Asymmetries: toward a balance of power

The following is an excerpt from the book linked in the previous post.  It is most relevant to today, America’s independence day.  It represents the most difficult political matter which America faces (and ignores) today: the fact that the structure of our government does not support a balance of power in the modern world.

Chapter 5
Asymmetries

Precautions against imbalances of power in a system of government cannot be treated like any other risk. This risk is posed by the government itself, and against the rights of the people they are supposed to protect, in virtue of the structure of government. The basic problem, of course, is the potential for a top-heavy (or otherwise imbalanced) power structure, which may become more interested in protecting the elite and their interests than defending the rights of the people. Furthermore, any system which allows for such a top-heavy (or imbalanced) structure is itself a risk to its own stability through the accompanying issues of trust by the people who realize the potential imbalance. These issues must be addressed in system design.

According to Libertarian principles, we should not assume that American governance turned out uniquely correct. Nevertheless, our forefathers were well aware of the problem of asymmetric power, and for this reason, the American government is specifically constructed to prevent it. Nearly every policy which is not designed to cover a basic right is a (pragmatic) hedge against the possibility of abuse of asymmetric power, from the right to not quarter soldiers, to the right to bear arms, to the right to free association and militias, to freedom of the Press, to Representational Democracy into ’three separate but equal branches’ system of government itself.

From this list, three ’hedges’ stand out: the right to bear arms; the freedom of the Press; and Representational Democracy. In this chapter we examine these, and whether they achieve there original intent today.

5.1 Force

The right to bear arms serves two fundamental purposes. The first is the enforcement of rights in those situations where the government is not in position to provide protection. That is, it is a means to enacting your right to self-defense, which is necessary given the essential limitations of any system of law and order. The second is – in conjunction with the right to armed militias – a means of balancing power against the government itself, should the time arise where the government is not properly representing the people by protecting their rights.

For all of the issues with gun violence, it is hard to argue that basic weapons don’t serve an essential purpose of self-defense in situations where the system of law and order is doomed to fail (i.e. be too late). Outlawing guns is therefore not in the cards unless and until there is better assurance that the need for self-defense will simply not arise. It is difficult to envision a state of the world in which the need would never arise, anywhere in the country, and for now the matter of a right to hold basic arms is not on the bargaining table.1

But the right to bear arms currently fails part of its initial purpose. Initially, this right – together with the right to armed militias, not to quarter soldiers, etc. – put the citizenry on a level playing field with the government itself, technologically. This is quite clearly no longer the case. However one may argue from this to the point that one needs a right to automatic weapons or more, there will never be symmetry in this area again, de-nuclearlization or not.
More and more, therefore, the people must be assured that decision makers are protecting their rights and that they are qualified to assess risk to rights.

5.2 Information

The fundamental balance of power in America’s current age must be information. How do you know that decision makers are protecting your rights? Keep an eye on them. Press them for information. Question and analyze what you see and here. This is a freedom of the Press. But there are three fundamental problems about disclosure.

The first is that public announcements no longer simply reach an American audience. They reach the world. In some cases this means that you have pressure from the world, through the American Press, to disclose when it is detrimental to American interests. Given the current system of informing the American public on anything (i.e. public media or nothing at all) it is difficult to see how this can be prevented.

The second is that technology and the risk-to-rights from technology make it impossible to disclose much of anything. Often one cannot publicly announce that such and such is a risk from technology without giving the idea to criminals who may in turn leverage that risk. Furthermore, often the public is not in a position to understand the risks from technology without effectively understanding the technology itself. And should you explain the technology, you may only be exposing the citizenry further.2

The third is credibility. In the current state of society, it is very difficult to know where to look for valid information on the work of government and its officials. Some major media outlets still exist, but are being drown out by a cacophony in social media. This is not helped by the the problem of trust in representation (which we deal with in the next section).
Our forefathers did not and could not have anticipated the problems for disclosure posed by weapons technology in conjunction with information technology. Considerations for weapons technology were in their infancy at the time and messages were still ridden on horseback.

5.3 Trust

Given an apparently necessary asymmetry between government and its citizenry in both force and information, it would seem that our assurance against systemic risk-to-rights should have to come from the stalwart, Representational Democracy. In principle, a representative whom we trust would do their best to walk the line between informing us of what is going on in government and not disclosing what would be detrimental (at a time and place and to an audience) to American interests. At the same time, this individual would hear what the public has to say and fight for the policies, within the government decision making process, which best protect its citizen constituents’ rights. This all sounds fine, but it fails.

The fundamental problem is that if you are in the intelligence community, the best way to prevent a representative from disclosing sensitive information is not to tell them the sensitive information. There appear to be clear cases of elected officials who cannot well keep a secret. Those elected officials, naturally, would be your last choice to tell sensitive information to. This fundamental question of what the intelligence community should disclose to an elected official is a systemic problem, because our elected officials have no particular credentials to handle sensitive information.

The risks of disclosure are great. With the exception of one-on-one conversations with constituents, what a representative says to their constituents will be equally part public announcement to a connected world. But unless the representative can be trusted with information, they are in no position whatever to know and understand the risks to the citizenry of the asymmetric advantages held by government, and are not going to be an effective member in the decision making process within government.

Most representatives have no particular qualifications to handle secure information 3 The result is that elected officials often cannot, therefore, do their job of representing the people in any way, neither as liaison or representative decision maker, because they are elected to positions for which they are not qualified. This damned if you do, damned if you don’t moment is brought to you by a system of democratic representation with no credentialing.

