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Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

A fundamental problem of ruling: if you have one person in charge, that person can screw up. So you put many in charge. But then there's another problem: no one is solely responsible, so people fail to take initiative, and you end up with the syndrome of too many cooks in the kitchen. Because there's no one leader, power goes to no one; the duty of acting out the will of the cook committee goes to someone, usually a rotating someone, who starts the task and is constantly given peanut galleries from the others. It is through such failure of leadership that, it is said, the soup is ruined, because although you can put almost anything in a soup and have it turn out okay, if you don't pick what type of soup it is, it will taste like nothing.

This situation cannot be seen more clearly than in a democracy during wartime. Back home, the president and congress in theory "balance each other" by keeping checks on power, the situation becomes tenuous in that the president sends the troops to war, and only after that congress decides whether to fund them. In dire situations, it's hard for them to deny funding, but they'll snip away at it here and there. This unsteady balance causes policy to be planned in small increments around some vague idea of what the war hopes to accomplish, and thus any concept of organized goal is diluted.

If there's one thing you learn in life quickly it's that without a goal, situations quickly degenerate into disorganization, the same old thing we try to escape by striving for higher ambitions. However, democracies of the kind where a leader defers to other leaders who defer to the people, who are forever divided into different balkanized camps, make having a goal impossible. Let's look for example at America the democracy during the Iraq war.

This war is both popular and unpopular; there are more "support our troops" and pro-republican sentiments in this country than there have been for years, but at the same time, a large and restless counterculture pulses with resentment that we went to war at all. However, this has little to do with the war in Iraq. In democracies, populations quickly divide between types of power. Some people gain power through aggression, others through passivity. For this reason, in any war except an invasion of America by a superior force, the population will divide neatly into one half that will oppose any war, and another half that will support any war. They see method, not goal.

In this last election, what probably swung people was that George W. acts like a leader: he is assertive, he has unwavering belief in his ideals, and he is impervious to most criticism. While most Americans probably don't fully accept his platform, they responded to his style of leadership; in contrast, John F. wavered a lot, and his most decisive move appeared to be to consult opinion polls and then conspicuously respond. That is not leadership behavior, and the Republicans seized on that and used it heavily in their propaganda.

Most of the people voting for Kerry were doing so because they (a) wanted the war over and (b) feared the conservative Christian agenda regarding personal "rights" and "freedoms," both amorphous concepts that represent a carrot held over the heads of the population by government (no government can allow absolute flexibility of political and social choice, because that includes the ability to act against the interests of that government). While Kerry had followed a straight career path to the white house, acting in every case to reward his own ambition, Bush had taken a path with ups and downs that reflected more a man seeking himself than seeking power. In power, he acted more decisively, even if wrong most of the time.

For these traits alone, he was elected, albeit by a slim majority of swing voters who overcame their traditional camp divisions (aggression versus passivity), despite the massive amounts of money and free publicity given to the Kerry campaign by leftist elements in media, entertainment, social circles and academia. Although it was a slim margin, it was significant: the American voters preferred someone who acted more like a leader. What was not seen in this result was that American voters, by virtue of having too many impulses at once, have already selected out anyone who could actually display the kind of leadership that is needed to (a) win the war and (b) fix America so that a conservative Christian agenda regarding personal "rights" and "freedoms" is not needed.

How did a nation founded by the few successful outcasts of Europe - smugglers, religious freethinkers, political dissidents and those we'd call "terrorists" nowadays - become this mealy-mouthed and indecisive nation? The answer is surprisingly simple: the nature of its political system changed, and thus its expectations changed; because one defines one's personal ambitions by what is expected, when expectations change, values change. When America was founded, it was a democracy, but a democracy of elites; one proved oneself by becoming a landowning independent and then could contribute. This was perhaps the last vestiges of a feudal system by which the more capable people in a society became leaders, and therefore were able to own land and rule local areas in a compassionate, benevolent style.

