Make Local Government Central

Stephen C. Rose
Feb 16, 2015 · 5 min read

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Democracy is in serious trouble. When was the last time you felt your participation mattered? Do you think you can have influence when two brothers who are major polluters can duplicate the total economic power of a major political party? Do you think of government as something you can influence by walking to a city hall and registering a concern? Alright, these are gotcha questions, easily answered, but they do not prove that the contention about democracy is true.

Democracy is not in trouble. Democracy is a value. It is a value that declares we have an equal voice, we have the same rights as everybody else, we can run for office, we are free to choose how we will live if we abide by the rule of law, which is supposed to be fair and impartial. Democracy will be here long after we are gone. The problem is that we do not have much of it left.

We give it away by not voting.

We give it away by supporting candidates who do not defend it.

We give it away by misusing it or by not using it at all.

We become a democracy when we choose the value and start to live by it. Individually. Personally. In our attitude toward everything. We accord the same rights to those nearest us. We insist on equal justice for all. We think something is wrong if elections can be bought or if districts are gerrymandered or if the right to vote is not given willingly.

And maybe we think of a future when democracy is more a local thing than a state or national thing.

Imagine a community 10,000 persons strong. Of this community at least one in ten persons is a responsible member of one of these branches. Legislative, judicial, executive.

Something like this would ramp up participation and ensure that governance is close to the people. Existing national and state governments would be less important, responsible primarily for regulatory matters.

In the world I am proposing, local democracies would flourish. Each would have their own character. All individuals would be free to move from one to another anywhere.

This is the option in a world where the economic problem of inequity has been solved by the simple mechanism of cutting military investment in half across the board and devoting whatever is needed to the creation of a financial system that ensures that all persons on the planet can afford the basic necessities of life. The social object of life would then be the self-sufficiency by right of all persons on the planet

There is only one authority that should govern a community and that is the law-abiding persons who live within it.

Democracy is a way of ensuring that we live as we wish as long as we do not wish to deny the same assurance to others. This means that when there is a conflict there must be a peaceful means of resolving it. The process must be fair and visible.

Creating a scale where decisions are at a community level is the best way to ensure that we do not erect a superstructure that turns out to be what is actually ruling us, beyond the capacities of any democratic process to change.

So let us work nationally and globally for a world of cybercommunities. Communities about the size of London when it started. About a mile square.

A cybercommunity will combine all elements of a city from residence, to commerce to recreation — the whole ball of wax. It will have a population of around 10K. It will have mainly foot traffic. And it will be the principal governance unit. A democracy. A participatory democracy. A real democracy.

We are entering the cyber era. Anywhere there is connectivity, the world is at our fingertips. In such a culture density is a virtue. Not overcrowding, but thoughtful coming together of peoples in order to forge a new world beyond what we have known.

The car world enabled rural existence. A car free one will require densification. This will only serve to make our communities not merely local but global. It should mean that we will be able to travel or even move anywhere on the globe and find fellowship. This will be the case if we undergo the sea change from nationalism and tribalism to cybercommunity, by which I mean, to reiterate, a gathering of up to 10,000 responsive to universal values that enable an evolution toward good in the world.

To speak of cybercommunities is to raise the question of survival for many nations including the United States. It is a testimony to the precariousness of the world as I write that the text you are reading might be as much a post-apocalyptic primer as a sketch of options which actually would bode well to preserve the world and such civilization as it can claim to have, hopefully augmented by some moral sea changes, as for example, from massive military investment and the risk of cataclysmic destruction via war and from the lassitude that is almost endemic in the face of predictable things like climate change and the end of the oil economy.

What a hedge this last paragraph is! But give me credit for being willing to assume that we have a future and for offering some useful hints about what it could be like.

There is no hint more useful than the suggestion that we revive the micro-macro notion that was around when John Donne “wrote no man is an island” — to wit, a world made up of micro units that all bear relationship to the macro or universal context that embraces all of life.

Some will argue that our democracy in the United States actually works much of the time, that it is a system that has reality in terms of how our lives are lived. Yes it is threatened by such things as money in politics, the capacity of an oligarchy to exert dominance over a majority and the persistence of policies that buttress major forms of stratification and injustice. But we can depend on the slow movement of progressivism to iron out these kinks.

That would be delightful. But it would still leave the big issue unresolved. As Bob Marley put it, we need Exodus — a movement of the people.

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