Defining Bioleninism

November 10, 2018

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Setting out to defend the theory of Bioleninism, I found that we do not have a really precise definition. Spandrell set out the concept and discussion followed between those who “got it”. That means that they at least believed they had identified the essential features from the general description.

In order to broaden the discussion of the concept beyond those who immediately siezed on it, it is necessary to spell out exactly what the essential features are.

My proposed definition

  • Bioleninism describes the practices of an organisation
  • Members are preferentially selected for positions of power if they are members of social subgroups which have natural disadvantages
  • The preferential selection is overt, not covert
  • The members who are selected for positions of power on this basis are more reliably loyal to the organisation in its existing form than would be the case if they were selected purely on the basis of ability, because they would not expect to achieve similar status if the organisation were to be replaced or reformed.

The last point is Spandrell’s novel insight of a year ago. Surely an organisation that systematically selected the less able would suffer as a result and fail? The idea is that the extra loyalty that those selected have will compensate the organisation for their lesser effectiveness.

That eerily echoes an argument I put forward in 2012 as a defence of hereditary aristocracy:

The reason for the important people having hereditary peerages is that, when it comes to any kind of power, loyalty is more important than exceptional ability. That’s not to say that incompetence is OK, but if your system of government depends on having people of exceptional ability, then it’s broken. Instead take the most competent people from the pool of those brought up to privilege and loyalty, and if they’re not good enough to, say, run a car company, the solution is not to have a government car company. The Victorian meritocratic civil service was exceptionally effective, but it was a step down the wrong road. The motto of the civil service should be “Good Enough for Government Work” (what’s that in Latin?)

Is aristocratic government then bioleninist? That depends on the part of my proposed definition which remains vague: the “social subgroups which have natural disadvantages”. I left that vague because it has been vague, or treated inconsistently, in the discussions since November 2017. We won’t have a precise definition of bioleninism until we can pin down the concept of “naturally disadvantaged subgroups” more coherently.

Spandrell started out by describing what made the 20th Century communist regimes internally strong:
When Communism took over Russia and China, those were still very poor, semi-traditional societies. Plenty of semi-starved peasants around. So you could run a Leninist party just on class resentments. “Never forget class-struggle”, Mao liked to say. “Never forget you used to be a serf and you’re not one now thanks to me”, he meant.

In this arrangement, the peasant’s low status is not a natural thing, it is merely a social convention. But because it is such a widespread and long-standing social convention, the peasant can reasonably expect it to return if the regime falls. Therefore loyalty.

Bioleninism, in contrast, occurs in societies where the established norm is meritocracy:
If you live in a free society, and your status is determined by your natural performance; then it follows that to build a cohesive Leninist ruling class you need to recruit those who have natural low-status.

The term “Biological Leninism” implies that “natural low status” means actual biological disadvantage, such as womens’ lesser physical strength or some ethnic groups’ lower average intelligence. But there is also mention of “naturally repulsive” groups. Are transexuals really “naturally repulsive”, or is that a social convention? I’m not sure. This seems to be the blurry edge of the definition.

So, let me restate my definition with five points rather than four

  1. Bioleninism describes the practices of an organisation
  2. It depends on a cultural presumption that high ability is a natural qualification for positions of power
  3. Members are preferentially selected for positions of power if they are members of disadvantaged social subgroups, which by (2) means groups of lower average ability
  4. The preferential selection is overt, not covert
  5. The members who are selected for positions of power on this basis are more reliably loyal to the organisation in its existing form than would be the case if they were selected purely on the basis of ability, because they would not expect to achieve similar status if the organisation were to be replaced or reformed.

So that takes out feudalism as a bioleninist system, and concentrates it on the modern era where some concept of equality is culturally established. I think that makes it a more useful classification.