Goblin market

That condescending clown let through some of my friends who were my age and a few inches taller but he didn't care about that as he discriminated by one criteria alone... height. He did this because the owners of this amusement park decided that this is the standard by which children demonstrate the right level of courage and bladder control. Of course it wasn't fair to be categorized solely on one irrational standard but nobody cared. Fairness was sacrificed as the plan to conduct background checks and personality profiles on all the children just to find the eligible ones, was not cost or time efficient, amongst other problems. The owners best play was to employ my new,
two-dimensional arch-nemesis. My best play was to stuff bits of cardboard from a pizza box into my shoes, and by doing so I just made the cut for the next available ride. Just for a second I had thought that I'd won. Just for one moment I was few layers of cardboard closer to the stars enjoying my victory. Little did I know, that was just a battle and my enemy has been covertly working for the government upholding democratic elections. ​​​
He was standing there in his invisible shackles, colorful as you would expect for someone in his position. His job was simple. To stand there with on hand extended and with the other hold a sign on which was written 'you must be this tall to participate'. One would think that slave labor like this, destined to disappoint children, would be nothing but soul crushing and yet he was performing it with the biggest smile on his face. He was the perfect slave. His feet and back will never grow tired. He will endure the weather, the job and he will do it without asking for anything in return. He will never accept a bribe or play favorites. He was fair while doing what his masters required of him. And he wasn't going to help me either. While walking away from the ride, disappointed, I looked back just for a moment and saw him doing his  job like nothing ever happened; only now I realized he wasn't smiling. He was laughing, and it was me he was laughing at. ​​​
​Of course to discuss democracy as a system of government we need to go farther back in time than our childhood memories can take us. To understand the system we need to review its opposition and the most notable voice of critique that democracy ever had is attributed to Plato. A condensed version of his argument is to imagine sailing on a ship on which the captain is elected by the crew. The captain is not selected based on the candidates knowledge of navigation because the crew is not educated enough to judge those skills. Those become secondary to issues such as how well will the crew dine, how long the working hours are, what pay will be offered, and so on. How to appear likeable becomes the key principle in a candidate's platform. Without the necessary knowledge to see through the empty marketing, we elect a captain who is nice, charismatic, and who offered us the most, but who is sailing straight for the rocks. Eventually, we all drown.​​

You must be this tall to participate

This allegorical description of course is just the framework of the argument for democracy’ s ineffectiveness. Some view this as just a bedtime story that the critics tell to their children although I would disagree. Since the last 2.3 millennia many who continued the work of the student of Socrates were trying to warn us of the sociological, political and economic implications that derive from irrational voting. The story’s changed. One notable reference from Benjamin Franklin was that "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch". Of course the advocates of the system were reading different tales to their children and so the tango continued. All this changed in the last two centuries when the torch was passed from political and moral philosophers to political and social scientists, economists, statisticians and applied mathematicians. By the use of instruments unattainable to their predecessors they produce empirical evidence which seems to overwhelmingly support the ineffectiveness of the democratic system. Plato would be proud... the voters should not be. Obtaining proof was an unavoidable consequence of advancements in those fields; the hardest part is still in front of us.​​​​
The complexity of any political system derives from the social reality in which it is engaged. With every new technological innovation, new study in psychology, developments in medicine and science; a new enemy at our gates we seek to modernize and refine social issues, such as the education of children, re-socialization of inmates, climate management, treatment of workers and many others. We know more about ourselves and the world around us than ever before, and we are learning more exponentially. Correspondingly our perception of the world is growing increasingly complex and our political system needs to adapt to this complexity. However citizens do not want to adapt. An overwhelming majority of neuroscientists advocate that crime is a symptom of brain damage and institutional failure - the medicine is a 'healthy brain program' and economic stability. Unfortunately for as long as the voters are ignorant of the research, motivated by revenge and fear; we segregate our sick in cages of steel and concrete. This is not an isolated issue. Man-made climate change, the drug market, dietary options in school cafeterias, how liberal we are of contact sports and many economic policies constitute just some examples of topics for which the public opinion differs from the consensus the experts have already reached. And the price we pay is stopping the progress of civilization.

