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The right to vote

The right to vote

vote Why am I required to pass a written test, a field test and a medical examination in order to be allowed to drive, but in order to vote the only requirement I should satisfy is being able to breathe?

Seriously. I could be drunk or high while getting in that booth and helping decide who’s going to run the country. Nobody cares. I could be mentally unstable, illiterate or with an IQ of a shoe. I could be an evil overlord. I bet if Lord Vader would show up at the polling station, they’d hand him a card if the photo in his passport would match his breathing mask. Hell, he’d probably be in the run.

The very least you should be required to know before voting is where is your guy positioned in the political spectrum. Wait, let me make this easy. Where does he/she says they’re positioned. Plus maybe their main political ideas on three major topics, like the economy, the social services and the external affairs. People that vote for a party candidate just because it’s a family/tribe/neighbourhood tradition should be turned back from the door. People that vote for that selfsame candidate just because they like their hair should be kicked to the curb – and never allowed to vote again.

And while I’m at it: electronic vote. We wants it. And don’t give me that online security crap either; if investment funds trust a secured Internet connection with millions of dollars’ worth of transaction each and every day, you should be able to get me a secure way to send you 1024 bits of info every four years or so. It even ties up nicely with my earlier proposal; you can just make a nice online questionnaire as a prerequisite to voting.

Make voting easy and make it count. Maybe then politics will stop being such a dirty word.

I got nothing

I got nothing


Ownership and property are the cornerstones of the modern society. But where do they come from? Where are they going? Do they have a ticket, or are they just getting a free ride? And more importantly, are they real?

The sense of ownership is but a refinement of a much more basic and raw force within us: the territorial instinct. And we are not the only ones that possess one. Wolves have it. Birds have it. Even the bees have it, although it might be argued that for the later we should consider the entire bee-hive as an organism.

Territorial instinct, the spatial awareness of our boundaries, is so important that it is hard-coded in the genes. Wolves born and bred in captivity become nervous and agitated when they are introduced to the territory of a wolf pack, and the only way to calm them down is to bring them back to “neutral” territory. Simply put, they’re scared howlless, as well they should be, since the pack would rip them to shreds if they were stupid enough to linger on these foreign hunting grounds.

The reason territory is so important for a wolf – and for other animals as well – is because it is a cheap way to avoid confrontation. In the wolf world, confrontation is not sought, nor desired; victory in a fight to the death oft comes with its own price of grievous wounds on the part of the victor. The pack would have to care for him and nurse him back to health, if possible, and a valuable hunter would be temporarily or permanently lost. Wolves risk confrontation, but only as a last resort – for instance, if food becomes so scarce that the alternative is death by starvation. Otherwise posturing and grandstanding will suffice – and if that doesn’t work, running is always better than dying. At least for a wolf.

The tribes from the forgotten dawn of the age of mankind were quite similar in approach and social organization to a wolf pack. The most experienced and successful hunter assumed leadership, and the others would follow. The catch was shared within the tribe, to each according to their needs in times of plenty, hunters first in leaner times. It was a rather communist society in that regard, and possession, as much as it was, would be enforced by strength alone. Do not imagine that these men were constantly fighting amongst themselves – that would be as stupid for them as it was for the wolves. Instead, there would be trials and games, enough to assert one’s domination without endangering the tribe.

I do not know how ownership as we know it came to be. Perhaps the practicality of giving the best weapons to the best hunter was turned on its head, so that the one with the best weapons was considered the best hunter. Those weapons thus became a symbol of power, and even if their bearer would only be mediocre, he would still enjoy the benefits associated with them. Ownership is power manifest, and the power was for the first time in history derived from a mere symbol. The world’s first currency was born.

In today’s world, ownership is still power. I own a house, therefore I am entitled to do with it whatever I want. But instead of manifesting the power to hold this possession, I – and you, and everyone – delegated it to a symbolic entity called state. We empowered the state to assert our claims of ownership, and we called this empowerment “law”. Thus, when I say that I, by law, I am the owner of the house, what I mean is that the state allows me to stay in it and protects me from those who would seek to take it from me. I am recognized as owner by the state via a piece of paper, a so-called title of property.

