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Sender: Michael Briand
Subject: Re: Perennial Conundrum
Date: Thu, Aug 14, 2014
Msg: 101085

Thanks, Steve. Some thoughts:

Political self-righteousness cannot be overcome from within government. It needs to be overcome from within civil society. In the interest of being a bit more understanding of and compassionate toward each other, perhaps we could talk not of "self-righteousness" (though that might be accurate in many instances) but of "self-regardingness," or "self-interestedness." In any event, it does indeed originate within civil society. Like all institutions, including markets, government reflects the (conflicting, inadequately, and often unfairly) prioritized needs, fears, wants, aspirations, etc. that exist within society.

The hardest work occurs upstream, well before we get to "government." And it isn't just prioritizing work. It's design-based work. It's optimizing work. Yes. This fact points to the practical nature of political life. We must choose what to do, but we also must decide how best to achieve our goals.

To me, cap and prioritize is a form of engineering. It can have value when it is utilized within a wisely designed architectural setting. Yes. C&P seems to be a means to an end. It's an instrument. Nevertheless, an end--a purpose, a goal--is implicit in it. It couldn't have been engineered without an end in mind. What troubles me about the discussion so far of C&P is that there's been too little explicit acknowledgement and deliberation about its purpose and whether that purpose itself should be accorded priority in relation to other purposes.

But the harder work, the work of getting the architecture right, cannot be reduced to a matter of engineering. One could not have created the U.S. Constitution with cap-and-prioritize, and many of today's key issues also involve architectural choices of similar complexity. I'm not sure it helps, Steve, to distinguish between architecture and engineering. When one engineers a computer, for example, one talks of designing its "architecture." Similarly, the architectural plan for the National Cathedral implied the engineering that would be required. I see how the Constitution might be thought of as an architectural "blueprint," and how the blueprint might be given effect by a more detailed engineering plan. But they seem to me to be part of the same design process. I think what you're really getting at is, in the process logic, the pre-design phase. Yes, the Framers in Philadelphia were engaged in the practical task of designing a form of government. But the truly important work was carried out in the deliberations about the purpose of government. In their deliberations they considered and prioritized different human values. The architectural design that emerged embodied and reflected the conclusions the Framers reached about those values.

Civil society is the best place for us to engage that sort of dynamic complexity. It has to be. It's not just that a (well-ordered) "marketplace for values and priorities" is a more information-rich locus for pre-design work, it's that purpose and priorities must be worked out by the myriad individuals who have purposes and priorities of their own that deserve to be heard and, insofar as possible, heeded.

If we can overcome some of the pressures of self-righteousness, we can make better progress as a nation on the essential architectural issues of our time. Pressure is a function of fear. The more people worry that their most important needs, concerns, desires, etc. will not be addressed, the more they exert pressure on others to be heard. Pressure can be reduced only by creating an atmosphere in which people can relax enough to trust each other and to cooperate in forging a public purpose and priorities that serve their individual purposes and priorities. Michael Briand Chico, CA 530.345.3709


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