a theory of power by jeff vail – a summary

theorypowerThe full text can be found on my server. (This copy can be legally distributed.) If, however, you would prefer to support him by purchasing his book from Amazon, that’s ok too. As it says on his website, “Jeff Vail is an attorney at Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP in Denver, Colorado specializing in litigation and energy issues. He is a former intelligence officer with the US Air Force and energy infrastructure counterterrorism specialist with the US Department of the Interior.” His website is jeffvail.net.

Below is a summary coupled with my thoughts on this 60 some odd page book in pdf form. Keep in mind that this material is very dense, but it is definitely worth reading. My format will essentially be a quote followed by what that quote/section of the book made me think about. I tried to pull only the most important quotes, but since the book is so dense, that turned out to be a lot. Please bear with me.

Chapter 1 Introduction: A Theory of Power

I have come to understand the difference between perception and truth. I have realized that truth “is” a perception, just as much as anything “is” at all.

I’ve often wondered how other people see the world. Do they see the same colors as I do? Is my red someone else’s green? What is the so called “real world” and how could one “see” it in its entirety or as it really is?

In the 20th century, however, developments in the field of quantum mechanics, anthropology and psychology began to support a consilience of science and mysticism—they suggest that both views appear correct, even inseparable.

I’ve thought similar things before. Perhaps through quantum physics, we will be able to further understand the relationship between everything in existence.

Strikingly, experiments continue to suggest that everything in the universe influences every other thing, instantaneously, and at all times.

This sounds very familiar to the physics property called quantum entanglement.

The networks of connections, not the elements connected, appear to constitute a more accurate map of reality. Consider this a critical paradigm shift: the connections, not the parties connected, may best represent our world.

Chapter 2 The Structure of Evolution

Deconstruction serves as a key to understanding systemic evolution—the rules and processes by which everything constantly changes, replicates and interacts.

This is an underlying theme in the movie Fight Club.

I define self-replication as the process by which one pattern of power-relationships, whether a molecule, computer virus or management style, causes the reproduction of itself. The mechanism of reproduction may vary, from the genetic reproduction process of living organisms to conscious mimicry, as demonstrated by the imitation of a successful management style. The salient point remains that some patterns of power-relationships demonstrate the quality of self-replication, regardless of the actual mechanics by which they accomplish replication. The second core process, natural selection, has close ties to the process of self-replication.

When several self-replicating entities exist in the same environment, their ongoing reproduction will eventually run into a limited supply of some resource that they all require. Regardless of what the required “resource” may consist of (i.e. money, food, electrons, attention, etc.), the specific pattern-entity most capable of obtaining or utilizing that scarce resource will most likely survive. It will self-replicate more than, and at the expense of, less capable patterns of power-relationships.

These definitions remind me of the scene in The Matrix where Agent Smith is telling Morpheus that mankind is a disease and a virus. He also talks about “imperfect replication” which causes defects or mutations. Sometimes these mutations are a hindrance to the object’s existence, but sometimes these mutations can make it much more efficient.

Chapter 3 The Interplay of Genetics and Culture

As Richard Dawkins explained in his 1979 book The Selfish Gene, the organism does not use the gene to reproduce itself. The gene, rather, uses the organism as a host for reproduction.

A couple months ago I was just thinking about genes, probably due to the work that my friend Nick does at UCLA, and it occurred to me that perhaps genes use us to replicate and survive rather than the opposite since the genes live on. I found that very interesting that this random book would talk about the same thing.

Sexual desire, for example, serves as a tool of our genes. Physical pleasure from the act of procreation increases its occurrence, improving the rate of reproduction, thereby ensuring propagation of the associated genes.

Could this be one reason why people are becoming sexually mature at an earlier age? Sex is a very powerful tool. Look at advertising and the common phrase “sex sells”. This also makes me think that convincing people to always use condoms is very very difficult.

The genetic development of more advanced emotions in individuals proved especially beneficial to the group.

The emotions of loyalty, affection, group identity should all be noticeable in each of our circle of friends.

Developing in a group setting, genes proved more likely to prosper if they evolved mechanisms to ensure the survival of the group, even if the mechanisms occasionally acted at the expense of the individual. This represents a critical juncture in the evolution of power: the combination of increased mental capacity and a need for group survival facilitated the evolution of culture as a mechanism to ensure the survival of the group’s genetic code.

Communities evolved after more complex organisms because a group is more likely to survive than an individual. Think basic biology and schools of fish. This may lead the world to unity at some point or it might break us into classes of humans with specialized skills. Globalization seems to be a step toward a larger community.

Evolutionary developments in the individual accompanied cultural evolution. Many of the features that evolved improved the ability of the group to control the individual, creating a positive feedback loop in the co-development of the gene and group culture. … Memes drove individuals to act just as genes could: for the benefit of the survival of the meme, even if the meme’s survival came at the expense of the individual. Unlike the gene, however, the meme resides in the group as a whole.

The meme is the gene of the group, but it propagates much faster than genes can.

