The future of government: Community reignited
The spectrum of national government models runs from distrust/fear through to trust/respect. Transparency is a measure of trustworthiness. According to US News, the top 5 in descending order of transparency are:
- New Zealand.
Using the GDP per capita figures from the International Monetary Fund, these countries all rank in the top 28. So transparency is not necessarily the secret to success. But GDP per capita is not necessarily a measure of success either. The wealthiest countries in the world have pockets of the poorest people. These pockets are both homegrown and imported. It must be doubly wretched to live in a country that boasts a high standard of living. Being poor and having very rich neighbours is a reminder of how poorly you have played the game or perhaps how the game is rigged against you.
In my view, democratic governments are not democratic if they are not attuned to everyone’s needs. The current models are largely nation, rather than citizen centric. Communities and thus individuals are the losers. Devolving power through local government to a large extent cultivates the illusion of inclusion. This is not to say that centralisation is bad and decentralisation is good. Covid has highlighted the issues with both.
The point is that there is no such thing as a national society, given the wealth, ethnic and cultural diversity within most developed countries. The human unit of operation is the tribe. In today’s world that is the community. A tribe that has no say in its defence or health is a disempowered tribe. I am not suggesting that for example South Boston’s Irish American community are given their own say in defence matters. Although in that case, they might well say that we are good thank you. But I am suggesting that governance models need to plug communities into the decision-making process.
Real communities are self-governing in respect of anti-social behaviour and are best placed to deal with the majority of mental health issues. Loneliness and a lack of agency are reduced if one feels part of a community. Communities provide the conditions to stimulate local business and the consumption of local produce. This would reduce the need for planet damaging global supply chains. Communities arise when families can stay relatively close together and not have to leave because gentrification has made their community unaffordable for the next generation. Covid-19 has reignited communities. Perhaps the pandemic is the catalyst for change?
The development of the nation state is the product of power politics. Prior to that we had the city state. Prior to that the tribal / clan model dominated. With the nation state, we saw a division between the military and civilians. The former handled defence and the ‘wet work’ needed to protect the nation’s interest.
Is it right to force soldiers to fight in wars that do not benefit their community? Is it right for a community to not be able to defend itself? I am not suggesting that in the event of an invasion, we need to run focus groups within the military or that taxes be used to fund local militia.
I am suggesting that a system is constructed that enables communities to have more control over their destiny. If government was structured in this way, then citizens would be more inclined to be get involved in community matters. Decisions about going to war in the Middle East would need to be sold on its merits to each community and their response would need to be factored in to the final decision. Not everybody would be happy with the decision, but at least every citizen would appreciate having had a say.
Don’t ask me
So does that mean building a mechanism whereby every citizen votes on every matter relating to the nation? No. Some sort of grading system could be created to decide whether voting take place at a national, local government, community or citizen level. Education is key to making this work. Uninformed decision making is dangerous, at both street and cabinet level.
This of course raises the issue of what constitutes a community. Is it determined by postcode / zip code? By ethnicity? Is it right to limit a citizen to one community? This needs some thought.
HG Wells Time Machine (1895) was prescient. Today we do indeed have the Eloi, a race of peaceful, undisciplined, uncurious and largely fearful people. In Well’s book, they represent the leisure class or the upper class. Today thanks to the industrial era factory model nature of work, this embraces both middle and working class too.
The Morlocks in turn lived underground. Their job was to run the infrastructure to support the Eloi lifestyle. Thus they depicted the working class. Today the Morlocks might be said to include the unemployed and unemployable. Individually, they are weak, but their ability to band together gives them some power over the Eloi.
One of the peculiarities of the relationship between Eloi and Morlocks was that the latter ate the former, and the former didn’t seem to mind. HG Wells is suggesting that the end game for humanity is that we eventually lose all traces of what it is to be human. The ‘symbiotic’ class relationship we end up with is one whereby the upper class become the livestock of the working class. A twisted and inverted return to the agricultural era?
Equality in practice
The Time Machine is a novel and not a treatise. However as the gap between the rich and the poor widen, we would be wise to take heed of HG Wells’ vision.
Again, nations benefit the powerful. But as the social contract and the social fabric starts to tear, it is apparent that the current model of governance needs a reset. Inequality is on the rise. Perhaps addressing this at the community level is the best starting point?