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Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

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Individuals are free to act on their moral convictions. But a secular government doesn't have that option. Keep that idea in mind when you look at the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Governments are artificial systems designed by humans. When humans want to include a moral dimension in their government they design a system that has a particular religious belief at the core. That's what Hamas did. So far it isn't going well.

Israel, on the other hand, is a secular government by design. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think the government of Israel has anywhere in its charter the requirement to act according to any particular moral code. The point of a secular government is to maximize the wellbeing of its citizens. If a secular government started acting on morality instead of practicality the politicians in charge would be voted out.

When observers criticize Israel for lopsided violence against Hamas, or building settlements on disputed lands, or hoarding all the water in the region, or any of the other heavy-handed actions against the Palestinians, it is usually described according to some moral filter of right and wrong. That is missing the point. Israel's secular government doesn't have the option of acting according to ANY moral standard, much less the one you have in your head that is informed, in all likelihood, by incomplete information.

The government of Israel has one of the rarest national opportunities in history. Thanks to periodic rocket strikes and other ongoing aggression against them, Israel gets a semi-free pass from the international community to gobble up disputed lands and substantially increase the size of their future nation. In such a situation, the secular government of Israel that is chartered with maximizing the wellbeing of its citizens is wisely using the attacks against them as a political cover while they exert control over disputed land and water resources. If a secular government ignored this historic opportunity it would not be acting the way the system was designed to act.

Hamas has the opposite situation. Their government is built around a moral code that is informed by a religious belief. You might not agree with that code, but in the view of Hamas they are acting along moral lines when they attack Israel as the infidel "occupiers."

So let's all stop fantasizing that the government of Hamas and the government of Israel can make a lasting peace via traditional peace talks. To do so would mean one of their governments is operating outside its intended design. American efforts to broker such a peace are just for show. No one expects peace because the systems of government that Israel and Hamas each selected make that impossible. You can't have peace unless one of the two governments involved is replaced by an entirely new system that is designed in a way that allows peace to even be an option.

One could argue that governments of any design simply follow the will of the people, and the people can, if they want it badly enough, force the government to change its design and its mission. That is certainly true in principle. But there is one thing that makes it nearly impossible to change your form of government in a positive way: an external enemy. And both Israel and Hamas have an external enemy in each other.

We all know by now that any negotiations over details such as land, resources, and security are a waste of time because the two governments are designed in a way that guarantees permanent low-level conflict that benefits Israel more than Hamas.

You could think of the conflict between Israel and Hamas as a game of paper-rock-scissors. Hamas picked a rock government and Israel picked a paper government. Paper beats rock 100% of the time. You won't have peace until both parties' governments are rocks or both parties are paper or both parties are scissors.

So how would one solve the problem of a morality-based government that was designed to be immune to practicality (Hamas) versus a secular government that has a clear interest in continued low-level conflict (Israel)?

Answer: Information

I think this is an information problem masquerading as a religious difference. If you provide both sides with the right information, eventually the citizens will find a way to reform their government.

Imagine an international body such as the United Nations suggesting that instead of directly negotiating peace, each government must agree to be measured for its effectiveness across a broad range of parameters relative to the wellbeing of its citizens. Under this proposal, both governments would be required to report monthly on trends for the health, income, happiness, and education of their citizens. And those reports would be provided to the citizens of each nation in a way that no one could ignore. (You would need international auditors of course.)

What this approach does is cleverly divert attention from the unsolvable question of who God wanted to live on a particular patch of dirt to the perfectly practical and somewhat measurable question of how well the two competing systems of government are providing for their people. We humans are irrational creatures, so we are influenced most by what we see and hear the most. My hypothesis is that morality will trend in the direction that makes the citizens healthiest, safest, and happiest so long as they know which direction to head. Public information about the effectiveness of each government will create great pressure for the government that performs the worst to change.

As a citizen of the United States, and subject to lots of propaganda disguised as news, I assume Hamas has the government system most in need of improvement. And I further assume that the citizens under Hamas would have less support for their current system if they were exposed to continual comparisons to more effective systems. Over time, citizens can be trusted to evolve their ideas on morality in the direction of their self-interest.

