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 | , , , , , , , | 8 Comments