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Freedom, Democracy and the Deep State

I've got a white t-shirt that came to me as a freebee. It reads, "Freedom Cannot Be Simulated."

Sure it can.

Simulated freedoms abound. Every time we agree to choose between two pre-selected options that are only marginally different from one another, we are participating in a simulation of freedom

"Coke or Pepsi?"

"Paper or plastic?"

"iOS or Android?"

"Democrat or Republican?"

I know some of you baulked at that last example. You'll argue till you're blue in the face that your side is nothing like the morons in the other tribe. Yeah, yeah.

So, tell me. I'm against the permanent war economy. I'm against the war on terror and the war on drugs. I'm against private prisons and for-profit health care. I'm against subsidising the fossil fuel industry. I'm for strong regulation of the financial services industry and for locking up billionaires when they commit crimes. Which party represents my interests? When it comes time to exercise my freedom to choose which party will make and enforce laws that will reflect my values, tell me there's the salient difference between an elephant and a jackass?

I know, you've heard this all before, so here's the pivot:

Simulations of freedom are better than actual freedom, at least some of the time.

Say what?

Take representative democracy for example. Actual democracies, where everybody gets a say in every subject, are impractical. Most people don't have the technical expertise needed to weigh in on subjects such as air traffic control, cyber-security, or the management of energy resources like methane or petroleum. Highly technical domains require skilled and specialised management. When it comes to determining whether a nuclear power plant should use a boiling water design or a pressurised heavy water design, critical theory majors don't get a say in the matter.

There are many definitions of freedom, but in general, we think of freedom as a good thing. But it's not the only good thing, and sometimes increases in freedom come at the expense of other things we value, like security, stability, and prosperity.

Personally, I despise the city-state of Singapore because they are so arrogant about their casual use of the death penalty to deter drug trafficking. I personally value the freedom of individuals to decide for themselves whether and how they want to change their consciousness more than I value the right of businesses to ensure that their employees maintain an alert, problem-solving mental state throughout their waking hours. But the people in Singapore don't see it that way. They value prosperity and conformity over individual autonomy.

If you are in your 20s and idealistic, you might side with Benjamin Franklin, who said that people who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither and will lose both. But as you get older, you might find that you can't eat freedom nor use it to pay the rent and that you might be willing to accept a few limitations on what you can do, where you can go, and what you can say in certain contexts for a boost in your personal prosperity.
We don't like being told we can't do something or that we have to abide by any sort of limit, but certain limitations can be empowering. If, as a matter of principle, we reject any and all limitations on our movements and actions, it becomes very difficult to do things at a large societal scale. Does the requirement that I stop at red lights when driving a car limit where I can go and when? Of course, it does, but it also greatly enhances my chances of reaching my destination in one piece.

Have you heard of something called "the Deep State?" You could think of it as the un-elected parts of the government. It includes the military, the intelligence agencies, research labs, universities, think tanks, executives in key industries like the oil industry, as well as decision makers in the corporate media. You don't get to vote on who occupies these positions, and yet they play a significant role in deciding and implementing policy regardless of who holds elected office.

Doesn't that sound ominous? It sounds undemocratic to me, but the Deep State provides stability and continuity of purpose even when an inexperienced, incontinent, know-nothing manages to claw his or her way to the pinnacle of ELECTED power.
SF author David Brin says we can thank the "professional bureaucracy" for the fact that the USA got through the Bush/Cheney years with our democracy and civil institutions intact. If that's the case, those professionals are in for a real challenge over the next four years. Let's hope they're up to the task.

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