Political self gratificationMAOTE: All right. Let's leave the necessarily petty bitterness of Geek Wars behind for a time, now, and talk about politics a little.
ME: Works for me.
MAOTE: It would pretty much have to, yeah. So... politics has pretty much always been a mess throughout the history of man. What's your silver bullet? What's the ideal form of government? And how do you get to it from what we've got?
ME: It... hmmm. 'Silver bullet'... you mean, some panacea to somehow resolve all the conflicts and problems we currently face, socially, nationally, and globally, as individuals, citizens of a nation-state, members of a race, and inhabitants of a limited ecosphere?
MAOTE: Uh... yeah. How would YOU solve the problems of the world?
ME: Given the Cosmic Cube or some other plot device that makes me all powerful... well... that's not a very realistic question, and I already answered it anyway in a novel and a couple of short stories. But it's a useful question regardless, because it underscores what I think is the fundamental problem with government, any government... we tend to expect too much of it.
MAOTE: How so?
ME: Well, America really is unique in human history, and in human social/political evolution. And I think that uniqueness comes largely from the fact that the American founding fathers had a previously unheard of political insight -- that wisdom is an individual attribute, one that is rarely or never found in groups of humans.
MAOTE: I'll pretend I don't follow you so you can explicate.
ME: Thanks! This self interview stuff makes expository dialogue so easy. Okay -- whether people are aware of it or not, what they hunger and thirst for, when they think of a 'better government' is a wise government. Whatever it is they want from their governing authority structure -- that it take care of them during natural disasters, that it protect them from harm, that it defend their individual liberties, that it keep taxes as low as possible and waste those taxes on idiocy as little as is feasible -- all of that boils down to 'wisdom'.
MAOTE: Which you would define as --
ME: Oh, Jesus. Wisdom is -- wisdom is the ability to learn not only from your own experience, but vicariously from the experience of others you become aware of, and to apply what you have learned in a manner that is consistently effective in resolving conflicts and solving problems.
MAOTE: Uh... ::ticking finger in air:: yeah... okay... okay, that works, I guess...
ME: But there are different kinds of wisdom, just as there are different kinds of luck. One person may be very wise in the ways of, say, the Amazon wilderness. Another may be wise in the ways of the streets of Brooklyn. Another may be wise in the ways of, saying, getting a grant proposal through Congress, or handling a budget meeting in the English department of a large University. Political wisdom is the most demanding of all -- it requires that you be able to use your own experience, and the experience of others, to effectively and consistently resolve not only your own personal conflicts, but the conflicts of a society, a nation, a race, or, well, generally, a group of human beings... and humans are the most cantankerous and difficult to lead entities in the known universe.
MAOTE: So we long for wise government. But...
ME: But, again, wisdom is an individual attribute. You rarely... I want to say 'never', but I don't generally believe in 'never', so, rarely... see it in groups of humans. Put the six wisest men and women in the world in a conference room with coffee and donuts, and tell them to, I don't know, come up with a plan for directing traffic smoothly around the Super Bowl, and two hours later, they'll still be arguing over who has to brew more coffee, because, you know, the guy from New Zealand deliberately left half a cupful in the bottom of the pot so he wouldn’t have to do it, and the woman from Canada is resolutely refusing to take that last half cupful and get stuck with the job.
Wisdom is stable only within the individual; try to spread it over a group and it evaporates.
MAOTE: So to get 'wise government', you need to get one wise person and let them run everything.
ME: Yeah. Which is the basis of every human government, pretty much, prior to the founding of America. Caesars, dictators, tribal shamans, kings, monarchs, pharoahs, emperors... whatever you call the Big Boss, it is basically this principle at work... find someone who seems like an effective problem solver, let them solve the problems.
MAOTE: But that won't work for the long run, because your effective problem solver eventually dies, and then...
ME: Other, less wise people covet the power he accumulated. Material power is a form of wealth, just like anything else, and it can be passed along, or seized. Once you give it to an effective problem solver... or he or she just takes it, effectively solving the problem of doing so and proving themselves 'politically wise' at least to that extent... it multiplies and takes on a mass of its own, and there is nothing people covet more than power. So once your first 'wise person' dies, there is inevitably a fight over who will inherit his or her power...
MAOTE: …which is a problem in and of itself.
ME: Yeah. And you have another problem, too. Wisdom rarely survives the accumulation of power. Take the wisest person you can find and give them absolute authority over a group of people, and that person will tend to, gradually or abruptly, become less wise.
MAOTE: Absolute power corrupts...
ME: We're trying to avoid clichés, but, yeah.. Anyway, that's the problem with seeking 'wise' government... you need to basically set up a government of one person. A tyranny, a monarchy, an imperium... whatever you want to call it. And however this form of government starts out, it won't stay 'wise' very long.
MAOTE: So... what... you try to find a way to make a governing group wise? How do you do that?
ME: I don't think you can. We’re just not that evolved or enlightened yet; any group of people is going to have problems getting along well enough to solve problems well. And our Founding Fathers knew this, too. They didn't bother trying to cut that particular Gordian knot. They decided wise government wasn't worth the effort.
MAOTE: And instead, they created… inept government?
ME: More or less. They tried to create a benign government, the only way they could… by, yeah, making it inept. Authority is going to become corrupt; you can’t stop it. So you have to set it up so that even when it does inevitably go bad, it can’t hurt you much.
So our Founding Fathers deliberately set out to create a form of government that wouldn't be wise, but that would at least be somewhat effective at what it needed to do, while, at the same time, spreading all the power across the largest number of people possible. See, they deliberately set up the opposite of the 'one wise person ruling all' model. They said 'okay, we'll have a lot of idiots handling everything more or less collectively… and when those idiots try to take advantage of their power, well, they won’t have much power to take advantage of'.
Things won't get done efficiently, and often they won't get done effectively... but they'll get done, just because, well, as S.M. Stirling likes to say, quantity has a quality all its own.
MAOTE: I don’t know. That seems awfully cynical.
ME: The most idealistically founded nation-state in the world was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Me, I’ll take cynicism; it generally works better.
MAOTE: That seems awfully cynical, too…
ME: That’s what a lot of people don’t get about the founding of the United States… it wasn’t an act of idealism. Our Founding Fathers were out for themselves. They were tired of having the Crown and the Church take their shit away from them, so they came to a new continent where they hoped they’d be far enough away from that nonsense to be left alone. Turned out they weren’t far enough away, and they didn’t feel like moving any further, so they fought… and when they succeeded in kicking the Church and the Crown out, they sat down and created a government structure meant to guarantee that the Church and the Crown would never be able to fuck with them again. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are not idealistic, they are very selfish… they are documents that say, ‘you can’t mess with us; these are all the ways you can’t mess with us, now leave us alone’.
MAOTE: You make our Founding Fathers sound very libertarian.
ME: Yeah… I don’t know. ‘Libertarian’ has turned into one of those words that means whatever you’re pointing to at the time… a lot like ‘Republican’ and ‘conservative’, actually.
MAOTE: You don’t think ‘Republican’ and ‘conservative’ are terms that have a specific meaning?
ME: Okay, I put that badly. I think ‘Republican’ and ‘conservative’ have become very successfully marketed brands that no longer have a great deal to do with what they are placed on. Our current Republican Party no longer has particularly Republican values. And the people we point at and refer to as ‘conservatives’… well… to be conservative is actually to be someone who is trying hard to protect the status quo. Conservatives, for the last twenty years or so, have been fighting hard to undo the status quo. The entire modern conservative movement is a backlash against the ongoing success of progressive government and social policies throughout the 20th Century. The ‘status quo’ they are trying to protect is from the 1950s… and not the real 1950s, but some idealized, Archie Andrews at the malt shop, Father Knows Best 1950s that never actually existed.
MAOTE: Yeah, I see what you’re saying. But you don’t think there are still Republicans out there who believe in Republican values… you know… states rights, the Constitution, patriotism, law & order, individual liberties… family values… whatever the hell it is Republicans believe in…?
ME: They want Federal laws that prohibit gay marriage, abortion, and flag burning. If they can’t get those through Congress, then, sure, they want a Supreme Court that will weaken or throw out the existing Federal laws, so they can legislate whatever they want on a state level. They want rule of law for a Democratic President, but a Republican President can do whatever he wants. They want to keep American troops home if Clinton wants to send them somewhere to save lives, but they’re perfectly happy to see them sent off on an illegal invasion without proper equipment if a Republican president does it. They’ll get up in arms about the body armor thing, sure, until a Democrat uses it as a campaign issue, then body armor is for wussies. If a Democrat lies, cheats, or steals, they should resign immediately, then go to jail. If a Republican does it, they’re a hero and it’s a damned shame those worthless America hating liberals managed to drag such a great man down.
