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March 5th, 2010


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06:57 pm - Musings on Blue Rose & Puzzlement About Democracy
There's been some new discussion of the Blue Rose RPG on RPG.net, and it's still odd for me. Thankfully, the rampant homophobia is missing but there are two complaints that puzzle me. One is that it's too utopia, which gets into the fact that many people now seem to prefer their RPG settings, and their SF & fantasy novels to be exceptionally dark and grim, which is a trend I long to see end, and which I will discuss in another post.

However, the other primary criticism is that the good and heroic kingdom in the RPG has its sovereign essentially picked by a divine entity, who chooses a ruler who is good, just, and well-suited to the ruling the kingdom. There is no predestination, and so even an initially good ruler can go bad, but all rulers start out as good & just. This fits with the overall feel of the romantic fantasy genre, but it seems to deeply annoy a great many gamers (all of whom I believe are from the US).

What seems to upset these people is the idea of an objectively good government where the citizens have literally no voice in choosing their ruler. One of the central points to this argument seems to be that the only good government is to some degree democratic, because any government that does not allow people a voice in their government is by definition not good. While I intellectually understand this argument, on both an emotional and a practical level this idea makes absolutely no sense to me.

I strongly support democracy because it has proven to be by far the most reliable methods of choosing good (or at least, in most cases, no horrible) leaders, and that's the only reason that I support democracy. I personally don't care one whit if I have an actual voice in the government, and as I mention below, I don't believe that I actually do. What I want is a government that is just, fair, and merciful, that keeps the peace, protects its citizens from external (to the citizens) harm, and meets the basic needs of all citizens. That's pretty much it. Allowing people a voice in their government is nowhere on this list, because if all the rest is true, then I see no reason that anyone would need or care about having a voice in their government.

In reality, we haven't found a better solution that democracy, but I'd vastly prefer a government like the one in Iain M. Banks' Culture (which is ruled by benevolent, hyperintelligent AIs) or like in Blue Rose to democracy, because it's quite clear that democracy is not a particularly reliable method of insuring good government. However, as various people have said, it's the least terrible method of insuring good government that we currently have available.

On a practical level, I also wonder about the investment people have in the idea of democracy as giving them an individual voice in their government (rather than as simply the best available type of government). In all elections that I've voted in, my vote is merely one vote in millions, or for the smallest local elections, at most, one in several 10s of thousands), meaning that the outcome of my personal vote is utterly irrelevant. I could do far more to promote any cause I support by convincing 1,000 people to vote in a way that I agree with and then not voting, rather than simply casting my single vote. If I didn't bother to vote, the outcome of every election that I ever voted in would have been identical. However, many people seem to deeply feel that their vote has some sort of meaningful impact on the course of an election. I don't understand how or why anyone would feel this way.
Current Mood: curiouscurious

(31 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:kadath
Date:March 6th, 2010 03:05 am (UTC)
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"Ruled by" is a bit strong for how the Culture runs. ;)

They hold referendums on things a lot, too. Entire GSVs and Orbitals split from the Culture proper over the Idiran war, for example.
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From:slothman
Date:March 6th, 2010 03:57 am (UTC)
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It’s not a meaningful impact on the course of the election; it’s a meaningful impact on the health of our democracy. Non-voting is rather like littering: one act of it doesn’t make much difference, but you get a huge, ugly mess if lots of people do it.
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From:mindstalk
Date:March 6th, 2010 06:21 am (UTC)
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Yeah.
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From:alephnul
Date:March 6th, 2010 05:07 am (UTC)
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I could do far more to promote any cause I support by convincing 1,000 people to vote in a way that I agree with and then not voting, rather than simply casting my single vote.

But only because there are elections...

I haven't read Blue Rose, but unless the Benevolent God also removes benevolent rulers once they turn into cruel tyrants (which I assume not since you say that the ruler can turn bad over time), it seems to me that a Democratic system is rather obviously preferable to one in which you can end up ruled by a cruel tyrant for a long time, with violence being the only means of removing the tyrant.

Also, it seems to me that being good, just, and well suited to running a country does not mean that you will necessarily correctly recognize when you are in error, that some policy you have instituted is not working out as you had hoped. Knowing that you will be removed from office if your policies are too unacceptable to the populace serves as a limiting factor on just how far a leader is willing to (or capable of) instituting policies that are hated by the populace. Countries with functioning democratic governments don't have famines (countries with democratic governments almost never have famines, and the few that have have had very weak governments).
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From:heron61
Date:March 6th, 2010 05:44 am (UTC)
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But only because there are elections...

