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Power, Plato, Aristotle, and Neo-Tech

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Neo-Tech Advantage #86

For 2500 years, citizens from ancient Greece to modern America have sought to understand and judge those holding or seeking public power. The higher, more powerful the "authority", the more attention focuses on trying to judge that "authority". In fact, attention expands geometrically on ascending the power scale to the president of the United States (or to the Pope). Yet, a consistent, reliable standard for judging power and authority has until now remained a riddle.

That riddle is solved by applying two metaphors: (1) Knowing the material world around us requires understanding the smallest atomic units. And (2) knowing the cosmos above us requires understanding its primordial origins. Now apply those two points to authority and power: (1) Knowing authority around us requires understanding the smallest authoritarian units. And (2) knowing the power above us requires understanding its philosophical origins.

Understanding the Smallest Unit of Authority

Understanding authority begins by traveling far from the great concentrations of government authority -- traveling away from the eastern megalopolis, west to the small desert city in Western United States. By putting a microscope on that oasis of population, one can focus beneath its few, simple layers of authority. One can focus beneath the mayor, past the city council and paid government employees down to an unpaid, appointed planning commission. And finally, one can reduce that commission's microcosm of authority down to its most mundane exercise of authority -- the granting or denying of a minor zoning variance to a lone, uninfluential individual with a modest home needing a second bedroom for his family.

That property owner duly completed the proper forms, submitted blueprints, paid the filing fees, and presented the facts to the planning commission. He explained why variance was necessary not only to better the property, but to preserve one of the largest elm trees in the city. The owner detailed how alternative plans without the variance would neither be practical nor best serve the neighborhood. In addition, a professional urban planner (hired by the commission) found no problems or objections to the variance. He also concurred that well over half the homes in the neighborhood already had structures built in greater variance to the zoning ordinance than the minor variance requested.

Moreover, unlike the surrounding structures, the proposed structure was designed to beautify both the owner's home and the neighborhood. In addition, that would be done entirely at the owner's expense while providing local employment. And most important, a two-week notice posted on the property, an advertised notice in the local newspaper, and written notices mailed to all homes surrounding the proposed property improvement brought not a single objection. In short, everyone logically concerned supported the variance.

On concluding the hearing, the members seemed ready to approve this minor, routine variance. But then spoke a younger commissioner, a stocky, flush-faced government environmentalist living in a wealthy neighborhood atop a hill, far from the property owner. He turned enough to observe the property owner from the corners of his eyes. Then with twitching jowls, he stated that the property owner's needs and desires meant nothing in his considering the variance. He then cited three ambiguous, ordinance clauses with arbitrary interpretations -- impossible interpretations that no home owner could ever satisfy. ...He chose the exercise of power for the sake of gaining unearned power by destroying the creation of values.

In prompt rebuttal, spoke an older commissioner. A trim, leather-faced workingman living in the same modest neighborhood as the property owner, he pointed out that no objective reason to deny the variance existed, especially after everyone in the neighborhood and all others who could possibly be concerned approved. ...He chose the creation of values over the exercise of power.

To fully understand the profound difference between those two commissioners, one must know that they are appointed by politically elected officials and meet four hours each month without pay. If they receive no pay, what do they receive? They receive political power and civic recognition with little expenditure of time and effort. Thus, the motivation for such people entering the world of government authority varies between political enhancement and civic achievement. From those beginnings, from that political atom, emerge two types of people: One desiring to gain power and a political future by destroying values. The other desiring to enhance the civic needs of the community and its citizens by protecting values. ...The first type gains authoritarian power by destroying values of others; the second type resists authoritarian power by protecting values of others. The first type consists of bad-intentioned value destroyers. The second type consists of well-intentioned, but misguided value producers.

Understanding the
Philosophical Origins of Power

The first type subconsciously orients around Plato's philosophy -- a subjective, mystical-based philosophy. The extent a person adopts Plato's views is the extent that he or she holds that:

  1. Standards for morals and ethics are products of changeable opinions rather than products of objective reality.
  2. Power is to be used as an end in itself to determine who through their "wisdom" (through their feelings, whims, wishes, "intuition") should rule or control others.
  3. Facts, honesty, and logic are relative, arbitrary, disposable.
  4. Principle does not matter: ends justify the means.
By nature, Plato nourishes not only all despots and dictators, but politicians and bureaucrats at all levels of government. Plato justifies the striving for power at the expense of the rights, property, and life of others. Plato provides the rationalization for all laziness, dishonesty, and value destruction -- for all subjective, unjust non sequiturs and actions used to usurp power and values from others. According to Plato, the rights and needs of individuals are secondary to any external "authority's" desire to usurp values and power. Indeed, Plato assigns virtue to sacrificing individual rights and needs to any arbitrary "higher cause", "higher power", or external "authority". ...Thus, Plato is the philosophical father of mysticism and neocheating.

The second type subconsciously orients around Aristotle's philosophy -- an objective, reality-based philosophy. The extent that a person adopts Aristotle's view is the extent he or she holds that:

  1. Standards for morals and ethics are products of objective reality rather than products of changeable opinions.
  2. The well-being of society is enhanced to the extent that individuals are free to produce objective values for themselves and others.
  3. Facts, honesty, and logic are absolute, unchangeable, eternal.
  4. Principle matters: ends do not justify the means.
By nature, Aristotle nourishes all value producers. The Aristotelian-oriented person has a loyalty to honesty. That person strives to avoid acting on whims, feelings, or wishes. Instead, that person strives to identify and integrate contextual facts in order to act in a rationally consistent manner that generates maximum values for others. Thus, Aristotle is the philosophical father of business and Neo-Tech.

Making Judgments

While most people outwardly exhibit mixtures of Platonistic and Aristotelian views, everyone holds a dominant view of life that is either Platonistic or Aristotelian. Once the Platonistic and Aristotelian views are understood, the dominant view of most individuals becomes evident. With that understanding, one can detect the philosophical core of anyone seeking or holding government power -- from the president of the United States to a planning commissioner of a small desert town.

Now, after 2500 years, an objective standard exists to judge power and authority: Who should hold government power over the life, property, and freedom of individuals? A person with Plato's view or a person with Aristotle's view? The answer is...neither.

The Neo-Tech View

All forms of external power or authority undermine the productive, self-responsible nature of human beings. Thus, all such authority is bogus and eventually harmful to everyone. No person, group, or government has the right to deny or grant permission for individuals to use their own earned property in ways not infringing on the life or property rights of other individuals.

Note: After sending this report to members of the city council, the property owner proceeded to build the room without permission or interference from the "authorities".

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