Marketing and the other powers-that-be have revised my project so that it will accomodate a much larger scope. Ugh. Oh well, at least solving the problems will not be boring. Geeze, they make a simple request for a feature change, I tell them how the current functionality will change to accomodate their request, and all of a sudden they don't like the way the original functionality works at all, and practically ask for a re-design. The term is "scope creep." This is why software projects always take about ten times longer than originally estimated. The real crap is that I now have to throw out a hefty chunk of the code I wrote last week, which implemented the old/new functionality, and must start over making changes to implement the more extensive new/new functionality.
Robert G. is out sick to day. Actually, as we discussed yesterday, he is playing hookie today so that he can go to a seminar for starting and running a business. We're evil. Sometimes, when I think of what were up to, it gets so unbelievable. I think I'm more freaked by the idea of McGuffin working than if it doesn't work. If it doesn't work, a distinct possibility, I will be disappointed, but I will pretty much go on with the life with which I am currently uncomfortable but with which I am at least familiar. I can't even begin to imagine how my life will change if it works, and that is a scary thing. I've had so much upheaval in this past year, and McGuffin promises massive changes to come, if it works. If it works, it will be almost as if everything I have done with myself to this point will have been irrelevant. I'm freaked. I want to talk to someone about it, but I can't.
I went to lunch with Herb H., Rob T., and Sergey N. Naturally, we got involved in another of our political/economic/social philosophy discussions. I'm a one man education force for the concept of minarchy, if not anarchy. The hardest part of discussing philosophy is boiling down the concepts to the essentials. Lately we have been discussing the hierarchy of social organization and how power is morally used or abused at any particular level and what consequences this has on civilization. Herb is "progressive," slightly left of center, while Rob is slightly right of center. It's hard to get a bearing on Sergey. I don't usually eat lunch with him and he tends to be very quiet in conversation. Today is the most I've ever seen him open up and join in.
The discussion is a continuation of one which we had been having on previous days. It concerned my refusal to participate in national politics and vote in nation-wide elections. Earlier in the month, Herb and I had exchanged e-mail rehashing the issue after a discussion over lunch. Herb's closing comment to me, at the end of lunch had been "don't you want to make as big an impact on the world as you can?" It occurred to me that he was considering the problem all wrong. Is it the size of the impact that really matters, or the effectiveness of one's contribution? We continued the discussion in e-mail after we got back to work.
From: Robert L.
Sent: Tuesday, April 06, 2004 1:25 PM
To: Herb H; Robert G.; Rob T.; Sergey N.
Subject: Why global impact? Why is the magnitude of effect so important?
Suppose you had a choice. On one hand, you have a near certainty of making the lives of ten people close to you better in many ways. This will be appreciated by the beneficiaries also because your help is solicited and accepted voluntarily. On the other hand you have a small chance of making the lives of hundreds, possibly millions of change in ways (some good, some bad) that you are guaranteed to be unable to predict or control. Your intended "beneficiaries" may not even want your help and may even resent you for it. Now which do you choose? I don’t even have to offer you a false dichotomy, either. You CAN attempt to do BOTH things, but if only one of them has a chance of succeeding, why even bother with the other? There’s my point.
"People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
From: Herb H.
Sent: Tuesday, April 06, 2004 1:52 PM
To: Robert L.
Subject: RE: Why global impact? Why is the magnitude of effect so important?
I agree - acting locally whenever possible usually is most effective.
I see my sphere of ethical / moral values as a 4 stage hierarchy: 1. me, 2. my friends and loved ones, 3. my community, 4. humanity. I try to be as good as I can to all, but obviously first things come first. In the #4 category I include voting, lobbying by congress people, recycling, NOT driving whenever possible, respecting other cultures, and paying taxes (although all of these are also in #3 to some degree).
Part of acting as a good citizen is, I think, to be a bit pragmatic. We are part of a representative democracy created 200+ years ago which has frankly worked reasonably well (although not perfectly), at least when you look at it from a historical point of view. I respect and value what we have and who we are, and I am willing to be a part of it (even though it is not perfect). And I expect or at least hope that my fellow citizen will do the same thing. Let's face it, we are part of this world/country/state/community whether we like that fact or not - we benefit from it and we suffer by it. Criticism is useful when things are going wrong (and they are!) but pragmatism and respect for the way things are is also useful because it is normally the only way to get things done. The alternative is denial. Would you agree that pragmatism is necessary in business? Why not elsewhere?
From: Robert L.
Sent: Tuesday, April 06, 2004 1:25 PM
To: Herb H; Robert G.; Rob T.; Sergey N.
Subject: Why global impact? Why is the magnitude of effect so important?
Ah, now we are getting somewhere! Look at what happens when we overlay your moral hierarchy with a graph of the force involved in operating in each particular sphere. Doing that, a picture starts to emerge.
