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Palladium Archive: Reform Is Driven by Rising Elites
The most powerful members of our society work in predictable ways. So do those who join them.
In our society, elite coordination is often intentionally obscured. Private conferences like the Bilderberg Group provide avenues for frank discussion free of the ideological performances that need to be made in public.
Samo Burja’s 2020 article on rising elites and their relationship to existing ones explains how elite coordination works and how reformists join their ranks. It begins by examining how elites communicate with the public:
Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, makes a good example of an elite whose power derived primarily from a formal position within a strategically relevant institution. While in office, Greenspan regularly made media statements that affected the economy by influencing market confidence, a tactic known as strategic communication management. This power was greatly enhanced by the fact that he had economists on speed dial to help select the right talking points. He also had direct access to government officials and top business leaders, and so could influence them personally and directly. And all that’s not even counting the direct political power over economic policy that he possessed.
But Greenspan’s public influence cannot be taken at face value. He has admitted that his remarks to reporters were sometimes intentionally nonsensical; his press conferences were mere efforts to look accountable, without any intention to impart real information. This illustrates a distinction between the formal reality, and the actual reality. The formal reality is that the Fed chairman is holding a press conference to inform you about the state of the economy. Acting under this assumption, journalists will disseminate his remarks whether or not they personally believe him to be speaking in good faith. The actual reality is one where the press conference has to be held as a matter of course, but where accurate information on the state of the economy couldn’t be shared while retaining the position.
This is characteristic of modern Western elites, selected for their ability to advance a narrative, or, at the very least, obscure challenges to it. What looks like idiocy or confusion can often be tactical, especially in a “transparent” and televisual era where something has to be said. Donald Trump’s weaponized distraction is now well-known; but while his style is unique, the chaos that results is not. Nancy Pelosi is known for being intentionally confusing in remarks to the press, obscuring her next move. When dealing with the statements and actions of elites, one must be careful not to automatically take them at face value. The ability to get away with making seemingly “bad” decisions is often an indicator of power, as one might hypothesize in the cases of Donald Trump, Kanye West, or a multitude of other celebrities.
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In the public sphere, then, it can be assumed that things are not always as they seem. But if that is not an avenue for real debate and decision-making, what actually is? The answer would be the within the loose, semi-permeable networks that elites exist and overlap in. Access is gained through the public demonstration of usefulness:
How does a rising elite gain access to begin with? The role of elite universities and other elite institutions in networking and ladder-climbing is well-known, but a simpler way is to directly exchange knowledge. This could come from requesting advice, if done in the correct way. Benjamin Franklin, an archetypal example of a rising elite in colonial America, described how asking a rival in the Pennsylvania state legislature to lend him a rare book proved to be a good way to end their rivalry. Why should granting someone a favor increase your regard for them? More even than receiving a favor from them! Such a seemingly irrational outcome has been termed the “Ben Franklin Effect” by contemporary psychologists. Rather than assuming irrationality, I find an alternative explanation more convincing, the giver of the favor is examining what you might achieve with it. Favors are overtures towards partnership that require follow-up on the part of the rising elite. Were the receiver of the favor not as driven Ben Franklin, I doubt it would have had the effect in question.
A different approach is to make information that elites will find useful public, then hoping they see it. This can be especially valuable in niche areas, where there is, by definition, less competition. It also involves an element of generosity and a lack of clear short-term benefit. Elites are used to being approached by people who want something or allegedly have good advice, and they’re used to getting out of such conversations, so gestures of goodwill and trust like this give them a reason to keep listening. For example, in intellectual fields, the communication and data made available by the Internet allow for elites to find capable collaborators outside of traditional institutions. Extensive research can now be done from anywhere, not only by people with access to archives and databases at universities and libraries. This transformation of the information ecology has led some elites to try new approaches, and this may intensify in coming years.
Traditional institutions and elites are rejuvenated by those that learn the rules of the game and demonstrate their worth.
Here’s what’s been on the front page lately:
PALLADIUM 08: Scientific Authority. As science has become more powerful, political forces have fed back to distort the scientific process itself. PALLADIUM 08: Scientific Authority is now available, featuring exclusive interviews and custom artwork.
The Institutions of Science With Lord Martin Rees. Lord Martin Rees is an astrophysicist and the current Astronomer Royal. He reflects on how science can serve society and the obstacles for those who want to follow in his footsteps.
Are Farm Antibiotics Destroying Our Health? by David Oks. When one cattle rancher’s organic herd started dying, he uncovered how antibiotics are making cows sick and obese—and they may be doing the same to us.
Political Academia With Stephen Hsu. Researching the frontiers of genomics, modeling uncertainty, and managing a university have taught Professor Steve Hsu that scientific questions aren't the only kind that scientists have to answer.
On the State of the Art With Laibach. The enigmatic Slovenian music group speaks with Samo Burja about the Apocalypse, artificial intelligence, and why Europe is still under occupation.
That’s all for now.