The Art of Sham Elections
Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Silver Professor of Politics at New York University. He is an expert on international conflict, foreign policy formation, and nation building. His current research focuses on the links between political institutions, economic growth, and political change. He is also investigating the causes and consequences of international conflict as well as national security policy forecasting and analysis.
Using a proprietary mathematical formula that takes into account the self-interests of and alliances among actors in key business and political questions (i.e. whether Iran will build nuclear weapons), de Mesquita predicts the future for businesses and organizations such as the CIA.
His most recent books include The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics (PublicAffairs, 2011) and The Predictioneer's Game: Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future (Random House, Inc., 2009)Additionally, he has authored more than one hundred articles and fourteen books on politics, as well as one published novel, The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge (Ohio State University Press, 2001).
Machiavelli was a very smart guy who, by the way, wrote The Prince in the hope of attracting employment. He failed to get the job. He was a little too nice, not quite tough enough.
So most people who are familiar with Machiavelli are familiar with the views he expressed in The Prince. Not so many people seem to have read his discourses where he thought that the best form of government is a more republican form of government, that is a democracy in our modern terms, and while I certainly agree that from the perspective of the folks on the street it’s far and away the best form of government, from the perspective of a leader, somebody who wants to hold onto power, it’s the worst form of government because it puts you at the greatest risk of losing power. So in The Dictator’s Handbook we go well beyond Machiavelli’s understanding to layout precisely what leads you to hold onto power and precisely what ties the hands of a democrat in trying to do the things that dictators also do.
Let’s start with what the five rules of politics are. First, you want to depend on as few people as possible to keep you in power. I'm going to come back to that because it ties very closely to the second.
Second, you want the pool of people you could call upon to fill the role of that small group, that pool, to be as large as possible. That way, the folks who are in the small group that keep you in power know that if they are wayward, if they begin to back somebody else or they’re not willing to do the things that you the leader ask them to do they know they’re easily replaced. Often, especially journalists make the mistake of looking at rigged election systems, such as Lennon introduced in the Soviet Union, and mistakenly believing that somehow because there are elections this confers legitimacy. That is a very silly idea because, after all, everybody already knows the outcome of the election before it happens, so how could it be legitimate? The function of having universal suffrage in a rigged system is exactly to signal the folks in the inner circle, the people you’re rewarding, that hey, you are easily replaced, you better do what I want.
Third rule, so you’ve got as small a group as possible drawn from as big a pool as possible. You want to tax the people as highly as you can because you want revenue to enrich yourself and to bribe your cronies. Taxing the people as highly as you can, there are two constraints. You don’t want to tax so much that people prefer taking siestas to doing work because the objective of the tax, of course, is to generate money for you. If the people aren’t working then they’re not going to generate money for the leader. And second, you don’t want to tax to the point that people calculate that you know things are so bad I might as well revolt, I can’t be worse off. So you want to tax as much as possible as long as people keep working and don’t revolt.
You want to distribute the minimum amount of that revenue that you can get away with to keep your coalition loyal to you, not deciding to back somebody else. And the reason you want to give them as little as you can, subject to the constraint that they not join somebody else, is you want as much of the money left over for your own discretion as possible.
And with the money that you need to use to keep your coalition loyal you don’t want to be spending that money instead on benefiting the people because the people don’t keep you in office.
Young people could even end up less anxiety-ridden, thanks to newfound confidence
- The coronavirus pandemic may have a silver lining: It shows how insanely resourceful kids really are.
- Let Grow, a non-profit promoting independence as a critical part of childhood, ran an "Independence Challenge" essay contest for kids. Here are a few of the amazing essays that came in.
- Download Let Grow's free Independence Kit with ideas for kids.
New research establishes an unexpected connection.
- A study provides further confirmation that a prolonged lack of sleep can result in early mortality.
- Surprisingly, the direct cause seems to be a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species in the gut produced by sleeplessness.
- When the buildup is neutralized, a normal lifespan is restored.
We don't have to tell you what it feels like when you don't get enough sleep. A night or two of that can be miserable; long-term sleeplessness is out-and-out debilitating. Though we know from personal experience that we need sleep — our cognitive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune functioning depend on it — a lack of it does more than just make you feel like you want to die. It can actually kill you, according to study of rats published in 1989. But why?
A new study answers that question, and in an unexpected way. It appears that the sleeplessness/death connection has nothing to do with the brain or nervous system as many have assumed — it happens in your gut. Equally amazing, the study's authors were able to reverse the ill effects with antioxidants.
The study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is published in the journal Cell.
An unexpected culprit
The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.
What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.
"We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.
"Even more surprising," Rogulja recalls, "we found that premature death could be prevented. Each morning, we would all gather around to look at the flies, with disbelief to be honest. What we saw is that every time we could neutralize ROS in the gut, we could rescue the flies." Fruit flies given any of 11 antioxidant compounds — including melatonin, lipoic acid and NAD — that neutralize ROS buildups remained active and lived a normal length of time in spite of sleep deprivation. (The researchers note that these antioxidants did not extend the lifespans of non-sleep deprived control subjects.)
Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think
The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.
You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.
For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.
Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.
The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.
However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."
The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.
As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.
The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."
The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.
"We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.
Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."
We must rethink the "chemical imbalance" theory of mental health.
- A new review found that withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants and antipsychotics can last for over a year.
- Side effects from SSRIs, SNRIs, and antipsychotics last longer than benzodiazepines like Valium or Prozac.
- The global antidepressant market is expected to reach $28.6 billion this year.
Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?
Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways.
Or is doubt a self-fulfilling prophecy?