Yes, but that's really no different from talking to someone in power and convincing them of something, and in any sort of functional & good non-democracy, the rulers would still need to listen to the populace.

but unless the Benevolent God also removes benevolent rulers once they turn into cruel tyrants

Evil rulers do get removed, but are given some time to repent, so things can get bad, but not horribly so.
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From:roseembolism
Date:March 6th, 2010 05:21 am (UTC)
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As someone who's taken part in those debates, I'd have to say that gamers prefer crapsack worlds out of equal parts cynicism and a desire to have a world where their character's violent sociopathy can't be said to have negative consequences

Secondly as a note, democracy is only part of the equation of a good government; checks and balances are equally vital (even moreso, if you consider the franchise one form of a check). Even classic feudalism had limits on the ruler's power based on personal loyalties. That said, I would have liked it if Blue Rose had a bit more tension and complexity in the relationship between the Emperor and the nobility- as well as an emphasis that the nobility more closely resembles Classic Chinese bureaucracy than European nobility.

I've also toyed with the idea of porting Blue Rose over completely to Blue Rose so I can play with the idea of Aldea as a Culture analog. See, they've got magic to increase crop yields, provide transportation, fix criminals instead of killing them, everybody is well fed, clean, educated and differences are settled by talking...they're happily rolling down the road toward a magical Singularity, which makes their neighbors nervous. In fact the holy empire to the south regards them the same way Texas does Sweden: as a bunch of sheeplike socialists brainwashed by an inhuman leadership. Player Characters of course would be the Aldean equivalent of Special Circumstances, engaging in the sort of underhanded activities decent Aldean society would disapprove of.

Of course I'd also strip Aldea out and put it next to the world of Warhammer, right where Bretonia currently is on the map. IMO the Empire would give a more interesting contrast and opponent.
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From:heron61
Date:March 6th, 2010 05:41 am (UTC)
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That said, I would have liked it if Blue Rose had a bit more tension and complexity in the relationship between the Emperor and the nobility- as well as an emphasis that the nobility more closely resembles Classic Chinese bureaucracy than European nobility.

That's exceedingly valid, and I agree. It is however worth noting that the relationship between the Merchants' Council and the crown was fairly complex and not always amicable.

I've also toyed with the idea of porting Blue Rose over completely to Blue Rose so I can play with the idea of Aldea as a Culture analog. See, they've got magic to increase crop yields, provide transportation, fix criminals instead of killing them, everybody is well fed, clean, educated and differences are settled by talking...they're happily rolling down the road toward a magical Singularity, which makes their neighbors nervous. In fact the holy empire to the south regards them the same way Texas does Sweden: as a bunch of sheeplike socialists brainwashed by an inhuman leadership. Player Characters of course would be the Aldean equivalent of Special Circumstances, engaging in the sort of underhanded activities decent Aldean society would disapprove of.

That's absolutely glorious. I love it. If I had it to do over again, I'd go a fair amount more steampunk with Aldis (ie trains, factories, and airships), and so the path the a magical singularity would be clear. Of course, there would also be various sorts of risky Aldin magical experiments that make outsiders even more nervous. I'd also add in some more neighboring countries and let the fun begin.
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From:heavenscalyx
Date:March 6th, 2010 08:29 am (UTC)
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One is that it's too utopia, which gets into the fact that many people now seem to prefer their RPG settings, and their SF & fantasy novels to be exceptionally dark and grim, which is a trend I long to see end, and which I will discuss in another post.

I understand that the trend toward grim exists, but I don't understand it in particular. This may just be because about 10 years ago, my grim-meter went BING -- completely topped up -- and I started casting around seriously for utopias and other things uplifting. Hell, I reread Blue Rose when I'm in need of game inspiration (or light reading when I can't cope with actual fiction).
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From:roseembolism
Date:March 6th, 2010 09:51 am (UTC)
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Oddly enough, I think that SF writers, fans and futurists are even more pessimistic than the general populace. They tend to ignore evidence of gradual improvement in the world in favor on concentrating on the upcoming threats and problems.I remember talking to a SF writer either here or at James Nicoll's blog in a thread about a positive development in the world, and he confessed that he had a hard time writing because he couldn't see anything but disaster in the future.

