In the ancient (non-mercantile) societies, those in power had a deterministic vision and believed that nothing should ever be left to chance. Hence, they did not permit any sort of opposition.
And actually a good part of the modern power structure still does not tolerate any opposition. For instance, in 1921 Lenin was extremely clear about the "Workers Opposition" led by Alexandra Kollontai and stated in the Duma: "What opposition? There shall no longer be any opposition".
And yet, nothing is ever perfect nor absolute, so that statistically weak oppositions always find a way to express themselves. In other words one may say that a dictatorship is only ever statistically obeyed.
For instance the history of the Christian Church during the Middle Ages shows that the power of the Church was permanently challenged by all sorts of heresies, so that Raoul Vaneigem’s remark may be applicable according to which "the Middle Ages have been Christian, like the Eastern Europe countries were Communists".
The reason for the existence of this gap between absolutely forbidden behaviors and opinions and yet tolerated practices is very simple: any repression requires a sufficiently large and costly deployment of effort, for a power to be reluctant to put it into work unless (until) the issue is worth it, that is when (in the Power’s view) oppositions have become statistically significant.
So that the actual effectiveness of the most absolute (most deterministic) powers, is ultimately only a statistical one.
Power structures in market societies (ancient or modern ones) are quite different, in the sense that they are always of a more or less statistical nature. The root of this characteristic comes from the fact that the existence of the merchant is essentially statistical. Despite the avalanche of messages such as "4 U - for you" or the more ancient, "the customer is a king" intended to mask the statistical nature of market activity, it is clear that the basis for the citizens equality, lies in their mathematical equivalence when the merchant evaluates his benefit.
This so-called "individualism" in market societies, is obviously a decoy in the same way that the "4 U" is.
It should normally seem highly comical to anyone to call "individualistic", a society in which crowds of people rush about the same times in the same public places to together, buy the same goods or services created by the same machines in a mass production process, and hence essentially identical, that they will then use separately in the same way, locked in identical apartments and isolated from the unseemly although identical activity of their neighbors, by a partition of a few centimeters.
During a walk in the Normand Grove, I was suddenly struck by a vision that this grove would offer if all the hedges that usually catch the eye, suddenly disappeared. This pleasant countryside would then certainly look like a huge uniform meadow, dotted with grazing cattle; an awfully industrialized place in all respects similar to the huge corn and wheat factory that covers the entire plain of Beauce in France.
In the same way when I gaze at the window glare, and at the street façades during my late evening urban wanderings, I cannot help thinking of the appalling standardization of apartment decorations, and of the inhabitant’s behaviors that the sudden disappearance of all these partitions and façades would reveal.
Yet the perpetually renewed stereotypes on individuality and privacy do not seem to make anyone laugh, and people all walk in the same serious and heavy step along the same motorways of the same illusion... Since they all read the same newspapers (free or not), since they all substantially have the same "fresh” and "personal" ideas, since they all use the same words and wordings copied from the same journalistic and managerial verbiage.
Anyone who has traveled a bit in countries where goods are rare, probably has noted that the statistical dictatorship exerted in countries where goods are abundant, is much deeper and induces a much stricter conformity than that resulting from the misery caused by deterministic dictatorships, or even by the most firmly anchored traditional rules.
While in Communist Poland, freedom of expression was total and absolute in spite of the permanent shortages of ink and paper that unfortunately prevented its full concreteness, in advanced market societies, everyone has ample opportunity to express him or herself much more freely in the manner that is best arranged to ensure a statistical impact close to zero.
In fact, it is necessary to envision that public opinion is commercially produced under the same terms as those used in other industrial productions, that are called for instance "statistical process control", and the principles of which are roughly as follows:
Although it is meant to be deterministic by construction, the usual result from the practical implementation of any production process is a set of conforming products, but also a set of non-conforming products. The art of steering as regards such matters, is to pick up samples (surveys) in order to assess over time the share of products the characteristics of which are kept between the lower and upper bounds of the expected standard, and the share of below standards products (since there are no prisons or asylums for unsalable goods).
