Exploring some social and political issues

My politics don’t seem to fit neatly into classifications such as “right” or “left”, or indeed “centre”; I tend to think of myself as small-c conservative, but this is probably either an illusion, or just referring to an earlier stage of my development. But my lack of simple scalar political alignment isn’t a matter of being in the middle; more like being so far in each direction that my views curve right round and meet behind my back.

Direct democracy

One area in which my views probably align more to the liberal side is that of political decision-making. I support “Liquid democracy”, that is, making all decisions by referendum but with rapidly changeable proxying to save effort. There are various flavours of proposed details floating around: my version is to have proxying divided into broad areas such as health, the environment, defence, planning, transport, and education, with calls for voting being tagged with which areas they affect; people can proxy their votes separately in separate areas. Each vote would be taken twice: a preliminary one, in which proxies indicate to those who have proxied to them which way they are voting, and a count is taken and the provisional result announced; then the binding one, two weeks later, to give time for reflection and for changing or over-riding of proxies.

Supporters of the present system (plenipotentiary representatives, i.e. they’re elected, but once they’re in, they can vote as they like (or, even worse, according to the Party line) without regard for the wishes of those who voted them in) sometimes claim that the politicians are better informed, and better able to make decisisons, than those who voted them in. I’ve never seen any evidence put forward to support this claim. Others (particularly European integrationist bureaucrats) support a claim (implicitly or explicitly) that neither the people nor anyone they might elect are sufficiently informed and trained to make decisions, and that the decisions should be made by appointed “technocrats” (I think the European Commission, given the chance, would move towards the Chinese model as soon as possible; remember also that the instigators of the EU wanted to eventually form a post-democratic socialist superstate).

It is, of course, true that half of the people may have below-average decision-making ability, but there’s no guarantee the “leaders”, whether elected or appointed, will be any better; they may simply have low cunning and good deception skills, and there are good arguments for believing that they may be worse than the average, as you will quickly realized if you’ve seen televized parliamentary debates.

What most western countries have, plenipotentiary “representative” democracy, is a low point between real democracy and Chinese-style authoritarianism.

The balance is between giving direct power to a stupid trend-following population, and separating a specific group as being in charge, who will then work the system to their own unfair advantage.

There are some workrounds, mentioned below, for some of the problems of giving direct power to the people as a whole.

Citizens’ Income

Another of my ideas to the left of the current mainstream is “Citizens’ Income” or “Basic Income”: an income paid to everyone.

Some politicians in the UK are pressing for a “living wage” for all those in work, but I don’t think that goes far enough for a humane society. Although some less-specialized work could be distributed more widely, there simply isn’t enough work to go round. Some people simply don’t want to work anyway; I wouldn’t mind those of them who have the ability being required to do a “citizen’s job” in return for a “citizen’s income”, but apparently they’re a small part of the population anyway, and the work-round I have in mind for getting the laziest and stupidest out of the voting system might help here too.

And what happened to the SciFi paradise of everything being done by machines, anyway? I suspect that started with some weak assumptions (or swept some unpleasant hypothetical history under the carpet) as it shows people at leisure who are capable of good leisure, but who are also highly capable of good work. Unfortunately, the first to be put out of work seem to be those poorly equipped for a life of leisure either. And that brings up the point that it’s time we should face up to full employment as unrealistic, and start to educate people (or at least, some people) for a life of leisure — but in such a way that does not condemn them to such a life.

Unfortunately, as we have lost a lot of manual labour and have invented bureaucratic jobs to fill the vacuum with dignity, we now have a way of evaluating fields of work (such as teaching) that can be done by those who don’t know what they’re doing, and so we now have a race to the bottom in education, as colleges try to raise their position in the league tables by getting the maximum points for a given level of ability (and exam boards compete to sell to colleges by trying to give the highest pass rate). So now we have an increasing number of people who aren’t properly educated or trained, although they may well be thoroughly and meaninglessly qualified.

