13 March 2010

"When in the Course of Human Events."

Figure 1. Interacting memes and consequences (blue) that afflict the American body politic.
Memes. A necessary precursor to "transformative change" is the proliferation of mutually re-enforcing ideas, the combined authority of which eventually overwhelms majoritarian indifference. Professor Dennett, with whose strident atheism I must one day pick a bone, calls these ideas "memes". Like animal species in nature, memes can interact in a variety of ways. The most potent, and potentially the most dangerous, participate in mutualistic associations, deriving benefit from each other even as hummingbirds and long-tubed flowers exchange pollination services for energy (nectar).

There are also costs, and there can be cheaters as well, topics best left for another occasion. For now, we note that as mutually-re-enforcing memes propagate, their ability to dominate the public discourse increases. The result can be an abrupt shift in the ideological landscape. In mathematics, such changes are called "catastrophes;" in engineering, "hard excitation."

Often there is a trigger — for example, the importation of Lenin into Czarist Russia. But triggers only work when there is powder to ignite, i.e., when the memes are already potent, but not sufficiently so to spark revolution by themselves. Importantly, the trigger can itself be a mimetic consequence.
This is because proliferating memes alter the societal context in which they exist. This, in turn, produces feedback (positive or negative) affecting the memes' ability to propagate, influence and survive. In short, there is a nonlinear dynamics of memes, though, so far as I am aware, this has never been studied in a serious way.

Shown in the accompanying figure are some of the memes and mimetic consequences that threaten America as we know it:
  1. Resurgent Marxism, in the guise of "affordable housing," contributed to the current economic melt-down, which, due to rising unemployment, drives calls for Healthcare "Reform" (HR).

  2. Marxism also promotes HR under the banner of "social justice."

  3. Increasing demands on finite medical resources leads to rationing, i.e., to Sarah Palin's "Death Panels" (SPDPs).

  4. The need for SPDPs is exacerbated by economic decline.

  5. By its very nature, Marxism promotes statism (Big Brother).

  6. Neo-Fascism and Political Correctness also promote ascendency of the state — gotta keep the hoi polloi in line.

  7. The theory of anthropogenic warming (Church of Global Warming) promotes "Cap 'n Tax," which, if enacted, will further cripple the economy and, by extension, generate more work for SPDPs.

  8. "Malthusian alarmism" and environmentalism promote "optimum populations" via family planning and reduced energy consumption. The short-term result is a distorted population structure — proportionately more oldsters — again more work for SPDPs.

  9. Not shown, because there would be too much "spaghetti," are the negative economic consequences of an aging workforce — just ask any indigenous European.
Figure 1 is provisional and incomplete. Missing is technological advance that facilitates government intrusion into everyday life. Likewise absent is Baby-Boomer narcicissm, a consequence (one of many) of which has been declining fertility. This further contributes to population aging, to declining per capita productivity, to more demands on the health care system, etc.

Readers may wish to add other boxes and arrows, relabel the ones already drawn, etc. Still, Figure 1 sharpens the more diffuse perceptions that motivate TEA party supporters: Things are getting out of hand; absent major pushback, they will necessarily get worse — consequence of positive feedback.

Figure 2. What comes out of the cauldron depends on what we put into it.
To Secure These Rights. What comes out of the witch's pot in Figure 1 is not the only possibility. From The Declaration of Independence we read:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, ... . That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it ... . Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; ... . But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, ... evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security [Emphasis added]."
Article V. The preceding passage refers to dissolving the "political bands" that connected Britain and her North American possessions in Colonial times. Today, things are different. There is no occupying power. If there is an enemy, it is ourselves. Fortunately, we have the Constitution and mechanisms that provide for its amendment. Of these, one entails Congressional passage of amendments; the other, a call by the states for an "Article V" Convention:
"The Congress, ... on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which ... shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof ... ." [Emphasis added]
Ours to Choose. The second procedure has never been utilized, in part, because of fears that it could lead to a "runaway" convention. And, indeed, the Philadelphia Convention far exceeded its charge, which was to amend the failing Articles of Confederation. Put crudely, a constitutional convention is a "crap-shoot." In 1787, uncertainty as to the outcome was outweighed by facts on the ground. So it is today:
  1. The government is dysfunctional; the nation, headed toward bankruptcy.

  2. Our existing Constitution, having become a "living document," no longer effectively limits governmental action. To the contrary, all three branches do pretty much as they please — witness House intentions to deem the Senate Health Care Bill "passed" without actually voting on it.

  3. The past hundred years' history suggests that judicial remediation is improbable; likewise, legislative. Nor will Congress, which bears a heavy responsibility for the current state of affairs, likely approve and send to the states curative amendments.

  4. Ineluctably, our present course leads to the replacement of republican government by a totalitarian state. More precisely, the interlocking consequences of legislation, both pending and impending, will result in governmental control over just about every aspect of our lives. What remains uncertain is the character, benign or malevolent, of this control — in which regard, one recalls Lord Acton's admonition.
Regrettably, the choice that confronts us is not between patient sobriety and precipitous action. The choice is instead between Figures 1 and 2; between changing the system and being changed by it. No middle ground; no easy outs. And, yes, there is risk. [Updated, 17 March]

No comments: