30 June 2011

Four Things Society Needs to do Differently

People often ask me, "Jason, how can we make the world a better place?" I often have a good answer, and am often interrupted by some variation of "Ugh. The question was rhetorical. I'm not listening."

Today's blog will put a few of these tidbits down in writing, so that when someone actually wants to know, the answers will be ready.

Get rid of the word "indescribable"

Quoting a dictionary,
indescribable adj 1 : that cannot be described

Note the part of a speech. It's an adjective. What is an adjective? It's a word that describes a noun. Therefore, "indescribable" describes something that (allegedly) cannot be described. It is a self-contained contradiction and therefore has no meaning. Q.E.D.

Stop electing politicians by district

I wasn't the first to come up with this idea (Robert Heinlein and L. Niel Smith have both mentioned it), but it occurred to me quite independently.

Having a government run by district-elected politicians is like having no literature available except movies that cost $50 million or more to produce. None of the small-budget films would be around. Books would be entirely excluded. You couldn't be on the market unless you had mass appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Fortunately, we don't have that system for literature. A book doesn't have to sell 100,000 copies in the ninth district of Washington to be a viable market commodity. A book can appeal to scattered elite throughout the country; and if it's really good, it will stick around, eventually get noticed, and maybe even influence some of the people who ignored it the first time around and spent their money renting Transformers 5: We've Stopped Pretending This is Live Action and Just Made a Cartoon.

But district-based elections ignore minorities. Worse, perhaps, they can barely address a complicated issue where there's a significant split of three or more (as opposed to the theoretically perfect two) viewpoints. In a geographically homogenous country, every politician runs on the same "centrist" or "majoratorian" platform, with only slight variances here and there (which have much more to do with regional business concerns and location-specific federal grants than any difference in the populace's ability to understand national issues). Then when the Senate votes 97-3 in favor of a bill, there is a false perception that they are representing a near-unanimous national opinion-- when, in actuality, it's probably closer to 55%. When they vote 55-45 in favor of a bill, they're likely representing something like 35% of the population, with another 30% opposed and the remainder uncaring or unknowing.

Require that Scrabble words be used in a sentence

Clever as I am, you might think I'm a dab hand at Scrabble. I'm not, really, because the game doesn't reward adroit language skill. Scrabble only requires that you know something is a word, not that you actually understand the word.

With advances in computer algorithms, it would not be difficult to create an impartial judge. So each time a player places a word, he/she also forms a sentence, and the computer judge determines whether or not that sentence conveys the meaning of the word; bonus points for more original usage and better demonstration of meaning.

Partly, I like this idea because it will improve our language skills as a society. But mostly, I think it will improve my Scrabble game.

Stop thinking bears are cute

Why bears? Is it because they can stand up on their hind legs and look vaguely anthropomorphic? Is it because we've seen too many Coke commercials of CG bears sharing a refreshing cola? And why doesn't that Coke freeze?

Male bears reproduce via hit-and-run tactics, leaving the lady-bear knocked up and without support. Is that cute? Let's transfer some of that affection to less-obviously-cute animals with good family values, like hyenas and vultures.

Polar bears have become a poster child for global warming concern. And if they help raise awareness of environmental problems, then rah rah, I'm all for it. But the bears themselves are worthless. They eat seals. Whup. Sharks and cetaceans can pick up the slack, I'm sure. As for their more southerly cousins in temperate forests, do they even do as much as the polar bear? Is there a danger of exploding, out-of-control berry population? And if it weren't bad enough that bears are useless, no single animal can do as much damage to a hive of honeybees as a bear. And they do it.

And if you don't like bees, then we have nothing to talk about.



Michael Offutt said...

Astute observations all of them. I didn't know the bad parenting that runs amok with bears.

Cold As Heaven said...

I guess the idea behind election by district is that such as system is supposed to give us politicians with insight in local conditions, which should thereby make better decisions for their respective districts. If it works that way or not is a different matter. Centralized rule has other weaknesses. It has been tried with limited success in e.g. the Soviet Union and China, admittedly by political processes that shortcut most of what we call an election. I guess there is no such thing as a perfect political system. We probably have to strive for the system with the lowest number of flaws >:)

I agree regarding the bears. Polar bears are not nice at all. The males try to kill the cubs from last year to make the mother ready for a new round. They are raptors built to survive in the toughest climate on earth, not to be nice and cute.

Whales, on the other hand, are very nice, and very good meat. I know a restaurant up north that serves delicious whale carpaccio >:)

Good post!

Cold As Heaven

Jan Morrison said...

Excellent suggestions Jason. Indescribably hilarious. I love bees, I'm terrified of bears but not bees though I've been stung quite a few times and never had a bear attack me but there ya go...
I am so scared of bears that I darenst go camping without protection (scotch for sleeping).

Hart Johnson said...

I by far prefer a system of government that is proportional because I think you're right. Philosophy is just more complex than that, and you get closer at what most people really want if you let it go down that way.

Love your other points too, sort of... I tend to like all animals, infidelity issues or not... even lions, who'd eat their babies... (I sort of get that some days) And the bane of my existence is crossword words... talk about words no one ever uses...