We are the human resource officers for our government officials, who over time are recruiting to more and more specialized positions with little to no knowledge of the position requirements. As society progresses it should become harder to be a public servant, yet due to the nature of the system it takes the same amount of effort to become one. We all complain that politicians are deceptive but in lesser numbers we recognize that it is not a character flaw but a job requirement. If the majority of the voters can't verify which policies need to be applied for societies benefit, a career politician finds different ways to convince the public. Even on a local level politicians invest in Public Relations firms, spin doctors and polling companies just to find out what is the perfect tie, haircut, tone of voice, narrative, line of argument, body language that conveys trust... in the land of ignorance, trust makes kings. It is easy to start blaming our leaders, after all it is they who are lying to us. But aren't we all overestimating our abilities on our job interviews? And are we doing so because we like lying, or do we do it because we are suspicious that our competition will not show the same moral restraint, and this way the decision to lie is made for us. But even after recognizing all we have learnt form behavioural economics our recruitment process vastly differs from democratic elections for one simple reason. In our interview scenarios we are severely restricted in how much we can color our candidacy because the HR officers conducting our interviews are trained to distinguish reality from fiction; and it is lack of this training that makes democratic elections dangerous. Without the proper coaching the voter, unable to distinguish true research from propaganda campaigns, is making a decision that originates from trust rather than knowledge; and this in a time where trust is bought in currency of billboards, air time, Armani suits and other marketing tools.
The institution that was always meant to keep the citizens democratically prepared was the education system. Franklin D. Roosevelt said “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education” (1). It is in our classrooms that we were meant to be taught where and how to look for truth, and in many genres we have been, but when it comes to civic knowledge the material is not as comprehensive as to match with our future responsibilities. It is unfortunate, even though all democratic countries have some form of social awareness classes incorporated into their education programs, for most economics and party politics are not part of the curriculum. And without those brushes most of the picture is painted not by an objective learning institution but by politicians themselves and via private, bias media outlets. There are many advocates for civic classes and alternative ways to approach educating the citizens, but even when those changes will be finally realized we will still need to acknowledge the part of society that missed those reforms or the students who just do not want to learn. It also might just be the case that we will not have as much time as those reforms will require to produce results, if they will ever get to be implemented in the first place as some find the idea of an informed electorate threatening to the point of holding back progress.

Despite all those objections democracy had its many strong supporters throughout history. John Stewart Mill was one of them. In one of his most famous works 'Considerations on Representative Government' he argues that democracy represents a sense of collective identity, and that the freedom to choose to live the way you want is inseparable to a citizen's well-being. Mill believed that self-rule represents a productive force that helps the citizens to grow to become more responsible and aware of their importance in the system. In his vision, the realization of the power they hold causes the citizens to start investing in themselves to improve the collective good. It seems a valuable argument that self-governance presents an incentive to become better at governing, but can we trust the citizens to act responsibly?​

The only answer that derives from evidence is that we cannot. Mill built his theories on the assumption that humans are naturally rational and responsible. This view is reminiscent of the concept of human exceptionalism that we all convinced ourselves of, just before Charles Darwin gave us reasons to look further into who we are; showing we are not born rational but rather evolve to become so. Even in the era of information the citizens seem not to be interested in learning. The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) ranks the University of California, Berkeley as the fourth educational institution in the world(2). But the reason Berkeley should be of interest to the voters is because they decided, like some of the other universities, to create a YouTube channel and share some of their lectures with the public. What is surprising and sad though is that those lectures do not attract many viewers. Economics have been viewed below 3,500 times, political science - below 1400 views, Public health, media studies, environmental science, and agriculture and resource economics gathered just below 700 views each. To put this in perspective the new James Bond movie trailer has been viewed more than 12,000,000 times just in its first month online. It doesn't seem that the public gives much attention to making an informed decision.