When the share of below standard products happens to increase significantly in the course of time, those responsible for steering the production must perform an analysis, (causal analysis) to determine the cause of the drift and bring back the production process within its limits, or if that is not possible then, to determine the new statistically achievable limits.
In the field of industrial production of public opinion, the production apparatus is constituted by the various mass media, advertising, the education system, and most of the so-called "cultural" or "intellectual” production. Evaluation of the results of this production process is carried out through opinion polls. One should remember that these polls are obviously not sponsored or paid by citizen’s organizations, but rather by the type of organizations that have some use for the associated information and which -- as one can guess -- only accept to bear the costs because they need the results.
When a significant drift of public opinion is evidenced in the polls, analyses are immediately conducted, and their conclusions are re-injected in the system of mass media and cultural production in the form of corrective actions which, in the world created by mass media is called an "important" or even a "stunning" event.
Industrial process control of public opinion is greatly facilitated by the implementation of two almost inexhaustible sources of lure...
On the one hand it is stated that everyone is free to have his own opinion. This means that all opinions are equal in that - unlike what happens in Sciences and Technology -- they are not required to maintain any sort of relationship with truth. (Even adventurous readers will not dare to imagine what would result from a technique - let's say medicine - that would be entirely driven by public opinion...)
On the other hand, all possible thoughts at a given moment are statistically determined by the (publicly) available language and syntax, which today essentially means a kind of “novlang”.
As the Chinese had seen half a millennium before Christ, and as religions (Christian or not) did not fail to implement, a Power that wants to last must ensure its control over names. However in the vision of the Chinese Empire (a deterministic vision), the control exerted by the State over the names was naively meant to establish a public order.
The situation is quite different in a market system where the actual order cannot be public (which would be disastrous for trade) and where the control exerted over the names must allow the establishment of the Power of merchants that is based on permanent and generalized deception.
This requirement when coupled with the need where is any bureaucrat to obscure the true nature of its activities, both for his inferiors and for his superiors, has now produced a language, the main function of which is the annihilation of all perspective and of any thought of consequence.
Of course, this kind of lexicographic and syntactic manipulation is not new, and has been used by all modern religions (of the Abrahamic type or even the Buddhist or Taoist type). However, although quite convenient in terms of purpose for domination, it is not without practical consequences in the long term, and it has currently reached its limits (as Orwell had anticipated in his book “1984”) in that it is now in open conflict with the requirements of the Real.
A bit of witchcraft was always enough to impress men, and the consumer and the producer are under no obligation to live in the real world, but only in the world of production and consumption. Yet, despite the steady progress of Science and Technology, Nature, unlike men, remains stubbornly recalcitrant.
It seems to be extremely difficult for the human mind to simultaneously embrace both deterministic and statistical views. It is possible to take one or the other of the two views, but taking into account both perspectives at the same time seems to create a kind of mental oscillation quite comparable to the oscillations caused to visual perception, for example by the methods used in Op Art.
One can see the trace or symptom of it in some of the false oppositions that usually blind us; dualities like individual versus species (and therefore "innate" versus "acquired"), personal interest versus common interest and way deeper, in this jewel of Quantum Physics that the famous "wave-particle" duality represents (the wave is then interpreted as a "wave of probability of presence".)
It is this weakness of the human mind that allows the mercantile system to remain, so to say invisible to those it dominates, and -- all well considered -- almost as much to the very people the existence of whom it grants and justifies, and who are the actual engines and actors of this mercantile system.
While modern market societies have greatly developed and used statistical and probabilistic approaches, it is surprising to note those who had planned and had the will to oppose it were not much interested in them.
