20 March, 2017

The Illusion of Representation

I've spoken out against democracy in the past, because I'm not fond of the notion of majoritarian rule. Yet a lot of people insist (not inaccurately) that we do not live in a pure democracy, but rather a representative democracy. But I have my problems with representative government, too.

[Although, none of these things are black-and-white. I'm not interested in knowing what it takes to run a country, and I think it's neither practical nor desirable to expect every citizen to be involved in that. I have faith that there are people out there with the proper knowledge and motivation, who are better suited to the task of running these things. I just think they should be chosen by, say, grade point average (in fields of relevance) as opposed to public opinion].

The reason I don't feel like voting represents my voice is because I'm voting for people who are not me. And as far as I can tell, they're not like me. The moment somebody I can really identify with runs for office with a conceivable chance to win, I'll become involved in the voting process. Until then, I think there are far less futile ways to have my voice heard.

Elections will occur, and politicians will be elected. With a single vote, I have little influence over that process. The majority will have their way with the system whether I'm involved or not. Instead of giving my tacit approval to everything the particular representative I might vote for thinks, says, and does - whether I actually agree with it or not - a much better way for my voice to be heard is to simply be present in society. And I know - as a hermit, that's not my strong suit. But with even just a little bit of effort, the returns are enormous in proportion to being present at the polling booth.

Being out there in society - both in the real world and online (because though you can say a lot of things about the internet, you can't deny that much of it involves people having social interactions) - letting people see who I am and what I'm interested in, and hearing what I have to say (in my particular case, this is more true on the internet) affirms that I am a part of this collective culture, and that I can't simply be swept under the rug.

And I know that politicians - representatives elected by the public (mostly) - will continue to be the ones in charge of making decisions on important matters. But only a collective consciousness can wield power in an election, and I have more influence over that consciousness by making people aware of my existence and what my concerns are, than I do participating in an anonymous poll.

So don't be a voting booth activist (somebody who campaigns futilely for change only when an election is imminent, and then criticizes people for not voting, as if that's the only and most effective form of activism [note: expressing this opinion makes you look stupid to people who are actually smart - celebrities are not exempt from this rule, either]). Make your voice count in the real world!

14 March, 2017

Scoff Law

"The natural separation of the races is...an undeniable fact, and all social organizations which lead to their amalgamation are repugnant to the law of nature."
 - Supreme Court of Louisiana, city of New Orleans versus Willie V. Piazza (1917)*

I have no faith in the law to uphold such righteous declarations as "women are equal to men", "blacks are equal to whites", or "gays are equal to straights", only because public sentiment has, over the course of history, been shifting in that direction - when anyone can look back decades or centuries and find examples of lawmen justifying the prejudices of the time in the same language used today, which is disguised to look like reason, but in truth hides a wellspring of personal and public bias.

We can work toward shifting emotions - this is an effective strategy, and it is happening all around us - but I'd like to be able to trust in the belief that a competent application of logic will lead us down the path of virtue. Yet this is no more than a fantasy. Homo sapiens is and always has been ruled by its emotions. It is a highly illogical species that irritates me and tries even my patience. I'd prefer to have nothing to do with it.

Not that emotions are not valuable. But when they trump reason, then facts cannot overcome bias, and the outlying individual (along with his rights and freedoms) is swept away by the overwhelming (and irrational) tide of public opinion.

*Context: I've been reading this fascinating book about Storyville (which inspired the highly controversial film Pretty Baby), a unique social experiment in which, for two decades starting at the turn of the twentieth century, New Orleans attempted to establish a legal red light district. The result, while not exactly glamorous (despite how well-outfitted some of those mansions were), was actually a reduction of vice and corruption throughout the city, by keeping it confined and regulated, instead of allowing it to flourish beyond the reach of the law.

Unfortunately, the United States Navy (in its infinite wisdom) eventually stepped in and forced Storyville to close, upon threat of military intervention (because totalitarianism - not freedom - is the American way). But before that happened, the city attempted to produce a second district, so as to enforce racial segregation.

The case quoted here was the result of a complaint by one of the original district's leading personalities, whose business was to be uprooted by this new modification to the Storyville Ordinance, based solely upon the color of her skin. Most of the court's argument wastes time rejecting Piazza's complaint by emphasizing the city's right to regulate houses of prostitution, missing the point that if Piazza had been white, she wouldn't have been facing eviction in the first place - even as the owner of a brothel. But when the court does finally get around to the issue, their legal defense of the doctrine "separate but equal" starts to sound alarmingly like a KKK manifesto.

P.S. Additionally, the amount of weight that precedent carries in a court case bothers me. I'm sure the courts don't want to reinvent the wheel with every case they come across (although with the amount of thought that goes into these cases, I'm not convinced that they don't do exactly that, and are just citing precedent to legitimize their own derivations), but just because one dumbass court made a bad decision once before, doesn't mean that the next court should feel all the more confident in propagating that bad decision. It's inherently biased towards conservatism, and stands as a very real obstruction to progress.