Friday, June 24, 2005

Problem statement...

The reality of any organization with more than one member is that it's very difficult to agree on what to do. In the case of a country the size of the United States, it's impossible. I don't mean difficult. I mean impossible. We have this idea that we live in a free country, but we don't. We live in a country where some attempt has been made to balance the forces that govern us in such a way that no needless restrictions on our freedom occur. In the absence of malice, this system is imperfect. In the presence of malice, it can be turned into a tool.

When someone wants to manipulate the government, the best way to do it is to try to get the forces that are intended to balance each other to pull in the same direction - to control both the executive and the legislative branches, for example, or in extreme cases even to control all three branches. This leads to a situation where there is no balance, and even the illusion of freedom is (hopefully temporarily) lost.

You might think this is going to be a diatribe about GWB. It's not. It's a diatribe about politicians in general. Politicians in general seem to see the stability of opposing forces as a problem to be solved, rather than as an intended part of a well-oiled system. So Republicans try to install Supreme Court justices, for example, who they think will support a Republican agenda. And Democrats try to install justices who will support a democratic agenda. Likewise we see gerrymandering on the part of both sides of the aisle to try to stack the deck in congress, and then we see that the only contest that people really take seriously is the quest for the presidency. Frankly, we are better off if none of these machinations bear fruit.

I don't think there's necessarily much malice here. Most of the leading Democrats I know of seem to have generally pretty good motivation. Perhaps I am being naive. But I think they really believe the Liberal Agenda. Likewise, much as I detest a lot of what GWB has done, I think there's some genuineness to the agenda that the people who run his party are pushing. Both sides of the aisle are populated by human beings who are not saints, and so there are abuses, some of which are quite egregious, but I think in general these are a layer on top of a body of good intentions, rather than a core value held by the legislators in question. For example, although I do not agree with Senator McCain's support of nuclear power, I think his intentions in promoting it are good, not based on some kind of corrupt influence, and I don't regret voting for him in the most recent election.

I am somewhat active in a standards body known as the IETF. In the IETF, we started out with what you might call a legislative orientation. We had some problem in mind, and we came up with a solution for it, and then we pushed the solution and got it standardized. This worked well in the early days, but as the IETF has turned more into a group of standards wonks and less into a group of geeks, it's become less successful. Also, as the number of participants of both kinds has gone up, the ability to come to quick agreement has dropped.

So now we do something different. Instead of coming up with a standard and trying to get consensus on it, we try to define the problem we're trying to solve first. Then we work on a solution.

I think the national legislature is in the same boat. They are pushing solutions rather than trying to figure out problems. And because it's so hard to get consensus on any solution, they try to jigger the process - to get the checks and balances of government out of balance. And out of this effort springs a huge flood of invective, divisiveness and downright mutual hatred and corruption.

I don't know how to get the wonks in charge to start thinking in terms of problems instead of in terms of solutions, but I present this notion here in the hopes that a small seed planted in obscurity can someday grow into a forest. :'}


Blogger Patricia said...

From your keyboard to God's ears!

Saturday, June 25, 2005 4:13:00 PM  

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