Blog 34. Ancient Greeks and Current Monetocracy

When life gets chaotic

I have suggested that, when daily living becomes sufficiently chaotic, people will look for simple solutions and welcome dictatorial control that promises simplicity. There’s some ancient Greek wisdom to support this view, although the Greeks didn’t have our mathematical notion of complexity that emerged during the last thirty years.

Socrates and reason

Socrates (460-399 BCE) believed that human thought was capable of understanding the world, of using thought and reason to fix whatever needs fixing. To Socrates, the majority of people who regarded the world  as revealed only by their senses were ignorant, and those few who became more thoughtfully enlightened would be scorned by the masses of the ignorant. That sounds like what happens in our society when someone attempts to bring logic or scientific reasoning into law, politics, or education. Perhaps things haven’t changed since Socrates’ day. After all, he got the hemlock for teaching.

The physical world may run according to cause and effect, but physical events we see and feel (like weather) and human events (like congress) are not necessarily predictable by reason. We know that complex systems, particularly social systems, operate on the edge of chaos where small events can, and sometimes do, grow into large events in unpredictable, unreasonable ways. That’s why bad things happen to good people. And vice versa.

My thesis is that many people would rather have an imposed simple order than the responsibility that comes with a free but turbulent living. Rephrasing Socrates, I suggest that only those with a philosophical view will abstract what they see, feel, and hear to create a mental order distinct from the endless chaos they must face daily. Historically, people opt for a dictatorial governance that will make things orderly, albeit not pleasant.

Plato’s five regimes

Socrates’ student, Plato (428-348 BCE) saw governance evolving through five regimes, from (1) aristocracy, through (2) timocracy, to (3) oligarchy, then (4) democracy, and finally to (5) tyranny.

In Plato’s aristocracy, rule is led by a wise and just philosopher-king with rulers and soldiers who force order on the people, directing each child to the education that best suits his (or her) individual traits.

Aristocracy degenerates into what Plato calls timocracy when a generation of inferior leaders governs by conquest rather than by philosophy and reason. Timocracy evolves into oligarchy, in which the incompetent rich rule the poor. Among other faults, oligarchy performs poorly in military matters because the rulers fear letting the poor have the power of weapons. Sounds a little like the American experience in Viet Nam, in which the military was hamstrung by restrictive orders from Washington because the political authorities feared letting the fighters have authority over how, when, and where to use the weapons.

If the poor succeed in revolting, they establish a democracy in which freedom becomes the supreme objective. But the desire for riches causes the populace to live without order or discipline, whence the society degenerates into chaos. A tyrant then offers order, running the state without law or moderation. The tyrant is a captive of his own system because he must stay in power, else he will be killed in revenge for his evils.

So where’s the world now?

Sound familiar? Is Plato’s succession of governments universal? Consider the history of Russia or the unfolding development of the Middle East. Is the US past the revolution that led from oligarchy to democracy, now evolving through the degenerate end-stage of democracy to a tyranny of money, sometimes called monetocracy?

I haven’t seen this definition of the term monetocracy, but I think of monetocracy as enslavement by debt, both personal and governmental.

2 thoughts on “Blog 34. Ancient Greeks and Current Monetocracy

  1. Keith ·

    Very interesting, I’ll have to read up on Plato’s regimes. Given the riches of our current congress it would seem that we are in a period of Oligarchy. Too many with inherited wealth either in politics or being funded by the super rich to further their agendas!

    • Thanks for the comment. It’s anyone’s guess where we are in Plato’s five steps, but Plato gives us a model with which to examine ourselves. I think we are passing through the latter stage of democracy, leading into tyranny. Such a tyranny would be an apparent democracy, but with few effective choices by the citizens, who are managed under the assumption that “freedom” includes the freedom to broadcast half-truth, the freedom to dominate, and the freedom to destroy. We can change direction, but at the moment it appears we are headed toward government by money (or government by business). That’s fascism. It’s dangerous because it is based in an unchecked positive feedback in which powerful persons invest money in politics to gain power in government to make more money. It doesn’t imply that the powerful are necessarily evil-minded. The CEO of a large corporation may be a nice person, but if he/she does not drive for profits and increase of the stock price, he/she won’t be in the job. It’s a self-selecting process, based on cultural assumptions that business values are superior to all other values. Such assumptions are rarely examined critically in the US.

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