Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Missing Link In Normative Government

For many, the term "normative" may be foreign, yet they almost certainly know that to which it refers.  When we speak normatively, we speak of what we believe ought to be, usually in terms of some ideal we employ as a standard of judgment.  "People ought not murder each other" is a normative statement.  In contrast, a positive statement is one of pure observation of what is.  "People sometimes murder each other" is one example of such a statement.

When we speak normatively about "government", we are asserting our opinions about how it ought to be in terms of its structure, granted powers, and the behavior of those holding governmental positions, particularly where elected officials are concerned.  There has been much written about this over the centuries, some of which has been very insightful.  Despite the volume of work that has been produced on theories of government, governmental designs, and the large body of commentary on official behavior handed down to us through the ages, humanity has done an appallingly poor job of learning from the mistakes it has made in specifying those designs and responding to the endless litanies of documented governmental failure and abuse that almost universally characterizes the behavior of government officials in the modern nation-state.  A significant error of these architects and chroniclers has largely lain in their substantial failure to establish complete and correct normative models and standards by which governments should be designed and implemented, and the behaviors of their operating officials judged and punished where appropriate.

For the past several centuries the various forms and instances of human government of the type we currently refer to as "the state" have proven themselves failures without notable exception.  Here, the term "state" is effectively synonymous with "empire" in the sense that, as was the case in the days of antiquity, governance is based upon the threat and application of force to compel behavior.  The main difference between then and more modern times (say, the past 500 years) is that the concepts of individual human rights had not yet been well developed and widely accepted.  Therefore, there was no standard by which rulers could have been widely judged as having acted beyond morally justifiable limits.  In some sense it could be argued that this lack of knowledge excuses the rulers of old, for they often knew nothing else but the standard of absolute authority and in most cases, tyranny, that the presumption of divine authority conferred, fostered, and served to reinforce.

The advent of the penning of documents such as the Magna Carta, as well as the advent of the European Renaissance with the attendant rise of "science" and the manifold revolutions in human thought brought an end to the era of excusable ignorance by rulers, at least on that continent and later in the New World.  Despite this, the everyday reality of the governed man changed with deplorable paucity.  The single and relatively shining exception to this general condition lay in the establishment of the United States of America, where the form of governance that was established signified a quantum departure from all previous forms, wherein the fundamental assumptions laid in diametric opposition to those of the governments of virtually every other nation-state on the planet at the time. But even that significant alteration in the design of human governance has proven inadequate to the task to which it had been set based on the understandings held by the Founders regarding the individual and his place in the scheme of human affairs.  The Constitution of the United States, a work of significant creative genius, suffers from a litany of readily discernible flaws, some of which fall into the category of those discussed here.

Two complementary characteristics which governments of "state" commonly share are the grossly inadequate specification of proper sanctions to be imposed upon those officials who wantonly or negligently violate the rights of others in the discharge of their official duties, and their enforcement.  This discussion shall deal with the former only, the latter being left perhaps for another day.  By the close of the eighteenth century, human history had provided oceans of examples of the endlessly recurring problems relating to the behavior of  persons who had assumed mantles of power over the people of nations throughout the ages. As bright and presumably forthright as the Founders were, and as great a feat of creative genius as was their new Constitution, replete with its revolutionary view of governance and the primacy of the individual over "the state", they nevertheless failed to sufficiently take heed of the lessons of history when considering the normative basis for designing their new confederation.  Some may balk at this assertion or even take offense at it, but the outcome of their efforts as embodied in the manifold troubles the nation now faces establishes it as a truth that is in part attributable to their architectural shortcomings and missteps.

Modern state governments, regardless of their particular form, all share certain characteristics to a greater or lesser degree.  Before going any further, we should become clear on what "government" is, that we may continue on with clarity and precision, which are the necessary elements required for a sufficient and proper understanding of the concept.  "Government" is nothing more than a set of conceptual conventions that are either agreed upon by a group of individuals, are forced by one group upon another, or a combination of the two.  There is no material reality to "government" just as in the case with "the state".  There are only those individuals who work alone or in concert with others to operate according to the dictates of "government" as they exist on paper (usually expressed as "law"), and often to the degree and manner to which they can get away with interpreting or otherwise ignoring those dictates to suit their personal and group objectives even when the actions taken pursuant to those interpretations violate the spirit of the law and, more importantly, the rights of the individual.  This is a fundamental aspect of government that must be paid its due respect and be fully grasped by anyone interested in the truth about "states", their attendant "governments", and the consequences of these modes of official individual behavior.

One of the universally present characteristics of modern government is the establishment of at least two classes of citizen: civilians and governors, which in practice readily translates directly into "slaves and masters" of various types and degrees, all idealistic language of rights and righteousness to the contrary notwithstanding. This stratification establishes those who are in charge and those who are to toe their lines.  While the lines in question are often seemingly reasonable in theory, in practice they are usually expressions of pure barbarism and tyranny.  Respect for the rights of the individual exists mainly on paper and in practice only where it is either convenient to the masters or where the slaves wield sufficient power to force the issue in their rightful favor.

