Re: Constitution v2.0

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Thu, 07 Aug 1997 22:03:13 -0500

Philip Witham wrote:
> Yes! re: a limited number of words in the constitution.
> No! re: representitives. With modern communications, we will not need
> these laggards.

In other words, you're proposing to streamlink the legislature; let everyone
vote on things directly.

This is an obvious and known proposal; I had my reasons for not making it.
Primarily I believe that the legislature *shouldn't* be fast or instantly
responsive to the whims of the public. Fast and responsive are for the
purveyors of voluntarily purchased merchandise, not the counsel which wields
force. I reluctantly go along with the condescending conventional wisdom on
this one subject: Nations are too impulsive... and legislatures are less
impulsive. The one-month-cool-off period for vote investiture was intended to
prevent similar impulsivity.

The truth is that by concentrating the debate in individuals, you make it
possible for people to pay attention, identify sides... a number of things
that are impossible on a national scale. On a national scale, you can have at
most three or four sides. A legislature makes it possible for there to be
dozens of sides. It's a threshold thing; any "legislator" receives attention,
while a national movement needs a substantial percentage of the population
before it attracts notice. The legislature allows debates to be conducted in
the open; the pros and cons to fight it out in an attentionable and recursible
arena, rather than implicitly in the simplistic proposals that would be
presented to voters by a controlled media.

You can streamlink this sort of thing, but it requires a *very* highly
evolved, pre-proven, trans-Firefly technology. We don't have that right now,
so it can't be incorporated into a Constitution being written right now.

> Re: state government, in the current system, this is one of the reasons
> that the US gov. is still somewhat tolerable. It traps people with
> political ambitions at the lowest, least effective level, and presents
> many layers of trap for them. This is the primary function of
> government, IMHO. I asked a friend who had been a local San Diego
> politician, and who had almost won a Ca. state office, about this, and he
> agreed. He said (paraphrasing) "It takes all of the effort you can muster
> and then more, to play the game, at any level of government".

I had the idea for a "House of Guardians" that would replace the current
Congress. They would be elected periodically, have great perks, a high
salary, and be able to fire any bureaucrat whenever they felt like it. They'd
have no legislative or spending authority. But they'd be the people you
turned to for constituent service. The perks, the personal power, and the
poetic title would ensure that all the power-seekers ran for Guardian.

The Guardians would have a variety of internal hierarchies to climb. There
might be Lesser Guardians on a local level. And of course there'd be a
single, High Guardian, with even better perks. All of this is to trigger and
ensnare the human instincts for seeking power. Humans will reflexively
attempt to climb any hierarchy, no matter how useless.

People who wanted to accomplish something could become Legislators. No perks,
except for information-finding subordinates, free education, high-speed
Internet access, and so on. Small salary. Not much media attention. Your
constituents always breathing down your neck to minimize their personal taxes.
But still wielding the guns.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

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