Jared Diamond’s Kleptocracy

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / NoHier / Kleptocracy /
@ K. 1999

Lawrence of Arabia:

How come Britain is so powerful?

That’s what Col. Harry Brighton is asking in Prince Feisal’s tent.

Guns! says Prince Feisal.
Discipline! says the frustrated Col. Brighton.
Guns! agrees T. E. Lawrence.

Guns! is agreeing the great David Lean movie.

Guns, Germs, & Steel, argues Jared Diamond.

(Diamond seems to have coined the term kleptocracy. I picked it up immediately, thereby picking up a couple of first class readers as well!)
The situation was WWI. The movie was 1962. Diamond’s book is 1998. (This module is 1999, and I’m revising it this 2004 11 29 (and resurrecting it this 2015 08 25).) (This file continues to divy up material from Knatz.coms’ original kleptocracy module.)

God bless Jared Diamond. For years, decades, I’ve been unhappily using the word civilization to mean the juggernaut of environmental degradation, theft of the commons, and factitious hierarchical force for the sake of surplus food and damaging population levels. I’ve had to salt notes here and there to emphasize that by civilization I do not mean music, art, literature, manners … Those latter are tens of thousands of years old at the least. Citifying the biosphere is only six thousand years old at the most. For tens of millennia modern man had had culture organized in bands, occasionally in tribes. Agriculture was discovered around ten and a half thousand years ago. By six thousand years ago, the farmers had monopolized and degraded enough land for it to be becoming a problem. Chiefdoms formed and finally states. See my Tower of Babel.

Guns, Germs, & Steel
thanx kuvo

So how do you tell a kleptocrat from an ordinary scoundrel?

How shall I your true love know
From another one?
By his cockle hat and staff.
And his sandal shoon.


By their exemption from ordinary standards of accountability. The government, any government, makes a treaty. The government breaks the treaty. Does everyone pronounce the government a liar, a breaker of trust? No. Or it doesn’t matter if they do. The next day, month, year, decade, the government is making new treaties. Day after day after day of Watergate the Nixon White House was caught telling the public more lies. Did the press, the public re-gather at the White House to remove and punish the frauds? No, they reassembled, hats in hand, to hear the next day’s lies.

All governments are kleptocracies, but by the standards offered here many other institutions are also kleptocracies. The Church claims that God created the universe, that he owns it, that everything is his property, that he can give it, take it away, and re-give it at his pleasure. The Church further claims that it, the church, represents this God. No evidence. At least no evidence that wouldn’t be laughed out of any rational assembly. OK, let’s hypothetically accept the Church’s statements: there is just the one God, or at least he’s the boss god, he owns everything, and he told the story in a book, the Bible, there’s only one Bible and the Church has it. They understand it and can explain it to you. But then, with Greek being relearned, the possibility of reading the Septuagint, of criticizing the Vulgate emerged. What did the Church do? They tried to repress the knowledge. They made it a capital offense to learn Greek. And they, kleptocrats true, went on making claims that, if those claims hadn’t been deliberate lies before the discovery, they were certainly deliberate lies afterwards.

And it’s not just the Church. Doctors are the second leading cause of death, but are they accountable? No. If fact their kleptocrat allies do everything in their considerable power to force you to endanger yourself at their expensive hands. Your law suit goes kablouie if, having been injured by one doctor, you don’t endanger yourself further by going to another, and another … until you find one who’ll testify against the first. (Good luck.) The evidence of your injury isn’t evidence until it’s been blessed by another killer. (And meantime, you’re now also in the hands of the lawyers!)

Time and again school teachers are caught teaching falsehoods. Time and again evidence surfaces that the best teachers are fired while the worse get tenure.

The Church had said that God made the universe so that everything revolved around the central earth. The Bible didn’t say so: the Church just granted itself the privilege of making up God’s mind for him. Galileo built a telescope and first thing found satellites revolving around Jupiter. Ergo, at least one thing that the Church said was false. Ah, but they were kleptocrats! Kleptocrats are not accountable to the evidence of experience. The truth is whatever they say it is. Thus Galileo’s evidence, from experience, was overruled by the authority of myth. (Where the banner didn’t read “The Bible” then it read “Aristotle”: that is, the managed Aristotle: a dead man’s written word, with the dead man not available to correct his “experts.”)

All right. The hell with history. The hell with the Caesars and the Church and with Stalin. The hell with Hitler and Nixon. Just think: what lies have you been told since Watergate? Even if you don’t go as far as I do and see for example American democracy, free trade, freedom of speech, assembly, etc. as just another set of myths, utterly unsupported by rationally reviewed evidence, and perpetrated on you by the current crop of kleptocrats so that they can have their hands in your pockets, their hands in your marriage, on your life, on your children (in fact, how can you say they’re your children when the Church takes them x number of hours and the school y number of hours, and the court, the cop, the social worker can walk in and take them from you on any pretext) … still consider what lies and interferences you do see.

