Incentive Systems & Politics: Part 3
This is the third and final part in my response to Extra Credits’ series of videos by the same name.
In Part 1 I discussed how Politics needs to be about more than just winning elections, and provided a few statistics demonstrating the overall decline of our society.
In Part 2 I covered how addressing financial corruption doesn’t address the underlying problems.
Now it’s time to wrap this up in Part 3.
Section 5: Gerrymandering and Community
Gerrymandering is the process of redrawing the boundaries of politcal districts in order to be more favourable to you or your party. You see, originally most districts were drawn based on geography, or some vague idea of a shared community.
Both myself, and the Extra Credits team are skipping over a major issue here, and I don’t want to pretend that it’s beneath consideration. I want to identify it, and then move on to the topic we’re discussing in particular.
It’s a simple fact that every system of organization involves democratic elements on some level. The King has his nobles, the Corporation has its shareholders, and even the Dictator has his ministers. Eventually, no matter what the system, there’s going to be a vote. The questions of “Who gets to vote?” and “What do they get to vote on?” are critical fields of study. It’s a form of applied Game Theory, which used to be the primary focus of Political Science. To suggest that this stuff is easy would be the height of arrogance.
But we’re not talking about the study of gerrymandering, we’re talking about the breakdown of gerrymandering, despite an available wealth of knowledge. For more on the Political Science behind it, I’ll point you in the direction of CGP Grey: he did an excellent video on the topic.
What I’d like to address is Extra Credits’ statement about “a vague idea of a shared community.”
In their series of videos, Extra Credits has focused upon how the present system is spinning out of control, noting particularly stupid game-theoretic problems with the American Government. In doing so, they beg the question of why.
I’m talking about the Logic of Institution.
A system is always more than the sum of its parts. There’s an ethos, an esprit de corps that comes along with it, regardless of whether it’s well-designed or not. A perfect example of this (as well as a thematically-appropriate example) is video games.
Let’s take two games with well-designed systems, who share surface similarities: World of Warcraft and The Elder Scrolls Series. One is a MMORPG, and the other is a single-player RPG. Within the rule-sets governing these games you’ll see many of the same things, and yet the games themselves are entirely different. World of Warcraft is about community and ‘card collecting’ – that is, getting a collection of in-game items that are braggable, in an endless cycle of growth. The Elder Scrolls, on the other hand, is story driven. The mechanics of levelling-up take a back-seat; their primary purpose is to denote the story-arc of the character.
Preference between these two games is not a question of quality, it’s a question of qualities; people play these two games for entirely different reasons. As video games, the major causal factor in this divide is the mechanics of the system. The differing mechanics are what drive the differing experiences – not, for instance, the writing. Both could have epic plots written into them, but at the end of the day World of Warcraft is about forming Guilds with your friends, while The Elder Scrolls is about a specific character’s story, a story which eventually comes to a close.
The point being: fiddling with the rules won’t turn Tetris into Super Mario.
An organization needs a unifying principle, and with a nation-state that principle must be the community – a definition of what The Good Life is. Take Switzerland, as an example. The system in Switzerland is horribly designed, it’s full of potential exploits, and other factors which ought to spell doom for the country – and yet, because it’s all based around the concept of an ethno-state, it manages to tick-along rather well. The system is flawed, but it knows its purpose: to promote the Swiss way of life.
In the United States – and much of the West – we’ve embraced relativism. Non-judgmentalism. “Otherness” as David Brin put it (mistaking it for a good thing). We no longer celebrate what we stand for – rather, we celebrate ‘diversity.’ Discrimination is one of the greatest sins in our moral lexicon – and when you fail to discriminate, you become indiscriminate.
This is the system-logic of Western-style Democracy™: that all opinions are equally valid, and that all lifestyles are equally worthwhile.
At its foundation, the American Experiment was about something. Freedom of Religion, yes – but only because we can’t entrust the Absolute Truth to one man, or one Church. The Founding Fathers all agreed that there was a single Truth, but they argued that the best way to find it was through rigorous debate. Over the years this has been forgotten. In today’s world, asserting that there is a single Truth (even something as simple as 2+2=4) will earn you the title ‘arrogant.’
Back then the franchise was considered a privilege and a responsibility, not a Right (this is why they never encoded Democracy in their foundational documents). In the present, we view opinion as a right, and the doctrine of the Living Constitution throws everything into a relativistic abstract. There is no purpose anymore – no ethos – no point to the Game. There is only winning.
You could put the perfect system of gerrymandering into place tomorrow, and our present problems would persist. The State needs a foundation to stand upon; the fatuous, hormonal thoughts of the citizens are an insufficient mandate.
Section 6: Politics ≠ Governance
Originally, when our districts more closely represented communities or geographic regions, they tended to be relatively balanced in terms of political opinions. Some leaned a bit to the left, and others a bit to the right, but overall you only rarely saw districts that were overwhelmingly partisan. This forced politicians to try and assemble a majority out of people with somewhat differing views – which tended to push them more towards the centre of the political spectrum.
Part of the devolution which has been driven by Democracy™ is the conflation of politics with governance; or more specifically, the conflation of the Left-Right Divide with Politics.
