Thursday, August 30, 2012

Voter ID and the futility of mass democracy

Republicans and Democrats are once again squabbling over the rules of the election -- each side making principled claims to hide what is surely nothing more than partisan opportunism. Despite their many disagreements, the two sides in this debate agree on one thing: that there is an ideal electoral system that would produce a legitimate government.

However, each side does a pretty good job poking holes in the other's arguments. They make it clear that we can't really know anything about our mass elections -- who the voters are, if there is any fraud, and ultimately, who is the legitimate government.

We never had this problem in my college fraternity, because each of us knew each of the others by sight. Yet the "democratic" state hopes that it can create a community among essentially anonymous individuals. Weird.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Who's the Party Elite? (at the Monkey Cage)

I just want to point you to a post at the Monkey Cage, discussing the role of media institutions in defining political parties: Who's the Party Elite?

The author David Karol bemoans the lack of public appreciation for how political parties are shaped by what we might call "allied institutions". This ignorance is pervasive, and I believe it underlies the idea that campaign finance regulations will act as some sort of rescue from plutocracy and elitism in government. After all, what does it matter if some rich guy can buy a political advertisement in the newspaper if he can just buy (or build) an entire newspaper for use as a propaganda tool?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Blackmail Inc.

There's another interesting overview at Philosophical Disquisitions, this time focusing on blackmail. The basic question is why should blackmail be prohibited if it is composed of acts that are individually permissible. Anyone who is wedded to absolute free speech as a general principle of social organization (as I am), should be familiar with these arguments.

In this case, Danaher is focusing on Epstein's Blackmail Inc.,described as...

Such a corporation would spend all its time hunting down salacious and upsetting information about people, carefully gaining monopoly control over that information, and demanding money for its non-disclosure.

Would such a world be a pleasant one? Would it be one we ought to welcome? Epstein thinks not, and his reasons for thinking not form the basis of his argument in favour of the continuing criminalisation of blackmail.

 I have some thoughts on this, but should wait for Danaher to finish describing the established work. Mainly, I would object to the models of society that are implied with these arguments (e.g. that society would not adjust to the existence of Blackmail Inc., and that criminalization is an effective way to reduce deceit and fraud in society).

Thursday, August 16, 2012

No more trophies

Elitists often complain about the development of a culture where "everyone is special", and kids get trophies just for participating. I agree that it is silly to give a trophy to everyone regardless of whether they won or lost (as happened when I played tee-ball).

But you know what? It's silly to give out trophies at all: especially trophies that are as big as the kids. Winning a little league tournament is not an accomplishment worth commemorating. I had amassed a large collection of sports trophies by the time I was in high school, but in my late teens it dawned on me that they were just a pile of plastic BS. Some of them served their purpose as mementos, but a team picture and a gold sticker would have been just as good. Nowadays we can just stick that stuff online. If anything, that default trophy during my first year of baseball only whetted my appetite for gaining additional pieces of shiny plastic.

As others have explained, we shouldn't be competing for trinkets denoting status. We compete in sports because it provides structure to our activities, and maybe even trains us for living a good life. We should walk away from the field having enjoyed the challenge and shaking hands with our opponents. We need to note the score, but commemorating such events indicates that we have lost sight of what matters in life.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Failure of government: election tampering

One of the interesting things about democracy is that we all want it, but we don't agree on what it is. This isn't simply a matter of disagreeing about the ideal election system while acknowledging that all of the variants are essentially democratic. Instead, the most common disputes over the conduct of elections turn out to be power plays as various factions try to change the rules in their own favor. Today it's the manufactured hysteria over voter-fraud, yesterday it was a battle over gerrymandered districts, and then there's the incessant jiggering of the rules over payments for political communications.

It's bad enough that politicians are constantly campaigning for re-election, but it seems that even when they are passing legislation, they're just thinking of how they can retain power. When do they find the time to actually do the people's business? My impression is that they don't.