Sunday, December 9, 2007

Teddy Bear Strike Force Z

[Edit 071209@1542: Readability edit.]
[Edit 071210@1014: Added name link.]

From the New York Times Magazine today comes this little tidbit:

When the New Zealand police force said they were open to suggestions about how to rewrite national policing laws, they meant it. In September, they posted the 1958 Police Act online and invited Kiwis and non-Kiwis alike to visit the site and type in their own revisions to the law...
Whoa. The (policeman) administrator of the wiki project said his favorite suggestion was "that the name of the police force be changed to 'The New Zealand Yum-Yum Teddy Bear Strike Force Z.'"

With review protocols in place, this strikes me as both fantastic and frightening. On the one hand, this is pretty open. I was going to write "democratic," but I'm not quite sure that it reaches that level. If edits were accepted on the basis of a line-item vote, yeah, but by accepting suggestions and then vetting them internally, well, I'll say that it is open. Unless (the NYTM item doesn't address this) the internal vetting process is also transparent, this idea remains fantastic, but only translucent. But much less opaque than lawmakers, law enforcement, and special interests getting together and "black boxing" legislation. The draft document that the police force release at some point will be just that -- a draft -- and will be subject to "black boxing" I'm sure, before being adopted.

I find the whole idea a little frightening, as well. Fortuitously, the whole open-editing scheme was only advisory -- open, in other words, not democratic. I'm not quite ready to leave the lawmaking to the population in general, although I'm also not sure that they would muck it up any worse than black boxing does. The base of my objection is that it is bad logic to assume something is "good," i.e., morally correct, because it is the most popular. (The technical term, if I recall correctly, is the "Fallacy of appealing to the majority or a large proportion", although here it is deemed the "Fallacy of the appeal to popularity.") For a long while, a majority of people (well, Americans anyway) thought, apparently, that slavery was a good thing. Another (counter)example: imagine abortion. Depending on at what time period one considers, at some points the majority of Americans have thought that abortion, in one form or another, should be legal; while at other points, the majority of Americans have thought that abortion should not be a legal medical procedure. Regardless of what you think of the normative legal status of abortion, I think we can all agree that that normative legal status has not changed over the years simply because the majority opinion of that status has.

All of this gets to a more practical issue: is democracy really the best form of government? Plato, for example, theorized of the "philosopher king," hardly a democratic regime. But, in the interests of practicality, I've also been told that Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried." How would you locate that philosopher king? It seems to me that another philosopher of old (perhaps even Pluto) once said something along the lines of The one who would govern best desires least to govern. Or something like that.

As always, I'm curious to hear what everyone has to say. And in related news, I am disappointed to report that the suggestion on remaining the national police to Yum Yum Teddy Bear Strike Force Z was rejected. A shame.

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