Re: poly: democracy, etc.

From: Perry E. Metzger <>
Date: Wed Feb 11 1998 - 11:31:10 PST

d.brin writes:
> 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.

1) The notion of "necessary intermediate stages" reminds me of
   Hegelian dialectics. I'm not sure I've ever believed Hegel (or
   Marx) on this idea. There doesn't seem to be much evidence for
2) We've had free and fairly pleasant-to-live-in societies that have
   operated without Governments and have lasted for many centuries --
   especially impressive given the overall violence of the worlds they
   were embedded in. Iceland is my oft used example (and rather boring
   to many of the readers here by now!) but there are others
   documented. These societies have often lasted with their legal
   structure intact for far longer than most modern nation states have
   survived. If you look at Benson's book "The Enterprise of Law",
   there is extensive documentation on this topic -- very extensive,
   in fact.
3) I'm not sure what State power really buys people. Certainly it
   doesn't buy safety. We are rather spoiled in that most of us live
   in the U.S., which has been a comparatively good place for safety,
   but throughout history the single biggest violent killer has been
   the State. In the 20th Century, nation states have killed far more
   people than plagues. Sure, in San Francisco if you look around the
   State looks reasonably benevolent -- but if you are hanging around
   on the streets of Ecuador or Myanmar one's perspective changes
   pretty fast. If anything, States have made one's life far more
   dangerous from what I can tell.

> The democratic state will wither away... but not if we kill it too soon.

I do hope you are familiar with the others who have mentioned the
notion of the state "withering away" (see point 1 above).

> 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.

Again, I'm not sure that the State is really of help here. I suspect
that most of the progress that has been made in this respect has been,
if anything, *in spite of* the State.

The State is a wonderful tool for a beligerant majority to repress a
minority with.

> 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.

I'd be interested in seeing a copy....

> 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'?

Dunno. My Greek history isn't as good as my Roman history, but I do
remember that Pericles lead Athens to war against non-beligerant
cities, increased the difficulty of gaining Athenian citizenship (his
own children needed an exemption from the law he got passed), and
didn't seem at all averse to twisting the crowd to his own ends.

> (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.

I agree with you on Plato. "The Republic" describes for me a perfect
vision of a fascist hell. However, just because someone we dislike
didn't like someone doesn't mean we should like him as a result.

> 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.

Interestingly, I agree with you on this partially -- I like the idea
of "America". What I don't like is its government, or most of what
that government does.

I must admit that in general, though, I've become far more partial to
the idea of "New York" (where I live) and actually have far more
loyalty to it than to the continent in general. To me, it represents a
place where there is significant tolerance, diversity, and culture --
an oasis. In its case, I'm even more unhappy with the local
government, as much as I love the place itself.

> 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.

Ben Franklin explicitly said he was curious about the future and would
love to see it. I'd say that taking him on a trip to the 20th century
might be fun for him.

Received on Wed Feb 11 19:34:22 1998

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