These days, reading the national news is like watching a whirlwind of shit in high definition.
Emboldened white supremacists, the orange racist-in-chief, plans for an expensive useless wall, a government actively working to roll back environmental protections of every kind. Not to mention the very real possibility of nuclear war.
So I’m writing this post to remind myself what kind of world I’d like to live in. What kind of policies I’d like to see in place, in a more sane world.
I don’t believe in the pursuit of perfect utopias. Reaching that high is like flying too close to the sun. You have to start with a clean slate to build a perfect society, which means destroying everyone and everything and starting over. Which has been tried, several times in history, and generally ends in mass starvation and/or genocide. So no thanks.
The alternative is a messy utopia, one that builds on pretty good systems that already exists, one that takes a more-or-less empirical approach to solving problems, and one that doesn’t require perfect moral behavior on the part of its citizens. I’ve written in more detail about this idea here.
In many ways, we’re 60% there. Many aspects of many local, national, and global governments and systems work pretty damn well. Most human beings have adequate food, clean water, shelter, and access to medical care, education, electricity, and internet. These “basics” would have been considered either luxurious or magical a few hundred years ago. Roughly a billion people don’t have access to these things. Which is a lot, but considerably less than the percentage of people who lived in poverty or extreme poverty several decades ago.
So what would local, national, and global governance look like if saner, more thoughtful minds prevailed? Governance based on evidence, a working knowledge of history, some degree of compassion for other human beings, and a sense of environmental stewardship?
Not a leftist Marxist agenda, nor a capitalist winner-take-all society, nor a purist Green ideology, nor a “my personal freedom above all else” Libertarian fantasy.
Just boring pragmatism. Systems that work, so we can all eat and have healthcare and not destroy the planet and get back to the fun stuff in life, like making art, playing games, building cool stuff, enjoying each other’s company, having sex, raising children, seeing the world, or whatever floats your boat and doesn’t hurt other people.
What would that look like?
Without getting into policy details, I think a boring pragmatism platform could be built on eight simple guiding principles:
- Investment in public institutions and systems that benefit the public good and generally make life better and/or safer for everyone (education, affordable housing, healthcare, scientific research, public health, emergency services, law enforcement, reasonable military protection, infrastructure [power, transportation, water, internet], the arts and museums, etc.).
- Allow the private sector to thrive with streamlined bureaucracy, incentives for small businesses, sensible environmental regulations, and reduced costs for employers (see healthcare, above).
- Systematic checks and balances to prevent extreme accumulation of power and wealth by small groups (progressive taxation, multiple branches of government, anti-monopoly laws, term limits, campaign finance regulations, etc.).
- Encourage and protect personal freedoms (speech, assembly, travel, emigration/immigration, use of medicines and substances, sexual behavior, artistic expression) both legally and culturally, so long as such expression does not injure, endanger, or physically threaten others.
- Equal rights and protections for all citizens, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc., with reparations and/or affirmative action and/or restorative justice for groups that have experienced severe past injustices.
- Environmental stewardship on every level of government (including international treaties and multinational projects), including protected wilderness and ocean/reef areas, pollution prevention and cleanup, alternatives to dangerous/damaging chemicals, reforestation/carbon sequestration, and environmental engineering (such as stratospheric dimming) as needed to prevent climate disaster/food collapse/mass extinction.
- Global diplomacy based on international cooperation to deescalate and disempower (or redirect and reform) bad actors (military aggressors, regimes that run prison camps and slaughter their own citizens, etc.), with military force as a last resort.
- Invest wealth surpluses from technology (automation, replication, robotics, artificial intelligence) in basic income and/or increased public services for all citizens.
We don’t need to continue arguing about communism vs. free-market capitalism vs. libertarianism vs. environmentalism. They all suck, on their own. We’ve run the tests (especially with the first two). Attempted implementations of communism failed the hardest (mass starvation and genocide under Mao and Stalin), but we learned our own lesson with free markets run amuck (The Great Depression). To back any simplistic mono-ideology in this day and age, to base governance on a single principle and assume everything else will just fall into place–that indicates either a willful ignorance of history, or severely deluded magical thinking.
Of course we need reasonably free markets, and some form of wealth redistribution to protect children and old people and other vulnerable citizens, and we need to not trash the planet so we have somewhere to live, and we need personal freedom so we feel empowered and can speak up and fight back if we’re oppressed or abused. We don’t have to choose just one of those good things.
So that’s my take on how we go forward. It’s either that or continue our current trajectory into Idiocracy, or Mad Max, or Waterworld, or 1984, or Brave New World, or World War Z. Pick your dystopia.