Beyond what has been described above, regarding the wobblings of the human mind when it must consider at the same moment the deterministic and statistical aspects of the world, human decision making when based on probability and statistics is often paradoxical. Thus any reasonable man who is told that he has a 99% chance of being killed by a car when getting out of his house on the next morning, is likely to remain quietly at home. However the same reasonable man will probably rush out if it is said that he has a 99% chance of remaining poor if he stays at home. Then when confronted with a mix of both situations, it is not unlikely that this man will rush out and die rich.
It is this kind of weakness that drives crowds to gambling or to reckless working efforts in the hope of making a fortune, and that in any case made the fortune of the silliness of the famous "Pascal's wager" by which the hope of an infinite good with an infinitely low probability is necessarily stated as significant rather than near zero (while multiplying an infinity by zero or dividing an infinite quantity by another is not always mathematically defined).
This is also what allows market societies to suggest to their flock that everyone can get rich (and therefore that those who fail to do so can only blame themselves - or their genes – for such a failure) while the statistical evidence proves that it is not so and that the probability of a poor to become rich is very close to zero. Everyone has a chance, certainly, but that chance is close to nothing.
Similarly, freedom of opinion assures Democrats that everyone is entitled to speak, although the impact of his speech is quite effectively kept close to nothing. On the one hand because free speech being most frequently a simple repetition of some ready-made thinking, it actually increases the frequency of this ready-made thinking, and on the other hand, because when this is not the case, when free speech is indeed reflecting an original thought, it will be neither heard, nor understood, nor spread - except of course if it is amplified by one of the reproduction mechanisms in force.
We must imagine that perception and learning abilities as bequeathed to us by Evolution, are largely based on the frequency of events that occur in our external or internal environment. We know from personal as well as from collective experience that to learn, we must repeat. But we also know now from other experiments that our machines (networks of cellular automata, neural networks) also learn by repetition. It is not an accident, it is not a constraint, it is at the very heart of learning.
From the perspective of the survival of a species, it is obviously more favorable to perceive, to learn to identify and to retain what is the most common rather than what is the rarest.
We have learned from Cognitive Sciences that our perception, for the most part, does not show us what we perceive as it is, but as it is guessed, as it is anticipated, as it is rebuilt by our brain. It is on the background created by this permanent activity of reconstructing reality that finally emerges, appears, what is not rebuilt, what perception fails to rebuild: the new.
It is also hard to imagine perception could be without this permanent comparison between a reconstructed world (which is the son of the old) and the new world that is precisely the target, object and purpose of perception. Such a comparison activity has to take place at any time, and hence at reasonably low cost.
Perception is a transfer of information (i.e. the annihilation of a delay) between a transmitter (the world) and a receiver (the body and brain). One of the most economical ways to transmit information is when the sender and receiver share the same (reasonably relevant) model of the world, and when the transmitter only transmits the differences that were identified on his side between reality and the model of the world that is common to both the receiver and the transmitter nodes. A common model that dynamically evolves on both sides of course, in order to incorporate the identified differences.
However, in the context of perception (hence in the context of living beings), the world, (the transmitter) of course does not own any model the world, and it is not a model of the world. It is the world which is different.
In other words, as such it contains no information because the information only has a meaning - is only defined – in the context of a model. And this is why, before any perception, our perceptual system must create and cast a model, so that what we see for the most part, is this model, this reconstruction, and the volume of new information that it remains to be analyzed, identified and collected by difference, is hence minimized
This reconstruction of the world that the perceptive activity produces is based on what our past perceptions have extracted more frequently. In other words, we see first, and most often and so to say mainly what we expect to see. Literally and equivalently, we can say that in general we re-cognize the world we perceive.
What now remains to be described is how the new is constructed and integrated into the old, or rather perhaps, how the first models of the world are built into our brains. The mechanisms are now known - at least in part - and can be described in terms of Neural Darwinism proposed by Gerald Edelman.
