Thursday, 27 June 2013

Regulatory Capture and Assassin's Creed

While another whistleblower story dominates the online and mainstream media spheres, I would like to focus on a larger issue at hand: regulatory capture. Regulatory capture occurs when individuals with clear conflicts of interest are appointed to positions where the role of the position can easily be abused for private gain at the expense of the general public. Now, certain positions' own requirements can often make them innately prone to such capture, such as financial regulation done by former investment bankers.

A certain videogame franchise, Assassin's Creed, focuses on a war between two secret societies, the Assassins and Templars. The Templars attempt to centralize power, and the Assassins try to keep societies open and free. While they have similar methods, such as subversion and (of course) assassination, both factions generally stick to the shadows. Generally, the Templars tend to be prone to abusing their positions, despite lofty rhetoric about bringing peace. When something outside of their control arises (such as a new political entity, economic system, subversive technology, or scientific discovery), the Templars instinctively try to repress it, or failing that, co-opt or hijack it. Thus, the Templars are able to directly use societies' most powerful institutions (governments, corporations, etc.) as their weapons of choice, while the Assassins are limited to the fringes of civilization (although they try to 'make friends' within the status quo when possible). Thus, the Assassins constantly seek out new ideas and tools to break down or subvert the status quo while the Templars try to reinforce it.

There is a neurological and psychological basis for this eternal clash of order and chaos. Some personality types may be authoritarian, and most people subconsciously prefer even a false sense of comfort or reassurance to change (even if the change would be better). Human beings are social animals, and our sense of "us" and "them" shapes our senses of moral and immoral, as well as social and antisocial behavior. By contrast, some intelligent and creative people are not as burdened by the mores they were taught, and are more open to experimentation. (This is one reason that artists and intellectuals tend to be the first to vanish during political purges.)

Likewise, as institutions fail, power becomes increasingly centralized in a few institutions. Those few functional institutions left can easily host opportunistic parasites as regulatory agencies fail. Unlike Assassin's Creed, however, real life does not require an organized conspiracy to conquer the world, but only the continued unraveling of the rule of law. The worst sorts of people rise to the top, like the biggest pieces of stool floating to the top of a clogged toilet. The end result is a positive feedback loop leading to increasing instability. The only feedback to this is criticism and openness, which is anathema to kleptocracies, It will be interesting to see how the show goes. The covert war of real human history has always been a set of elites against historical forces. We shall see how this one plays out.

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