Restrictive Systems

Negative Father                                 -                      Positive Father

The King is dead, long live the King!

J.F. - When the head of the Sicilian Mafia, Toto Rina, was arrested in Palermo, it was a big success for the Italian police - but five minutes later Toto Rina must have been replaced by someone else as the boss of the Mafia.

So the real adversary is the organization, not any one person.

M. - [...] if you want to treat the causes, it's the individuals that need to be reformed. They need help in changing themselves.

[Jean-Francois Revel and Matthieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.201

Every one of us, and every group with which we live and work, must become the model of the era which we desire to create.

[...] we must recognize that our thrust toward self-realization is profoundly hampered by outmoded, industrial-age structures.

We are presently constrained and driven by the impact of man's ever growing powers.

Our existing systems force us to develop and accept any weaponry system which may be technologically possible; our present systems force us to develop and accept any improvement in machinery, equipment, materials and supplies which will increase production and lower costs; our present systems force us to develop and accept advertising and consumer seduction.

It is [...] tempting to attack those holding roles such as national leader, administrator, manager, executive, labour leader, professor, student, parent. But such attacks on individuals often disguise the real nature of the crisis we confront: the demonic nature of present systems which force man to consent to his own deepening self-destruction.

The way ahead will be found by those who are unwilling to be constrained by the apparently all-determining forces and structures of the industrial age.

The celebration of man's humanity through joining together in the healing expression of one's relationships with others, and one's growing acceptance of one's own nature and needs, will clearly create major confrontations with existing values and systems. The expanding dignity of each man and each human relationship must necessarily challenge existing systems.

We have failed to discover how the necessary changes in our ideals and our social structures can be made. Each of us, therefore, through our ineffectiveness and our lack of responsible awareness, causes the suffering around the world.

[Ivan Illich]
Celebration of Awareness, p.17-19

The faces change but the roles remain the same. The game goes on.
For 'real' change we must change that which creates the roles, sets the rules: the system.

Lester works his way up the hierarchy - the pyramid - 'following the money,' hoping to find the puppet-master, see the wizard. But if he goes high enough what he will find is that even the highest player is contained by the pyramid itself. All heads butt against the same ceiling.

The wizard is nothing more than a fanciful idea based on a short-sighted view. The pyramid - that is, the structure that surrounds them all - is his real enemy. Whilst his targets remain players then he is merely playing a game - albeit for higher and higher stakes - because any position within the pyramid can be replaced, and will be. Bust one, and another surfaces.

Those who are long-sighted see the pyramid - i.e. the larger picture.
Those with near-vision see the players - i.e. the near view.

The Wire is not without long-sighted characters. McNulty, Colvin, and Lester are all are thwarted by the stifling myopia that surrounds them. But when it comes down to it, none are far-sighted enough - they all have their own games to play. None of them take their battle to the pyramid.

It is amazing that The Wire can enjoy such popularity and yet its lessons go largely unheeded. We still go on looking at the layers whilst ignoring the system that contains them; believing that by voting for this or that politician, or by busting this or that person we will really change things.

It should, perhaps, come as no surprise. As a society we are dangerously myopic. Short-sighted eyes cannot see any further than the immediate players, so when a party or a figurehead falls and is replaced it represents a victory, a new dawn. Those with long-sight see that it is nothing more than a changing of the guards.

One plays the short game, one the long. A society needs both, and each has its place and time. 

If we truly want change - that is, the long-term sort that Lester and his like seemed to be after - then we must look beyond players. This is the resounding lesson of the Wire. Its final shots couldn't make it any more clear: the old roles remain, only with new faces. Michael becomes Omar, Carver becomes Colvin, Sidner becomes McNulty ... the game goes on.

For all that 'change', nothing is really different.

[...] in our situation we're all powerless.

I mean, we pretend we're run by people. We're not run by anybody. The secret of modern Britain is there is no power anywhere."

Some commentators, he says, think we're run by an oligarchy. "But we're not. I mean, nobody can see power in Britain. The politicians think journalists have power. The journalists know they don't have any. Then they think the bankers have power. The bankers know they don't have any. None of them have any power.

[Rory Stewart]
'The secret of modern Britain is there is no power anywhere'

Any human with above room temperature IQ can design a utopia. The reason our current system isn’t a utopia is that it wasn’t designed by humans. 

Just as you can look at an arid terrain and determine what shape a river will one day take by assuming water will obey gravity, so you can look at a civilization and determine what shape its institutions will one day take by assuming people will obey incentives.

Just as people can level terrain and build canals, so people can alter the incentive landscape in order to build better institutions. But they can only do so when they are incentivized to do so, which is not always. As a result, some pretty wild tributaries and rapids form in some very strange places.

I know that “capitalists sometimes do bad things” isn’t exactly an original talking point. But I do want to stress how it’s not equivalent to “capitalists are greedy”. I mean, sometimes they are greedy. But other times they’re just in a sufficiently intense competition where anyone who doesn’t do it will be outcompeted and replaced by people who do.

Business practices are set by Moloch, no one else has any choice in the matter.

[Scott Alexander]
'Meditations on Moloch'