Incentive Systems & Politics: Part 1

A Response to Extra Credits

Introduction

As a game designer, James can’t help but think about how broken our political system is.  And by broken, I don’t just mean it’s busted; I mean it’s broken in a Game Design sense.  The underlying rules and incentives which govern our politics are just wrong.  They’re completely out of whack.

If you’re not already familiar with it, Extra Credits is a web-series focusing on the video game industry; they cover everything from the development, to the marketing, the design, the social impact, and even the different themes that games explore.  It’s a series which I find utterly fascinating (after all, Game Design is only a step removed from the Game Theory of Poli-Sci), and some of their insights have proved invaluable to me in the past.  They manage to quickly and effectively communicate concepts which would otherwise require years of focused effort to discover, as well as exploring new ideas and structures to apply within the games, as well as to the industry as a whole.

In other words, I strongly recommend that you subscribe to their channel, if you haven’t already.

Over the past couple of weeks they began a series of videos analyzing American politics through the lens of video game incentive systems; utterly brilliant, on the one hand, but utterly misguided on the other.  They’ve come up with great patches that will never be implemented.

Which makes these videos a perfect opportunity to explore the cached assumptions of modern politics.

A forewarning: if you’ve never heard the terms Dark Enlightenment or Neoreactionary before, some of the following is going to sound extremely strange, and you may knee-jerk to the response of “I don’t want some totalitarian telling me what to do!”  I ask that you bear with me: I share your concern, and I will address it at the end of this series.

With that said, let’s begin.

Section 1: The End Goal of Politics

If you take the goal of politics to be the betterment of the people living in our country, the systems we have are so poorly set up that – if a student proposed them to James, he’d fail the kid on the spot.  This either means that A) our system has gotten so far out of hand as to not even remotely reflect what it was originally intended to do, and we should fix it; or B) that in the end, the objective of our political system isn’t at all the benefit of its citizens.  Which means we really need to fix it.

Right off the bat, we’re begging the question: what do we mean by “Betterment of the people”?

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not bringing this up to be querulous, but because this is the linchpin of the whole debate.  Without a strict definition, it becomes a fluid which fills the container of the argument: when discussing economics, it means X.  When discussing culture, it means Y.  I’ve seen many a political discussion slip down the rabbit hole because of this.

So let me make a proposal which shouldn’t be too contentious.  A system which is concerned with the “betterment of the people” should focus on:

  1. Their material well-being: an ideal system will not have mass starvation or systemic poverty.
  2. Their emotional well-being: humans are not cogs; if a substantial portion of the populace is on anti-depressants, something is wrong.
  3. Their spiritual well-being: moral development, and the maturation of wisdom – a Bonobo Idiocracy is ugliness incarnate.

I think I’ve made my point about the present state of affairs, but to make sure it’s per fectum:

  1. A permanent welfare/victim class is a problem.
  2. The mercenary transigence of modern relationships (both platonic and sexual) is a fatuity.
  3. A degenerate culture, where the blind sermon the blind, is a travesty.

These problems have been developing for some time, but only recently has the rot begun to show on the surface.

This is easiest to chart in the economic sphere: Detroit didn’t happen overnight; neither have the stagnating wages.  My colleague Aaron Clarey sums up the correlation between government spending and growth in GDP here – and then goes on to demonstrate that the average modern salary could have been $100,000 rather than our paltry $40,000.

Historical RGDP

The same holds true for divorce:

Divorce Rates

Source: The Guardian

And after exploding at the beginning of the 20th century, violent crime remains relatively constant, despite the improvements in medical care:

3-9-us-homicide-rate

For a full exploration of this topic visit Radish.

Not only is this system failing to provide for the betterment of its citizens, it’s been failing to do so for quite some time.  At this point we need to seriously consider Extra Credit‘s Point B) What if the goal of this system isn’t what it claims to be?

As Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Meditations: “Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature?”¹ Or, if you prefer a modern example, Marshall McCluhan condensed it down to “The Medium is the Message.” We need to look at the Logic of the System; its ideological DNA, if you will.  We need to ask, “What are its component parts?  What does it do?” Examine its behaviour – not whatever it claims its behaviour is.

In the case of the American Government, we find – Individualism.  Equality.  Democracy.  So what happens when these words are allowed to flourish unchecked?

First we have Individualism: this goes far beyond the mundane statement that “Everybody’s a little bit different.” It raises up individual identity into a cause célèbre.  Not only are people different from one another, they must be different from one another.  Conformity becomes oppression, we’re all a bunch of special little snowflakes…  and if we’re all special, then we’re all equally special.

action-figures

Their Uniforms are far from uniform…

Of course, this leads to Equality: within conformity (to your community, to your country…) there are honours and distinctions: some people are more accomplished than others, more capable than others.  Blunt statements like this wind up bruising the egos of the special little snowflakes: ergo we’re all equal, we’re all identical little gods and goddesses, sitting atop our equally unique mud heaps, and all issuing statements that are equally profound.  This leads to:

Democracy.  We’re all individuals (nobody can tell us what to do!), and because of that, we’re all equally wise – so shouldn’t we all have a say in things?