Chapter 4 The Rise of Symbolic Thought

This great leap in the ability to handle information via symbols permitted an entirely new means of information storage and transfer. … Advancements in human language permitted information storage in memetic devices such as stories and fables—huge information structures that existed in a group’s collective memory.

Think of how the bible makes use of stories and how powerful they are to be able to create and maintain such a large network of followers.

We must not, however, forget that memes do not serve humanity—rather, they use us for their propagation.

Common stories or fables that are told or rewritten can be adjusted to make it more likely to survive since they are “selfish memes”.

Ultimately, the process of ‘rational’ thought leads to ever-greater self-sacrifice in the name of the meme. This increasing drive towards self-sacrifice eventually confronts an individual’s lifespan: it wouldn’t seem rational for an individual to sacrifice until death, never to experience the envisioned rewards. Religion, an advanced memetic control mechanism, brought the promise of an after-life, making rational a complete lifetime of “self-sacrifice” to benefit the group’s meme. An eternal afterlife in paradise loomed as the ultimate, rational reward. Under this logic, an individual could justify sacrificing their entire life to hard work, or to willingly die in combat.

Chapter 5 Agriculture: Burning the Bridge to our Past

The advent of agriculture had a greater impact on humanity than any other event in our history. It created surpluses and intensifications leading to competition for limited resources and the formation of more complex social structures. It ended the genetic evolution of humanity as it existed for millions of years, and finally completed the transition of power over human action from the gene to the meme. It laid the foundation for what we recognize today as civilization.

People were able to switch from nomadic tribes to a stationary community.

Intensification is the process through which self-replicating structures become increasingly more complex, interconnected and hierarchal.

Agriculture controlled the individual by regulating access to the food supply. …After a few generations, individuals in primarily agricultural systems had lost the knowledge (the power) to return to the hunter-gatherer mode. …The culture now controlled the food, and therefore the individual.

If an individual has lost the skills to hunt or to forage for food, then s/he must rely on the culture for nourishment.

Stratification of the species may also prove evolutionarily viable as it could provide specialized hosts capable of accommodating even more demanding memes.

Chapter 6 Economics: The Anthropology of our Freedom

The state created an environment capable of supporting memetic structures such as a code of laws and a representative currency that greatly improved the efficiency of the market. The market and the state quickly grew into a tightly co-dependent pair.

My 10th grade world history teacher always told me that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and it appears that a hierarchical society would promote certain individuals to have almost absolute power.

In the Domestic Mode of Production, the household unit pools all production of staple goods for household use as needed. … This creates little pressure towards intensification of political or economic structures as the aggregate demand remains carefully balanced with the supply capacity of each household, and institutionalized exchange does not occur. Similarly, Share-Out served as the predominant method of redistribution—equally distributing the product of cooperation among the participants.

How much more efficient do you think we would be if our larger communities were set up in a similar way?

In contrast to the freely available resources of the hunter-gatherer world, scarcity and agriculture demanded that an individual remain a member of the group in order to maintain access to arable land and hunting grounds. Resources that the incipient state defended, the state also owned. Gaining access to them meant accepting the demands of the state, accepting the power relationship of the state over the individual.

Sounds like memes moving toward utilitarianism.

Chapter 7 Neutral Technology and the Demands of Power

The assembly line serves as an example of technology in control of people.

Thanks Henry Ford!

Misplaced faith in perpetual growth exists as a by-product of the intensifying, hierarchal master pattern that underlies most aspects of human society. Despite the clear reality that we live within a system limited by finite resources, our entire economy rests on the need for continual growth.

I thought “Hey, that sounds a lot like our economy and capitalism!”

Like the corporation, economists see serious trouble for a country’s economy as a whole if it temporarily stops growing, as the debt and inflation based finance structure cannot handle mere stability.

This sounds like it’s talking about our current financial crisis. If you think about this in general, it is a bit frightening that if we’re not seeing exponential growth, then it could all come crashing down. The weird thing is, though, that exponential growth is not logical whatsoever with limited resources.

From an economic standpoint, globalization finally succeeds in reducing the human component in production to a mere commodity, unconcerned with place, ready for optimization just like any other supply chain or production line.

Reduction of customer service has definitely been a noticeable trend.

Chapter 8 Self-Aware: Ego and Power

Beyond the illusion of ego exists a deeper conceptualization of self: the universe consists of a swirling, dynamic dance of power-relationships, with the black-and-white construct of the individual giving way to the grayer concept of the individual as a nexus of these connections. No true separation between individual and environment remains. Our consciousness has developed as a tool used by other entities, but it has provided the ultimate tool for our use to which no other nexus has access: self-awareness. … The understanding that self-awareness exists to serve the meme breaks that bond of servitude—it acts as the realization of enlightenment. … This realization will set us free.

Chapter 9 Forward, to Rhizome

Unlike hierarchy, rhizome cannot suffer exploitation from within because its structure remains incompatible with centralization of power. It provides a structural framework for our conscious organization of memes. Each node in a rhizome stands autonomous from the larger structure, but the nodes work together in a larger network that extends benefits to the node without creating dependence.

Think about grass roots movements and how fast that information spreads such as in the most recent presidential election.