5.4 Indirection

In the previous sections we have discussed the issue of abuse of asymmetric power as a hypothetical, but it goes without saying that the revelations on domestic spying turn that into a reality. Moreover, framing the issue as one of spying under-appreciates the problem, for where there is spying there is usually meddling. Here’s a hypothetical: if the government did target individuals for harassment, they would need to know where they are. ’Meta-data’ would help. But while we have argued that our representatives need to be better qualified, the problem neither begins nor ends with representatives who understand information technology, its potential for abuse, and are cleared to handle and discuss technological risks.

When an elected official enters office, they do so on the presumption of representing the American people and within government; but due to corporate-government collusion, we have what Eisenhower called ’The Military Industrial Complex’; it is a social network of decision makers who may seem to do what they deem fit, whether that be for America or themselves. But however they make their decisions, American’s have no assurance, in virtue of electing a public official, that this official will have any real persuasion as even a diplomat to the Military Industrial Complex, much less command over it when they enter office.

One might tend to think, but that is the military, they are people of tanks and ships and airplanes and bombs and need their industrial support to keep America safe outside of America’s view. But enter now what was called, many years ago on the Nightly News, ’The Militarization of The Intelligence Community’, and what do you get? We certainly did not elect Zuckerberg to run Facebook! And yet, he is a significant decision maker within the MICs, a person of much public persuasion, and someone who directly effects your life every day.4

The Militarization of the Intelligence Community likely resulted from 9/11 and was given the justification that America needed to be on top of any and all games of asymmetric information for the sake of managing America’s risk. It is of course important to be aware what is going to happen prior to it happening, in order to mitigate the risks to liberty. On the other hand, the Militarization of the Intelligence Community may seem largely a means of protecting the Military Industrial Complex at disrespect to the economic costs of violations to privacy, and here is the rub: The American people have no reason to trust it is more, i.e. actually protecting life at liberty, because they have no representation in the Military Industrial Complex or its expansion into the Intelligence Community.
In other words, the American people have no assurance that a game of asymmetric information5 is not being played against them by those in power. It is not unlike what Jefferson sought to defend the people against, except that in place of lies has been substituted a permanent non-disclosure; while we are placated by a relative economic prosperity, the world’s future is being decided sight unseen.

When decision making is so far removed from elected leadership on matters directly effecting the lives of current and future citizenry, how are we to trust that the citizenry are represented in the social system at all? This is the problem of indirection. Even if our elected leaders were sound, credentialed, intelligent and otherwise capable of representing their constituents – all matters which in the previous section we came to doubt – we would run into the problem that, at best, their powers are circumscribed by ’MICs’ out of their control, and at worst, the MICs control them.

5.5 Representation

In the previous sections we have reached the conclusion that in the modern age, we must more heavily rely on a system of democratic representation to find assurance that essential asymmetric advantages held by government will not be used by the government against its citizenry. We have, however, found that the current system does assure that our elected leadership can carry out their functions of liaison and representative decision maker, because they are not necessarily credentialed to handle information on technological risk-to-rights which are definitive of modern governance. It can be added here that the Intelligence Community also has no real motive to change this situation, since the current system justifies their asymmetric advantage in every regard. This is the case whether the Intelligence Community is in the business of protecting citizens rights or not, but leaves the citizenry completely without the assurance required for a stable system6 Here we ask how the system of representation could change to better represent the people, averting disaster from unstable trust.

I will not here propose an entirely new system of governance. What I want to maintain is that the people deserve leadership who are sufficiently credentialed to properly represent them on matters of risk-to-rights from technology. I tend not to believe that ordinary credentials are sufficient and that a new system of credentials is essential. I also believe that the current elected positions should not be overhauled and do serve sufficient purpose in other ways; namely, as the ’heart’ of their constituent citizenry. Nevertheless, elected information officers with required credentials should serve as their liaisons to a ’Technology Congress’; essentially making up elected members to the Intelligence Community, where matters shielded from the people are discussed openly among representatives of the people. These officials should have accessible local offices and the capacity to inform constituents of risk and policy, in a modal way, while having their ears open to new risks.

Among the capacity of such representatives would be the ability to understand models of risk7. This would require some advanced testing 8 and vetting, as well as special education. But while this may, in the end, become very technical and advanced, it is not a procedure different than other governmental qualifying exams. What would likely set it apart would be that it is very advanced and also very general, a necessity in a world in which risk cannot be silo-ed.

5.6 Environmental Policy

It is clear that the issues in this section expand beyond those of environmental policy and touch on nearly everything we know and love about America, nevertheless, we can find our footing again in the question of how we are to be assured that the current social system is not destroying the earth for future generations. The answer is that we cannot take it as an article of faith and have no real assurance as long as our elected officials do not have a watchful eye on those in industry who have a history of disregard for the environment. On the other hand, in all likelihood, our representatives have no such clearance or capacity before or after they arrive in office so the demand seems undeliverable from the start. While the trust we should put in an unelected intelligence community holding industry accountable, when they are in collusion with them (MICs), is almost zero.
I have argued here for a system of credentialing and representation which would start to fix the problem. In the next chapter, we address a matter which may seem tangential, but is actually quite central to the issues we have encountered here. The matter of educating the people and how. This is the first start toward the new system we have glimpsed above.