Evil, Sex and the Mechanisms of Power; Machiavelli Now

Wim Rietdijk, D.Sci.

Retrieved March 24, 2005  from


Newly acquired insights are at first only half understood by the one who begets them, and appear as complete nonsense to all others... Any new idea which does not appear very strange at the outset, does not have a chance of being a vital discovery.
                                     Niels Bohr

I. Conformism and taboo

In Il principe (1532) Machiavelli posits that those in power will serve their own interests, hiding this from exposure by cajoling people into believing in their good faith and benevolence.
      In 1911 sociologist Robert Michels formulated his Iron Law of Oligarchy, to the effect that, in organizations, things will evolve into a situation of oligarchy.
      Many more sociologists emphasized that generally ideology is an instrument of power in the sense of hiding interests behind moral and public-interest-associated screens.
      Now my question is: why virtually nobody applies such insights and theories to our own power elites, oligarchies and ideological manipulation?
      Also, most people sense that politicians, business, interest groups, organizations and many individuals will often attune what they say to something they want to achieve, to getting somewhere, rather than simply seeking the truth. Still, they take them as they are, repressing that many in society are not in good faith in some veiled way.

2. A related point is why practically nobody among our speech-making community shows any consistent moral indignation about the many social abuses, e.g., those discussed or indicated on this website. Think of firing whistle-blowers, criminal-humouring principles in the judicial domain ("privacy", right of silence, technicalities, utter complication and inefficiency,...), laxity in fighting cartels or addicts annoying others. Generally, think of those many situations in which well-organized minorities - dealers, importers, unions, churches, educational or medical establishments, farmers, or typographers - not only succeed in fending off legislation that makes prevail the public interest over theirs, but even in frustrating substantial public debate about their privileges.

3. Why even intellectuals will refrain from violating the many taboos also prevalent in modern society? Think of eugenics, of euthanasia applied to seriously handicapped newborns, of the predominantly genetic origin of IQ differences between races and of crime, addiction, anti-social behaviour and learning problems. Also mind the virtual absence of public ridicule of incoherent "modern" art and above all, of any suggestion that various major social actors (pressure groups, interests,...) could be in bad faith, just like Machiavelli's rulers, Michels' oligarchs or, subconsciously, most ideologists.
      Most intriguing of all: Why sociologists even appear to be disinterested in explaining taboos of the past, in which current establishment does no longer really believe, such as those frustrating sex during many ages and in many cultures?

