[FoRK] Where Obama should be raked over the coals...

Jebadiah Moore jebdm at jebdm.net
Mon Sep 20 09:21:45 PDT 2010

On Sun, Sep 19, 2010 at 2:59 PM, Ken Ganshirt @ Yahoo <ken_ganshirt at yahoo.ca
> wrote:

> We can blather about what Might Be all we want but the reality seems to
> always come straight back to Might Makes Right.

Yes, I think that must always be the case.  I think the trick is, as Stephen
says, organizing the might so that nobody has enough to use it very much.
 This is made even more difficult by the fact that people can group up, so
you can't just give everyone a gun and run things Old West style.

But, there are conceivable ways to handle the problem.  One powerful
balancer is the threat of rebellion, but that one is problematic.  First,
the power of a group is not proportional to the number of individuals in
that group, and so you can get groups with enough power to rule a region
even when opposed by an open rebellion.  Furthermore, people have a tendency
to obey authority, thus skewing them towards allowing such groups to exist
even if they might have the power, en masse, to rebel.  And even if all of
the people in a region would be willing to rebel, they probably wouldn't
actually rebel until they believed they had a sufficiently good chance of
succeeding, and a rebellion needs a certain amount of power, greater than
the power any one rebel individual has (because otherwise that rebel would
be in power), to have any chance of succeeding.  So, even if you have
rational actors, it's hard to get a rebellion going because of rational fear
of losing.  Also, any ruling power will tend to mellow itself out enough so
that it becomes of very low use value to join a rebellion (when you multiply
probability of success by the improvement in quality of life), but not
enough that it isn't still taking advantage of its power.

The creations of democracies, where the rulers have to obtain the consent of
the governed via vote, is another way to handle the problem.  The problem
with this one is that, once you've got that initial consent, you might wield
enough power to retain control even without consent.  This is what keeps
happening in South America and Africa.  It could probably happen in the
U.S., if a president had sufficient loyalty from the military.  Explicit
division of power and restrictions on power are useful here, because they
make it harder for a president (or whoever) to get and retain enough power
to throw the stuff out.  But this codification is mainly useful in creating
a mindset of resistance.

One method that seems basically unexplored is the restriction of power via
technology.  For instance, one problem frequently cited with regards to
redistribution of wealth is that somebody has to decide on the
redistribution.  But if we were able to create a sufficiently accurate model
of the economy and an acceptable utility function on an economic
distribution, then we could potentially find a better distribution of wealth
via simulation, and then enforce it.  Of course, somebody could rig up the
code, but you could mostly solve that problem by making the code and data
open source, so that independent bodies could verify your results.  And
defining that utility function is tricky business too, but we have to define
it somehow (we implicitly define it as "the best is what already exists" if
we don't explicitly define it).  And of course it may not be possible to
build a good enough model of the economy, but hey, this is a thought
experiment so I'm taking it as a given.

Another example is giving the population of a country a kill switch.
 Require the President (or whoever) to wear a collar containing an injection
of some fast-acting poison, and rig it up so that if 50% of the population
presses the kill switch on any given day, the President (or whoever) dies.
 This doesn't solve the problem of all those other people in power, of
course, and the collar probably couldn't be made tamper proof, but it'd be

Another interesting example is something like the HHGTTG route.  Make sure
that the people who make final decisions are detached enough from the people
they are ruling that they can't exploit them in any meaningful way.  At the
same time, define some measurement of success that does reward the rulers
for good rule.  One way you might do this is by saying that 1) the elected
ruling body must live on a space station for the entirety of their term, 2)
the quality of the food and entertainment is tied directly to popularity
polls, 3) after their terms, the rulers come back to earth, but have to live
in a special area set aside for them, where they are rewarded in proportion
to their success, and 4) rulers can't make rulings about that special
area--any rule changes must be approved by direct vote.  You could make this
even more fun by adding in a kill switch (as above) hooked up to the space
station's oxygen supply.

Jebadiah Moore

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