. This is most familiar in priests claiming the power to crown, excommunicate, and depose kings.

Getting our concepts straight, this is priests arguing that they ought to have the power to command, imperium, on the basis that they are trusted to speak the truth. We can put the quality of this argument aside and examine the outcome: the warrior caste being partially or wholly commanded by the intellectual caste.

Putting intellectuals in charge thus puts those intellectuals in the position of sovereignty, that is making the final decision on matters of state. They are thus acting as warriors, while identifying and presenting as intellectuals.

The main output of warriors is action: commands, plans, judgements, organization. There is truth reflected in their actions, but no pretense that everything they do is wholly the truth, or that their actions reveal a simple and consistent worldview which needs to be consistent.

The main output of intellectuals is truth statements: theories, facts, ideology, philosophy. There is power in their statements, but the primary thing is that they should wholly tell the truth, and their utterences should reveal a worldview that is consistent.

To rule by means of action is a fairly clear affair: arrange your pawns, identify friends and enemies. Strengthen the systems of your friends, disrupt the systems of your enemies. Make sure that the chain of command retains integrity. Use this base to build order in the world, and make way for finer-grained forms of rule.

If intellectuals are ruling, while still pretending to be intellectuals, they cannot rule by means of action: they lack the affordances to do so. They must rule by means of truth statements.

To rule by means of truth statements is a less clear affair. Lacking a direct chain of command, the intellectuals must speak key truths to key people, arranging pawns indirectly, limiting commands to those which constitute true statements, or which are imperatives expressed in such a way that doesn’t disrupt the pretense of being intellectuals. They are also suddenly presented with the problem of official consensus, which is the problem of who has the authority to make decisions about what truths get said to whom.

That is all assuming that the intellectuals remain uncorrupted beyond the initial claim of imperium. They may instead fall into corruption, and greatly increase their power by lying. The hard line between truth statements and lies may not even be clear, so that they think they are telling the truth.

Wielding imperium with truth statements as your primary output creates a very large incentive to manipulate not just which questions you answer to who, but the contents of those answers. You start to worry about the political consequences of the answer being one way rather than another. You start by lying by omission; failing to publish truths which fit the wrong narrative. This escalates to massaging the data until you get the “right” outcome. Peer review mechanisms place especial scrutiny on work which is politically problematic. This works for a time, but does not work well, and rapidly burns trust capital of the entire intellectual caste.

Thus intellectuals, depsite being prior to warriors in the chain from truth and purpose to action and implementation, must not rule over warriors or society with imperium.

Intellectuals claiming worldly authority corrupts those intellectuals, and causes them to begin lying, because lies offer them more power.

The proper place of intellectuals, if we are to avoid these disorders, is as trusted advisors to warriors, not worldly superiors.

Trust is earned by integrity, not commanded by authority. Intellectuals tell the truth so that their warriors will have a better view of the world and better knowledge of the ends of action, not to manipulate them into doing what the intellectuals think should be done. If the intellectuals stop telling the truth, and start manipulating, the warriors stop trusting, and go find a better source of truth.

This leaves open whether warriors have imperium over intellectuals wholly, partially, or not at all.

The organized warrior caste, that is the state, properly has imperium over the organization of power. That is, if someone is wielding power, they better be doing it in accordance with the will of the state, and the will of the state better be that that power is used properly for holistic ends, or we have a problem.

Thus if intellectuals have some power, it ought to be utilized in accordance with the will of the state, for holistically ordered ends. That is, it is subject to the authority of warriors.

The power that intellectuals have is the power to speak the truth, or not, which questions to investigate, and to whom to speak. Thus the state has authority to tell intellectuals to speak or to shut up, to direct their attention to some problem or other, and who they are allowed or required to tell their answers to.

The state also, strictly speaking, can order the intellectuals to lie, as they can command anyone to commit any crime or immorality. But because doing so causes serious disorder in society, it should ideally never happen, and if it does, something bad is happening. Whether the state has this power formally is an open question for now; it may be that it is better to draw the line such that such an order would trigger a constitutional crisis.

Likewise, there are other things which the state should normally leave up to the intellectuals, so as to leave the process to operate efficiently, and not to corrupt the process. In particular, commanding intellectuals to speak certain truths and shut up about others may constitute an order to lie by omission. As always, judgement is required.

Thus we find some notion of separate spheres of authority. By custom and prudence, the state should decline from commanding intellectuals to do certain things, like lie, and intellectuals must decline to claim certain authorities, like command over the state. Intellectuals have the domain of truth, but cannot command anyone to believe them. Warriors have the domain of power, and intellectuals must not disobey.

This notion of spheres of authority will have to be expanded to greater depth and to include the relations between productives and intellectuals, and productives and warriors. The intellectual/warrior/productive trinity could also use more development.

Many concepts here in need of development.


Edited and curated by Wolf Tivy

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