Submitted by Raúl Ilargi Meijer of the Automatic Earth
When Centralization Scales Beyond Our Control
In an article about NATO exercises in Estonia, just 300 yards from the Russian border, Daniel McAdams at the Ron Paul Institute makes a point that I want to use to make a much broader point. Not the provide answers, though, just to provide questions. McAdams quotes the Guardian review of a book by George Sakwa:
Russian military plane over international waters 25 miles from the UK coast is “real and present danger” to NATO. Yet… Yet yesterday US combat vehicles conducted a military parade and show of military force in Estonia just 300 yards – yards! – from the Russian border. That is just over 60 miles from downtown St. Petersburg. This is not a provocation, we are to believe. This is not a “real and present danger” to Russia. NATO is exempt from the rules it imposes on its enemies. In the Guardian’s review of a new book by Politics professor George Sakwa, the current fallout from a near quarter century of post-Cold War NATO policies is perfectly captured:
The hawks in the Clinton administration ignored all this, Bush abandoned the anti-ballistic missile treaty and put rockets close to Russia’s borders, and now a decade later, after Russia’s angry reaction to provocations in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine today, we have what Sakwa rightly calls a “fateful geographical paradox: that NATO exists to manage the risks created by its existence”.
That line bears repeating: “NATO exists to manage the risks created by its existence.”
Yes, that line bears repeating, but it bears much more than that: the line doesn’t go nearly far enough. Because NATO doesn’t only exist, it develops and changes. In fact, to justify its prolonged existence, NATO has turned from a force for peace into a warmonger. That way, the organization argues, consciously or not, it provides itself with a reason to exist. It now doesn’t just exist to manage the risks, it exists to create them. In doing so, NATO itself has become the biggest risk.
Regular readers will be well aware that I, like Ron Paul, have said many times that NATO should be dismantled (and not just NATO). Not only because it’s long outlived its original purpose, based in the Cold War, but because it increasingly attracts as leaders people who use ever more aggressive language for ever more elusive reasons. The latest in the series are new General Secretary Stoltenberg and General ‘Warhead’ Breedlove, both of whom seem hell bent on outdoing even Ukraine’s leadership pair of Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk when it comes to making unsubstantiated claims about Russia, and about the situation in Ukraine – and Eastern Europe – in a broader sense.
My thesis is that all supranational organizations will eventually attract a certain kind of people as their leaders, and that these are inevitably the last kind of people we should want in these positions. But in the absence of effective democratic oversight, they end up there anyway. Therefore, the only way to counter this mechanism is to dismantle and abandon the organizations, while we still can. Which is not a given, since they function like power pyramids, in which ever more active power flows to an ever smaller top, until they become ‘untouchable’ by the nations that founded them in the first place.
These organizations don’t just fail to meet their originally stated purpose, they become entities dangerous to those they were meant to serve. That’s true for NATO, for the IMF, the World Bank, and the EU. They all end up serving only their most powerful members, at the cost of the smaller and less powerful. Since there is no mechanism to prevent this from happening while they exist, we must dismantle them.
There’s a strong correlation with an example from the economic world, in which corporations were originally incorporated for a specific project (e.g. building a bridge), a specific budget and a specific duration. And look at corporations now: there is no time limit to their existence, they are free to buy political control over our societies across generations, and they have even been granted person’s rights, though persons die and corporations no longer do.
What is true for corporations is just as true for supranational organizations: it’s all about scale. They are all – well, mostly – founded by well-meaning people, but these people ignore – willingly or not – to set time, financial and legal limits to them. And that’s a surefire recipe for disaster. The IMF upon its inception had lofty ideals behind it. But look at the damage it’s done across the globe. The World Bank was intended to help fight poverty in poor nations, but, like the IMF, has become an instrument for the rich to control these nations and prey on them.
And NATO has been busy ever since the Berlin wall came down, to resurrect the Cold War, without which it knows it must fear for its continued existence. It’s a twin sister of the American military complex, which creates threats out of nowhere and fights wars that all end in disaster, creating chaos along the way that forms the reason, and the cradle, for the next theater of war.
I’ve said before that I’m somewhat hesitant to include the US in the list of supranational organizations that should be dismantled, but if the country, the union, can’t find a way to reform and refind itself, I don’t see much reason for it to live on. The concentrated power bastion in Washington simply does too much harm to too many people, both at home and abroad. Nobody should have that sort of power.
If you have an entity that comprises 300 million people, it’s inevitable that ‘rulers’ over that entity need to be curtailed and limited in their powers from the get-go, or things will go awfully wrong. In the US, arguably, that has long since started to happen. The solution – in theory – is real simple: decentralize power. The solution in practice is much less obvious, since the people in power won’t volunteer to give up what they’ve got. A critical mass has been reached from which it will be very hard to retreat.