There is, however, a circumstance relating to the structure of such governments that stands out most prominently, yet receives next to no sensible attention by those who would implement a new government or by those over whom such governments ostensibly preside, the greater truth being that in reality that they rule.  This circumstance centers upon the most notable absence of the lack of meaningful designs, implementations, and enforcement of a body of well-structured and complete specifications of standards of behavior of government officials and the suitable forms and degrees of punishment for those who fail to uphold those standards, either through intent or through negligence. 

Part of the reason for this appears to stem from the basic set of perceptions that most people seem to hold with respect to "government".  One of the false presumptions is that government actually exists in and of itself, a belief that is demonstrably and provably false in much the same way as is the case with "the state".  What this presumption serves to do is create a false sense of substance in the mind of the individual holding and accepting it.  Note that such an individual need not necessarily like it or agree with it, but most often regards it as an immutable fact to which one must resign himself because there is no getting around it.  How ironic it is to find that in such cases the jailer need build no prisons, for each inmate has done it for him, the work being of the utmost quality.

With such a false presumption underpinning the perceptions and belief systems of the individual, the power of those assuming authority over him is enhanced immeasurably.  The set of false inferences and conclusions that follow from the acceptance of, and belief in this single, innocuous looking, yet devastatingly powerful psychological device is large, somewhat varying between individuals, and universally debilitating.  For example, accepting "the state" and "the government" as actual, extant entities with material realities of their own lends a credibility to these grand lies in precisely the manner of Marshall McLuhan's "the medium is the message".  The significance of this cannot be overstated, nor can the importance of dispelling these lies and bringing the light of truth to those who suffer from this particularly destructive form of psychological derangement.  That we give credibility at all to "the government" as anything other than a group (or mob) of individuals acting in accord with some interpretation of a set of what are probably arbitrarily enacted dictates is tantamount to pulling the trigger of a gun pointed at our own heads.  We doom ourselves by this method on the belief that there is no choice.

If we dispense with the belief in the material reality of government and state, what remains?  Groups of people telling other groups of people what to do or not do, most often based on the arbitrarily constructed mandates enacted by some other group of individuals and for which the executives reserve the right to violate the natural rights of the individual up to and including taking his life away through acts of brutal violence.

Dispensing with these false beliefs alters one's apprehension of the truth dramatically and in so doing many new truths follow most naturally from the resulting altered state of awareness.  The relevance here is that one of the truths which becomes evident is the centrally important need for a set of cleary specified, complete, and correct rules that define the standards of behavior for individual public officials in their capacities as agents of "government", and the penalties for failing to comply with them in full measure.  When one realizes that all government officials are nothing more than ordinary people discharging ordinary duties in service to their fellow citizens, the tacit mystique of super-human "state" and "government" authority instantly dissipates into the aether and reveals itself as false nonsense.  Being so freed, one is then able to properly regard such people and their roles - to see and understand that such people have been vested in the sacred trust of their fellows and that violation of that trust constitutes the paramount of all possible criminal acts.

That being the case, reason then demands that such people be held to a higher standard of behavior in the discharge of those duties and that when one violates the trust, the penalties must therefore be harsh and without mercy or pity such that all other agents of the "public good" are given the most stern warning against trespassing upon the rights of their fellows either through intent or negligence.  More than any other citizen, the feet of the government official must be held to the fire fueled by the standards of behavior in order that they should quake with fear at the prospect of willfully or negligently causing harm to those to whom they take an oath to serve and whose rights they swear to protect.

Where are these standards to be found?  In the United States Code? If they are there, they are not made in any way apparent to the "ordinary" citizen, either in the letter and spirit of the law, or in its application against those who trespass upon their fellows.   Yet when the "civilian" so trespasses, he is most often called rapidly to account for his actions and, barring sufficient defense, made to pay the price in prison.  How is it that we allow the likes of the police to brutalize us with impunity?  We are assaulted in the media with an endless barrage of tales of government officials committing the most heinous crimes against us while rarely being called upon to account for their actions, and even more rarely being made to atone with prison time and economic restitution.  If this situation does not merit close attention and a demand for substantive correction, then which one does?

The normative specification of governmental structure and function needs to be perfected by adding the full set of strict rules defining proper action as well as that for rightly punishing those who violate the rights of peaceable citizens who act within the boundaries of their rights.  If the role of governance is to serve "the people", then why is it that they most often trespass upon them?  Why are they not placed and kept on severely foreshortened leashes such that anyone acting in the capacity of a government official will not be even remotely amenable to paying the price of violating their fellows?  This is the normative mode of thinking that must be established in the minds of men such that tolerance of what has proven to be the typically hubris-laden and contempt-logged behavior of government officials falls to zero.  All violations of one's rights by others must be viewed and dealt with in such a manner and degree that people, regardless of their stations in life, will be utterly dissuaded from considering such acts as even the most remote possibility.  And when this comes to pass, non-governmental people will also come to respect their public servants more fully.  On the balance, the results will produce a condition far closer to freedom and greater prosperity for all.

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