4. Such conspicuous shunning of researching vital subjects is more generally apparent. The more since otherwise sociology devotes much time and energy to details-mongering, questions of method, and towering abstractions, the idea presses itself on us that such shunning is far from accidental and joins with respecting taboos like those of 3., and more generally with the conformism of 1., 2. and 3. Of course, it cannot be an "accident" if about all intellectuals humour many taboos and even sociology does not only join in the game but does no research at all with respect to items as the following:
1) The origin of such taboos (including the radical sexual ones);
2) What year after year keeps many academics attracted to products such as the following of James Joyce (quoted from his Finnegans Wake): "How many goes is it I wonder I washed it? I know by hart the places he like to saale, duddurty devil! Scorching my hand and starving my famine to make his private linen public. Wallop it well with your battle and clean it. My wrists are wrusty rubbing the mouldaw stains. And the dneepers of wet and the gangres of sin in it!" (NRC Handelsblad, 4/12/02.)
3) Similarly, what causes most philosophers to invest much time in philosophies that are mere wordplay, such as holds with respect to Heidegger, Foucault, Merleau-Ponty etc. etc., while at the same time ignoring the essential concepts of happiness, progress and justice, just as sociologists do themselves?
4) What are the interests causing development aid not to be radically re-allocated after generally the insight emerged that it largely landed with the rulers or others for whom it was not earmarked?
5) What interests are at the background of softness on mass immigration of problem people, in spite of their causing much trouble in the immigration countries by illiteracy, crime, low IQ (compare the page Beyond the Brainwashing, point 4.) and corresponding learning problems with most of their children? (Obvious hypothesis: "progressive" politicians instinctively sense that "disadvantaged" immigrants are future voters for the left, and welfare organizations thrive too; therefore opposition to such immigration is deemed "racism", "extremely rightist",... Such is the way ideology concretely works.)
6) Why sociology did no research into why results of genetics, to the effect that differences between people as to intelligence and many other qualities are largely of genetic rather than social origin, used to be tabood rather than accepted?
7) Particularly a relativist cannot deny that prevalent moral value systems have (social) causes (for they consider them to be of an exclusively social origin). Why not finding out then the concrete interests behind especially recent value systems such as sexual taboos, egalitarianism, political correctness and the aversion to the "nature" theory of human quality and to eugenics? Is there any fear of this to lead to exposures?
8) An ominous gap in sociological research refers to evil in general. While everybody maintains that evil and human failings play very important parts in life, virtually nobody indicates them in the concrete, let alone they being researched and found also structurally in our ideology, morals and social institutions. E.g., in the shape of taboos, repressions, collusion of interests, various conventions etc. Especially conservatives will believe the "lore of the past" to be mere wisdom. Could tradition partly be evil too? Think of fundamentalism, nationalism, sexual taboos,... For the most part, the abuses of the past were no accidents, but part and parcel of the system (that is, unconsciously "conspirational"). May various current ones be too? Why am I about the only one doing research into this? If we ignore or repress evil, much is inexplicable in society. More generally, the very emotional involvement in the struggle between good and evil, and in progress, seems to be absent in current intelligentsia.
9) As I already observed on other pages, and strangest of all: Why sociology did not hit upon the red thread as the "frame of history" and main ordering scheme of social processes? (Remind: I introduced red-thread evolution as an increasing awakening, coherence and/or scope of application of human reason, conscience and emotional life.) This in spite of its obvious prominence? Could it be that such repression is of the same nature - viz. interests of the powerful and conformism - as what, e.g., caused all great authors of Antiquity to keep silent about slavery as an abuse?
10) Summarizing: why sociology did not clash with political correctness, and generally did not violate taboos, therewith partially reducing itself to ideology? What caused intellectuals to conform? Why no research into this? Or: why no concrete research into what is Machiavellian now, with us?
      What is particularly intriguing, and positively suggests a trend, a mentality, and hence a purpose - that is an (unconscious) "conspiracy" -, is a striking combination. On the one side we see the evasion of research into the vital, and on the other side our intelligentsia is endlessly stressing inanity (the here-and-now and the incidental, high-brow media not even shunning "rock", "rap" and Eminem), incoherence ("experimental art") and muddleheaded "deeptalk" (Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Beaudrillard, postmodernism etc.). In the same vein, it emphasizes the general idea that life and the world are indeed incoherent up to and including that "conspiracies" do not exist (not even unconscious ones) and history is a compilation of incidents. A kind of anti-science seems to manifest itself.

Preliminary conclusion: If our intelligentsia were really thinking (on all vital subjects), it would be a menace to the established order. Hence everybody seeking a career restricts his thinking.

II. Evil: mostly hidden and unconscious

If we may believe the theoretical communis opinio about evil, both the "Machiavellian dimension" and the major importance of the moral flaws of human nature were and are prominent in all history. (Throughout it, even visible evil was prominent, as governments, higher social classes and about everybody having any influence used to be well-nigh completely egoistic, whereas compassion and love were mostly banned to the private sphere.) But if we follow current sociology, we simply find no trace of either of the two, at least in modern Western society. At most, evil is seen as accidental and, moreover, always clearly visible, never hidden or conspiratory.
      In the theory and explanations of this website and my books, evil gets a clear place in the present too. But in academic sociology and public discussion at all, evil evaporated (in the West), apart from incidents. Neither in repression, nor in taboos, neither in ideology, nor in processes leading to Michels' oligarchies, evil is considered to be important, let alone its possibly playing any hidden conspiratory part in macro-social phenomena such as power relations and convention. Evil is about taboo: researching it would prejudice too many interests. Hence "nothing can be done about it"; "resignation", accordingly, is semi-official "wisdom". In utter sterility, core concepts as happiness and progress too are about absent from sociology.
      Actually, social evils that continue for years cannot but be "conspiracies": to begin with, tolerating them contrary to the public interest is already a conspiracy in itself: viz. one to switch off one's conscience, one's (unconscious) wish to humour certain interests being the most plausible explanation. Examples: not helping whistle-blowers by the authorities, or tolerating law and its enforcement to be more complicated than necessary (which makes lawyers thrive).
      Apart from many established forces having an interest in various social abuses (again think of Machiavelli!), one major psychological reason why (social) evil will often either be repressed or appeased is most people's longing for "solidarity" and, therefore, for taking others as they are. This induces most "adjusted" citizens to both respecting the authorities (rather than expose interest groups) and not too radically hating moral and/or parasitic rearguards (anti-socials, addicted). Also, this factor and various interest groups (such as helping professions) collude in being permissive to evil in domains like "rights", "privacy", eugenics, kicking the habit, objections to lie-detection etc.: they thrive on it.

