Monday, January 12, 2009

2009.01.12 - STV vs FPP vs Governance by Lot

On the Self-Corrupting Nature of Electioneering - And an Alternative*
          May 6, 2004 Revised Slightly for this Blog January 12, 2009

This document is my submission to the Panel Members of the British Columbia's Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform in 2004-5. 
*In my original submission, which is still available at the Citizens' Assembly web page, I used the word 'Democratic' in the title. However, I have since then read Aristotle's The Politics which has taught me that our current and accepted usage of the word 'Democratic' is not quite in alignment with its original meaning. Aristotle describes 'democracy' as a perversion of a 'Polity,' or the rule of the citizenry. See my blog 2008.12.17 Collapse of Capitalism? A Rumination below. And I have made a few other minor edits to accommodate its entry into this blog.

There are Three Malevolent Aspects of Electioneering
The failure of the parliamentary process due to corruption, and the eventual symptoms of that failure, begin with the electoral process itself: by its structure, the process of getting elected populates parliament with tainted goods, regardless the integrity and honesty and goodness of the individuals entering the electioneering forum. There are three endemically malevolent aspects of any electoral process built around electioneering that causes this 'self' corruption. They are: the roles of money, good intentions and power.

There are alternatives to the current voting system.
After examining why a government's failings begin long before power is won by and entrusted to the "winning" party I suggest one that reduces all the significant corrupting influences of our current voting system.

The First Malevolence - Money's Role
The first and most obvious electioneering malevolence is that it requires money to get elected. While a party and its candidates may receive the majority of its funds from John and Jane Canuck, the largest individual donations come from collectives, the main ones being business and organized labour. Limiting the size of donations will curtail this problem - but only as far as under-the-table perks and the promise of lucrative post-government corporate appointments. These corporate collectives buy the voice and obligation of the candidate and in the process mutes John and Jane Canuck's democratic voice. This role of money in the voting process perverts any democracy into an oligarchy.

The muted Canadian electorate is frustrated because its expressed distrust of big business's apparent goal of Americanizing Canada and organized labour's apparent goal of socializing Canada is not being heard by MP's, MLA's or city officials. Some might say - especially the media! - that the news media are John and Jane's voice. And maybe once they were. Unfortunately today's corporate media has, for the most part, long since abdicated that important and difficult function for the easier role of outing political "scandals", spouting inconsequential homilies about political parties listening to the voter on election day, and selling stock portfolios and the value of American-style "free" market economics. Their corporate ownership structure aligns it with the beneficiaries of the oligarchy. The media is now a part of the oligarchy, and a significant one.

Given the role money plays in getting elected, even the individual with the purest of motivations and purest of hearts will eventually be faced with the well dramatized ethical problem of choosing between doing what seems right and doing what is expedient in getting or keeping power and/or wealth in order to achieve an even greater vaguely defined good in some distant and tenuous future. The inherent corruptibility of this situation is obvious: the short term "small" corruption of minor consequence will be offset by the wonderful things that the honest, hardworking, ambitious, good politician's hubris says power conferred on him or her will enable him or her to make manifest in a utopian future.

The Second Malevolence - Good Intentions 
The second malevolent aspect is the ostensibly "good" intention of wanting to do, honestly and without self serving motivations, "good things." History and current events demonstrate that more evil, death and corruption has been done on this planet in the name of doing "good" than Marx ever ascribed to religion. When an individual or group is convinced that they are doing something for the greater good, be it for one's God, race, country or economy, the end will frequently be used justify the means. In the name of "good" children are beaten to death, "pro-lifers" kill, "pacifist" religions authorize death and torture, "socialist" rulers initiate genocidal pogroms and "democratically elected" governments take their armaments into undemocratic countries to fix their elections. In the name of "good" we have had the Spanish Inquisition, Hitler's "Jewish Solution", the Vietnam War, and Canada's past policy of the cultural genocide of aboriginal peoples.

And while the good-hearted people we send into seats of power may not orchestrate the death of millions, the desire to do good can and does lead people to accept or tolerate varying levels of corruption as a necessary evil for the sake of doing the good deed they promise themselves they are there to do. Acceptance of the questionable actions is almost always well rationalized and/or justified, of course. An ongoing example is that of various governments choosing to deal with their/our monetary crunch by initiating various types of gambling schemes, despite gambling's documented "bad" side effects. (It is interesting to note that, if memory serves me correctly, gambling as a means to supplement tax revenue has been rejected by the majority of Canadians in poll after poll, and at least once by referendum in British Columbia. For those people who advocate a government bound to referenda, I pose this questions: Would politicians actually listen to referenda results which went counter to their desire to do good deeds and the "right" thing - such as protecting the ignorant voter from the folly of making a bad choice on a particular referendum?)

