This is an excerpt from a short novel I wrote in 2011. From the chapter called “First principles”
That evening, they had a simple meal (the fresh food was running out) with wine (they had finished off the beer the night before) and, like before, hung out on deck in the candle light.
Next thing they knew, they were finishing the third bottle of wine.
“Oops. We’re getting to be such drunkards,” Radica laughed.
“Better watch out, or he’ll take advantage of you,” Helena laughed.
“Too late,” Lukas answered.
“Thank, God,” Radica said, still giggling.
“Oh,” Lukas said, sitting up a bit, “you’re brining God into this?”
Helena looked at both of them, “Who?”
“Why do people even still believe in a God?” Radica asked.
“Ah, my love,” Lukas said, shaking his head, “we are but a small sliver of people on this world. Most folks believe in gods and saints and angels.”
Helena put her head in her hands. “There are so many religions and beliefs – how is it that humanity can accept them all?”
“It’s like all the political parties – factions within factions,” Lukas said. “It almost seems that there’s nothing anyone can agree on. What ever happened to logic and first principles?
“Lukas,” Helena explained, “human interaction is fraught with the tension between the individual and the group. I exploit it all the time.”
“But,” he replied, “there must be some things that everyone can agree on. If not, then what’s the use? I mean, we thought we could find common principles with you. And I think we did. No?”
Helena nodded. “So you are suggesting we explore first principles in politics?”
“I propose we start a political party founded on delineating and promoting those first principles. When you start thinking in basics like first principles, then you see, as I do, that all politics is dualist idiotic simplification.”
“Ok, I see,” said Radica. “So I propose ‘Keep children healthy’ as a good first principle.”
“How about expanding that,” Helena said, “to ‘Keep society healthy’, meaning not only treating folks, but actively participating in helping them stay healthy?”
“You see?” Lukas pointed out. “You’re already seeing how a basic principle easily guides the policies you choose. If we can keep the principles simple enough, then they’d be hard to argue against.”
“Perhaps,” Radica said, “’Keeping children healthy’ might be more digestible than ‘Keeping everyone healthy’. Maybe start small.”
“Atoms of agreement, I guess,” Lukas said. “Another one could be “Provide children with a solid educational base.” It doesn’t say who pays, or who decides the criteria, but guides the policy makers in drafting laws that promote a basic principle.”
“Sometimes I wonder if we really understand why we have government for,” Helena said.
“Oh, that’s rich coming from you – you’re deeper in sovereign governments than either of us,” Radica said exaggeratedly wagging her finger.
Helena blew a raspberry at Radica. “What I mean is that we need to take a first principles look at government. Most governments set up today were set up generations ago, in different times. And I don’t mean different ideals, but also different environments, players, and, most importantly, networks – business, communications, movement.
“Let’s take your US government. It rests on a document from the 18th century, when it took days to travel between major regional capitals and months to reach Europe. Counting votes or spreading news was at the speed of the horse or boat.
“Fast forward to today and news is instantaneous. We can count votes as soon as the vote was made. Yet, our news structures and voting structures are still in the 18th century.
“The way the German government is structured is a product of post-World War II German reconstruction. It was set up to serve a starving and impoverished populace, to get them back on their feet, and to provide a security blanket so that everyone would be safe, fed, and healthy.
“But that model is restrictive. We are so much more affluent today than we were in the 1950s. We might not all be richer than our parents, but we have access to so many things – physical, mental, emotional – that our parents could never dream of.
“And the irony is that these are democracies, meaning that they are supposed to listen to the public and follow the will of the public. Yet in reality, the system is so complex that it can’t bootstrap a new system, molt into something different.
“Have you ever seen a democracy revamp itself? No, it can’t generate the necessary discontinuity of the same order that was needed to bring itself into existence.
“I like this idea of analyzing the basic principles, but if we were to be monadists, we would need to analyze the basic principles that underlie how we as a society want to set up public governance.
“For example, nationalism, in the form of countries, is only about 250 years old. Before that we had empires that encompassed various ethnicities. But the 20th century is splattered with blood from ethnic groups who were within countries they didn’t fit in. These groups begged for autonomy, against the prevailing sentiment of one nation, under God, indivisible.
“The US Civil War (yes, I know that’s 19th century), California trying to be its own country, the break-up of the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Serbia and Kosovo, Palestine, there are plenty of examples.
“Why can’t we have autonomy, pure regional governments, or even smaller city states? Part of me thinks that perhaps such regional governments along ethnic lines would not have worked in the 20th century. But for sure they should work now.
“In this day and age, what is the need for a large government? Can we create a structure that accepts cities like London, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Mumbai, São Paulo, to represent themselves, much like Athens and Sparta?
“Politicians – I meet them all the time – are hobbled by 19th century nationalism, no different than Bismark himself. And we’re all such vaunted ‘democracies’ and claim we listen to the people.
“How can a nation represent 300 million people, of different ethnicities, of different regional cultures, of different geo-political needs and problems?
“It’s north, south, west – radically different needs. Why not let them have a greater say in what happens in their region. And if we want to have an overarching governing body – though not something as counter-productive as the EU, which constantly shoots itself in the foot, forgetting why it was set up in the first place, over-reaching and thinking to model itself as a supra-national nation in the model of the scariest 19th century nationalistic models that Europe was built on – if we want an over-arching government, then let’s all agree what they should do, how we build it, AND, and here’s the key thing that I am sure even Jefferson thought would be evident, there needs to be a way to dismantle it and replace it with a new structure.
“And the damned fisheries are all just anemic extra-national artifices paying lip-service to the image of national governing bodies. But since we’re all so egotistically nationalistic and can’t conceive of ‘ceding sovereignty’, code name for ‘letting someone else take responsibility’ we hobble any such extra-national organization from the start. For example, that post-war brain-fart, the UN. Talk about an amazing idea that was emasculated, eviscerated, hysterectomized, lobotimized, blinded, and crippled, just so a few nations could control it so that no nations could benefit from it.
“And you schoolers sliding between the mental manacles and prejudices of ‘sovereign nations’ as if everyone had to belong to a nation, as if every rule pertained to a territory, as if every frigging cubic centimeter of this globe was under the boot of some swaggering country.
“The nations have become comfortable with their model, hide behind democracy that can’t innovate itself out of a paper bag, and repeat socio-political bromides that are 200 years old as if it were the pinnacle of society.
Lukas and Radica beamed. “I guess you thought about that one a bit.”
And they all laughed and guffawed until Radica swore, still laughing, “Dammit, laughed so hard I peed in my pants.”