Sunday, July 24, 2011

I am obsessed by the idea of government of, by and for the people. It is the only idea I have discovered thus far that satisfies my definition or description of a just society.

This system of government called "representative democracy" which we have been practicing [at least, in theory] more and more around the world over the past 230 years or so, does not satisfy the defining criteria. To underscore the obvious: today, not a single human being on the face of this planet lives in a just society.

As it turns out, representative democracy is not government of the people. It is government of the politicians. Managed by the bureaucrats. For the benefit of the capitalists and the military industrial complex.

I am tired of the banality that this system – which is the causal agent for the huge mess in the human condition and affairs around the world – is the best we can do... because it is not.

Doubtless, it was a bold, new idea invented by the Continental Congress of the United States of America: in retrospect, it was probably the best that anyone could have done at that time. That was a time when we communicated with each other – that is, exchanged information – by messages handwritten with quill pens on sheets of parchment exchanged at the speed of horses and sails. But technology has changed all that. Which means we can do much better.

As Marshall McLuhan observed, technology is an extension of ourselves: tools that we invent to increase our ability to control and thereby change our environment. Which, inevitably, changes us too.

Which means that technology, the environment and we, ourselves, have each changed radically since 1776. And it also means that we have chosen, nevertheless, to ignore the immense significance of these changes and what they might proffer to facilitate genuine government of, by and for the people... we have thus far failed to grasp the implications of Thomas Jefferson's dictum that "Information is the currency of democracy."

Again to emphasize the obvious: computers, communication satellites, smart phones, the Internet, etc., drastically have changed us by changing our ability and capacity to connect and communicate with each other. Email, bulletin boards, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, Skype and a myriad of other applications have placed in the hands of each of us, directly, the power to exchange information, organize and participate in the coordination of human affairs – whether in small, large or huge numbers – in ways we could not even have fantasized merely 30 or 40 years ago.

Almost invisibly, a monumental shift has taken place in relation to who can participate in government – of the people – what we can do together – by the people – and how we can share the fruit of our collaboration – for the people.

Today we have the power and ability to eliminate the separation that the Continental Congress deliberately imposed between government and governed.

I am amazed by the changes that have taken place since “the man in the gray flannel suit” expressed our aspirations barely 60 years ago. And by how much more complex and accelerated our lives and affairs have become.

What has not changed is our ways of thinking about these things. As Marshall McLuhan also observed, we continue trying to thrust ourselves into the future with our minds intensely focused on our rear-view mirrors.

We, humanity, now face an exciting challenge.

We need to develop new ideas. Fresh modes of thinking about the law, economics, political sciences and education. Novel ways of utilizing our new information and communications technologies. Imaginative designs and architecture for open, transparent, accountable, collaborative, egalitarian and participatory organizations and institutions. Government that distribute the fruits of labour fairly among those who contribute to its creation.

First, we must change the way we think… not only about government, but especially about government. For the first time ever in human history the ideal democracy conceived by Pericles 2500 years ago appears attainable… an idea whose time at long last has come!

In fact, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Madison, Adams and the Continental Congress were much more perceptive about these things than we ourselves have been. Unfortunately, we have not paid too much attention to what they considered and anticipated:

... That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [equality… life, liberty, pursuit of happiness… government of, by and for the people] it is the Right of the People to alter it or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness..."

So, we now have new technological capacities and, also, wise and trustworthy inspiration to guide us in designing a just society.

The present is a time whose idea has come! 

Do we dare? Shall we begin?