Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Experiments in Social Engineering

Peter Bechtol

Usually I entitle Wanderers meetups with a "star date" like in Star Trek, YYYY-MM-DD format, however this was closer to an ISEPP presentation in terms of polish. Peter Bechtold has done a lot of homework, and we enjoyed the presence of first-timers, another hallmark of a capital-e Event.

Peter's topic was both a quest and a conclusion. His quest is for a better explanation of the "coastalization" of US politics, with Blue states hugging left and right coastlines with mostly Red in the middle. This polarization mirrors the loss of a political middle.  How does one continue applying the old structures amidst such a sea-change in the political climate?

His conclusion is in part prescriptive:  the Canadian system is more democratic, in letting more people vote their conscience, with a peer group, versus voting against the lesser of two evils. The average USer is now facing the double-headed hydra of a schizophrenic out-of-control Uncle Sam. Is government governable?

The US system, as designed, heaps power on the two party system and leverages any challenge pretty much to the sidelines as a matter of course.  The winner take all bipolar infrastructure makes it well-nigh impossible for the double-headed hydra to die, or even share power.  Alienation is the outcome, and low voter turnout.

We learned a lot about other experiments in social engineering. Lebanon treats specific ethnic groups as axiomatic and assigns specific government roles to these orders, mostly bounded in religious terms, with several flavors of Christian and Muslim.  When we get to Israel, that's when government dissects into more flavors of Jewish than may express elsewhere.  Prime Ministers need to contrive allegiances and alliances.

Peter worked in the State Department for many years, having emigrated from Germany and earned his several degrees (two from Princeton). He studied how Sudan first adapted voting rights to its needs, first in deciding how independent of Egypt to become. He currently teaches in the Department of Politics at Portland State.

During the Q&A, I argued that the more politically literate needn't begrudge the "one person one vote" principle (children excepted), even though some budget relatively little time to stay informed. The act of voting is but one of endless ways to participate in a democracy. Transmute that literacy into political effectiveness in other ways.  I'd say Peter does that.  His willingness to present at Wanderers is proof enough. I also brought up the latest Palast movie.

That being said, some systems do hand out more than one vote to some people. Lets remember too, that USers vote in more elections than for USG-defined offices.  Corporations, universities, other entities, have their governing bodies, any of which may implement some type of voting mechanism. For example I vote for Python Software Foundation board members, by means of electronic ballot.

Also, as came up in discussion, many people have dual citizenship and as such are entitled to vote in more than one election.  Also, not all nations naturalize their native born, meaning children may inherit nationality from the parents and not from the surrounding state.  The US extends citizenship to babies born within its borders, more an exception than the rule.

Alpha Geek