A big advantage of this approach to peace is that it causes folks to focus on the real problem which is that Hamas has a dysfunctional system of government by design. If the world reminds them of that fact often enough, using comparative data instead of rhetoric, and refuses to participate in the charade of fake peace plans, perhaps there will be some movement toward useful government reform. Israel shouldn't object to this process because in the short run it makes them look good and it will take a long time before there is any meaningful change. That gives them time to gobble up all the land and resources they can get before peace even becomes an option. Their system of government is designed to do just that if it is working properly.

Summarizing my main points:


1.       Hamas and Israel have systems of government that cannot make peace with each other because of their designs.

2.       Governments are unlikely to change their designs when there is an immediate external threat, unless it is to move toward a dictatorship. Hamas and Israel are each other's external threat.

3.       In the long run, the moral view that holds the most power over humans is whatever path leads to the most health, happiness, and safety.

4.       Humans reflexively assign the highest importance to whatever they see and hear the most. It is possible through repetition to shift the debate from God's real estate ownership preferences to which system of government God would prefer we use to produce the best health, happiness, and safety for the citizens. Would God ever prefer an ineffective government system?

5.       Israel is far better off without peace in the short term. Their system of government is working as it was designed because it ignores morality (except for lip service) and focuses on effectiveness. The United States has the same sort of system, roughly speaking. I'm not judging, just describing.

6.       Individuals can act on moral convictions. By design, a secular government cannot.

When you tell me my idea of focusing on government effectiveness won't work, be sure to compare it to the current approach that has a zero chance of success. If you think my approach has a 1% chance of working, it is the best plan that anyone has yet proposed.

I'll ask readers not to quote parts of this blog out of context. To do so would be misleading. And also keep in mind that I don't know what I'm talking about most of the time. This blog is for entertainment purposes only and is  designed to make you look at familiar situations in novel ways.

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Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com
Author of this book

 



 
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Aug 27, 2014
I was thinking recently that a similar approach could yield good dividends in our cities. I was imagining that cities would survey their citizens regularly and report the results out by neighborhood. Citizens could gain an appreciation for the strengths and issues in other parts of the city. "What are the top three complaints in neighborhood x?" "How many city dollars are being spent on services over in neighborhood y?" Some of this data is already collected, but how well is it reported out, and are there cities out there that are regularly conducting "how are we doing?" surveys? I'd love to see the results.
 
 
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 25, 2014
You are right in that people are irrational, religious people perhaps even more so. Therefore, rational thought, information and science will not make an impression. I'll say it: if people were rational or open to rationality, I believe most of religion would not exist. Do you honestly believe that information will convert people? And would you accept any outcome? If I could prove that an islamic government would be the best form of government, would you convert to it?

Finally, your idea that (secular) governments are there to maximize the happiness of citizens is laughable. Not one government in human history has had that purpose. The purpose of government is the same purpose every entity has: to survive and grow. This is true for government, individuals, nations, companies, departments within companies, every entity. Democracy is only a slight side effect that is practically an illusion. Just like "free market" it's a theoretic illusion.

 
 
Aug 25, 2014
@oOOOo:

[Apparently it's now ok to dismiss stuff you don't like by calling it magical.]

Dude! You were doing so well calling out Scott for his ridiculous rhetoric of handwaving away any any argument or train of thought he didn't subscribe to as magical.

But then you go and ruin it in the next paragraph with your made up definitions filled with personal bias. You can't just redefine the words "Morals and Ethics", which already have real definitions with your own biases to confuse the conversation. The whole idea of communications is built on a common set of symbols with a common set of meanings.

Just cause when you think morals, you think religious folk who are !$%*!$%*! doesn't make that what the word actually means.

[ps IMO Scott, you are totally abusing your voice-of-god edit ability with the increasingly aggressive snarks in brackets.]

I also disagree with you here. Scott's replies to comments are what I enjoy the most on this blog. And I really appreciate that he digs in and gets involved with the discussion. Usually by the time Scott stops making these edits, I zone out of the discussion.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 25, 2014
Apparently it's now ok to dismiss stuff you don't like by calling it magical. Therefore, IMO Scott's leading post was really really magical: magical conclusions built on magical made-up "facts". Magical squared or cubed, not sure which.

