Friday, March 15, 2013

Idolatry of the Abstract

We need to group together to get our ideas heard, to express them with confidence, in order to clarify them in the first place, because. But once we entrust our belief to others it is no longer our own. It is dictated to us.

Any human organization, religious, cultural, sporting, political, government, whatever, will be controlled by those who love power, and it will demand that the primary faith, belief, loyalty, be to the structure and hierarchy of the organisation itself, not to the idea, ideal or purpose that it was originally created for, and certainly not to the people who created it to serve them. God, football, socialism, the taxpayer, whatever, is very much in second place.

Anyone who places the original purpose, God, say, in the case of a religious group, above the group itself will not be trusted, and will be sneered at by the leaders.

Idolatry of the abstract is what I, and doubtless many other people who are mystified that I should find any of this new, call the tendency to place the abstracted idea of a group of people above the individuals who make it up- who may have created the group specifically in order to benefit themselves- and even above the great majority taken together. The leaders will require, and often the members will not only accept but actively collaborate with the idea, that only the state, the game, the order, the party, the school, whatever it happens to be, matters, and the people who make it up can be dispensed with, disposed of, destroyed if necessary, all of them, in the name of the abstract that is supposed to belong to them.

Since there is one born every minute, and many people love simple abstract ideas that are easy to name, especially when they are designed to flatter them by being made fashionably good and easy to understand, many pseudo-religious, pseudo-political or pseudo-other organizations are created purely to take advantage of this factor. But many are created by the very people who later allow themselves to be controlled by them.

Sports associations are taken over by the people paid to run them, as soon as the game becomes economically or socially important enough. They talk about ‘bringing the game into disrepute’, ‘the game is bigger than all of us’, and are frequently in dispute with the people who supposedly employ them.

To a certain extent this exemplifies the principal/agent problem. In all such organizations, whether private or agencies of government, the people in charge of the money, of the rules, of deciding exactly what the whole point of the organization is, and however they acquired that power, will tend to run it in their own interests. Whether through corruption, ineptness, laziness or some combination of these and/or other reasons, this will happen. We know it will happen because it invariably does happen.

Tyrannical governments deliberately take advantage of organizations which already exist, and create abstracts such as ‘the state’, ‘the country’, the party’, the nation’, ‘the revolution’, the philosophy’, ‘the ideal’, ‘insert –ism here’, in order to justify everything up to and including the murder in the name of that ideal of the very people it is intended to serve, and indeed, in most cases, without whom it would not exist, and in all cases without whom it would have no meaning.

But you don’t have to go to Stalin to see this idolatry. The local golf club, choir or neighbourhood watch committee will happily sacrifice the people who created it to serve them, to some abstract ideal of itself, often with the willing acceptance of those sacrificed, who fail to see what has been done to them.


Vincent said...

Yes, there may be a germ of truth in your rhetoric, just as there may be in radical feminism. As we know, the feminists have their agenda. What is yours?

For it sounds to me a jaundiced, exaggerated, one-sided, Ayn-Randish view that makes me wonder for what purpose you publish it.

What strikes the wrong note for me is the implicit assumption that everyone else is too stupid to see what is obvious to you from mere observation.

I look at the tags, and see "philosophy", "this is not a random thought". I was expecting "petulant rant".

But I don't mean to be harsh. Presumably something has triggered this idea, but you don't say what. All I can assume is that this and other such expressions are the result of living in Spain. Come back home! England, Wales & even Scotland aren't so bad, as long as you ignore the media.

A sudden thought strikes me. Despite your expressed political views, you are a Guardian reader. This really isn't good for your health. May cause apoplexy.

CIngram said...

I'm well aware that these are things that many, or most people have already worked out for themselves, though by no means all. It's more an attempt to express something well than to say anything genuinely new. Clearly I have failed. I assure you there is no assumption of intellectually or moral superiority, only a certain exasperation that some people who should know better are taken in too easily.

The tag is 'pedestrian philosophy', as not even my mother thinks I'm capable of anything else. And I have ranting tags which I could easily have used if I'd thought of it, to make it clearer what I thought of what I had written.

There was an origin to the thoughts in the post but it got lost. I don't really remember what it was. I thought, perhaps lazily, that the disconnected ideas were worth posting in themselves. On reflection, probably not.

I realize, partly from your recent comments, that the blog is getting stale. I have little to say that is new or interesting. And when I have, I have no time to do anything with it. As Spring is on the way, I shall seek inspiration from it and attempt blogging rebirth.

By the way, I'm not really a Guardian reader as such. The standards of the press in general are so poor that it's hard to know what to read, and sometimes I am driven to desperate measures.

Brett Hetherington said...

Yes, self-interest is always the horse to back in any race. But that, and variations of it, is a point that still needs to be made repeatedly and there are so many examples of it to choose from. People are inevitably fallible and it IS so much easier to support an abstract idea, such as freedom. Petty power in small organisations is appealing because it takes great effort and luck to be a leader of nations (usually) though they will ultimately disappoint too.

James Higham said...

Any human organization, religious, cultural, sporting, political, government, whatever, will be controlled by those who love power, and it will demand that the primary faith, belief, loyalty, be to the structure and hierarchy of the organisation itself, not to the idea

In a nutshell.

CIngram said...


A paragraph I removed from the post before publishing made the point that small and medium private companies are owned, managed and worked for almost exclusively by people whose best interest is served by giving the customers what they want. This is of great benefit to all the rest of us.

In very big companies it doesn't always work, for various reasons, and in public organisations self-interest leads in a different direction. Things work best when we recognise the motivations people respond to and use them for the benefit of all of us.

I dare say I'm as corruptible as anyone. If I ever have a little power I look forward to finding out ;-)

CIngram said...

@James Higham

It was intended as a pocket explanation, for my own reference, of the problem. Now if I had a good answer we'd be getting somewhere.