The Future of Governance is not Governments
Living systems on every scale have governance — methods of self-regulation to manage the coherence and continuity of the system. Also, for steering toward goals or away from dangers.
This governance is not the same as a government. Government as we know it is a blunt instrument designed to enforce the will of the many over the few (although at this point it enforces the will of few on the many) It is a monolithic bureaucracy. And frankly, it isn’t very good at governance, at least not as defined in the first paragraph.
The Nature of Change
Notice that governance includes both conserving continuity and making progress. All living systems have this tension between being conservative and progressive.
Progressive: Adapt or die — change is required. A system which cannot adapt to changing circumstances, will get steam-rolled by them. Furthermore, we want more than just adapting to survive, but evolving to improve and thrive. We want to move toward goals, and higher quality of life. And we want to be able to perceive and avoid dangers, and respond deftly when confronted by them.
Conservative: Maintain integrity or fly apart. What makes a system work is the pattern of self-regulation it has established: feedback loops, dynamic balances, flows which nourish all the parts of whole, so the whole can function. Disruption of the integrity of these patterns brings death even more quickly than a failure to evolve.
Globally, politics polarizes around that tension: conservative vs. progressive. This is a false choice. Both are mandatory. It doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. When the world around you is changing, and that change is accelerating, the question is never whether to change or stay the same.
The questions we must confront are:
- What changes are vital? (to survival and goals)
- How do we implement those changes in a way that doesn’t destroy the integrity of what works?
Selecting a conservative vs. a progressive candidate is a false choice that we are forced to make because of broken architectures of governments.
The Failure of Representative Democracy
Representative Democracy may have been a breakthrough 2000 years ago. It even made sense 200 years ago when the U.S. Constitution was written. The only way to discuss and deliberate was to go meet someplace, and everyone can’t ride hundreds of miles by horseback or carriage to participate, so you choose representatives to bring your local news and concerns to the table. There are many alternatives in an Internet age.
Fine — except for a few major problems.
- One person can’t actually represent many. Maybe if we sit down and you tell me your concerns and commitments about an issue, then I could represent you (and myself) on that issue. But as you add a few more people, that gets increasingly difficult. Now make it millions of people that I don’t talk to directly and make it apply across all issues. What are the chances I’m really representing you? Is it even possible that I could come close to representing that kind of population across the complex range of issues that officials are supposed to make decisions about?
- Party Affiliation: A two-party system reduces politics down to voting for a conservative or progressive. Multi-party politics isn’t much better as it still reduces the range of discourse down to the ideological platform of the party. Voter choices go from 2 to 3 or 5, which is nowhere near the level of complexity of choice that we need for navigating the world we’re in.
- Non-Local Issues: Particularly, at the level of the Federal government, most of the decisions made have little to do with locale. Local decisions are certainly made on neighborhood, municipal, and loosely state levels. (Many states are too big be “local” ) So we are constrained to voting by party and locale. These factors map very poorly to the real world challenges we need to collectively navigate.
A World too Big, Fast, and Complex
The Constitution was written for an Agrarian Republic. The level of complexity that officials were expected to confront absolutely did not include things like Nuclear Power and Weaponry, Electronic Surveillance, Climate Change, Net Neutrality, Air Traffic Control, etc. If you’ve gotten a glimpse of CSPAN, you probably have exposure to how poor a grasp politicians have on even basic workings of some of these issues.
They can’t be experts on everything, especially when their job security is mostly tied to schmoozing influential funders. We have politicians without the right expertise, with inherent conflicts of interest by who they have to please to keep getting campaign funds, who can’t possibly represent the complexity of their constituency, and are elected by association with ideological simplifications … and we pretend there’s a chance of good governance from this setup.
The Constitutional Government fared fairly well for nearly a hundred agrarian years. Yet as the country moved into a more industrial era, the government had no good way to integrate a major shift in economic power. I would assert that the Civil War was a symptom of that failure to integrate the northern industrial and southern agrarian economic needs and patterns except by military force.
After this point, the U.S. Government appeared to continue on smoothly but increasingly became controlled by the banks and corporations of the industrial economy. As the U.S. economy has been transitioning into information age dynamics, it gets harder to even maintain the appearance of relevance.
The bureaucracy simply doesn’t have the throughput to keep up with the increased complexity of issues and the pace that the world is changing.
The End of Old World Order
The government was already dying. The gap between what it had become and what we need it to be was becoming intolerable for too many people. That is part of what enabled Trump to get his foot into the door of the presidency, and if his first week in office is any indication, his team will dismantle much, and quickly.
This is not business as usual. They are not playing by the old rules. There is a good chance that they won’t acknowledge any established means of reclaiming the power they’ve seized. Not by impeachment. Not by the next election. Not by constitutional convention. Spending your energy on those things will likely be energy lost.
We’ll see if I’m right about this, but if I am, that means our only real alternative is to build the next generation of self-governance that reclaims the powers we’ve surrendered to the government.
It will need to be a P2P, fully-distributed, digital democracy that will be so different from how we think of government, that it may better be thought of as a kind of social network. You jump on, scan your feed, participate in conversations you’re interested in, weigh in with “likes” or other similar feedback, etc.
For many, the reality of this will sound far-fetched. Remember, the cells in our body figured out how to do extremely sophisticated self-governance on scales of trillions. Fully P2P governance. No cell is President or Dictator of the system.
If cells can do it, we can too. Unfortunately, we don’t have millions of years to figure it out, we’ve escalated the situation to create the crises we needed to force our own hands.
I’m not saying this kind of transition will be easy for people to accept. No change on this magnitude is easy. However, I don’t see any better alternatives.
People are agitated. Energy is emerging to connect for change. People need to be connecting and having new conversations about what to do. I’d like to channel some of that energy into building real alternatives instead of chasing expired political strategies.
This is an invitation to all who have the capacities to contribute to building the world we need.
- Community organizers
- Social process wonks
- Programmers and Crypto geeks
- Storytellers who can weave this vision of a future to aid in people’s transition
- UX, UI, and Graphic Designers
- All people willing to leave old pictures of government behind and experiment with new self-governance
For the technology side of things, please check out Ceptr and how you might be able to participate there. For the reinvention of governance, check out the Art of Governance site I’m building this week.
Art of Governance, and the collaborative tools for sharing ideas and up-voting and such, will initially be on a normal (centralized) web site, but we’ll move it to fully-distributed tools as quickly as we are able.
To respond to the questions I’ve received here and elsewhere about this post, it is now first in a series of four articles about governance.