In 1984, I met Professor Hermann
Oberth, known as "the father of space flight," because of the
fundamental essays on rocket and space flight techniques that he
wrote about seventy years ago.
At the time he was 90 years old, and his latest book was just published. But this book did not deal with rocket development. In it Oberth makes a last minute appeal to all men, in order to point out the false social developments, which can shortly lead to the complete destruction of mankind. He gave me his permission to publish the book in English, and about three years later it came out under the title Primer For Those Would Would Govern .
This remarkable book is called a "primer" because it should teach those basic principles of political knowledge, of which each publicly active man and woman should be aware. "Votes must be weighed, not counted," proclaims Oberth.
Since your topic for today is about politics, our government and our political system, I'd like to introduce you to some ideas from this PRIMER.
Most of us will agree that a totalitarian form of government is wrong in the long run. But is its opposite -- the democracy -- the culmination of all wisdom?
A statesman once said, "Even democracy is not the best form of government, but I do not know a better one."
Democracy can, in fact, be regarded as the form of government of the future if and only if it is supported by a politically trained, intelligent people.
The general right to vote is sometimes called "Suffrage for Idiots", since every half-witted individual who has managed to retain his civil rights has a vote which is equal to that of John F. Kennedy or Albert Einstein. (I believe that this is one of the reasons why many voters today stay away from the voting booths, in addition to the uncounted broken pre-election promises by candidates, the fact that they are not accountable for breaking their promises, and the inability of voters to have any say over vital political decisions being made today; i.e., declaration of war, foreign aid, compulsory AIDS testing, speed limit on our thruways, etc.)
The fundamental prerequisite for obtaining the right to vote should be that the person concerned knows at least as much about politics as is contained in this voter's primer.
But this alone cannot be the decisive qualification for becoming a politician. For instance, even Stalin or Hitler would have been intelligent enough to have learned this book, but they would have still made the same mistakes anyway.
A really good democracy must be able to select from among the many who would be intelligent enough to rule, those people whose personalities are suited to such work. Also, a good democracy should be able to find a relatively painless way of dismissing a politician from his post if he is no longer capable of doing a proper job.
An obvious prerequisite for the "intelligence census" would be that anyone who wants to learn is given the opportunity to do so: i.e., that no one is denied a chance to study because his father was too poor or too rich, or belonged to the wrong political party at the wrong time.
I do not think that there is any danger that resentment will arise among those who are not allowed to vote as long as the non-voter is convinced that he holds himself away from politics of his own free will and that he can join in anytime he desires to do so. It must be simply left up to the individual to decide whether he wishes to participate in politics and to learn what is necessary in order to be politically active.
Supporters of authoritative systems often like to criticize democracy for being too complicated and requiring too much work and energy. The ancient Romans were undoubtedly staunch republicans. But in times of greatest danger, when something had to be done, they elected a dictator who simply organized everything by himself.
So one can ask, "Is democracy only a game which is completely disregarded as soon as the situation becomes serious?"
Actually, the Greek philosopher Aristotle (the teacher of Alexander the Great) has already provided an answer to this objection. What he had to say was this: "If it is too hot, one is uncomfortable. If it is too cold, one is also uncomfortable." The "happy medium" is the best; for every virtue there are two vices: an excess, and a deficiency.
We call that good which is conductive to making the world as a whole better, more just and more beautiful. From this follows that everything is good up to that point of where having more of it would cause suffering rather than happiness in the world; beyond this point, it is evil.
This happy medium principle applies also to coercion and freedom.
Ultimately, a state does not exist to be admired by outsiders for its conquests and monumental structures, while its residents are oppressed and live in poverty. Instead, it is supposed to provide its citizens with as much happiness and freedom as possible. In the last analysis, the state exists for the people, not the people for the state. Abuses of freedom must be combatted in some other way, but not through an abrogation of freedom.
The question of recognizing which restraints are unnecessary is best left in the hands of politically schooled people. For this reason the Romans never elected a dictator for more than half a year.
A state should follow a course which is familiar to and desired by its citizens. But for those people who are either too dumb, too lazy or too apathetic to concern themselves with politics, it would be certainly advisable to restrict themselves from playing an active role and thus prevent them from making the work more difficult for more thoughtful people.
Even people in a tightly run totalitarian state would do well to study politics in order to be prepared for the time when the rule comes to an end, and, as we have just seen in Russia, today it does not take as long as it used to in the days of Atilla the Hun.
Our culture and technology today are in the process of removing many difficulties in the political process.
In the first place, it will become easier and easier to bypass representatives and poll the people directly on the most important issues, thanks to computer technology.
Secondly, the LIE DETECTOR, to which hopefully politicians will have to submit in the future, will prevent much of the harm that is being done to humanity today. This will result in the improvement of the quality of the elected representatives, and gradually there will be more and more such elected officials who will be able to answer "YES" on the lie detector to the following questions:
Are you qualified?
Do you honestly intend to be a good
Do you believe that your fellow party
members have the same intention?
Will you be able to make objective
And these same people will be able to answer "NO" to the question:
Are you subject to any kind of
At this point we should take a look
at the following question:
What is the greatest danger to our freedom?
My answer is, CACOCRACY.
For those of you, who have never heard this word, I'll explain it.
"Kakos" in Greek means 'bad," and "kratein" "to rule. Thus, "cacocracy" means the rule, or at least the dominance, of the bad.
In life there are numerous options open to any respectable person wishing to advance. These same options are open to any scoundrel of equal intelligence and energy in a similar position. However, the scoundrel can increase his alternatives by adding to them courses of action which the respectable person would never consider.
