Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

Is the American System Good for the World?

This is TJ’s blog.  TJ asserts that the United States is responsible for numerous attrocites and gives references.   The references are largely solid, by my understanding, and, in part, I had this to say:

“In essence the links you have sent me say the US government lies, has poor or evil foreign policy, and uses it’s military for short term profit. Well, of course. No sane person would argue that. The case you need to prove is not that the US government does evil. All large organizations do evil. The case you need to prove is that the US governmental system does more evil than other available alternative systems, when given the same resources”

Specifically, I asked for a per person or per dollar measure of the attrocities, and TJ’s response was…

I appreciate that you say that no sane person would argue what you distilled my links to say: “The US government lies, has poor or evil foreign policy, and uses it’s military for short term profit.” But seemingly sane people seem to argue this all the time; most republicans seem to believe that our military escapades do in fact in some inexplicable way protect our freedoms here at home (even if they are willing to sit idly while these freedoms are stripped away by the government). In fact, I find it hard to believe that this tremendously damaging behavior to our safety and the safety of the globe would be allowed to continue unabated if only the insane would argue it.

My demand for a solid metric for suffering met this (reasonable) response: I don’t quite understand how you could or should expect to wait until the U.S. government is as efficient at causing suffering as say, the Sudanese regime, before trying to do everything in ones power to combat injustice.

Fair enough.  My reasons are as follows. Not all claims have a burden of proof. If you tell me you went out for cocktails with your aunt last night, I’m not going to fight to verify it. If you tell me I should donate large sums of money to you because of reason X, Y and Z, then I am going to verify your claim with rigor proportional to the money you request.  The degree to which claims are investigated and skepticsm is applied is proportional to the risk which is undertaken.

The claim is made, “The American Government should change the way it does things.”  A government is many things, but perhaps above all, a system.  A system is defined by all its parts.  Neither a track, nor a bridge, nor a junction is a railway network, but their sum is.  Changes in a system must be made holistically system wide, or the changes make things worse, not better.

The system can only do what the system was designed to do.  A railway network made for passengers will never work optimally for freight and vice versa.   No amount of refinement can change this because the cause of the failure is systemic.   All systems do what they are designed to do.  Changing the CEO of the railway will not change this.  Changing standard operating procedures will not change this.  Nothing can change systemic failure but systemic change.

If the system produces attrocity better than anything else, it is because that is what the system was designed to do. The issues of military policy, foreign policy, and civil intelligence, are systemic.  Stopping attrocity in those areas will not be achieved with a mere reshuffling of the buercracy.  It requires sweeping changes to the whole US government system.

Such a change is an enormous risk, and for the risk to be justified, the case must be made strongly that the proposed replacement system is better, and define what “better” means.

It is not enough to say the U.S. does harm.  Money is power.  A man with a million dollars could start library, a scholarship, or a charter school.  Or he could commit an act of unspeakable terror upon innocents.  Power is nuetral.  A million dollars can buy a million dollars worth of help or a million dollars worth of harm.  We must prove the current system does more harm and less good then the proposed replacement.  The U.S. currently has 20% of the wealth in the world.  Logically, we have 20% of the power in the world, and we use that power to achieve 20% of the harm done in the world, and 20% of help.

If the new system reduces the harm at the expense of the help, then then there is no net change, and attrocity will continue on, merely with new actors.  Further, the global community is a system as well.  The new system must not only allow for more help then harm, it must not impact the global system in such a way as to increase other nations’ capicity for harm.  Remember the the example of Sudan.  If the cost of reducing American harm is increasing Sudan’s capacity to do harm, the Sudanese system is significantly more efficient at producing harm.  Hence, America’s reduction in harm is offset, and again the attrocities continue with new actors.

For this reason, I do not support any change to the system, regardless of the local harm reduction, until the case is made that a change to the system will actually result in a global net loss of harm.  Otherwise, any fighting we do to change the system will, despite good intention, only result in more people being harmed.

July 21, 2009 - Posted by | atheism, Christianity, Government, Politics, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,


  1. And, I am first to reply to my own blog. I stand by the statement “No sane person…” And question what happens in a democracy of the insane.

    Comment by truthwalker | July 21, 2009 | Reply

    • Are you calling the vast majority of Republicans in this country insane or disingenuous or both?

      Comment by thinkahol | July 21, 2009 | Reply

      • I would say the vast portion of Americans are more concerned with how they feel about reality then reality itself. The US has the lowest scientific literacy in the Western world, and the highest religiosity. Communication with reality is the measure of sanity. I would say, in general, Americans are less sane then the citizens of many other western democracies.

        Comment by truthwalker | July 22, 2009

  2. This is the link to the original comment thread, with truthwalker’s original metaphor and our full comments immediately after (also at the right of the window “Rape 4” under “Top Posts”):

    (1.) I seem to think that governments are more responsive to external pressure than you do truthwalker. A government is a system sure, but not particularly like railway network as far as I am concerned. It’s essence is certainly not its physical instantiation.

    (2.) Revolutionary change is not the only possible kind of change until things have already gone too far. The entire premise behind the mutability of the constitution was to ensure that freedom could be preserved and withstand the changing ways in which power seeks to subvert freedom.

    (3.) While theoretically power can be used equally for good or evil, the fact of the matter is, in a concentrated form, it is inevitably self-serving; this is why it becomes the enemy of freedom. It’s not like the wealthy and powerful are particularly more sadistic (for the most part) seeking to squash people for pleasure; it’s that they inevitably put themselves first at the expense of everyone else.

    (4.) I think you also interestingly conflate what a system does and what it was designed to do. That the United States causes significant harm, is certainly not evidence that it was originally designed to cause harm. The system has been subverted to do harm. The original design, of course, attempted to do everything possible to prevent the emergence of this kind of harm.

