This Independence Day I find myself actually feeling patriotic and thinking back to those scrappy Englishmen that dared defy their king. Then I think of all the other brave immigrants like my own great grandparents that boldly sought out a better future in an unfamiliar land that claimed to be free. Land of the free, home of the brave. A day to declare independence.
To be sure, we are not the same Americans that wrenched this land from the British monarchy and demanded a Bill of Rights be added to our Constitution. I don’t mean in the Homeric sense that we are lesser beings, though that may well be true. I mean our situation is dramatically different. This is a settled land with hundreds of years of momentum behind the current government. This is not that wild place at he far edge of the civilized world where Enlightenment ideals of freedom and equality could take hold far from the oppressive monarchs of old Europe.
So I have no right to be disappointed in my fellow fat, comfortable Americans who are failing to rise up and demand the immediate repeal of the Patriot Acts and restoration of the Bill of Rights. I shouldn’t be infuriated that our president is framing this issue as a balance between freedom and security. We are a rich nation now, we have too much to lose. We don’t have the backbone to stick with old Ben Franklin and point out that those who would trade freedom for security deserve neither.
Ah well, what can we do? It’s a shame because this old system of ours has such good bones. The whole balance of power thing between the judicial, executive, and legislative branches. Quite clever, really. There are allowances for decisive action, which as any observer of decision-by-committe knows, only an individual actor can undertake. There is a Congress to voice the diverse views of the people and harvest whatever wisdom the crowds may possess, and finally the courts to keep the entire thing grounded on the rule of law. I would even suggest that Yudkowsky try to bake these ideas into his CEV when he builds the Godlike AI that will rule the universe.
But it seems clear that monied interests have captured our political process. I am with Lessig on this, drastic campaign reform might be the only way to salvage this democracy.* His Rootstrikers group has joined with Demand Progress. I do believe that some of the folks who take a look at this post do have backbones and intelligence. I encourage those of you who don’t happen to be bootlickers to rouse yourselves somewhat and see what you can do to help rectify this declining state of ours. Every empire must fall, I don’t deny that, but this one might have a few more miles left on it. Transparency, rule of law, and individual freedom are some of the ideas that led to the ascendence of the West. I suspect that we discard them at our peril.
* The mechanism by which this occurs is annoying. Money seems to buy policy via campaign donations. Which suggests that whoever has the most money will win an election (Though I haven’t seen the data on this, I should look it up.). If most of the money is spent on advertising, then rich people are basically controlling the mindspace of voters. I guess this is always true of various forms of advertising and mass media in general really, but it makes me resolved to more completely unplug from the mind control device. Also, someone clearly needs to develop a virus to deliver whatever genetic mutation is required to make the general public into critical thinkers capable of discerning which ads are garbage. Get George Church on the phone.