A little baseline philosophy of human nature as it bears on partisanship in elected institutions

I am categorizing this under “election theory” generically because it certainly should be admitted that a key concept in standard political science is the emergence and behaviors of “parties” in real world democratic-republican politics. And it seems there is an intense, and it seems to me even perhaps unreasoned, aversion to it among many here, such that it is difficult to even convey I am talking often about basically partisan electoral processes.

I gather that many infer, from CES urging us to adopt cardinal methods, that the consensus and community-building values and practices such methods are supposed to promote mean some sort of visceral and total rejection of anything acknowledged to resemble a party as is commonly understood to exist in established republics, and some dream of seeking a way to purge the demon utterly as a perceived source of all manner of wickedness and dysfunctionality. So if I suggest that actually, human voters form parties for human reasons that are often quite rational and quite compatible with cooperation and community in the whole, I suppose it must seem I am at war with the very concepts of cooperation and community and speaking disingenuously.

But I don’t think so. I don’t think the formation of bands of candidates supported by larger bands of sectors of the electorate, who upon winning elections with the support of those electorate factions, must as part of their positive party spirit, which positively enables them to identify and form bonds of trust with representatives and potential representatives whom they have reason to believe they can rely on to promote their most important values and interests, must also imply a spirit of mistrust, zero-sum opposition, ultimately warfare with others.

Sometimes, quite often, a state of war does exist, but it is not inherent in the fact of partisan organization (which can in fact be quite informal, and exists when expressly forbidden and formally “prevented” by law, in vain) but rather in the facts on the ground in the social relations between the various sectors of the public the parties more or less represent. When such a state of war is not being waged in the actual society outside of government (when it is of course, government is one crucial factor, but there are others equally vital) then party spirit is plainly harmless and is in fact a major part of the normal functioning of many communities.

We are of course cultivated in typical societies since the rise of civilization to take team spirit as inherently and necessarily a matter of war on some level. I believe this relates to the nature of what post-agricultural civilization has been, and it is our task today to change these rules, and an urgent one it is too.

But none of this team spirit logically implies a ruthless, egotistical inability to work with the champions and fans of other teams with a different common bond. In fact I’d say the unity of forces enabling a small or large party to exist and function in electoral systems is one of the prerequisites for persons, inherently individually weak and outnumbered literally billions to one separated, to have the confidence in their security to take risks on win-win joint ventures, knowing that effective force is behind the brave words of “all for one and one for all.”

Of course the contrary warlike spirit is manically cultivated in our society, and has been in many throughout history, but I situate my judgement on basic human nature on the reflection we spent most of the time span in our modern form of species (consensus among anthropological sources say the horizon to modern mentality was crossed sometime around 50,000 years ago, as shown by tool types and quality, various art works, burial practices, and other bits of material culture clues) as pre-agricultural gatherer-hunter bands, and anthropological study of those bands pretty well shows a general social and cultural pattern quite different from those prevailing after the invention of agriculture enabled material surpluses to be accumulated, which in turn enabled exploitation and made war a potentially lucrative thing.

Prior to this, there was no rational reason for humans to indulge in systematic hatred and aggression against Others. The band was everything, and the default attitude to strangers would be not hatred but wary caution, watching the new person or people until it could be ascertained whether they would behave reasonably or not. There was no profit to be had by preying on others when no one had any material surpluses to plunder! A stranger could be a danger, but could also be an opportunity for the kind of profit our hand to mouth but basically healthy and prosperous in terms of having basic human needs met ancestors could benefit from. It is this spirit of perhaps wary but basically optimistic form of relations with others I think we have it in our power to revive on a higher level with well designed institutions–but certainly the forces that transformed it into something much darker are serious ones to be reckoned with.

Our ancestral state changed in the past 10,000 years–so while some 80 percent of all human generations have passed without much of what we take for granted today being relevant, let alone normal, the vast majority of human beings who have ever lived on Earth have lived just in the past couple centuries, and the numbers of those more or less “civilized” as we call it were vastly greater than those of their ancestors–because higher technology is much more productive. It did not follow that the lives of humans became easier and safer though–the most relevant metric was that humans became far far more numerous, to the point today our domestic animals (and ourselves) account for something like 6/7 the vertebrate biomass on the planet. Vastly increased population density multiplied by tremendous leverage of clever high production methods available to organized humans changed us from an obscure niche species that cleverly found a way to make every environment on the planet a niche for small numbers, into a force literally geological in magnitude causing scholars to dub our times the new era of the Anthropocene.

Long before we sequestered the first half of Earth’s vertebrate land dwelling biomass, civilization had been going thousands of years, but we cannot reasonably conclude we are somehow “evolved by nature” to behave the way that has seemed rational for us today to do extrapolating from norms in our recent past, because 10,000 years or less is an eyeblink in evolutionary time, especially for a species as long lived and with such long childhood development as we have. And our yeast-like expansion of population hardly seems like much of a setting for much ruthless Darwinian honing going on.

Our changed nature relates then to social training, to cultural norms, and it therefore lies in our hands to change our behaviors by changing our incentives and our rules.

So we cultivate a militaristic competitive spirit, which definitely served our recent ancestors to survive in a situation where all societies warred against all others–but as we have had democratic revolutions, adopted humanistic values, and come to face our deep interdependence, we must come to terms with the need to reevaluate these old norms rather than mindlessly roll with them.

Rolling with dominator hierarchies based on pervasive and predatory militarism fundamentally means affirming authoritarianism. It means recognizing the rule of the great and good and serving them in our lowly places, if we know what is good for us.

Or of course if we are one of the few, enjoying magisterial power, privilege and flattery, but as a student of history and human culture, I feel on firm ground saying, the serenity and self-satisfaction of the “Great and Good” throughout has been haunted by both insecurity and guilt. Jefferson, speaking specifically of slavery and the fate of the African-American in the fullness of time, expressed it–“I tremble for my country, when I reflect that God is just.”

The visceral fear I felt as a child reading in encyclopedias that the US standard of living was measured in thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars per capita–but in many nations overseas, comprising in fact well over half the world and more in population, those averages were measured in handfuls of hundreds of dollars–a year!–is another instances of the roots of insecurity in fear of the inevitable consequences of building on the sand of unsustainable injustice. It is true that over thousands of years, essentially every society has stood on such foundations–but it is also true that human history is filled with much misery and turbulence and all of them ultimately collapsed with terrible and sweeping consequences, bringing down the mighty and the lowly alike–though most people had little distance to fall, it was true. But that often meant that just a small fall would be the end for them too.

Whether we believe in a theocratic enforcement of justice, or just observe the basic fragility and instability of human institutions, the fear of the tables turning, of the moment changing and privilege and luxury granted capriciously being just as capriciously being snatched away, has soured many a lordly stomach, unless they could concoct some ideological reason to suppose their special place in the world was well founded and their special authority somehow guaranteed by God or nature.

But all such notions are illusions. Either we found durable institutions on genuine common ground for all, or the chaos of history will surely overturn every future one built on terror and deception, even very clever and plausible self-deception, as their contradictions eat away at them relentlessly, driven by high voltage human fear.

I firmly believe our species need not live in fear; no force we face is stronger than ourselves working together, there is no adversity we cannot overcome if we can only trust one another.

The spirit of democracy must either be daunted and falter and fail before the ancestral, insistent drum beat of falling line behind the powers that be–or challenge it and overcome it.

CES, in touting cardinal methods, asserts that their value is in building community by building consensus. I say such consensus must be founded on all the people being able to actually express real power in our republican institutions, proportional not to their wealth or credentials or knowledge of technological or financial or even philosophical esoterica, but simply to their numbers. Every person is equal, under the law and in democratic politics, or we fail.

