It's the Stupid Political System, Stupid


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(T(This was in response to questions posed about the future in Nanodot. I tackled the future of politics and how it might affect the future of Nan.)

I don’t think that I’m qualified to comment on some of the tech questions, but I actually do have some thoughts on what the future of politics should look like. It seems to me, as an observer of the tech scene, that tech types don’t really take a very deep look at the political world. My own personal take on this is that tech people should hack into political structures with the same fervor that they attack code.

My initial reaction to all of these questions, in fact, is that things will generally go very badly under our current system of political discourse..

For argument’s sake, let’s just assume that the United States is the government in place over the people who first create the first great tech singularity—whether that’s a working assembler created from the Pentagon Black Budget or someone who evolves genetic computing into something that can pass a Turing test. I know Japan has a couple of Manhattan projects in the works and there is the question of whether certain multinationals like IBM or Xerox constitute their own international nation states, but I’m trying to keep this simple (for myself mostly.)

First, the United States Political System is hopelessly and perhaps fatally corrupt. It’s run by two factions of the Big Business Party which differs only slightly on the bigger issues of the day. People don’t vote because they’re stupid, they don’t vote because they see very little substantive difference between the candidates and they also know their vote every couple of years means nothing against the daily favors provided by big lobbyists and campaign contributors. Its kind of a top down system geared for the benefits of elites and to the detriment of the masses. The kind of centrist, say nothing candidates is a direct result of a system that tends to favor those kinds of results. To paraphrase a popular catchphrase: It’s the stupid political system, stupid. At the time of its founding more than 200 years ago, our system was probably cutting edge. Now, thanks to the work of Lani Guinier, it can be stated that we could and should do a whole lot better. In fact, when she was in effect censored from defending herself those many years ago, I had to find out more about her "dangerous" and "seditious" ideas. What I found out made me realize why power brokers didn’t want her to have her say. But more on Guinier’s ideas later.

The other problem with the government is that its just too damn slow to deal with tech issues and is way too vulnerable to being bribed by the offending parties. Just look at what’s happening to Microsoft. By the time the Supreme Court gets around to making a call on whether Microsoft is a monopoly or not, we’ll probably all have switched to computer pda devices where we use our sunglasses for display screens. All powered by Palm or Linux software by the way. Or Microsoft. Who knows. The government certainly isn’t going to stop them. Bush pretty much said he’d lay the heat off Microsoft if he wins, but now that the Software Kings are players now in money giving, it probably doesn’t matter who wins.

Imagine, if you will, the government’s equally slow response to assembler tech if it’s ever perfected. We would all be assimilated before a single court could even look at the case. Now, like most readers of this site I’m not a huge fan of the writings of Bill Joy, but the kind of slow government we have is completely unable to deal with these kinds of vast changes. Joy’s warnings make sense in that kind of context.

So what do you if you have a corrupt government that thrives on what Lani Guinier calls the "Tyranny of the Majorities"? Well, on the one hand you have to work within. You have to do public relations. You have to counter those Turning Point ads, which are the ideological underpinnings of the folks who eventually would like to tell you to just stop what you’re doing. You have to pick between two candidates, who regardless of what you actually think of them, are driven by corrupted parties.. And you have to live by a higher ethical code. For example, maybe it’s not a good idea to do research on selective and deadly nan no matter how much naval intelligence or the military gives you in grant money.

On the other hand, in a strictly thinking outside of the box kind of mode, why not create new societies with better democratic systems? I think Sealand is the first real hint of this. If you can create a nation that is composed of an old oil platform, why not one composed of a moving fleet of luxury ocean liners? Or why not pull our those old Marshall Savage ideas and see if you can actually build ocean habitats. But most importantly you could create societies that aren’t built on old, military command style hierarchies, but democratic networks. How about a society that allows national referendums on important issues? How about allowing computerized voting on important issues like RU 486 or where the first assembler experiments will be held? How about letting citizens vote on all national issues that they find important?

The answers to most of these questions will end very badly in our current system. The only solution is to create new and better political systems for smarter societies…

Of course offworld is the ideal. And who knows maybe NASA’s gravity shielding will work and if space becomes affordable then I say let’s leave. And let’s not emulate the dumb old politics of old earth. Let’s study the Friere, the Guinier, and the idea of networked democracy and let’s create better institutions for the stars.