So this video has been doing the rounds. You should watch it. It’s very well done. And the book it refers to, The Dictator’s Handbook, is also a great book. I read it a while ago. Hell, I should have done a book review. It’s a really good book. It’s analysis of government in general, and how dictatorships work, is brilliant.
Alas, the book flounders when it talks about democracy. Which it basically posits as the Great Solution, the final End of History where everyone is happy because the selectorate is big and blablabla. Well of course you’d expect a book by an American academic to say that democracy is awesome and magical and sacred. How else would he have a job? But it’s quite a shame, as the book is really good. And he could have analyzed democracy quite well using the very same theory he created. He just needed to get his hands a bit dirty. Talk about ruling classes, political factions, networks of connections, pork barrel and all that stuff. But of course he didn’t. He couldn’t. He has an academic job and he’d rather keep it.
Well I don’t have an academic job, so I’ll do it myself. And I have a blog somewhat focused on East Asia, so let me refer to this piece of recent news. The finding that the President of South Korea, Ms. Park Gyun-Hye (pronounced Pak Kune), is a “puppet” of a sleazy bunch of con artists who clame to be shamans with spiritual powers. Those sleazy shamans have been caught trafficking in state secrets, writing up her speeches, and extorting every single business in the country for zillions of won in name of the president. The most funny anecdote is that the President gave this conwoman her whole presidential budget for clothes, and what she did is give her some lousy second hand clothes while she embezzled the rest of the money. Some shaman.
But hey. Wait a minute. South Korea is a democracy, right? How did that happen?
Apparently I’m the only one asking that question. The Internet is full of news stories about how the South Korean people are shocked, shocked! about this news. Ms. Park is the daughter of Park Chung-Hee, the awesome right-wing dictator that raised South Korea out of its postwar misery and set the basis of what became their economic miracle. What many don’t know is that Park Chung-Hee saw his wife assassinated by North Korean agents, and years later he himself was shot in the head by the chief of the intelligence agency, amusingly called the KCIA.
That is its own piece of interesting history, but the point here is that Ms. Park is an orphan. And a fairly dramatic one. Have both your parents shot in public at different times must be shocking. Steve Sailer claims that it’s understandable that she fell under the spell of some conmen given the circumstances. And yeah, I’ll grant that point.
But still. The question that nobody is asking is: did nobody know about this? Yeah of course the people at large didn’t know. But watch the video on the top again. No man rules alone. No man gets elected alone. Ms. Park is the head of her party. She was nominated to that place by people who knew about her, and thought she’d be a good deal for them. Ms. Park had to play politics in a very complex environment, in multiple layers. At the very least her party and the country at large. Did nobody know?
Obviously the insiders must have known. And yet they nominated her to lead the party. In fact Wikileaks points out that part of the story leaked years ago, and the American embassy had a long comment to do about it. Plenty of people must have known. Did nobody tell her? “Hey, this shaman friend of yours. She’s no good”. The whole thing makes little sense. Of course there’s a huge media brouhaha going on right now, but we folks know very well not to trust the media about anything. Gell-mann amnesia and all that.
There’s two possible answers here. Either the President is no puppet; she’s just a crook with crook friends, everybody knew about it but they chose her anyway because she was good for business. Or she is a puppet, and everybody knew about it but they chose her anyway because she was good for business.
Little difference it makes, of course.
For some reason the conwomen shaman woman, Choi Seonsil, is being singled out as some mastermind of evil and corruption. But she was put there by someone, by many people, all of whom to some extent knew what was all about. But they chose her because they are as much of a crook as she is. And the President herself may or may not be a crook, but she most certainly is the nominal top of a gang of crooks who has been robbing the Korean people for years.
Who is to blame? The question is meaningless, in philosophical terms. Every effect has a myriad causes. You can never pin-point a single one. But that’s not the point of blame. The point of blame is to produce a result. If you blame the president, and throw her away, you have a situation in which you need to choose a new president and everybody starts fighting and the whole thing can get messy. If you blame the shamaness, well you get a situation where the President looks like a fool and the religious landscape of Korea becomes the center of attention of the press for years. If you blame the whole party, you create a situation in which the opposition parties will most certainly win the new election. So “who is to blame?” is a very important question.
And that’s the actual point of having a different political systems. You’ll have noticed that Ms. Park had a cabinet full of conmen and crooks. Steve Sailer calls her a “Rasputin-like figure”. But Rasputin was the confidant of the wife of the Russian Czar! An absolute monarch! Isn’t democracy supposed to prevent this kind of thing? It obviously doesn’t. Look at the Clintons. I thought Bueno de Mesquita has been quiet for some years, but I guess watching the increasingly open corruption of the American elite has made him a bit ashamed of his apology of the structural benefits of democracy.
Democracy or monarchy don’t change the fundamental rules of politics. Crooks happen, advisors get power they shouldn’t have, people in power do good or bad things or do nothing at all according to their disposition. Chains of crooks linked by personal connections will always run things. None of it matters. What matters is who we blame. In a monarchy we have a set of taboos that say that it’s always the ministers who are wrong; and by blaming the ministers and never the king we keep the levers of power in a more or less stable way; which can be good or bad. In a democracy we have another set of taboos, which result in every link of the chain of corruption being interchangeable, but the very existence of the chain being unmentionable; everything else would be Endangering Our Democracy. This can be good… or bad.
You'll have noticed we don't have very good vocabulary to discuss this kind of matters. Imperial Chinese political theory has its biases, but it has insight we don't have. The Japanese in their insularity also have their insight. I'm sure the Ottomans and the Arabs have their own. As the US world police declines so evidently that the Philippines calls Obama openly a son of a bitch and Malaysia (!) tells the West to take a hike, we might as well stop believing our own crap and try to refine our theories on how politics work by looking at what is going to be our future.