An alternative to paying Citizens’ Income in money is to supply goods and services in set quantities (rations) directly, to avoid “misuse” such as drink and drugs; but some people will want to use their resources for chemical escape from reality, and given the nature of their reality, perhaps it is reasonable to let them do so; I will cover that later in this essay, along with some feedback to other parts of these suggestions.

Setting the level of Citizens’ Income involves working out what basic standard of living is reasonable, and although there are absolutes here, it will also vary with cultural factors, and so I suggest it should be set on a national scale, rather than world-wide, so that a culture with a laid-back tradition and low material expectations doesn’t take advantage of cultures with a stronger work ethic and higher standards (yes, I’m thinking of Greece and Germany in 2015 as a specific example).

Now to my controversial work-rounds for some of the problems, where the right-wing end of my personal political spectrum shows more clearly.

Real Adulthood

Many legal systems have settled on adulthood by age. Is this a formalization of an approximation to actual adulthood (an approximation which I think it is clear has failed badly) — or is it a deliberate way of being kind to those who don’t reach actual adulthood?

It would be hard to shift to this from where we are now, but I suggest the ideal is to grant legal adulthood (e.g. voting rights) following observation of actual adulthood, and not by years elapsed since leaving the womb.

This immediately takes the least responsible out of the voting pool, and so optimizes direct or liquid democracy. It also has gentle eugenic aspects, in that sex with a minor will still be an offence, but the definition of a minor will have changed, with irresponsible people staying minors for a lot longer than they do now, and so having less opportunity to reproduce and raise children. (This will work regardless of the relative importance of nature, nurture and the surroundings, in producing responsible people who contribute positively to society. I’m taking it as given that each successive generation being more responsible is a good thing, and increasingly so as the population increases.) The characteristics defining legal majority would be such that people who reach legal majority earlier than they do now would be the ones with more self-control and ability to plan their lives anyway — and ability to recognize inappropriate and manipulative approaches to them would be a prerequisite to adulthood anyway, so this wouldn’t allow abuse of the faster mental developers.

Thinking about this area raises the question of quite what we mean by equality: equality on what basis? Given that, both in existing systems and in the one described here, social privileges are graded relative to a control variable, which control variable gives meaningful equality: age or maturity?

Such a change would also, to some extent, push aside the concept of mental handicap: the people now treated as “different” adults would be treated as older (or permanent) children, which I hope would be less of a stigma. It would also change the motivation to grow up, as distinct from just playing grown-up.

In many (probably most) countries, some things are granted by licence rather than by right; driving, and firearm use, being common examples. Also, some “rights” are granted at particular ages. This proposed change would move everything from the latter category to the former, which could be seen as modifying Article 16 part 1 of the International Declaration of Human Rights: “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family” to ”Men and women who have been found to be suitably responsible, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.”

Medicalization and normalization of addiction

We can’t make everyone happy in the real world; should we give chemical happiness for those for whom there is no hope (because they have declined hope, or want someone to do for them what they have to do inside themselves)? But in a world of increasingly short resources, we have to watch the population, and in particular the non-contributory population; and so I suggest we should consider having the state supply “recreational” drugs to registered users, in return for arrangements not to reproduce for the period in which they’re taking the drugs, and losing their voting rights (and driving licences, and firearm licences) for that period, as these are the things that should be done with a clear head. I’m not sure that I support this, but I’m sure it should be examined.

Conveniently, this takes the least responsible and most self-centred out of the voting pool, and so optimizes direct or liquid democracy, and reduces their contribution to subsequent generations, whether by nature or by nurture.

No-one would forced to do anything (if addicts really can give it up any time, as some of them claim), and the people who would not exist because of this scheme would never have started to exist anyway.

I wonder how much of the population would take up this option? In countries which have long campaigned to discourage smoking, it has fallen to about one-fifth of the population, and a similar proportion are reckoned to have tried “recreational” drugs at some time, which may give a guideline.

That’s enough for one post; I shall tackle international relations separately.

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  1. […] the long run, I hope the world will move to direct democracy; I think the disadvantage of half the decision-making power being in the hands of those with […]

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