Monday, March 13, 2006

Compulsory Democracy and Britney Government

I am currently marginally addicted to the game Nationstates (http://www.nationstates.net) made by Max Barry the author of Jennifer Government and Company. Its pretty cool in a very simple way. You basically create a nation, and through daily issues that you receive and take a position on, you somehow determine the course of your nation.

The day I created my nation the issue I was given was an interesting one, a sort of "democracy at the crossroads." I was offered three positions on the issue of "compulsory democracy." The first boiled down to, "democracy only works if its truly representative, and that can only happen if everyone participates, therefore democracy must be compulsory." The second position was that "democracy is about freedom, you can't force people to be part of democracy, that's not what its about, therefore democracy can't be compulsory." The last choice was offered by your brother, who basically said, "this is all too confusing, wouldn't everything be simpler if you just made all the decisions?"

Being the firm believer in democracy, freedom and nepotism, I of course supported compulsory democracy. I don't know about everyone else, but I'm tired of people taking credit for being a part of "the world's greatest democracy," while their contribution to that "greatness" probably boils down to watching American Idol and having wet dreams about George W. Bush on horseback (intentional almost Freudian slip). Things would be so much more interesting if democracy was compulsory, required. Not something floating around you that you draw from to form a positive image of yourself (how can the Iraqis not want us to liberate them, aren't we just the mostest freedom lovingest democracy sharing people around?), but something which becomes a chore, something you actually have to do.

Take for example those infamous Worst Case Scenario Books. What makes them intriguing and so interesting is the exceptional yet obviously useless nature of what they offer to help you with. They provide in everyday language, everyday solutions to crocidile attacks, to airplane crashes, to plummeting elevators. The novelty of this advice however is only novel because of how alienated we are from the circumstances it describes. Imagine however as Zizek does in his foreward to the second edition of For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor, that these zany forms of advice became the norm, for example what if these little nuggets of knowledge were taught in elementary school?

"Recall the proverbial scenes of drilling young pupils, boring them to death by making them mechanically repeat formulas (like the conjugations of Latin verbs) - The Worst-Case Scenario counterpoint would have been a scene of forcing elementary school children to learn by heart he answers to the predicaments this book describes by repeating them mechanically after the teacher: "When an alligator bites your leg, you punch it on the snout! When a lion confronts you, you open your coat wide!"

I have a fantasy of democracy becoming like this in the United States. That it will stop being this beautiful, mythical, abstract thing that makes everyone in this country feel good precisely because of their distance to it and their lack of commitment to it, but instead become that concrete, very real and methodical and very painstaking thing. Democracy up close requires time and it requires energy. It loses that easily digestable edge, and becomes something more potentially beautiful in the process, but a beauty defined by its difficulty not its ease. That is one of the main reasons that people tend to split or bombs are prepared to drop the moment it threatens to surface.

This is the fun of NationStates. Is that dangerous fantasies like the one I'm describing can take place with the click of a button and the choice of a position. But as a simple simulation game, how much happens or how much is means depends on how much you put into it. You receive one issue per day roughly, so in reality that point which is the basic structure of the game takes just a few moments. But then there are a number of other things one can do to give the game life. There are message boards, a United Nations and resolutions to be drawn up, voted for or voted down. You can create regions which nations can join and leave, promote or trash. Each day, your nation will be ranked in some ridiculous way with others within your region and within the world (such as who's the most corrupt, who has the best agricultural sector, etc.).

Its interesting how closely the simplicity of the game mirrors real life and its potential emptiness and the narratives that are created and knotted together to create a sense of consistency and meaning. There are basic points of structure, basic traumas, but ultimately everything elses comes in the gaps between these elusive certainties

For those interested in the game, the link is easy, I'll post it again, http://www.nationstates.net

If you want to connect with my nation that already there, you can find it at this site, http://www.nationstates.net/militarization . The names Guam and Guahan were already taken and so I picked "Militarization" instead. Me and my brother are thinking about creating a new region, so if you want to form a historic bloc with us let me know.



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