What do you do? Vote for one who promises more goodies and less interference? Did you happen to notice how many government palaces Ronald Reagan built for himself once you’d elected him on the basis on his rhetorical anarchism? I’d like to see a study of the following: chart candidates who promise more of something, monitor their term. How many actually gave more of the whatever; how many less? Do the same for those who promise less. People voted for Nixon to kill the commies. What did he do? He made treaties, nice treaties, with China. Where was the hook?

If there ever really were a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, what people would be so stupid as not to install a recall system? There was recent news of a politician who ran for election on a platform of mandatory retirement under some condition: age, number of terms … Elected, he reached that position and announced that he’d changed his mind: he’d stay in office. If his office really were our office which we appointed him to occupy, why didn’t we change the locks on the door, bar him from the hall, clean out his locker and put the stuff on the street? Why didn’t we sue him to pay for a new election?
(Of course there is a recall system, a mythic one. The kleptocrats are supposed to police themselves. And even the extent to which it is real and has even actually surfaced on some occasions, is still mythic so long as the media, like the lawyers, the doctors, the churches … are fellow kleptocrats in league with the political kleptocrats.)

Kleptocracy is an Abbott and Costello routine. The kleptocrat is Abbott and we’re Costello: screwed, swindled daily. And Abbott still says he’s our best friend. (And we say so too: if Costello didn’t have Abbott to swindle him, what would he have? He’d be, heaven forfend, alone.)

To close this insert, I’ll say one last thing: Jesus talked about the truth. Pontius Pilate talked about the truth. The Church talks about the truth. Governments talk about … the people. Revolutionaries talk about the people. Sociopaths talk about the people. In one “Introduction” at Macroinformation I argue that the “truth” is another Christian universal that doesn’t exist. This statement may correspond to experience and that statement not, but there is no Platonic Form: The Truth. Similarly, here I say that there is not and never has been such a thing as The People. There’s you and me and him and her … I never signed any social contract. Did you? Isn’t it the case instead that a bunch of lawyers got together and palmed another illusion onto us? When I have suggested ways that we could form a union, a real one, honest … nothing happened. The kleptocrats had us too busy with their illusions. There is no people; just half a dozen billion dupes of kleptocracy.

Diamond calls the latter two types of organization kleptocracy and henceforth I shall too. The points I’ve been making for decades Diamond seems to take for granted. I emphasize them not because I believe kleptocratic citizens will recognize themselves in the mirror and reform, but because I want it to be clear … once the animals are gone, all is domesticated and all domesticates require hospitalization, once the remaining oil is unreachable, the waters all poisoned … while only the richest kleptocrats can afford gas masks to breathe the air … when all of the soldiers and police turn on all of the tax payers … when the taxpayers lay in wait for the police and each other, baseball bat or golf club in hand (no right-caliber bullets to be had), for — finally — a little fresh meat … as clear as it can be to crazed cannibals, that it was unnecessary, that we (necessarily many fewer of us) could have chosen sanity, restraint, nature … and lived much better, much longer.

Our long slide turning to a short slide will have been unnecessary: provided that is that sentience is potentially anything but a genetic defect.

Goya, Saturn
Goya, Saturn Devouring His Children
thanx picify

Meantime, I continue my characterization of, bless you Diamond, kleptocracy.
Mankind has long been specialized. We certainly didn’t invent specialization. It’s the females who produce the eggs, the males the sperm; it’s the males who have upper body mass and leverage, the females who are lower to the ground, have better balance … All humans beings defend their territory, but the males define territory in acres, the females in cubic yards … (Once behind the wheel, we must all become females.) Culture emphasizes these specialties, sometimes factitiously: the females gather food encumbered by baby or gather close to where the baby is cached; the male searches further afield … Experience is honored in either gender. The organization of the group is casual. Puberty is a hallmark, but children are still people, not chattel as states’ laws have it.

Things change qualitatively as well as quantitatively once the numbers of humans exceed a few hundred. Organization becomes hierarchical. Now the adult is not “more experienced” than the child but “better” than the child (until it backfires and the child becomes “innocent”). The male is better than the female (until that backfires and the female is sanctified). The chief is better than the common, ordinary male. …

The hunter pretends to be a duck or a moose or a bush. The bush which is one hunter doesn’t want to be shot by the bush which is another hunter, so communications develop in which identification is almost as important as misidentification. Hamlet opens with the line “Who’s there?” What’s the probability that the answer will be a lie? Well, in your own castle, the probability for the truth is very high: friend (Francisco and Bernardo are changing the guard.) [Note] But if Bernardo is actually a Nazi trying out his Brooklyn accent, your cave, home, castle, corporation may soon belong to his Nazis. (If your home is a castle or corporation, then you too are a kleptocrat. (Hamlet certainly was.) You probably have a deed saying that the castle is yours. The deed may be signed by the king who’s supposed to have a deed signed by God. Don’t worry: Francisco’s Nazis will soon have their own deed signed by their king. You won’t get to see where God signed their king’s deed either, but you can bet they’ll claim that the divine signature they don’t have is more authentic than any that you don’t have ever was.