Despite viewing Mill's theories as hopelessly idealistic, this argument for self-rule is one of my favorite as it elevates democracy into a humanist value system. The principles of equality, and the value and importance of citizens are what makes it so attractive. For humanists, the greatest value in life is represented by the people. They are patriots without borders. It is we who are capable of greatness from creating the Large Hadron Collider to composing symphonies. Humans have achieved a great deal by working together, and we deserve a political system that encapsulates the importance of individuals in constructing societies. Agreeing in this respect with John Stewart Mill puts me in a difficult position because it contradicts Plato whose opinions I also share. If both philosophers are right then both the strengths and weaknesses of democracy lies in self-rule. And so we arrive at an impasse. But what if there was a perfect balance between these perceptions of humanity? What if there was a way to fix the problems that democracy inherited due to its humanist construct without losing any of the liberties it offers - a way to treat the body and leave the soul intact? A very common mistake is to deal with human constructs in idealistic terms. We recognize things as right or wrong, good or bad, virtues and vices. The level of complexity involved in creating political systems that will lead us to a better tomorrow is too great and it will never lead to something ideal, but it can be the best we can strive for. Winston Churchill said that "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time"(3). With all the problems that derive from democratic elections, there is inarguably room there for improvement. What is it that we can do then? The answer just might be in the gray area between those extreme views. Perhaps it is also something we have tried in the past.

In our society, we all have the right to drive a car. Why shouldn't we? Roads are part of the infrastructure which is built from our taxes. Becoming a driver is a liberty that we can all share, but there is something very interesting about the structure of the system in which we acquire our licenses. The driving license authority recognizes that an essential part of becoming a driver is basic training followed by an assessment. As citizens, we have a social responsibility to stand in front of a government institution and demonstrate we are qualified to drive. Only when equipped with the necessary knowledge we are issued with a vote of confidence that we will not unintentionally cause harm to society. Study materials are readily available and there are courses and training programs to prepare for our exams. If a candidate does not pass, all that conveys is that he is not yet ready to join other users of the road, and so that candidate is given guidance to improve his score in the future. This screening process is essential, and it produces drivers who can be trusted on our roads with our safety. The question then becomes, why can't we implement a common sense reform like this in the voting process? Let's look a little...n

We should remember that the practice of passing an exam to drive came into existence as a social reform, which was added long after the first cars had been accepted for public use. The first commercialized cars were operating in the United States in the 1890s but the first state to introduce a mandatory driving exam was Rhode Island in 1908. In the next decades more states made this decision and by 1959 every driver in the US was required to pass an exam before a driver license was issued. In some cases it seems a long time for drivers to be unrestricted behind the wheel but in retrospect, it wasn't that unreasonable. There were just a handful cars on the roads in the early 20th century, and the maximum speed they would reach would be 10 mph, if they were going downhill. The first drivers did not pose a danger to public safety any more than animal-drawn carriages, and no qualification assessment was required in their case. It wasn't until their numbers grew, faster models were introduced, and new regulations rapidly gave birth to the complexity of the signs and rules we see on the roads today that those restrictions were needed. Citizens started to undergo training to accommodate all the changes, government institutions undertook the responsibility of assessing their skills, and the number of accidents plummeted.

Similarly, from when democracy was invented, over 2500 years ago, to now, the knowledge required to govern a country is undeniably greater. The ancient Greeks and Romans were very civilized for their time, yet their socio-economic structure was to no extent close to what they look like in their modern counterparts. We improved education, infrastructure, law, the military, how we deal with internal and external safety threats, technology and sciences, banking, health and many other parts of our life. If we had it in us to rationally develop our liberties on the roads how is it that after all we have learned, as adults, we still stubbornly view democracy as this last absolute liberal practice? If the citizens are not trusted with enough responsibility to decide when to start driving, how is it that we are comfortable with them deciding on delicate and complicated matters of national importance, with absolutely no screening process beyond one restriction that we have all agreed on? And this brings me back to my old enemy.