As it happens the poor and yet accomplished approximations of democratic republicanism we have witnessed in actual history, as opposed to the musty musings of abstract philosophers whose allegiance to the general project of furthering the escape of humanity from fear is often quite dubious if not plainly contradicted by deeds as well as words, has been characterized in very large degree by the robust operation of political parties. These have often coexisted for generations without any side believing itself capable of eradicating the others or doing much to damp down their power beyond a certain degree. In fact, in often flawed and contradictory ways, they have in their operation furthered the expansion of democracy and general values of human mutual respect.

Therefore when I speak of party, I want it to be understood that this mighty and perhaps indispensable tool of human political action should be used where it is useful, and tamed of its pathologies, not presumed to be defined by them. In the course of many people purporting to find fatal flaws in suggestions I have made here these past few weeks, I find them actually laying a stronger case than I would ever set out to to prove that probably the notion of forming reasonably large legislatures, capable of decently encompassing the full range of the spectrum of public interest, almost certainly cannot in fact accomplish a coherently democratic representation without parties in fact coming into being de facto, however piously we may pretend they are taboo and banned. The knotty problems of how millions of voters whose lives are not in fact centered on electoral politics day in and day out are to reasonably identify and join with their best allies, and have bonds of trust mutually tying electorate and representative together in a mutually useful way, seem largely solved at a stroke by instead cheerfully and openly allowing self-defined, self organized parties in a context of positive representation, and specific proposals I have presented are grounded in the notion of building these up from individual candidacies.

=/ I am categorizing this under “election theory” generically because it certainly should be admitted that a key concept in standard political science is the emergence and behaviors of “parties” in real world democratic-republican politics. And it seems there is an intense, and it seems to me even perhaps unreasoned, aversion to it among many here, such that it is difficult to even convey I am talking often about basically partisan electoral processes. /= – @MarkHFoxwell said above

I myself paid for my dinner via the electronics racket, but my real interest came long ago to be higher order logic, which morphed into classical information theory (which has almost nothing to do with the Claude Shannon theoretical account). And, I am also a social activist. And, social activists often tend to come to wish that the (currently existing) field of political science had never come into existence. And, I am one of those. Sorry. Here are some quotes (which I expect to use again) that may help explain why activists come to see social scientists as having conflict of interest.

=/ Hence the answer of Simonides to the wife of Hiero concerning the wise and the rich, when she asked which was preferable, to be wise or to be rich. “Rich,” he answered, “for we see the wise spending their time at the doors of the rich.” /= – Aristotle, “Art” of Rhetoric

=/ “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” /= – Warren Buffett

‘The rich class’. ‘There’s class warfare’. Does that sound just a little bit… conspiratorial?

So here’s my take on the role and nature of political parties. In all practical regards, ‘the rich class’ is the routinely paramount minority camp. And they most often come to rule the less powerful minority camps, which are usually created by the rich class, via application of the divide-and-conquer strategy. Here are some things that tend to happen in camps.

Some camps become politically active, and we may call these ‘movements’. Some develop internal structure, and we may call these ‘organizations’. And some organizations become politically active, and we may call these ‘lobbies’, and if they sponsor political candidates, we call them ‘parties’. So, there exists a sort-of hierarchy of camp variants, corresponding to the development of internal structure and political activism. All camps are vulnerable to co-optation by agents of the rich class paramount minority camp (of course), and political parties, being the most politically potent, are the most liable to be co-opted (of course).

Then, there exists the largest, and most publicly visible, and ostensibly most powerful camp, which we call the ‘government’. And this one too is most often co-opted by the rich class paramount minority camp. Now we encounter a most peculiar paradox. If the rich camp (directly) controls the government, we would call that plutocracy, and plutocracy has always been anathema to the common people.

Even when government is based on royalism, the kings and queens are not selected on the basis of richesse. They are generally chosen on a basis of hereditary descent. In an (ostensible) democracy (or in any government) it is most often deemed necessary to keep organizations that are vulnerable to corruption (which is all of them) as separated from the government as is practically possible. So we usually have separation of church and state, and likewise, separation of political parties and state.

