@Pronoun To respond to your question on the forum, why not?
— ProfessorHenn, January 18, 2023
Sure, I’ll bite.
Why not overthink?
I’ll start with a warning: this post is going to run pretty long. 1,788 words long, to be precise. If you just want a summary, no hard feelings — I’ve provided one below. But if you have the time and interest to dive deeper, I’d encourage you to do so, regardless of whether that’s through my post or not. Personally, this proposal would introduce dramatic changes to our government, and I intend to give it the same depth of thought and consideration that I would give to any other proposal.
- There’s a fundamental trade-off between simplicity and structure. A minimal government shouldn’t cover our ‘needs’ (whatever that means) but should cover our based ‘wants’ (our interests).
- Simpler laws don’t translate directly into simpler government. Often, the complexity is just shifted elsewhere.
- Professionalism is more cultural than it is legislative, and we can’t bludgeon our way through our laws to fix it.
- If we (or some of us) are expecting to establish regulations down the road anyway, we should just adopt them now.
Why not simplify our government?
Simple legislation leads to simple government. That makes for less bureaucracy and more flexibility, productivity, and accessibility. Pretty straightforward, right?
Oh, if only it were that simple.
Simplicity isn’t everything. If it was all we cared about, we could cut the Charter down to just a single, simple clause. Take a look:
Charter of the Coalition of the South Pacific
The Delegate of the South Pacific, as displayed in-game, wields ultimate authority over the region of the South Pacific.
Yes, this is a blatant strawman — nobody’s actually advocating for this kind of government. But the reasons why merit consideration.
At even the most basic level of our government, we inevitably trade simplicity for structure. All across NationStates, players gravitate towards some degree of structure within their regional communities. Those communities vary widely — democratic, autocratic, meritocratic, military-focused, roleplay-focused, and more — but all of them trade simplicity for structure. What makes that complexity worthwhile?
I could wax poetic about the virtues of democracy, but I think the deeper and more broadly applicable reason is interest. Players gravitate towards structures that accomodate and support their interests. For example:
- If you’re interested in roleplay, you might want to introduce some structure in the form of rules or moderators for roleplaying.
- If you’re interested in military gameplay, you might want to introduce some structure in the form of a command and control hierarchy.
- If you’re interested in political gameplay, you might want to introduce some structure in the form of a legislature, executive, and judiciary.
Making a regional community more structured comes at the cost of greater complexity. It means that there are more rules, institutions, and roles to learn about because that’s how you create the structure in the first place. That’s not a bad thing! Here in the South Pacific, we found it worthwhile to introduce a democratic structure. It comes at the cost of greater complexity, but it’s worth it because we are interested in democratic political gameplay. Building a regional structure oriented around our interests makes sense. Our community is healthier when our members feel they can pursue their interests within the South Pacific.
This proposal showcases some of those interests. For example, consider the Security Council. Why do we need it? Why can’t security threats be monitored by any community member? Why can’t the Assembly set the endorsement cap through legislation? Why can’t the Prime Minister enforce it through their executive powers? The reason we have the Security Council is because it aligns with our interests; we are interested in protecting our community from hostile forces. We could simplify our laws by getting rid of the Security Council, but it wouldn’t be worth it.
I’m not trying to pick on the Security Council here — we can extend this line of reasoning to other aspects of our government as well. I mean, heck, what about the Assembly? Why do we need a law-making body? Why can’t we just trust the Prime Minister to write our laws? If we didn’t agree, couldn’t we just vote them out or take them to court? The reason we have the Assembly is because it aligns with our interests; we are interested in a democratic structure that gives residents a chance to shape their regional legislation. We could simplify our laws by getting rid of the Assembly, but it wouldn’t be worth it.
It’s unfortunate, then, that other interests are just glossed over in this proposal. There are a wide range of interests in NationStates — my interests include things like regional legislation, military gameplay, and roleplay, but there are many more things to be interested in. We should not and can not cover every possible interest, but we also should not cut interests out of our laws just for the sake of simplicity.
