Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The problem with the United Nations is its powerlessness to enforce its resolutions without cooperation from its major members. Even if none of the permanent members of the Security Council use their veto, resolutions are virtually meaningless without strong support form the U.S, the Russian Federation, Europe or China.
Many of us are afraid to empower the UN as an independent entity with sufficient resources to enforce its own resolutions. The fear is that the UN will begin to meddle in domestic affairs and issues that should be none of its concerns. This fear is unreasonably exaggerated by knee-jerk tribalism. If the UN were to be transformed into a well constructed federation, unjust meddling would be easily prevented.
No federal government is ever completely divorced from its constituent members. The individuals that run a federal government are not emotionless beings without regional roots. The larger a federation is, the more true this becomes. As a federation grows, it has to draw from an ever wider pool of professionals to construct its work force. It can no longer rely on a small oligarchy of unquestionably loyal individuals.
Bureaucracies are often accused of being divorced from human reason and to operate according to their own inane mechanical rules. To some extent the accusations are warranted. But this is why we have to regionalize political representation in today's federal assemblies. Bureaucracies don't enact their own inane rules. They enact the inane rules of the legislatures to which they are accountable. Through regional representation and voting procedures, today's legislators are kept accountable to their local constituencies.
A large political unit, be it the Roman Empire, the Russian Federation or the Democratic Party in the United States, is always under the threat of being torn apart by regional rebellion. The threat of regional rebellion heavily limits how much a large political unit can interfere in the affairs of its constituent members. This is not to say interference never occurs. But nearly every time it does occur, it tears at the overall cohesiveness of the political unity. Often it threatens the existence of the political unit itself.
The issue of medical marijuana in the United States demonstrates how a federal entity cannot disregard the will of its constituent member even if it so desires. Yes, the DEA has time and again tried to enforce federal law and continues to harass individuals in states that have laws permitting the medical use of marijuana. But the DEA's actions have pitted them against many local officials on whom the DEA depends for the effectiveness of enforcing federal law. Regulated facilities that openly provide medical marijuana continue to operate in these states.
The medical marijuana issue has not threatened the Union itself, but it certainly has strained the federation. All human interaction is a tug-of-war between between wills. Any entity that cannot align its members within their intersecting spheres into a unified direction, eventually tears itself apart. A global government would be under the constant threat of dissolution, forcing it to step back and focus on narrow issues defined in its constitution.
Monday, October 15, 2007
There are many of us who fear that the international Rule of Law is akin to tyranny. We fear that surrendering even a slice of our sovereignty to a global legislature will erode our defenses against vast populations that don't share our interests nor have any concern for our general well being. These fears are well founded. China is not our friendly neighbourhood worker bee.
Most human beings are only benevolent to strangers when there is an abundance of resources. And resources always become scarce at some point. There are, however, means to prevent the Tyranny of the Majority but still reap the benefits of a global legislature.
The Founding Fathers devised a clever yet imperfect system of checks and balances that gave the federal government sufficient powers to unify its member states without fully centralizing government under one single tyrannical authority. The unity they established was precarious as was later demonstrated when the Civil War broke out.
But despite its imperfections and overlooking the troubled years of the 1850ies and 1860ies, the U.S. Constitution managed to set the ground rules for (so far) 218 years of a (mostly) healthy tug-of-war between state sovereignty and federal authority.
The basic concept was to:
- Constitutionally limit the authority of the federal government to matters regarding interaction between the member states and the most basic rights of individuals.
- Split the federal legislature into 2 parts: the Senate and the House of Representatives. One afforded equal representation to all states while the other gave power to each state according to its size.
By putting greater weight on the Senate and ensuring its seniority through longer terms, the Founding Fathers made sure that a tyranny of the majority would not establish itself. Even the smallest states had the power to block federal legislation through coalition building.
Several federations have since been built up according to this recipe. It is, however, not the only means by which to prevent a Tyranny of the Majority. Explorations into mathematics has afforded us solutions that are potentially even better.
One great problem with a bicameral system is the stasis brought on by having to pass legislative acts in both houses. Would it be possible to design a more effective unicameral system that still affords protection against the 800 pound population bullies like China and India? It certainly would. In the 1940ies, Professor Lionel Penrose devised an ingenious method for weighing votes in the General Assembly of the United Nations: the square root.
It is a simple, elegant and beautiful solution to the Tyranny of the Majority. The power of the square root has been known to us since at least 1650 B.C. Strictly defined, the square root of a number X is a number R, such that R^2 = X. The square root tempers linear growth in a most elegant, in fact exponential, way. As X grows, R grows too but less and less so as X gets ever greater.