Kleptocracy functions hierarchically. Kleptocracy creates its cosmology in its own image. There’s a boss, an owner, a law giver. These laws are not confirmable in nature, mind you. You can’t verify them in experience outside the group believing in or pretending to believe in the laws. Thou shalt not kill. ?!? How are you going to confirm that one? Come to think of it, you can’t confirm its “truth” even within the group that declares it sacred. Don’t eat pork. Eat with your right hand, hold your dick with your left hand. In fact, the more laws a kleptocracy has, the less can they be confirmed even within the group with the laws. 55 mph speed limit? The President shall uphold the Constitution?

OK. Most of these points have already long been here in one place or another, one form or another. There’s something else already strongly (at the least) implicit at this Knatz.com that I want side by side with the above recapitulation: if you want an accurate map of a kleptocratic territory, don’t just swallow the kleptocrat’s map; reverse engineer the kleptocratic map against the territory itself. Apply evolutionary theory. Apply the tools of reason. I don’t mean the reason spoken of by Pope, Paine, Jefferson … I mean the reason theorized by Karl Popper and tested by Peter C. Wason.

Quality Engineer
I dislike the word engineering the way I was dissatisfied with my knowing no word but “civilization,” and I’ve been likewise dissatisfied with my attempts at new coinage. But I have to say engineering twice. If you want to know how to fix what’s wrong, quality engineer it.

Reverse-engineering tries to figure out what something’s actual, not advertised, use is. Quality engineering bypasses the kleptocratic hierarchy. In quality engineering the consumer’s opinion counts as much as the CEO’s, the lineworker’s as much as the foreman’s.

2017 05 25 See also my Jared Diamond Reading Notes. And stay tuned for important mappings of Diamond’s report on hunter-gatherer cultures and pk psychology in founding FLEX: I was giving a gift whose value depended on med receiving gifts: but invitation, not coercion was involved. I gave everything, got nothing: but note that it’s YOU that’s screwed! Don’t bother to point out to me that my offer was outside our culture and contradictory to it: I know that, I knew it then.

It will make sense when God explains it, but only to those capable of understanding such sense. Pilat not understanding what God says does not refute what God says.


Friend or Foe:
I am indebted to Gore Vidal for the following bit of kleptocratic disability. Vidal was talking to a young Egyptian man who with his friends numbered among Egypt’s military reserve. The friends were assigned to what should have been a cushy weekend guarding some nothing out in the desert. Halfway there, one of them confesses to having forgotten the beer and sandwiches, the falafel and yogurt, the whatever … He’ll go back and join them later. They’re relaxing against their sandbags when they hear him arrive.

Hi, guys, it’s me.
What’s the password?
Um, er … I forgot it. Gimme a hint.

So what happened, Vidal inquires.
We had to shoot him.

Could any creature possibly be that stupid without having gone to school for it? Would any band or tribe member defer to a federated directive rather than to their friend?

After a bout of O’Brien’s torture, George Orwell’s Winston Smith no longer knows how many fingers O’Brien is holding up. That’s just the way Big Brother wants it.

When 1984 was being popularly read in the 1950’s, I suppose the book sellers expected us to see Stalin. I did. Now I see just any kleptocrat: American, Egyptian …

(By the way, when I taught 1984 in a course I’d developed at the request of The New School for Social Research (1972), I thought I should have gotten a better laugh when I announced it to be the only “dated” book we’d read that semester.)

I am developing a reading of Hamlet‘s opening lines at Macroinformation.

2004 08 28 I’ve just been poking around in some memorabilia from my father’s estate. Lo and behold I find that he saved the flier for that course!

I’ll decipher the central message here:

Ezra Pound has said that artists are the antennae of the race. Erich Fromm has said that prophets do not predict the future: they see the present in a state of pregnancy. This course will consider the prophetic nature of a number of novels written in the 20th century. Among the writers who will be studied are H.G. Wells, Conrad, Orwell, Hemingway, Faulkner, Beckett, Anthony Burgess, and James Dickey.
Paul Knatz taught English, including Poetry of the Later Renaissance, at Colby College. Founder and Coordinator of the Free Learning Exchange, a not-for-profit educational service for NYC. Engaged in writing a book, Paradox as Structure and Meaning in Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

First Class Readers
2015 08 25 I mounted this in 1999. Shortly thereafter I heard from billymac. He told me that Jared Diamond was his favorite scientist. Shortly thereafter I got a revision: Jared Diamond had dropped to second place; pk was his favorite scientist!


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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