Let’s pull back for a moment, and think about a young adult, who just reached the age of majority: by this point we expect them to have learned enough about the world to make sensible decisions (that is to say, that we’ll now hold them criminally culpable if they don’t), but even as an adult, they still require mentoring.  Take marriage, for example (this will mesh nicely with the divorce statistics above): it’s a life-long commitment, potentially wonderful, and a vital building-block to a stable society – but when it goes wrong, it goes horribly wrong.  It’s an extremely risky decision.

Is your average eighteen-year-old – forget average, is any eighteen-year-old – wise enough to pick a marriage partner without the advice of parents, grandparents, and the community at large?  Are they going to be able to overcome the temptations and frustrations that crop up over the years, without a bunch of grey-beards advising them?  Are they going to figure out the mutually-satisfying roles of husband and wife ex nihilo?

Of course not; and yet that’s exactly what they’re expected to do.  Not just with marriage, but with all things in life – their career, the subculture they join, their diet.  We’re tossing a bunch of atomized babes into the woods, without an established culture, or hierarchy to lean on for advice.  The economic and social systems which then develop around them become parasitical in nature.  Without elders to advise them on their needs, they go out and purchase what they want – only to learn, once it’s far too late, that all of that Halloween candy wasn’t good for them.

And it’s no different when they cast their ballot.  People get the government they want, not the government they need.

Section 2: Incentivizing the Economy

So let’s give our politicians an incentive [to improve the economy].  Let’s tie the wages of a senator or Congressperson to how much your average citizen in the US makes.

By now I’ve made it clear that I don’t think that the GDP is the be-all and end-all of a nation’s well being.  Focusing solely on material comforts can lead to a Utilitarian Death Spiral, and an endless orgy of consumerism.  But that doesn’t mean that the economy isn’t vital, and James’ proposal here is brilliant.

I can already spot the low-hanging counter-arguments: the Austrians might point out that Keynesianism is always more tempting to politicians, or the Nationalists, argueing that this could provide an excuse to import thousands of undocumented workers – but these are all cases of the Perfect being the enemy of the Good.

James is an expert at controlling behaviour by structural design, and thankfully, he doesn’t use this power for evil (I’m looking at you, Everquest).  The system he’s loosely sketched out here will wind up guiding politicians in more-or-less the right direction.  Perfect?  No.  Better?  Yes.

In fact, it’s very similar to how corporations are set up; say what you will about Monsanto having Satan on the Board of Directors, you can’t deny that they’re good at making a profit.

I’d be very interested in reading more of the work he’s done here.

But I’m here to critique, not praise, and my critique is this: what is the true currency of USGov.org?

We’ve got:

  1. The US Economy (as well as its Geopolitical strength, et cetera).
  2. Lobbyist Influence (both the carrot and the stick).
  3. Special Interests and Parasites.

The first is what we want them to focus on; the second is a structural flaw, which they address in their second video.  But it’s the third where things become insurmountable.

The Special Interests and Parasites are an interesting bunch; even if you agree with everything they stand for, you can’t agree with their methods.  Remember, this is a Democracy – voted-in by, and manufactured for, the massed, degenerate man.  Even if you’re in favour of charity and helping the environment (as opposed to all of those people who hate the poor, and enjoy poisoning the planet), to become a Special Interest you need to up things to the next level: you need to become part of the system itself.

Your survival depends not on your success rate, but on how many supporters you can gather.  In fact, you actually benefit if things get worse for your supporters.  The more instances of racism you can find – legitimate or otherwise – the more votes you can secure for Senator Clay Davis.  The more evidence of environmental damage you can drum up, the more legislation you can pass.  The parasites are everywhere: from NGOs, to lobby groups, to the Civil Service itself.

Just look at the Professional Charities: what sorts of people do you think run those things?

These parasites need to be denounced from on high, but in a Democratic system nobody is willing to step up to the plate.  The parasites are their own system, duping their supporters, and leaching off of USGov.org, which is run by people elected by the dupes.

They’re also the people who decide which News Channel to subscribe to.

At present, roughly 70% of the United States’ budget goes to transfer payments – which is to say, 70% of the taxes go to welfare of one variety or another.  A massive incentive system is already in place:

  • To train the populace to accept handouts,
  • To train the populace to feel victimized,
  • To train the politicians to look the other way,
  • To train the media to remain silent.

When I bring up the Special Interests and Parasites, I’m not talking about the welfare queen; I’m talking about the structures which incentivize the welfare queen.  Parasites which exploit the mass ignorance and mass stupidity of the massed man that Democracy creates, and which are deeply embedded in the system.

It’s not enough to reform USGov.org – we need to reform the society.

