Monday, January 14, 2013

Superhero and Structure

Ronald Reagan as Superman
Much discussion has been had in politics lately about anarchy versus order, individuals versus the collective. Words like 'liberal' and 'conservative', 'socialism' and 'capitalism' are bandied about like so many clouds on a stormy day. Our political discourse seems divided into camps of one form or another, each convinced they have the right answers because of their own personal theories of government, politics, and social organization.

Discussions like this remind me vaguely of arguments about comic book heroes. Both require analysis of myths about where powers come from and how they are used. Neither is grounded in the reality we live. Comic book superheros and political theorists provide us with myths to help us imagine what could be, but should never be confused with what is.

Obama is the Anti-Christ
Imagine two young men in a comic book store arguing things like “Ayn Rand trumps Karl Marx, dude, she has creative people powers!” Or two grumpy old men in a diner debating if Superman could beat Batman in a tug of war. Those may be educational and entertaining, but they are no way to run a society.

These discussions may tell us more about ourselves than about how to make a more perfect union or cool super hero. Plato, the first great political philosopher,viewed society as a reflection of the man. That each man should strive to be good, just as each society should. Men learn and change, so should societies.

Sarah Palin as Wonder Woman
Governmental systems, political organization theory said a different way, are the means by which we design the process and procedures of a society. These structures are the rules and habits the people rely on to get along and get what they want. The needs, wants, resources, and tools available are different in each moment.

Each local society in each time has different requirements. A desert society with great scarcity of resources will most probably need a different form of organization than a river plain society with abundant resources. A society at peace and a society at war will have unique needs.

Ayn Rand has the Right Stuff
The lines of 'anarchy' to 'order' and 'demos' to 'aristo' are not only effected by sustainability issues, but also by the dreams and ambitions of the cultures involved.

I see no historical evidence that any system of political organization that was stable over time. Even the most long lived (Rome or Chinese) societies undergo some pretty radical organizational changes in time.

Perhaps the best organization is that which is adaptable to its environment as a life form.

Even in my father's life time, my own country has morphed from a capitalism (pre-great depression) to a planned economy (world war 2) to various forms social distribution and capitalism (post world war 2). In addition the power structures have shifted from distributed to centralized and back several times. All this is done in a framework that allows power to move from one branch of government (judicial, executive, legislative) to another depending upon the needs of the moment.

I maintain it is not the specific form of government, rather its ability to to adapt that is the key to political success. This adaptability comes from the mechanical structure of its rules rather than its idealized form (anarchy, liberalism, democracy, etc.).

So Batman is not always going to beat Superman, Ayn Rand did not come up with the perfect economic system, Spiderman is not always nice, socialism is not always evil, the Hulk can be a jerk sometimes and free markets can wreck havoc if left unchecked.

Let's ask ourselves the mature question; “What is needed next for this situation at this time?”

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