Science Fiction Project - Free Culture
Analog - All editorials - John Wood Campbell
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KEEPERISM

I think that if I were the average Vietnamese, I'd want the Communists to hurry up and win the civil war, and get the Americans out.
North Viet Nam is peaceful, has a stable government, clearly understood operational system, and very little confusion. A simple-minded man there is told what the score is, what he has to do, and how he is to do it, and all he has to do is carry it out, and things work out reasonably adequately.
In South Viet Nam, the same simple-minded man doesn't know which end is up, and it wouldn't do him any good to know, because next week some other end will be up. The Saigon government-as-of-today collects some taxes, then the Viet Cong bushwhacks the government troops, takes over, and collects some taxes. The Viet Cong has been collecting tolls for several months on a major highway between Saigon and one of the important northern cities. Theoretically, the highway belongs to the Saigon government, but they can't hold it and the Viet Cong can.
The Buddhists want the Communists to take over, I suspect, partly because the Communists are strongly against religion in the Catholic sense. In most early-citizen-level cultures - Renaissance Europe for instance - "freedom of religion" means that my religion is free to stamp out any and all rivals. Since Buddhism is closer to being a philosophy than a revealed religion, it's more compliant to Communist doctrine, and would, therefore, be less obnoxious to Communist bureaucrats.
The major trouble, however, hes in the fact that the cultural level of Viet Nam's people is not something Americans understand, and the American political philosophy is about as appropriate to them as snowshoes on a gazelle.
We Americans are sort of sold on the idea of Equality for All, and Every Man His Own Philosopher. It doesn't work any too well, even for us - and we represent a cultural evolution that passed through the feuding-petty-states phase some five hundred years ago (what's happening in southeast Asia today is very similar to what happened in southwest Eurasia - i. e., the European peninsula of Asia - around 1200 to 1600).
In the first place, the Equalitarian doctrine is probably fantasy, a flat contradiction of known reality. Imposing a fantasy on a human population is always cruel; the further removed from reality the fantasy is, the more vicious the cruelty resulting. The Equalitarian philosophy is somewhat like the Greek legend of the Bed of Procrustes. The tale hath it that Procrustes was a barbarian highwayman who, when he captured some traveling merchant, would entertain his captive at dinner - dining on the best of the victim's supplies - and then put him to bed in Procrustes' guest bed. If the captive was a little too short for the bed, he was stretched to fit; if he was too long for the bed, he was sawed off to fit.
Now if a man were a half-inch too short, it wouldn't be comfortable, but it wouldn't be really unendurable; if he were four or five inches too short, the effect would be very different indeed. Of course, being even one inch too long produced an intolerable result.
The fantasy of Equalitarianism insists that the distribution of characteristics in a human population has a distribution curve like this:

It's flatly-contradictory-to-fact, because every test that biologists, sociologists, psychologists, and other life-sciences researchers have made shows that all biological organisms show a distribution curve approaching this:

