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The myth of power and control - Bateson and the Pope

The Wall Street Journal reports -

In his letter titled "Caritas in Veritate," Charity in Truth, Pope Benedict XVI "said the United Nations and other international bodies need to 'acquire real teeth' to properly monitor markets, stem the current crisis and prevent future ones. 'There is urgent need of a true world political authority," the pope wrote in the 44-page encyclical.

Can this possibly be? Give vast powers to the United Nations, which cannot even prevent massive corruption in its food aid programs or keep its 'peacekeepers' from sexually abusing the children they are supposed to protect? No doubt the thugs running so many of the UN's member countries will seize upon the idea. Of course the Pope does describe an authority of such moral tone as to immediately disqualify the UN, but that is not the error we perceive.

The error is the myth of power and control that biologist Gregory Bateson described and debunked. It is a potent myth and its real effects are devastating.


Image: NASA

Bateson became famous for his work in cybernetics, the science of communication and control. As you know, the word cybernetics comes from the ancient Greek word for helmsman, the person who steers a ship, but Bateson’s point is that there is no helmsman in charge of self-organising systems.

Those systems include the Earth’s biosphere and the wonderful creation of millions of people - the free economy. Trying to control the whole with a part is impossible. That is one reason why socialist-controlled economies repeatedly fail.

However, the facts have little weight with many people, who see power as a lever they intend to control. Bateson describes the myth of power as “a very powerful myth" that "leads inevitably to all sorts of disaster.” Bateson points out that trying to control others leads at best to inefficiency and at worst to genocide.

Like Adam Smith, the Pope also talked about ethical behaviour, which is absolutely crucial to a free economy. Observing and enforcing just laws and providing fiscal transparency and accountability are key. Keeping governments from distorting free markets is crucial.

When the US Government insisted that banks make home loans to people who had no credit history, no down payment and sometimes no job, and guaranteed those loans with taxpayer money, they were helping to set up the huge financial wreck which we are currently trying to survive.

It was power misused. It led "inevitably to all sorts of disaster.” It is also power that has never said 'Sorry' or learned from its mistakes.

For the good in the Pope's letter, we have been looking at the Anchoress, who is meditating on it.

Comments (2)

Fascinating take on the part of BATB. I see things similarly to 'The Anchoress' (Elizabeth Scalia), whose judgment is reliably with the Church's Teachings, here, regardless of the above discussion of the "myth of power and control."

Epistemology finally comes down to, who are you going to trust and who sets the terms of discourse? Best/cheers

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