Monday, March 28, 2011

If only we could get a technocratic elite in charge ...

What's quite remarkable is that the extremely well-educated Progressive Elites are so ignorant of the futility of their vision, as shown by history.  Consider the word mandarin:
1. A member of any of the nine ranks of high public officials in the Chinese Empire.
3. A member of an elite group, especially a person having influence or high status in intellectual or cultural circles.
You could describe the Technocratic Elite as mandarins.  But the term comes from the ancient Chinese empire, because it was run by a technocratic elite of the very well-educated.  So how did that work out for them?

Badly.  David Landes, in his indispensable (but clearly double-plus ungood reactionary Thought Crime) book The Wealth And Poverty Of Nations, spends considerable time on why China squandered a huge technological lead over the West.  His thesis is that it was the sense of self-assured superiority of the mandarin class that doomed it:
Such cultural triumphalism combined with petty downward tyranny made China a reluctant improver and a bad learner.  Improvements would have challenged comfortable orthodoxies and entailed insubordination; the same for imported knowledge and ideas.  In effect, what was there to learn?  This rejection of the foreign was the more anxious for the very arrogance that justified it.  That is the paradox of the superiority complex: it is intrinsically insecure and brittle.  Those who cherish it need it and fear nothing so much as contradiction.  (The French today so trumpet the superiority of their language that they tremble at the prospect of a borrowed word, especially if it comes from English.)
We see this in the reaction to challenges to their orthodoxy, whether from Ronald Reagan, Fox News, the Tea Parties, or Sarah Palin.  In all cases, the rejection of the challenges by the mandarinate was contemptuous, and in every way mirrored the rejection by the Chinese mandarins of western learning.

The current Elite's superiority complex is on display.

But the Elite is also ignorant of how a technocratic system functions over the long-term.  The Middle Kingdom had a huge technological lead over the West: Gunpowder, paper, movable type and printing, mechanical clocks: all were invented in China, and were either lost or became essentially toys there.  Meanwhile, they were all perfected in the West, who leveraged them into world-dominating power.  Why?  Landes again:
And yet the Chinese never learned to make modern guns.  Worse yet, having known and used cannon as early as the thirteenth century, they had let the knowledge and skill slip away.  Their city walls had emplacements for cannon, but no cannon.  Who needed them?  No enemy of China had them.  But China did have enemies, without and within.  No European nation would have been deterred from armament by enemy weakness; when it came to death, Europeans maximized.  European technology was also incremental: each gain led to further gain.  The Chinese record of step-forward, step-back, signaled an entirely different process.
It was a process created by the dynamic of the mandarin class.  It's a fallacy to think that a technological elite will ever have unanimity of opinion; to think that there will always - or ever - be a single technical solution that is self-evidently obvious to everybody.  In the Real World, factions form, and persist.  The political dynamic of gaining and keeping power, of rewarding your friends and punishing your opponents belies the dispassionate technocratic game.  And this explains essentially the entirety of the Chinese step-forward, step-back performance.

Perhaps the best example of this is the disappearance of the astonishing Ming dynasty treasure fleets:
Between 1405 and 1433, the Chinese Ming dynasty sent a series of exploration voyages to southeast Asia, India, and even Africa. While the Portuguese under Prince Henry struggled down the western coast of Africa in their tiny caravels, huge Chinese treasure ships sailed to Calicut and Mogadishu.

And then they were gone, as if they had never existed. Why?

The historian David Landes spends considerable time on this question in his indispensable The Wealth And Poverty Of Nations. The Chinese voyages differed in one critical way from those of Diaz and Columbus: the Chinese voyages were motivated by a desire to glorify the Middle Kingdom, while the European ones were motivated by the desire for filthy lucre:

In the 1430s a new emperor reigned in Peking, one who "knew not Joseph." A new, Confucian crowd completed for influence, mandarins who scorned and distrusted commerce (for them, the only true source of wealth was agriculture) and detested the eunuchs who had planned and carried out the great voyages. For some decades, the two groups vied for influence, the balance shifting now one way, not the other. But fiscality and the higher Chinese morality were on the Confucian side. The maritime campaign had strained the empire's finances and weakened its authority over a population bled white by taxes and corvee levies.


So, after some decades of tugging and hauling, of alternating celebration and commemoration on the one hand, of contumely and repudiation on the other, the decision was taken not only to cease from maritime exploration but to erase the very memory of what had gone before lest later generations be tempted to renew the folly.
But of course, we'd never see that sort of factionalism here, right?  We've advanced so much in learning and wisdom that you'd never see a clash of interests within our Progressive Elite, right?  Oops:
Basically, the SWPLs can’t have it both ways. On one hand they want government run by experts and they want a hiring process that results in experts being hired. On the other hand, they want minorities employed. They’ve squared the circle by hiring experts to do the work (I work with six or seven agencies on a regular basis and our meetings are always all white or white and Asian) and hiring blacks to do make-work. As government positions require more technical expertise – and all the new ones do – they end up requiring that white people occupy the positions. An ironic consequence of government by expert, no? Perhaps I’m the only one laughing at the phenomenon, but I’m doing enough laughing for everyone.
We're laughing, too.  Strange that Progressives hate minorities, but maybe it fits, since they hate poor people, too.

That noise you hear is the sound of Progressives' brains exploding, or would be if they were intellectually honest.  Fortunately for them, many seem to be perfectly comfortable keeping two contradictory thoughts in their heads at the same time.  Or more than two.  That's one impressive intellectual display, right there.  But remember, somewhere in Texas a village is missing its idiot.  Or something.

Note to Progressives: it's good to read.  You might want to add some history to your reading list ...


The Czar of Muscovy said...

We have a Mandarin.

Wanna borrow him? He's ornery.

Atom Smasher said...

I lent my copy of Wealth and Poverty (along with Guns Germs and Steel) and never got it back. Seems like I should pick up a new copy and re-read it - I do remember enjoying it.

libertyman said...

Thank you. I am ordering the book today. You are a continual source of enlightenment.

Ken said...

A new, Confucian crowd completed for influence, mandarins who scorned and distrusted commerce (for them, the only true source of wealth was agriculture) and detested the eunuchs who had planned and carried out the great voyages.

Some things don't change much: I still see people argue that the only wealth that counts is either grown, made, or mined.

NotClauswitz said...

Damn Mandarins always getting in the way and sticking their face in the soup, gottta pull 'em out by the hair and... Say there's an idea - make 'em wear pigtails so we can identify 'em more easily, and grab the pigtail and raise it up to cut off the head.