A population on whom the fantasy-equality curve is forcefully imposed has been strapped into a Procrustean bed, and the short stretched to fit, the long sawed down to size, and to hell with what this does to the victims.
One of the worst aspects of this is that the philosophy that all men are equal has the logical corollary that "Since I am a man, and all men are equal, I know what all men are and want".
And naturally, if some men don't want what you want, that simply means that they should be made to, because that's what's good for them, since it's good for you and all men are equal.
Take a look at that second curve, remember that's the one that objective experiment shows exists in any biological population with respect to any measurable characteristic. This includes measurable psychological characteristics.
To date, we cannot measure many exceedingly important subjective characteristics; therefore it is impossible to prove in any rigorous way that subjective characteristics vary among individuals to the same degree, or in a similar manner. But the weight of evidence strongly suggests that that sort of curve applies equally to such purely subjective phenomena as the capacity for love, the pleasure an individual derives from doing X or avoiding doing Y, et cetera.
Now since only individuals on the higher end of the distribution curve have the talent necessary to achieve effective leadership, effective communication, and effective self-expression against the competition of everyone else trying to get their ideas attended to - the ideas that float around in a culture represent the thinking of only the high end of the distribution curve.
How many morons have made their feelings clearly and effectively understood by the general population? About the best they ever achieve is when some demagogue figures out a way to win the moron vote by promising to fulfill some inarticulate but intense desire of the morons. He does so not because it's good for the morons - it generally isn't, of course - but because the resulting moron vote is good for him.
Now one of the greatest desires of the low end of the distribution curve is a deep yearning for stability and security and freedom from having to solve new problems. Freedom from having to generate opinions, make decisions, and think out solutions to problems. He wants a stable situation, with stable, workable and understandable (i. e., memorizable) answers. The answers don't have to be good; they simply have to be trustworthy.
The deepest cruelty to this type of man is being stretched on the Procrustean rack that forces him to make his own decisions. "These decisions are killing me!" as the old gag puts it.
An example right here in the United States is the question of "Fair Trade" pricing. Basically, this is a state-law backed guarantee that the customer shall always be forced to pay an inflated price for merchandise, said inflated price being required by law so that an efficient merchant cannot sell the goods at a lower profit margin.
That the merchants would be in favor of such a law seems obvious; but why were these "Fair Trade" laws, which assured the consumer that he would be equally gouged by all merchants popular with the consumers? That seems utterly incredible, doesn't it? Yet they were; consumers supported and applauded those laws that assured them that they'd get stuck with the same merchant's profit margin everywhere!
Actually, it wasn't consumer groups that broke down the "Fair Trade" laws - it was merchant groups! The merchants were the ones who worked to have their inflated-profits guarantees removed!
Reason: under "Fair Trade" laws, a man didn't have to shop around, judge quality and judge reliability of the merchant, or take trouble checking to see if he couldn't find a more efficient merchant who could operate on a lower profit margin. He could go into the first store he saw, say "Gimme one of them!", and walk out assured that he wouldn't find his next door neighbor had the same thing that he'd bought ten or twenty dollars cheaper from a more efficient merchant.
It relieved the consumer of the pressure to use judgment and make decisions. It cost him an extra 50% or so - but he was happy to pay that to be relieved of the problem of deciding.
Successful and efficient merchants get that way by having a high ability to make astute decisions, and accurately evaluated judgments. They have the talent in high degree - and they enjoy using it, as any man enjoys doing what he has a special talent for. The successful merchants wanted to be able to use their talent - and wanted, therefore, to get free of the rigid rules of "Fair Trade" pricing.
People are not all equal. You may hold that the man who wants to serve another, have someone else tell him what to do, and when to do it is a vile, slavish, servile, despicable, not-a-real-man type. And so you make a decision for him, and command him to make his own decisions, and not listen to the instructions of wiser men - tell him he must stand up on his own feet, and think for himself. That's what's good for you, isn't it? And all men are equal, so it must be good for him, too, mustn't it? Just because he's a moron who isn't capable of such decisions is no reason why he should be relieved of the responsibility, is it? Make him do it! Lash him with scorn and public rejection and demean him if he tries to find someone he can trust and rely on and be loyal to. You wouldn't like to be that way, so obviously (all men being equal) he shouldn't like it; it isn't good for you, so you know it isn't good for him.
Give him a slogan to be loyal to, instead of a judicious human being. Give him a slogan like "All men are equal!" that he can put his faith in, because slogans are always reliable, they always work.
Our culture descends partly from the Roman and partly from the Jewish; the Christian philosophy is a hybrid of the two. Like most hybrids, it has some of the hybrid vigor resultant from combining good characteristics from both - and some of the weaknesses resultant from including the worst of each.
One of the worst we got straight from the Romans - who were great organizers, and lousy philosophers. That's the curious concept that The Law Is Infallible (the Catholic Church has that as a doctrine, explicitly expressed, in terms of Papal Infallibility in matters of Faith).

A simple, clear, and yet rather subtle example of that doctrine; of Legal Infallibility is the fact that if a man is tried and convicted of a crime, and it is later discovered that it was a case, of mistaken identity - the wrong man was convicted - the Governor of the State signs a pardon! How can you pardon a man for something he didn't do? It's the only thing you can do under the hidden-postulate rule that the Law is Infallible. You can't sign a Certificate of Exoneration; that would mean that the Law had been wrong!
A couple centuries ago, the real Sheriff of Nottingham (not the legendary one of Robin Hood fame!) was hanged for murder, because he had executed a tried and convicted criminal, acting on a death warrant that proved to have been improperly made out. Since he had killed a man without proper warrant, the exact punctilio of the Law (which is infallible, of course) had been violated, so he was guilty of murder, q. e. d. - with all the organized logic of the ancient Romans.
This led to the establishment of the Court of The King's Conscience, or Court of Equity, wherein not Law, but Justice reigns.
In "Merchant of Venice" Antonio is saved from losing a pound of flesh when Portia brings a point of legal punctilio to bear; Shylock can have the flesh only if he can take it without a drop of blood being spilled.
The ancient Jewish tradition - which the Moslem tradition maintained, since it didn't go through the Romanization that Christianity did - holds that the law must never be used to destroy a man - i. e., that the purpose of Law is to achieve Justice, not mere logic.
The concept of "A government of Laws, not of Men" is a Christian concept - and means "I want to be ruled by a computer, not by men".
The Jewish-Moslem tradition would never have hung the Sheriff of Nottingham - and if Shylock had been a merchant of Constantinople, instead of Venice, he'd have collected his pound of flesh. Under the Moslem tradition, Antonio would have been guilty of trying to welch on a bet he'd made, simply because he found he was about to lose it.
One result of the Christian doctrine of the Infallibility of the Law is that we have to have a trick correcting device we call "Mercy". Mercy's function is like that of the Governor's "pardon" for a man proven innocent - to allow a degree of Justice to be achieved when the Law, in strict application, would be irrational.
A recent case, for example: a man was married, and had several children - and one day, disappeared. A decade later he was discovered in another city, married to another woman, established in another business.
Now here is a clear case of bigamy. The Law prescribes penalties for bigamy.
But in this case it was clearly demonstrated that the man had had an accident, and suffered total amnesia; psychiatric examination established that he had no memory whatsoever of his previous life.
This is no problem under the Jewish-Moslem tradition; justice is readily apparent.
Under our rigid Infallible Law doctrine, justice can be achieved only through "pardon" by application of mercy.
Mercy is, in very large measure, a rationalization device by which we achieve a necessary result without admitting the unpleasant truth - that the Law can, indeed, be an ass.

