Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The control business

It has always been possible and always lucrative, to make a business of controlling human behaviour and there are many, many ways of doing it - usually much more subtle than a security camera.

We live within a complex network of behavioural influences; many created, administered and monitored by people whose job it is to control us. When the control business becomes highly centralised and dominant, we call it feudal, totalitarian, communist, fascist, socialist, monopolistic, oligarchic or whatever.

Sometimes the control business is overtly criminal, such as the Al Capone era in Chicago. Sometimes it is slightly less overtly criminal, such as the current Putin era in Russia. Sometimes it is so dominant that the distinction between criminal and legal is too blurred to serve any real purpose, such as the Kim era in North Korea.

In the developed world, the control business is political, commercial and superficially legitimate because the controlling agents also make and administer the law. Even so, there seems to be a substantial level of criminal and borderline criminal behaviour. Directorships for ex-ministers and senior civil servants for example may be unethical but not strictly criminal.

So the control business tends to be a mix of political, criminal and unethical behaviour by the controlling agents - all of it profitable in its own way. For example, a scrupulously honest senior bureaucrat still leads a pleasant life with the almost certain prospect of a comfortable retirement, and perhaps a winter villa situated somewhere warm.

Ironically, the modern world seems peculiarly adapted to an uncontrolled expansion of the control business, presumably due to wealth. Modern states can afford heavy-handed behavioural controls.

It is difficult to tell with what degree of cynicism the control business is conducted. Some on the inside seem convinced that what they do is beneficial These are the useful idiots – the idealists willing to mouth the platitudes.

The point is that controlling behaviour is a profitable thing to do.

Because it is profitable and as long as the business is funded, it will divert a significant but covert percentage of its resources into expansion, into acquiring larger budgets, more functions and more laws and regulations to administer.

We all know this, but the problem is one of power. After all, the control business has almost all the power it needs, never all the power it needs because the complexity of human affairs ensures that nothing ever works perfectly.

So there is always a reason for more control.


Sackerson said...

Particularly like your para about "profit" powering the unlimited expansion of power-seeking.

Perhaps monarchy is the best bad solution, since a single human must have a limit to his personal desires? Whereas oligarchy and bureaucracy can multiply their membership endlessly.

Anonymous said...

Quite sinister and cynical. They learn quickly how to game the system for max profit - e.g. the job finders subcontract the 'harder cases' to little firms and keep the 'easy' cases. I should have thought any sane or honest contract-writer would think 'how would a cynical bastard screw this system and do no good at all?' and seek to block such a path. Plainly sane or honest contract-writers are in short supply or their efforts are 'not helpful'.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - and with a monarchy, we might have at least one person who knows what is going on.

Roger - my impression is that neither contract writing, nor contract management are done well by the public sector.

Demetrius said...

Why do so many "control" systems go out of control? Because the control is based on past information and assumptions and not the present or future?

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - exactly. Things never behave quite as predicted from past experience.

James Higham said...

And there's a lot more control business coming up, e.g. the internet of things.

A K Haart said...

James - yes, I don't think they will ever stop trying to control the internet.