It’s unfortunate that the debate thus far has often brought up the necessity of legislation rather than the benefit of legislation. Some of our laws, I agree, create negative externalities that outweigh the benefits they provide. But others may not be ‘necessary’ (however you define that) but still benefit the region. Our laws should not be the bare minimum we need to hold our government together; they should encompass the legislation we want to shape our government and accommodate our interests. Some of those interests, clearly, have been preserved. Others, as far as I can tell, have simply been pushed off into the murky, undefined world of ‘flexibility.’
Why not make our government more flexible?
Where does complexity go when we cut it from our laws?
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t just magically disappear. The ugly truth is that when we simplify our laws, there are only so many ways to handle the complexity we cut out.
We could, of course, just get rid of it for good. Our laws don’t establish an official format for legal deadlines? Get rid of it. Our laws don’t establish official regional holidays? Forget about them. Our laws don’t establish a foreign ministry? Abolish it. Our laws don’t establish rules of legislative procedure? Don’t need them.
Clearly, there are some things we may want to keep around, in which case the complexity is simply passed to our government officials. If our laws don’t establish any responsibility for integrating new players, but the Prime Minister wants to, that’s their complexity to deal with. If our laws don’t establish any procedures for court cases, but the High Court wants to, that’s on their shoulders now.
Since it’s come up in the discussion, I’ll use legislative procedure in the Assembly as an example. In our current system, our legislative procedures are codified into law. If anybody — including the Chair — wants to read through the procedures of our Assembly, they can do so in our law archive. If the Chair doesn’t like those procedures, they, like any other legislator, can propose changes to the relevant laws.
By simplifying our laws, we’re just making Assembly procedures more complex. Now, the Assembly has to figure out the procedures they want to use from scratch. Do we want a presiding officer? Do we want multiple? Do we want to elect them? Do we want to choose them by lottery? What procedures should we follow? Should we require motions? Seconds? Thirds? Should we hold legislative sessions? Should we establish a quorum? Who sets these rules? How often are we going to change them? How many people should it take to change them?
Maybe when we’re done coming up with all these rules, we’ll want to write them down. Perhaps we could call it legislation!
Maybe we don’t want to bother with this headache again, so we decide to keep the rules the same as long as they work for us, and if anybody feels the rules aren’t working well anymore, they can propose a change. We can call those changes amendments!
By the way, our government is flexible, because the laws that shape it can be amended, repealed, and replaced. But it doesn’t help to just wave our hands broadly at our current laws, blame them for our current problems, and say we really only need the bare minimum. It doesn’t actually fix our governance problems, and it doesn’t fix our cultural problems either.
Why not discourage professionalism?
Professionalism can mean different things to different people, so to start out, let’s ask the New Oxford American Dictionary.
professionalism | prəˈfeSHənlˌiz(ə)m, prəˈfeSHnəˌliz(ə)m |
the competence or skill expected of a professional: the key to quality and efficiency is professionalism.
Fundamentally, we should expect a level of professionalism from our government officials — not to the level of a real-life professional, but certainly a reasonable degree of competence and skill at playing the game. That’s why we elect or appoint them!
Perhaps, this isn’t the kind of professionalism we like to complain about; but for the most part, it’s the only kind of professionalism actually codified into law. There’s no law that says our government officials must format their forum posts nicely because someone else started doing it. There’s no law that says our ministers must have dozens of staffers because another ministry does. There’s no law that says you have to write hundreds of words in response to me just because I had too much free time for my own good this week!
Dramatically simplifying our laws doesn’t address this culture. There are problematic laws on this front, but it’s not all of them. And instead of lowering those barriers to entry, this proposal just piles more on the plates of our government officials.
Why not leave it for the future?
Forgive me for simplifying, but it feels like the response to many concerns raised so far has just been that we can figure out the details later as needed. If we’re already discussing that now, it sounds like some of us are interested in writing those laws — so why not write them now?
I don’t believe that this proposal is really the bare minimum we need, but even if so, that doesn’t make it the bare minimum we want. If there are things we want our government to do — if there are things we want to do as part of our government — then we ought to put that into legislation. That’s what legislation is for!