By weighing votes in the General Assembly of the U.N. according to the square root of a member states population, Lionel Penrose might have prevented Israel and the U.S. from dismissing the majority and the majority of the General Assembly from tyrannizing Israel. As the population of a country grew, its influence would have increased. But only ever so slightly, not in a linear train wreck towards eventual tyranny.
Lionel Penrose idea can be taken even further. Votes (or representation) in a global assembly can be weighted according to various characteristics beyond just population. For example, the square root of the GDP can be added. Or the square root of contributions to the organization itself. Or, perhaps, the square root of foreign aid.
The importance of characteristics themselves can be weighted by giving them different coefficients (weights). Instead of the square root of the GDP, it could be half of the square root of the GDP, or one tenth for that matter.
The square root method would allow us to create a unicameral legislature that would afford the same protection against the Tyranny of the Majority that the Senate provides in the U.S. Accompanied with strict constitutional limitations regarding what such a legislature can do, we would be protected against those who in times of need could care less about us than a famished grizzly.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
In the last 500 years, we have moved from a sparsely interconnected world to a highly globalized human network. Our fates are now linked in the most unexpected ways as information cascades quickly sweep our planet into dark alleys of mass hysteria, anger and ultimately warfare.
Most of us claim we want to live in peace. We justify warfare as a means to a civilized end, an unfortunate but necessary way of attaining stability and prosperity. I believe that those of you that have truly suffered through long protracted wars understand its atrocities. But those of us who have not are often enticed by the virility of action, the profound conviction in our cause and the sweet promise of swift victory.
How many times in the last 100 years have nations said that their soldiers will be back before Christmas, Yom Kippur, Ramadan or New Years? And how many leaders have claimed early victory when the violence had just begun? As our technology evolves, we're fooled into believing that what was nearly impossible yesterday, that is swift victory, will be possibly today. What we forget is that our enemies are humans too and therefore as smart as us, if not smarter since (as the cliche goes) "necessity is the mother of invention". Smart bombs are followed by a grinding wave of IEDs, missile defense by fully fueled and hijacked civilian jet liners.
In lieu of how many times we have been fooled to believe that war is a reasonable option that can bring us to a desired state of affairs, we desperately need a new protocol to avoid going down the wrong path again and again. Once one side as opted for all out war, the other side often has no option but to respond with an equal measure of force. We need a protocol that allows us avoid spiraling into the precipice of another global conflict.
At our current evolutionary stage, some humans will continue to exhibit aggression. Aggression is closely linked to our "fighting spirit", our struggle for survival. But a global culture of civilized institutions can be built up that effectively minimizes the negative impact of violent behaviour without impairing our strength as a species.
Diversity makes us strong. It effectively allows us to experiment with potential solutions to our human condition and evolve through competition. And competition inevitably leads to conflict as it poises one approach against the other. But the proof of a concept should be contained within the constraints of the domain to which it applies itself. However, the desire to prevail is so strong in us that in a conflict situation, we have few inhibitions about what we allow ourselves to do. We reach beyond the problem domain itself. No longer are we proving the superiority of our approach. We are simply proving our ability to suppress competition through brute force.
A viable international protocol must permit us to compete freely within the boundaries of clearly set rules that delineate the problem domain. We don't prove how great we are at swimming by running 20 miles. We don't prove the viability of our ideological doctrines by killing each other. We don't prove how great our societies and economies are by building impenetrable borders (which, again, is simply a means of suppressing competition by force).
There is no way to infer what the exact rules should be without experimenting and arbitrating the result. Such a mechanism is known as a legal system, which consist of both a legislature and a judiciary. A legitimate legal system must be clearly and directly empowered to act by a majority of the people. At a national level many of us would not tolerate anything else. We have come to call it the democratic Rule of Law. Yet at the international level, we shy away from fully implementing such a legal system. Why?
We fear that the system will be skewed in favor of the other and suppress us through tyranny. The fear is particularly strong in those of us who are privileged. We fear that our wealth will be stolen, our powers compromised and our positions diminished. There is no doubt that the governments of the U.S. and Europe will have to surrender their privileged positions as exclusive "deciders". But the fear of tyranny is unfounded. There are means to prevent such tyranny, means that have evolved from amongst other sources the U.S Constitution and the great European experiment.
We shouldn't forget that despite that the Cold War has been over for more than 15 years, we're still at the dawn of the Nuclear Age. There are several nations ready for and capable of acquiring the ultimate safeguard against invasion: nuclear weaponry. Mass hysteria might not lead to burnt fields and pillaged cities. Mass hysteria might lead to the complete and total annihilation of humanity. In a highly interconnected world with endless information cascades and without the global Rule of Law, deterrence might quickly turn into destruction.