We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Can an individual, or body of people, acting without thought, in a mood of crowd-pleasing over-excitement, amid a succession of equally superfluous and ill-considered acts, be said to have consciously intended anything at all? In an ideal world, there would be effective safeguards against such people.

- Catherine Bennett, on the will of parliament, in Britain the manner of exercising and dispensing absolute power.

10 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Call me paranoid if you like but as I see it the problem is that it is far easier to manipulate large numbers of people than it is to manipulate individuals. So it may be that the body or group of people in question did not consciously intend anything, but were manipulated into doing what they do by someone who did.

  • Tedd McHenry

    Von Mises said, “To speak of a society’s autonomous and independent existence, of its life, its soul, and its actions is a metaphor which can easily lead to crass errors.” As for society, so for any group. It seems to me that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the notion that any group of people can consciously do anything.

    While I don’t pretend to understand it, I believe that I (and other people) have a consciousness that somehow springs from a brain. But there is no parallel system of consciousness for the group, there is only the individual consciousnesses of the people in the group.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    While I don’t pretend to understand it, I believe that I (and other people) have a consciousness that somehow springs from a brain. But there is no parallel system of consciousness for the group, there is only the individual consciousnesses of the people in the group.

    Whatever the ‘mechanism’ for personal consciousness is, we know it’s indifferent to distance because our minds reference, as existing simultaneously, processes spread throughout the brain… even though there can be no instantaneous physical contact among them. That leaves open the possibility that the mind-brain mechanism can also work across the merely greater distance separating several brains.

    So, don’t be too quick to dismiss the notion of a ‘group’ mind.

  • PFP:

    we know it’s indifferent to distance because our minds reference, as existing simultaneously, processes spread throughout the brain… even though there can be no instantaneous physical contact among them.

    The functions of a brain, being mere physical processes, are not indifferent to distance, and our minds referencing is not simultaneous.

    As to ‘group mind’, it can be similar to an individual mind only in its physical manifestations, not in its nature. In other words, not anything that walks like a duck is an actual duck.

  • Tedd McHenry

    PersonFromPorlock:

    You couldn’t have known this, but I haven’t actually been quick to dismiss the idea of group mind. Twenty or thirty years ago I might have said I believed it, and I still concede that the hypothesis hasn’t been disproved.

    It’s intriguing to speculate whether such things as non-locality might be connected to mind and consciousness, and whether they might provide mechanisms for group mind, telepathy, and whatever else. But, for me, those ideas are far too speculative to be useful in the political arena, which is where this thread started.

    Until our understanding is vastly greater than it is today, and even then only if that greater understanding demonstrates group mind and gives us tools to deal with it, I believe the only sensible approach is to treat us as atomistic, individual minds.

  • Paul Marks

    There are two political questions here (I am not going to deal with the philosophical questions).

    Does the majority have the right to do anything it want to?

    And.

    Is democratically elected government the same thing as the majority of people anyway?

    On the first question such things as the Bill of Rights (both British and American) were supposed to limit government. Such limits have been undermined – the British Bill of Rights was declared, long ago, to have no more force than any Act of Parliament – and indeed most people have never even heard of the Bill of Rights. So we get weird debates between the “Human Rights Act” (itself an effort to bring in a vague European charter into law here) and Mr Cameron’s desire for a “British Bill of Rights” (sadly Eton and Oxford did not inform him that we have had one for more than three centuries – and that it goes back to a tradition that includes the Great Charta of 1215 and Henry’s Charter of 1100).

    In the United States at least the Bill of Rights has not been declared “just an Act of Congress” – but such things as the Tenth Amendment (limiting government to what powers it is granted by the Constitution) have been got round by such court tricks as declaring the PURPOSE of the powers granted to Congress “the common defence and general welfare” to be a “general welfare spending power” allowing Congress to spend money on anything it feels like (and as much money as it feels like spending). Also “regulate interstate commerce” has been transformed from meaning “make interstate commerce regular” (free trade between the States – which still does not exit in such things as health insurance) to meaning “impose any regulation you like – even on commerce that does not cross a State line” (even, famously, on the growing of food that a person eats themselves – and does not sell to anyone).

    So if one does believe that government should be limited one must be paranoid (very paranoid) about the “interpretation” of any limits one gets people to agree to – to limit the power of special interests (or whatever) to force into effect various spending and regulations. The Constitution of Alabama (and, no, I do not mean the racial bits) may be a good guide – due to its detail (a very detailed document indeed) and the deep paranoia of its writers – if you want a new spending project, fine, produce a Constitutional Amendment allowing it (but do not just “interpret” a Constitution to allow it). The virtue of demanding an Amendment is to make the debate formal – and one of principle, not just something that can be pushed into effect by politicians and administrators without any real public imput at all.

    That leads us on to the second question – do democratically elected government really just reflect the will of the majority?

    On this the truth is plain – no they do not.

    Even in California it was not really public votes (as the ignorant claime) that led to most of the vast growth in government spending (by some measures not the highest in the nation). It was the work of administrators and politicians (reflecting the ideology of academia – and its servant the media).

    “But the people elect the politicians”.

    And what difference does that make?

    Did the people who voted for President Bush vote for vastly higher entitlement spending? No – but that is what they got.

    And that is the norm both at Federal and State level – and in most Western nations.

    Voting for “anti big government” politicians does not really mean that government spending gets cut – often it goes up very fast indeed. And it is not just the politicians fault – the basic system is structured so that government spending goes up (and to make it very hard indeed to stop – let alone reverse).

    In short “democracy” is not so much good or bad – as, to a great extent, an illusion.

  • RRS

    It has been years since I even looked into it, but Karl Popper did a book with (as I recall) a neurologist about the Mind and the Brain and the idea of interactions.

    The brain, of course, receives stimuli in group settings that have interactive effects on the mind, which usually dissipate when outside those settings.

    More to the point: If one reads the studies done in The Theory of Public Choice, one can gain insight as to how “group decisions” are made.

    Then, there is the fact that the political habit is to create the perception that “something is being done.”

    Always carry a clipboard and appear to be taking notes.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Is it not sufficient to say:

    Can an individual, or body of people, acting without thought… be said to have consciously intended anything at all?

    The rest of the quote seems redundant. Why the person or persons act without thought doesn’t matter. Crowd-pleasing excitement is no worse in this regard than arrogant somnolence, reflexive bigotry, greed, panic, or laziness.

  • guy herbert

    Yet, it is mainly crowd-pleasing that stands in the way of thought.

    I’m puzzled that this post has generated so much parapsychological lunacy. The ‘will of parliament’ is a standard metaphor for the supposed joint intention of the prevailing majority of parliamentarians when law is enacted.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    There was an interesting psychology experiment that showed the power of groupthink – the Asch experiments.

    Combine the results with the Milgram experiments, and the conclusion I arrived at is that most people are too vulnerable to external influences to be ever trusted to wield voting power.

    Having a strong, well-defined constitution helps. Perhaps clauses stating exactly the limits to which a state can tax and spend, as well as the maximum amount of deficit it can incur.

    Another solution is to limit the vote to a select class – either land owners or military veterans, or even both, with slightly different areas of responsibility and power.