6. Generally, the function of ethics implies subordinating individual and group interests to the common good. Therefore, the continuing power of vested interests in society is simply a question of the latter tolerating evil. Parliaments and the market should have the last word, not unions, professions, big business, farmers or an educational establishment. Again, it is immoral that many laws, procedures and bureaucracies are so complicated, or leave so much latitude for obstruction, that the phenomenon of (quasi-)veto groups could continue.
      The above is again a mere special case of society too little emphasizing the "red thread" - general enlightened principles -; in this case the ethical dimension. (More generally compare how our ideological establishment continuously undermines the latter by emanating relativism.)

III. The new censorship: incoherence, superficiality and repression

Why by far most content of our philosophy, high-brow periodicals and cultural supplements is studied and pretentious non-information? Think of incoherent modern art, novels containing triviality about every-day life and not very impressive people and, above all, the pervasive message from philosophy and social discussion that good and evil are relative, the world is incoherent, life consists of (accidental) personal relationships, you should adjust to your social environment, the here and now and the incidental are all-important and ideas like progress, a deep meaning of life and coherent evolution of the world and our individual person are bunk.
      My preliminary conclusion from 1. through 6. above is that everything fits in the theory that, in current times, violence, convention and censorship as power instruments of the establishment have been substituted by a pervasive ideology which essentially contains that, in the absence of an objective and coherent evolutionary, moral and human-quality order in the universe, the only things that really matter are those actually occurring, those actually in power, those actually belonging to the "social game" and those integrated in our cultural "association complex". Moral judgment or exposure, theory about hidden interests or intentions, coherent explanation of social evolution, ideas about progress, all of these are not relevant from the point of view in question. Not even considering our culture from the outside is... In actual fact, mindlessness became a philosophy and way of life within such general ideological scope. Keeping people in ignorance - an old adage of power - got a new meaning: keep them without any autonomous coherent moral and conceptional basis.
      This is the ultimate paradise for everybody belonging to what is actual, that is, the status quo. Hence we see here a new conservatism. It calls itself "progressive" because it rejects everything stable, accepting what is there by "coincidence". Note that existentialism, postmodernism, "experimental art" and even the "non-moralizing matter-of-factness" gist of current positivism all breathe the spirit of the above "accept-what-is realism", without seeking coherence, let alone criticizing something important by showing it to be a "conspiracy".

8. The general climate of silence and superficiality at stake above can also be considered from this point of view:
1) As to many vital social problems - from sex to crime, see elsewhere on this website - the most essential is repressed or hushed up. (In short as to sex: it is repressed that attractiveness is very scarce and the "market" utterly primitive. As regards crime: one represses that permanently isolating problem repeaters and abolishing all criminal-friendly restrictions in law enforcement, such as technicalities and "privacy", would radically reduce crime.)
2) A similar thing happens with regard to the practical solution of political problems. (In short: look abroad in order to find other countries where a specific problem has been solved better than in your own.)
3) The relevant spirit very much contrasts with the taboo-unfriendly one of this website.
      These three things have the same origin: modern society and major interests in it are so much "integrated" that not only practical politics but also our dominating ways of thinking "integrated". That is, they became consensus-minded and take the others as they are. Farmers, underclasses, addicted, unions, lawyers, big business etc. are never (more than incidentally) criticised from a moral or common-good point of view as to their social actions, genes, privileges or collusions. They are indeed "taken as they are" and any substantial enlightened discussion died. This is our current censorship. Michels' "Iron Law of Oligarchy" now also extends to society as a whole. That is, to an oligarchy of big interests that constitute the establishment, and which also corresponds to a way of thinking: the "solidarity" one. This represses any rational or moral attack or unfriendly explanation with respect to what is prominent (from unions and car dealers to modern art), and ignores the red-thread scheme in particular. Three cheers for Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and postmodernism (that is, the flight from coherent thinking)!