This is not to say that there should exist no political parties. However, separation of political parties and state ought, as much as possible, to be maintained. And therefor, in the design of political election systems, ‘party-indifferent’ procedures are highly preferable to ‘party-participational’ procedures.

I’m much too tired to address this courteous and thoughtful reply in full, but after thanking you I will at least say this right now:

What could be less “party-participational” than designing a system based on individual nomination in districts, by simple (small scale) petition and (nominal and small) fee payments to register, on which we then enable these nominated individuals to declare, by unanimous mutual consent, their alliance with other such nominees in other districts, to agree to pool all votes they get individually for purposes of collective share-claiming in the governing body?

Now of course I provide for them to do other stuff going beyond this–to name (by again unanimous, registered and public record consent documents) other nominees for districts they don’t find a separately self-nominated person to affiliate with, and to (by registered, signed unanimous mutual consent) to register a charter for them to remain in being on any number of historic party models. But the government formally is not concerned with enforcing party compliance or maintaining their existence, they are not bound by law to vote together or recognize some named leader in the body–party organization concerns elections, in the sense of the agreement to pool their received votes and follow their own self-created charter procedures. The government is not in the business of inspecting and approving or disapproving this or that provision, only insofar as general law might have a bearing on it–a party can be say avowedly white supremacist, but if they call for commitment in writing to illegal violence, the general laws against conspiracy to commit felonies certainly apply. But no special rules ruling this or that ideology in or out of bounds as such; no rules saying public members must register on public record and be granted rights to hold primaries and such. The parties are as they were in their origins in the USA, private clubs for promoting shared common interests.

Of course they are subject to cooptation and we can bet those with aims and ideologies at odds with the Great and Good shall be harassed and infiltrated (Bad Cop) while being wooed and persuaded to more “Reasonable” stands (Good Cop). But the people they purport to represent can walk if they don’t like what is going down, maybe the party morphs over to serve another class, maybe it dies–maybe it rallies and attracts the constituency back.

At the end of the day the toughest arguments against democracy are 1) the Great and Good will not stand for it, not as more than a bread and circuses sideshow (agreed that is a pretty vital role for fake democracy to play) and 2) it is serious work. Most people are living hand to mouth, working hard just to barely survive, hoping some serious crisis will not swamp them completely. If a democratic movement does not demonstrate credible power of the common people, of for and by them, they also know it is likely to cost them more than benefit them to be caught in association with such hotheads and rabble rousers, and will in various ways keep their heads down. Also, even if they judge it reasonably safe to be involved, being involved takes serious time and some money out of pocket away from their daily lives–which is one reason I mention the ceremonial and communal role some party identities have taken on, in America in the past and in Europe. The party has to pay back, not just in delivering good policy as its constituents judge it, but in making the time and energy spent being involved compensate for what is donated. It has to be somewhat fun, it has to be a community in itself. And since the powers that be will play hard ball, especially in the initial insurgence of serious mass democracy when they think they can head this beast off, it is quite possible a spirit of war will indeed dominate, a deep abiding "never deal with them!’ mentality on many sides.

It is just that I doubt very much anyone can just sneak up on the great organized beast of the Great and Good. Pretending we aren’t a dangerous Party of determined democrats will not fly. They are heirs to many thousands of years of divide and rule cultural lore as how to go about it. The Best People bring their kids up with the education to prepare them to face down the many headed hydra and fool it into tying itself into knots. They will not be taken by stealth, they have people (generally, hired people, but loyal to their pay and status they thus earn) to keep eyes on things. (Just as they do to understand finances, or engineering, or military strategy, or nowadays pretty much anything except Owing Stuff). We aren’t fooling them. It is best to put the cards on the table and go for the best arrangement we can conceive of, and let those who object stand up and send in their hired guns. Because they will of course.

But it is quite possible, if the many headed hydra of the commons is desperate and fed up enough, that instead of going for a full on panicked smash down, they’ll dance to delay the disruptive and unpleasant crackdown.

Then we dance.

It is work. Trust must be built, and it must be serious, real trust. Courage must be cultivated.

