Sunday, 27 April 2008

People versus Systems

After watching the outstanding rented movie "Children of Men" the other week, I viewed the 'mini-documentary' that came as an extra feature, entitled "the Possibility of Hope". Though a bit disjointed, it included commentary from a number of futurists, activists, and thinkers, including Naomi Klein, whose compassionate and insightful analysis is well worth sharing.
When people fall in love with what seems to be a perfect theory, a set of rules, and they love those rules more than they love people or places. In fact they begin to see the messy reality of life as interfering with the beauty, the imagined beauty, that exists only in their text, only in the sacred texts, whether they’re economic texts, or religious texts, or some dream of racial purity. I think we need to fear people who love systems more than people because the flip side of the love is the hatred for anything or anyone that interferes with the realization of that system, and this is the other thing about dangerous utopias, is that they can’t coexist with other ideas. They need the whole stage.
In her recent book, "The Shock Doctrine", Klein exposes the role of free market fundamentalism in what she has coined disaster capitalism. I find it compelling that Klein's quote above can serve equally well as an indictment of free market fundamentalism or strident Marxism.

Well formulated systems can be essential for guiding societies toward affluence, justice, fairness, and progress, but if we worship the system and forget its purpose, extraordinary pain and suffering can result.

I revere my nation's Constitution because it has by and large guided us toward becoming a more just society even than the one that our founders originally wrought. People are right to be wary of trifling modifications to that document, which may solve some perceived problem of the moment, but may not stand the test of time. Nonetheless, it is extraordinary that it has lasted so long without a rewrite, and only infrequent amendments. I think it may be worth exploring some cautiously approached methods for revisiting that document - if not in the near term, then in preparation for future strains on it. We should want to preserve that which has made it so durable, and perhaps some judiciously prepared amendments are all we will need, but the value of a Constitution lay in its ability to sustain the most honorable precepts on which it was founded, not in any inherent sacredness.

Last December, I watched with interest an interview with Sanford Levinson, author of "Our Undemocratic Constitution". While I'm not ready to jump on the bandwagon, the subject is certainly worthy of discussion.

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