And a particularly poisonous form of "good-intentionitis" is when the politician "knows" better than the voter what is good for the voter. In this form of condescension the politician can block out the concerns of his or her constituents and espouse with a clear conscious the most mellifluous of double-speaks. Gordon Campbell's referendum on treaty negotiations is a recent example, and ably demonstrates that direct democracy, such as described by Douglas Broome, can be at best a post hoc bandage and at worst a tool of false democracy.

The Third Malevolence - Power
The third malevolent aspect of the electoral process is a subtle twist of the previous: the appeal of power tends to, in general but with just enough exceptions to prove the rule, draw to it those who are: a) least capable of handling it well and, b) the easiest to corrupt.

This aspect relates to how the underlying temper of motivation within the hidden chambers of the individual's heart, and not just his or her broadcasted smiles full of bright teeth, wide eyes, purity and integrity, eventually reveals itself in the actions of that person.

The compulsive power seeker is often expressing some psychological need, a need not dissimilar in structure from any addictive need, even if it is expressed differently than the typically self destructive behaviour of the alcoholic, junkie, of coke-head. In the clever power seeker this character flaw can be effectively masked and rewarded as willingness to sacrifice family and health for long hours of getting results. On the surface, s/he looks self sacrificing but in truth this type of power seeker is narcissistically out to get just even an bit more power, so that all choices and actions are weighed by their ability to get the next hit of power. The recent publications about the sociopathic, or even psychopathic nature of chief executive officers, give concrete form to this argument.

Wanted: A Politician with a Small Ego
The insurmountable difficulty here is in finding a politician whose ego is wise enough by being small enough to know the difference between a small corruption and a big one - with the added spice that those with the best intentions, biggest aspirations, and largest egos generally tolerate the largest corruptions. Nixon and VanderZalm are excellent examples of this, each denying inappropriate behaviour even after having their hands caught inside the metaphorical cookie jar. But so are the NDP, who were far more effective when their ego was content at being simply the conscience and voice of John and Jane Canuck in parliament than after they deemed it important to get elected so as to be able to do really good things.

Q: But if we do not vote them in, how can a "democratic" government be formed?
A: Make Governance A Selection Process, Akin to Jury Duty

I suggest that we replace electioneering with a sophisticated lottery process not dissimilar in principle from the jury selection process. Eliminating elections would effectively destroy the three malevolent aspects of the electioneering process I discussed above in the following ways:
"Candidates" would not begin their term pre-bought.  The random nature of the lottery would minimize both the number of people drawn to power simply to feel powerful and those ambitious "do-gooders" who are inherently prone to corruption and constituency deafness;
double-speak would no longer be necessary to keep a good face forward or to mollify pre-election "bad" press.

This would not eliminate the "crook" from politics, of course, for crooks are a part of society.
But the structure itself would not be inherently corrupt, nor encourage corruption, because no one would begin office being beholden to anyone or to an egoistically generated and dangerous ambition from the first day of office. Furthermore, broad corruption requires collusion that, without "bought" parties, would be very difficult to initiate let alone maintain.

Four Other Serendipitous Benefits
Serendipitously this form of government selection has four other very significant benefits.

Firstly it is Democratic 
The first is that it is truly democratic! All people (with certain minimum years of education/work/experience, age, and residency status) would be eligible: thus the sexes, races, religions and classes would all be represented proportionally as they exist in Canada. (Like today, unfortunately, the poor and homeless would have a hard time getting representation. However, they may well be heard more clearly when the government is not bound to corporate American economic ideals which have rendered the poor our expendable economic - not social! - failures.)

Secondly, Free Votes in the House Would be the Norm Not the Exception
Almost every vote in the houses would likely be a free vote, and no longer would there be wasted verbiage in the press and in the house about them.

Thirdly, the Elimination of Electioneering
An enormous amount of costly and mostly puerile word-waste would be eliminated because the need for dissembling political posturing and silly verbal fencing to gain political points rather than assist in the running of the country would be gone. And, not insignificantly, it would eliminate the wanton waste associated with electioneering, i.e., advertising, and the inane but endless media spectacles and speculations. But the media could still root happily around for scandal!

