Berg's Words

You cut, I choose

Software and the people that make it


Many today are rightfully mourning the end of the American experiment and the erasure of American democracy. I mourn the end of the American experiment and the hopelessness facing the future of humanity that that will surely bring about but the genius of America and its role as the engine of progress for humanity has little to do with democracy.

Democracy is just another means of subjugation. Either the majority rule is the will of the totality or it stops some from pursuing their own happiness.

The genius of America is an incentive compatible mechanism for freedom. The genius of America is “you cut, I choose,” iterated for centuries. How do you split a pizza fairly between two people? One cuts, the other chooses their slice. The rule of law, equally applied, combined with the prospect of switching stewardship every few years is what has allowed our country to remain somewhat free—from my research of alternative locales over the past few months, infinitely freer than anywhere else—for so long.

The horror of the past days is not the attempt to put democracy on hold. It is the attempt at transitioning to a system of “I cut, I choose.”

“I cut, I choose” necessarily devolves into total tyranny. Without the check on power imposed by the knowledge that whatever I can unilaterally do my successor can unilaterally undo, that whatever mechanisms I use to do as I wish can be reused by my successor to do as he wishes and further his agenda, it doesn’t matter whether kings are elected or appointed by god, they will be kings just the same.

I have argued that, though I fear the socialism and intellectual and physical tyranny of the left, it will be enabled by the rule-breaking and normalization of winning at all costs of the right. Trump’s legacy is that we now live in a country that accepts a president talking about having the total power to end political opposition. That is the turning point we’ve just witnessed. That is what enables socialism to take hold. Socialism, the word, is a boogeyman for the right obscuring the fact that the real object to fear is tyranny and tyranny established in the name of redistributing wealth or in the name of holding socialism at bay is tyranny just the same.

Every American should evaluate the consistency of their beliefs about what is systemically permissible because that is all that matters in the long run for our country and, by extension, our species. Given an action or a speech by a politician, the question cannot be whether the proposed policy is in one’s interest. The first question must always be: “what would the other side, opposed to my interest, be able to do by the same mechanism?”

Over a long enough timeframe, whatever can happen will happen and we must follow in the footsteps of the Founders in holding the limits of power sacrosanct. Beyond equality under the law and regular transfers of power, the Bill of Rights was the next most important foundational idea of our republic. They placed hard limits on their own ability to legislate and pursue their own agendas. As long as we live in a country where either side—really, anyone at all, taken seriously by the hoard—is willing to prioritize their particular agenda above the system within which we have allowed any agenda to be pursued—the limits of power we have created—our status as a free country is in jeopardy.

So long as each of us is willing to bend those constraints on the ability of some to subjugate others in the name of that which we believe is in our collective interest, we maintain at best a tenuous hold on our place among the dwindling ranks of free peoples. System over policy. Constraints over unconstrained optima. Malo periculosam libertatem quam quietum servitium.