The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Role of Character and Ideology in Prosperity

(First of two collections of important articles published 2014 or earlier. )

I want to take readers through some of my previous writing on ideology and character, and how they help form the societies in which we live. Taking the time to read these articles (a short book’s worth), should vastly improve your understanding of the world and the articles to come. It should be worth your time, even if you read the articles when they were previously published, as, at the time, they lacked both context and commentary, and were not collated to be read together so that the connections were obvious.

(I have a lot of new readers, so I’m going to republish this. These are some of the most important articles I have written–Ian)

Baseline Predictions for the Next 60 Years

While not an article about ideology, the above is an article about where our current ideology and character are going to take us: To the brink of disaster and possibly beyond, while continuing to impoverish and disempower larger and larger segments of the human race. This might be a slightly optimistic piece; there’s some reason to believe our actions in the world’s oceans could destroy the oxygen cycle, and if this is so, events will be much, much worse.

What Is an Ideology and Why Do We Need a New One?

Too many people think ideologies are some airy-fairy nonsense, while they themselves are “pragmatic” men and women operating on common sense and facts. Such people are amongst the greatest of all fools: Our entire society is based on interlocking ideologies; the primary of which are neoliberalism, capitalism, human rights, and socialism. It is not obvious, nor was it obvious to most societies that have ever existed, for example, that food should be distributed based on money, nor that ideas could be property. How we organize things, our particular ideas about markets and their role, and our ideas about who should lead us, are ideological. If we want to change society, we need to be able to control markets so they aren’t producing a world that makes us sick, unhappy, and, in increasing numbers, dead.

How to Create a Viable Ideology We may look at current trends and realize that if we don’t reverse them–and reverse them fast–billions will suffer or die; but creating an ideology which can reverse these trends requires us to understand what makes an ideology viable and powerful. An ideology which does not create believers willing to die, and to kill, on its behalf, will lose to those that do. An ideology which cannot prevent people from selling out, from betraying, will definitely lose in the current world, where there is so much money available at the top to simply buy out (for billions) those who create something new, so that anything new can be neutralized into nothing but a monetization scheme.

Our Theory of Human Nature Predicts Our Policies

The ideas of an ideology determine how our society is run, and, of those ideas, none is more important than what we make of human nature.

A Theory of Human Nature Suited to Prosperity and Freedom

If we are trying to create a prosperous, free world, our policies must be based in a theory of human nature that is both true (enough) and which leads to policies that create widespread affluence and human freedom.

Character Is Destiny

Ideology and character are intertwined. Character determines what we do, what we don’t do, and how we do it. The character of large numbers of people determines the destinies of nations and of the world itself. If we want to make the world better (or worse), we must change our own characters. Those who fail to understand how character is created (and changed) will never change the world–except accidentally.

How Everyday Life Creates Our Character

Along with, as noted, our destiny. I always laugh at radicals who want more schooling, because schooling is where people learn to sit down, shut up, give the approved answers, and do what they’re told. Working life, as an adult, continues this process of learned powerlessness and acquiescence, and even in our consumptive and political lives we continue the trend; choosing from the choices offered, rather than producing what we actually need for ourselves.

How Everyday Life Creates Sociopathic Corporate Leaders

Those who lead our corporations control most of our lives, even more so than the government, because they set the terms by which we live, die, and can afford the good things in life. Our daily lives are prescribed by these people, from how we work to what we eat, to what we entertain ourselves with. We need, therefore, to understand the character traits for which our leaders are chosen, and how the process of choosing works. If we can’t learn to create and choose better leaders, we will never have a better world.

The Difference Between Ethics and Morals

If we want an ideology that tells us how to create both a better world and the people with the character to create that world, we must understand what sort of people they should be. To accomplish this, we must first understand how they treat other people–the people they know, and more importantly, the people they don’t.

The Fundamental Feedback Loop for a Better World

The shortest article on this list, this is also one of the most important and speaks directly to how money directs behaviour and how that directs our choice in leaders.

Living in a Rich Society

It’s been so long since parts of the West were truly prosperous that people have forgotten what it’s like, and they’ve forgotten that it creates a different type of person than a scarcity society.

Late 19th and Early 20th Century Intellectual Roots

Lived experience creates character and character feeds into ideology. It’s worth looking at how various themes of the Victorian era were created by those who lived through that time and the time that came before it.

What Confucius Teaches Those Who Want a Better World

Amongst those who have created powerful ideologies, Confucius is in the first rank; Confucianism has been the most important ideology of the most populous and advanced region of the world for most of the last two thousand years–or more. Confucius was very aware of what he was trying to do, had a theory of human nature, and a theory of character. We would be fools not to learn from him.

Concluding Remarks

I hope that those who are interested in creating a better world will read the articles linked above. What I’ve written amounts to a short book, and the ideas are interrelated. If you have read a few of my posts, or even read all of them, but not thought of or read them with each other in mind, you cannot have the full picture of how these ideas work together, and why the different parts are necessary.

Ideas are often destroyed in practice by those who do not understand the reasons for the various pieces of the puzzle and prescriptions. These people feel they can pick and choose without that understanding. Character and ideology and ethics and every day life are all intertwined; you cannot pick one and say,”This is supreme.” They create each other.