That relatively placid worldview changes when internal dissent forces every individual to scramble for as much power as they can grab, as they no longer have trust in leaders to reflect their best interests. It didn't take long for America to become divided over the issue of how much power states should have; indeed, the pre-constitution confederacy of states was heading more toward the organizational system of Europe today, where independent nation-states trade freely amongst themselves and operate for larger political goals a bloc, but keep their own rules and local regulations. After a disastrous Civil War, America began handing the vote over to new groups, including recent immigrants from the least-prosperous states in Europe, namely Italy and Ireland and the first tricklings of the most Western of the Eastern European states.

Shortly after this point, the internal balkanization got more intense. Because there were too many interests competing, or too many cooks in the kitchen, no one could trust the government to represent their interests, and thus political groups of loose associations were formed. Women for example felt they needed to organize as a political entity because there was no voice to protect them from the legal system. Various other groups followed, until what happened in the 1960s was a full conversion to populism. The electorate was no longer selected, but being able to vote at 18 was considered a "right," and it was assumed that with the full participation of the population, the power process would represent everyone.

What a neat thought. What an idealistic thought. What a failure - in any group, there will be competing interests, and those who are willing to settle for the concept that we can please everyone, by definition, don't understand power and are not attempting any sort of goal; they're defending one. This defensive impulse is the same mechanism that shattered tradition by handing over its guardianship to conservatives, who despite asserting sometimes positive values, use passive methods. Passivity does not mean pacifistic; it means merely that, like extra cooks crowding around the elbows of the poor guy assigned to put ingredients in the soup pot, they yell out demands only when they're not shooting down the ideas of others. Active leadership asserts a goal and works to achieve it; passive power structures work on the principle that society as is needs maintaining, and they do it through a good/evil form of kneejerk approval and disapproval.

It's this kind of system that causes internal division. Women, for example, realize they'd better represent their "rights" to do certain things, or they'll be completely ignored; same with people of different tribes and races. You can't blame them for that, because what failed was consensus: there was no longer any goal, because the civilization "as it is" had become the goal, and the illusion was that by just maintaining it according to our interests, it would be all okay-fine until doomsday. Instead of opting to make a certain kind of soup, the menu is always the same: soup du jour, with all of the ingredients in the kitchen thrown in. Apparently, if you like carrots, you're supposed to taste only those and leave all the other stuff on your plate.

Populist democracy, as a value, has destroyed a once-great society. This is no surprise to anyone who has read the works of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, all of whom struggled with the concept and situation of democracy; Socrates, being perhaps the first Christ-figure in the West, lost his life for it when his ideas proved unpopular enough to unite the quarreling and bickering elements of degenerate Athenian democracy to elect him an execution. Unwilling to be a martyr, he died quietly and quickly, knowing that he had achieved a great victory, albeit a passive one, by demonstrating the democracies are willing to murder great thinkers for being unpopular. As with great thinkers, all great hopes are murdered by democracies, because democracies by opting for passive, chaotic rule, are opposed to goals and indeed any kind of unifying value to a civilization.

Those who found civilizations are aware that when a goal, or at least a values system that indicates a consistent direction other than self-maintenance alone, is lost, the civilization decays from within and whether the final blow comes from disease, sword or natural disaster, the disease that allowed it to kill came from within. This is natural, much in the way that any stress or new predator on a herd carries away the weakened, old and diseased long before it begins destroying the core of the population. If every voice in that herd were equal, the diseased and weakened would be voting for their interests, which from fear of their own deaths would include the value that no one should be allowed to die, and thus the herd would respond, passively but not pacifistically, the predators, incurring losses among the strong for the lofty ideal that occurs nowhere in nature, namely that none should die.

All great civilizations pass in this way. No longer having leadership, they are ruled by the followers, who are given equal voices to appease them. These, fearing their own weakened states, enact an iron clamp of passive rule; each time the guy putting ingredients in the pot says "Let's make a chicken soup," they scream out, "But not all of us like chicken soup, therefore you're infringing on our rights" - but they also apply the same dictum to potato soup, cream of broccoli soup, hot and sour soup, and so on. Eventually, the soup becomes the same old thing consisting of every ingredient, and direction is utterly lost.