Every democratic country is withdrawing voting rights of their citizens until they recognize that they are ready. They just define 'ready' differently. They defined it in an age limit, which is exactly what we had been doing in case of the drivers in the past. Like a plywood clown with one hand extended, holding a sign with the other 'You must be this tall to participate', we have decided what is the right number... the number of times the Earth has made a full orbit around the sun since our birth certificates were issued. The number that encapsulates values like maturity, responsibility and knowledge. Most modern democracies seem to be in disagreement about what this number is, but statistically speaking the most common example is 18. Ridiculous... we gain virtues through character building and education. Some get to be responsible when they are 13, some get to live a long life and never come close to the sensation. The only intelligent way to judge the citizens competence is on a case by case basis, not by an inevitability. Especially because our government does not have the excuse of a small budget for not being able to afford an extravagancy like this.

​​​An ever present critique of this approach to our voting practices is that it would result in creating an elite class of citizens who will organize and conspire to first promote legislation that will damage social mobility which will lock them in positions of power, and promote policies that will magnify their influence and income. This view is a common misconception on behalf of the people who think that the screening process needs to be elaborately challenging and thereby exclude whole demographics whose political knowledge does not originate from academic discourse or descendants of an institutional failure. We can very easily adjust the tests difficulty to basic political literacy and following current affairs. This way no demographic will be harmed by the tests standards and we still would get all the corresponding benefits. This kind of test will target and exclude ignorance and irresponsible behavior from the voting booth. It will encourage learning, make sure that voters know all the sides to an argument and expose gaps in their knowledge which they should easily fill with accessible learning materials. With the level of difficulty adjusted to test usefulness and learning materials being easily accessible and potentially free, the danger of elitism is non-existent.

In every recruitment process exists danger of an institutional failure. Human resource officers make mistakes and the candidates are deceptive. But for no other profession the probability of an error is so high as it is in case of politicians. This trait is unique in itself, as it is institutionally acceptable for the electing side to make a decision based in ignorance. And why do we do it? Why do we continue to stand by watching this ship sailing into the abyss while the captain is choosing the course from reading tea leaves? We do it for the principle of freedom. The freedom to choose our own direction even when we have no sense of it. We do it because even though we do not trust ourselves we trust everybody else less. Perhaps we should rethink this, as the course we're choosing is not our own to follow. If I'm making a decision on how to influence society I should owe it to its every member to first demonstrate my competence in the subject. To withhold this information is not only in bad taste, it is disrespectful and we should not stand for it. Today we live in a vastly complicated world. With this complexity we should re-evaluate our liberties, just as we have done before, as some questions need to be reintroduced with time, so we can adjust our perceptions of this world that is ever changing. The number of citizens who do not vote is enormous but the argument of them not being adequately prepared for the event is rarely heard. Most just advocate how little power their voice has over the multitude or that they do not see a good choice in any of the candidates. In any case these opinions are needles scattered between politicians screaming how voting is the ultimate liberty in a democracy, and what every patriot should be involved in. But how virtuous can an irresponsible act be, of casting a vote from ignorance?

To this crowd of giants on whose shoulders I have been standing let me add one more. Niccolò Machiavelli believed that Democracy was the last organized system of government in the close chain of events that follow the distribution of power in societies. He proposed that from anarchy a tyrant will take rule. Tyranny will eventually decay to monarchies which will decay into aristocracies and finally the power will be given to the people. Machiavelli believed that bad decision-making will mark the downfall of society and the descent into anarchy just to start the cycle again. It would be unfortunate if this prognosis is where we are heading, and even more important becomes the question, what should we do to conserve the beauty that surrounds us. Perhaps introducing a more meritocratic election system will once and for all break this chain.
(1) http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15545
(2) http://www.shanghairanking.com/World-University-Rankings/University-of-California-Berkeley.html
(3) https://richardlangworth.com/worst-form-of-government
Whatever answer you come up with to escape from this hypothetical prison probably looks like a very grounded and realistic plan when compared to Ovid's tale. No matter how imaginative you are it probably never occurred to you to use wax, strings and feathers to construct a set of wings and escape by air. The designer of the plan was Daedalus and the only great skill to his ingenuity seems to be his talent for persuasion as he was successful in convincing his youngest son to follow this mad escape plan. Wouldn't you want to be in the room when the steps were explained?
Of course we need to be more flexible when judging mythologies. After all Daedalus' invention doesn't look that improbable when observed from a pile of mythological objects that grant invincibility, power to control weather, make the wearer invisible or allow him to speak to animals; or my personal favourite a dead man's hand that opens all doors. Human sustainable flight looks pretty good now, doesn't it? But what if I argue that flight might just be a viable option when trying to escape from Crete...

