Sunday, 23 November 2014

Satan is a process (in the modern world)

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A personification of Satan for modern times would be the voting committees that administer almost everything – from supreme courts and parliaments down to peer reviewers and job interviews and casting committees, and the millions of casual votes of ad hoc groups here and there to decide this and that.


Satan works at the level of the invisible, indefinable committee decision; because none of the participants in that decision feel responsible for it.

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What would very obviously have been a moral decision when made by a single person, is apparently moved into the level of pure abstract necessity by the simple fact of taking a vote.

'The group' is treated on the one hand as a responsible moral agent, capable of reason; and yet none of 'the group' need actually believe in the rightness of that group decision, that it really was the proper and best decision in that situation. Indeed, as individuals, every single member of the committee may disagree with the decision of the group - yet that decision stands.

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Who, then, has made that moral decision? The answer is the process has made that moral decision (the group dynamic process, the committee procedure, the voting process - whatever).

But how can we hold a process morally responsible? For instance, how can we hold 'democracy' (i.e. any specific system of voting and counting votes) responsible for electing an evil person as President or Prime Minister; or for implementing an evil law; or for unjust persecution of the innocent?

The answer is we cannot, so we do not, so evil is done by processes; and this happens countless billions of times every day.

What is remarkable about bureaucracy is that evil has been, apparently, conjured ex nihilo – from nothing.

Yes - Satan is bureaucracy; or vice versa, perhaps.

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15 comments:

thelastfurlong said...

Interesting thoughts. Only I would substitute the word "satan" with something else. What, exactly, I'm not sure. I am not a Christian.

But in the flow of creation, the opposing forces, means that, we may not see it, but it HAS to be balanced ultimately so that "evil is done by processes; and this happens countless billions of times every day." so thus there will be good processes happening countless billions of times every day" too. Sometimes they are hard to find. Evil is like too much paprika added to a good cream sauce. EVERYTHING looks red! Yet the good cream is still there.

I agree Yes - Satan is bureaucracy; or vice versa, perhaps. - but for me, there is no perhaps!

We humans display the human/animal weakness to flock, make a herd, a pack, a school, to murmer like flocks of birds do - without personal responsibility. Bureaucracy IS the collective animal - greater than the sum of its parts.


Nicholas Fulford said...

Who, then, has made that moral decision? The answer is the process has made that moral decision (the group dynamic process, the committee procedure, the voting process - whatever).

But how can we hold a process morally responsible? For instance, how can we hold 'democracy' (i.e. any specific system of voting and counting votes) responsible for electing an evil person as President or Prime Minister; or for implementing an evil law; or for unjust persecution of the innocent?


The process is a means by which a group of individuals together make a moral choice - usually on behalf of or as representatives of the whole polity. Jury trial is probably the best example. The jury hears and sees the evidence and makes a judgment about the guilt or innocence of the accused. They act on behalf of all citizens and the weight of their judgment is then distributed upon all of our heads. If their judgment is in err and an accused faces criminal sanction then it is the whole society that bears the burden - if later upon appeal it is found that the accused is not guilty. That burden often takes the form of compensation that comes out of taxes. (One of the reasons that many democracies do not have the death penalty is because it is a penalty that has no remedy in the event of a miscarriage of justice is later discovered, and it places the blood of the innocent on the hands of the citizenry.) It is also hoped that by having competing experiences and dispositions of people on the jury that individual biases will be negated or dampened. It is a means to a greater fairness and justice than would be the case if one imperfect man had all the power, and hence no means of balancing his biases were in place to compensate and illuminate. It is the danger of trial by judge alone.

This system is not perfect, nor is any human system because we lack total knowledge. We do not have a philosopher-king who has total knowledge and wisdom to adjudicate fairly.

Adam G. said...

The definition of activism is persuading *other* people to make decisions, for which the activist doesn't feel responsible if they go wrong. The things that go wrong are obviously the fault of the decision-makers.

The decision-makers don't feel responsible either. The decision they took may not have been the wisest, but they were pressured into it by the activists.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NL - You have described perfectly what I mean by the evil of committees and votes - indeed the rotten system probably came from jury trials (at least, when the decision did not require unanimity - decision-making by unanimity is almost the opposite of voting systems).