By a simple extension of this principle, not only is Law infallible, but philosophical doctrines, and slogans are endowed with the same mantle of Infallibility. Thus Democracy is Always The Right Answer. And Equality For All Men must be applied everywhere, however many people it ruins.
And Americans go into Southeast Asia, with those very alien cultural concepts driving them and the American people at home demanding that American statesmen apply those Eternal And Infallible Truths. And Southeast Asia has philosophical concepts, and problems, that Americans don't appreciate, and know must be wrong, because Americans know the Great Truths.
The term "imperialists" that is so freely applied to Americans by the non-European section of the world is completely false. We aren't; we know it, and the Europeans - who share our cultural traditions - know it.
It's not imperialism - it's a fantastic arrogance! We accept the doctrine of "I am my brother's keeper" and try to live up to it. Only - which the Thoughtless Liberal slogan-quoters overlook! - a "keeper" is someone who cares for and directs and controls someone who is incompetent or irresponsible, for that person's own good as the keeper sees it.
Works fine, to the great advantage of all, if the keeper is right. But it turns into a cruel Procrustean Bed if the keeper happens to be wrong.
Remember that Torquemada, the Spanish Inquisitioner, tortured and dismembered heretics in a great effort to make those poor sinners see their mistake, and confess their sins and shrive their souls. Because he knew that it was far, far more important to prepare for the eternal life to come than to be comfortable and healthy in this life. He was his brother's keeper, striving to rescue those incompetent and irresponsible souls from the danger of eternal damnation.
Procrustes was at least aware that he wasn't helping his victims! His arrogance was as nothing to that of Torquemada.
We Americans are arrogant in Southeast Asia. Our governmental concepts are completely inapplicable; our ideas of what's good for people apply only to people at a particular stage of cultural evolution - ours. What's good for a twenty-year-old genius isn't good for a twenty-year-old moron, and vice versa. What's good for a normal ten year old is a cruel imposition on a normal twenty-year-old. People - and cultures - are not equal. They shouldn't be; to think they should, or are, is to believe in an absolute fantasy - a fantasy any living-sciences student can prove completely. The distribution curve applies to all biological systems - and a culture is a biological system, whether it's in a Petri dish or a nation.
South Viet Nam quite obviously needs not a civilian democracy - which we arrogant Americans have sought to compel. The coups and countercoups would be utterly ridiculous - if they weren't tragic.
Our efforts in the Congo have been accused of "imperialism" and know that charge to be false. What we've missed is that the correct charge is "arrogance" and, perhaps, "Procrusteanism". Or maybe we should call it "Keeperism". "For Their Own Good!" is a vicious concept, when it means stretching the victim to fit a bed that fits us so comfortably.
What would we do if we should land on some alien planet, and find the local native race practices polygamy? Overlook the relevant fact that this race happens to have a two-to-one female-to-male birth ratio, and impose on them the Good Way of monogamy? How shall we do it - kill off half the girl babies at birth, so the birth ratio becomes the Right One? How will our local administrators handle this problem - and satisfy the Folks Back Home who Know What's Right because they've grown up with Infallible Laws? Will those Folks Back Home allow the administrators to maintain that awful-hideous-immoral system of polygamy?
It's a lot easier to see the problems when we transplant them to a visibly-alien environment - but they're fundamentally the problems we're faced with on Earth.
Why is North Viet Nam so much less turbulent than South Viet Nam? "Well of course! They've got a tyrannical military dictatorship of oppressive Communists holding them in suppression!".
Oh? That there's a military dictatorship of Communists is unquestionably true. But as I say - if I were an average Vietnamese, I'd prefer that "suppression" to the tragic-opera coup and countercoup that the South Vietnamese have to try to live with.
Indo-China, under the French, was reasonably integrated and peaceful - because the French supplied the military dictatorship force to keep it that way. It fit the Vietnamese about the way a French sabot - the wooden shoe - would fit the barefoot peasants. But it did provide something stable and organized.
Remember that American consumers wanted "Fair Trade" laws that guaranteed the merchants would have to gouge them for inflated profits - because they wanted organization that freed them from having to make decisions and work out problems. That American workmen want unions, that take care of their problems, even when those unions are run by crooks who gouge them and steal half the union funds.
