Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Radical Individualism: Why Groups Are Evil

I’m going to make, in broad strokes, an argument that’s been bothering me for some time.  To provide some context, it’s relevant to the philosophy or anarchism, and developed as a response to people pointing out all the good that a powerful State can accomplish.  What it ideally shows is that, while individuals – even powerful ones – can act in a manner that’s ethically consistent, groups tend to increase their own power at the expense of ethics.
Let’s take a group of people who’ve just formed a government.  For the sake of argument, they’re all good-intentioned and all of equal power.  They govern by some kind of democracy, only taking action when they’ve achieved a sizeable consensus among themselves.  We’ll call them the People Party (or PP for short).  Let’s make a further assumption that their decisions are only motivated by ethics: that is to say that each person is constantly pushing towards his ideal of what good governance should be.
Since the PP is made of people, not robots, each person is going to have a different concept of good governance.  In a party where the members all passionately believe in their ideals, consensus or compromise is going to be difficult to achieve.  The ethical actions taken by the PP will thus reflect a political pablum: only the most uncontroversial and dull propositions will be approved by the majority of members.  So far all I’ve shown is that the PP is likely to be ineffective.
What every PP member can agree on, however, is that they need the ability to carry out their political ideals – that is to say, they need political power.  After all, they’ve got the best of intentions; why not give themselves the clout to carry them out?  Propositions that increase the power of the PP are much more likely to gather a consensus than propositions aimed at improving wider society.  What we’ve now got is a situation where the PP has a very clear goal of power and a very unclear ethical goal.  Over time, even the most incorruptible of governments will accrue power more efficiently than it improves the society it governs.
Such a government is powerful but impotent – so long as every member is incorruptible and supremely ethical.  It’s a bomb waiting to go off; an untapped reservoir of political power for any unscrupulous politician who manages to enter the PP.  Not only will such rogues be attracted to the PP, once a few gain entry they can and will use their power to benefit themselves and their cronies at the cost of everyone else. 
Thus political parties, over time, tend towards ethically ineffective, powerful, and evil.
What are the problems with this argument?  To me it seems overly simplistic, although I can’t put my finger on where.  Another issue would be that there might exist political parties where everyone is in rough agreement on the moral principles involved, if not the facts.  Despite these issues, I think it’s got potential.

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