The Left-Right Divide is a modern phenomenon, driven by the same factors which led to the French Revolution and all of its blood-soaked horrors. Prior to the Enlightenment, all politics were what we now term realpolitik, with an infusion of Catholic morality. It was a system which openly acknowledged power-divides, while also including an upward-pull towards moral behaviour. On an inter-state level this meant that weaker nations had to respect the power of the greats, but that so long as they did, a certain level of autonomy could be maintained. On the intra-state level, this meant that the peasants weren’t allowed to mouth-off to the nobility, but the nobility were expected to respect the dignity of the peasants, so long as they behaved civilly.
Contrast to the vulgarity we see extreme-leftist groups exhibiting to their betters, and it’s hard to call the present situation a case of “moral advancement.”
What Extra Credits is trying to reach towards with their statement “This forced politicians to try and assemble a majority out of people with somewhat differing views” is related to the concept I advanced earlier about every system being democratic on some level. Governance is about making the best decision possible, despite the constraints of time and knowledge (which is also the 8th Principle of Leadership, incidentally). Governance means paying attention to your community, and trying to understand what’s happening on the lowest levels. It means being informed and responsible.
It doesn’t mean pandering to special-interest groups.
The Left-Right Divide is a real psychological phenomenon (as explored by the Anonymous Conservative in his excellent book), but it’s not real politics – any more than a spat between a brother and sister is a real aspect of leading a family. Democratic Relativism creates ever more extreme groups on both sides, and trying to appease both of them plays into the fallacy of the false middle – it’s rare that you’ll find one group arguing that 2+2=3, while the other argues that 2+2=5. More often than not, compromise involves skewing heavily in one direction.
This is why we see the Leftward drift in politics over the past century, summarized by the saying “Cthulu only swims left.”
The problem is one of inputs. The brother-sister spat should not be an input into family leadership. At least one side will be at fault, and often enough both of them are; compromising between them without overweening considerations won’t lead anywhere good. Similarly, compromising between two special-interest groups is going to create policy which is ineffective at best, and schizophrenic at worst.
Real politics should be asking the question “What is the best we can do with the resources that we have?”
Left-Right politics is asking “Who gets the welfare? Who gets the tax-credit?”
Conclusion: No King; No Constitution
The great thing about the form of government we’ve adopted is that it’s flexible. We have the power to change it… I hope we’ve manged to stir some ideas and create a discussion though, but more than anything, I hope you’ve come to realized You are the players in this great game. You can move the pieces, and no matter how small your part, you can help to ensure that the rules are rewritten.
I hope I’ve begun to demonstrate the exact opposite.
Systems and rules have an underlying ethos to them – and stating that Change is one of the rules, doesn’t mean that it isn’t still a rule.
From “The Unofficial Official Rules of Calvinball”:
Permanent Rule: You may not play the Calvinball the same way twice.
Primary Rule: The following rules are subject to be changed, amended, or deleted by any player(s) involved. These rules are not required, nor necessary to play Calvinball.
Calvinball – whatever it might be – is not Chess. It is not Dungeons and Dragons. It is – and forever shall be – Calvinball.
Within the world of Calvin & Hobbes, Calvinball is the escapist pursuit of an incredibly bright and creative young man, trapped in a world of mediocre dullards. Calvin plays the game with an edge of irony, playing and laughing at the concept of a rule denying a rule, in the same way philosophers will laugh at the phrase “This sentence is false.” One of my favourite strips from the series was the comic where his father explained old black & white photographs: just like Calvin, his father is bored with the dullards of the world who cannot think logically, so he hands his son a ridiculous logical puzzle to play with, knowing that he has the intellect to see it through.
Calvin and his father are what Thomas Jefferson meant when he talked about the Natural Aristocracy – but when their toys are handed over to the degenerate masses, a cyclopean twilight descends.
Modern culture is Calvinball writ large: narcissism, and the redefinition of reality to suit the egoistic demands of the individual. Progressives just keep progressing, Hope and Change means that things will never stop changing, and the rejection of an objective standard of Truth means a relativistic circling of the drain.
Changing the system won’t actually change the system! Change is the system!
This whole series by Extra Credits presupposes a grand architect, a Game Designer creating the system from on-high – and yet, they’re discussing a system which rejects the whole notion of an Architect. Modern Western Democracy not only rejects the notion of an Architect for Governance, it rejects the concept of an Architect for Man! There is no Good Life anymore – there is no such thing as an Ethical Absolute – there is only the mass opinion, the swell of the majority subsuming all individuality into a sea of self-referenced irony and earlobe spacers.
There is a fundamental truism which we never hear anymore: that you are going to be controlled – period. This control is either explicit… or it’s occult, hidden from view. But it’s always there.
Calvin plays his ridiculous games, knowing full well that if the score is made up, then so is the concept of winning; and yet he acknowledges winning as a True concept. Win and Lose are part of the explicit control, and in Calvinball, even when you win, you still lose, since you did it by cheating. That’s the joke.
When the massed degenerates pick up his game, however, they don’t get the joke. They sit around watching their televisions, buying their Air Jordans, voting for a Change that never comes, and slaving away for the corporations – and they think that they’re Free.
A woman who marries a man of her choosing, and devotes her time to raising a family is called a slave; a woman who pursues the empty accolades of careerism is called empowered.
Every system is about control; without control – without rules – there is no winning, there is no catharsis, there is no video game. Democracy, by claiming it’s about change, simply moves the control to the meta-level. An explicit, hierarchical system allows legitimate routes to advancement. In an occult system, everyone thinks they’re free, while the sneaky bastards pull the strings.
The solution isn’t to become another cog, voting and lobbying to get more of the same change. The solution is to recognize this Strange Game for what it is, and realize that…