Similarity to Utopias and Dystopias

From Plato’s Republic to The Giver, the most striking aspect of novels about Utopias and Dystopias is that they (nearly?) all assume authoritarian and hierarchical government. Indeed the very word “Utopia” is from a 16th century novel where Thomas More proposes a generally democratic and egalitarian society, but with “Princes” who are “elected” for life. Most of the rest propose systems where individual citizens are highly controlled and deprived of access to any ideas or information that The State deems unsuitable but there is an elite group or individual who has access to all the “old ways”, usually in the form of books or other original documents.

Perhaps the most surprising (and therefore disappointing) of these utopian novels is BF Skinner’s Walden Two. Although he claimed to be proposing an almost completely egalitarian economic system built on sound scientific principles, all political power in Walden Two is held by a group of 6 “Planners” who make and enforce the rules without any specific accountability to the “citizens”. Rather than being elected, outgoing Planners are replaced by a vote of the remaining Planners, perhaps the ultimate expression of cronyism. Skinner’s proposal for how to prevent corruption that would seem inevitable in such a system is to wave his hands and insist that the economic system lacks any means of producing “wealth”, so there are no spoils to be divided. Left unanswered is the question of how the community could grow without capital to invest, or how it could survive any interval of scarce resources without any provision for savings or other reserves, which of course would be subject to exploitation by the (predictably SDAP) Planners. This sort of denial of the need for and utility of capital (usually disparaged as “wealth”) is shared by a number of other utopian proposals, most notably in Bellamy’s 1888 best-selling novel Looking Backward, which proposes that not only is there no personal wealth, but also that somehow people lose their instinctive attraction to beautiful and shiny things (he ridiculously claims that no one would want anything made out of silver or gold because they’d be too much trouble to keep clean).

Since these so-called Utopian proposals do not deal with the key fact that it is SDAPs who are most likely to assume the leadership roles in hierarchical governments, nor do they specify any sort of compensation for SDAPs inherent tendency toward bias and aggression, it would seem that the authors of these proposals have built their fantasy worlds on sand. If anyone tried to implement them as described, they would quickly discover that there are important characteristics of human behavior that the authors did not take into account in their designs. Of course if a dystopia is what you’re creating, a hierarchical and SDAP-led oligarchy is a very good starting point.

The Divergent Trilogy clearly demonstrates this blind spot: While the five “factions” defined (Abnegation, Dauntless, Erudite, Amity, and Candor) are loosely (and unfortunately inaccurately) based on personality types, in real humans the imagined conflict between Dauntless and Erudite over which is more fit to rule would never occur because a sixth faction “SDAP” would form to claim exactly those individuals who were most interested the issue. The SDAP manifesto would be something like:

  • I’m in charge, because I’m the one who wants to be in charge.
  • I serve My People, but am entitled to tribute and fitting compensation for my service as their leader.
  • My People are what matter: What happens to people I don’t consider My People is not my concern.
  • I know what’s best for My People, even if they don’t know it themselves.
  • The ends justify the means, even if those means include aggression, violence, dissembling, and withholding or misrepresenting information.

Another common theme in Utopian/Dystopian novels is the breakdown of the family, with children being raised either in a boarding-school type environment (e.g., Brave New World and Walden Two) or at least conditioned to resist bonding to their parents and to turn on them if the parents engage in any activity prohibited by the State (e.g., The Giver and 1984). Although Matchism does not honor the concept that a biological link between parents and children is necessary (or even useful), a familial bond has been shown to be essential to proper human development. And it was of course a primary relationship in the lives of our Pleistocene ancestors.

A final common theme in Utopian/Dystopian novels is behavioral conditioning (i.e., behavioral engineering or as Skinner sometimes refers to it “cultural engineering”) of the population. It played a particularly large role in Brave New World where conditioning of the population is a nearly continuous process. This again makes it important to distinguish the coercive class 3 and 4 behavioral engineering, where the goal is to change the organism to fit the environment (or indeed to help create that environment), from the class 1 and 2 types of social engineering proposed for Matchism, where the goal will usually be to change the environment such that it functions adequately with the individuals as they come to it. Perhaps the best real-world example of this type of distinction is Temple Grandin’s work with livestock handling systems as described in her 2006 book Animals in Translation: Many of the designs used prior to her work resulted in the animals being severely stressed or injured, were of low efficiency, and required a great deal of human input (including very common use of cattle prods, a particularly brutal class 3 behavioral engineering tool). But her understanding of the natural fears and dispositions of the livestock enabled her to design systems that operated far more efficiently and with greatly reduced stress to the animals and minimal need for human intervention. Grandin did not propose to change the animals, but instead to change the environment to better suit them.

This relates back to Our Internal Moral Codes: Similar to the descriptions there, Haidt’s 2013 The Righteous Mind makes the analogy that our emotional and moral systems are like elephants, and our cognitive systems are like riders on those elephants. The riders have relatively little control over those powerful and evolutionarily ancient systems, especially when an immediate reaction is called for (e.g., when the proverbial mouse runs across your path). Matchism would extend this analogy in three ways. First, not everyone’s elephant is prone to tearing up our vegetable gardens (which is actually a common problem in areas where wild elephants roam), the analogy here being that SDAPs are particularly dangerous in this respect: Although Haidt does discuss the difference between progressives and conservatives, he completely misses the fact that it is SDAPs, and in particular Authoritarians, that are the source of the biggest and most dangerous problems in modern civilization.

Secondly, he neglects to discuss the fact that our elephants do receive training (conditioning) that affects their behavior, and the better the training, the better the behavior. The Matchism equivalent of that is the prescription for t + 1 moral progressivism. It may not help our elephants, but our children’s elephants will be better behaved than ours.

Finally, even if our full-grown elephants can no longer be trained, techniques such as those used by Temple Grandin can be used to keep them out of those gardens. We might put up fences and maybe electrify them, or plant things alongside our vegetables that elephants really dislike. Or we might plant sacrificial vegetation outside our gardens which will keep those elephants distracted. The Matchish equivalents of those things will be found in The System. We may never be able to prevent vigorous and endless arguments about politics or religion from spontaneously arising in bars, when the inlaws are visiting, or even in city council meetings, but we can provide an environment where the elephants are otherwise distracted such that the riders can engage in some rational decisionmaking, and we can do so without changing or harming those elephants.

 Next: Bibles and Constitutions