Constitutional Federal Republic

As Benjamin Franklin was exiting after writing the U.S. constitution, a woman asked him, “Well, Doctor, what have we got – a republic or a monarchy?” He replied, “A republic – if you can keep it.”

What happened to the Roman republic was a slow slide into public illegitimacy, intensified by the way in which elites played by the rules only when it suited them and broke precedents and norms when it came to defending their own interests, complaining loudly when others did the same.

Republics do not suddenly evaporate. The institutions they establish tend to continue — but, over time, in a deeply polarized and increasingly unequal society, they can become less and less potent, as various leaders and their followings fight zero-sum games using the rhetoric of power rather than the dialogue of deliberation. Precedents are broken; habits of mind and behavior erode; the advance of executive power ebbs and flows; but relentlessly, the water line of what is an acceptable level of autocracy rises. 

Andrew Sullivan

The Ironies of Automation

In an automated system, two roles are left to humans: monitoring that the automated system is operating correctly, and taking control if it isn’t. An operator who doesn’t routinely operate the system will have atrophied skills if ever called on to take over.

Unfortunately, physical skills deteriorate when they are not used, particularly the refinements of gain and timing. This means that a formerly experienced operator who has been monitoring an automated process may now be an inexperienced one.

Not only are the operator’s skills declining, but the situations when the operator will be called upon are by their very nature the most demanding ones where something is deemed to be going wrong. Thus, what is really needed in such a situation is a more, not a lesser, skilled operator. To generate successful strategies for unusual situations, an operator also needs a good understanding of the process under control and the current state of the system. The former understanding develops most effectively through use and feedback (which the operator may no longer be getting the regular opportunity for); the latter takes some time to assimilate.