Whenever people talk about politics they seem to get bogged down in minutiae. Let’s step back and look at what politics is, and why it exists at all.
It should be obvious looking at the root of the word – poly as many (or a badly spelled parrot) and tics as in involuntary jerks or spasms or possibly badly spelled nasty blood-sucking parasites. Now that we understand this our grasp of the antics of politicians is suddenly much more clear. But besides producing many nasty parroting blood-sucking parasitic people who can’t help being jerks, the purpose of politics is to decide on governance. On who controls and orders society (or a part of it) – AKA government.
Now let’s look at the purpose of government – besides providing an environment for nasty bloodsucking parasitic parrots – AKA NBPP. As far as the NBPP are concerned that is its first and foremost purpose. Never forget this. It is key to our understanding and getting the best out of them. Of course originally back in the high and far off times (more recently for me than most of you, which is why I remember it so clearly, when we were still monkeys) Government outside of the family group arose from the need to defend ourselves from the bigger family next door – otherwise they were inclined kill the males, eat them, and take the females to breed with and eat their food. And as offense made your family bigger, to organize raids on suitable targets for the same. It is questionable whether at its core government has changed much from this. Of course some bright monkey figured two families could do better together against a third and thus the arms race was born, leading to where we are now. Several sf authors have suggested that what we need is a common enemy…
Back in those days the organizing was done by the biggest nastiest monkey in the troop, and his camp followers – who because they got eat better and get eaten less, which is a serious advantage. It was mostly done by bite and swat, but also with reward or offers thereof. At the top it was almost inevitably male because they’re bigger and nastier. Once again, none of this has changed much, and maybe we need to think about changing it.
This led to autocrats – kings, Chieftains – with their clique of courtiers/ elders / camp followers running the show, with for solid genetic reason said head honcho doing his level best to put his bloodline on top and keep it there. The same applied to courtiers/camp-followers, who wanted that privilege for their genetic heritage – or the head honcho’s job. And thus was born the system of NBPP. Remembering this – they’re fighting for the top job, or at least to be in camp-followers, not you, or the people or society. What they did – be it get the ordinary folk to build a stockade together or harvest together (which would benefit all of them, was – no matter what bullshit they came up with (AKA rewards and offers thereof, offers being cheaper and easier) was to keep themselves at the top. Over time the offers got bigger, and sometimes even partially fulfilled, but bite and swat got moved up to a lot worse too.
In conflict with all this (and this is at the root of modern democracy was a set of behaviors as old or older, ‘fair’ (which is not ‘equal’ but meritocratic. That can be equal, but isn’t always.) which all social species need to some extent to survive. It’s well recorded and demonstrated among various monkey species, and obviously ties into an earlier evolved concept – reciprocity (which we can see in all sorts of species – where they figure doing X will get you Y and somewhere the leap got made – if you want Y do X. It’s a vast leap. Many people still haven’t got it, proving Border Collies are a lot smarter than they are. That’s why I made one the hero in Dog and Dragon – but that is another matter. Obviously most of politics and governance isn’t ‘fair’ and all sorts of deceptions are employed to try and make it look like it is – be it ‘by divine right’, or ‘the people elected me’. It’s only when these fail and it looks like the head honcho and his camp-follower courtiers might find themselves first course in the new tribal feast (or at least deposed or dead), that NBPP start on horse-trading towards a fair deal. Being the nice people they are that often comes down to ‘we’ll make you junior camp followers, and give you pretties (less than we give ourselves, but more than we give other people who want us for entrees) if you keep the would-be chefs off our throats. Occasionally it rises above this to make things more fair and meritocratic, but not if they can avoid it. The system is evolved to not select that kind of leader or courtiers.
Governance, to my jaundiced eye, is best viewed as an eternal conflict between the general populace seeking a fairer more meritocratic system and the NBPP wanting to keep themselves where they want to be. All systems of government derive from this.
Over time, as some of us moved from monkey to less monkey, and the groups of families grew bigger all of this got more and more complex, and we lost sight in the trees of the wood, we did try various options on this. The Greeks from which we draw much of Western Civilization tried a fair number – feudal, dictatorship, military repression, qualified democracy (no slaves or women need apply), timocracy (read PYRAMID SCHEME). (Sf tried a few more. Sprauge de Camp and Heinlein particularly spring to mind. Had to love de Camp’s ideas, the drunken council and sober council being one I found delightful. It seems to have died out, with only socialism and condemnation of what is called capitalism and a few autocratic theocracies, getting a look in now. Oh and space-faring heriditary autocracy (Some, as in Hoyt’s Darkship Thieves have basis in logic. Others are fantasy dressed up as sf, and delusions of what nobility and empire are.)
Modern Democracy rests on an equal right to vote – conflating equal with ‘fair’ and allowing no measure of merit. It’s obviously a bit of a con, because even monkeys have no trouble getting the concept of merit not always meaning equal. But it’s better than the autocracy (which, by in large is the alternative. If we ever got enough space to be safe from being dinner, anarchy has merits. Socialism BTW is a con job, purporting to be more fair by apportioning reward more equally but sans merit (unless you are one NBPP in which case the rewards are much bigger. Surprise).
What obviously is wrong with democracy is that it is viewed by so many as an end point. One simply has to look at our elected leaders (pick one, any one) and realize that if this is an end point, it surely doesn’t work that well.) And by so many as a one way street. You get a vote by being a citizen (or pretending to be one) – not something which required much merit if you were born there. And as party democracy has largely degenerated into lobby groups and pretties for camp-followers… which usually boils down to we’ll take from those who aren’t in our camp and thus do better (which, surprise, is back where it all started.)
Hmm. As I wrote in STARDOGS the logical answer is surely to accept that government and those in it will always become principally self-serving and for the benefit of government. The only way to win in the sense of a fairer more meritocratic system that benefits the society and not just the government… is to make Government’s reward directly the result of doing a better job. One of my friends suggested that democracy should have an entry and exit poll with the electorate being able vote for the departing polly and the number of votes = bonus. But that would still come down to hand out the pretties to as many as possible, by taking from who wouldn’t vote for you anyway, rather than necessarily any improvement in the society. Some kind of short and long term reward which is not just based on popularity but hard metrics. For instance a basic salary based on the MEDIAN per capita GDP, and a bonus -or clawback – based on the difference between start time and now. And for a long term effect you could make that affect their pension. Obviously these things have no impact on multi-millonaires going into the process or on them getting kickbacks or sweetheart directorships or jobs afterwards from lobbyists etc. So you’d have to deal with that. The other issue, of course, is making the voters liable in some way for the action of their representative. You’d think a lot more carefully and vote a lot more thoughtfully, if you personally would carry either a profit or loss from it. And then there is the question of merit – we need universal suffrage… but are all votes really equal? Is the vote a reward, or a duty, or a punishment? Maybe 1 vote basic, a second for those who have served the community/society? Maybe another for… I don’t know, paying taxes. Philanthropy. Tertiary education? And becoming a five vote person recognized with a title of some sort, or better pension or tax break or something, making it a measure of merit to be striven for.
This is what sf ought to be exploring in the future worlds we write about. Not the stale stuff.