9. The above also means that the social dimension and adjustment to it - not quite independently of stimulation by those interested in such development - got to prevail on the intellectual, the moral, the intimately emotional and the religious one. This has inherently conformising tendencies; think of Riesman's other-directedness. For the rest, the relevant frame of life is one more compromise, one more way of coming to terms with each other, of the governing class and the masses or public. The Church was one, nationalism and various ideologies were others. In our present case, the compromise roughly refers to a) and b) below:
a) From very early times, a major interest of the established is keeping people from seriously and consistently applying reason and rational moral judgment to society, convention, taboos, power and its abuses. And, additionally, keeping them from experiencing emotions so much consciously and coherently that their manipulation is not an easy job...
b) In our era the masses heavily "invested" in amusement, consumption and the easygoing way of life. Jointly with myriad incoherent impressions from the media, the spirit of the tv commercial, image substituting substance, networking and the sellers' mentality ("what's the impression others get from me?") this created a techno-economic basis for massive extraverted here and now wish fulfilments and superficiality, the latter also extending to socio-cultural criticism. The old variants of conformism associated with the Church and nationalistic "solidarity" adjusted to a new techno-economic stage, viz. in such way that easygoing and superficial conformism - in the shape of other-directedness - succeeded former ones.
      As to nationalism, remind the adage: "Nationalism is a way to make the many exert themselves for the benefit of the few". Well, a similar thing holds as to other "solidarity" ideologies such as Nazism, communism, current other-directedness and socialism in the oligarchic (Michels) stage.
      The conclusion is that the present "cult of incoherence" - from cheap amusement and here and now mentality to existentialist or postmodern philosophy (emphasizing immediate experience and relativism at the cost of substantial thought and moral values) and "modern" incoherent art - constitutes the umpteenth variant of an unenlightened mentality of the public. It does not much less contrast with independent critical thinking and moral weighing with respect to vested-interest power and abuses than former manifestations did. Hence, it will also be an (unconsciously fostered) ideological instrument of such power and abuse.
      In the last resort it is the genetic stage of man that makes it so. On the other hand we see that the prophesies of both Ortega y Gasset ("The rebellion of the masses", 1930) and Aldous Huxley ("Brave New World", 1932) realized themselves to a great extent as to the mindlessness of the public. Alas, the intelligentsia and its philosophic, artistic and ideological (non-)perspectives joined the party in symbiosis with the establishment, of which it became part and parcel as its ideological segment. From this and the foregoing points of view the virtual absence of rational moral criticism of current abuses (as mentioned in detail elsewhere on this website) is easily explained.

