Bill Whittle and the Gotha Program
Bill Whittle has a new essay up called Tribes, where he defines tribedom as a state of mind, and how those states of mind -- the tribes -- manifested themselves in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. But his concept of tribes goes beyond a single place and time. My favorite lines in Whittle's essay refer to the tribes of sheep and sheepdogs:
- One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: "Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident."
- The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. ... Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land.
- Understand that there is nothing morally superior about being a sheepdog; it is just what you choose to be. ... The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day.
One interesting question, which Bill Whittle never answers, is how tribes are formed. Whatever the process, it must feature some retention of memory. To see why this is so, consider its opposite: memorylessness. A Brown University computer science paper defines memoryless behavior as a class of policies where "action decisions are made solely on this basis of the agent's current sensation." On the face of it, "it would seem that memoryless behavior makes little sense. What organism would possibly ignore recent events in deciding how to act?" Yet the Brown paper found that in circumstances where sensation encapsulate all the relevant past information "it is always possible to find a deterministic memoryless policy that is optimal; no other behavioral strategy is superior."
In Bill Whittles' scenario, a number of people find themselves trapped in Hurricane stricken Lousiana, such as in the "Superdome Concentration Camp" and find themselves dividing into tribes. Some loot and rampage, often destroying objects which if they had a memory of recent events they would realize would be useful for their future survival. Others husband their resources and forge alliances to maximize their chances of survival. Clearly the spontaneous division into Whittle's tribes occurs on the basis of some cognition of 'sameness', which can only be the outcome of memory. The sheepdogs recognize each other, and so do the sheep.
Then, one of Whittle's tribes having formed, it begins to behave as if it lived in a memoryless universe. 'Memorylessness' in this context means something slightly different. It is the property of arriving at the same state however you started out, so that the current condition gives no clue as to how things were in the beginning. Under those circumstances it is possible to ignore the history of your life-state because it is irrelevant. It is all collapsed into the present. And, as the Brown University paper concluded, when you have no past it is optimal to act soley on the basis of present sensation. I mention this because one of the historical goals of socialism was to precisely to create this memoryless state. "From each according to his abilities. To each according to his need." Which is another way of saying that you get to the same place no matter how you start out. One of the unintended consequences of encouraging dependency is that it annihilates the life history of the dependent. For him there is no memory and no exit.
The ancient prefiguration of the welfare plantation were the lotus-eaters. The Lotophagi were:
a fabulous people who occupied the north coast of Africa and lived on the lotus, which brought forgetfulness and happy indolence. They appear in the Odyssey. When Odysseus landed among them, some of his men ate the food. They forgot their friends and home and had to be dragged back to the ships.