The Long Road Home Afterword
Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast - man's laws, not God's -and if you cut them down - and you're just the man to do it - d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.
-A Man for All Seasons.
I talked about diplomacy in the To The Shores afterword, which you can also download from my site. I’d like to talk about something a little different here.
Shortly after it became clear that Donald Trump had won the 2016 election, a campaign started in an attempt to convince the Electoral College to declare Hillary Clinton the President instead ... on the grounds that Hillary Clinton had won the popular vote. This attempt failed and rightly so - the victory condition for a US Presidential election is not winning the most individual votes, but winning the majority of the states. The President must command a broad swath of support from all over the country, not just the highly-populated states. Like him or hate him, Trump won by the rules.
Indeed, if the rules were different - if an election could be won by individual votes - both candidates would have campaigned differently. Neither of them did because they both knew the rules.
(Found On Facebook, Orginal Creator Unknown)
This was neatly summed up by a cartoon in which a chess player, having been checkmated by his opponent, insisted that he should be the winner because he had more pieces left than his opponent. No chess player ever born would consider that a valid argument. In order to win a game of chess, you have to checkmate your opponent. It doesn't matter which player has the most pieces when the game ends. A player can lose a game without losing any pieces - I’ve seen it happen - or win with only a handful of pieces remaining. And a player can seem to have an advantage ... right up to the moment his defence slips and his opponent manages to turn the tables. I’ve seen that happen too.
(Yes, I love chess. Sue me.)
The point here is that the people involved - the political candidates as well as chess players and everything else in-between - must have a shared understanding of the rules. If you go into a game of chess without that agreement, you’re likely to run into arguments about legal moves or sensible tactics. Is your opponent being an idiot or do they have a different idea about how the rules actually work? And if he does have a different idea ... what happens when your view and his collide?
In chess, the rules exist to allow two players to share a game without disputes; in politics, electoral rules exist to determine who actually wins and why. They impose order on a chaotic system. Breaking the rules - either by sweeping the pieces off the board or by trying to redefine the victory condition when you’re losing - should be punished. Why? Because if one side shows no respect for the rules, and if there is no punishment, why should the other side follow the rules? And if neither side is willing to follow the rules, we have chaos.
This is problematic. Breaking the rules is sometimes seen as a good thing - Captain Kirk, for example. You can certainly put forward an argument that the rules need to be broken, that the rules are weighted against one side - and if you can put forward a coherent argument, you can convince people to discard some (all?) of the rules. But constantly breaking the rules - and doing so for tactical advantage, such as Obama changing his tune on accepting the election results after Trump won - only weakens them. And the weaker the rules, the less respect anyone has for them.
I was taught to debate in school. We would often be told to attack or defend a particular position, without regard to how we actually felt about it. There were rules, which we were expected to follow. We liked winning - and we knew that victory went to the person who convinced most of the audience to agree with him, not the one who shouted the loudest or broke the rules. And the debate helped us to understand other points of view.
The problem today is that the rules are being broken, smashed to rubble, by people on both sides. People are gaining tactical victories at the expense of long-term victory (and even stability.) Everything is permissible as long as it is in a good cause! Liberals might cheer when conservative speakers are chased from campuses by angry mobs, for example, but the long-term effect is a growing upswing of demand for more repression. Those who do not choose to follow the rules cannot complain when their opponents do the same.
This is potentially disastrous.
On the micro scale, I’ve seen internet forums and discussion boards implode because the moderators either make the rules worthless by selective enforcement or simply not having any rules. This sort of process inevitably turns once-promising internet forums into wretched hives of scum and villainy. But on the macro scale, this rips apart social trust and throws us back into our human tribes. Greater principles - the nation, for example - are forgotten when tribalism is the only key to survival.
Among the many absurdities proclaimed over the last few years is the concept of ‘punching up/punching down.’ Put simply, stripped of the gibberish, it asserts that the difference between a good act and a bad one is defined by the perpetrator. A poor man who stabs a rich man is punching up, while a rich man who stabs a poor man is punching down. Though some mumbo-jumbo, this somehow translates into the poor stabber being excused for his crimes while the rich stabber is a murderer.
Such an argument makes no sense. A murderer is a murderer, regardless of any other details. Yet people will try to argue that the murderer can be excused because his victim was higher up the social scale (or lower down the victimhood scale) than himself. This is, in many ways, merely a continuation of the kind of thinking that pervaded Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa. If the victim is lower class, who cares?
I do. And so should you.
If the rules can be twisted until justice is forgotten, if the rules are abused until people no longer respect them, if the rules can be bent until they are broken, then we don’t have a society. We have anarchy.
And in an anarchic state, the strong rule.
Many years ago, I wrote a short story for one of the Ring of Fire compilations. It didn't get picked up, probably because it was more of an insight piece than anything else. It really presented a small exchange between John Simpson and Rebecca Stearns, back during the first political campaign in 1632. John Simpson was campaigning on a platform that called for restricting the franchise, while Mike Stearns (Rebecca’s husband) was arguing for opening up the franchise as much as possible. (It’s a little more complex than that, but I think that’s the basic idea.)
Simpson comes across as a jerk in the first book - with reason. (He gets a lot better in 1633 onwards, kudos to Flint and Weber.) And yet, he has a point.
The American mindset - held by every one of the time-displaced Americans - is that the election will determine the winner. None of them, including Simpson, will resort to violence to change the outcome. (Indeed, Simpson serves with honour in the later books.) But the same cannot be said of the natives, the Germans of 1632. They don’t have the mindset to accept the results. What happens when there is a major political disagreement?
We see Simpson as being wrong, mainly for promoting an unpopular (and un-American) view. Rebecca is sweet reason, and she’s presented as being in the right, but she’s also sheltered and naive. The extremism shown by Gretchen (certainly by local standards) is horrifically dangerous, if it goes sour. Simpson is right to be concerned.
What happens when people decide the rules are no longer working for them?
What happens when people decide that the time has come to smash the board?
Our world is not perfect. And sometimes the rules do need to be changed. But it is something that has to be done slowly and carefully ... not out of disappointment, spite or simple ambition.