‘Once it reaches a certain threshold, the process of institutionalization becomes counterproductive’
Those are the words from a man I’ve been thinking about for quite a while, when pondering these issues, 20th century philosopher/priest Ivan Illich, whose criticism of ‘institutionalization’, mostly published in the 1970?s from Latin America, was largely inspired by, and directed at, the Catholic Church, not coincidentally the world’s – by far – earliest truly multinational corporation. Illich basically asserted that institutions tend to monopolize parts of societies that they should leave alone, because they belong to the people, and are essential to their well-being. From Wikipedia’s entry on Illich:
[e]lite professional groups . . . have come to exert a ‘radical monopoly’ on such basic human activities as health, agriculture, home-building, and learning, leading to a ‘war on subsistence’ that robs peasant societies of their vital skills and know-how. The result of much economic development is very often not human flourishing but ‘modernized poverty,’ dependency, and an out-of-control system in which the humans become worn-down mechanical parts.”
 Illich proposed that we should “invert the present deep structure of tools” in order to “give people tools that guarantee their right to work with independent efficiency.”
Schools should not be able to declare themselves the only valuable source of education, nor hospitals that of health care. To Illich, the fact that he did see them do this anyway, meant people were being robbed of their freedom to learn, and to heal. In the same vein, NATO should not have a monopoly on defending us from ‘evil’ enemies, because it will create that evil just to justify its own apparatus, in the process robbing people of the ability to judge what is evil and what is not.
‘[I]nstitutions create the needs and control their satisfaction, and, by so doing, turn the human being and her or his creativity into objects’
And that of course moves us real close to what I said about supranational organizations and multinationals, and to what Sakwa said: “NATO exists to manage the risks created by its existence.”. It shirks close to the Completion Backward Principle, in which first a need and a market is created and only then the product that fills that need.
My perhaps favorite Illich quote, which with a little imagination is one on one applicable to the entire institutionalization issue, is this:
Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value.
Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.
I never liked the education system I grew up in, any more than I like supranational institutions (it just took me a while to figure out the connection). High school was fine, because it was a breeze. But university was like running into a wall, multiple times. I just never had the idea that these people had anything I wanted. Just perhaps a degree that would have given me a ‘better’ job. But to go through 4-5-6 years of something I absolutely didn’t want, or saw the use of, seemed to be far too high a price to pay. This was way after Illich wrote what he did, though I didn’t read it until even much later again, but when I did, I still had a feeling of redemption, of: I’m not the only one who saw what I did.
And of course people will say that I’m an idiot to throw away a university degree when so many others would kill to have one. That all, however, proves Illich’s point, and it leads back to the same issue: universities have a monopoly on learning, which means people learn less and less, they only ‘learn’ to be cogs in a machine. And if you don’t get the degree, than no well-paying job for you. And that’s exactly what Illich says. It makes for societies of unhappy people, who can’t even provide for themselves, as all their ancestors could, because all they’ve learned is to be that cog.
I wanted to bring Ivan Illich into the discussion about NATO we’ve been having for a long time, with Ron Paul and myself saying it should be banned and its pieces ritually incinerated, because Illich makes the idea far more accessible that this is all part of a much larger pattern. That is to say, we tend towards centralization at all levels, mostly at first – seemingly – innocently, but soon with control moving beyond our perception.
Who controls NATO, or the IMF? I’m sure you understand it’s not you. Still, when an organization exhibits aggressive behavior in your name, or lends out your money in your name, you should at all times feel that you are in control, through those you elect to represent you. Well, do you? Or are you merely thinking: that’s too far away from me?
Organizations, like so many things in life, don’t scale up well, if at all. Beyond a certain critical mass, they become counterproductive, as Illich states. They become predators on their own creators. That goes as much for NATO, IMF and EU as it does for schools and hospitals.
Modern societies appear to create more and more institutions – and great swathes of the way we live our lives become institutionalized. ‘This process undermines people – it diminishes their confidence in themselves, and in their capacity to solve problems… It kills convivial relationships. Finally it colonizes life like a parasite or a cancer that kills creativity’ (Finger and Asún 2001: 10).
Experts and an expert culture always call for more experts. Experts also have a tendency to cartelize themselves by creating ‘institutional barricades’ – for example proclaiming themselves gatekeepers, as well as self-selecting themselves. Finally, experts control knowledge production, as they decide what valid and legitimate knowledge is, and how its acquisition is sanctioned.
Schooling – the production of knowledge, the marketing of knowledge, which is what the school amounts to, draws society into the trap of thinking that knowledge is hygienic, pure, respectable, deodorized, produced by human heads and amassed in stock….
[B]y making school compulsory, [people] are schooled to believe that the self-taught individual is to be discriminated against; that learning and the growth of cognitive capacity, require a process of consumption of services presented in an industrial, a planned, a professional form;… that learning is a thing rather than an activity. A thing that can be amassed and measured, the possession of which is a measure of the productivity of the individual within the society. That is, of his social value.
It’s a trap we’ve set for ourselves, and over which we’ve now long lost control. Technology seems to make the world ‘smaller’, and to increase our control, but in effect it ends up doing the opposite. It makes us dumber, since we are now only cogs in a machine that others control, and over which we have no oversight. If the machine gets orders to go to war, the cogs will have to obey. That’s our world today, and that’s what the NATO issue teaches us. NATO is our Frankenstein. And if we don’t stop it now, it will end up coming after us.