Of course, the above is not a complete intellectual package. Large chunks are missing. My next piece will be a review of some key economic articles, specifically concerning why the world is as it is today: Why we lost post-war liberalism, why we have austerity and neoliberalism and so-called free trade. That piece comes after this one because without understanding our own characters, the characters of our leaders, and how ideology works, we cannot understand our current circumstances.

I will then be moving on to new articles that focus on technology, geography, the environment, and their effect on societies though the ages, with an emphasis on those technologies and environments which create prosperity, freedom, and egalitarian cultures and explore why they do so. There is an important trend today, an argument, about changing our technology to improve society, but it will only work if we understand how technology changes society.

Originally published Oct 2, 2014.  Republished July 28, 2015, March 6, 2016, October 2, 2017 & May 20, 2024.

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  1. Jan Wiklund

    I think ideologies are created as pragmatic compromises between powers. Or they are not so much “created” as hammered out.

    Take the keynesian welfare state that dominated roughly 1945 to 1975. It was a compromise between the newly deligitimated ruling class on one side and labour and anti-colonialist movements on the other. The conflict between them created so much strife and uncertainty that nobody could live with it. Sociewty was literaly coming apart, as Polanyi said. There was a need for some compromise that all the parties could live with.

    The Keynesian welfare state was an ideology that was a step aside from both the liberal laissez-faire ideolgy of the bourgeois and the radical democratic ideology of the movements, not perfect for anyone, but it could be lived with – for thirty years. The price that had to be paid by the labour movemernts and the anti-colonial movements, so that the capitalists and their hangers-on would buy into the deal, was that the bases of these movements must be demobilized. The leaderships of the movement were happy to, because that meant more power to them.

    Well, it lasted thirty years. Then the movement bases had been demobilized so much that the capitalists could cancel the contract. And we were back to square one.

    I believe that the case proves that ideologies are very thin. The ideologies of both the labour and anti-colonial movements implied that it was the active base that made the movement a power. As The International says:

    “No saviour from on high delivers
    No faith have we in prince or peer
    Our own right hand the chains must shiver…”

    Or as in the French original:

    “Il n’est pas de sauveurs suprêmes,
    Ni Dieu, ni César, ni tribun,
    Producteurs sauvons-nous nous-mêmes !”

    But it seems it was very easy to give up that. Self-interest, and apparently rather short-term self-interest at that, trumps ideology.

  2. Feral Finster

    All systems eventually come to be ruled by sociopaths, as sociopaths are the humans who will do literally anything to gain power. This also gives them an inherent advantage over non-sociopaths.

    However, sociopaths are limited in their ability to do anything that does not amount to self-aggrandizement, as the sociopath treats everything as a zero-sum no-holds barred winner-take-all game. Hence, systems led by sociopaths have an element of instability built in.

    This is the kernel of the quote attributed to Alexander Tytler: “The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to complacency; From complacency to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.”

  3. Willy

    rather short-term self-interest trumping ideology.

    Yup. We’re being conditioned for such. I have two younger sisters. The elder I looked out for and kept entertained until her natural chutzpah took over as a teen. The younger I looked out for right up until I realized that her shiftless husband was scamming me. I’ve always had this dream that my family would embrace a sort of ‘communal barn-raising ideology’, where we “Christians” would work together to help whoever the individual-in-need de jour be, for the sake of strengthening the whole. Lately, all the evidence suggests that those two have been conspiring together to take all of our parents’ inheritance resources for themselves, at the behest/machinations of our already-wealthiest family member. If true and if successful, this would leave me family-less.

    This dynamic has happened to me before in the corporate world, several times. But I’m not uniquely special. I’ve seen it happen to many others, who deserved none of it. This is just one tiny personal example I have of our “short term gain” ideology gone mad. All the drug and quickie shower remodel commercials we see on TV might be another. The rampant offshoring of our kids manufacturing, technological, and financial futures is quite obviously, still another.

    Yet still, I’ve seen folks around here dissing people trying to buck that cultural trend. People like Bernie, AOC, and Biden. Sure, anybody’s worthy of some criticism some of the time, but I wonder about the seeming lack of understanding that just those guys just being there, when few of them could be found being there in decades previous, doesn’t at least mean something. How do we improve on that something?

  4. Jan Wiklund

    Willy: Trust is difficult to build, but if you succeed it pays off.

    It seems that different countries/cultures have more or less trust. The Scandinavian countries are rather trustful, which according to Bo Rothstein, one of the most acclaimed researcher on corruption, depended on a very successful civil service reform in the mid 19th century. Corruption among authorities was more or less eradicated, and since the fish rots from the head this created trust in the whole society and led to an amazingly fast industrial development a generation after. Since trustfulness paid off, people kept to it, and kept to the principle of “don’t cheat”, for several generations.

    To my knowledge Rothstein hasn’t said anything why this trustful clmate started disintegrating in the late 20th century. It may have something to do with international influences. It may also have to do with trustfully letting private businesses into public services without realizing that private businesses have to maximize profits to stay in business. According to Robert Axelrod: The evolution of cooperation, which is the standard work about how this works, you shouldn’t be too trustful or people will take advantage of you, but you shouldn’t cheat either because if you get known as a cheat people will avoid you.

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