What is your ideal society? The perfect place you wish you could live? What would it look like and how would it work? I was asked this recently and I had to admit to myself that I hadn’t really considered it because I don’t believe it can exist.
Humans can screw up anything. The very first thing that people would do upon finding utopia would be to wreck it. There are no apparent limits to what we will do to take advantage of our circumstances, and thus any utopian system is quickly overburdened, subverted and destroyed. Perhaps elves or Vulcans or some other mythical race can have a perfect society, but the best humans can hope to live in is a society that doesn’t suck too badly.
Democracy is the worst form of government. Except for all the other types of government we’ve tried. Tyranny of the majority is a real threat. When most of us want to do some foolish, hateful or stupid thing, all of us have to live with the consequences. A nation with enumerated rights for citizens and powers balanced and checked can go a long way to addressing the vagaries of popular opinion and tribalism, but the majority always subjugates and abuses the minority to the extent that they can. It’s just human nature.
From each according to their ability and to each according to their need. Possibly the most awful utopian idea ever. Communism fails because idealism makes for a poor motivator in the long term. When you get nothing in return for making more effort, people will only make the bare minimum effort. The system turns quickly into an oligarchy and corruption tears it apart.
The best government is one that governs least. Ha! We wish. Everyone loves liberty, but letting people do whatever they want is the quickest way for everyone to get a bunch of things they absolutely don’t want like poisoned water, corruption and organized crime. Liberty, like every other idea, can be taken to the illogical extreme.
What to do then? Society can never be perfect, but it can always be better. Good governance is not an endpoint – it’s a process. We may (and should) disagree on how to govern, but focusing on principles will always point us in the right direction.
First and foremost is integrity. The truth is literally what sets us free. A society is a relationship based on trust. Destroying that trust destroys the society. Putting up with people on any side of an argument who promote lies and distort the truth injures everyone. The best government always puts the truth first, not just when it is convenient, but particularly when no one wants to hear it.
Science is key. The most reliable way we have for finding the truth is through science. When sufficient evidence exists that a specific public policy is failing to address the issue or creating other issues, the government should react to adjust the policy without taking an opinion poll first. That doesn’t mean we do anything science tells us, but any morally acceptable solution should at least be considered. A branch of government dedicated to striking down laws and policies that are clearly shown by research to be harmful would be pretty useful. Laws starting in a research lab rather than in a corporate office would also be a good change.
Kindness is key. Any action by government should be weighed against the default action of doing nothing. If it does not make sense to take away (by force if necessary) the fruits of the labor of one person to use for the public good, then it is likely not a good enough reason to act. As an example, some members of our society haven’t the mental or physical capacity to care for themselves. Acting to assist these people is a kindness and keeping the burden manageable for everyone else is also a kindness. Governments should carefully weigh the options and use kindness as a guidepost. Laws that serve dogmatic viewpoints or pander to a majority are oppression to the minority and should generally be rejected. Fairness, equality and justice are essential and are rooted in kindness.
Accountability is key. Power is the root of all evil. This is an axiom. Money is power, influence is power, power corrupts and concentration of power concentrates evil. The only thing that drives out this darkness is the light of transparency and the only thing that stops power from accumulating more power is constant vigilance and action by a concerned and educated citizenry. People often see the inefficiency of our federal government and (rightly) complain that government doesn’t work. They aren’t wrong. The bigger any organization gets, the less responsive, effective and efficient it becomes. Our government has arguably become too big and its citizens’ power concentrated in the hands of too few. One of the government’s biggest problems is that lawyers run two of the branches and sometimes all three. Laws have become thousand-page documents full of impenetrable jargon that no normal citizen can understand and they certainly could not read all the laws and get anything else done. Laws are deliberately unfathomable and there is an awful lot of incentive for those involved in the system to avoid fixing it. Excessive concentration of power is by far America’s biggest problem. Accountable government requires governance to be kept as small, as local, as simple and as open as it can be.
Utopia is not possible. But, working toward a better society based on truth, kindness and accountability is absolutely possible and is my continual hope for our nation.