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Rough Guidelines, Subject to Specifics
May 19, 2017
by William P. Meyers

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Good decision making in a complex world

I was born off-balance. I grew up on a diet of lies. Though at an early age I tried to purge myself and get on a healthy mental diet, I often did not realize how deeply corrupt my mind remained. My mind remained, in many cases, a reflection of falsifications handed to me by my parents, church, schools, TV, and society at large.

I won't bore you, or entertain you, in this particular essay with too many tales of my childhood. I want to explain my present method of thinking and decision making:

Follow the best rough guidelines you have. Specific circumstances may require acting outside those guidelines. And guidelines are subject to change when you realize you are wrong.

Fortunately most of my childhood was in the 1960s. Despite being raised to kill communists, I was influenced by the space race, by race riots and peaceful demonstrations, by hippies and The Monkees TV show, by my classmates and by books that spoke of a world beyond the narrow Marine Corps, segregated, conservative Roman Catholic cell I was caught in.

I was lucky enough to go to college, and that was liberating for me. But to quote Jesus Christ (as a well-known anti-Jesus person, I can quote him or the Bible or the Quran without implying general agreement):

Verily I say unto you. This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. [Matthew 24:34]

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and finding none, he says: I will return to the house whence I came out. He finds the old home swept and garnished. Then he finds seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in, and dwell there, and the last state of that man is worse than the first. [Luke 11:24-26]

The first Bible quote is only pertinent because it is not pertinent to the main subject of the essay. If you ever run into a person infected with Christianity and want to keep the argument to a minimum, just say "The Bible is self disproving. I shows that Jesus is not God." Then quote the verse. Because the generation did come to pass, and "all these things," like the return of Jesus in glory to rule the world, were not fulfilled.

The second quote is a parable about how hard it is to not resume bad habits. In my case, that was a combination of nonsensical thinking and rigid, ideological or religious thinking.

I became very disappointed in my life and the world starting around the age of 20. I read a lot of religious and mystical nonsense and tried practicing Zen Buddhism, taking drugs, and purposefully disordering my life by becoming a hobo. I survived and eventually made a conscious decision to become fact-oriented.

The problem with trying to be fact-oriented is that people will present you with all sorts of data pretending to be facts. Then there are purposefully misleading facts, which can lead to actions that go against the generally prevailing facts. It is not that I did not know this already. It is that it is generally hard to sort everything out.

Which brings me to Leninism, and it variants like Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism, and even the softer varieties like Marxism. [This was the 70s and 80s, when lots of Americans subscribed to these views and organizations.] As presented by their proponents, they appear to be fact-based. And if you check, some of the facts do line up with history as generally understood. The merchant class and early manufacturing capitalists did fight for control of national governments against monarchies and nobilities whose power came mainly from owning land. Later, as people shifted from agriculture work to manufacturing work, factory workers (the "proletariat") did become a major portion of the population, and did demand better conditions and political power.

Fortunately, in the American Left, even as it declined in the 1980s and afterwards, there was always a vigorous debate. The anarchists criticised the authoritarian tendencies, there were people saying you did not need to be a Leninist to be a socialist, there were single-issue people who wanted the support of all these groups, and there was the ever-present pull of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Later, the Green Party came into play with a program that appealed broadly to the left, if not to the average American voter.

Guidelines about big things like ethics and politics and governance and business work better than rigid rules. There is a place for rigid rules: certain lines that should not be crossed for any reason. No politician, bureaucrat, or police worker should ever take a bribe, for instance.

Every solution creates its own problems. Guidelines create an amount of looseness that enable us to deal with the complexities of reality. But for selfish reasons, or by lack of education or poor judgement, people transgress loose guidelines. They find specific reasons to do harm to others in order to benefit themselves. Their victims then demand that the guidelines be made more rigid.

I once served on a public school board. Trying to solve real problems, I found that local school districts had to follow the state-level Education Code, or ed code. Public schools have been around for so long that every possible form of human stupidity and evil has been tried, and as a result the ed code is long, complex, and very rigid. Which made it hard to solve real world problems, though we managed to in some cases. Of course, you could re-write the ed code at the state level, if you had the money and were willing to fight the special interests who benefitted from it.

The same is true of business regulations. Adding regulations has been going on for so long that they often really are hurtful to businesses and the economy, without protecting anyone or anything. The problem, though, is that when people cry out for deregulation, the less ethical business people try to get rid of good regulations. This is not something that can be fixed by broad gestures. You need honest and knowledgeable arbiters to decide which regulations to keep, change, or delete. Then you need a political system willing to follow the recommendations. I am pretty sure that will not happen in my lifetime. But we could try.

Last night I heard three more candidates for mayor of Seattle speak, and a bunch of people who want to be commisioners of the port authority. My rough guideline is that I want someone who is going to further the interests of ordinary people. Like most cities, we need better public transportation, better sidewalks, better sewers, better paying jobs, and a lot more homes (in this case, mostly apartments and condominiums) to be built to house everyone in a decent manner. All the candidates agree on the problems, though some might prioritize them differently. But anyone elected mayor has to start with the city as it is, and govern it in occordance with the laws of the state and nation.

So the specifics are important. As to the port, you would think the port (shipping and airport) was some sort of an environmental project, listening to the candidates. Minimizing environmental negatives is important. But the point of a port is to move goods and people in and out of the United States. Seattle benefits from being a port, but the rest of the nation depends on a few big ports for both imports and exports. The idea of using the port as a political lever appeals to environmentalists, but I think we should be careful about that approach. If we are able to force goods to move in an inefficient manner, around the port of Seattle, history shows us goods will move to where people want them. That will add to national or global environmental emissions while gaining very little locally except merit badges.

That is my take. I reserve the right to change my mind.


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