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Konformity is King
“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.” - Charles MacKay
“Le bien-être du peuple en particulier a toujours été l’alibi des tyrans. (The welfare of humanity has always been the alibi of tyrants)” - Albert Camus
This time we're examining the tendency of people to 'follow the crowd', how it plays into the hands of tyrants, demagogues and technocrats - and how Panocracy will defend against that happening.
I believe that most of us had been labouring under the misapprehension that Enlightenment thinking once established would never be allowed to wither. And by Enlightenment I mean the notion that when people think for themselves and such thoughts are able to enter the general discourse, great things happen. The rise of woke-ism and other cult ideologies followed by Covid hysteria with its totalitarian overtones over the past couple of decades have disavowed us of that particular pipe dream.
Our treasured western culture – the culture of tolerance (though not necessarily respect) of others and their views, of the respect for reasoned debate, of the duty of the individual to hold dissenting opinions – has come under threat from hysterical ideologies which threaten to destroy it. For many of us this has been the biggest shock of the past 3 years.
Our political system and those institutions and agencies which co-exist with it have become broken and unable to handle the complexity and pressure of the modern world.
Here in the UK, recent Daily Telegraph revelations about Matt Hancock's role in the Covid debacle merely scratch the surface and deflect attention from the underlying systemic problems. Many people lay the blame at the door of Mr Hancock and he undoubtedly deserves what he gets but I think that it's misleading to draw the conclusion that he and he alone was the problem.
Was it the Tory government then? Well, they were certainly complicit. But what about the opposition cheerleading stricter lockdowns, masking and vaccine passports? Or the media screaming blue murder at anyone who dared to speak out against the madness? Or the ordinary people who ratted on their neighbours for breaking the hasty, inconsistent, ineffective and arguably illegal regulations?
Well, it's all of these and more. The political system is such that it allows someone with the mentality of a 10 year old schoolboy to become Health Minister of a G7 country. The system is such that wiser heads in the echelons of power and outside feel compelled to go along with the nonsense. This kind of thing has been happening throughout the western world and not just in the UK
The thing is, governments can get away with gross incompetence in most cases simply because they can cover it up. Who feels the pain if the odd billion or ten is wasted on yet another vanity project failure? The state apparatchiks are past masters at smokescreens, gaslighting and spin.
In the case of the Covid interventions it mattered – innocent and vulnerable people died for no reason and as a result of personal and systemic incompetence.
Conformity is a strong trait in humans. We're pack animals who cooperate with each other within tight-knit groups. Such groups have leaders to act as the focal point for intra-group communications. When you're hunting a Mammoth it pays to know where your mates are and what they're going to do and Grunt over there is going to wave his hands about if the beast comes your way.`
Trust in the group leader empowers them to play games with the group members. For example, misrepresenting one's opinion to another in such a way as to cause conflict - perhaps to downgrade someone who might become a threat to the leader. This is a well-worn plot in drama and works because it's something we all understand. And it's a lot harder to spot if it's done skilfully and you're the one on the receiving end. Our trust in our leaders runs deep.
When I minored in Psychology at University, in one lab session we students were asked who we hated more: the Americans (it was the era of Viet Nam) or the South Africans (apartheid). What I should have answered was that I don't hate anyone! Of course I allowed myself to fall victim to the false dichotomy. How easy to coerce a young fool into an silly trap.
Can the man in the street recognise such a device and avoid falling into it? Well, yes, some people can: not everyone in the notorious Milgram Experiment fell for the trick.
Such people are rare and as such hugely valuable to a society. Their voices would indeed be heard in our panocracy simply because everyone has the opportunity to examine and criticise legislative proposals before, during and after they're enacted.
A feature of Panocracy is that it doesn't have leaders. Or at least not formal ones like a King, Prime Minister, President or indeed a Dear Leader. But mainly not the last one.
Instead of leaders our panocracy has ordinary citizens who take it upon themselves to propose and debate legislative changes. Some of them will be experts in whatever area is being considered; some will be politically or ideologically motivated; some will simply have an uninformed but strong personal opinion. Everyone is invited to this party.
Some will try to drum up support for their point of view by spouting propaganda or bending the facts to suit their prejudices; others will contest such behaviour and debunk the sillier stories.
Direction or 'the lead' will emerge from the morass of conflicting opinion in the same way that Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' guides commerce towards improvement of general wealth. The resolution of all the conflicting forces is the direction that's best for all of us.
Our panocracy could decide to have figureheads as a substitute for leaders – A King or Queen, a Lord Protector or whatever - but these would be honorary positions and have no leadership role -much as the crowned heads of Europe are generally constitutional monarchs with no formal political power (though they possibly may advise or guide). Such people could bat for the Panocracy at swanky national or international junkets but they would have no authority to make deals or speak on its behalf. This would indeed broaden the choice of figurehead candidates.
A suitable choice of figurehead could bring a certain authority or even glamour to the role. Perhaps an international movie or sports star, or a Nobel laureate?