It is absurd to contrast committee/ voting/ bureaucracy with philosopher kings as if they were the only and exclusive alternatives - there are many, almost limitless, numbers of possible systems of individually-responsible (ie actually responsible, rather that utterly non responsible) decision making.

Bruce Charlton said...

@lastfurlong - If evil is to mean anything more than a contextual and contingent personal opinion, then there must be God; and if there is God, then all theistic systems acknowledge the reality of purposive evil - ie. 'Satan' by one definition or another.

Of course, all *Christians* must (like it or not) believe in Satan as an actual personage; just as we must believe in the reality of Angels (if if we don't much talk about them).

Bookslinger said...

Good tie-in. I like how you connect the dots.

This concept was explained in "The Crowd" by Gustave Le Bon, published 1895. In other words "mob mentality". Whether a crowd of 500 or a committee of 5, same workings.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crowd:_A_Study_of_the_Popular_Mind

(Wiki provides a link to the free e-text at Project Gutenburg.)

Ann Coulter wrote a book, 'Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America,' published in 2011, which uses Le Bon's work as a basis, and ties in the concepts of mob mentality to the liberal/left's destruction of the West.

Bookslinger said...

Good tie-in. I like how you connect the dots.

This concept was explained in "The Crowd" by Gustave Le Bon, published 1895. In other words "mob mentality". Whether a crowd of 500 or a committee of 5, same workings.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crowd:_A_Study_of_the_Popular_Mind

(Wiki provides a link to the free e-text at Project Gutenburg.)

Ann Coulter wrote a book, 'Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America,' published in 2011, which uses Le Bon's work as a basis, and ties in the concepts of mob mentality to the liberal/left's destruction of the West.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Books - Thanks. I used to read Anne Coulter a few years ago, when I was a sort of libertarian. I find her negative critique usually valid, but (unless she has 'changed her tune') her positive prescriptions seem grossly to underestimate the depth of the problems.

JP said...

You will note that in matters of life and death, when military units are in combat, the decision is not a committee decision. The commander decides. His staff may advise him but he makes the call and he is responsible for the outcome.

A committee may dilute the moral agency so that each member feels "less bad" about a given wrong decision, but the fact remains that every member of the group is morally responsible when the group makes a bad choice.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - In this respect, the military is the proper form of organization.

"every member of the group is morally responsible when the group makes a bad choice" - but this is not true. It is not true at the level of individual perception, nor at the level of mathematics http://tech.mit.edu/V123/N8/8voting.8n.html - and certainly it is not enforced.

Therefore, on moral (as well as rational) grounds; group decisions should be abandoned/ prohibited (except in very specific and constrained situations - mostly related to unanimous decisions).

Bernard Brandt said...

I believe that there is a saying which sums up the thesis of this excellent entry:

The Devil is in the details.

Heaviside said...

I think it is very appropriate to call this thing "Satan". One of the great things about Hegel is that he identifies that consciousness is not just a purely atomic, personal, phenomenon, but also a property of society and history. You could say that the human in man is the result of civilization. Hegel said that the basis of society is the family, and he also arguably said that the family had a supernatural basis(though depending on how you interpret his philosophy, everything does), especially in the sympathetic psychic bond between mother and child. In the process of submerging oneself in a committee or a democratic mob, I would suggest that the analogous process would be possession by a literal demon.

Bruce Charlton said...

I think the *blame* for the decisions of groups, are those people who regard group decisions as valid. Of course this is usually unthinking, but it is blameworthy nonetheless.

It is similar to the blame which attaches to those who believe the mass media rather than their own experience and personal knowledge and common sense.

JP said...

If it is not true that every member of the group is morally responsible when the group makes a bad choice, then everyone who has ever been sent to jail for conspiracy to commit a crime should receive a full pardon. "Conspiracy" is a crime precisely because it is just and necessary to hold every member of a group morally and legally responsible if they collectively decide to commit a criminal act.

The concept of a criminal organization - whether the Waffen SS, the mafia, or al Qaeda - would fall apart if it was not true that every member of the organization was morally responsible for what the organization did.

Article 6 of the Constitution of the Nurmberg IMT: "Leaders, organizers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan."

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - What you have described is a rare and unprincipled exception to the rule. And this exception is only very intermittently applied - almost entirely against political enemies