On Brexit and crumbling structures

At high risk of adding to the prattle, two thoughts on Brexit:

The failure of political engineering, IMO, happened long before the vote or even the campaign, in that it was possible for Britain to secede by a simple majority instead of a supermajority (e.g. a vote of two thirds). Imagine if a U.S. state could secede from the union with a vote of 51%? All that is necessary is a slight, momentary imbalance in public favor— mere noise on a neutral signal— and permanent irreversible damage is done. The States’ founding fathers evidently recognized this danger when requiring a two thirds supermajority for constitutional amendments, and the result is a more failure resistant system. Perhaps this will be a Tacoma Narrows-esque lesson for the world of government: That we should not build large structures which can be overturned in a gentle breeze.

Second, when it comes to public discourse, it seems that there are no longer any “adults in the room”. I’d guess this is both because earnest, measured, and thorough journalism isn’t really a viable business model anymore, and because in an un-curated medium such as the internet(1)Says I, of my own soapbox; irony duly noted, sensible ideas can be easily out-shouted, and simple, “truthy” but wrong ideas can far outbreed the long-gestating ones that are more faithful to a complex reality.

I used to think the collapse of traditional media was a natural consequence of the disruptive power of the internet, that the Darwinistic forces of the free market would naturally find and settle on an updated business model, and that the increased democratization of information and ideas was unequivocally a good thing. Now I am not so sure.

Do not misread this to say that any ideas— even the very bad ones— should be silenced. I very much think it’s a good thing that one person can speak, for free, and be heard by millions. But serious thought should be given to how we, as a society, prioritize and disseminate our information. How do we keep the “snack food” information off to the side, and the “hearty meal” in the center? How do we make deep research and careful insight rewarding for content creators, the pool of which is as large as ever? How do we make it rewarding for people to consume it? And how do we do it all without adding friction to the wondrous speed and freedom of the internet? Decades down the line, the health of our civilization could depend on how successfully we’ve solved that problem, if we even make a concerted effort to solve it at all.

The solution to the former seems obvious in principle, though I don’t know enough about European politics and government to have any idea whether it is practically realistic, especially now. I have no clue what the solution to the latter is, and I don’t think it will come by itself without earnest, directed effort.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Says I, of my own soapbox; irony duly noted

One thought on “On Brexit and crumbling structures

  1. paul j defranco

    Well said. A case could be made that choices as far-reaching and fundamental as the consensus of how a society defines itself (e.g., the U.S. Constitution or membership in the E.U.) should not be made by a simple majority or even super-majority of those voting at the time, but a super-majority of those qualified to vote at the time. While this makes change ponderously difficult, is that such a bad thing? It assures that everyone who has a stake in the enterprise participates in the choice. Those advocating the change must connect with enough stakeholders to engage them to participate. This is why modern communication is so valuable: it makes it possible to reach so many so rapidly so easily.


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