Civilization is at the crossroads facing a great test. Technology is pushing us into areas where mankind has never gone before. Old social and governmental structures are slowly ossifying and crumbling. The rules are not only changing, the entire game is different.
People are beginning to figure out something is changing, but they seem completely incapable of figuring out what exactly is broken or how to fix it. In places like Libya and Egypt they are actually having a shot at changing the whole shebang. I imagine such change may come to the rest of us, and soon.
Change is mostly good, but without a theme of design, an idea of why things work the way they do, people will be unable to figure out how to make the future work. They just make the same old lame mistakes over and over again. When you look at a 300-year-old institution, you may see something broken and in need of replacement, but there are also really good reasons why it lasted 300 years. Too often we get people wanting to tear it all down — which very well may be required — without having any idea of how to replace it except for maybe something they saw on TV or heard a politician say once.
Computer systems architecture, organizational architecture, and studying history has taught that the reasons why something works is more important than the thing itself. But we live in a world where people are excellent at being upset while failing miserably at being very good at all at describing why exactly things are the way they are. Any good lawyer could argue any point one way or the other and the average listener wouldn’t be able to create much of a counter-argument at all — except for maybe providing emotion-laden, poll-tested talking points by way of rebuttal. The cable news channels are full of talking heads doing just this.
Here’s a list of a dozen or so principles that I would want most people to know going forward.
- Being wrong is the most important thing a government can do. Elections and the regular change of power allows governments to be wrong and adapt.
- More control and government should happen locally, less far away. If you want gun control, social health plans, and all sorts of other great ideas for improving our life, you should be able to do that at the local level. People who disagree can move to another town if they don’t like it. The structure of what happens where is critical. We need to separate what problem we want to fix from where the best place to fix it is. The structure question is much more important than the policy question.
- Being able to speak freely and persuade others is the critical part of recognizing failure and moving forward. It is especially important when people say hateful, angry, ignorant, bigoted, or ill-advised things. Nothing should interfere with free speech and the free flow of ideas
- Computers are an extension of people’s minds, not devices like a record player, typewriter, or printing press. Intrusion into somebody’s processing and data should be treated the same as intruding into their thoughts. It shouldn’t be done.
- Nothing should interfere with people being able to assemble in public or online to organize political parties or ask for redress of their grievances
- You can’t form a governmental system based on certain people being better than other people. If everybody is wrong and making a unscientific or stupid decision, it’s better than making the right one that most people hate. Consent of the governed is more important than most anything else.
- Pure Democracy is a bad thing. A little bit of aristocracy can go a long ways. We need the old Senate back where cranky old white guys (or cranky people of all demographics) appointed by their states sat around thinking about and protecting the structure of the system, not getting re-elected. The Senate should not be set up to be a place for political pandering
- Representative democracy, where (in the States) you elect somebody to go make decisions for you, should involve somebody who physically lives near you, who only works part time making decisions, who is not representing too many people (100K seems about right), and who doesn’t have a job for life.
- Small, distributed, self-optimizing systems always win over centralized control. Always.
- The system should be designed for corrupt politicians. Everybody should be assumed to be crooked and out for themselves and to hold and grow power
- You can’t form a governmental system based on altruism. It has to be based on people acting in their own interests
- Politicians should not be able to make decisions today that require my kids to pay money for them 30 years from now. If my kids aren’t represented, they shouldn’t be able to be taxed
- The president’s term should be extended and he should be allowed only one term. That way he won’t spend all of his time running for re-election.
- Decisions today often look stupid tomorrow, but nothing can be done about them. All laws should have an expiration date. That way each generation can be directly asked which things it wants to continue and which things it wants to change or discontinue.
- Citizens must feel part of a larger whole. Some kind of mandatory national service should be established where every young person must serve two years after leaving high school. This is good for the young people, for the country, and for the future of the system
- [ADD] There is one more principle that deserves mentioning. There are three things it takes to be a absolute monarch: the ability to make laws, the ability to interpret laws, and the power to execute laws. In the U.S., these powers are deliberately put into separate hands. Some kind of wall — or checks and balances — is required with these three things. Solutions may vary.
Of course, you can (and probably should) add the rest of the Bill of Rights in there. This list was just to underscore those parts we seem to have lost.
I’m not saying that all governments should copy the U.S. Constitution. Far from it. I’m saying that there are underlying principles — being wrong, having representative democracy, having an aristocracy, regularly changing power, and so on — that support any kind of underlying system. These are not American ideas or any of that. These are things observed in the natural state of man. We look back on history and see when they worked and when countries failed because they were ignored. From a core set of principles you can architect millions of possible governmental systems. But without principles, it’s like watching a monkey try to solve a math problem. There’s no sense of context and direction.
Back in the 1700s, smart people looked around through two thousand years of history and tried to draw lessons and extract forth principles that would work under any circumstances. They thought they were building a new science.
It didn’t work out as they had planned, mainly because once political parties were formed each party took this new “science” into directions of it’s own, making it say whatever pleased them.
Nowadays most people don’t know history, couldn’t name a dozen governments that rose and fell and the possible reasons why. They are unable to describe in detail how their own governmental system works, even though they know it doesn’t. At the same time technology is making possible things like controlling robots with your mind, fathering children years after you die, instantly and constantly collaborating with people all over the globe, and changing what it means to be human (or even what it means to be sentient).
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