My definitions: Morality: that which men in skirts trying to kill other men in skirts and their followers tell you to do. Ethics: largely derived from "do unto others" aka "don't be evil". And no, I don't buy that Heyzeus, Merlin or any other magician invented "do unto others" with magical guidance. Some basic flesh and blood types worked that out without magic. It's historical and pre-dates the allegedly great religions. And yes, Morality is not Ethical.

Israel's government still runs elections. Messy, political, lies half-truths and untruths, factions, yuk. Democracy is the worst form of government. Except all the others. Which brings us to Hamas. The Palestinian Authority did lose the backing of the people. Hamas cynically exploited that to acquire momentarily legitimate power - then immediately suspended elections and now runs a thugocracy/kleptocracy. Since Hamas executes critics; the Palestinian man in the street has very few choices, chief among which are a) knuckle under and perform as a human shield when so directed, b) inform to Israel and risk death, or c) try to maintain a low profile. I suppose d) complain, criticize and die is an option too. There is no feedback mechanism from logical, sensible, or even magical Palestinians to their "government". Hamas is an occupying force (with far bloodier hands than Israel's) cynically exploiting the general human and strong Arab/Muslim tendency to band brother & brother against cousin, but brothers and cousins against outsiders. Hamas will change their genocidal policies when someone pries that initiative from their cold, dead hands.

While it is not PC to extol nukes; the nukes did create over-whelming defeat which convinced Japan and the Emperor (or the Emperor then Japan - whatever floats your boat) to UNCONDITIONALLY surrender and not execute the scorched-earth women with spears defense. The nukes saved lives by causing acceptance of defeat. (Really, that's a well-argued historical opinion. Looking it up is left as an exercise for the reader.) But these days, the UN and the PC corps and people believing in a magical "peace process" won't let anyone be well and truly defeated - consider Hamas manipulative pre-conditions to any cease-fire or other agreement apart or part of a "peace process". So we have these low-level simmering ongoing conflicts that are inherently messy and spew large amounts of propaganda usually in favor of magical thinking. Which magically encourages apparently well-meaning folk to hypothesize all kinds of complete total bravo sierra about causes, effects and cures.

While I understand all too well how a little $ucce$$ can make one think one understands all things, one might want to hypothesize something and truly consider resulting inputs rather simply insist all disagreement is magical.

ps IMO Scott, you are totally abusing your voice-of-god edit ability with the increasingly aggressive snarks in brackets. Though I do concede it is your blog, making you magician in chief. Hope everything is ok at home.
 
 
Aug 25, 2014
Part of the problem, mostly on the Palestinian/Hamas side, is the rule of law is not universally recognized. The Palestinian authority has leadership, but not all Palestinians follow orders. So you have rogue groups conducting attacks on Israel on their own and Israel has no choice but to retaliate against all Palestinians. Negotiation is a great idea, but if you're Israel, who are you going to negotiate with? If the Palestinians could enforce order within their own population, there would be a chance for peace. Currently, there is not.
 
 
Aug 24, 2014
I have to admit, I'm pretty excited about the prospect of Obama and company leading us back into war with ISIS from exotic locales like Syria and Iraq. Now that I have HD TV to provide life like images right into the comfort of my living room and an endless supply of camera mounted drones to provide live feed video of every conceivable angle of the carnage and it should be one hell of a show! After all, us taxpayers have provided trillions of dollars to create the most powerful military the world has ever seen, we might as well get some kind of benefit out of it.
My one regret is George Carlin couldn't live to see his final wish come to pass, That when the end of the world finally came about, that it would start on the opposite side of the planet so that he could watch it coming on CNN.
We all are truly blessed to be alive at this moment in history to witness the culmination of thousands of years of complete and utter madness.
 
