Aristocracy/meritocracy (in Off-topic)

Obscurans April 17 2008 10:33 AM EDT

As I'm still young (enough) to harbour idealistic thoughts, one of the main questions people delve into is governance. Simply put, I'd like to revive the aristocracy. Before you start the flamethrowers, I mean the true meaning of aristocracy. Aristos, the best; kratos, rule/power. Rule of the best, although people have used the crappy english-greek hybrid word "meritocracy" as a substitute.

Standard argument: term limits suck because they stint what the current ruler can do, simply because they have to please the electorate, and long-term projects that need any down payment in the form of temporary inconvenience, will only hurt the incumbent's chances at re-election and worse, the benefits are attributed to their successor. Thus some useful things are shelved to save their seat on the throne. The continual requirement to kiss everybody's ass at once also stumps anything that will have detrimental effects on a large enough body. Think constructing a dam. You really want to convince the couple million sitting in that valley to move off? (Ignoring all the other effects of damming a river)

Admittedly, they are useful IF some braindead like Dubya actually sits on that chair, but that's mostly because their election system (first past the post) gives rise to exactly two candidates (any more and you'll split the vote with similar guys, think Ralph Nader) - he just happens to woo more people than Kerry/Gore. Doesn't mean he's good... he's just (in the eyes of the masses) better than the alternative. Heck, the entire U.S. political system is bipartite and breeds out the worst in people. All you need to do is court the people - they don't know half the issues that are relevant to the legislature, and if you strike enough chords you'll get that magic 50%. Representative democracy ignores all issues that affect too little people (to make it politically relevant).

So, what I'm saying is create something like the National Academy of Sciences, with slightly more power than "advisory, if I feel like hearing it". Specialist issues are dismissed from the "public" eye, and yet those are the true test of governance: can you solve complicated problems that require many different fields of knowledge? A democracy is also mostly reactionary: you never cared about "warrantless surveilance" until the newspapers started spouting it. You (90%+) just didn't care before. Now that the press is blaring it, you do. Criminal laws are usually revised only after public outrage at some incident.

Back to NAS. I'd say create empowered branches composed of the people in the field. A biology council, for example, that has professional (actively researching) biologists, that actually says binding things on issues related to biology. And an engineering council. Membership should be by knowledge of the main details of the profession - yes determined by insiders, but subject to challenge. Knowledge only; if you can say with a straight face the actual definition and evidence for evolution and still reject it, you're informed enough about (evolutionary) biology.

Then, to literally top it off, a guy that can unilaterally resolve differences (the dam: engineers and conservationists are going to flame war) so that the deadlock observed in democracy doesn't stop productivity. The guy has to have at least intermediate knowledge of almost every specialized field to truly be of use as highest arbiter. And they cannot be hampered by the threat of removal over the drop of a hat (or a calendar). I'd say, elect by approval of all the separate councils and then an unlimited term except for retirement and high crimes. Grooming successors specifically to replace you is allowed (unwanted because of the snobbery injected by promise of power), except the people can reject the succession.

Where do the laypeople fit? As I see it, any job that does not require actual higher thinking must therefore be repetitive and replaceable by robotics eventually. Car-making: more robot welders than human assemblers (back in the day of Ford... hands-on). Contributing only brawn, they don't actually do much for policy-making. Remember popular elections are to pick out a bunch of ideas embodied in the candidate. That's making the general policy of the state. And if all they can think of is their pocketbook (of their class only), that decision is warped. They can try and learn the complicated knowledge of some specialty, but then they're not lay any more. This is elitist, certainly. More like mental ableist, but policy is... thinking. Specialized thinking in fact.

That's about it, a combination meritocracy/technocracy with the executive merely doing its namesake, executing the decisions, and being an arbiter among the professionals. The ruler gets actual power to set long-term goals and projects, and of course must be simply good. But looking at Lee Kwan Yew (Singapore), Deng Xiaoping (China), Charles XIV (Sweden), the best, given more than just 2102400 minutes of fame, DO things.


QBsutekh137 April 17 2008 10:48 AM EDT

I've always been a fan of enlightened despotism... Your scheme, at surface, appears to be something like a confederacy of enlightened oligarchies... Very intriguing!