Under such a system, the people involved know who's gouging them, and the gougers give them, at least, some stability in return for a tolerable gouge.
Under our idealistic system that we've been imposing on South, Viet Nam, we've given them a guarantee of no stability, and imposed on them a you-have-to-make-decisions plan.
And, very simply, they don't want it.
Incidentally, it's of interest that the ex-French colonies - and ex-Belgian, who have a very closely allied philosophy - around the world have shown a vastly greater degree of explosive turmoil, when returned to their own devices, than have the ex-British colonies.
It's interesting then to compare the British tradition of domestic self-discipline, of individual responsibility, with French traditions - as manifested, for example, in the Frenchman's approach to taxes. The French government gave up trying to get Frenchmen to be even remotely honest in reporting taxes, and uses a system whereby the tax collector bases the income tax assessed against an individual on the outward manifestations of income. His income tax is based on an estimate of the value of his house, what kind of car(s) he drives, servants employed, his wardrobe, et cetera. What the tax-collector misses on misers, they make up on spendthrifts.
The British have a deeply implanted tradition of individual personal responsibility and law-abiding behavior.
Darned if it doesn't look like they succeeded in transplanting at least some of that in their colonies!
Viet Nam, being an ex-French colony, has a rather low index of respect for the central government and the honesty of bureaucracy - because the citizen considers it his right and sensible duty to cheat where he can. Naturally, he expects the same from the bureaucrat. If caught, he will, of course, pay up graciously; after all, it's the way the game is played.
On top of this is a layer of Communist indoctrination.
Under it is five thousand years of oriental-style feudalism, with virulent local-nationalism.
And we Know The Right Answers for these people?
All evidence indicates that what's needed is a strongly centralized military dictatorship, with a powerful and stable bureaucracy that is rigidly honest (enforced by death penalties, not slaps on the wrist and fines). You don't get that sort of rigid honesty, with enforcement that means enforcement, without a military system. A civilian system won't do it - and the Vietnamese won't have any trust-respect for a civilian system (they had one for years; they know about those).
It also requires a powerful, oppressive military dictatorship to make the Montagnards co-operate with the lowland farmers, and the demeaned and rejected fishermen, and the city people. The city-people don't respect those backwoodsmen, or the peasants-on-the-farms, or the smelly fishermen. The fisherman has no trust or respect for the landlubbers of any stripe. And, of course, the peasants know that all non-farmers are out to cheat him of his land, his produce, and his freedom.
These people aren't Americans, with American traditions and experiences. They're an alien people, with alien traditions - alien even to each other! - and a lifetime of experiences of a very different kind.
Democracy in Viet Nam? Don't be so stupid! In a culture-conglomerate wherein every group knows that there are only two possible situations - either you are Exploited or you are powerful and are an Exploiter? That's not Communist indoctrination - it's their life experience! Democracy? That means, to them, that the gang that gets the most votes has a right to destroy their rivals.
Remember the exact and literal interpretation of Democracy says it's "Rule by the majority". OK - and the Nazi majority in Germany passed laws that made killing Jews legal. That's Democracy in Action, but - and don't forget it! You may forget it, and it may not be what you mean by Democracy in Action - but take a wide-open-eye-and-mind look at the Emerging Nations and how they practice Democracy in Action. Particularly the ex-French colonies, with a lower index of individual responsibility. Isn't that definition of Democracy In Action precisely what they've tended to try to put into action?
If you were an average Vietnamese, which would you prefer? Democracy In Action or Communism?
Sure, there are hundreds of alternative choices besides those two. But remember - if you were an average Vietnamese, you wouldn't know about those; those two you've had experience with.
The problem isn't American Imperialism.
But the problem of American Keeperism is very real. We know all the answers, we do. That's why we have no troubles of our own at home, and so can tell everybody else how they should be running their affairs. Even if those other people are very widely different from ourselves, because we know they aren't since All Men Are Equal.

July 1965

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