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Sketch of a future

Posted on 2010.04.11 at 23:28
Location: tir's room
Mood: flirtyfun
I have an idea that I've never explored, never fleshed out, because I've never told anyone about it or written it down. At least, not in more than the one or two sentences in which the idea presented itself to me. This is because it's not an imminently practical idea or even necessarily a good idea; rather, it is simply something that could - conceivably - come about sometime far in the future.

Here are those one or two lines - contour lines, you might say - that give a vague idea of the idea. Representative democracy is replaced by universal democracy via the power of technology, the internet. Imagine: you wake up in the morning, have your coffee, flip on your monitor to see what latest bills are in front of the populace. One or two of them catch your attention - most are either irrelevant or uninteresting to you - and you scroll through the more detailed descriptions. You peruse the options and vote for whatever seems best to you. Maybe you make some comments or fill out a survey concerning some other matters that are not yet come to a vote, if you're a really engaged citizen. [That's as far as I'd taken it. Here's where the sketching begins.] These comments are monitored by government and non-governmental, partisan and non-partisan groups, so that the gist of them is pretty much guaranteed to affect the form of the final bill which, like most legislation, is drafted by a group of "experts," people with PhDs in political science, sociology, or - more recently - the burgeoning field of legalogy. You could, of course, write up a bill yourself but, without professional assistance, it wouldn't have much chance of getting anywhere. Besides, what would it say? You can sure as heck see there are problems with society, but better leave it to someone more knowledgeable to come up with viable solutions. Also, it takes an awful lot of money to properly advertise a bill; most Americans rarely take the two seconds to vote on any given day, unless it's one of the big name issues like abortion, same sex marriage, or a radical change in taxes. The public fund is required to be spent in the same amount in advocating as in deprecating each issue, but of course private individuals and corporations can do pretty much as they please - First Amendment and all that. Thank goodness for blogs, that form of advertising that's not only infinitely cheaper but also often more effective than other ads, because the public can see the human heart and mind behind the position. Americans have come to smirk cynically at the TV ads that thinly veil the corporate pocketbook. Still, even bloggers can't keep up with everything. So the special interest groups that used to lobby legislators to write and vote for legislation now simply write it themselves and - which is far from simple - lobby the citizenry to vote for it. It is this latter point that makes all the difference from the old, representative system. People can be persuaded, from time to time, but they are hard to buy off, in bulk. In other words, it is easier to get a senator to sacrifice the interests of one part of their constituency to the interests of another part than it is to get a private actor to sacrifice those same - now personal - interests. So you see bills that stack issues together - sandwich bills, they're called - to get a given group to sacrifice one goal for the realization of another. Often these are an disparate as allowing offshore drilling and providing publicly funded community centers. Sandwiched together. Sometimes you do vote for these bills, do prioritize achieving the one goal enough that you can live with the bits it's slapped together with. But more often not; and it's relatively infrequently that sandwich bills pass all the way through the voting process and become law. The American voter is far less elastic than the senator they used to vote into office. They're - you are - darn stubborn about your morals, interests, and even your political opinions. And there are always strong efforts to break back up conglomerative compromises.

As you muse over these intricacies of the modern universal democracy (sometimes called popular democracy or omniocracy) you have long since turned off your monitor, tossed down your breakfast, and headed off to work.

The real question is, has the change been beneficial? Well it's a complex answer. You've heard that more Americans are engaged in the political process than ever before, since it's become so quick and easy, what with your ID being detected automatically and almost instantaneously. You can even choose which topics come up at the top of your screen, so you don't have to wade through every little bill every day. You personally feel proud to have your say in matters of national and even global importance - like when they were deciding how much aid to donate to that war-torn country in Asia. But some people, cynics, they think it's rubbish. "What's my voice among the billions?" they say. And complain that people don't even know what's in their own best interests, let alone the best interests of the nation. America's not a nation of experts, nor a nation of geniuses. So be it. But the old Congress wasn't exactly full of the most brilliant crayons in the box, either, was it? They didn't always know what they were doing, even if they knew how to make it look as if they did. Nowadays, maybe people screw up, but it's an honest screw up. And politicians no longer have to put so much effort into figuring out how to represent their constituencies, because everyone represents themselves and that's it. In a state where 51% of its population was Republican, for instance, it was absurd to have 100% of its vote in the Senate be Republican. And yet, that's how it was. Now the support from each state is exactly - but exactly - divided how its population is divided. You can point to some pretty clear benefits of the present system: corporate influence has subsided to a large degree. This has led to policies that benefit individuals over institutions: for instance, farmers are back to a livable income and their crop base has been able to expand beyond the corn that a few wealthy corn processors encouraged the government to subsidize way back when. Your taxes are lower. There's more transparency about which publicly funded programs actually work, so those that don't have largely been cut away. But on the other hand, you remember the scramble to put limits on the national debt; that was nearly disastrous. No one wanted to vote their taxes higher, but new ideas kept getting backed until spending was practically out of control. And there have been some pretty bad ideas, there's no denying that. But the biggest problem being discussed these days is the rights of minority groups. In such a vote-driven government, special interests get largely left out. In some cases, you'd argue, that's a good thing - why should we benefit big business, or that sort of thing - but there are downsides. Ideological minorities have almost no chance to live as they see fit. The libertarians are screaming about the injustice of it. On the other hand, some special interests do get things through, bills almost no one cares about and, therefore, almost no one votes for - but no one cares enough to vote against. Small things. So, sure, the system has its faults, you can't even think of all of them at the moment, but there's hardly any denying it's the most progressive, democratic, and best system in the world.

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