Saturday, January 28, 2006

It's the end of the world as we know it...

..and I feel fine!

Yep, Hamas appears to have kicked Fatah's butt, capturing perhaps 57% of the seats up for grabs. And I am, frankly, happy about it. Sure, they're a bunch of terroristic murderers. But this being the ME, one can hardly hold that against them. It's practically de rigueur for a claim of leadership in the region. What I really despise about them is, of course, what they stand for.

That said, I'm still happy they're going to be in power. To be honest, I wish they'd picked up even more seats. Those that don't misunderstand, I think, both the nature of democracy and how useful it can be to both us and the Israelis when applied to a problem like the Palestinian one. Ultimately, the Palestinians have to date been insulated, in a psychological sense, from their desires. Whatever aspirations they may have (whether we care for them or not), the average Palestinian-on-the-street has been able to say, in all honesty, that he didn't have much control over what was happening. He may dislike Israel, he may want to do business with Israel, he may want to push the Jews into the sea, he may want to build coastal resorts for them, but his desires were moot. He could reason, throw political tantrums, threaten, march or beg, and the result was pre-ordained by his PLO masters, masters set in place mostly by historical accident.

This was both painful and yet psychologically comfortable for him. Painful because it meant that he had to deal with massive corruption and violence from a position of humiliating helplessness, comfortable because it meant that whatever went wrong, it could be blamed on outside forces. You can picture him saying, with a fatalistic air, "What can I do about it?"

Well, now he's in charge. For good or ill, he is an active participant in what comes next, and fatalistic posturing is no longer a viable option. "But he's elected a bunch of murderous terrorists!", you cry. "How can this end well?!" It can and will, from my perspective, because the one real virtue of democracy is that it is a workable feedback system. Note that sanctions against dictatorial regimes never seem to have any real lasting impact on their characteristics: Cuba, North Korea, Iraq, Zimbabwe, the list of failures goes on and on. Why? Because the regime doesn't care. It doesn't have to. As long as it can preserve an internal monopoly on force and keep itself from being invaded, the bandits at the top can continue to extract a pretty decent living and a nice measure of personal power from the rest. Sanctions (and most other efforts) directed at a dictatorship are like telling a guy in a car that's being towed that he has to make a right turn. You can cajole, bribe, threaten or hit, but it's basically out of his hands where the whole machine is going to go.

So we come to democracy. Democracy doesn't make people smarter, or nicer, or selfless, or anything else. As Robert Heinlein noted through the voice of Lazarus Long, "Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How's that again? I missed something. Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men. Let's play that over again, too. Who decides?"

No, the beauty of democracy is that it produces stable outcomes because the voter, by definition, buys into the legitimacy of the outcome. You may or may not get your fondest wish when you vote, but win or lose you are much less likely to say "It's out of my hands." If you are unhappy with the ultimate outcomes, you will switch your vote. Power has thus been given to the folks who are actually affected by policies. This works whether the policies their representatives select are good or bad. If they're to the electorate's liking, the representatives will be re-elected. If they're not, they'll be booted out and, in extreme cases, wholly discredited.

So I say, more power to Hamas. They appear to embody more of what the average Palestinian on the street actually wants (both good and ill, from my perspective), and that can only redound to the good as the feedback mechanism kicks in. Maybe they'll clean up corruption. That's good. Maybe they'll refuse to make peace and step up attacks against Israel. That's bad in the very short run, but good when a feedback mechanism is in place. Because ultimately, in a physical sense, Israel holds most of the cards, so it can only be to the good when the average Palestinian is confronted with the very immediate (and very painful) results of his own freely cast vote. When the Israelis get ticked off at a Hamas-sponsored mass-murder and decide to blow the hell out of a few Hamas-voting communities, Achmed-on-the-street will be confronted with a real choice for perhaps the first time in his life. He'll either make peace or escalate until his very physical existence becomes untenable. And so the feedback mechanism will work its magic. Thesis, antithesis, catharsis, kaboom.

Link to original Tacitus posting.

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