As with any "enlightened" scheme, finding the enlightened, and having everyone else be content with that, can be an issue. Enlightened leaders are great when things are going great. But throw in some hard times or discontent, the rabble quickly turns to, "Why are THEY in charge! Let me at 'em!"

Then again, that probably happens with ANY government. *smile*

I like the idea, but your top "guy" would almost have to be The Phronimos with the mostest. Ultimate wisdom and judgment. Might be hard to find the "best" for that, and without that glue acting as facilitator, knowledge-passer, and arbiter, could the modules function in any decent capacity?

Also, where are the checks and balances? Governance isn't just about voting schemes and positions -- there have to be checks and balances hard-wired in. Who handles justice in your system? Who makes longstanding policy? Are there laws, or just enlightened call-them-like-I-see-them moments?

I am totally on board with vote reform. 100%.

Rubberduck[T] [Hell Blenders] April 17 2008 11:16 AM EDT

Mencken, early Huxley(Aldous) ?

I'm a fan of the benign dictatorship too :)

I'm not sure how your selection process would work. Who decides what criteria determine "mental ableist"? I'm actually a fan of having a broad section of views in the debate rather than leaving things completely to specialists in a field whose attitudes can become very narrow.

Democracy with universal suffrage avoids the worst excesses of the other systems whilst bringing some problems/inefficiencies of its own. As Churchill said it is (probably) the worst system apart from all the others :)

Flamey April 17 2008 11:20 AM EDT

I didn't read the first two posts cos they were too long. But I have to say RD's post was the most incoherent thing I've ever seen, due to the use of smart words :o

Rubberduck[T] [Hell Blenders] April 17 2008 11:21 AM EDT


Some would argue that most current democracies are a sham anyway and we have merely swapped governance by the elites with the stick for rule by the same elites through subterfuge.

chuck1234 April 17 2008 11:34 AM EDT

"Aristocracy is like a statesque yacht, but when it sinks, everything is lost; Democracy, on the other hand, is like a raft, unsinkable, but your feet are always in the water." Winston Churchill

Take your pick, or rather, your pick has already been picked by better minds centuries ago ;)

Flamey April 17 2008 11:54 AM EDT

Winston Churchill sucks, he calculated wrongly, got Australians and New Zealanders killed and spawned ANZAC. Thus no one here likes him. Just thought I'd mention that.

Lochnivar April 17 2008 12:26 PM EDT

I'm assuming Flamey is referring to the Gallipoli campaign in 1915...

Churchill was not the sole architect of that plan which resulted in double the number of British casualties.

Interesting the effects of actions 93 yrs ago...

Lochnivar April 17 2008 12:37 PM EDT

sorry for the double post....

Previous comment should have read that the British casualties were double the ANZAC casualties.

Flamey April 17 2008 1:05 PM EDT

Loch, point being? He still sent people to be slaughtered, even if he wasn't the sole architect, from what class has taught me he was the main one.

Lochnivar April 17 2008 1:34 PM EDT

Flamey if you want to establish a WWI standard for 'getting slaughtered' the Battle of the Somme which lasted half as long as Gallipoli and had over 15 times the total casualties is probably a better baseline. (and yes the ANZACs did have higher casualties at the Somme to, though not to the same extent)

My point, however, was that a single instance such Gallipoli isn't necessarily a sound basis for judging as long of a public career as Churchill had. (not to imply that it should be discounted)

And I would like to apologize to Obscurans for the hi-jack of the thread.

Obscurans April 17 2008 4:16 PM EDT

REVERSE THREADJACK just like it'd be done by Candleja-

Elaboration (cue tl;dr): the academies should have around 3 levels of membership. The associate who has enough knowledge to qualify as knowledgeable, around the level of a bachelor's in a related discipline (say a BSc. Genetics if you're talking about Molecular Biology). The full member who has near the level of competence expected of a graduate in the area (MSc. Mol Bio, or PhD. Biophysics). The fellows who are distinguished by their peers (long-term seminal contribution to the cutting edge of molecular biology). The requirements are set by incumbents, so yes that's the main "hereditary" part, but since they shall be public, not much room for abuse. You simply need to know the relevant details, not affirm them. So you can deny the central dogma of molecular biology - but you have to know it. And it'll be something similar to a bar exam, once every three years.