In other words, the brain consists of a set of neurons and of a highly redundant connection network between the neurons. The frequency of events from the outside (or inside) world stimulates some neurons more frequently than others and also stimulates certain connections between neurons more often, so that these neurons and connections are strengthened while the neurons and connections that are not stimulated are weakened or disappear. In other words, the models of the world are built - or supplemented - in our brain as the result of a sort of sculpting process, they are shaped by the frequencies of events occuring in the external (or internal) reality.
The statistical dictatorship parasitizes, or to state it in a more precise way, saturates and blinds our cognitive system by a permanent reproduction of sameness, by the simple effect of repetition, of the increase in the frequency of occurrence of events that it industrially produces and configures.
One first thinks of advertising, of propaganda, but both are too visible, too easily identifiable, not to be themselves decoys as well. Not only is our perceptive attention caught by advertising, but while we are busy with defying its insinuations, we do not see that the real attack comes from elsewhere. For beyond the reproduction of automated messages and pictures, the actual amplifier of our perceptions , it is human society itself, as it builds and reconfigures itself essentially through imitation and speech.
Unless you leave for a long time, exiled far from any human community - in the forest, the sea or the desert - it has become impossible for anyone in the world we live in, to escape the News. You may well in the heat of a healthy or holy diet, follow the Lent or Ramadan rituals, you may even starve, but you will not escape the News. You can refrain from reading, from listening to any radio, from watching any television channel, but you will not escape the News. For not more than you can escape your neighbors you may escape the news that they carry.
What many types of journalists are living on, may they be of paper, words or images, they will of course transmit it . But society as a whole repeats these messages. And hence the message amplifiers are not just, are not primarily located in the industrial reproduction of texts, words and images, and sounds but in the whole of human society as such. This is precisely where the effectiveness of the thing is rooted. Industrial production of writings, words, images and sounds is nothing if the whole of human society does not endlessly repeat its productions and more accurately - without any exaggeration – repeats them until the level of a collective hallucination is reached. If all the means of production and reproduction of information were transported in a secluded corner of the Sahara, their power would vanish immediately. Nothing is more ridiculous than a radio or television turned on in the middle of a desert. Nothing is more futile than the leaves of a book or of a newspaper being pushed by the wind.
One should also not imagine that the question is reduced to the so-called "News" or "Information". We instinctively distrust that as well, just as we instinctively distrust advertising. Except that we have no choice, because all the truth of the world is in the News, since there never was any other sort of truth. The mass media have long become our sense organs and there remains very little of what we know, that we have developed from direct experience. Moreover, we long have come to disbelieve the truth of what we live and experience by ourselves.
It is hence absolutely dangerous – and in the mean term quite disastrous – that what has now become our sense organs is parasitized by the frequency of events that have nothing to do with anything natural and mostly no longer entertain any verifiable link with the Real. To that, one must add that the choice made ahead of the publication between what is important and what is not, totally escapes our grasp and essentially reflects the imperatives of profitability of the industries responsible for the production of public opinion
Much deeper, it is by means of all human productions, now largely industrial, that the news are spread. The French term of “nouveautés” was widely used in the previous century to describe fashionable products (“les produits à la mode”) and how frivolous and outdated that it may now seem, this reminds us that the French word “mode” (fashion) also means "the way". This "way" illustrates the fact that every object spread its instructions for use around itself, i.e. a piece of lifestyle associated with it. The spreading of objects is inextricably the spreading and the enforcement of behaviors.
And of all these objects, ultimately, we speak. They are building our language. There are now lots of everyday objects that have no native names in a large number of languages in the world. But we must talk about them however, since all usage is essentially collective.
Of course, we are "free". Free not to use a car, the railways, a plane or a ship. Free to use or not, electricity or gas. Free... Except that 99.99% of us use the devices and facilities in question. Free as we all are in the statistical dictatorship, thanks to the power of a daily vote, so unanimous and so massive that even the mind of the maddest Dictator would shudder from it. Free hence, except that industry is the daughter of the rite.