Part of what gives me some hope is that knowing as I do how coopted, indeed how “astroturf” in some ways, the great US Revolutionary-Patriotic movement was, it still was such a movement as this. And the Spirt of '76 was up for grabs by the masses the moment the balloon went up with the Battle of Lexington–the Patriots, Great and Good themselves as the majority of those whose names we know commonly were, knew it immediately.

They were former believers in the British Unwritten Constitution, that held that Aristotle’s three modes of government, monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, were held in check from their degenerate forms of tyranny, oligarchy, mob terror, by the interlocking of all three in British society–but dang it, they neglected to provide themselves with an aristocracy first and the idea of creating an American King was pretty much a nonstarter (tempted as some were). American colonial life, conditioned by the frontier (so General and Royal Governor Gage, put in charge of restive Massachusetts quickly came to deduce anyway) was evolving a new phase of civilization, being on the raw edge of a newly emerging global capitalist system, and the British class system did not apply here, nor could the more conservative (and worried!) Patriots jury rig a suitable aristocracy of the classic model. It just didn’t apply in America once the ties to Britain were severed. The notion that their brave words and lofty sentiments in the Declaration were unleashing a great genie of the commonest, simplest bumpkins and cheeky street boys holding their heads up arrogantly to their fiscal and cultural betters and not deferring in gratitude to their wise leadership was the elephant in the room. People were already saying slavery was incompatible with this new vision and should be abolished forthwith–not lots of them saying that yet, but the words are right there on paper from the mid-1770s. Abigail Adams did not take long to admonish the Patriots to take heed of the ladies–or they might just rise up themselves. She was not joking or teasing.

The Gettysburg Address remains a powerful piece of artillery in our polemical struggle. Shall “government of the people, for the people, by the people” perish from this earth or not? (I don’t think anyone has actually achieved it in full to lose in the first place yet–this is of course aspirational, but it is this aspiration that is in fact the common bond identity at the heart of US existence as such–lose this aspiration and we cease to be Americans as we have known it).

A lot of people, especially lately, are trembling in fear (or perhaps, quivering in anticipation, sometimes it is hard to tell which, and other times it is perfectly plain some people are no friends of democracy at all) that it shall pretty soon. These are scary and tough times, and we run terrible risks.

I suppose now is as good a time as any to put out plainly that I don’t believe in the great Marxist proletarian revolution, in large part because it would be a nuclear civil war.

But neither do I believe the majority of people in the world can actually afford to simply slink into the shadows and hunker down hoping not to be noticed either. We just are driven to some kind of action, by a rising tide of intolerable challenges to our basic hopes and indeed needs.

Let us hope people of good will can rise to the challenge of devising peaceful and fair ways of negotiating the fair share of power and respect the commons of our nations and the world are entitled to by human nature, and that we merit the good government we hope to improve by our diligence.

The Great and Good might think the leaks are not at their end of the ship, but we are in fact as a species all in the same heavily burdened and much strained vessel, and either we succumb to appointing some Captain over all of us in classic fashion with classic results to be expected, or we figure out how to take the role of Captain onto all of us.

Personally, I was not properly raised to understand in a dog eat dog world a person of my limited background of resources and connections would have to make himself useful to some neo-aristocrat to be taken in to their gated communities and given a humble place on their life raft, and by now I figure all my bridges to that mode of personal prosperity are well burnt, so I don’t really have to face the question of whether I had the character to be better than that. As things are for me now, I am pretty well committed to keeping the big boat all 7 billion and counting of us are in from sinking if that is still possible, and probably will go down with it if we fail to do that, along with everything I value.

My, I am tired and this has strayed far from the positive role of parties. I still say, basically in my life it has seemed to me everything has a dual nature. I was raised to believe that school was good and teachers opened doors of knowledge for the coming generation, as a bountiful gift of culture and enlightenment–later I came to appreciate how our schools are also a kind of jail, a place where we rope the kids in to keep them off the streets and off the job market, and where people are trained to jump through hoops on command–the first time I heard “education” described in that way it sent me into quite a tizzy! But I think now I can see it is both these contradictory things, every teacher has a coercive and an empowering aspect.