According to Locke, over yourself, sphere #1, you are completely sovereign, and therefore you are completely justified in taking any action which affects the jurisdiction which encompasses only yourself. Nobody else on earth has any right or reason to attempt to force you to be or do anything you do not or did not voluntarily choose to do or be. Outside of violating the rights of others, the most moral course of action is treat each individual as an equal, with equal rights.
In sphere #2, the category of loved ones, friends, and associates, almost every transaction and kind of intercourse you have here takes place under conditions of nearly 100% voluntary agreement -- it is effectively anarchy! You don’t have political relations in this sphere, for the most part, and those who do introduce political machinations into this sphere, manipulating and callously using friends and associates, are generally disparaged. The term "office politics" is almost universally regarded as a derogatory term -- a non-value which impedes productive, cooperative, enthusiastic contribution and degrades morale. You can’t force your friends and family to love you at gun-point, you can’t force their cooperation, their inspiration, or their enthusiasm. Your employer pays you for your contribution to the enterprise. In this sphere you must persuade others to give of their time, talents, resources, and property voluntarily, by mutual agreement, in trade for reciprocal consideration!
Note that in sphere #3, the community level, the political phenomena first start to become really overt and noticeable. Laws and police and courts come into play. Even here though, we are constrained from many forms of unethical uses of force by the consideration that many of the people who live in our communities also interact with us as members of sphere #2! It is difficult for a civilized, ethical, person to treat his next door neighbor as a thing, a mere means to his ends, because the effects of his actions are readily apparent to his conscience. Moral people do not canvass their neighborhoods collecting for the Red Cross at gun-point -- although they do indeed condone an abstraction of that principle in the case of the "public" schools and a few other "civic necessities," which is a mistake. The only force generally agreeable to the members of a well-knit community is that used in self-defense and in the prevention of crime or the apprehension and reprobation of rights-violating criminals.
This brings us to sphere #4, which is almost entirely dominated by force and politics, and the freedom-limiting and indeed, freedom-usurping, laws we impose upon one another. In this sphere, it is easy to lose accountability. Once you pull a lever and empower Sen. Snort to represent you, you lose much control over what is done with the power in your name, and you give Sen. Snort an authority which, unless it is carefully constrained, is almost impossible to wield ethically. Voting creates mandates of a sort, but it does not dictate or imply ethical means. Lord Acton’s observation that power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely, is an iron law of this sphere.
Let us indeed take a "pragmatic" historical view of the federal government of the United States, our common sphere #4 organization. Two hundred plus years ago, the founders of the United States were arguing about the new proposed Constitution. The Constitution was a centralization of power and authority, away from states and communities and towards the federal government, in other words, toward sphere #4. There were two main parties to the debate over the Constitution -- the Federalists, who wanted the Constitution, and the Anti-federalists, who feared that overturning the Articles of Confederation in favor of the power-centralizing Constitution would start a chain reaction of corruption which would lead inevitably to tyranny -- just exactly as it did in ancient Rome -- a history with which the founders were very familiar. Out of the debates between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists came a compromise Constitution. This document was positively stiff with compromises, guard-rails and guide-lines, checks and balances, proscriptions, limitations, and fail-safes to prevent the abuse and malignant metastasis of the power with which the new federal government was to be imbued. For the time, it was a radical innovation. The Founders believed, contrary to the perhaps wiser, better historically informed, and skeptical complaints of the more "hard-core" Anti-Federalists, that they had truly solved the problem of the Republican Cycle, whereby democracies and republics inexorably became corrupted into tyrannous empires and subsequently collapsed in privation and bloodshed.
So, your reference to a representative democracy, which has frankly worked reasonably well, is a dropping of context. The correct and important context here is the term "has worked" -- past tense. The truth is, almost every one, if not every single one, of the safe-guards, guard-rails, checks, balances, and fail-safes built into the Constitution have either been dismantled or overridden by political factions seeking more power, by any means necessary. Theoretically, there is no jurisdiction any longer, which the people employed by the federal behemoth understand to be beyond their authority or jurisdiction. Oh it is entirely true that the United States is still one of the most free nations on earth, and it is true that there is still a lingering respect for the form and appearance of freedom and a passing lip service paid to the old Lockean understanding of rights, but it is only a superstitious fear of tradition and a healthy respect for lingering public sentiment which restrains the politicians and bureaucrats today. The underlying principles and forms of the old republic have been corrupted and discarded in favor of ancient corrupt and tyrannical ones. We have kept the appearance and abandoned the substance of a constitutional representative republic and await only a tyrant with enough brazen audacity to acknowledge in public that which is tacitly understood in the corridors of power, if not by the "sheople" on Main Street.
