poly: democracy, etc.

From: d.brin <brin@cts.com>
Date: Wed Feb 11 1998 - 00:39:32 PST

A few replies:

Greg Burch>>In terms of evolutionary adaptation, the question is whether
societies like
Singapore and Korea can move from the fitness peak upon which they found
themselves up until the last six months to the one upon which we find
ourselves without becoming so maladapted that they disintegrate in a
competitive environment.

I like this model of fitness peaks. Coincides with similar thoughts that
Benford, Bear and I are using, in extraploating Hari Seldon's 'science' of
psychohistory in our new Foundation Trilogy. (It turns out that it can
only be made to work through application of ferocious 'damper mechanisms'
by the super-robot, R.Daneel, explaining how 25million human worlds could
stay in an 'empre' for 15,000 years without any of them ever experiencing
singularity-like phenomena.)

Back to Greg Burch's point. I agree that successful systems must synergize
with strong drivers of human nature. Confucianism is the best known form
of rigid, hierarchical oligarchy, because it emphasizes that an
administrative class -- those who serve the oligarchs -- should be chosen
on a meritocratic basis. (Though not the oligarchs themselves.) Indeed, it
may be the ultimately successful model. Westernism is the only culture
that ever seriously suggested conspiratorial oligarchies can be avoided
altogether. (They ruled every other mass polity.) The jury is still out,
despite libertarians faith that it's settled.

At the other extremum, I agree with Perry that democracy is only one of
many forms of governance possible under the overall zeitgeist of liberty.
In just 1 century we've dramatically transformed 'democracy' from minority
rule (by elite classes of landed white males) through majority rule (via
parties) all the way to today's crude stab at a consensus-oriented system
of *minority veto*, in which no serious law gets passed if a large minority
objects strenuously enough. The logical end point, if this trend
continues, will be SOME manifestation of the libertarian fantasy of an
explicit social contract, signed afresh by each sovereign adult, since by
that point even a minority of one will have some degree of veto against
oppression by the Whole.

But WILL the trend continue? Not if too many people like Perry are
over-eager to skip past the intermediate stages, in which democracy and
some effective state power remain useful tools in a dangerous world. A
world in which only 1% as yet get the protein and education necessary for
the glimmering beginnings of true personal sovereignty. Our democracies
have wrought miracles (Perry is a living example). They deserve respect --
and some humility on the part of those who would eagerly leap to some
theoretical next stage that they consider 'inevitable.'

The democratic state will wither away... but not if we kill it too soon.
We will need its tools for a while yet, or the truly natural human system
will re-impose itself... that of obligate conspiratorial oligarchy and
repression of eccentrics.

For those of you extropians who want to see a short story that I wrote
recently, set AFTER the Singularity, send me a brief note. I'll send RTF
copies to the first ten who agree not to make or give out copies.

Perry>>BTW, Mr. Brin, I find the name "Periclean Experiment" to be ill
chosen, given that Pericles wasn't the founder of Athenian democracy
and was in fact a demagogue, and hardly the sort one would want to
hold up as a shining example of the democratically elected leader...

Who would better typify the Athenian 'democratic party'?

I was restrained toward Pericles till I discovered (a) that most of what we
get about him is from Thucydides, who apparently reported verbatim speeches
scrupulously, e.g. Pericles's inspiring funeral address. Nevertheless,
Thucidydes makes clear his own sympathy for the anti-democracy
pro-oligarchy crowd, so his interpretations were biased. (b) the billious
hatred that Plato expressed towards Pericles is enough of a recommendation
in my mind to take a time machine and buy Pericles a drink. Nobody, and I
mean nobody, did more harm to our culture than Plato.

Which brings up an interesting question. What would you do with a time
machine? Most of what I've heard people suggest is arrogant and
meddlesome. I'd seek good advice before using it to change stuff ... or
even to visit delicate-important events. Who would I seek advice from? I'd
love to have drinks with Ben Franklin, Jonathan Swift, Edmund Halley, and
Pericles... each of whom, if brought up to our time, would flourish and
soon have their own talk shows.