Laypeople are allowed to attend and hear the technical points discussed. Every associate has the opportunity to vote on issues. Full members get bigger votes and the floor on debates. Fellows are the stuff of governance in that academy. Deadlocks are resolved by vote of the fellows or if that's deadlocked the present chair swing-votes. And also, votes need 2/3 supermajority, period. "Deadlocks" with simple majority pass if the differences in opinion are irreconcilable. And they can have all the subcommittees they want for daily stuff. It'll emerge that many members don't want a share of administration and it might be useful to allow proxy votes (or simply lower quorum). So a whole pile of open technical forums that does the day-to-day operation.

Then there's the bigger scope, the executive branch whose job is to combine the decisions of the parties to a policy and execute it. Those people have to have associate level knowledge of many different fields and at least member of three. They're affirmed by the academies they preside over; they have to be truly interdisciplinary. They're on par with heads of single academies and so are a small bunch of people. These are the true policymakers, most professionals are actually not inclined to this sort of work and would rather have some fun with their own kind. Their decisions are to be pretty final, and deadlocks here go to the despot who's sitting at the very top. Public participation at this level should be pretty limited; who else would have enough knowledge to actually consider the words of multiple disciplines, if not already an insider?

The top guy needs affirmation from some 80% of all the academies in existence since they're the final arbiter of everything. Most of the time they should be setting long-term policies with the heads of academies (who preside over that field and its development), with mediation the unwanted part. And in the lower branches of the executive are the workers who need only knowledge of what they're working on, not on deciding what to do. Their input in the process is limited to the representative body of workers, who is simply another body in the works.

The checks and balances part, most of them are lifted, since with representative democracy true demagogues get elected and that's half of the balances: how to get W off his seat. The checks come into play only in blatant corruption or similar high crimes; the equivalent of impeachment, but since it's not a political thing it's easier to do than (err win over the other party to depose their president?). Supermajority vote by at least 50% total quorum. So if half the people still want them in that seat they're fine. Impeaching the top guys requires supermajorities in full academies to count as a single vote of no confidence; no quorum since every one has to say something. That should be enough: tyrannism will get hated by enough people but simply causing a temporary economic downturn won't unseat the guy.

And yes, the legal system. I'm liking the civil law system more than common law, except I don't think legislature should be separate from the judiciary. In common law you get this problem of "judicial activism" - judges writing comments that become law, of their own accord. Having an impartial investigating magistrate is useful since they are bound to find all evidence regardless of it being beneficial to one party or another. Juries should be roughly half professional judges and the other half professionals of the factors involved. No more complex rules on admissible evidence or not: the jury should already know, and the officiating magistrate can remind them.

The constitutional court, where challenges to that law itself go, has the power to not only nullify laws but write up new ones which of course will not apply retroactively. There the legislators sit, with representatives from all the different fields. Temporary members if a law that really concerns one specific field get in as well. And the executive has a big part in this, since they're executing it and they're regarded as one of the professional bodies involved. Checks to the judiciary include revocation of immunity when meritorious charges are laid to them; the legislature representatives are elected directly from membership of the corresponding academy, with impeachment proceedings. Changes to the actual constitution require referendum, and so writing those checks in ab initio sort of guarantees they'll still be there.

There, I didn't cook enough food with the starting flames :'P

ScY April 17 2008 8:27 PM EDT

Instead of writing something long and big looking, I give you my advice:

Read Frank Herbert.

Read the Dune series.

Read Dune.

Ernest-Scribbler April 17 2008 8:41 PM EDT

Man is driven by the need for power, people do unpleasant and dishonest things to get it. Fundamentily all forms of governing are flawed as we are. There are a very small number of people who aren't fueled by this motive, and without that poering them, they are unlikely to ever reach the top.

Thats what i think, so it becomes a debate on lesser evils, aristocracy, is a lesser evil, but ideally communism and democracy are to, but we now how wrong they go.....

QBsutekh137 April 17 2008 10:10 PM EDT

Oh, E-S, you are such a Hobbes! Of course, if we are all just evil fracks, why bother with anything?

Ernest-Scribbler April 18 2008 1:37 AM EDT


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