The period following every election has become a massive game of "chicken" or "truth or dare" among politicians, bureaucrats, and other forms of low-life pull-peddlers, whose object is to see how much tyranny can be pulled off and gotten away with in the face of Constitutional tradition, fickle public opinion, and determined factional opposition. More and more, the laws apply to everyone except the government, and those acting on its authority -- an idea that would have been anathema to the Founders and is in fact contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution itself. As such, sphere #4 has become a very unpredictable place, where power is a danger to those without it, rights are disrespected or at best, paid lip-service, and power has become unbounded in scope and practically unaccountable in execution, and therefore completely out of control. The executive branch commits the United States armed forces to war without a formal declaration of war from Congress, and creates legislation by arbitrary bureaucratic rule-making and quasi-legal "executive orders" in direct contradiction to the charter for the office laid out in Article II of the Constitution. The Congress shirks its duties and obligations, like the responsibility to debate and definitively declare war before the executive is allowed to exercise the power of the U.S. military, and it usurps powers forbidden to it and reserved to the states or to the people by proscription of, or omission from, the delegated authorities and restrictions outlined in Article I of the Constitution. The Supreme Court shirks its duties, for example, it's cowardly refusal to hear arguments against the legitimacy of the ratification of the sixteenth amendment, and it usurps powers never delegated to it in Article III of the Constitution with gross acts of legislation from the bench, to the glee or chagrin of one idiotic political faction or another.
Every single vote, with few or no exceptions, no matter what is voted upon, is a transfer of power and authority out of the hands of people operating primarily in sphere #1, the most moral sphere, where live "the little people" the do-gooders of the world are attempting to "help," and into the hands of people operating primarily in sphere #4, where the power is most likely to be abused and least subject to effective oversight and restraint, and less likely to have any predictable or controllable effect. The Left and Right both are completely backwards in their understanding of power and wealth: if you shine shoes for a dollar, and I hawk hamburgers for a dollar, we have each added to the production of more wealth, therefore we have each earned more money. Wealth is NOT a zero-sum game; my gain does not come at your expense. Conversely, power IS a zero-sum game. Either I have the authority to decide what you may have for lunch or you do. If I have it, then you do not. Because of its nature, this is why power, unlike wealth, MUST be distributed as broadly and as uniformly as possible, if we are to have any kind of equality at all. The only way power should be accumulated into concentrations is through the consent of those individuals delegating their authority voluntarily. THAT is the key idea propounded in the Declaration of Independence, which is the theoretical justification of our republic’s entire existence. The Constitution was supposed to protect the delegation of power and authority from spheres #1, 2, and 3 to sphere #4, and provide for the recall of that delegated authority back from sphere #4 to the other levels, when needed or desired. It was meant to restrict the acquisition of such power to very narrow and limited uses, but the spirit and letter of the Constitution have been observed more in the violation than in the keeping, so it is no longer moral in any way to vote power out of the lower spheres into sphere #4, because the rules are broken there.
As such, the current structure inhabiting sphere #4 is becoming dangerous, tyrannical, and in fact rigid, brittle, and unstable. Either it must be dismantled safely, peacefully, NOW, and replaced with new structures, more stable and rights-respecting, while there is still a chance of doing so, or it will collapse, perhaps violently, whether we wish it or not, and whether we participate in that collapse or not, as inevitably as it has been historically demonstrated with other forms of sphere #4 organizations which have gone this route. It is neither moral, nor "empowering" nor even demonstrably productive, or practical to vote power away from individuals in sphere #1, who could be using it as their rights entitle them, to a corrupt and failing system occupying sphere #4, which has become re-based upon new/ancient but unacknowledged faulty working premises.
My non-participation is not apathy, it is not cynicism; it is an active withdrawal of sanction with the express aim of dismantling our sphere #4 monstrosity and distributing it’s powers and authorities and capabilities back to individuals and organizations occupying spheres #1, 2, and 3, in that order, according to the principle of subsidiarity, which states that authority should be exercised at the lowest level where it can be competently exercised and restrained."We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness-That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security."
-- The Declaration of Independence, Action of the Second Continental Congress, July 4, 1776, The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America
Just a few minutes ago, I was speaking with Randy P. and with our purchasing agent, John G., who is an old school semi-apologist for Socialism ("rightly understood", of course). He and I have interesting political discussions too, upon which we seldom agree. We have observed that whenever we do agree on something, it means that situation is pretty bad. He's one of the most interesting individuals working here. John and I are history buffs too, with interest mostly focusing on military conflicts and wars. John's base of knowledge is deeper than mine. He's a player of mineatures warfare games and has done a lot of research and other reading. We got into a disucussion on the Battles of Bastogne and Monte Casino which was a seguey from the software development procedures discussion started betwixt Randy and myself. That discussion had concerned how our corporate overlords from Chicago have taken a somewhat greater interest in how the sausage gets made here in Alameda. No, we're not psychotic, just intuitive type people who tend to free-associate their ways into interesting changes of context when discussing things. Considering that we went from upper management's newfound unseemly interest in our development process management, to the plight of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne, one can guess what we felt about the subject.
After a brief water-cooler-type chat in my cubicle, John left me a parting gift of a can of Mauna Loa Kona Coffee Glazed Macadamia Nuts. I assume that they were a "treat" which he received from a supplier (purchasing agents are always getting little incentives and bribes, heh heh) because John doesn't like macadamia nuts. Actually, these are quite tasty!