MAOTE: So you’re saying that conservatives and Republicans are hypocritical…?
ME: I’m saying… well, no, first, they aren’t. But leave that aside for the moment. I’m saying, right now, we shouldn’t call them ‘Republicans’ or ‘conservatives’. Those words mean different things, and stand for different things, than the current groups labeled with those words. It’s misleading. We need to call them something else.
MAOTE: Such as?
ME: I don’t know. The Power Party works. It pretty much sums up what they’re all about.
MAOTE: You mentioned that you didn’t feel they were hypocrites, despite the endless litany of ‘they said this then/they’re saying this now’ that anyone can reel off regarding the Republicans and conservatives. How do you figure that?
ME: Well, the left wing keeps track of that stuff. Left wing blogs exult in it, they constantly point out ‘the Republicans are being hypocritical, blah blah blah, they wanted to send Clinton to jail for perjury, but they defend Bush when he authorizes illegal military action, imprisons Americans without trial, signs off on torture, initiates illegal domestic spying programs, lets his aides out covert CIA operatives, etc’. All of these things are illegal, indictable, unConstitutional, and by any sane standards, far worse than Clinton playing semantics to avoid answering a question about his damn sex life that wasn’t anybody else’s business but his, his wife’s, and Monica Lewinski’s, anyway. So the Republicans and conservatives are hypocritical, because, you know, they have one standard for Democratic Presidents, and another for their own. That’s the gist of it.
MAOTE: And you’d argue with that?
ME: The Republicans and conservatives aren’t hypocritical. They want power. They want influence. They want authority. They want wealth. They want those things, and they will do whatever they have to do to get those things. They aren’t hypocritical about it. When Clinton was in office, he diminished Republican power and influence; they did everything they could to get rid of him. With Bush in office, they do everything they can to support him… as long as his presence in the Oval Office is working toward their goals, which are now and always have been, securing and increasing their own personal and political power.
MAOTE: So, they’re being true to themselves…
ME: Always. It’s like calling Rush Limbaugh a hypocrite because he wants to put every junkie in jail and every drug pusher on Death Row… until he gets hooked on Oxycontin and starts getting illegal scrips from his maid. But he’s not a hypocrite, because Limbaugh doesn’t really care one way or another about drug addicts and drug dealers, what he cares about is his own power and wealth. And he secures and increases those things by securing and increasing his audience, which he does by telling them whatever they want to hear. He’s not a hypocrite… well, he is if you listen to what he SAYS. But not if you watch what he DOES. He believes one thing and says another, yeah… but the truth is, he has always been out for himself. What he says to get what he wants is going to vary somewhat as what his audience wants to hear changes, but, still, he’s always been true to himself.
MAOTE: Well, okay, but I’d still call them hypocritical. They say one thing, they mean something else.
ME: Oh, they’re lying scum. But it’s important to understand that whatever they said when Clinton was in power, they didn’t really mean it. Everything the Power Party says basically translates as “Get out of our way, give us what we want, shut up, roll over, get out of our way, give us what we want”. That’s what it all comes down to. They change the talking points as it suits that underlying agenda, but the underlying agenda is always there. And when liberals play “gotcha!”, they honestly cannot understand how the Power Party can just stand there and say “we never said that” or “9/11 changed everything” or “fuck you, you’re an idiot”. The liberal attitude is “Don’t you people have any shame?” But they Power Party has no shame, because they feel they have nothing to be ashamed of. They set out to get power, anyway they can get it, and they are doing that.
MAOTE: Yeah, but… I mean, that’s all politicians in a nutshell, right?
ME: I suppose. You’re not going to run for office if you don’t want power, certainly. But people want power for different reasons. The current conservative movement in America started out more or less ideologically pure. It was a backlash against the steady success and expansion of progressive social and government policies over the course of the 20th century. People who felt threatened by a world that was changing too rapidly for them, and that seemed to be incorporating too many different, even alien elements in it, were looking around for a way to slow things down for a while, or even turn the clock back. That was what the current conservative movement was all about, back then… just trying to give a voice and some influence back to a segment of Americans who felt that as minorities gained more influence, they themselves had become marginalized.
