Sunday, January 24, 2010

Democracy was a nice idea

It seems I need to preface these comments by saying something about why I think democracy has mostly worked pretty well. It keeps coming back to my basic projection of my love of freedom. I like to make my own choices and control my own destiny, and democracy is the system that makes that possible for more people. Amusingly enough, I don't think it's the highest percentage of people, but the largest absolute numbers of people. As you go backwards in time, when you arrive at a primitive hunter-gatherer society, then you can argue that everyone has absolute freedom--but none of the other comforts of civilization. However in terms of the old utilitarian approach, civilization creates a lot of happiness for a lot of people. I think the costs (such as governments and taxes) are worth the benefits (such as larger populations with more interesting and longer lives), but you can argue that is just my personal bias. As it applies to democracy, if it's actually working, then everyone should feel like they have a stake in the pie, even if their own preferred leaders didn't win the latest election.

However, that isn't how it's working out in America these days. I would say that democracy is being destroyed from two directions, and we had sterling examples of both attacks in this last week, one in the special senatorial election in Massachusetts and one at the SCOTUS in Washington, D.C.

The first attack is the transient rise of populist stupidity. You don't have to fool all of the people all of the time to persuade them to vote against their own best interests and against the best interests of their nation. That's the bow to Lincoln's 'all of the people' (though there's some doubt he actually said it). You don't even need to fool 51% just on Election Day, per 'most of the people'. It's even worse than that. There are large blocs of voters who are known to vote in certain ways, so all you need is to fool enough people to reach 50% + 1 voter on Election Day, which is a rather small chunk of 'some of the people'. Maybe the real cause of the stunning neo-GOP victory wasn't stupidity and very short memories. In that case it would appear to be pure vicious selfishness. Take your pick, but it's pretty hard to see as a victory for the wisdom of crowds. What this election apparently proves is that the voters have already forgotten how the neo-GOP ran the country into ditch, and now the neo-GOP can prevent anyone from fixing the mess they created. (As a political party, the existing neo-GOP is most like Lenin's Bolshevik's and nothing like the GOP of Teddy Roosevelt or the progressive Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln--but now the neo-GOP party is joining the Teabaggers, who most closely resemble the Russian anarchists who gave the czars so much trouble. Pretty hard to find anyone who would claim that either of those groups made any constructive contributions to Russian history...)

The other prong of the attack is the amazing SCOTUS ruling that allows corporations to donate as much as they want to any political campaign. Perhaps it's kind of inconsistent, since I actually regard money as a pretty pure motivation--but that's only true when all the parties to the transactions know everything that's going on. Absolutely safe to say that this is not the situation as regards politics, even in the relatively open American system. Of course Exxon is going to say they donated $50 million out of love, and it was purely coincidental that 6 months later the politician in question decided to kneecap and eliminate all of those pesky alternative energy projects. If hypocrisy was a fatal condition, Obama would get to nominate five new Justices, because those five would have exploded their own heads. Or maybe they don't know that the strong from of the claim of corporate personhood was actually a mistake, basically an opinion inserted into the official record as the SCOTUS deliberately evaded the issue.

Anyway, I did feel that democracy contributed a lot to the success of the United States over the years, though I don't feel it was the only factor. I'm actually inclined to think the main factor was the infusion of pure wealth from the real estate that was simply taken without any value-related payment as the native Americans were exterminated. Probably be a few centuries before historians and economists reach any kind of consensus on these topics, and as of this writing, I'm absolutely convinced that the United States won't last that long. I feel like the country has been racing towards a cliff, and the leading fools are squabbling over who's holding the steering wheel without even thinking about the lead foot on the gas pedal.

President Obama is about to make his state of the union speech. Every president says the state of the union is "strong". That's become pretty meaningless, because the strengths that exist are being overwhelmed by weaknesses that no one wants to face honestly. If he wants to be honest, I think he has to say that the state of the union is "insane, and quite possibly incurably insane."

The traditional Chinese system is an authoritarian kleptocracy with a merit-based bureacracy, and they just change the name of the ruling dynasty from time to time. Right now its the so-called communists, but things in China haven't really changed that much if you look at the big sweep of history. The Chinese view has always been that China is the center of civilization. It's just that they have a few bad centuries from time to time--and think they are just getting back to normal after one of those 'little' slumps. It troubles me to think that I may well live to see the contest decided, and the overwhelming evidence seems to be that China is smarter and tougher at playing these big games.

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As a blogger from before there were blogs, I've concluded what I write is of little interest to the reading public. My current approach is to treat these blogs as notes, with the maturity indicated by the version number. If reader comments show interest, I will probably add some flesh to the skeletons...