The frog, the Raj, the guards and the prisoners

Blog No.7 

“The government always makes the right decision … after having exhausted all other options.”

Popular saying.

Every time we review history and observe episodes like Nazism or the other left and right dictatorships that we have suffered in the world, the question arises: How is it that people accepted to submit to that? The answer is very simple: little by little or through a lot of violence.

A teacher wanted to answer this question very graphically. He brought a frog, a pot of water, and a stove into the classroom. He brought the water to a boil and put the frog inside. Feeling the heat of the boiling water, the frog jumped out quickly. The teacher retrieved the frog, changed the water to one at room temperature, and placed the frog inside. The frog began to swim placidly in the water. Little by little the teacher increased the temperature of the water with the stove; the frog continued to enjoy the water, which was getting warmer and then hotter, thus relaxing the frog’s muscles; when the water became unbearably hot, the frog could no longer jump.

The Raj, or British rule in India, lasted from 1858 to 1947; During this time, Britain ruled over 200 to 400 million people, with around 100,000 officials and some 150,000 soldiers, on a territory covering the present states of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Burma / Myanmar. This dominance of very few over a population one thousand to two thousand times greater, ended when a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi convinced the other four hundred plus million Indians (both Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and other Raj inhabitants) to stop obeying. This disobedience began when The Mahatma Gandhi announced that he would go to the sea and produce salt. This idea, which seems innocuous, was a crime during the Raj, since the production of salt was a monopoly of the British; Thousands, tens of thousands, and then hundreds of thousands, followed in that act of disobedience. He later did the same by producing the fabric for his own clothing – in fact Gandhi’s most iconic image is one of him spinning cotton to make fabric – which was also prohibited. Gandhi knew perfectly well that producing salt or spinning and weaving cloth would not economically bankrupt the British Empire, his intention was different. Gandhi’s message was that 250,000 British could only rule 400 million Indians as long as the latter obeyed the former.

“The State is I.”

Louis XIV of France.

Christopher Columbus was neither Castilian nor Aragonese. Magellan was not Spanish either, but both undertook projects to benefit those countries and not their native lands. This now seems somewhat abnormal, but at that time it was common, and it was so, because one was not serving the country where he was born, but the king to whom he submitted or became a subject. To be more precise, the sovereign was not the people or the nation, but the King. That is why Louis XIV said his famous phrase and did not lie or exaggerate.

The State is an entelechy that has been created to govern populations; In its evolution it has gone from the “I” -the King- to the “Neighbor” -citizens- as depositories of sovereignty or the right to obedience. However, in all cases, such obedience depends on the sovereign exercising that power for the benefit of the subjects.

“Few people prefer freedom. Most only want a fair master. ”

Sallust

Just as Abraham Lincoln defined Democracy as: “The government of the people, by the people and for the people”, enlightened despots defined their system as: “Everything for the people … but without the people” and, despite the shocking of the phrase, it underlies the mandate of good government in favor of the governed even when the form of government is despotic.

In 1971 Professor Philip Zimbardo did an experiment that was known as The Stanford Jail Experiment. In this experiment, Professor Zimbardo divided his students – all ordinary students from Stanford University – into two groups: one of prisoners and the other of guards. They used a university basement that they converted into cells. The prisoners were dressed in an orange jumpsuit – like the one worn in prisons – and the guards were uniformed with a khaki shirt and pants, caps, sunglasses, and a baton. The experiment was to last two weeks but had to be canceled within one week. It was canceled because the guards became increasingly sadistic and the prisoners became more and more submissive; despite the fact that they knew it was an experiment and that everyone was acting roles.

In these times when the aspirational model is the rule of law, governed by the people and for the people, the reality is that very few nations – including many that define themselves as democratic – have governments that are truly subordinate to popular sovereignty. The promise of representative democracy made us dream of the people’s sovereignty, but the need for intermediation – hence the term representative– diverted the project towards the control of a representative (sic) minority over the others.

Without ignoring the exceptions, in most of our countries the structures of public power work according to the interests of oligarchies – either those called of the right and those called of the left– and the benefits that the peoples receive are more graceful concessions to maintain the people quiet – “bread and circus” said the Romans – than true policies motivated by the Common Good.

Whether it is a tribal chief, a feudal lord, a king, an emperor, or a representative democratic government, the subordination of a majority to a person or a small group, to manage power, is done for a useful purpose and even a noble one, but nobody does it to be abused or mistreated. For this reason, the right to rebellion and even assassination of a tyrant is recognized in the doctrine and, if it were not, it ends up happening anyways. 

In these exceptional days where we all meekly – and also prudently – accept restrictions on our freedom, the tendency of those who govern in an oligarchic function, is to increase their power over the peoples and to loot – or more frankly, to steal – from public resources, as much as they can, since they act without external control and because confinement avoids repudiatory massive protests. Only countries with strong public institutions are emerging unscathed – and even strengthened – from this adversity test. However, I firmly believe that, for those who -in any of our countries- want to steal our freedom and our patrimony, their sarcastic smile will turn into a grimace.

I state this, not because a champion will emerge to free us from tyranny, but because new and better ways of giving us social goods emerge without the need for State intervention. These new ways of interacting through smart grids to obtain satisfaction of our needs through agile, transparent, at almost zero cost or very cheap platforms, with little intermediation, significantly reduce the possibilities of waste and fraud.

This situation of confinement and virtuality has caused that many things “that could not be done” – normally because there were mafias that prevented it – are now a reality; This has also generated a greater sense of solidarity and social co-responsibility and has also shown us everything we can do outside of public bureaucracies, through citizen initiatives and communication.

Is the extension of a Dry Law really to avoid harmful consequences of unrestricted alcohol consumption? Or is it promoted just to maintain a lucrative black market? Why should food bags or subsidies be distributed by political structures and not through neutral and transparent systems? Faced with this, before we could only complain and protest; Today, people just have to bypass structures and satisfy their needs by turning their backs on the state and using a social network to get it.

We are at the gates of a change of Era, a change where we really take peoples sovereignty in our hands and stop being the object of power games between elites – who only want to put us in the pot – and move on to a truly participatory, responsible, effective and efficient model.

At that moment we will be able to say: “The State is us” and the government that we give ourselves, will make all the correct decisions within the first options.

Milton Cohen-Henriquez Sasso

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