March 29, 2007

Great Wall

It would seem that my innocent musings have wrenched open a whole can of worms, rather, a series of cans. Given my background in debate, the scatter-shot nature of the discussion up until this point rather upsets my sensibilities. Thus, I find myself at an impasse having to either generate a single lengthy argument or a series of smaller posts. That said, the aggregate discussion seems to me to be an intricately interrelated series of arguments which have given rise to a number of easily-pruned tangents and this, in combination with my dislike for dividing my resources, leads me to erect the Great Wall of Text.

Before addressing the specifics of arguments, I am beholden to evaluate the general basis and premise of American Government, particularly as pertains to the Constitution, in order to have a basis for the rest of my arguments. It should also be noted that entirely too many of the comments I've seen up until this point have been based on a widely varied set of assumptions on this topic, hence my own need to tie this up as relates to my arguments and also as a primer for those who would continue to debate on with me.

Given the historical bent of this discussion, a historical examination reveals that the United States Government as defined in the Constitution draws heavily from the influences of Montesquieu and British Common Law, especially as initiated in the Magna Carta of 1215. More to the point, Montesquieu (himself drawing from Polybius, among others) is borrowed from liberally in the notion that, in order to protect the country from corruption, three separate and adversarial branches of government would be established to watch over each other. Likewise, the legal system itself draws from British Common Law, creating again an adversarial system with the interesting core premise that the burden for proof lies with the government, rather than with the accused. Further, as many were still concerned about the potential for tyrannical abuse, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in 1791 so as to enumerate the rights of the citizens of the United States of America.

The above is an admittedly brief and spotty overview of the basis of American Governance and is in no way intended to substitute as a paragraph where many books are insufficient, but in the name of conciseness as well as relevance, I outline these points to note that while the early American government was certainly prone to outbursts of unrivaled idealism, the Constitution upon which the country is based is hardly the place to find that. Put simply, it is a document reflective of a Hobbesian view of Man which endeavors to create a system that will out corruption as much as is possible... and while certainly not perfect, it is fairly good at sustaining government even in the face of corruption. In other words, while there have been idealists in government throughout the history of the United States, I would argue that the system of government is fundamentally designed on much sturdier stuff such as a fundamental understanding of human corruption and a need for as much oversight as possible.

Before diving into the implications and modern results of this, there has been something of an idealism vs. pragmatism discussion going on that I feel ought to be examined. In short, while idealism is all well and good, there needs to be a reason to characterize such idealism. While amongst Christians, the basis for idealism is ultimately satisfied, it should also be noted that having an idealistic attitude is not at all the same thing as attempting to resolve the disputes within a large-scale mechanism such as a government with an idealistic outset. In fact, from a Biblical as well as a historical perspective, such idealism flies in the face of most established studies of human nature as well as the Biblical understanding of the ultimately flawed humanity. Biblically, it is clear that individuals can be redeemed, but humanity itself is doomed. Philosophically we have the ultimate failure of the Humanist movement along with a variety of other philosophical camps which have given rise to the contemporary movements which, while some continue to argue for the innate good nature of humanity, is most accurately represented by a somewhat more cynical point of view. Having so concluded (but obviously being open to discussion), it seems that even if current large-scale governments are not doomed to failure, they are certainly impossible to plumb except through a somewhat more jaundiced eye.

As such, at this juncture, I feel as if it would be necessary to pause and address some of the necessary consequential examples of governmental service as based upon a less idealistic and more pragmatic understanding of government. Firstly, there is the institution of war which, from time immemorial has been one of the fundamental duties of a citizen in any government in exchange for the citizen's protection by said government. As an aside, I don't believe that there was ever any mention in my part of a stupidity of soldiers but rather a necessity for them to believe at least somewhat idealistically in what they fight for, insofar as the pay is not sufficient to justify mercenary status. I would continue to assert this but would note that given my lack of faith in the intelligence of individuals and especially in their reasoning skills, it is not unreasonable that a skilled recruiter could utilize these shortcomings in individuals to recruit them even where such patriotic beliefs had formerly not existed. Of course, it could be that to some, the risks and rewards are already in balance, but it would seem that those individuals would be in the minority of Americans, especially as regards enlisting into the Army.

Secondly and most easily comes the paying of taxes. While it could and should be argued that the government has taken on a great deal of tasks which it certainly has no business doing, the fact remains that protecting a country, policing a country and developing public infrastructure DOES cost money. With regards to that, while there are many disagreements as to the amount of taxes and the distribution of taxes, the fact remains that the question of whether or not a nation needs taxes in some form to perpetuate is a rather silly one. And of course, if you refuse to pay your taxes, your fellow citizens (as represented by said government) have every reason and every right to be displeased with you and perpetuate their displeasure on you until either you have paid your taxes or found yourself imprisoned or expelled.

Thirdly and perhaps most interesting is the concept of jury duty. As Toad and others have aptly noted, the institution of the trial has become increasingly complex throughout American history, while at the same time the average American's ability to afford to miss work for jury duty has decreased. As discussed earlier, there are a variety of types of potential jurors, but by far the most representative jurors are also those who can least afford to miss work... hence the conundrum. While some would note that this is a problem of idealism in the authors of the legal code, I would simply note that the realities of the current legal system seem all but unforeseen (and relatively beyond the realm of prognostication, given the two centuries and change between then and now.) Hence, rather than a problem of misplaced idealism, it becomes a problem of bureaucracy... simply put, jury pay reform is a rather unimpressive problem in comparison to more pressing concerns. And while Toad is appropriately concerned with one lawyer in any case desiring stupid jurors, it should be noted that opposing counsel in that case should (we hope) be desirous of astute and well-reasoned jurors. And while there is certainly something to be said for the nature of lawyers, it should be noted that in an intelligence bell-curve, those most likely to beg out of a jury pool are the center of said bell-curve, leaving the lawyers to attempt to eliminate the top and bottom end, depending on the nature of their respective cases.

Beyond all of this, I am interested in assertions that America is past fixing, gone to hell in a handbasket, et cetera and that it is nothing like the Good Old Days. Given that the Good Old Days were characterized with nearly a century of slavery, child labor, gross poverty, and the like, I should note that this argument sounds more like an Unjustified Appeal to Antiquity than anything else. While there are certainly a number of problems in America unique to this generation, my assertion is generally that old problems have been exchanged for new problems and that perhaps there has been a certain level of entropy added to the equation, but nothing more.

It should be noted that at this stage, I have not yet endeavored a solution but have simply attempted to sum up my own arguments as an amalgamation and occasionally as a contradiction to those already expressed. Also, while my arguments have grown overlong, I do not feel that I have adequately closed a variety of points, but I do hope that I can serve to focus this discussion slightly. To conclude:

1) On the matter of the military, it would seem obvious to me that discipline and unquestioning obedience are key qualities in all but the highest level of the military. As such, while intelligence and cognitive ability are not completely without merit, they are certainly not primary characteristics desired in the lower ranks and thus the general stupidity of the general populace will have been essentially purified into many of these while those with intelligence and cognitive ability will frequently be placed in other positions and even still, will be trained with the discipline and unquestioning obedience that the military requires.

2) Taxes are necessary, regardless of how much waste there is in government and how unfair the mechanism is, taxes are in the end a regrettably unavoidable institution. After all, the government has to have money to defend the citizenship and police them.

3) While some might argue for shining happy people holding hands, those some can go get bent.

4) Walls of text make good textual neighbors.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at March 29, 2007 12:17 PM | TrackBack