Tuesday, 18 November 2008

My proposition

What I wish to assert is this: the way in which we organise ourselves is vital not only to our survival, but our ability to prosper. If matters of political and legal power are harnessed to humanity's better instincts; for instance, using structures to create the illusions of benefit for actions that protect the natural environment and resources; we are able to promote and discourage human behaviour to sustain and shape the environments within which we operate. The key to this is a method of collective organisation through which actions are taken that are widely recognised as legitimate and given weight accordingly.
Such a vital position occupied by legitimacy requires the continuous affirmation and understanding of issues addressed by the system. The only two ways to acheive this both operate through the potential participation of all in the allocation and exercise of power. One is acheived by encouraging everyone to wield actual influence and the other is to convince them that they already do so, when they do not. The problem with this latter solution lies in its inherent temporality. All issues are subject to revision, and decisions that do not accurately reflect the affected's appraisal of best policy breed cynicism and disengagement. Consequently, the latter is a chimera for governing elites - an impossible paradox at the heart of representative democracies. Sooner or later disengagement and calcified cynicism riddles a body politic and they fall into disrepute. I will talk more about the importance of wider democracy in this context in my next post.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Black Swan Theory and human comprehension

Earlier, I read an interesting little BBC discussion on the intransigence of doubt to politicians. It highlights how difficult it is, in practice, to make definite predictions when approaching political matters. This all revolves around the antipathy politicians have to admitting that they don't know about anything. Consequently, when approaches don't work, the public feels betrayed when the fault is really with the indeterminate nature of facts, and the inability of theories to really approximate the real world around us.
An important touchstone for such musings is the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb. His Black Swan theory asserts the impossibility of a comprehension of the world clear enough to ever predict events. Situations will always occur that confound theories and patterns of explanation. Just as politicians have to manufacture (or fake) certainty around issues, we are all subject to the vagaries of events.
This has important consequences for political organisations. While Taleb is correct to state that it is impossible to predict the future (and he includes the example of the current market crisis as a valuable example), the greater number of minds focused upon a situation, the greater the chance that some individual will comprehend it. It is vital, then, that ultimately as many minds as possible are concerted upon issues. Better political systems are ones that encourage the widespread incorporation of interested individuals as well as common reflection amongst currently uninterested ones, in the hope of capturing as many as possible angles of thought.
This plays into the ideas of John Dryzek when he highlights the segmented nature of current government. The separation of governments into departments splinters goals into particular areas, often contradicting one another (think of transports effects upon climate change etc.). These departmental angles become self defeating. We need a system that can handle, nee encourage, holistic understandings in individuals, sift them, and conglomerate them into eventual outcomes. That way the unpredictibility of the universe is countered by the considered conceptualisations of as many individuals as possible.

New President of the USA...

Congratulations, Barack Obama! I just wanted to say how chuffed I am that America has chosen to elect a very aware and inspiring man to the presidency. I still think that representative democracy is ultimately doomed, but at least it is in a slightly less terrifying cycle, this morning. 
On this note, a number of the more interesting ideas on governance (and related issues) have come from Obama this campaign, from the televisation of government meetings, to net neutrality, to anti-revolving door appointments, to a central ethics database. These wont fix a system that is intrinsically broken, but they will help prevent its worst excesses....