Monday, May 28, 2007

One Man, One Vote, One Time

There was a joke that once went the round of programmers which posed this challenge. "Write a procedure to determine whether power has been cut off to the CPU." Like many jokes, especially Polish ones, it relies upon the existence of an implicit contradiction. Look for the implicit contradiction pointed out in this observation from Samizdata, which is unfortunately in deadly earnest:

Venezuela is a case study of how democracy is no sure defence against tyranny and how it can actually be the means by which it comes about. I realise we already have the example of Germany in the 1930's, but unlike the NSDAP, the democratic majority for Chavez was far less ambiguous than the ones that incrementally brought Hitler to power.

The issue is whether men are institutionally free to give up their freedom; whether a majority of the electorate can, in this instance, elect a tyrant who will set about dismantling democracy. Is One Man, One Vote, One Time an allowable proposition within the syntax of democracy?

I suppose it is, although in countries like the US the dismantling of democracy would formally have to take the form of a Constitutional change which demands far more than a bare majority to achieve. The famous logician Kurt Godel was apparently convinced in the existence of a legal loophole through which a tyranny could emerge in US democracy. At Godel's citizenship examination, Albert Einstein and Oskar Morgenstern (who must be the most illustrious pair of sponsors ever to accompany an immigrant to a such a proceeding) were barely able to keep him from blurting it out to the judge.

At the interview itself, the judge was suitably impressed by the sterling character and public personas of Gödel's witnesses and even broke with tradition by inviting them to sit in during the exam. The judge began by saying to Gödel, "Up to now you have held German citizenship." Gödel corrected this slight affront, noting that he was Austrian. Unfazed, the judge continued, "Anyhow, it was under an evil dictatorship ... but fortunately, that's not possible in America." With the magic word dictatorship out of the bag, Gödel was not to be denied, crying out, "On the contrary, I know how that can happen. And I can prove it!" By all accounts, it took the efforts of not only Einstein and Morgenstern but also of the judge to calm Gödel down and prevent him from launching into a detailed and lengthy discourse about his "discovery."

In Godel's view at least, it was possible to construct a well-formed statement of political suicide within the framework of the Constitution. I think Einstein dismissed the possibility as wildly improbable. One tack is to rely on the extreme unlikelihood of a suicidal but allowable statement within a functioning democracy. An alternative approach which may be found in Turkey is to prohibit the legality of certain propositions themselves even within a democracy. In other words, limits itself were placed upon freedom by a group within society which asserted that certain propositions could not be allowably formulated.

In some cases, elements of the bureaucracy have opposed policies of the elected government on the grounds that they threatened the secular state. For this reason, some political parties were banned. In other cases, some doctors,lawyers, teachers etc who insisted on showing their religious orientation, usually by opposing to fundamentals of state, were fired. Furthermore, the Army officials whose family members bear Islamic cover were expeled without any pension, on the grounds that one who applies to be an army member is a priori accepting these rules. A recent European Human Rights Court decision found Turkish army right about such a case.

As a practical matter what may happen in the case of Hugo Chavez, as occurred with Adolph Hitler, is that the budding tyrant may cause the whole democratic system to crash by corrupting or abolishing any means for unelecting them from power. This will force the political process outside of the democratic space into the shadowy realm of conspiracy and underground opposition. In other words a putsch will be met by a revolution. The operating system, having encountered a fatal error, must be reset. Whether things will go so far in Venezuela is far from clear. But it might, and if it does then we will know what to expect.


Blogger Ticker said...

The Gateway Pundit has photos of student protests against the closure of opposition broadcast stations and their ongoing vandalization with this comment: "But, it may be too late for the youth- a lifetime of Marxism awaits them." I'm not blaming the students, but it's a reminder that you should be careful of what you want as you may get it.

5/28/2007 06:07:00 PM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

Alas Poor Venezuela!

The Real Cuba has more on the front page.

Venezuelan bishop compares Chávez to Castro, Hitler and Mussolini

Monsignor Baltazar Porras, Archbishop of Mérida, Venezuela, accused Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez of being a totalitarian ruler like Fidel Castro, Hitler and Mussolini. In an interview with Brazilian newspaper OEstado de Sao Paulo, Porras said that Chávez closed Radio Caracas Television strictly for "political reasons."

"This government is closing the space day by day for those who are not on Chavez's side," Bishop Porras told the newspaper. "This Bolivarian and revolutionary system is a mixture of Marxist and populist elements, and in many things is very similar to the regime of Fidel Castro in Cuba and of the things that Mussolini and Hitler did in Europe," he said.