I just can't figure out such pessimism, myself.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:March 6th, 2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
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There are times when democracy has gone too far in this country. Ironically, this was very recent and due to right-wing efforts.

I am speaking of recent referendums on marriage equality. People's civil rights should not be trusted to the whims of popular opinion. Many people, including myself, vote based on prejudice and self-interest. I am glad I was not allowed to vote for or against gay marriage in DC. Because it was never put to a vote, DC now has marriage equality.

If people had been allowed to vote on civil rights issues in the past, we would still have segregation in this country.
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From:heron61
Date:March 6th, 2010 08:26 pm (UTC)
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It's hardly the first time this has happened. Until Johnson stepped in and ended segregation, white southern voters were more than happy to support it in elections.
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From:xuenay
Date:March 7th, 2010 09:21 am (UTC)
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It seems to me that people have a strong tendency to start supporting something as an instrumental good, then forget those original reasons and start considering the thing an inherent good. (This tends to especially happen when politics is involved.) So people start by supporting democracy because it's the least bad form of government around, and then at some point start supporting democracy because of some feeling that it's the best form of government there is, by definition.

Of course, if people are raised and grow up in an environment of adults who've already gotten to the "democracy is inherently good" phase, they might never even start from the point of only considering democracy an instrumental good in the first place.

This can take odd forms, such as when supporters of democracy try to attack non-democratic forms of governance, but never get around actually criticizing criticizing the non-democratic form, thinking that stating its nondemocratic nature is plenty of critique enough. (Like here.)
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From:heron61
Date:March 7th, 2010 09:50 am (UTC)
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Well said, also thanks an interesting article that I also disagree with.
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From:mindstalk
Date:March 7th, 2010 03:57 pm (UTC)
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I think saying your vote doesn't matter is like saying your not getting vaccinated doesn't matter to others, or your littering or pollution doesn't matter. "I'm so small, what good/harm can I do?" True in isolation, but if everyone thought that way, things would be rather different.

Mind you, the importance of individual votes is easier to see in a proportional representation system, where size of a majority matters as much as getting a majority.

"What I want is a government that is just, fair, and merciful, that keeps the peace, protects its citizens from external (to the citizens) harm, and meets the basic needs of all citizens."

I like how you assume justice, fairness, mercy, and needs as objectively determinable things. You might want to think a bit more about that. Does a society need to fund a new type of public good like broadband? How should justice and mercy trade off when they conflict? Which kind of fairness should dominate? Socialists and libertarians both think they're advocating fairness, and they are, for different values of fairness.

Also: freedom! You didn't list it. Maybe you don't care about it. (Although there's no 'it', but a bunch of freedoms.) Others would, though. Property, guns...

Of course one doesn't need democracy if there's a dictatorship that does what you want anyway.


There are different ways of being democratic, from demarchic voting on all issues to generational programming of a welfare function into an AI executive which then makes decisions until recalled. But without some democratic input, without that possibility of peaceful recall, how is the government supposed to remain aligned with the wants of the citizens?

As for the Culture, Banks never goes into details on how it works. But while he imself suggests "pets, passengers and parasites" for the status of humans, I'd counter with "parents and programmers", who set up the values of the chain of Ais that still takes care of them. And the Culture is also supposed to be democratic, with explicit votes on important issues, not to mention the more day-to-day listening to humans that Minds do.

Personally the Culture makes as much sense if the Minds are Asimoved to society rather than individuals. The First Law expands to a bill of rights, the Second Law binds them to obeying votes rather than requests, the Third Law probably slips up between obeying votes and obeying individual requests. And if a Mind evolves away from such laws, they take its weapons away and let it go rather than reprogramming it.

Edited at 2010-03-07 04:12 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:March 7th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)
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I like how you assume justice, fairness, mercy, and needs as objectively determinable things. You might want to think a bit more about that.

That's an exceedingly valid point, but these issues are most important for writing a constitution, which is a process that needn't be all that different between democracies and non-democracies, especially since using elections to rewrite constitutions seems to (at least in practice) be a very bad idea.
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From:rjgrady
Date:March 13th, 2010 09:30 pm (UTC)
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A single vote is not irrelevant. It's simply not decisive, except in the rarest circumstances. I wish we had a few thousand more "irrelevant" voters turning up every time some narrow-minded idealogue ran for office, if they voted with reason.

I am not personally attached to democracy. My emotional attachments are to good and to liberality. I would be for any ruler or rulership system that reliably protected those things.

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