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As Socrates said, humans are political animals. The question is whether you can nudge a society out of a toxic cultural "equilibrium".

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 13th, 2013 at 09:50:57 AM EST
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I don't think humans are political in the sense it's usually meant.

The real issue with politics, business, and economics is that they're simple - but somewhat disguised - instantiations of competitive Darwinian self-interest.

And that's all they are.

So there's no rational logic to any of them. They're simply action reduced to the human version of animal instinct, hidden under various layers of misdirection.

You can't expect a herd with a few alphas battling it out for resource control to act rationally. The big lie of politics, business and economics is the nonsensical suggestion that animal self-interest is the definition of rationality, when in fact it's its opposite.

But as individuals and collectively, we are capable of assessing, planning and acting in truly rational ways that aren't limited to simple animal brutality.

So the challenge is to make politics more human, and to move it past the stage of dumb animal self-interest - not just sporadically, as has happened in the past, but consistently and institutionally.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Nov 13th, 2013 at 10:32:42 AM EST
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(h/t LeftyMathProf)

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 13th, 2013 at 12:23:49 PM EST
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Every corporation is a hierarchy, with shareholder's interests at the top. How do we move those pyramids?
by das monde on Thu Nov 14th, 2013 at 03:42:14 AM EST
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Redefine their role in law as suggested by about 10 gazillion business academics. There's lots of perfectly reasonable work on fixing problems with corporate governance, much of it championed (ostensibly at least) by the assorted accounting and management bodies, but not transposed into law.

The core problem is that under US law (in particular) the sole responsibility of a public corporation is to maximise shareholder returns (barely) within the law. And that shareholders will successfully litigate the living fuck out of the directors personally if they can figure out a way you haven't done that.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Nov 14th, 2013 at 03:57:49 AM EST
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Thanks to Milton Friedman, I heard. Was the US corporate law the same before the 70-80s? So how would you convince hardcore shareholders to relax their positions? Or defeat them?
by das monde on Thu Nov 14th, 2013 at 04:34:38 AM EST
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I'm fuzzy on the process: i'm not sure if it was judicial activism or legal changes.

You change the law so that directors can't be held hostage by possible shareholder action or use it as an excuse. And you regulate more. And change the tax laws where they're unfairly being taken advantage of.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Nov 14th, 2013 at 04:44:10 AM EST
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But first we get TPP, TTIP...
by das monde on Thu Nov 14th, 2013 at 12:23:41 PM EST
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Which on the political side, are comparable to environmental disaster. Why shouldn't we throw accountability out the window, to be decided by the next round of corporate courts?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Fri Nov 15th, 2013 at 12:06:43 AM EST
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Meidner plan was an interesting idea: progressively making worker unions as shareholders. The corporatists were quick to deflect it.  (H/T Talos)
by das monde on Fri Nov 15th, 2013 at 08:00:29 AM EST
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It wasn't Socrates, it was Aristotle:

    Man is by nature a political animal.

        Politics, Book I

But, against the noble, individualist image of Socrates, he exemplified Aristotle's point in a very bad way, according to I.F. Stone (great, independent US journalist) in his very convincing book "The Trial of Socrates". From his self-interview about it:

I believe the case against Socrates was political and that the charge of corrupting the youth was based on a belief - and considerable evidence - that he was undermining their faith in Athenian democracy.

If so, why wasn't the charge brought earlier? He had been teaching for a long time. A quarter century before the trial, Socrates had already been attacked in Aristophanes's play "The Clouds" for running a "think thank" whose smart-alecky graduates beat their fathers. If they thought him the source of such subversive teaching, why did the Athenians wait until 399 B.C., when he was already an old man, before putting him on trial?

Because in 411 B.C. and again in 404 B.C. antidemocrats had staged bloody revolutions and established short-lived dictatorships. The Athenians were afraid this might happen again.
Who was Critias?

He was the bloodiest dictator Athens had ever known, a pupil of Socrates at one time, and a cousin of Plato's. Aeschines was saying in effect that the antidemocratic teachings of Socrates helped to make a dictator of Critias, who terrorized Athens in 404 B.C. during the regime of the Thirty Tyrants and just five years before the trial of Socrates. Critias seemed to have been the most powerful member of the Thirty.


This is usually omitted from the dominant reverential discussions of Socrates as a kind of secular saint killed for questioning religion.

The same class wars were taking place then and Plato was a great anti-democratic propagandist.


Men ... are easily induced to believe that in some wonderful manner everybody will become everybody's friend, especially when some one is heard denouncing the evils now existing in states, suits about contracts, convictions for perjury, flatteries of rich men and the like, which are said to arise out of the possession of private property. These evils, however, are due to a very different cause -- the wickedness of human nature.

However he also said:

If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Nov 13th, 2013 at 04:59:02 PM EST
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I can readily believe that Plato was an anti-democrat, that was already my opinion from what I had read. To me the question also involves a distinction between who Socrates was and how Plato portrayed him. Aristotle was obviously a servant of power, but not just that.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Nov 13th, 2013 at 11:06:17 PM EST
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Politics is mostly the art of keeping disproportionate power and wealth (or helping to keep it). Very really a genuine egalitarian populist move makes a wave. More often than not, progressive populist agencies are convenient surrogates. Julius Cesar started as a populist, for example.
by das monde on Thu Nov 14th, 2013 at 03:30:25 AM EST
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