MAOTE: Which is ridiculous and insane, as, you know, Caucasians were and are still a majority in America, Christianity is still the majority religion, white males still essentially run nearly everything…
ME: I’m not arguing with that; in addition to being ridiculous and insane, the conservative movement has always been mean spirited and selfish. You pretty much have to be, to believe that the world is okay the way it is and we should try to keep it this way. That’s essentially the ‘I got mine, now you get yours, but keep your hands off mine’ attitude, and that’s conservatism in a nut shell.
MAOTE: So when you say they were ‘ideologically pure’…
ME: I mean they were trying to get into power so they could accomplish a certain social agenda. It was a stupid, crazy, mean spirited, regressive, crypto-medieval social agenda, but they felt they had an honest grievance. I mean, they grew up in a world where a white man could tell a Polack or a Jew joke at work, and if it offended someone, they’d better just shut up about it. White guys could have a bikini babes calendar on their desk. They could pat the secretary’s ass. Management didn’t have to explain why they wouldn’t hire a woman or a black guy. Every church had a cross on the top of it. You didn’t have to dial 1 for English when you called customer service.
MAOTE: It was like Paradise for skeevy white guys.
ME: Yeah. They wanted that back. They genuinely felt that they had a grievance… that in the midst of all this seemingly sudden pluralism, where every other culture and race was finding a voice and showing ethnic pride, the Caucasian race and culture was in danger of being minimized and lost.
MAOTE: You almost sound wistful.
ME: No, I’m not at all happy about having my own ethnicity intrinsically coupled with bigotry and hatred, thanks. Yeah, it bothers me sometimes that female empowerment is considered inherently good, while male empowerment is considered to be objectionable, and I don’t like affirmative action… I don’t think you get rid of bias by reversing and then institutionalizing it. I think ‘the level playing field’ may be the best phrase Clinton ever introduced into our social lexicon, regardless of how much of a joke it’s been turned into by conservatives. All I’m pointing out is, when the modern conservative movement began, they had an actual social goal. It was a hateful social goal, but still, the power they were trying to attain was meant to serve a greater end.
MAOTE: And you think that’s changed?
ME: Oh, absolutely. I think people like Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney and George Bush and Tom Delay are pretty clearly into power for power’s sake. They say whatever they need to say to keep their core supporters engaged… they’ll whore to anyone that can get them votes, as long as it doesn’t actually cost them votes… but they no longer care about the agenda they preach. They want power and wealth for its own sake.
MAOTE: You’re saying they aren’t even trying to implement a conservative agenda anymore? Isn’t that good news?
ME: Well, they sure as shit aren’t trying to implement a liberal, progressive agenda, so no, it isn’t. They’re already rich and powerful, so they are trying to change the laws to make themselves more rich and powerful. They’re cutting taxes for the wealthy, they’re setting up domestic spying programs, they’re deregulating every industry they are heavily invested in, they’re keeping the U.S. out of any treaties that would cost them money, they’re waging a war to make sure we have a supply of petrochemicals for the remainder of their lives, because they sure as shit don’t want to their portfolios to take a hit from viable alternative energy. People are upset because Alito is going to get rid of Roe vs. Wade, but that’s a smoke screen. Bush and his crew want Alito because, like John Roberts, he is heavily pro-wealthy and pro-business. With him on the court, they can completely gut the EPA, and no major corporation is ever going to lose a big lawsuit again.
MAOTE: So you don’t think they’re going to start up concentration camps for Arabs or Mexicans or anything?
ME: Not unless they can make a profit doing it. Bush actually wants to legalize all the illegals in the country, because it will effectively create an enormous cheap labor class. His crew has no pragmatic objection to it, but it’s going to cost them votes with their white constituency, so they’re sitting on it for now. Once they get Alito on the bench, though, they’ll go after the Federal minimum wage next… they’ll find some argument that it’s unConstitutional. After which, watch how fast illegal immigrants get driver’s licenses and working papers… and all the jobs Americans won’t do, at 35 cents an hour.
MAOTE: Any other predictions?
ME: They made bankruptcy much harder to file to please the credit card companies. Watch for it to become illegal, and watch for debtor’s prison to make a come back. Then watch for indentured service to come back, too. It will, effectively, be legalized slavery… people who owe money to corporations will be able to be forced to pay it off with labor contracts, or go to jail, and, most likely, shortly after that, they’ll make it legal for any adult who wants to to sell themselves into indentured servitude, too.
MAOTE: Sounds bad.
ME: Yeah, well… it will probably be a generation or two before they let parents sell their kids, but… yeah, if we don’t derail this thing, it’s going to get bad.