Can we get practical? Is utilitarianism the basis of our society? (And fixing our House)

Writing this during the month after D-Day commemorations, I want to start by linking to a fine essay about how the world changed after World War II, spreading (more widely, though unevenly) the notion and reality of a largely educated and comfortable and free middle class, a dream and partial reality that Karl Marx never imagined possible… 

…only the world then changed then again, when the 6000 year disease of oligarchy began re-asserting itself, dissolving the social contract set up by the Greatest Generation and – ironically – reviving Marx from the dustbin where middle-class society had tossed him. 

The author of that article is slightly to the left of my “Maher-Liberalism,” but makes strong points – sometimes citing me – about why today’s oligarchy never does anything practical to benefit the ill-educated whites who are their ground troops in a re-ignited confederacy

As in the 1860s, and every other phase of the ongoing U.S. Civil War, those poor whites are propelled far more by resentment and revenge, than they are by practical considerations. Especially resentment of every ‘nerdy’ or fact-using profession… those high IQ stoopid people derided by an Ivy League graduate with a fake-folksy accent. 

Hatred of the very same professions who created all the wealth and technologies and social advances that ‘made America great.’ The same nerds – from science to law to medicine to journalism, teaching and civil service, all the way to the civil servants and officer corps – who block re-imposition of feudalism.

The Weekly Sift essay includes my comparisons of Asimov’s psychohistory to the astonishingly effective sci fi self-preventing prophecies of Karl Marx.

Science fiction authors tend to notice such things. Which is why most of us lean mostly-progressive. Very few of us speak up for a return to those 60 centuries of lobotomized feudal oppression, the way that Orson Scott Card does, with utter-dogmatic repetitiveness. In fact, the unfairly-maligned Robert Heinlein’s most vehement denunciations were aimed at America’s recurring dalliance with fascist racism, aristocratism and anti-intellectual rage.

I say all that, even though I am also unabashed in pointing out – now and then – the countless, loony tactical errors – often driven by egoistic sanctimony – that cripple the partisans of progress. Errors that keep giving varied versions of fascism yet another chance, then another…

No, we can only serve future generations if we are practical about our tactics and designs, re-assessing what works and building the sort of broad coalitions that defeated naziism and Stalinism and Klanism. And so…

== Points about utilitarianism … ==

1) The Enlightenment Experiment (EE) of the last 300 years involved many, many theoretical discussions of ethics… and almost none of them interest me! Because I know that I am a delusional ape, transfixed by ornate-sounding incantations! Indeed I have seen what delusional incantations have done in the past, even when well-intended.  

I care about outcomes, especially those that increase the likelihood that this ape’s descendants will deal with all the hifalutin quandaries and questions and big-matters, far better than I can. 

Even utilitarianism – which comes closest – misses the mark with the cliché phrase ‘greatest good for the greatest number.’

Whose good? By whose standards? 

2) What the Enlightenment Experiment has accomplished that is of pragmatic utility is providing systems that maximize critical input from an ever-widening pool of perceptual participants! 

This broadening of empowered input reduced the greatest crime of feudalism… waste of talent.  It also led (barely just in time) maximizing discovery of delusional errors

These two endeavors resulted in by far the most successful – by any measure – civilization in all history. And the most self-critical, with millions determined not to repeat mistakes of past generations. And to denounce every new one!

3) This expansion of empowered participation required more than simply feeding and educating more children, expanding inclusive rights, flattening hierarchies and encouraging criticism. 

It also required the creation of systemically regulated. Arenas within which creative adversaries can compete. But that means replacing the brutal forms of competition seen in nature and in feudalism with regulated competition – like how sports leagues operate in tightly umpired ways that maximize positive sum outcomes, by reducing cheating and minimizing blood on the floor.

 (Nature also uses competition and is fecundly creative – it made us. But Nature’s competitive creativity is also spectacularly bloody and inefficient. Regulated arenas seem capable of getting competition’s benefits in much more positive sum and gentler ways.)