Fourthly (and lastly), It Honestly Recognizes the True Nature of Governance
Because governing is an odious task it is not insignificant that, like jury duty, the task of governing be aligned with that fact, and not with glamour, prestige and Barnum and Bailey-like showmanship and the hope and thrill of shilling the paying customer.

While Not Without Flaws, It is Not Inherently Malevolent by Design
Government selection by lot has its flaws, but unlike our current system it is not malevolent by design to the majority it is suppose to be governing while benefiting those few with money. And there are ways of minimizing even some of the most obvious flaws, such as using some form of direct democracy as per Harvey Schachter and Douglas Broome. In this case, direct democracy would not be trying to counteract inherent corruption, but would be a vehicle to give the population an immediate voice in choosing between the various policy and social options.

Some Other Points to Consider
Here are a few other ideas that might increase the effectiveness of a "government-by-lot-selection".

1. Education is Important
Beyond some kind of minimum education and/or work experience and residential qualifications, have those selected attend intensive schooling for a year, more or less, to balance their areas of familiarity with a broader look at history, the humanities, literature. (This would be the opportunity to give those selected and qualified "memory", as it is described by John Ralston Saul, in his book On Equilibrium.)  Follow that by six months of study of domestic and/or international affairs, as per the experience and qualifications of the "candidates." Follow this by six months time to rest from schooling and work to give the "candidates" time to be with their families and thoughts in a significant way before serving a long term. To accommodate attrition during this process, begin with more candidates than seats in the house - about ten percent, say. These people, if not actually sitting at the opening of parliament, become alternates during the course of the term.)

2. Cabinet Members are Chosen, the Unsuitable Thanked and Let Go
During the education process those most suitable for the equivalent of cabinet posts would make themselves known, as would those suitable for some form of senate - as a place of reflection and second thought. Additional or extended education and/or direct experience would be "foisted" onto them. And those not at all suitable to govern would be thanked for their time and let go.

3. A Tour of Duty is a Minimum of Seven Years - With Reviews
The duty term be made for not less than seven years. Some kind of "direct democracy review" could be done after three years and thereafter bi-annually, for example.

4. For Continuity, The End of a Tour of Duty Doesn't Include Everyone
After the seven year term is done, have only two thirds of the people retire out of government. A secret ballot at the end of year six is held in which, perhaps, each parliamentarian chooses one hundred people as being suitable for continued action in government. Here also direct democracy could have a place, as the population in general would also choose those people they feel would be best to stay in government. They too could pick one hundred names. The top thirty to fifty names would then serve a second term. This kind of arrangement allows for change, but recognizes the value of some form of continuity. Any form of electioneering by anyone to be one of those selected is punishable by not less than having his or her name crossed off the list of those eligible for a second term.

5. Salaries Linked to A Member's Previous Employment
Salaries for the representatives would be at 10-20% above the wage/salary they would have earned in their current work/career, plus some expense money. This addresses the concern about getting "qualified" people into government and links the cost of government personnel to "market" prices. Wage increases and pensions would be similarly linked to the work world.

6.Creative Genius May be Granted at Least a Tiny Plot of Fertile Parliamentary Ground
While structured, this "system" gives creative genius a reasonable shot of being expressed without it being stifled by a structure thoroughly wedded to mediocrity and corruptibility (to paraphrase John Ralston Saul).

Aristotle. Politics and Poetics. Books the Second and Third.
Broome, Douglas. "Saturday Review", The Vancouver Sun, Sept. 21, 1996
Schachter, Harvey. The Globe and Mail, Sat. Apr. 19, 1997 D3.

Friday, January 9, 2009

2009.01.10 - Spengler is Interesting

I've been reading Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West, the Knopf 1962 abridged version. It is fascinating! And it is engaging and challenging, and I see why it isn't popular. To begin with, Oswald has a pan-historical approach that requires of the reader a bona fide and very broad education, one that is largely lacking today now that universities have become primarily purveyors of specialized skill sets and departmentally delimited unquestionable truths. Without that education there is no way of evaluating his ideas. And the second thing is that he has complex ideas of what 'society' and 'civilization' mean, as well what it means to be a person. I am surprised to see that some of his ideas regarding person-hood are very similar to those of CG Jung, someone else who is relatively unpopular in our culture and who also demands of the reader a broad and unspecialized education. And it has become clear I will need to go out and buy Decline of the West, preferably from a used book store, because it is going to demand research to evaluate.

And that thought got me thinking about reading. From a sociology course, I 'learned,' anecdotally, that the father of modern Sociology, Emile Durkheim, stopped reading anything so as to keep his own thinking uncontaminated by the ideas of others. And I love what Socrates supposedly said of the written word. In Phaedrus, Plato relates Socrates’ record of a conversation between the Egyptian god Amon and Thoth, the inventor of letters:
This discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific you have discovered is an aid not to memory but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth but only the semblance of truth; they will be bearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.
Socrates continues:
I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question, they preserve a solemn silence, and the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always give one unvarying answer(From Phaedrus, cited in Mass Communication in Canada, 3rd edition, by Lorimer and McNulty, Oxford University Press, p. 20.)
Social critic John Ralston Saul frequently castigates our leaders for their unwillingness (inability?) to read. There is no more dangerous a leader than one ignorant of his/her ignorance, and Saul sees the unread as being largely ignorant, especially of history.  And he rightly fears that that ignorance will be the unravelling of our society. And I concur with his opinion that being well read does not include the reading of mainstream newspapers and/or magazines. If anything, this kind of reading promotes false-knowledge by propagating (dis)information by the manipulative listing of specialized and/or circumscribed and/or cherry-picked events either real or imagined. Journals of events do not impart either understanding or knowledge, let alone the wisdom to apply them when choosing a course of action.

Noam Chomsky describes this superlatively. He has a great deal to say about the bias of the media, in particular, the bias the media has in masking the true aggressive nature of American foreign policy and its role in keeping business in business. His focus is on American foreign policy and the manner of its reporting in the American press, and the degree to which the "educated" individuals of the society are indoctrinated to see the peaceful nature of American foreign policy, despite the blatant contradictory evidence of Vietnam, Panama, Guatemala, the Middle East, and of the US's role in other Latin and South American coups and bloodshed. Its applicability is obvious to far more than US foreign policy, such as the myth of free markets in a corporate world. From a 1986 interview:
     ...When the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, they got away with it. They didn't kill many people, but it was wrong because aggression is wrong. We all understand that. But we can't allow that understanding to be expressed when it relates to the violent action of our state, obviously. If this were a totalitarian state, the Ministry of Truth would simply have said, "It's right for us to go into Vietnam, period. Don't argue with it." People would have known that's the propaganda system talking and they could have thought what they wanted. They could have seen that we were attacking Vietnam just like we can see that the Russians are attacking Afghanistan.
     You couldn't permit that understanding of reality in this country; it's too dangerous. People are much more free, they can express themselves, they can do things. Therefore, it was necessary to try to control thought, to try to make it appear as if the only issue was a tactical one: can we get away with it? There's no issue of right or wrong. That worked partially, but not entirely. Among the educated part of the population it worked almost totally.
     There are good studies of this that show, with only the most marginal statistical error, that among the more educated parts of the population the government propaganda system was accepted unquestioningly. On the other hand, after a long period of popular spontaneous opposition, dissent and organization, the general population got out of control. As recently as 1982, according to the latest polls I've seen [this interview took place in Oct. '86] over 70% of the population still was saying that the war was, quoting the wording of the Gallup poll, "fundamentally wrong and immoral," not "a mistake." That is, the overwhelming majority of the population is neither hawks nor doves, but opposed to aggression. On the other hand, the educated part of the population, they're in line. For them, it's just the tactical question of hawk vs. dove.
     This is, incidentally, not untypical. Propaganda very often works better for the educated than it does for the uneducated. This is true on many issues. There are a lot of reasons for this, one being that the educated receive more of the propaganda because they read more. Another thing is that they are the agents of propaganda. After all, their job is that of commissars; they're supposed to be agents of the propaganda system so they believe it. It's very hard to say something unless you believe it. Other reasons are that, by and large, they are just part of the privileged elite so they share their interests and perceptions, whereas the general population is more marginalized. It, by and large, doesn't participate in the democratic system, which is overwhelmingly an elite game. People learn from their own lives to be sceptical, and in fact most of them are. There's a lot of scepticism and dissent and so on. (Chomsky, Noam. Chronicles of Dissent: Interviewed by David Barsamian. Vancouver, BC: New Star Books, 1992, p.48-9.)
Greed has always been more stupefying than sex. But only in a nearly completely stupefied society would greed be extolled as a virtue by our economic and political elite. And only in a society with an efficient machine of propaganda would that societally self-destructive belief come to be accepted or embraced by increasing numbers of the remnants of the middle class who assiduously read the business sections of the papers and the dummies books in their striving to make real the dream of a wealthy future that will be found in stocks and bonds and the purchase of third world goods. Our political and economic leaders can't have read even the most basic of fairy tales, in particular Midas, the Golden Goose, etc., and those involving dragons. All these stories warn against the effects of greed, they being killing everything and starving to death for the love of gold (Midas); destroying the source of wealth in greed driven impatience (Golden Goose); and the razing of community's whose wealth is hoarded in piles kept by dragons. Real world examples of each are clear-cut logging, the quarterly financial report and the recent banking and corporate bailouts.

