Today's Quotations

Originally published at: Today’s Quotations | The Associated Worlds

We are, undeniably, tool-using creatures. Eldrae sómintár. More, we are undeniably creative creatures, builders and makers – eldrae mahavár – who build in order to have tools, and have tools in order to build. An endless cycle of creation. Observe, too, the lesser Flames: the problem-solving ingenuity of the bandal, the hunting tools fashioned by the vorac, the multifold creations of the cúlno.Creation, then, is the nature of the Flame.Is it not then clear that both the tools of creation and the fruits of creation, to such poor extent as they may be distinguished, are necessary parts of the inviolable…

A thought on the words of “Sardal Amanyr-ith-Amaranyr,” particularly their commentaries on the “technocratic art” of governance and the “flaw of democracy.”

Many will agree with the sentiment that tough political and administrative decisions should be made by the qualified – sentient beings with the perspective, competence, and experience need to choose the best courses of action. But what gives a sentient these qualifications, and from those the right to make potentially world-altering choices?

For some, such administrative qualifications spring from expertise – the formal learning of academics and the practical education of getting your hands dirty in the field. From here come the technocrats, engineers, admirals, ecologists, ecologists, and activists – experts in their fields who can steer great projects and innovate novel solutions.

Others are qualified by virtue of having a personal stake in the matter – i.e., their personal autonomy, lifestyles, homes, health, and loved ones will be profoundly affected or threatened by the political decision under deliberation.

In a democratic system where decisions are made without the knowledge of experts, demagoguery and factionalism can lead to the breakdown of rationality and unity. But the same token, a technocratic system where decisions are made without the input of the “affected” leads to a lack of accountability – the imposition of ruinous “scientific” farming policies by a distant bureaucracy, or the building of a toxin-spewing power plant near the drinking water of a settlement.

Democracy shines brightest when detached from government and coupled to robust ethics – the greatest principle of which is freedom to choose your own path in life as long as your choices don’t harm or hinder the freedom and life or others. And when a pressing decision affecting the welfare of everyone in a group, a culture, or a world arises? This is when democratic principles like consensus, compromise, sortition, and voting give sentients the chance to assert their desires and hold each other to account.

Democracy isn’t the enemy: authoritarianism is the enemy, be it democratic or autocratic in shape.

As I understand it, Imperials would argue that such accountability should be self-imposed. A technocrat who does not seek public opinion as data-points to inform their decision-making is not doing their job, and should recognise and redress this wherever possible, be it via tools for info-gathering, grassroots meetings, or setting up accountability systems to automate its enforcement.

Seen in this light, democracy is hardly the only way to generate the most optimal policies for a large community of people. And indeed, because the brand of democracy Sardal Amanyr-ith-Amaranyr seems to describe is the sort where you choose your leaders and trust them to be technocrats anyway, it would seem like a remarkably sub-optimal system since in the vast phase-space of possible policy combinations you’re limited to the handful that each of your particular choices of leadership espouse.

I think the first thing they would note here is that under any system of governance they would recognize as civilized, this is not the class of thing that you get to make political decisions about - see “Society of Consent, A” - and that any system that let people make political decisions about them was, eo ipso, already hopelessly authoritarian.) And, indeed, that their governance is strictly forbidden by the Imperial Charter from making any sort of political decisions in that area.

Or at all, really, since “governance” in the local lingo is an approximate translation for “right-and-obligation enforcer smushed together with infrastructure maintenance organization”. So, y’know, what’s left in terms of decision-making is principally matters of technical fact (“What is the required type and quantity of maintenance to keep six nines’ uptime on Kanatai Regional Electrical Power Grid Number Seven?”), voting on which would be like voting on the value of pi, or whether a bridge will stay up: you either vote for the right answer, in which case it is redundant, or for the wrong answer, in which case reality exercises its veto.

Citizen-shareholders asked this sort of question tend to respond somewhere between “Do I look like an electrical engineer?” and “If I wanted to figure out how to allocate traffic across the Interprovincial Highway System, I wouldn’t have hired you to take care of it. Are you sure you understand how this client-service provider relationship is supposed to work?”

From the other perspective:

“Agricultural policy? Our agricultural policy is that we have this group of specialists who have devoted their careers to the pursuit of growing food, and as such should probably be trusted to get on with it without the unwelcome assistance of the 1,812 Senators of whom maybe half a dozen have grown anything more than a houseplant.”

“That’s what you always say about all your policies!”

“Has it become less true?”