Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Game of Thrones and the United States of America

I started watching Game of Thrones recently. While it is a medieval fantasy world, I cannot avoid thinking that many practices depicted in the series have strong elements of truth from the actual medieval times on this planet.

Most interesting to me is the vast separation of the social classes. Kings are kings, queens are queens, royalty is royalty, and the everyday people (villagers) remain everyday people. There are strict barriers between them and rarely if ever does someone cross to another social group.

I cannot possibly imagine how people of the middle ages must have felt, knowing that never in their entire lifetime would they be able to advance socially. The royal families, which dominated virtually all of the European countries, maintained their status using the very convenient rule that their status is derived by a blood relationship, and not by merit.

Travelling today in the palaces of France, England, Austria, etc., I try to get a sense of how the villagers of the time would look upon them, knowing that they can never get inside. Neither them nor their children, or their children's children. There must have been people that loved their kings, but there must have been people that hated them.

And then the discovery of the Americas happened, and its conquest makes way more sense to me under this prism now. Because the poor villager without any hope of improving his life now is presented with an opportunity to go to a new land where there are no kings, queens, or royalty. He finally has a chance to be judged on merit. And so the first people that migrated to America must have been the people that mostly hated the status of the European royalty.

This is all more evident in the constitution of the United States, which starts with the words "All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States". Not to a king, but to a Congress. In fact, the term "President of the United States" was chosen as the simplest, most humble title they could find, as far away as possible from royal terms. The president is someone that simply presides a board, without implying any direct executive powers. (The fact that it became a very powerful title is a result of later developments.)

I have much higher appreciation for the founding fathers of the US now. They looked at Europe and designed a ruling system as different as possible. No kings, no royalty, with distributed power among different bodies, elected from the people. 

It's quite amazing if you think about it. We tend to forget its importance because today we never really feel totally unable to progress in life. We are not meritocratic enough yet, but there is a general sense that if you struggle in life you will be rewarded. Which is why our world is so much better than the middle ages.