Monday, April 20, 2015

Interest Sections

While "the shadowy corporate overlords" make for nice villains, I think that they do so because they relieve us, or more accurately, some subset of previous generations, from responsibility for our current situation. "Freedom" and "Liberty," which most people seem to define as "not feeling that I'm losing at life when compared to the Joneses" aren't birthrights. There is no biological freedom process - physicists have yet to find a liberty particle. Freedom and Liberty are characteristics of the broader social values of an entire society that exist almost exclusively when there is consensus to create them, share them and protect them.

It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part.
James Madison. The Federalist No. 51 - "The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments"
I, for my part, am of the opinion that for vast majority of its history, the United States has completely botched the second part of Madison's admonition, and we're paying for it with a growing realization that it's leading to the first. Interestingly, I think that James Madison may have also had his finger on how it would happen.
Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil: the one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority -- that is, of the society itself; the other, by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable.
If you look at the things that have befallen the Native American population of the United States, immigrants from the Far East and immigrants from Latin America, at various points in the history of the country, you can see the insecurity of their interests, and how that insecurity was driven by the relative unity of the European-descended class of the overall population. Whether one refers to the open breaking of treaties with the Native Americans, the Chinese Exclusion Act (and the fact that ethnic Chinese were barred from ownership of property and businesses) or the current state of strange semi-personhood faced by Latin immigrants who have come the country illegally, it's easy to see how poorly minority groups have fared when the majority felt they had a common interest that was at direct odds with said minority. The was no will in the community independent of the interests of the majority. And so self-service won out over against guarding against injustice.

On the flip side of the equation, we can see how "comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens" renders large-scale action next to impossible. The squabbling between the simple divisions of Right and Left is proof enough. Add to them the myriad of different identities that citizens have pitted against one another and the situation grows even worse. In this, our problem isn't that we failed to act in accordance with Madison's advice - it's that we waited to do so until the status quo had become one that works to the apparent disadvantage of large portions of the populace. My own understanding of society tells me that the situation we find ourselves in was engineered by hateful plotters in a back room with locked doors - it came about while the majority of the citizens were paying attention to more immediate concerns - "the shadowy corporate overlords" were simply adept at taking advantage of beneficial circumstances. The rest of us, in the meantime, have become (with varying levels of justification) wary of one another, and this has rendered a just combination of a majority of the whole both improbable and impracticable.

In the end, the problem with Madison's advice is that the circumstances needed to create broad coalitions against commonly-understood injustices are rare. Mainly because injustices are not the result of intentional diabolism. They're the result of people following their own interests. And while for some those interests lead to riches, for others, they lead only as far as the basics. Rare is the starving man who will let the common humanity of mankind stand between them and a meal. Maintaining an entire society in a state of justice long enough to put the means in place to allow it to be self-sustaining is perhaps the most difficult undertaking that any culture has ever attempted. Given this, the sheer number of failures littered through history, including our own, should not surprise us.

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