We have the ability to transform the world.
Previous generations had the possibility to transform society, but since the technological breakout of the 20th century we have attained the power to transform the world.
Our first real transformative step was to leave the planet a desolate husk, devoid of life, a quiet radioactive wasteland with occasional airless flags.
Fortunately although all the tools and know how and project management were put in place for that job, we didn’t quite follow it through. The weapons stayed in their silos, and we waited for better days. We got better days too, as I covered in an earlier post.
A generation has passed since the nuclear golfball threat (largely) abated. Now we have a new challenge: we are eating the world. It’s that simple – we’re no longer harvesting what grows and eating the slow ones in the herds. We have taken the herds into captivity, nothing runs free. The trees and plants are sitting targets as we pave nature to install capitalist ecologies which convert nature into money. We have gone from being the world’s cleverest apes to its doom.
But still, progress. From ending it all in the nuclear weekend to the current death of a thousand species approach is progress. We are getting less bad. We are improving.
This all pivots on solar panels. Konarka and Nanosolar, and various other companies, have the know-how to convert our energy economy from one which is causing destructive chaos in nature to one which will be neutral or benign. These panels are cheap enough to out-compete coal and nuclear energy, and the force of the market will align with what is right for the world. Wind etc. have their part to play too.
With these technologies we have a fighting chance of keeping a high tech society and living within natural limits. Without them, it is likely that ecological responsibility will cost us many of the benefits of civilization, at which point it is likely that we will choose to remain rich and foolish for as long as we can.
Our problem is that our system of governance has made us unable to absorb pain. There are two men to vote for: one pleads sacrifice, and the other promises plenty. Voters are emotionally motivated, on average, and will vote for the fellow with the reassuring tone and message.
Even if he is wrong.
Even height makes a difference, never mind gender. Charisma over content.
Our behavior through the cold war period makes it perfectly clear that we were putting the wrong people in charge. Our leaders threatened the nuclear annihilation of all life on earth in a debate over how two different cultures chose to divide up scarcity. We are using essentially the same systems of governance to manage global environmental policy, and they are working no better.
The idea that democracy is the end-all system of governance is just wrong.
The Libertarians chip away at state power at one end. Bioregionalists and similar chip away at the other. But what sits in the middle is a simple belief: that the aggregated will of the average man is the word of god.
Advertising shapes elections.
What stronger argument against democracy as the right way to handle the worst of our problems could I make? The candidate with a better marketing and PR team carries the day. The taller candidate carries the day. The male candidate carries the day. People’s innate biological prejudices are manifested at the voting booth. Putting the wrong people in charge, electing the wrong despots, risks costing us the planet.
Democracy isn’t working. It is not failing because of the manipulation of the system by corporate interests, it is failing because herding a bunch of mammals together and asking them to pick a leader puts the big one, not the smart one, and certainly not the wise one, at the head of the team.
The skill of winning elections is not correlated to the skill of knowing what to do next.
If you fan power out to the edges, you get rural Arizona making it legal to dump nuclear waste down canyons “as long as they’re far enough away from people, ok?” If you centralize it through some form of world government, all the eggs are in one basket, and if absolute power corrupts absolutely, the whole world is lost. No man (or woman) can be trusted that much.
I think the solution is specialized technical councils, which are appointed in a non-revokable way, like Supreme Court judges in the United States of America, to rule on specialized areas like the environment. I think these appointments should be for 20 years or life, and should carry the full weight of legislative power, so they can simply enforce what needs to be done, while the whims of public sentiment come and go. We need people who are good at governing, and fully versed in the technicalities of environmental policy to run the show on environment, not politicians.
I think there are four areas that we need these “Supreme Courts” on.
- The environment
- Self-replicating systems (biotech, nanotech, other)
- Nuclear weapons
- Population & resource protection
None of these areas are being managed appropriately by our current short-sighted, election-to-election law-making. All of these areas involve making real sacrifices and forcing populations to do unpopular things for their own future survival.
Nobody who speaks the truth on the environment can win a popularity contest, so we need to stop expecting politicians to make good decisions on the environment and start building new power structures above the political level to put the power in safer hands.
I am actually pretty serious about this. We have seen the 20th century shattered by the failings of democracy (and the failings of authoritarianism), and we are facing a wall of unprecedented challenges to our ability to govern ourselves, particularly in highly technically complex areas.
We need new structures to govern in the areas where democratic governance has been demonstrated to fail: environment, nano/biotechnology, nuclear weapons and population.
Take it out of the hands of the politicians, and into the hands of specialized councils selected under the mandate of existing governance structures, with long enough tenure to do the right thing for the future, not just for the next election.
I would suggest that these Supreme Courts would have veto power over environmental legislation, but probably not the power to draft legislation. Very careful mechanisms must be designed to give these groups the power to compel a government to act. Without a simple framework of constitutionality, the precise nature of the powers of the court, and the limits to their power must be defined with exquisite care.
I believe this could work. I do not believe democracy can.