Continued in Part 2

Notes:

1. Technically this is a paraphrasing from Silence of the Lambs (the original was writtenin Latin, however, and is subject to interpretive translation): the original quote is: “What is this thing in itself, in its own constitution?  What are its elements of substance and material, and of cause?”

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Davis M.J. Aurini

Trained as a Historian at McMaster University, and as an Infantry soldier in the Canadian Forces, I'm a Scholar, Author, Film Maker, and a God fearing Catholic, who loves women for their illogical nature.

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18 Responses

  1. Apollo says:

    Interesting, looking forward to the next part.

    A suggestion: You might want to attribute quotes, and provide a brief intro about the people you discuss e.g. “James”. He’s one of the ExtraCredit guys I presume?

  2. Aurini says:

    All quotes came from the video which I was responding to.

    Also, the first 300 words were a brief intro to the Extra Credits crew.

    You may have noticed that this article had a subtitle.

  3. Sean says:

    It seems, like the bane of the Western political system is excesses of desirable things. Dante makes this point in “Purgatorio,” describing each of the Chrisitian Seven Deadly Sins as excessive love of somethings: pride is excessive love of self, sloth is excessive love of comfort, lust is excessive love of others.

    A government should absolutely seek to provide for its citizens’ material needs, treat them as more than cogs in a machine and seek to help them above a bandaid in the form of a prescription, and seek to develop their morals; but as you said, we’ve gone overboard with these goals.

    I’ve been pondering alternative societal structures to our current one. The Spartan system is intriguing: the spartiates, the perioikoi, and the helots. It seems that this would roughly correspond to a military legislature class that held suffrage, a technician/white collar class that did not have suffrage but had substantial rights, and a working/blue collar class that did not have suffrage and had few rights. It would be incredibly difficult to implement, especially given the current culture. The military would have to stage a coup, and I don’t know if they would ever did it. Mind you, I hear that “Starship Troopers” is popular in the U.S. military, and the class system in that book is similar to the Spartan system.

  4. Aurini says:

    @Sean
    The Greeks described virtue as being a balance between two extremes; Bravery, for instance, is somewhere between recklessness, and being a coward.

  5. Halfbreed says:

    RE: Individualism

    Yeah. Everyone thinks they’re special snowflakes. And they all end up doing the exact same things; marriage, kids, house in the burbs, etc. And of course we know what happens to men who deviate from those expected norms…

    Seems to me that the old American (Western?) tradition of the “rugged individualist” has all but disappeared. No, now we’ve entered the age of the “snarling individualist.” Thuggish, ignorant children grabbing at everything they can get their hands on; believing they’re entitled to handouts based on skin color, politics, or sex.

    We are seeing of a resurgence of those old ways in the manosphere, though.

  6. Aurini says:

    @Halfbreed

    As my sister once observed back in High School, “He takes individualism to the point of conformity.”

    Sadly didn’t have anywhere to include this in the piece itself.

  7. Dave says:

    James’ computer-nerd-know-it-all voice is extremely annoying, and I say that as a computer nerd. Raising the average monthly income of all workers is easy: with a monthly minimum wage of $4000, no worker would earn less than $48000/yr. The millions newly unemployed by such a law wouldn’t affect the metric because they’re no longer “workers”.

    Pick any other metric, and Congress’ll find a way to game it; hired CEOs do this all the time. Changing metrics is not easy; you either have to write them into the Constitution, or create a new Metric Branch of government whose power exceeds that of Congress.

  8. will says:

    “Their material well-being: an ideal system will not have mass starvation or systemic poverty.
    Their emotional well-being: humans are not cogs; if a substantial portion of the populace is on anti-depressants, something is wrong.
    Their spiritual well-being: moral development, and the maturation of wisdom – a Bonobo Idiocracy is ugliness incarnate.”

    I agree on all points but I will replace Material Wellbeing with physical Wellbeing. Physical wellbeing also includes Material wellbeing as well as having the the Genetic and Physical Health to enjoy such Material Wellbeing.

    Beauty may also fall under both the Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Wellbeing categories.

    In sexually dimorphic organisms it indicates genetic or biological fitness. Beauty is also the meeting of the person with the divine and the food of emotional wellbeing.

  9. will says:

    Can bravery be classified as Recklessness tempered by wisdom or prudence?

  10. Aurini says:

    @will
    That’s the correct balance; I was writing from memory.

  11. GunCriminal says:

    Interesting videos, but they’re still sucking the “democracy is good” teat, though, aren’t they?

  12. Jordan says:

    The narrator sounds like hes on helium, it’s kinda funny.

  13. will says:

    Wrote a post on the fall of companies and how this can be applied to nations:

    http://standingagainsttheworld.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/how-mighty-companies-can-fall-and-how-this-can-demonstrate-entropy-of-civilization/#comment-169

    Considering this subject matter is very momentous. I believe that my treatment of the matter is inadequate and I hope that you will give it your treatment on your upcoming video. If you have already covered it let my know. But if there is any way that society may break out of the rise and rot cycle I would like to know.

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