How to escape from Crete

Consider that you are locked in a tower, located on the island of Crete, far away from the nearest land, and due to serve a life sentence for being a marvel amongst architects. If you think this sentence doesn't fit the crime it might be worth mentioning that you built a prison for a mythical beast and the warden of his prison, who also happens to be the monster's father is suffering from a case of paranoid personality disorder. With the only set of keys to the vile creature's freedom supported by your neck you are too dangerous to be left to yourself and so you became a political prisoner... and yes, there are monsters in this thought experiment. You can't escape by sea, the distance to travel is too great and the warden keeps strict control over all vessels leaving the prison. Digging your way out is out of the question... you can only travel down for so long until your tunnel gets flooded. You lack the military Rambo skills to take the island hostage and overthrow the warden. Also as you are well known for being a skillful inventor your resources are limited. What would you do?

Humans can't fly. The problem seems to be that we are not built for it. Our bodies are not even close to making this possible and you can't cheat physics. But humans are very innovative by nature. We have learnt how to read the laws of nature and use every trick in the book to construct engines, planes, balloons and helicopters that enable sustainable flight. We still can't fly, but we can transport people by air. The question of why we can't reach for more has been reviewed before by many and I will not go into details trying to rephrase these arguments in yet another way. I myself am in no way educationally equipt to handle this subject extensively so I'll just play around. The simple answer to why we can't fly I have supplied in the beginning of this paragraph... you can't cheat physics, you can only do what it allows you to... but perhaps we can cheat biology. At the very least we can try to get as close to what we reach for, before we drop down from the sky to our doom.
There are many anchors that are holding us back and I will take time to address all of them but the truth is that one of them weighs on us more than all the others. If we do not do something about weight itself continuing this narrative would be pointless as mathematics would not allow our champion to get where we want him. The size of the wings need to correspond to the weight of the operator and for a 70 kg male the wings would need to be 6.7m in wingspan and 7.3m2 in surface area. Of course the weight of the wings would need to be added to the calculation which would increase them to be even larger and heavier, way to big for our muscles to handle... not even close. A diet could be applied but it wouldn't make a dent in the direction we need to travel.