 
Aug 24, 2014
The Holy Roman Empire provided the gold standard on how to successfully rule that area of the world. They ruled supreme and unchallenged for nearly 1000 years. You roll your legions into town announce that on behalf of the divinely appointed emperor your people and your children's children are now subject to the occupation and control of the Roman Empire. Your options are to go along peacefully and live everyday for the rest of your lives serving the Emperor OR have your city burnt to the ground the soil beneath it sown in salt so that nothing will grow there for generations, your women raped and any survivors will be sold into slavery. Once order is established squash any disobedience with brute force, lining the roads into town with the crucified corpses of all those that would challenge the Empire. And if someone starts spewing nonsense about being the son of god, you make a special example out of him. Saddam Hussein had the playbook pretty well mastered til some bigger and badder kid on the block came along and messed up all his plans.
Or, you could just neutralize the masses with welfare, food stamps, HUD housing, sporting events and cable TV and pretty much accomplish the same thing.
 
 
Aug 23, 2014
[Your comments are always like that old Laugh In character who would confuse euthanasia with "youth in Asia" and get all worked up about the wrong thing. -- Scott]

Really, Scott? That's the best you can do for a comeback?

At the core of your beliefs, at least in this post, are your first two sentences. The rest of your inane position stems from those two.

As usual, you are trying to redefine terms and make false syllogisms. Pretending that my rebuttal is based on misunderstanding is beneath you.

If you don't understand my points, then you need to review constitutional law and the basis for the founding of the country. If you are purposely being disingenuous, then you should be ashamed.

In either case, you could have done better with your rebuttal. And you could have done a hell of a lot better in your post. This post is, IMHO, the worst you have ever done, and that's saying a lot.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 23, 2014
Did not Israel give the land the PLO and Hamas claim now, to them?

Most of the “Palestinians” were thrown out of Jordan and Lebanon. None were actually thrown out of Israel. Some, historically (not many are likely alive today) sold their land and then left to fight for the extermination of Israel.

Israel is not trying to steal land from the poor innocent Palestinians. How would YOU react if Japan started to bomb California? Would you start talking about secular vs moral government? Or would you bomb the crap out of Japan until they stopped bombing California?

If Hamas tried that sort of thing on Syria, there would not be a single “Palestinian” alive today.
 
 
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 23, 2014
when palestina gets the news that their government is ineffective they will just blame israel for that.
and they will say the only way to be more effective is to eliminate israel out of the way.
does it sound worth it to propose this? ;)
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 23, 2014
Were you writing this while sitting in a coffee shop?

The idea of government effectiveness is an oxymoron. And while looking at the Israel/Hamas situation from an abstract solution that might work point of view, the truth is, no government in the history of humanity has stood up to the test of stupidity. A Dictatorship looks good on paper, Communism has its upside and religious zealously is a good way to keep people in line. But no government can overcome the nature of humanities stupidity and greed.

There is no short term solution, there is no long term solution. The ONLY solution is if one side is either eliminated by each other, aliens or social-economic disaster or a natural disaster.

The real sad part is most people, on both sides of the fence, and the world over, just want to live a happy, peaceful life. They don't want too much bother and to just grow old feeling fulfilled in life. It's the bad apples in the bunch that ruins it for everyone.
 
 
Aug 23, 2014
Make no mistake, our government has one and only one mission. It is the same mission as every government that has ever existed. Maintain and increase its power/control. Only one thing matters in the middle east, crude oil. The U.S. is in bed with the Saudis because they control a major segment of the crude oil, AND, are willing to partner up with the USA government/military to maintain and increase their control of the worlds oil market. Bush and friends thought they were pulling a major coup by taking over Iraq and gaining control of their oil. Boy did they miscalculate. Our government will do and spend whatever is necessary to keep the American dollar as the primary financial instrument used in the trade of crude oil. Once oil trade is no longer directly tied to the American dollar we are soooooooo screwed, the value of the dollar will plummet.(if not sooner) The federal reserve keeps pumping out dollars to allow Wall street to continue to grotesquely profit from their little gambling enterprise. And everyone who trades in dollars pays for this. The old says in always true, if you want to get to the heart of the truth of any matter you must follow the money trail. Its always been that way and will be long after we are all gone from this world.
My point is that we try to understand what is going on in the world by listening to government officials and the media as they explain to us what needs to be done to maintain democracy, freedom and our way of life. Well they aren't referring to the masses way of life, they are referring to their own small inner circle of the good ole boy network, which are corporations and international banking interests.
 
