19 April 2015

Canine Education

Gary Larson, 1985Perhaps the real problem with the Hugos this year is that they're being argued from ignorance. I suggest some education. Some tutoring. And if one thinks about it, the Anglocentric linguistic gender bias in there fits, too.

Ironically, the yapping curs have also exposed a serious conceptual problem with one subset of representative democracy. The foundation of representative democracy is that one expresses one's policy preferences not by a direct vote on the policies themselves, but by supporting a proxy-holder — an elected representative. In 1980, for example, one did not vote "give a raise to every military member" or "keep military compensation the same, but raise military spending by buying more and better hardware"; one chose between Presidental candidates who appeared to stand for those positions, among others. One had to trust that the greater access to information of the elected officials would allow them to make detailed decisions that would most closely match achievable policy preferences: If there aren't enough chickens in the nation to have one in every pot for every Sunday dinner, a chicken-breeding program is sort of implied, but the representatives have to figure out how to fund it, distribute it, etc.... and deal with the resulting chicken manure.

But there's one class of government official whom we absolutely, positively don't want to be mere proxies for preexisting popular policy choices — especially when those choices arise from ignorance: Those in law enforcement. Not just, but especially, judges. That's because unlike the chicken-breeding program, a judge's role (and a prosecutor's role, and a sherriff's role) inherently encompasses the fringe cases in a way that policy-preference-by-proxy does not. For the latter, we can't know in advance that in a few months' time, suspicion of some ghastly crime or tort or other legal wrong will fall on our friendly neighbors Annie or Marko, much less on ourselves, and they desperately need and fundamentally deserve not to be, umm, prejudged. We can't pretend that judges (and prosecutors and law enforcement officials in general) will have no policy preferences, as they're human. But that shouldn't be the basis of their selection; it should, at most, be a side effect of selecting their capabilities.

And lest you think this is all too speculative, consider that this issue has been a problem, and has been chewed over at length, for centuries... and for at least three centuries explicitly, since the time of Fran├žois-Marie Arouet. (Whose greatest works, one might add, would have been eligible for the Hugo had the awards then existed — at least once translated into English.) Conversely, anyone who tries to pretend that Hugo finalists and nominees don't form "precedent" — in the common-law sense, and perhaps even in the slightly perverse Blackstone/Coke received-wisdom variant on that sense — hasn't been paying attention. Or, perhaps, just wasn't at Philcon to hear booing from the audience when the winning novel was announced, as it wasn't considered sufficiently canonical by a particularly loud, yapping, rabid portion of tradition-bound fandom.