These highly-creative arenas of ritual competition are markets, democracy, science courts and (as I just said) sports. (Some might add journalism). I describe the process here: “Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition.” (This early version appeared as the lead article in the American Bar Association’s Journal on Dispute Resolution (Ohio State University), v.15, N.3, pp 597-618, Aug. 2000.)

As I said, by regulating competition to keep it flat, open, fair, these arenas become positive sum. But maintaining them and suppressing the recurring poison of cheating requires constant attention, fine tuning and hard work

Cynics claim that this dynamic may have worked well for a while (the Rooseveltean social contract) and somewhat for 250 years, but it cannot be maintained: 

“Once the technological/ developmental gap is sufficiently large those dynamics which operate largely under our control and in our favor can quickly change, and former allies become the new masters”

But I answer twofold:

1- Yes the odds have always been against the Enlightenment Experiment! Human nature pushes toward the feudalism trap and escapes are rare.

2- Despite that, there is NO such cause effect imperative or automatic outcome! 

Oh, sure, there is always an attractor, in each of the arenas, for cheaters to find ways around the rules, often conniving together. The feudal attractor state is driven by primitive male reproductive strategies that pervade not just Homo sapiens but nearly all species…

And yet, so? Preventing that failure mode is one of the jobs of open, enlightenment politics… sincere negotiation of the incentives and regulations that keep those arena playing fields ever-more flat-fair-creative. Indeed, for feudalism to be restored, the world oligarchy’s top priority must be to destroy “politics” as a means of deliberative negotiated problem solving, especially in the United States.  

And boy, that plot has been successful! So far!

What many neglect is the long history of successful efforts to control and stymie that attractor tendency… 

…including the way that YOU and YOUR VALUES fit into it all, since you are a product of the most extensive propaganda campaign ever waged. Called Hollywood.  

I find it bizarre how many folks – bright ones – seem addicted to the smug notion that “I and just a few others invented suspicion of authority!”

Not. You suckled your values from the teat of Hollywood, same as all your neighbors.  See Vivid Tomorrows: Science Fiction and Hollywood. So let’s fight for that Enlightenment Experiment that may give our heirs the stars! 

Just have some calm sense of proportion, will ya? Gandhi and MLK and Franklin and Douglass weren’t just righteous… they were tacticians!  They built coalitions.

== Making at least one house democratic ==

Want the simplest and best and easiest U.S. congressional reforms that aren’t to be found in Polemical Judo?

1.)  Repeal the 1929 Permanent Apportionment Act. It permanently set the maximum number of members in the House of Representatives at 435. Hence a lot of the distortions in proportional representation, since each state gets at least one representative.

2.)  Then legalize a Wyoming Rule, where the number of representatives each state gets is proportional to the population of the least populous state (aka Wyoming with 578,803) which gets one representative. California (population 39,237,836) gets 68 representatives, an increase of 16 over its current 52. That increases the total number of representatives to 573.

3.) This would take just a majority law, needing no amendments.

4.)  Then, more ambitiously, also make both the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico states (both have more population than Wyoming). DC would get one representative and Puerto Rico would get 6, further increasing House membership to 580.

A decent contractor can expand the hall of congress to seat the additional reps and provide them office space – or these reps can work remotely based on seniority (which is how they assign office space anyways). Have you seen how cramped the UK House of Commons is?

This would also reduce some (not all) of the obscene distortions to proportional representation in the electoral college.

This Washington Post article by constitutional scholar Danielle Allen – ‘The House was supposed to grow with population. It didn’t. Let’s fix that’ offers arguments for the same change that are less partisan, more mature and grownup. And those reasons should suffice! The author’s point? Historically this enlargement would actually be consistent with the framers’ original intent! Which was clearly stated in many places.  

I am less calm and mature and perhaps more angry. The Confederacy has an inherent advantage in the Senate already. It should nt in the House, where every citizen’s vote should have equal value.


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