In the simplest terms, in order to destroy the engine of hierarchy, we must destroy the mechanism of ownership.

This is a very hard concept to swallow. Nobody wants to give up what they own. They might feel cheated and wronged. I believe we are all naturally selfish and then taught to share. Take a look at a 2 year old. They do not understand the concept of sharing or taking turns until you teach them.

In other words, functional self-sufficiency means the ability to produce at the household level at least the minimum necessities for day-to-day existence without relying on outside agents or resources. … Self-sufficiency removes the individual rhizome node from dependence on the standard set of outside suppliers.

By doing this and using only that which we actually need and not want, a rhizome structure could thrive.

Loose network connections, such as those in rhizome structures, actually demonstrate far more efficiency at information transfer and processing than the close, authoritarian connections of hierarchies, according to complexity theorist Mark Buchanan.

Think the internet. If one node, computer, or server is taken off the internet, it still thrives and is not shut down. It still functions as it did beforehand, very efficiently.

I hope that with a new awareness of the structure of our world, along with a growing enlightenment regarding our sense of self, we will experience an increasing movement to live in harmony with our genetic requirements—an archaic revival. A new vision, with individual freedom to pursue arts and spirituality, above the pettiness of bickering for power, may prove possible if we learn to control the powers that have dominated us throughout history. In the spirit of this vision, the message will ultimately fail if forced upon others. Only through personal example, by showing that a realistic and preferable alternative exists, will these concepts succeed on a large scale. We will act as pioneers, who will begin to create diverse rhizome nodes, each one representing an individual’s struggle to solve the problems of hierarchy and human ontogeny. The more we learn and break free from the control of genes and memes, the more success these pioneers will have. Effective tools and practices will spread, and the rhizome network will grow and strengthen. As this network evolves, it will provide a realistic, implementable alternative to hierarchy—an alternative that fulfills our genetic ontogeny and empowers us as individuals. Nature has shown us that the structure of the rhizome can compete with hierarchy and stratification. When combined with an understanding of reality and humanity that makes us our own masters, we may finally learn from the events of the past…and gain control of our future.

Many religions talk about doing good through personal example, which I think is an excellent principle. Think of the adage that “actions speak louder than words”.

Closing Thoughts

A Theory of Power by Jeff Vail changed my perception about life and control in general. While his argument for a rhizome society is strong, will it actually work? Do we even need to work toward that end if according to the selfish meme we will end up living in the most efficient way anyway? I think that it’s worth a try. If you can get through my post, let alone the book, let me know what you think in the comments.

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house judiciary chairman subpoenas karl rove

So here it is. Karl Rove is being requested to testify. God knows they won’t make him.. or if they do, they have bigger balls than the last administration or government in general. It always seems nobody wants to go kick some ass. I mean look at the sad state of affairs once Roberto Gonzales hired/fired people for their political stance. What’s that? You don’t recall? Yeah, me either. I think they both should be put in stockades in D.C. for a day. Why bother subpoenaing him, when it’s likely he won’t even show. Oh yeah.. did I mention that he just looks like a total douche bag?

The House Judiciary Committee chairman subpoenaed former White House adviser Karl Rove on Monday to testify about the Bush administration’s firing of U.S. attorneys and prosecution of a former Democratic governor.

The subpoena commanded Rove to appear for a deposition on Feb. 2 on the firings of U.S. attorneys for political reasons. Conyers also demanded testimony on whether politics played a role in the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat.

Bush upheld Rove’s legal position, but Conyers said times have changed.

via The Associated Press: House Judiciary chairman subpoenas Karl Rove.

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nsa spied on everyone

nsa.jpgGreat, so the NSA really decided to illegally spy on ALL Americans. You can thank Darth VP Cheney for that. I can’t believe that no legal action was taken against the companies that allowed it or the government agency that did it illegally. You have to really respect Qualcomm for being the only ISP that refused to go through with it.

Former National Security Agency analyst Russell Tice, who helped expose the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping in December 2005, has now come forward with even more startling allegations. Tice told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann on Wednesday that the programs that spied on Americans were not only much broader than previously acknowledged but specifically targeted journalists.
“The National Security Agency had access to all Americans’ communications — faxes, phone calls, and their computer communications,” Tice claimed. “It didn’t matter whether you were in Kansas, in the middle of the country, and you never made foreign communications at all. They monitored all communications.”

via The Raw Story | Whistleblower: NSA spied on everyone, targeted journalists.

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the economist’s goodbye to bush

George Bush’s presidency, what a disaster.

“I inherited a recession, I’m ending on a recession,” he noted at his press conference on January 12th. He wasn’t asking for pity, only to be judged on what happened in between. Unfortunately, that economic legacy is littered with wasted opportunity, bad judgments and politicised policy. The budget surplus he inherited is now a deficit, the fiscal hole in America’s retiree programmes is bigger than ever, the tax system is an unstable, patched-up mess.

It is not all his fault. But for the most part, good policy repeatedly took a back seat to Mr Bush’s overweening political ambition. Both the country and, ultimately, the Republican Party are left the worse for it.

via The Frat Boy Ships Out | economist.com.

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