Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Two systems battle for our souls

In Canada, we have an interesting split in our approach to things. The "west" is entrepreneurial and freewheeling, while the "east" is rule bound and bureaucratic. It is the Two Solitudes of Hugh Maclennan and Lord Durham. It is Trudeau with his determination of a single rightness that must be imposed versus a pragmatic acceptable of the possible and the reasonable.

Throughout most of human history, the top down model predominated. This worked fairly well through most of prehistory and history, since it essentially replicates the "authoritarian" leadership style taught to military leaders as being appropriate in emergencies. For most of human existence people lived in a constant state of emergency and there was little time to resolve problems before a large hungry animal or sword stroke resolved it for you.

The development of democratic and free market systems took a long time and is not fully accepted even now. Much of the success of the "Progressive" movement comes from manufacturing or exploiting emergencies then imposing "solutions". Institutions like the Academie Francaise and others attempt to systemically organize and categorize facts to provide the elite with the "best" solutions, but there is a fatal flaw to this in the long term; these organizations are biased to provide solutions pleasing to the rulers while to be truly effective they need to provide empirically correct solutions. If they are pleasing all the time their position is assured until they are swept away in some disaster they failed to avert, while if they strive to be "correct" all the time they run the risk of displeasing their masters and losing their position. The elite is also aware of the problem to some extent; if the solutions they implement "work", they remain on the throne for another season, while if they fail, they will be overtaken by some disaster as well.....

I suspect that societies based on the impersonal nature of the free market and the unfettered nature of individual freedoms gain their strength from the fact they ultimately do not have to answer to anyone, but are measured against an objective and empirical reality. (Ayn Rand’s ghost is sitting on the couch and having a cigarette while I write this). You might say or do something which upsets someone, or propose and implement a plan which no one else agrees with, but if your arguments are better or the results can be replicated and are better than previous results, why then these ideas and processes will filter into the general population and be adopted by almost anyone.

This is ultimately intolerable to the first category of rulers and wannabe dictators, which explains why “Progressives” employ such a wide ranging series of strategies to suppress discussion (Political Correctness, speech codes, HRC’s etc.) and devote so much time and effort to ignore or suppress facts, figures and metrics. Why debate a real climate scientist when the ad hominem attack of shouting "Climate Change Denier" is a so much faster and easier way to stop the debate?

This explanation is a bit different from the more common explanation of top down and hierarchical systems being brittle and inflexible in the face of unexpected problems, but I think it answers the question “why” such systems fail in a more understandable way than the usual appeal to interactions increasing at a geometric rate until they are unmanageable. After all, the Chinese civilization has been around for a long time with few stumbles, they have managed to discover a way of minimizing the damage that pleasing the Emperor can do to the system with a fairly strict system of meritocracy at the bureaucratic level.

Ultimately, there really is a point where complexity overwhelms the system, and equally there are real emergencies that require hands on attention by leaders assuming authoritarian powers. Liberal Democracies are still the best at dealing with these situations, any number of solutions are potentially available and leaders like Churchill, Roosevelt, Thacher or Reagan are waiting in the wings to try to find the best solution. Competing illiberal societies have a shortage of solutions and leaders, and that is why they fail in the end.

Canada had gone far down the illiberal, top down system favored by "Progressives". A look at the eastern half of the nation, where these attitudes have gained the greatest power is also a look at mostly have not Provinces and a greedy and timorous outlook on life. Here is where the demand for handouts and patronage is the loudest, where opposition to Canada taking a role as a "Leading Middle Power" is the strongest and where bureaucracy is most entrenched. The western half of Canada is less imbued with demands for patronage, handouts and bureaucracy, and as a result has become more dynamic in many fields.

Since Canada has been dominated at the federal level by "Progressives", our national decline is in direct proportion to how much Ottawa has been dominated by the imposition of a top down and hierarchical political culture. The current government can make limited gains against the tide, but must content itself with a process of slow starvation of the organs of bureaucratic power for now. Even in a majority situation, I suspect the process of reversing the culture will not be easy, and the cultural attitudes of the eastern provinces will be transmitted for a generation or more via university graduates, businessmen addicted to government handouts and the provincial and municipal governments desperate to cast blame on external factors to hide their own mistakes and maintain their positions of power.

For the reader, we must now work to overturn the top down and hierarchical systems wherever we find them. The current battle against the CHRC and all its clones is an important first step. Similar battles are being fought in other venues, such as the fight for Western grain farmers to sell their own product without State intervention, or Ontario taxpayers to control their own earnings. Its time to roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

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