Monday, May 30, 2011

The Comedy of Democracy

Democracies socialize their citizens into believing that it's okay for people who know nothing about a given policy to make decisions about policies that affect you.  People are taught that political opinions are neither right not wrong, they are simply opinions.  Simple opinions can land you in jail or forcibly deprive you of money in the case of legislation, however.

The evidence that voters know very little about public policies and the voters who make them is overwhelming - see more data here (  But one pointed example comes from The American Voter, a seminal book in public opinion. Written by scholars that began the most scientific studies of opinion in America (NES), it teaches that the average swing voter is usually a drosophila that vote on the most superficial of matters (though not in such words). Here's an example of an interview they quote:

Is there anything in particular you like about the Democratic Party?

No, there's nothing I've got against them.  I feel that Eisenhower ought to have a show...I think he's done wonders myself!  Of course there's his health but I think he'll pull out of that all right.  Give him good thoughts!  (Give him good thoughts?)  Yes.  (Pray for him?) Sure.  I liked him when he came in the first time.  I like the looks of his face.

You can imagine the Mystery Science Theater robots mocking the woman in those paranthetical thoughts.  Eisenhower authorized important decisions about overthrowing the governments of Iran, Guatemala, and Cuba, and shifted military spending from the army to the air force.  He also made decisions about implementing civil rights.  Yet, all this woman can talk about is how he looks and whether he will pull through his operation.  Her vote is equal to that of an expert.

Given that a police state is more likely to develop without a democracy, I am not suggesting that we abandon democracy.  Rather, I suggest we only use government as a last resort.  People are less superficial about major purposes in the marketplace than they are about decisions in the polling booth, where they know that any time they invest in a decision only has a small chance of changing the election's outcome.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Your Horoscope

 I made these up for a friend's birthday party.  But they apply to you, too!

Aries: You are cute and stubborn, and will find yourself on rough terrain in the near future.  Just like the image of your constellation.

Taurus: A very meta constellation, you will spend an inordinate amount of time deciding whether the Eastern or Western zodiac has more basis in reality.

Not only do you have a long lost twin, but you will feel great anguish in the coming weeks as she suffers horrible caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

Cancer: You will eventually come to an end in the belly of Sarlaac, where you will find a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a thousand years.

Leo: After rearing offspring, you will experience an uncontrollable urge to devour your young, as the shape of your constellation suggests.

Virgo: As presidential power increases exponentially, a president will restore the Roman Empire's Vestal Virgins and punish the loss of virginity with by burying the newly unchaste alive.

Libra:  You like balance, but Ayn Rand opposed compromise between food and poison.  Ayn Rand doesn't like you.

Scorpio: Let's just say you should avoid crossing rivers.

Sagittarius: A centaur?  Really?  I'm not a mystic.  No horoscope for you.

Capricorn: As the goat who suckled the infant Zeus, you will be rewarded by a lover who can transform into a bull at will.

Aquarius: As the water bearer, you are charged with carrying drinks down to your friends.  You are actually one of the more useful constellations.

Pisces: Life is repetitive, but you won't notice because you can only remember the last second and a half.

A Suicide Note (relax, just a pun)

In college, I cooked up a thought experiment that challenged my ideas about liberty.  That is, in a free society, should someone be allowed to open a "suicide store"?  Some people want to end their life but can't pull the trigger or even drink poison.  A suicide store would provide death by some painless means and might even offer other services like planning your funeral or writing your will.  Dr. Kevorkian helps terminally ill people to die in their old age, but the suicide store would be open to all adults.  Presumably it could have opaque ads like the ones now used to advertise antidepressants, and offer a wholesome, comforting environment.

I see no justification for shutting down such an operation, or even requiring a lengthy waiting period.  yet it still leaves me queasy.  I know many people who seriously contemplated suicide in college for a bad grade or a failed relationship, when neither one will be important to the person in a couple of years.  Additionally, the very presence of the store could be depressing and induce more people to think about suicide than otherwise would.

The only justification for banning the practice on strict libertarian grounds is that it would be too easy to fraudulently kill people.  Crooked politicians, mafia types, and other criminals could dispose of enemies by forging some paperwork.  For the same reason, I would wonder about making indentured servitude illegal.

If you think it's okay, how young would you be willing to permit people to partake in the services?  Would there be a waiting period?