Alas! I need to stop writing, now, before this entry gets completely out of control. When I'd started it I had thought I would cite a few passages from Spengler because he is challenging, and to show how anaemic is our education. Unfortunately that gave my fingers the energy needed to focus on reading and ignorance. I will re-visit Spengler soon. After I meander into STV (Single Transferable Vote), an issue which is raising itself into our media's eyes here in BC.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2009.01.03 - Nascent Year; Sonnet & Epictetus

The nascence of a year brings feelings of hope and helplessness. I do not make resolutions, at this time of year because the pressure's too great — how can I support the weight of a year when I am barely able to support a day's or even a morning's resolution? Despite the multiplicity of distractions in our age of diversions, I am struggling to live one day at a time, one moment at a time. And, to be honest, I am not doing that great a job at it. On the one hand the dream aspect of my Aquarian nature is very strong in me, so remaining in the pragmatic requirements of a tangible here and now is difficult: playing with words and ideas is so much more engaging than planning for next week's meals. On the other hand the diurnal aspect of living with a partially disabled wife, a mortgage and car payments, long hours at a challenging job, eating, etc., butts heads with my dream world and keeps life moiling. Do I take the time to do yoga, blather verbiage, prepare meals or make myself ready for work?
I began this blog while on a vacation from work. That vacation ends tomorrow night as I return to work on Monday. And I have an ambivalence about that, which is stronger than it has been in quite some time. I enjoy my job a great deal, but dislike my employer at least as much. I have enjoyed setting my own hours, within the challenging delimits of being with wife with her own set of hours. I loved the freedom to verbalize here and elsewhere, as my whim took me. And I am wondering how to proceed with this blog, when I become so busy with my 50 hour work weeks and living requirements that writing will fall to the wayside.

I think what I shall do is post some of my old writing, as well as new stuff. I have some fiction I'd like to put out into the world, and other writings, too. I have a correspondence that began in 2006 and continues to the present that I think might make an interesting blog contribution, if the other party agrees to it. And I wonder if there may be some entertainment and other value in posting a synopsis of and table of contents to the economics course book reader I have been put together for 'The Hand Inside the Invisible Glove: Economics for the Perceptive,' the economics course I have been building to promote critical thinking of the ideological nature of much of what passes for economic sagacity.
So many possibilities. Too many choices. And that could easily result in my getting nothing done as I dither and blather about choice instead of actually doing anything. Sigh!
And so, in a backwards way, my fingers have pushed me to begin - two days late! - to make a kind of public year's resolution about this blog. What will come of that? We'll see.
I did write a poem, a kind of new year's sonnet! It is was initiated with Kim's request that we celebrate the new year with a candle light meditation. I used our fireplace instead, and here's the result:

In Black, Shadow Puppets Dance
In black, shadow puppets dance with the light
That leaps in bounds to fire a new year born.
Wick'd stories fill with dread an endless night
Of starry dreams dreamt once but now stillborn.
But how the gilt flames o'er leap these limits!
They tickle hearts open with glitt'ring scenes
Of thick plated truths, gold carded credits,
Hip hopping livers and bilious spleens.
I stare and stare. And to my dark eyes' chagrin
Sharp smoke caresses and brings to them tears.
When I blink through the brine my mind starts to spin
A tale of two halves – my mask-face and fears.
  The flickering night has caught spots in my mind,
  Spots black in my mind my mind minds to find.

Well that was some new writing.
What about some old stuff? Hmmmmm. Well, I am reading the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus right now, which I am thoroughly enjoying. So maybe I will truly cheat, and transcribe some very very old words here, albeit not mine, to mark the nascent year with something aged:

…it is a more valuable thing to get a dinner, than not; and a greater disgrace to be whipt, than not to be whipt; — so that, if you measure yourself by these things, go and do your office.
“Ay, but this is not suitable to my character.”
It is you who are to consider that, not I; for it is you who know yourself, what value you set upon yourself, and at what rate you sell yourself; for different people sell themselves at different prices (Epictetus Book I Ch II).

And I think that is a good ending to the beginning of a year: what is the price at which I am willing to sell my self?