    (5.) Sure it makes sense to want to make sure that local harm reduction doesn’t result in an increase in harm somewhere else. But it seems backwards to assume that it does without evidence to think so.

    (6.) Support for the rule of law especially seems inarguably to result in harm reduction across the board, and I fail to see how it would somehow result in more harm somewhere else.

    (7.) There is no reason to think that expecting criminals to be prosecuted regardless of their position in government somehow causes harm.

    (8.) There is no reason to think that the national initiative ( to give the public the ability to use ballot initiatives and thus giving the public a more direct democracy (as is already possible in 24 states) in order to help counterbalance the distortion that corporate influence causes would in some way cause more harm somewhere else.

    (9.) Every specific injustice needs to be combated as much as possible. The onus would be on you to show that certain well-meaning proposals/movements or whatever are going to cause more harm than good.

    (10.) Let’s remember that the every freedom that we still have was clawed from those in power. When I linked the declaration of independence in my previous comment it was to remind us that it is our duty to do everything in our power to protect our freedoms. And like Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

    Comment by thinkahol | July 21, 2009 | Reply

    • Well, I could argue and clarify each little point, but let me instead explain my overall message.

      I agree with you that American foreign policy, military policy, and civil intelligence policy is flawed. In fact, I think the American theory of government is misguided in a couple areas. I think these flaws are systemic, however. I think any large change made without changing the system, no mater how well meaning, will only make things worse. So I believe in working toward systemic change. I am aware the system was not designed to harm originally, but the key is this: There is no such thing as non-design. Only good and bad design. The American system is designed profoundly badly. It is only appearance and precedent that has prevented more abuse. The US Constitution has almost no power. What is says is not followed, the real document of power is the US Code. And the US Code is a terrible system, lacking (among other things) a clear federal chain of command structure for the bureaucracy necessary to achieve the stated goals.

      That said, I do not believe in violent revolution. The US system is not even remotely bad enough to risk the enormous dangers for a society that it entails. There needs to be democratic change. I believe in 2 things (1.) A total constitutional rewrite. (2.) A total US Code rewrite using the new principals of the new constitution. The existing US constitution is a great start, but it is limited by the founders inability to see the future in 6 specific regards. (1.) A closed loop. The founders concept of resource utilization and thus the civilization that utilizes it, was based on an open loop, endless frontier model. It worked ok in the 18th Century, but simply doesn’t work for the 21st.
      (2.) Instantaneous, effortless transfer of huge quantities of information. It changes everything. Democracy, the press, privacy, etc.
      (3.) Limited liability.
      (4.) The fictitious person.
      (5.) Intellectual property rights.
      (6.) Socialism

      Without that, we can’t fix anything. Putting the hammer down on corruption in high office without addressing the incentive structure that makes corruption so appealing will make the problem worse, not better. All we will do is drive the corruption underground. It’s analogous to illicit drug use. Criminalizing supply without dealing with the reason for the demand simply raises the price of the drugs and increases the incentive to sell them.

      The problems you describe with the American system are enormous, entrenched and systemic. I think the only real solution is enormous as well, and I demand a huge amount of evidence before it is put in place.

      However, if what you are talking about is minor change within the existent system, I don’t think you can go wrong with it. I just question if it is the best use of time and money in this fight.

      Comment by truthwalker | July 22, 2009 | Reply

      • Sorry for the delay. I was traveling a couple of days.

        I’m confused why you think that it requires a full blown revolution to change the incentive structure. The federal government always lags behind the states. The state of Arizona already provides matching funds for all candidates for state office to help counterbalance corporate funding. etc.

        gotta run. but i’ll be back

        Comment by thinkahol | July 25, 2009

  3. I’m wondering what your perspective is on trying to halt a deteriorating system. In other words, considering the seeming impossibility of a revolution are we supposed to sit by and watch.

    And I still don’t understand your focus on the perfect replacement instead of on combating known evils.

    All of our freedoms have been wrested from the powerful; admittedly the amount of force required varies.

    Comment by thinkahol | July 28, 2009 | Reply

  4. You have to know the standard you are working towards before you start out on it. Saying you are “working towards democracy” is so vague as to be meaningless. The point of coming up with right way to do things is so that we have metric to gauge the effectiveness of our actions. It is NOT to prevent actions.

    I am all for fighting to improve congress as an interim solution, but also for recognizing that any improvements we make to this system are reactionary solutions to the symptoms of the problem and not cures.

    “considering the seeming impossibility of a revolution..” Number one, revolution is not impossible. That’silly. We can have a revolution, but the cost to benefit ratio does not favor it. Things need to be vastly worse before the cost to benefit ratio favors civil war.

    “…are we supposed to sit by and watch?” No. Nor is action which sounds good necessary effective. The US “War on Povery” springs to mind. After all the billions spent, the situation for the urban poor is now, in general, worse of then it was when the program was started. Making a goal like “fighting poverty” or “fighting terrorism” without an objective, quantifiable goal, is simply an blank check to who ever can seize it.

    The greatest single problem which faces the US is the single-member district plurality legislative body. Trying make ANY change to the existing policy without also working towards representative democracy is a waste of time. Policy must be enforced. If the existing system is allowed to enforce ANY new policy it will enforce it against the spirit of the law, twisting it for its own benefit as it does all existing policies.

    Like passing a minimum wage law, and not voting to
    increase the wage for 10 years, while voting themselves 11 raises during the same time, for instance. Regardless of the individual morality of individual members congress, the system is cruel.

    Comment by truthwalker | July 28, 2009 | Reply

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