Globovisión is next
The day after Hugo Chávez "won" reelection last December, I posted a message on this website titled: "Venezuela, what's next." I said then that the first thing that Chávez was going to do was to end freedom of the press in Venezuela, because dictators like Chávez and his Cuban master are totalitarian rulers who will not allow any opinions to be expressed, except their own.

Last night, Chávez closed RCTV, Venezuela's largest and most respected TV network.
The only other station that has dared to oppose Chávez is Globovisión, and just 12 hours after RCTV was closed, Chávez asked the attorney general to investigate Globovision for "lies" and inciting violence against him and his regime.

Now that RCTV is closed, Chávez will declare war on Globovisión. There will be hefty fines; attacks against its reporters; vandalism against its equipment and facilities, until he finally orders his Gestapo to close the station.

Chávez is simply following a script that was written almost 50 years ago by his Cuban master. For those of us who were around then, this is just a rerun of an old horror movie.

Poor Venezuela!

Poor Venezuela indeed.

5/28/2007 07:45:00 PM  
Blogger NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

How do you keep people from voting away democracy? The only way is to make democracy itself a virtue.

One of my hobby horses is the idea that the modern Left's chief role is undermining liberal democracy.

If you undermine democracy, you can't be too surprised when the voters fail to protect it.

Chavez is Peron. It's obvious. He's just smart enough to make fascism sound like socialism.

5/28/2007 07:54:00 PM  
Blogger Ticker said...

Democracy has a different meaning to committed socialists, as any honest member of the hard left will tell you. Democracy is to be guided by the Vanguard of History. In any substantive clash between majority rule and enlightened rule, the Wise Ones prevail. This principle is called the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

Therefore popular sufferage is all very well for so long as it tends in the correct direction. Then it is valid. Should it tend incorrectly it is invalid. And no committed Marxist should sink into the error of thinking that politics is like a beauty contest. Democracy, where it is permitted, is but a ratchet allowing people to choose a path they would otherwise be compelled to take anyway. This is a direct consequence of the directionality of history. Only "forward" or "progressive" steps are licit.

This I believe is the classic and honest definition of what the hard Left understands as Democracy. And in that context the events in Venezuela are perfectly democratic.

5/28/2007 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

Another extremist (not just Left extremist) problem is how to explain why 'the people' regularly fail to vote for you. A lot of ink gets spilt on this, since the representatives of the People can't admit that they don't.

Common answers are
1. The People are too stupid to know what's good for them.

2. Elections are a fraud.

3. Some sort of Matrix- like 'constructed reality' where the People are deluded into thinking that the existing order is something its not.

It's all a way of saying that democracy isn't democracy unless it produces the correct result.

5/28/2007 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger Utopia Parkway said...

Chavez moves forward one step at a time. He's boiling the frog slowly. It's not a revolution like with Castro.

While there may be an oposition it doesn't seem able to gain traction to throw him out because of his step by step approach.

Damage to the press is a very bad sign.

5/28/2007 08:45:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

Yes, Hugo Chavez shows how democracy and tyranny can be one and the same. He is also repeating history. There was once a man who ran the biggest city in Illinois as an elected dictator. A printing press running defamatory articles against him, so he ordered it destroyed. No, I’m not talking about Mr. Richard Daley of Chicago, but Mr. Joseph Smith of Nauvoo.

Of course, since Mr. Smith was martyred, his intolerance for dissent can be conveniently ignored. Although destroying printing presses was quite common in Illinois and Missouri at the time, Mr. Smith’s candidacy for the Presidency of the United States invited press attention at a time when any perceived intolerance for dissent would be disastrous for his sect. And the negative publicity was so disastrous for his sect that Mr. Smith wound up dead. (As late as the 1970’s, a newspaper in Altoona, Kansas was firebombed and permanently put out of business; violent intolerance against the press isn’t just long ago or far away…)

When a religious leader silences the press in a city under his control (whether it was the murder of the poetess Asma in Medina, Calvinist Geneva’s judicial murder of Michael Servetus, the Roman Inquisition of Pope Paul IV, or the destruction of the Expositor in Nauvoo), there is a limit to the sympathies of outsiders for such a religious leader, for it is clear he exhibits no patience for sincere dialogue but only for the sterile press releases of religious authority. So it is for Hugo Chavez. He seeks the mantle as heir to Fidel Castro and wants no voice other than his own to be heard.

Will Mr. Chavez go the way of Joseph Smith or Julius Caesar? Unlikely, but possible. Like Julius Caesar, Mr. Chavez pushes his enemies to the limits of their patience, forcing them to either concede perpetual dictatorship to him or a glorious assassination to write him into history.