Damien>>Um... I doubt harems in historical times have had much effect on
society. Are you saying the leaders spread their genetically ingrained
tendencies through the population? I doubt it, and happily predict much
attack of this idea if you present it, and much scorn if you don't back
it up very heavily.

Pah! Just look at the difference between male and female sexual fantasies,
dear fellow. How many of you would turn down a chance to spend a week in
'Castle Anthrax' (Monty Python's Holy Grail)? If you could press a button
and render 99% of human males impotent (sparing yourself), how many of you
would have to sweat and fight to keep that finger from stabbing forth? Can
you name even one human society that did not practice polygamy? (Ours is
one of the crueler forms... serial abandonment.) Where do you think these
temptations came from, eh? We inherit them. They are a major motivation
for the male success drive, even if individuals sublimate it into a
yearning for flashy cars or a corner office. Our monumental egos and
insatiability are rooted in an ancestry dotted with numerous chieftains who
clawed their way to the top and impregnated more than their fair share.

Curt Adams got it right. This is influential on our basic natures.

Damien>>And I don't think most prehistorical societies had large harems.
We're a mostly monogamous species (with cheating); harems arise with
(concentrated) societal surplus. Extant 'primitive' societies are more
marked by egalitarianism and social insurance schemes.

Where the devil did you get this stuff, Damien? First, the egalitarianism
of 'primitive' societies is pure romantic hogwash. Imagine 12 year olds on
a playground without adult supervision... forever. Golding got it right, in
Lord of the Flies. Second, your image of 'harem' is much too restricted by
hollywood depictions. Did you know that there's a correlation, in mammals,
betweem male-female size ratio and 'natural harem size'? Truly monogamous
species like gibbons are same-size. Male elephant seals, which have harems
of 40 or more are gigantic, not in order to dominate females, but in order
to drive off the other 39 males who want in.

Where do humans fit on this scale? Ethologists (male and female) suggest
that the number for humans would be between 1.25 and 1.7... which fits the
way things seem to be in tribal societies, in which chiefs get more than
one wife, most men get one, and a substantial minority of males are either
killed or driven off.

Hey, I'm not insisting on any of this. It's all too subjective and
tentative. But the indicators are strong enough that some real research is
called for. For instance, I wonder if it would be possible to show
genetically that we had statistically fewer male than female ancestors? In
any event, the present form of polygamy -- serial abandonment -- is so
loathesome that this topic merits serious discussion.

Damien>>Best not to appeal to genes to explain any behavior younger than 10,000

I didn't! This has been going on for a VERY long time. Though now that
you mention it, I believe there may be evidence that humans have changed
genetically in one radical way. The invention of beer created an
inhibition-loosening yet addictive drug that seriously reduced the survival
prospects of a substantial fraction of the population. Note how alcohol
affected those populations that had previously been unexposed. The result
may have been a rise in the % of us who can say no to addictions. Pure
speculation on my part, to be sure.

>>I haven't seen the movie myself, but every opinion I've heard --
from friends, not from critics -- has been "Ugh. Too much Costner."
I think you're the only person I know who actively liked it.

I predicted 3 groups would hate it. The right -- cause he slaps down
militia solipsism... the left -- cause he depicts niceness under an
American flag, and cynics, who would loathe anything that even vaguely
resembled a centripetal love of civilization. Well... a fourth group, who
can overdose on Costner!

My defense of Costner is ironic, since I personally detest the man, who
treated me extremely shabbily. I found the movie deeply flawed... though
at times very moving and beautiful. I was forced to give up the tempting
role of outraged author, though, and defended him in public, because most
critics attacked him for the one thing he got absolutely right -- the fact
that, if America ever vanished, we would wind up missing it terribly. He
got that spot on, and it's the important part.

David Brin
Received on Wed Feb 11 08:34:44 1998

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