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The Slippery Slope
“The ultimate master is the ideology, not the elite” - Mattias Desmet in the Psychology of Totalitarianism
In all of this I don't wish to give the impression that the elites who form our leaderships are malicious, conspiratorial or stupid. Some of them undoubtedly are these things but these are not their defining characteristics. The simple truth is that, even though they are clearly up to the job of getting themselves to the top, these people are not up to the job when they get there. No one is up to that job: no single individual or group has access to the information, ingenuity, expertise and experience that's necessary to successfully run a large organisation like a country. This was always a problem but is even more so in our highly technological, networked and complex society.
Panocracy is about running our affairs using the wisdom of the many, not the hubris of the few. This time we're looking at administration: how to - and how not to – keep the show on the road.
If you're new to these ideas then,
gives an introduction to the basic ideas of a modern-day panocracy.
Bureaucracy and Administration
“(Administration) is an organizational structure that is characterized by many rules, standardized processes, procedures and requirements, number of desks, the meticulous division of labour and responsibility, clear hierarchies and professional, almost impersonal interactions between employees.” - Max Weber
Weber's definition of what he called bureaucracy was given back in the early 20th century. It's what we will call administration because the term bureaucracy now carries a lot of baggage. An administration in this sense is full of unambitious, conscientious workers and empty of political aspiration and bias.
Politics is about getting other people to do what you want; administration is about getting you to do what other people want. A politician will send your son to the battlefront; an administrator will make sure that he is properly kitted out. Administration is a mechanical activity. It's amoral, algorithmic and politically neutral.
In our panocracy, the citizenry does the job of politicians – so we might expect our sons to be sent to war zones less often. The panocracy still needs administrators to make sure that what the citizenry wants is what actually happens: - road repairs, passports, hospitals, … Of course, we might in a panocracy collectively decide that we want hospitals built by someone other than the state.
The problem is that administrators will have control over resources – money, materials and people. If you're in charge of the health response to an epidemic then you have the power to order drugs from companies whose stock you hold or whose directors are your former associates.
How not to get from A to B
Let's assume that we have decided to keep the current systems of state involvement in construction, health and so on.
How do we stop administrators becoming bureaucrats?
"The true measure of a man is what he would do if he knew he would never be caught." - Lord Kelvin, Victorian Physicist
It's clear from Kelvin's remark that scientists understand politics a lot better than politicians understand science. For a long time the sciences had little relationship with the messy business of running empires but things began to change as our society became more and more technological.
We're going to use science, arguably the most apolitical human invention, to illustrate how difficult it is to separate politics from administration. Many scientists, especially those in the bio-sciences, have become corrupted to the extent that their product has been compromised.
We need to be careful to distinguish science from scientists:
Science is the small body of imperfect knowledge that describes the world in a precise and objective way. Scientific knowledge is testable, falsifiable and has reach – it applies everywhere and always. It's our best current guess at the truth about nature and is always subject to revision. In contrast to what many people believe, there's not a lot of it about.
Scientists are the people who produce and maintain this body of knowledge. Scientists are imperfect beings so their practices have many checks and balances, like open data and peer-review. However, Biological and Medical scientists have been compromised by politics and commerce for a while now. For example Ben Goldacre's well-researched book Bad Pharma catalogues numerous pre-covid era instances - and things have only got worse since.
The Covid pantomime showed a lot more of us just how corrupted medical scientists had become. Suppression of alternative views and irresponsible public speculation on the part of senior health officials have led many to a misplaced distrust in science itself. The politics weren't those of Left versus Right, they were the politics of fear directed at the citizenry in pursuit of a false agenda based on bad information and errors of judgement. Psychology was used to push a political agenda that masqueraded as science.
The absence of a political class in a panocracy will go a long way to preventing this happening again but it's not enough. The administrative structures themselves will have to be hardened against corruption by power and money.
Scientists have found that to avoid fooling themselves, as US Physicist Richard Feynman put it, they need to publish their data, reasoning and conclusions in such a way that they can be independently tested and verified or - importantly – falsified. Scientists don't blame each other for making mistakes. This has fostered a culture of openness – in contrast to the liability culture we see elsewhere. Let's learn from that.
So any administrative units in the panocracy are required to make their data, reasoning and conclusions public. Information technology makes this perfectly practicable and this would create a milieu in which people wouldn't be afraid to admit errors. It's only if we find out what's gone wrong that we have any chance of fixing it. Country-wide bureaucratic screw-ups have been very costly. Take the NHS 'track and trace' app which cost £28bn over 2 years and delivered no health benefit. Compare that to the cost of the channel tunnel at £22bn (in 2021 money). Which do you think was better value?
Picking the right policies and administering them properly takes ingenuity, integrity and diligence: the very things politicians don't have. It's critical that we don't rush headlong into life changing policies simply because we want quick and easy answers. We are all feeling the pain now because our reckless leaders and their advisors didn't understand that in 2020. I believe a panocracy would have prevented that nonsense and I hope you will eventually be convinced too!
A Paradigm Shift
I realise that a lot if this has been rather abstract so far, so next time we're going to recap what we mean by panocracy and how it works. It requires a change of thinking for those who have grown up in a society accustomed to delegating control to 'leaders'.