Let’s hope Mr. Chavez meets an inglorious end that cannot pretend to be martyrdom.

5/28/2007 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger Sparks fly said...

So, it looks like Pat Robertson was right about Mr. Chavez. His remedy could probably benefit from a little Biblical analysis but at least his heart is in the right place.

Pat is a man of action with some notable successes.

He brought a lot of attention to the issue.

His concerns have been proven by time to be in the correct proportions to the danger.

He did not keep silent in the face of the threat.

He waded into military waters.

He's in the public eye. Didn't he run for president some time ago? Or did he drop out before the voting started?

Clarity is important these days.

Happy Memorial Day!

5/28/2007 10:04:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

...budding tyrant may cause the whole democratic system to crash by corrupting or abolishing any means for unelecting them from power.

Two words: Vladimir Putin.

And *he* has got nukes.

5/28/2007 10:44:00 PM  
Blogger ADE said...


Thank God you are a mathematician. Clarity of definition and deduction.

That's the best definition of the left that I have seen.

The only way to contain the tyranny of the majority is the concept of inalienable rights.

So no majority can take away my right to free speech.

Some things are beyond the vote. We just have to agree on the things, and then we'll sign up.

Or we'll fight to the death.


5/29/2007 03:19:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 05/29/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

5/29/2007 07:55:00 AM  
Blogger hyperborealis said...

The democracy that preceded Chavez certainly set the stage for his dictatorship. Formerly there were two main political parties, Copei and Accion Democratico, which traced their history back to the opposition to the last dictator Perez Jimenez. Both parties became corrupt, and when elected to the presidency would inevitably loot the treasury of the oil money. Disgusted, the electorate would vote out the one and put in the other, which would then do exactly the same thing. Mostly the parties represented the interests of the 7 families that historically owned everything in Venezuela. Meanwhile the bulk of the population was and is dirt poor, and got very little out of the game. A rabble-rousing socialist caudillo like Chavez is a logical outcome, and it is not surprising he was elected democratically. The so-called pueblo venezolano have voted themselves the treasury, or think they have, and will probably continue to do so.

None of this is to say anything on behalf of Chavez, who is a thug and a fool. But the issue for Venezuela is probably not democracy but corruption, and oil, all that free money coming out of the ground. What a curse...You will remember Conrad set Nostromo in Venezuela...

Richard, your analysis of Venezuela is curiously formalized. I had hoped your experience of the Philipines would give you more to say about Venezuela than less.

David Joslin

5/29/2007 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Democracy is not the opposite of tyranny or totalitarianism. They answer two different questions: who has power, and how much power.

These days most tyrants seize power in the name of the people, and often use democracy to attain that power. Once the people are no longer useful democracy disintegrates rapidly into autocracy. Chavez is currently crossing that line.

America could (in theory) go down that sorry road as well, should parasites one day gain a voting majority over the producers. There are ample politicians more than willing to "rub raw the sores of discontent" to enhance their own power [Alinsky].

5/29/2007 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Cobb said...

Peter Suber, a logician published a book entitled 'The Paradox of Self-Amendment'. It roughly proves that any set of rules which contain the rules by which the rules can be changed, make the entire system of rules infinitely mutable.

For the logical and computer geek in you, there is a game called 'Nomic' which allows you to experiment in just this fashion.

A short hand example might be that in a deliberating body, the rules for changing the most serious provisions requires a 3/4 majority. However a 3/4 majority might be assembled to change that rule to only require a simple majority. A simple majority might then be able to change the class of rules that can be decided by a lower level of consent, and so forth.

Constitutions that can be amended are a necessary risk. It's like saying that two of a kind can beat a straight flush on the second Wednesday in any leap year. You just have to be the person who holds those cards at the right time.

5/29/2007 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

I recall somebody observing that pure democracies are inherently self-limiting. They last only until the electorate realize they can vote themselves free money and then they collapse. Looking at the growth of entitlement programs even under the Republicans, I'm inclined to declare "The End Is Near!"

5/29/2007 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger Mannning said...

Your joke about writing a program to determine when power is cut to the CPU is actually no joke at all. When faced with the possibility of a power loss to the CPU at the Houston control center for manned spaceflight, IBM lined up six mainframes in a row. The program existed in each computer to determine who was up and running and who was down, and which alternate computer to switch the load to.

So the programmers wrote programs to determine power loss to a CPU, among other possible outages. No joke.

5/29/2007 06:56:00 PM  
Blogger VintageComputerMan said...

A simple trip circuit and a Non-Maskable interrupt (NMI) routine will detect the loss of power and protect the ram from waning power. It's old school technology, but effective

5/31/2007 01:16:00 PM  

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