IV. The biological basis of the original sin

The last paragraph invites one to go into the general sources of evil that is so pervasive in society. A few main points:
1) There is indeed such a thing as an original sin in the sense that man's genes for millions of years were/are attuned to the survival of the fittest in a rather general fight of competition in which "the others" were/are enemies.
2) Such competition continues on the social level now, partly compensated by a cultural invention: solidarity, which indeed helps, but on the other hand goes with much ideological manipulation and deceit: most "solidarity" is around very selfish in-crowd oligarchies. Think of nationalism, the clergy, kings and noblemen, other-directedness and the like. "Orthodoxies" and conformism are normal concomitants of solidarity. That is, again evil. Solidarity should be a rational value focused on optimizing happiness (love of one's neighbour and integrity) and, therefore, progress and evolution too. This as contrasted with, e.g., both the collusion of major interests and the egalitarian "solidarity" with moral and genetic rearguards such as underclasses. (Also compare here the aggressive "solidarity" in various students' unions and in many youth groups in general. Solidarity should not frustrate natural evolution (also via competition), but make it more efficient and humane.
3) One more massive "natural" source of evil is manipulated psychological defense mechanisms against (unconcious) anxiety, aggression and frustration. Think of national greatness, religious or other fundamentalism, superstition and myth, which are actually collective neurotical symptoms.
      In line with this is more "ad hoc" psychological manipulation of the masses/public by interest groups. This website abounds with concrete instances (also think of manipulative terms like "police state", "deprivileged",...).
      Evil being so fundamentally represented in man and in many mechanisms of power in partcular, it should not surprise us that most in our establishment will approach it "shadedly". Viz. no crackdown on crime and antisocials, objections to president Bush's "axis of evil" and to eugenics and lie-detectors, much "privacy", no obligatory kicking the habit by addicts,... Much "help" and relativism.
      In actual fact, the single most radical problem of society is veiled, indirect evil, conspiratory or not, and posing as good intentions (such as ideology) or "accidental".

11. Considering the mechanisms of power and its abuse should focus on some vital areas. I.e., man can best be governed, manipulated and conformed by:
1) Making him dependent on others, on society, on the forces of nature or on coincidence. Various aspects of this are discussed elsewhere on this website and in my books as a radical generalization of Schelsky's idea that (leftist) ideologists will hate technology because it makes people more independent of the forces of nature. This, in turn, tends to make them less interested in the Utopia's and social ideals of such ideologists, and less manipulable. (Of course, all of this works unconsciously, just as many more social interests, symbols, preferences, repressions and taboos.) More generally, establishments (and everyone else) clearly sense that the more dependent people are or feel, the more they are inclined to adjustment, conformism, "solidarity" and the like. The Church, communism, Nazism and modern other-directedness testify to this...
2) Integrating his mind into an association complex favouring the status quo. Note that such mechanism of power is simply an extension to the socio-cultural, ideological and political domain of how advertising works. (See the page Paradigms as Association Complexes.)
3) Censoring or frustrating reason, rational values and emotional consciousness and coherence (among other things, via sexually repressive morality). This major sector of anti-enlightenment (anti-red thread preferences) has already been extensively discussed in my work, especially as an instrument of power and its abuses. We considered many features of it, from anti-intellectualistic education and Heidegger philosophy to incoherent art, relativism and the cult of "uncertainty", the "here and now" and every-day superficiality. Generally, a studied antithesis of the Promethean way of man organising happiness via reason and rational values. In other words, a view of the world that to the utmost emphasizes man's dependence on the irrational and amoral.

