A primer on Foundationalism

The foundation is the lowest, most dead-load bearing part of a building; and thus it is so with all forms of knowledge and human endeavor

In a way we are talking about something very similar to Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation Trilogy” in which a sort of oracle predicts the downfall of a galactic empire and creates a group of scientists called the “Foundation” in order to deflect the downwards trajectory and preserve as much of civilization as possible. The Foundationalists are primed to be the cornerstone for a new galactic renaissance which is based in foundational knowledge of the universe i.e. science

Foundationalism, as a philosophy, does not seek to establish a specific opinion or point of view on any subject. Rather it seeks to be a universally applicable building block or medium that accelerates the creation of and the conversations around higher level constructs which should be debated over their lack of clarity or changing needs. Like a software operating system it can be modified by society yet it seeks to generally obfuscate the complexity of the springs and levers by which government operates from the layman in order to create a user-friendly operating environment on top of which ideas can compete in very much the same fashion as software applications do

Computer operating systems have evolved over time to bring a level of abstraction and simplicity to their operators which hides their inherent complexity in order to save them from themselves. By making it difficult, and in some cases virtually impossible, for tech/programming illiterate operators of computers from incorrectly modifying or corrupting their operating systems, those same systems are made more robust and resilient for said users. The more modifiable a software system is to allowing changes of core operating files the more likely that accidental or inept modification leads to permanent and irrevocable system corruption

At the same time in politics and philosophy there are well established ‘foundational’ principles which are known as universal and true across all people existing in all corners of the planet. Crimes against humanity, environmental pollution and monetary corruption of all forms, are universally condemned as bad. Social programs such as public roads, universal healthcare and firefighters are globally understood to be good and necessary for the functioning of a well ordered society. One can select from these certain aspects which should form the foundation of any society and be codified as practically involatile or off-limits. In this way they may still be changed, but not in a way dissimilar from changing a constitution, doing so will be difficult. This is not to say that a citizen shouldn’t be able to argue, for example, against the existence or the good of having public roads, rather that they should have a really good reason for doing so in order to be able to modify a foundational principle of society

By compartmentalizing the foundation of society away from the public in the public interest - the public would both have a harder time misguidedly or accidentally breaking the underlying principles which allow society to function and flourish. More importantly, a higher level focus can be had in society by focusing energies on aspects which are not immutable and definitively agreed upon as unequivocally beneficial to society or the governance thereof. For example if time and energy is not wasted debating if the benefits of public roads still hold true that time and energy can instead be better spent debating the pros and cons of integrating the blockchain and crypto-currency into society/government, or something equally challenging and computationally intensive instead

In this way a foundationalist, unlike a fundamentalist, would seek to establish the foundational principles which would be adopted as immutable by a universal government. As opposed to a fundamentalist who ignorantly tries to, against all reason, artificially stick a really basic principle into a system irrespective of its fundamental logical practicability. These foundational principles can differ in nature, scope and complexity between different organizations and sovereign entities and those entities don’t necessarily have to agree on foundational principles which must be applicable between all governments — simply the ones they believe ought to be unto themselves. If aspects are picked which are “user friendly” to the good functioning of society and government then generally they should be expected to be relatively ubiquitous from one country to the next. After all whats foundational for one country, when defined by a government not racked by corruption, is expected to be very similar to any other similar government looking at the question through the sober lens of science. This would be very much comparable to how modern systems, technologies and their metaphors which have, despite independent roots, independently come out to be relatively consistent from one computer operating system to the other

Foundations can have multiple levels of complexity. In this case some levels can be more foundational than others and more difficult to modify than higher level concepts society is less sure about. The kinds of things in these structures and their level of vertical complexity would be expected to differ from country to country. That being said, where this structure would be most useful is in the application of governance laws relating to pre-requisities — for example: as a member state of the United Nations or to laws pertaining to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Therefore one could imagine a country which has multiple layers of foundational principles, in this example, one of which can be a core and in-volatile principle “that we will abide by the universal principles of Human Rights ( as defined by the UN )” Rather than something that’s debated as an aside internally in terms of a countries sovereign definition of rights which some citizens may or may not have the privy to and which ultimately may altogether be unfortunately discarded. On top of this sovereign countries can build other foundation tiers detailed by said country in regards to rights which are not covered a part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but which are universally agreed upon as equally important to social justice in society because they are commonly found as societal cornerstones the world over ( and therefore not subject to debate )

This optimization seeks to improve global governance by essentially preventing people from messing with the fundamental building blocks and inner workings of their territorial governments which are too complex for them to understand and which they should generally not be modifying. This is not a recommendation for a system of control which excludes one group from argument or gives justification to another to block reasoned debate. Only the aspects of the system of governance and other societal principles which can be fully agreed on by everyone and have global precedent as ‘unarguable’ should be included in a governments ‘foundation’. By subscribing to foundationalism governments should break less and work better for the people they serve while evolving new systems atop their foundations robustly through vigorous democratic debate and vibrant communal engagement.


Designer @OneSignal, Founder @Retrographic | Ex @Lyft. Follow me at https://dribbble.com/sevenshurygin