Could the state choose to do take this property from me? Indeed it could, and historically this has happened countless times. If the majority agrees to this, the state is allowed to pass laws to confiscate my property without compensation if need be. The state must do everything in accordance to its laws, as an expression of the will of the people. Even if the laws are immoral or unjust. The majority hath spoken.

And if the state collapses? Then, as portrayed in countless post-apocalyptic books and movies, I will own only what I keep others from having. I’m sure that, given three or four determined individuals with baseball bats, I could be persuaded to give up what I have. And if they’re starved to boot, I’d better run pretty damn fast while enacting this donation. What would  my possessions be then? And what would be their worth?

Indeed, all I own is some paper. With that and a match I can light a fire before the wolves get here.

Rules and regulations

Rules and regulations

law books

I do not know when the first rule was invented, but boy, do I wish I was there. The one who made it must have been one pissed off caveman. “MOKO EAT FIRST!!! RULE!!!” And the rest of the tribe acquiesced and waited patiently for Moko to die of indigestion.

It probably took a few (hundred) years until the power of the rule has really been discovered. One of the mothers, fed up with children running around after dark and getting eaten by cave bears, created the immortal rule “everyone in bed after sundown”. Parents all around the world continue to enforce it to this day, cheerfully disregarding the severe ecological impact this rule had over the years – especially on the cave bears, which are now sadly extinct. “Thou shalt not eat spotted red mushrooms” was another self-enforcing rule, which was respected religiously by all who seen (or heard about) one of Moko’s descendants eating them FIRST!!! MOKO RULE!!! and then getting kicked out of the gene pool for the privilege.

And slowly, through the ages, rules became lore. Precious, hard-earned knowledge was transmitted from generation to generation – which herbs are good for healing salves, which animals you should never ever taunt, why fruits left too long to ferment in a barrel are actually a good thing etc. etc. There must have been non-believers among the tribes even in those days, but their life expectancy was directly related to the speed of their conversion. Needless to say, they didn’t last very long.

After a while though a curious thing happened. The original makers of rules were able to explain the reasons behind pronunciations such as “don’t poke the sleeping bear”, but as rules became more complicated and obscure and, well, multiplied, the explanations fell behind. They were replaced by diatribes such as “we’ve always done it like this, you dimwit” or “because I said so”. While these explanations seemed to be quite sufficient to impress rules upon children – indeed, they are still in use today – the adults were not as easily impressed. Until one skinny, but rather smart guy, alluded that the gods might be displeased if the rules were not obeyed.

And thus the ritual was born.

We’re not going to follow the various rituals through the ages. Suffice to say that they were highly successful as a means of passing rules from one generation to the next. Of course, as the environment and living conditions changed, some of these rituals became obsolete, but change was righteously opposed, in the name of tradition. And the reformers, more often than not, were handed the short end of the stick. Or the business end of an axe, depending on the severity of their transgressions.  The lucky rituals got re-explained and turned into science. Others put on robes and called themselves religion. Still others crawled in the basement of the human psyche and turned into superstitions. And finally, some of them were written on ceramic tiles or scrolls or tomes or books, were numbered, bound and called laws.

Laws are cool. They first got written down by rulers, who claimed God and birthright as witness for their right to establish how the society lived its life. Then, when neither God nor birthright intervened, they created bodies of enforcers to make sure the laws were respected. Said enforcers were, more often than not, exempted from obeying some of the rules. For instance: when you killed someone, you became a murderer under the law. But when a policeman killed you, he became a hero. Also, the law is compulsory. You don’t get to choose a law for yourself when you’re a kid, just like you don’t get to choose religion. And little changes when you’re actually grown up.

Later still, the power was taken by the people. This new concept, called democracy, meant that everyone got to vote. They got to vote the laws that their rulers put on the table, and if they didn’t vote the right way, they got to vote again until the rulers were satisfied with the result. That’s how the Constitutions were born. That’s how, in recent history, we passed the Lisbon treaty. Under this new “people” leadership, we still got rules we cannot understand. We still got ridiculous laws. We still execute reformers – we’re just using lobbies and backroom deals instead of execution squads. And from our lofty tower, we look down our forebears and their primitive ways.

If Moko the Caveman was alive today, I’m sure he’d understand. And with a bit of effort and education, he’d make a damn fine lawyer.