Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Politics

Politics is a topic that I'd rather not think about, but we're entering the in-your-face phase of the 2016 U.S. elections and I would like to summarize some of my ideas in order to help clear them from my brain. The way the media handles this is something like nonstop Super Bowl coverage, and I may soon have to refrain from following the news.

In my view, the American political system is a hopeless attempt to simulate democratic participation that could only work on a much smaller scale with culturally homogeneous people and no class distinctions, including wealth differentiation. Not only does the U.S. encompass a large, culturally varied population, but corporations have long played a role in elections and are now de facto people themselves, with significantly greater political influence than any individuals. During my life I've lived in a variety of states, and the influence of businesses on the state governments has been obvious. Wealthy, industrialized states such as New York and Illinois tend to have business-dominated legislatures and high levels of corruption, whereas smaller, non-industrialized states such as Vermont and Oregon have legislatures that more closely represent the population and are generally less corrupt. On the whole, I find the Vermont government satisfactory, and I attribute this to the state's unindustrialized status and its well-educated population. There is no basis for thinking that the political environment in Vermont could easily be replicated in most other states.

As it is, I find the American presidential elections embarrassingly stupid. No matter who wins, the next president will be indebted to corporate contributors and other special interests. Whatever ideas any candidate may have, all presidents are constricted by the explicit or implicit commitments that they made to contributors. This partially explains why Barack Obama has not been much different from George W. Bush and why even the likable Bill Clinton was pro-business and anti-populist. There is little reason to expect that Hillary Clinton would represent any change in thinking from what has been going on in politics here for the last fifty years.

Although I don't think this is a popular opinion among my readers, the goal ought to be to automate government as much as possible, and this would be much easier to do if the capitalist economy were either modified or eliminated. An example of my thesis that humans are ignorant animals is that it is currently difficult for Americans to imagine a life in which they are not chasing paychecks, even when humans throughout most of their existence were not chasing paychecks. There were no employers or currencies before the last ice age, and about ninety percent of our time as a species was spent during that period. If you took business interests out of the equation, I think it would be relatively simple to organize society according to rational rules that could be made into algorithms. We may not yet be at a technological level where capitalism could be drawn to a close, but that may be closer than you think.

What I find annoying about political debate is that technology as I am describing it never seems to be considered. In the U.S., you are supposed to be either a Democrat, implying acceptance of capitalism but with attention paid to the less fortunate, or a Republican, implying acceptance of capitalism with no attention paid to the less fortunate. The only other positions Americans seem to recognize are communism, which they think results in collapsed economies and autocratic leaders, or theocracies, in which the women have no rights and are, for example, required to wear burkas. When you leave technology out of the discussion, you neglect the important fact that human labor is gradually becoming obsolete, with inexpensive technology permanently replacing people at an accelerating pace. I certainly have no difficulty imagining machines doing a better job at governing than the elected officials I've observed throughout my life.

There are too many variables in play to predict exactly how humanity will evolve over the next fifty to one hundred years. Among those are political instability, war, global warming, economic shocks and unmanaged population growth. A fairly probable scenario is that, at least among the developed countries, the need for human labor will decline significantly, even without radical changes such as the development of super-intelligence. Super-intelligence is in a class by itself, because it could result in technological change far in excess of what we currently anticipate. But even short of that, it is clear that social changes will have to occur if people no longer work or corporations as we know them cease to exist. It is quite possible that, as paid human labor declines, taxation will have to be increased sufficiently to prevent social collapse. If people can't find a living wage and the government doesn't support them, how else will they survive? The main alternative is the two-class system that you see in dystopian futuristic films, with a cruel ruling elite and impoverished masses at their mercy. It is plausible that the governments of developed countries will be forced to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations to such a high level that the incentive to work primarily for money will evaporate. If that occurs, all of the economic competition and exploitation that we currently see as normal could end.

From my point of view, the national politics that we witness in the U.S. is primarily about wealth redistribution, and the wealthy are winning. To be sure, many other issues are addressed in Washington, but that is barely audible chatter and is drowned out by the roaring torrents of money awash there.

2 comments:

  1. The sound of roaring torrents of money lulls me peacefully to sleep.

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    Replies
    1. Perhaps I should start a Lullaby of the Day series.

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