​​Luckily for me our champion doesn't have a pulse. He exists within the realms of my thought experiment confind to his tower cell for his unusual crime. If we're going to make him escape we will need to make him lighter... so let's cut his leg's off. Even if it doesn't look that way, above the hips our bodies contain vital organs such as lungs, Intestines and brain and those don't weigh that much whereas our legs are just muscle and bone and they actually account for 50% of our body weight. Also in no way will they be engaged in the process of operating the wings. If our champion is to leave the ground legs need to go, and unfortunately for our imaginary friend we can't stop there. To push the boundaries of political correctness we will need our friend to sacrifice more flesh. If you ever watch para olympics you might have actually seen athletes that due to a birth defect, accidents, sickness or war beyond their legs have lost their hips and lower abdomen but still maintain their usual upper body muscle function. Only in this way will our champion be in the unique position of having just the right upper body muscle strength to body weight ratio for a sustained flight.
This surgical operation takes care of the second considerable problem that we would have to face which is weight distribution. If you ever step into a church one thing seems obvious, angels are not painted by physics majors. Human center of balance is located at our hips and this is where the wings would need to be located for our bodies to remain in a horizontal position for an extended length of time. It might be that a set of wings extending out of the shoulder blades is aesthetically pleasing but it's not functional. Our edited subject's center of weight is now located just below his shoulders and it is where we need it to be for his pectoralis major and pectoralis minor (the chest muscles) to work with optimal efficiency.
OK... as grotesque as it was we took care of the weight and weight distribution problems. Let's shift our attention to the wings for a bit. To work out the dimensions let's look to nature. The heaviest living flying bird is the kori bustard of Africa. Large males weigh up to 20 kg. A big kori bustard has a wingspan of up to 275 cm. We need to remember that even though our champion is 1/3 heavier (30kg) he still has no equipment on him and the muscle groups that will be predominantly used in the flying process are only a small factor stronger than the ones of the big koris. Let's give ourselves 5 kg to work with. If you were to scale up a 20 kg, 275 cm individual to 35 kg, you'd be increasing its mass by a factor of 35/20 = 1.75, which means you'd be increasing its linear dimension by the cube root of that factor, about 1.205 (since 1.205^3 = 1.75). That would give it a wingspan of 332 cm. Is it possible to construct a set of wings of those diameters? Well, actually a similar contraption has already been designed and manufactured by Kitewing. Although designed for skateboarders and consists of some railings and handles we have no need for, it has the dimensions that answer our question. Modifications will need to be applied to insure mobility but I will move forward assuming this can be built within our 5 kg limit.
There are more than a few question marks still on paper. Birds have been crafted by natural selection for millions of years to make them skillful at flying. Can the technique be taught? 10 million years ago when our species more resembled the benobos or the chimpanzees our bodies were on average 20% heavier. This is because our physique was designd for an environment of climbing. We changed the environment around us and moved to areas where running and stamina became increasingly important. Through the power of natural selection our lungs expanded, our deltoids grew weaker and the rib cage changed its shape from a small upside down diamond to a larger oval. We also got much lighter as by standing upright we stopped engaging our upper body muscle groups in locomotion. All those changes in our biology eventually made us undertake a practice for which we were never initially built for... swimming. Is it possible that by making further changes in our biology and artificially removing the legs we would be able to undertake flying, and would we be able to learn the technique just like our expert swimmers have for their domain?
Since we mentioned stamina... big Kori Bustards are not long distance flying birds. We might assume the range our champion can travel will be limited. Stamina might not be as difficult an obstacle to overcome as weight but on our list of anchors there are still more positions to cross and together small obstacles can just be enough to ground our champion. We need to work on eye sight location, because the human physique in a horizontal position allows us only to look down and we wouldn't want to crash into a flying whale. By lifting the chin we would increase the surface area to our vector which would increase air resistance. Our head is not aerodynamic as it is. And we need all the help we can get from the laws of physics. But ultimately we will need to make sacrifices if this escape plan it to be successful. I have been avoiding the subject of security as we can't supply our prisoner with any. Both the parachute and a helmet would add weight we can't afford to put on. For our champion it's all or nothing. To share the destiny of Daedalus and fly like the gods, or his son and fall to his doom. It wouldn't be a prison if no risk was involved in escaping from it.
Finally the question of how to get our champion into the air needs to be addressed. Birds use far more energy to get off the ground than to sustain the flight itself. Perhaps when pushing a human straight to its limits it might be just possible to sustain the flight, but getting off the ground without assistance is out of the question and jumping out of the tower to build up momentum might be a little risky. To build a takeoff ramp for our friend might be too conspicuous but let's be honest, the prison occupants would also notice one of their neighbours getting significantly shorter. Perhaps at this stage we can abondon a illusion of a successfull escape and focus just on the aspect of flight. If ski jumpers can travel through the air over 240 meters (790 ft) just by building up momentum on a ramp it should do wonders for our guy and adapting thos principles might just give us the advantage we need.
 And what if it's still not enough. What if the flight will still not be sustainable but a low degree glide will get our champion progressively closer to the earth. When all things said and done it will still make a amazing paralympic sport. Ski jumpers could not even compete with your subject. Wingsuits have a surface area of around 3.5m2 and they're designed to sustain a 45 degree glide for an average operator, so how many degrees would it be for a operator who on a 3.5m2 would weight 50% less of average? Perhaps we can abandon nature, forget about drag, lift, and thrust and build two engines on the wings and watch an amazing race above the streets of a busy capitol with safety nets stretched between building blocks.
It seems that I have put forward more questions on this project than I have answered. To find out if it is possible to escape from Crete I will need to send you away for further investigation beyond this portal. I hope you had fun with this thought experiment and hope you will eventually get your curiosity fully satisfied. You and me both.​​

The Bergisel Ski Jump, Innsbruck, Austria