We all belong to at least one tribe and most of us to several at once even though we may flatter ourselves into believing we're above all that. When I'm on my bike I'm a cyclist berating the passing motorist for being too close; when I'm in my car I'm a motorist berating the lycra-clad slowcoach who's holding up the traffic. We all have deep-seated prejudices and we respond positively to those who reinforce them. Cyclists and motorists both hunt in packs. Fitting in is a lot easier than not.
Conformity arises in all areas of humanity – songs have been written about the dedicated follower of fashion, the football fanatic, the pop fan, .... Whichever tribes you happen to belong to, be it motorist, cyclist, fashionista, Michael Jackson fan, you will always find yourself sporting the tribal fetishes: 4 series beamer, lycra, Gucci bag or faux-military jacket.
Social media barons spotted this a long time ago and so on-line tribes of like minded individuals have been encouraged to form, Facebook groups are an example. Members of such groups regularly exchange ideas to reinforce their social cohesion and enhance their self-image.
Long ago the Asch experiment demonstrated the effects of group pressure on the judgements of the individual. Even in the most basic situations involving comparing the lengths of lines subjects were browbeaten into obviously wrong choices, the implication being that if you can make a man do something like that to avoid being out of the tribe, you can make him do almost anything.
Conformity is a way of life for many people and that's OK if it doesn't lead to bad consequences. The problems come when we're faced with choices that can have serious or life-threatening consequences.
And so we get to those who always know the right thing to do.
A recent interview of Van Morrison by Billy Bragg led to a Twitter exchange in which Morrison asked Bragg a number of questions about his pro-narrative stance on Covid.
The questions themselves are not very incisive and the answers even less so. Bragg's answers to the questions “Did you just comply with the government narrative? And did you question any of it?” were “Yes” and “yes”. Evidently 160 characters is overly much for the average pop songwriter. But Bragg did know the right thing to do – shut up and follow the crowd.
A recent discussion with a music lecturer friend on the topic of Covid masks reinforces the point. A student in my friend's class refused to wear a Covid face-nappy and berated him in front of the class for even asking her to do so. His discussion with the student went like this: “I don't really care if you wear a mask or not but your fellow students will stop wearing theirs if they see you getting away with it. Eventually the principal will get to hear of it and will shut down the class.” Of course even if the principal of the college is sympathetic, he won't risk going against the diktat either.
Fear of some hypothetical dark force is perhaps the most powerful reason to conform.
Hannah Arendt characterises adherence to the norms in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism. A totalitarian system doesn't work by overt oppression but instead by mass formation which is the creation of and feeding of fear and anxiety to the people so that they form a cohesive social unity.
In this state of mind people participate in behaviour - that may be entirely irrational - in order to create a social bond that makes them feel better about their fears. Indeed this may drive even more ridiculous strategies for them to participate in to reinforce that bond.
Such mass formations would be hard to create under the panocracy as people are already part of a social organisation - the panocracy itself – and it has no reason to poison their minds with bogus anxieties to make them conform to ill-conceived or vain ideologies.
Non-conformism is entirely consistent with Enlightenment principles.
I am a fan of the Enlightenment because it dragged western man out of the soporific mental state he was in – the result of centuries of exposure to stultifying religious dogma - and led to the betterment of the world for everyone. This happened precisely because people 'dared to think' and because the more ambitious of them weren't hamstrung by fear of failure, of causing 'offence', of intolerance or inequality.
As a result we all now live the way kings once did: our homes have all the modern comforts; we run about in our personal carriages and we can eat the most exotic food if we so desire. We can think what we like and say what we think (as Hume put it). We mustn't allow this to simply be taken from us by sweet talking closet tyrants.
Recent events and the persecution of dissenters by Big Pharma ably assisted by national governments, the media and the propagandised public have brought the problems facing reasoned debate and enlightened thought into sharp relief.
The non-conformist is the person who thinks and acts 'outside the box'.
The traditional English eccentric is described by John Timbs thus: “with oddity of character may co-exist much goodness of heart”. Goodness of heart is a necessity if you find yourself outside the crowd for it will turn on outsiders at the least provocation. So you're wise not to be provocative but instead to dissent with good grace, evidence and common sense.
'Goodness of Heart' is another desirable characteristic that we might expect to see more of in our panocracy as many odd, intelligent and formerly ostracised characters get their chance to contribute to the debate rather than being cast out and silenced, or worse, nailed to a bit of wood for their dissenting views.
Here on Substack, where non-conforming views are welcomed alongside supportive ones, the comments for the most part are thoughtful and inoffensive. This is in sharp contrast to other online media where trolling seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
This should give us confidence that our panocracy can work constructively - everyone should be an intelligent dissident from time to time.
Next time we're going to grab the bull by the horns (and probably get gored in the process). We're taking on politics. It won't be a fair contest but we hope to inflict some damage on the beast!