The statistical dictatorship holds us by our thoughts, our words and our actions, by threads much stronger and tenacious than deterministic dictatorships. Because its power ultimately lies in the interference and exploitation of capabilities developed by Life during nearly 4 billion years of evolution. This is also why it may so easily claim to be "natural" and appear as "natural". And that's why despite this "natural" air, we always feel vaguely uneasy, although we never are able to identify the source of this uneasiness.
About the source in question, it must be said that, by a blunder of method, most have been misled. And misled to a degree that should make us shudder. "Science and technology", "techno-science", "the technical system" are the sources of enslavement that are most often finger-pointed at... And as one might expect everyone throws himself with the precision required onto the lures designated to public prosecution. A lot of misleading certainly, but not just any. And as is true in most cases regarding lures, crowds of people watched the moon, instead of looking at the finger-pointing. History should have taught us however, that the point is not burning the witches, but the Church.
It is also fortunate that the sources of statistical dictatorship are - in themselves - neither Science nor Technology, because wherever you turn your eyes, you will fails to discover a group of men who have not established and ensure to transmit and enhance, some sort of common knowledge, and you will not likely encounter any groups of men who would not make use of some kinds of tools. Need I to remind of this example: languages are tools. In fact, not more than it is possible for a man to stop thinking, is it possible for a man not to know, or not to use some kind of tools. His body and brain are made for (and by) technique and language.
The problem as such does not lie in the emergence of new knowledge and new techniques - or else we are cursed and doomed - but within the uncontrolled reproduction of their use.
On the contrary to what Gunther Anders says, not all that can be produced is produced. The cemeteries are full of technical inventions and often perfectly functional but have so far never been selected for an industrial reproduction. Such inventions and processes, do not pollute and do not bother anyone because what does not make big numbers one way or another, does not disturb or pollute much. But few people know what it is. My whole life of work was spent developing software and systems that were generally quite functional, but that have never been reproduced or used. I've never had the feeling of being an exception or even to have been particularly unfortunate. Just as for the ‘Lord's Supper’, as regards results of research and development, many are called but few are chosen.
However, the chosen ones make children. Lots of children. And this process is called the Industry. Who decides who are the chosen ones and that they will make lots of babies? The Lord obviously. Because there is no democratic control over what should or should not reproduce the industry. Since the beginning of the “Age of Enlightenment”, the axiom has been and remains, that what sells can only be good since it sells. Hardly are drugs and weapons considered as immoral exceptions, but rather as virtual exceptions than as actual exceptions. The market, as we know is a permanent voting mechanism where users approve or disapprove products and services at every moment and in all conscience. Force is yet to see that they essentially only approve, and only the products and services that are proposed for their approval. It is clear also that the orientation of their approval is strongly stimulated by advertising (and a few other means less apparent, but not necessarily less effective).
They sometimes complain a bit about the pervasiveness of advertising... Without noting that the volume of resources devoted to direct their free choices is eventually reaching a magnitude quite similar to that of State resources. You will hear them complain about taxes, about the "tax burden", but never about the fact that they pay the cost of competition and advertising. And yet, should it not catch their eyes that what should catch their eyes because it was made to catch their eyes, and which is there, everywhere, so widespread and so pervasive, should end up being somewhat costly? They forget to see this costly detail as they tend to complain about what they are told to complain about.
have now gotten so deeply accustomed to living under statistical
dictatorships, andto be deprived of any power over their lives, that
they expect technicians and Scientists and not themselves
-- as it should normally appear obvious to firm
Democrats -- to make the decisions
concerning the existence or nonexistence of products offered to them
on the market. Products that ultimately will build and make their
world, the world they shall have to live in, for better or
Delegating their powers has become so instinctive for them that they do not even notice that, regarding these matters they never had anything to delegate. Their approval is no longer obtained by any sort of constraint, it has simply become automatic and in many respects, unconscious.