There is probably no perfect purification of actual existing parties, even under positive representation if our global Great and Good are foxed into letting us establish such an upstart thing in the first place. They can and will, one might even say must, play sordid roles. But at the same time, they have also provided great service to the masses even as they served the classes, and that in a very easily corruptible context; in a more affirmatively democratic one, where indeed everyone can walk and start their own up, and build a new thing if the old one seems rotten, I think the positive role will stand forth more plainly and indispensibly. We need to organize, and it is a human thing to do. “Man is a political animal.” Politics pervades our lives–I should show you my 3 year old niece, how she plays her household, how I negotiate with her. I deal with children as little people, the basic equals of me even as they depend on adults and must trust them, and we owe it to them to be worthy of that trust, if more mammalian, sentimental considerations will not do, then at least from the insectile, sharklike reflection that the little ones do grow bigger and we grow older and weaker.

Community is the lifeblood of all human beings; that does not negate our individuality, that is the foundation on which we are built–just as that community we all depend on is made up of us as mutually dependent individuals. Politics is how we hash out how we shall live and what we can become. It operates, in the most general sense, within families, between friends, in the workplace, as well as more circumscribed fora we call “government.”

So yeah I take it pretty seriously.

My preference for individual candidate evaluations in elections isn’t driven by a belief that partisanship is evil. Parties are tools made necessary by the simple fact that an organized group can take more effective political action than a collection of individuals. Even when elections are formally nonpartisan, freedoms of association and speech still allow organized politically involved groups to endorse candidates and recommend them to the public, and voters would still have the freedom to copy the endorsements of such associations onto their ballots, which is de facto straight-ticket voting. While I think it is unwise to trust a party’s selection without also verifying, I can understand why people do it: vetting each individual candidate takes time, time that people may not have.

My issue is rather that two members of a given party are not interchangeable.
A lazy way of arguing this point would be to pick two Democrats from different wings of the party and point out their obvious differences, though in reality such strange alliances are made necessary by two party domination, and may not persist under a proportional system. In the past, you have described party affiliation as an implied endorsement of other candidates with that affiliation, at least, in the context of a real-world implementation of your system. However, candidates have a wide variety of reasons for forming coalitions and alliances (in this case running under a common party affiliation) with one another, and this will be true regardless of the electoral system is used. For an alliance to be worthwhile, they need not agree on every issue (though obviously some consistency is necessary for voters to have a reason to support them.) The problem is that while I may have no problems with a specific candidate’s issue stances, we might have different priorities, so I might be willing to make different compromises than they. For example, antiscience movements have a presence everywhere on the ideological spectrum. Antiscience certainly runs rampant on the right, and centrists often display a lack of urgency on issues such as climate change, betraying a failure to understand the scale of the problem. The left has other issues, including irrational concerns about GMOs. I’d prefer to avoid supporting candidates for whom central planks of their legislative agenda are grounded in pseudoscience. But some candidates who do not hold pseudoscientific views still might be willing to affiliate with those who do.

Essentially, I’d like the option to do what Australians know as voting “below the line”. The Australian Senate is elected via STV, in 6 candidate regions (states). Voters have the option of voting for parties, which are listed above the line, or individuals, who are listed below. If you vote for a party, then your vote follows the order that the party listed. While most voters (upwards of 90%) vote above the line, at least you have the choice, and if you don’t rank a candidate in your party, then your vote will not directly✱ contribute to their election.

✱ Of course, due to STV/IRV pathologies such as participation failure, it may do so indirectly.
Also, if you would have been willing to support the second candidate a small party listed, but not the first, and your support could have won that party a seat had they switched the order, but without it, they get nothing, STV will still eliminate the second candidate on the list before the first (unless more people vote below the line for that second candidate than vote above the line for that party, but of course 90% of voters vote above the line, so it’s not likely).