A commenter recently asked:
Do you see a sort of “Star Trek Federation of Planets” rising out of our present situation (for this one planet, obviously) operating upon a framework of basic human rights principles, such as: “everyone has the right to live free of violence and coercion”?
I’ve mentioned the United Federation of Planets, even using the fictional flag in a previous post. Libertarians like the universe portrayed in Firefly better than the Federation. People much smarter than me are involved right now in trying to work politically and diplomatically for incremental change to our existing system. In the medium-term, that is the best we can realistically hope for.
It is easy to criticize governments and nations–but to actually govern? The crushing responsibility of being a head of state could certainly confound the strongest and smartest people. It takes a special breed to even get in the position. Once there, if they can accomplish a third of what they set out to do, they should be very pleased.
We have seen that over time, political realities which once seemed to be set in stone can completely turn around. Some examples:
- Japan just voted to reinstate their military to an equal cabinet-level position as it was before WWII. This would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.
- The U.S. “war on terror” has involved the open admission that we engage in torture–which would have been unthinkable (at least officially) before 9/11.
- At one time, communist countries had the highest prison-camp populations per capita in the world. This was because of their political prisoners. Now, the U.S. has the highest number of prisoners, mainly because of the failed “drug war.” How did we allow ourselves–land of the free–to become the prison capital of the world??
Until we tie our laws to objectively definable freedoms and rights, all bets are off. We could propose that objectively, Japan does not need a strong military. They’ve gotten along fine without it since WWII. But their nationalism is re-emerging. Until we get rid of nationalism–the “in-group/out-group” attitude which is a scourge on humanity–we will continue to see nations of the world engaging in buildups, saber-rattling contests, and outright aggression.
The UN has proposed its three pillars of security, development, and human rights. I agree with their framework, but see it more in terms of sustainability, objective politics, and integration of our knowledge of consciousness and human nature.
Elimination of poverty and pollution through sustainable development. All manufacturing and human activity must be required to be “closed-loop” processes. Energy must come from renewable resources. Waste should be turned into usable products or rendered harmless. Anything that requires dumping of waste into the environment should not be made. Costs of storing or reprocessing all waste must be included in the price of goods and services. These principles should be included in a binding world Constitution.
Ray Kurzweil has famously stated that “consciousness is subjectivity.” As conscious human beings, we are therefore not likely to ever be capable of complete objectivity or to ever agree with people who have different points of view. The only way we can come close is to form strategies which we can prove will lead to a society based on objective and universal human values. Allowing greater freedom for those with whom we disagree paradoxically gives us more freedom as well. When I call for secular government, I’m not advocating taking away freedom of religion by any stretch. But freedom of religion stops at your front door, or at the driveway of your church, synagogue, or mosque. If you want people to tolerate your nativity display, you have to tolerate the inverted pentacle (or whatever) being displayed across the street.
Removal of religion from politics is a key first step. Candidates should not face a religious or any other popular-based “litmus test.” They should instead face a “policy test” which would evaluate their technical knowledge, and their capacity to lead. Such metrics should be scored by an independent body, and results released to the public. Officials in positions of power should be evaluated on their merits alone, and should face continuous scrutiny of their performance (through measurable criteria). If their score drops below a certain level, they are out–no questions asked. There’s nothing like someone (or a computer) gunning for your job to keep you on your toes. If a person is doing a good job, there should be no term limits. (Term limits might possibly be the absolute worst political idea that’s been seriously proposed in a democracy). If a public servant is doing a terrible job, they should be tossed out immediately, based on specific, definable criteria. The public should not have to endure 2 or 4 years of cronyism or malfeasance.
Further developments in brain science will help us understand the underlying motivations that drive human interaction. Evolutionary and social psychology have made great inroads here. But we need to take things to the next level of total modeling of human consciousness. This way, there will be no debate about such things as whether or not gay people can be ‘cured.’ Such religious folly will not stand the test of objective evaluation. Similarly, it’s becoming increasingly clear that psychopaths, child molesters, and serial killers are not that different from the rest of us. I know it scares the hell out of some people, but at a certain point, we will all be evaluated for these tendencies, and corrective action applied to our brains. It will be a little like Minority Report, but without the mumbo-jumbo psychic ‘precogs.’ Which is better: letting people rape and slaughter a bunch of other people and then give them the needle–or accepting slight behavior modification ahead of time to correct these cognitive defects?
Understanding human behavior to this level will allow us to repair these flaws, while retaining our individuality. The study and control of human consciousness will allow us all to live lives of freedom, peace, and safety we can’t now imagine–if the protocols can simultaneously protect our privacy and freedom of choice. It’s a really, really big ‘IF.’ Accepting this sort of control on our brains will also require broadening our definitions of what is socially acceptable (i.e. aberrant but non-criminal) behavior.
People might consider such invasive behavior modification “dystopian,” but exactly what do we call what’s happening now, as we fail to protect society from such predators?
If we are going to let society or government into our brains, society will have to strike a bargain in return: Accept social protest and dissent, and accept victimless crimes such as drug-use, prostitution, and all forms of non-mainstream (but consensual) sexuality.
The devil’s in the details, and of course the age-old question of governance is “who will watch the watchers?” Just because such questions are difficult, doesn’t mean we should refuse to face them.
Improving on representative democracy will be a tough road–and we have no guarantee of success. But I’m quite certain that our current era will be looked at as a terrible “dark age” once we figure out sustainability, objective politics, and the reverse-engineering and augmentation of human consciousness.
Update: Another post that did not age well. The forces of corruption in the US have advanced substantially since 2006, and objective, accountable government is even further out of reach now, than it was back then. I stand by my technocratic prescriptions. Governance isn’t for the uneducated or unskilled, and issues of public policy should never be decided based on a popularity contest. –Sean Prophet, August 2022