Re: Constitution v2.0

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Wed, 06 Aug 1997 19:47:53 -0500

Eric Watt Forste wrote:

> I am disturbed by your proposal to eliminate the state level,
> however. Better to make the "states" smaller and more numerous,
> and the federal and "metropolitan" levels less powerful. (Being
> an anarchist at heart, I can't really take such scheming too
> seriously, though.)

I think of it this way: How many levels of government do we a priori need?
One nation-level government to handle things like military defense, and one
city-level government to handle things like local jails or whatever. I would
seriously question the necessity for a city government at all, in fact. Once
a national government has secured the basic rights of freedom from force and
fraud, a city government can serve only to poke its nose into things that
should rightfully be private concerns - such as street repair, firefighting,
zoning commissions...

That being the case, I can't see why we need an intermediate level of
government. Perhaps it could act as a "city" government for small towns, too
small to have their own jails... or perhaps not.

The only real reason for the existence of states is to provide a multitude of
small experimental cultures, large enough to produce interesting results,
small enough that we can have 50 political incubators. Even so, the
Internet should allow the coordination of numbers of like-minded cities to
form their own experiments. Defining an arbitrary geographical entity doesn't
change the amount of innovation; it allows bad innovations to be enforced and
prevents good ones from spreading.

Even given the best of reasons for a "state" government, the "states" should
not be geographically organized - and cities should be free to belong to the
"state" of their choice, or none at all.

> It's entirely possible that these sorts of structures are far beyond
> human engineering skill, and that the US Constitution was partly
> a result of careful study of structures that had emerged and grown
> without being designed, and partly itself a lucky accident. This
> is why I'd favor a loose confederation of nearly independent states,
> who can experiment with a variety of different constitutional
> systems without risking screwing up their neighbors societies too
> much. Different strokes for different folks, doncha know.

That's why I would be against a Constitutional Convention. One should write a
prospective Constitution in advance, and then - if it is approved - vote it
into existence in one fell swoop, without allowing amendment until after it
exists. Otherwise, it will be loaded down with well-meaning but harmful
addendums, and created with too much opportunity for private tinkering.

In response to your assertion that such structures are beyond human skill, I
would rather propose that there are numerous psychological forces acting to
screw our designs. The Constitution succeeded because - through a fluke of
luck or otherwise - these forces were barred from acting. Given that there
will be no Constitutional Convention, we can simply attempt to do the same
thing ourselves, armed with a much fuller knowledge of things like
evolutionary psychology, and a high technology which greatly expands the
sphere of alternatives.

If we fail, we can junk the inferior document and stick with the current
Constitution. If we fail and don't realize it, we won't add anything new to
the situation over and above all the other groups calling for a new
Constitution. Only calling a Constitutional Convention would force us to go
with the best we mere humans could do.

Anyway, I dispute the implicit idea that the current Constitution is working.
It isn't; it's breaking down. Not just the amendments; although the
Constitution continues to operate perfectly against tyrants, other menaces
such as bureaucracy and paperwork are threatening to choke the country, and
might very well do just that, if continued unchecked. *Something* needs to be
slapped into place, and I have no faith in stopgap measures to do it - like
putting a band-aid on an axe wound. Congress, in the past, has simply ignored
legislated limits to spending. So we need to redesign Congress, spending, or
taxation - at the very least. I propose streamlinking(*) all three to get
rid of the accumulated junk. Streamlinking is often useful when social
organizations begin to malfunction; a very powerful tool which usually
requires immense computing power and high-speed communications.

(*): See message: 'Definition: "Streamlink".'

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.