As a result, his opportunities for advancement are more numerous and this results in an accumulation of people of questionable reputation among the upper levels of society. The more numerous and influential a given stratum of society, the lower its moral standards will be.
It is this circumstance alone which can explain the fact that the world did not become a paradise already five thousand years ago.
The primary cause of CACOCRACY is the fact that the spiritual forces of our Social Age culture are no longer adequate for the human society as we know it today. (Ancient Rome also owed its fall primarily to the cacocracy which resulted from its size.)
In a tribe of 50 people or less, it is difficult for the worst rogue to become chief. In a large state the situation is different; the average citizen will know and like or hate only a few people: the policeman who gives him a speeding ticket, the used car salesman who cheated him. We are moved when we hear of a 15 year old boy stabbed to death on a bus in our town, but are unmoved when we read of a threatening famine to tens of millions of people of the late Soviet Union.
The horizon of our instinctual life is too narrow for such things.
Therefore it is perfectly adequate if a cacocrat can maintain good relations with his immediate associates. Also, the complexity of today's world offers the cacocrat an even greater advantage. How can a normal voter know what people running for election really feel about an issue, and what they do when the TV reporter is not present?
As long as a state is large enough, it is fundamentally irrelevant for the success of cacocracy whether the state is capitalist, socialist, or totalitarian. Or democratic, for that matter.
But the situation is not hopeless. There is a tool for fighting cacocracy: THE LIE DETECTOR.
A lie detector today will only indicate if a given question disturbs a person, not if that person is really lying. But it will be further developed and improved, and the time will come when the lie detector has become a "truth finder" which one can no longer deceive.
Then it will become inevitable that someone, let's say a man running for election, knowing his own conscience is clear and that his promises are sincere, will submit to a lie detector and declare: "I believe what I am telling you. My opponents should also submit to a lie detector after their election speeches, if they can!"
Moreover, after they are elected, they will have to keep their promises to their constituents. Things would naturally follow a similar course in other areas of public life, and in this way a gradual purification process would take place.
As a result of this, the danger exists that farsighted cacocrats will attempt to discredit or even do away with the lie detector. This is exactly what happened in Germany as well as in the United States, where the Supreme Courts have expressly forbidden the use of the lie detector in courts. Presumably, the excuse given was that it was against the principle of democratic freedom!
But let me counter with this question:
Which is more in accordance with the principle of freedom: to ask an innocent person to submit for one or two hours to the lie detector and then release him, OR to hold him for months in detention pending trial, interrogate him for hours on end, and ultimately, perhaps even mistakenly, convict him?
Which is more in accordance with the principle of freedom: that every crime be solved, because every suspect must tell the truth when questioned; OR that a large percentage of all crimes remains unsolved, with this fact encouraging criminals again and again, and, on another level, even causing wars among the nations due to falsification of history?
But it would be just about as wise for me to lobby for the repeal of this law as it would be to throw myself in front of a speeding truck in an attempt to stop it.
Fortunately, is is feasible that the lie detector will one day be acceptable in court. Through legal measures on can retard the development of a useful invention, but one cannot halt it forever. The need for the lie detector is stronger that the powers who oppose it.
There is another aspect of our political and social life that I I'd like to comment on before closing:
Our culture is much too technologically oriented. It is like a ship whose cargo was placed on one side, and the ship is keeling over.
Technology is masculine wisdom. What we are lacking is feminine wisdom. The masculine hold sway over the principle of destruction; the feminine, over construction.
One should only destroy where something better can be built instead.
Our masculine society brought us to the point where we today, are approaching the limits of this planet's ability to withstand further stress. A destruction potential exists in the realm of military technology that could blow up our world not only once, but several times over.
Woman, who was greatly revered as the giver of life at the dawn of human history and to whom we owe the great early cultural achievements, has found herself increasingly dependent on man and on the male culture now in place.
If we contrast the masculine virtues (bravery, force, destruction) with the traditionally feminine virtues (modesty, self-sacrifice, the giving of life, striving for peace and harmony) -- then it is plain to see that modern humanity must basically reorganize its value system in order to be able to survive at all on this overpopulated and exhausted planet.
Women must have the same educational opportunities as men. They must penetrate more than before into those occupations that are concerned with the social life of human beings and the resultant problems: for instance, sociology, history, psychology, education, jurisprudence, etc.
We should consider what kinds of new occupations can be created for women in order to make possible the emergence of a woman's culture.
There is no doubt that women would make better political policy under today's conditions than men.
To conclude, I believe that in order to save our freedoms into the 21st century, we need to accomplish the following:
The institution of the lie
Proof of political awareness before
being given the right to vote, and above all, evidence of an
understanding of cacocracy.
The bringing about of the emergence
of a "woman's culture" in our society.
In the movies, we cheer when the good
wins over the evil; in the same way,we enjoy beauty in arts, we
desire environmental cleanliness and just social conditions.
This instinct for justice and harmony is innate in mankind, and it is because of this instinct that the aim of all political policy should be this:
to arrange our public life and to direct our strengths in such a way that the greatest number of living creatures enjoy the greatest possible well-being.
If we let ourselves be guided by practicing the principles of truthfulness and non-hurting any living creature (in thought, word, or deed), and if we carry out our duties selflessly, skillfully, and lovingly, then we will make a positive contribution to making our world a little better then we found it.
Then, and only then, will we have earned our freedom.
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Copyright 2001 West-Art
PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, Politics and Science.