My Philosophy of Good Government

So this is my first post to History and Futility.  Howdy!  I figure that I’ll keep my paper-thin anonymity by posting under the name you see.  Like the Oberamtmann, I am a historian.

This post, however, is not about history.  It’s my philosophy of what good government in an industrialized democracy like the U.S. looks like.  It’s a simple-ish post to kick things off.

If I own a car, I generally don’t have much of an idea of what’s under the hood.  Oh, I have a basic idea of how the fuel-injected internal combustion engine works, but I’m not a car enthusiast, and so I don’t actually know more than the basics of what makes my car run.  If I know the functions of an alternator, a solenoid, the O2 sensor, etc., it probably means that my car has severe problems.  If I don’t know what these functions are, it means I’m being taken care of.

Now then, when it comes to things outside of my specialization, I’m a reasonably well-informed American college graduate.  I read the paper, get the main stories, and often watch the news.  I see some of what goes on in government, but a whole lot of what happens is hidden from my sight, taken care of by the experts who’ve spent their entire lives on this sort of thing.  Sometimes, though, something goes wrong, and a process I shouldn’t be aware of comes directly into view.  When this is the case, it means that someone hasn’t been doing their job.

So with that said, here are some things that I, reasonably well-informed citizen, shouldn’t actually know, but do:

  • What LIBOR is
  • Baghdad’s neighborhoods and their ethno-sectarian makeup
  • I sure as **** shouldn’t know the difference between Adhamiya and Khadhimiya and where they sit in relation to the Tigris river and each other
  • Where North and South Waziristan are (unless I’m a Mundy or Kipling fan)
  • The provinces of Afghanistan, and the difference between the Haqqanis and Gulbudin Hekmatyar

Regrettably, I do know these things, but I know them because there were people out there who were asleep at the switch to the point that they wound up appearing in the media, much in the same way that I find out what a solenoid does when it craps out on me.

This may seem a bit paternalistic on my part, a sort of, “Don’t worry, the grown-ups have it under control,” but then, given the state of human governments, technology, etc., I as a voting citizen can’t be expected to know everything.  To some extent as a voter, I’m entrusting the decision making to folks who’ve otherwise shown themselves reliable.  I want peace, order, and good government.

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One Response to My Philosophy of Good Government

  1. You definitely make a good point, and one I have not really thought of myself. Usually, things enter the news when things go wrong, as stated, so that really is a good benchmark of what we should and should not know.

    You are not being paternalistic, though. You would be paternalistic if you were saying this about, say, the importance of an amendment or the workings of the electoral college (which most Americans did not really understand until 2000, anyway). Here, of course, you are basically saying no news is good news.

    I wonder, though: how much of this do people remember, good government or bad? For example, how many people remember the maps of what parts of Bosnia were Serb or Bosnian controlled that were printed almost daily in the New York Times? How about the ethnic makeup, in percentages, of Bosnia and Kosovo? Perhaps if you not only know what an alternator does, but can also explain it to someone else, *then* there’s a problem.

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