Friday, April 11, 2003

here at the U of C, when the firstyears come in, they're treated to an Aims of Education address by a member of faculty, expressing his/her view on what the experience of education should be. at some point, i'm going to produce my own version of the Aims of Education -mostly because this is my forum to speak and partly because at some point in the past year i've more or less clarified to my own satisfaction what they should be- but for now, i'm gonna focus on government. i don't mean a particular government of a particular country, but governments in general - though of course ultimately i have my own government in mind: i live in a particular time in a particular place, and i would like that particular time and place to be governed in this fashion.

it's in point form, because i'm no speech maker. let's take this as a working paper, a work in progress.

::Aims of Government::

(1) National Security: the protection of national sovereignty. i am to a certain degree a realist. survival is the primary motivating factor of any human interaction. we have an idea or a 'thing' called the 'Government' because we need some way to ensure mutual survival, which we now called 'national survival' because we have the concept of a nation. it all goes back to Hobbes' Leviathan where we cede some rights and liberties to a Sovereign in hopes that it will protect us from one another, and allow us the liberty of going on our merry way and doing what we want without needing to build trust with every individual we meet. this liberty comes with some caveats, like the Golden Rule. same idea. we give up some of our independence to a 'Government' in hopes that in return for our little investment we are allowed to continue to exist unmolested, and prosper together rather than live in abjectly poor anarachy apart. and if i have to surrender my independence to a particular body of people, i would very much like to be able to choose which body this would be, rather than have an invasive force decide for me, a la the Americans in Iraq, thank you very much.

(2) closely related to that idea of National Security is social stability. i think that a government should in some way ensure social cohesiveness and harmony - otherwise why do we call ourselves a society? it isn't the government's job to FORCE cohesiveness on us -they should not and CAN NOT say 'you MUST get along with each other or we will imprison you all'- but by their representative nature their actions indicate to us how we should behave. so if there's discrimination for whatever reason within the government, it's by definition setting the population in general a bad example with regard to discrimination. i would like a government that's constantly aware of its representative function, as well as its function as a Sovereign that knows more about the whole than the parts of the whole know.

to that end i think that governments should be interested in generating equality - not of outcome, because that flies in the face of years of economic training - but of opportunity. how that should be done, or what the best way that should be done, i don't know, or i can't definitively say. all i am willing to firmly state now is that it should be a goal, an ideal we aim for without initial compromise, because that's the only way i think big things can be accomplished. sometimes ideals serve a practical purpose of making us continually work for what seems to be impossible, in hopes that one day it might just become possible. there are many factors to consider when you talk about 'equality of opportunity' and there are surely many factors that governments as institutions cannot control for. but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't control the factors that they CAN affect, just because they can't affect the whole. governments need to treat everyone identified as their citizens equally, regardless of distinguishing factors such as religion or ethnicity.

(3) should there be some kind of moral/ethical goal in here? i tend to think that governments should as far as possible remain amoral. not IMMORAL, but amoral - the constituents of the government should not impose their moral code on the population just because they can. however, in a democratic state you have to call into consideration the representative nature of governments: presumably people elect governments based not only on their policy-making abilities but also on inherently personal qualities such as trustworthiness, or in some cases religion. who knows. perhaps the electoral process is enough to ensure that the moral code that is espoused by the government is representative of the social morality of the nation. perhaps.

(4) should the Government also have a more-than-representative role in the life of a nation? that is to say -- should governments be constructed along the lines of the Philosopher-King in Plato's Republic? i think that to a certain extent, the government needs to play a philosopher's role by encouraging or even just allowing people to formulate their own belief systems - which to me is part of what being an individual means. it doesn't matter that you have the same beliefs as the next guy, as long as they're YOUR beliefs, and you don't believe them because someone else -the next guy, or the government- told you to believe in them. because more often than not the government is a purveyor of education, and precisely because the government has that representative function, its stance on individual liberties and freedoms will limit or not limit the development of an independently cohesive people. that isn't to say that the government should tell you to think or worse what or how to think, but the government -my ideal government- would allow people to think if that is what they choose to do. and listen if they choose to speak - to believe in their representative capacity more than their Philosopher-King capacity, but without letting go of the latter. it's only to a certain extent that governments should be 'more than representative'.

should the government be allowed to say or do things because it thinks it's doing what's best for the people, even in the face of opposing public opinion? [let's shoot for the moon and say there's some way to measure the true value of public opinion without statistical error] the Big Brother or paternal kind of government which i grew up with may or may not be the best thing. sometimes, it is of value, esp when national security comes into conflict with individual liberties [which is a caveat under Hobbes's argument - if you want to destroy the society you've given up your rights to, society will stop you]. but when immediate survival isn't at stake, a policy of government-knows-best may be trading long-term survival through the individual efforts of the population for short-term almost non-benefits in terms of perceived security [but in the absence of a real threat]. at some point the citizenry needs to be allowed to 'grow up' and leave the nest.

in general i think of a 'Government' as a unit embodying the will of a people - very much in line with Locke and Rousseau, but with touches of Hobbes [see, i don't forget EVERYTHING i've ever read in Soc]- and working toward an ideal way of life that is enshrined in the Constitution or equivalent statement of intent for the nation. in America it's the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. in Singapore - well, we have a shortform in the shape of our Pledge, which every school child recites every day of his schooling career:

We, the Citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality, so as to achieve happiness, prosperity, and progress for our nation.


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