Looking at the great civilizations of past, we can see a disaster has occurred. The Aztecs in Mexico were so fractured that when Hernan Cortez came bearing Bible and sword they were defeated by a few hundred men allied only with the dumbest and least useful people in the region; the disease had already weakened them, thus they collapsed. Similarly Rome fell at the touch of a far smaller army, and the Greeks, having lost the Spartan leadership that had defended them for so long, were overrun multiple times. What did they leave? Remnants of a great population, but mostly an empire which would achieve nothing in the following millennia (how many wars have the Italians, Greeks, or Mexicans won lately?). You can see a similar situation in India, in North Africa, in the once-great states of Afghanistan and Viet Nam, and even in Iraq.

Speaking of Iraq and Viet Nam, these two wars demonstrate to the world again the fallacy of populist democracy, where everyone has their own interests and there is no consensus interest as a whole except the most basic idea of making some kind of soup, no matter how mediocre, and feeding it to everyone. America lost Viet Nam because she could not unify on a policy, which clearly stated would have been: we will become the superpower that occupies the third world before the Soviets can, and we will eventually destroy the Soviet empire. Even the conservatives backed off from this assertive position in favor of a passive one, namely reciting how the Soviets didn't allow religious freedom, didn't allow independent wealth, didn't allow "free speech" and thus it was imperative that we don't let them take over. But was there anything as decisive as Patton's offer, at the end of WWII, to take his Armies to Moscow and give America a benevolent world domination?

Even now, the divisions permeate America to the point where we cannot clearly see the truth. Some, on the right, point out that all fallen civilizations are of mixed-race, and thus see that as cause; but it's clearly a symptom, as no tribe mixes with others unless it is either conquered or has conquered itself. On the left, they think that civilizations fall because they become too warlike and don't grant equal rights and living standards to everyone, but that is also clearly a sign of kneejerk reactions within those cultures. No, my friends, the answer is exactly as it appears to be: they fell because in terms of what they desired, they fell apart, and thus couldn't agree on taking the action necessary to preserve themselves. Even a society where money can buy anything, and our highest value is the power of money and what it can buy, is a symptom of this decline.

At this point most people throw up their hands and say "But there's nothing we can do!" and consider themselves smarter than others for having adopted fatalism before it becomes obvious. Ahead of the curve, you must be, you smart individualists. But there is something that can be done, and it can occur either (a) from an offshoot civilization being formed which does have consensus or (b) by imposing consensus upon America such that a direction is chosen, even if it doesn't benefit anyone. If that direction is a smart one, it will include some system which in contrast to the values of liberal democracy and totalitarian communism alike, emphasizes the ability of some individuals to rise above not on the basis of earning money or allegiance to doctrine, but by being better at their chosen task.

Cooks like to cook. When every cook in the kitchen has the same right of input, by which they can suggest or deny suggestions, the soup will always be the same; if you send those same cooks each to his or her own kitchen, and have them make soups in competition, eventually it will emerge that there is a best cream of broccoli soup, and that another cook makes the best chicken soup, and so on. This is the order that preceded the democratic impulse in Europe, something born in part from a Christian desire to sustain the weakened and meek at the expense of the stronger, and it usually has as its foundation what we now call "socialism" but what was once known as feudalism: the belief that everyone will be sustained by society, but that those who do better work are promoted and that those who are weakened, diseased, or broken are allowed to die (or, for societies that are fully ambitious, as the ancient Germans were, drowned in swamps).

A society organized around money is the result of the tool of leadership being used in place of leadership; the same applies to democracy. Sadly for humanity, the global society and economy we are now forming is based on this democracy, so as it decays it will not take one nation but all industrial nations down the path of utter failure. The first step toward revoking this travesty in progress is to realize that there can be one cook in each kitchen, and to apply this value backward up the power structure, changing expectations from "everyone has a right to sabotage the process of leadership with passivity" to "everyone has a need to be a cook in his own kitchen, and to compete." If this realization occurs in even a small portion of the population, people will no longer expect the generic soup of the day made with all ingredients in the kitchen, and thus assertive and positive decision-making will begin to reverse the neurotic disorder of liberal populist democracy.

January 10, 2005