Watching the election results roll in from across the pond the other evening I saw a funny tweet that read:
“The problem with government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is the people”.
The thing with a joke like that is, that it is funny at first glance but is also profound. Those are the best jokes in my opinion, ones that make you think. I shared this tweet with a friend that lives on the other side of the world; one of the newest of new worlds discovered down under. The theme of new worlds and new systems will become clearer as we move further along in the post. My friend of course picked up on the profundity side of that joke and we got on one of our lengthy text based conversations. He suggested (as he has several times in the past) some “mechanical tweaks”, as he calls them, to make the current system more balanced and equitable. And to be clear, the tweaks he has suggested in the past are not the usual uninformed ones that inherently eat away or otherwise undermine one of the major promises of democracy: that of universal suffrage and right to choose one’s own government regardless of any other qualifications one may or may not possess. His ideas are not ones such as placing college degree requirements to run for office or a minimum score on a test before being allowed to cast a vote. Such ideas seriously undermine democracy’s primary founding principles in my opinion, as I stated earlier. His tweaks are more well thought out and usually beyond my intellectual ability to comprehend.
There are several pundits who believe the original Brexit referendum in June 2016 was a gauge of the popular sentiment among voters and was thus a harbinger of Trump 2016 later that year this side of the Atlantic. If that is the case then the thumping the Labor Party received paints a grim picture for those wanting Trump to be a one term president. That is, to the extent that anyone can extrapolate such a result over here, because any such projection based on anecdotal evidence such as this is inherently fraught with the inconsistencies and unreliability that almost always accompanies such a methodology. As the great chess grand master turned crusader against communism and socialism, Garry Kasparov tweeted:
“I hope the Democrats hear the message from the UK this time. Avoiding the biggest issue with wild promises of controversial changes when people want sanity & stability is the way to get four more years of Trump.”
The apparent lesson here being that the Democrats would do well to nominate someone more to the center left like Mayor Pete, Joe Biden or a long shot Amy Klobuchar of MN rather than far left Warren. Lifelong Labor voters bit the bullet and voted Tory in this election because the dislike of Jeremy Corbyn far outweighed the dislike of the assclown Boris Johnson. Corbyn who wanted to go full on commie socialist with a 50% tax rate, abolish all private schools and nationalize most services, among other things. Ironically the SNP did very well in the elections and Scottish Independence is now a very real possibility. Ironic because a party receiving an overwhelming majority, a party that champions the “One-Nation Conservatism” of Benjamin Disraeli, which over the years has been interpreted to mean “uniting the kingdom” will result in breaking up of said kingdom. As Garry Kasparov also tweeted, in a lighter vein:
“It looks like a crushing defeat for Corbyn, but now with Brexit all but guaranteed, perhaps the old communist is finally fulfilling the Comintern’s mandate to bring down the British empire!”
All this has me thinking, if the choice were between say Trump and Warren come November 2020, whether staying home is not an option on Election Day. So in my case I am stuck for my choice of president between an assclown and a socialist so far out to the left that she does not appeal to me, desirable as her other qualities may be.
What does all this have to going back to first principles you ask? It does because we are, apparently, living in arguably the greatest nation on the earth, that devised the best form of self governance yet known to man, stuck in a figurative place where sentient people who at one point would have considered themselves #NeverTrump-ers are beginning to wonder whether DJT is all that bad, given the other choice. Returning to the text conversation with my friend, quoting him regarding what he calls “mechanical tweaks” to make the current system more fair and equitable:
The mechanics of democracy need tweaking, with speed-breakers and a binary choice….a winnowing process that presents two final choices to select….clarifies the issues somewhat. In [I]ndia, probably a 50% vote requirements and “none of the above” as one of the many candidates before the winnowing process.
Will be a 10-30% improvement I think, for the rest….People will be people.
In an effort to go back and try to understand first principles, as they pertain to the founding of America led me to reading, among other works, the famous “pamphlet wars” of the late eighteenth century between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. Plus any reading of the founding of America is incomplete without reading Rights of Man and Common Sense by Thomas Paine. Reading the founding papers gave me a good sense of what people setting out to create a brand new system had to contend with. More importantly it gave me an idea of the constraints and the baggage from our Homo Sapiens species; baggage going as far back as 300,000 years. The founders set out to create a republic founded on the “principle that all men are created equal”. But they had to contend with and accommodate the baggage from the transatlantic slave trade that clearly contradicted this founding principle. Repercussions of which still hold this great republic back from achieving is full potential. If we want to go further back, modern India still suffers from the scourge of the caste system that originated 3000 years ago. The list of baggage goes on.