 
Aug 23, 2014
If a properly functioning government is predictable, based on known factors of self interest, then could we completely automate the decision making part of government at some point in the future to create completely rational government for the first time, ever?
 
 
Aug 23, 2014
There are many good arguments why it wouldn't work but it's cheap to implement and there is a chance it might succeed. You are probably right that the chance of success is probably 1%.

And I agree - the chances that current tactics will work is 0%. I've watched every President of my lifetime try to bring peace to the Middle East - and the place is getting worse, not better.
 
 
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 23, 2014
@Melvin1
> what, in your mind, caused Japan to surrender in WWII?

The atomic bomb certainly played a part, but in the end it was the direct intervention of the emperor. The navy was in favour of surrender at the time -- of course they had almost nothing left afloat, but the army was determined to fight to the last man. There was even an army plot to kill the emperor before he could deliver his surrender address.

If the invasion of Japan had gone forward, Japan's defence plans involved women and children attacking US troops with nothing but bamboo spears. The carnage would have been horrible.

Japan's surrender is an interesting and complex topic, but one that's outside the scope of this forum.
 
 
Aug 23, 2014
@AtlantaDude

You should review your military history. In none of the examples you gave did the people rise up and demand their governments surrender after intense bombing of civilian populations.

Carpet bombing of civilians has been tried. It has never worked. It is, according to the Geneva Conventions, a war crime. It inflicts unbelievable suffering on innocents. It is a monstrously depraved act.

You honestly don’t strike me as a troll or as a sociopath, so please take some time and rethink your position. Upon reflection, you might decide that you do not really want to be the kind of person who advocates the mass slaughter of women and children — even if they happen to be “on the other side”
 
 
Aug 23, 2014
@aaror2
This is Wikipedia's definition of "morality."

"Morality (from the Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behavior") is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are "good" (or right) and those that are "bad" (or wrong).[citation needed] Morality can be a body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion, culture, etc., or it can derive from a standard that a person believes should be universal.[1].Morality may also be specifically synonymous with "goodness" or "rightness."
 
 
Aug 23, 2014
Scott is just saying what everyone already knows. Israel and Hamas are not likely to make peace. They just don't have the incentives.

Therefore, peace must come from an outside party. Or not. How long did the Hundred Years War last? Peace is not a need, in a practical sense, though it is a desirable one from a utilitarian sense.

We don't need to get them to agree on a framework for peace. Again, neither side has an incentive. Or rather, the people with the power to make that decision lack incentives. Hoping they agree to a framework to peace is as irrational as hoping they come to terms on their own.

There are three possibilities:

1)Peace is imposed by a third party or group
2)They fight it out until one side wins or dominates(See all previously mentioned war)
3)There is no peace
 
 
Aug 22, 2014
I couldn't care less what happens in Israel. I do care that rich powerful Jews in U.S. are dictating US policy in Israel. I don't see how having a democracy in the middle east serves our interests in anyway.
 
 
Aug 22, 2014
To continue the thought experiment, I think the biggest problem is that both sides have a vested interest in seeing the other fail as a functioning government. It's true for Hamas wanting to see Israel fail as a state in general, but it's VERY true for Israel wanting the rest of the world to NOT see Hamas actually "working" as a government.

Accordingly, there's a lot of issues with Israel effectively blockading the Gaza Strip...hence all the smuggling tunnels that are the alleged reason for the latest military offensive.

I don't think anything short of nukes (which would kinda defeat the purpose) would actually get both sides to stop trying to sabotage each other long enough for your concept to take hold. And that overlooks that every other country in the Middle East has an axe to grind against Israel...mostly for domestic political reasons of distraction...and thus can be counted on to meddle as much as possible to see Israel fail, too.

And as long as we're talking about thought experiments, it seems the best way to test whether Hamas...or any Palestinian-based government...would be to pack up all of Israel and move it somewhere that lacks a large indigenous population trying to kill them. In essence, it'd be like reviving the Slattery Report and turn over part of Alaska for a new Jewish State. Do that for 10 or 20 years and see how well the Palestinians do at running a country.

(speaking of which, if you haven't read "The Yiddish Policeman's Union", I highly recommend it...great story by Chabon set in a world where the Jewish state really was established in Alaska.)
 
 
 
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