V. The vital role of sexual repression in wielding power

Because repression, continuing taboos (see below) and the prevalence of various not very convincing ideas about sex should arouse our suspicion, it seems worthwhile to consider it from the standpoint of 1), 2) and 3) of 11. Several points are important:
1) Though everybody can see that, as a percentage, sexually positively attractive people are downright scarce and that a massive demand exists for pictures of such (wo)men, in softporn and advertisement, serious discussion simply ignores this all-dominating circumstance and cause of frustration. It is simply taboo.
2) We see a similar thing about the sex market. Whereas in about all scarce goods and services there is a rational, large-scale and transparent market, seeking a love partner still will occur in the chance meeting way of the dawn of humanity. Still, this point is ignored too, just as the remarkable fact that apparently most people are shy, timid and/or uncertain and irrational as regards the explicit expression of their wishes with respect to desired love partners, and even more as to "offering themselves" on a relevant market. (Imagine that jobs were distributed by chance meetings of employers and personel, and that both were shy and timid in seeking contacts!) Internet is now rapidly changing the situation, but the reluctance to "offering oneself" and the whole of the "chance ambiance", without people protesting about the frustration, points to taboo and repression. Small wonder in a domain of life frustrated by them from time immemorial...
      Particularly note that the non-existence of an adequate love market will have a conforming effect, because it forces most youngsters to an outgoing life for years, in an atmosphere where open intellectual and emotional communication is certainly less dominating than alcohol and play-acting.
3) The mere points 1) and 2), jointly with others - such as that the average man thinks 150 times a day of sex, and women 30 times, and that about a quarter of all sexual outlets stem from masturbation - evidence that no other primary need of (Western) man is so massively frustrated as the sexual drive. And that in such an irrational atmosphere that key problems are not even discussed!! This succeeded poverty as the major source of dependence, uncertainty and suppression of modern man. And, correspondingly, as an important hold of manipulation and conforming pressure. Small wonder that restrictive sexual morality and practice are a cornerstone of conservative ideology. Especially compare point 1) of 11. I.e., there is hardly a sector of life in which current situation causes the individual to be so much dependent on "the others", nature and coincidence, which creates a typical "Schelsky situation". Viz. one in which uncertainty and frustration make man optimally vulnerable to manipulation.
4) In The Scientifization of Culture I extensively discussed sexually repressive taboos, morals and practice as a major component of anti-enlightened power and a manipulation-sustaining instrument. The gist was that such taboos etc. virtually amount to an analogue in the domain of instinct and emotions of what censorship is/was on that of reason and the intellect. I.e., restricting or frustrating sexual experiment and widely varied and desire-awakening experience and catharsis, and countering a general climate around sex of openness, the expression of wishes and gratification of optimum quality, all amount to obstacles to emotional consciousness, articulation and coherence - and non-manipulability - analogous to what censorship frustrating intellectual free experiment and expression did for many ages.
5) From Freud and Masserman on, various authors and experiments found that sexual frustration is closely associated with the generation of anxiety. Good sex is stress-relieving (as direct experience teaches already), also involving the whole of our nervous system, as found by Alfred Kinsey and others.
6) One rather basic cause of human sexuality being so frequently associated with shame, frustration, shyness and other negative feelings is the following. By far most young people start experiencing sex via masturbation, that dominates their sex life for years. Well, this implies it, and orgasm - the utmost human catharsis -, to become associated with surrogate, with our not being in a position to get the real thing, and lacking the experiences desired most of all, in much secret yearning. Unconsciously we will also realise: it is the others forcing me to experience the "ultimate" very poorly and secretly, as youngsters' sexual wishes are not precisely kindly accommodated by our mores and culture. All of this is far from creating optimum mutual associations between sex, conscience, the others, emotional awakening, and happiness...
      Points 1) through 6) make it clear that sexual "censorship", qualitative "famine", anxiety generation, incoherence of unawakened wants and emotions, and poor experiment, markets, average attractiveness and catharsis make this domain one of primitivism, dependence in a climate of uncertainty, projection and manipulation in general. Not merely Medieval Church and Victorian morals manipulated frustrated people into the collective neuroses that fundamentalist religion, nationalism and more or less oppresive ideologies will be. Far more generally, other-directedness, anxious conformism and/or dependence on "the others", idols and cult figures - from dictators to pop stars - go with censorship of emotion as well as that of reason.
      In conclusion: Our sexual existing order, implying much frustration and so radical a non-awakening that even major sources of it as mentioned under 1) and 2) above are simply collectively repressed, is still in a rather primitive stage, with all consequences of it as to emotional manipulation and power (abuse).
      Also note that the mere circumstance that the massively frustrating factors 1) and 2) above appear to be unconscious (they do not have been openly recognized) will much increase anxiety as a reaction to the frustration: not awakening to a frustrator makes helpless. But above all: the situation of dependence in which the majority finds itself as to sexuality is very much comparable to the more general one many felt before the technological revolution and general prosperity in the West, and which was exploited, inter alia, by ideologists who accordingly felt unkind as against technology ("Schelsky mechanism"). Many more feel unkind as to sex...

13. In their tendency of discouraging strivings and emotion (also think of nirvana), Eastern religions actually extend the anti-sexual attitude prevalent in many eras and civilizations to emotional life as a whole. Simplicity and coherence suggest this to have a similar unconscious purpose: censorship of and keeping unawakened emotional life in order that it can better be manipulated. Such idea is further supported by an emphasis on resignation, that is, aquiescing in unhappiness, also because our suffering would result from our own doing. This whole state of mind certainly contributed to the inertia and social evils in the relevant parts of the earth. It is also very pleasant for the rich and powerful.

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