Going back to the conversation of tweaking the existing system, for democracy is, as Winston Churchill has reminded us:
“….the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
I quote Churchill here because he is lionized in the West (rightly so) as the one who saved western civilization as we know it from the tyranny of Fascism. He looms larger than most other figures of the twentieth century. But Churchill has just as much innocent blood on his hands as Hitler. The blood on Churchill’s hands just happened to matter less because it was that of the coolies or darkies. And I’m not talking blood spilled in the course of fighting in the war but blood as a result of at least one famine he could have prevented but chose not to because those lives were deemed inferior.
Another point on tweaking existing systems. Take for example the second amendment. If the rights enshrined in the second do not sit well with what goes on in modern society, then it would behoove the proponents of a repeal of the second amendment to know that given the mistrust of the press in this climate and the left’s increasing intolerance of free speech, the first amendment is fair game too. That’s a slippery slope to start going down.
Continuing on the topic of tweaking an existing system. The problem initially appears that there is no trust in any politician or entity to tweak the system, at least here in the United States. I do not trust anyone in power to not build in implicit biases any such tweaking would entail. And really, politicians are just the scapegoat. They’re only pandering to what the people want. There’s a reason the outgoing GOP senators and representatives all of a sudden find their voice when they decide they are no longer going to run for office ever. I use departing GOP men (and women) as an example here but the reality is its true of anyone going against the “base”, on the left or the right. As the text exchange with my friend from down under goes:
Yeah, but the tweaks have to pass a vote too…anyway, not going to happens [sic], any systems builds entrenched interests that prevents a virtuous feedback loop from functioning…
The systems for for [sic] the people it works for, so change isn’t allowed to happen…except for the worse
The point of all this being that when one goes back to first principles does one really go back to first principles? What Jesus of Nazareth preached, Siddhartha Gautama “Buddha” preached 300 years before Jesus lived. What Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in The Prince, considered the first treatise on political science in the modern world was what Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War nearly 1500 years before Machiavelli was born and what Sun Tzu wrote, Chanakya (or Kautilya) wrote in the Arthashastra nearly 300 years before Sun Tzu was born.
Really going back to first principles would mean starting over, in another planet, from another solar system. The closest planet that the most advanced species on earth has targeted for colonization is Mars. But then, when we do that we are going to carry the baggage of 300,000 years of our species, good and bad. Any reading of the history of humanity will tell you that it is one of subjugation, mass murder, and dominance.
To that end, it would be worth learning from another advanced species that has managed to colonize an inhabitable piece of rock and hope that their history and systems are less riddled with baggage. But that would mean learning from the “other” and we humans haven’t exactly figured out yet how to not look at and treat the “other” with suspicion, let alone learn from them. The problem is that we, the most advanced species on this planet cannot even think beyond our own inherent prejudices, biases and what we already know. The best depictions of aliens from the most creative people of the most advanced species on our planet typically tend to be pointy ears and green bodies, or some other distorted form of the human form as we know today.
So once we have figured out another planet to colonize (since we’ve run out of “New Worlds” on this planet to colonize) we take the lessons, the good ones and learn from the bad ones. Then we hope another species has made enough progress to reach us just as we are embarking on this new journey and teach us their ways where we can take their good and learn from their bad.
Perhaps that’s what the philosophers should concentrate on going forward. I mean, as more and more things that once belonged in the realm of philosophy are taken away by science it is a natural progression for the field. I always picture an ancient philosopher sitting under a tree, quill and parchment in hand philosophizing why leaves are green. Until someone figured out there’s this chemical called chlorophyll. I picture someone tapped him on the shoulder and went: “Buddy, its because of this thing they’re calling chlorophyll. I know this was your life’s work. So sorry. Move on”. So perhaps the new charter for the realm of philosophy, to save itself from obscurity or potential irrelevance in the face of onslaught from STEM should be how to construct a system with no implicit biases if and when we figure out how to colonize another piece of rock. So we can turn it into a better version of mother earth.
In the meantime though, lets figure out a way to tweak existing systems so we can help mother earth’s children from destroying themselves.
I’ve rambled on long enough from Brexit to USA 2020 to first principles with detours along the way slandering (as some would interpret it) Churchill among other thoughts . If you’re still here, thank you for reading.