As If We Couldn’t

If you listen to media’s murmuring, you’d think that the American people were ready to give up.  The bankers are too crafty, the corporations too powerful and the politicians too pliant.  We don’t know which way is up, where to turn or on whom to depend.  We’re lost, sad, unhappy, and maybe a little overweight.  For a few brief moments we had HOPE that that America’s most powerful institutions could still solve our problems during commercial breaks.  Yes we can, they whispered in our ears.  Yes we can…

As if we couldn’t. As if the American people couldn’t recognize a lie when it’s told to our face.  As if the American entrepreneur couldn’t maneuver around the obstacles created by international bankers and their confused economists.  As if the men and women in our Armed Forces who committed to defending our Constitution couldn’t stand up to anyone who demanded that they oppress their fellow citizens.  As if our farmers couldn’t team up to develop their own technologies, save their own seeds and reap their own harvests.  As if honest people couldn’t win elections.

“You can fool some people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”  I think Bob Dylan said that.  Americans are getting smarter – not the coastal elites who think reading the New York Times qualifies as civic participation – but the “dumb” Americans who’ve enough common sense to recognize that Big Government and Big Business have teamed up to steal our wealth while misdirecting us with the help of the corporate media.  But they don’t control everything on the internet, and as the veil is lifted, both the problems and solutions become much more clear.  I’m particularly interested in the solutions.

While Silicon Valley gets all the press for their trendy products, thousands of programmers, engineers and developers across the world continue to build the free, libre and open source technologies upon which local economies depend.  While multinational chemical companies receive prestigious awards for monopolizing agriculture, American farmers continue to share best practices, organizing seed banks and reach customers directly through farmer’s markets.  While central bankers act like economic gods with their reactionary monetary policies,  local entrepreneurs continue to discover new opportunities to create real value for their communities.

If you’re looking for problems, you’re going to find prestigious people in glossy magazines whining about the difficulties that lie ahead.  If you’re looking for solutions, you’re going to find unrecognized folks working  quietly and feverishly, as if the fate of the world depended on it.  The time for criticism is over.  The time for action is here.

If you’re interested in the emergence of the new, participatory, local-networked economy, what Buckminster Fuller would describe as “a new model that makes the existing models obsolete,” start reading about free/libre/open source technology and ask yourself this simple question: what if everyone had the tools they need to create what they want.

The best has yet to come.

Political Structure in 3D

Our society spends a lot of time talking about democracy but rarely defines it.  While the term comes from the Greek words “demos” (people) and “kratos” (power,) many political scientists have abandoned it due to widespread misuse and instead use the term “polyarchy”, which means ‘many rule.’  It was convincingly inserted into the academic lexicon by the the political scientist Robert Dahl in his 1971 book “Polyarchy.”

dahl2d

Dahl proposes that all political systems can be places on a graph with two axis: competitiveness and inclusiveness.  Competitiveness asks: who can compete for political office.  Inclusiveness asks: who can decide who wins the competition.  We can apply the concept of polyarchy by asking these questions of different political systems: for example: the America and Israel.

America has a two-party system which makes it less competitive than Israel, which has dozens of political parties in parliament, enabling more people with more diverse perspectives to compete.  This makes Israel a more “competitive” state than American. But, since Israel doesn’t allow Palestinians to vote, America is a more inclusive state.

Dahl’s definition of polyarchy is good, but it’s not complete.  His theory doesn’t account for the most powerful force in politics:  information distribution.  Those who control access to information have tremendous political power because they can amplify certain elements within society and silence others.

Including “openness” (defined as transparency and accessibility) into the model improved it because it allows us to address the issue of information distribution.  In a state with positive openness, information flows between government and society in an efficient manner that facilitates public participation in political processes.  In a state with negative transparency, misinformation flows between government and society, enabling a secretive ruling class to exploit the general public.

By adding openness to Dalh’s polyarchy graph as the third dimension,  one naturally wonders what the relationship between competitiveness and inclusiveness could be. Can we graph this relationship? After looking at dozens of possibilities, z=x^3 + y^3 looks compelling.  In this graph, a positively transparent society appears in the top left area of the plane while a negatively transparent society appears in the bottom right area one.

 

 

Let’s see what this relationship reveals:

  • A society that is inclusive but not competitive has a negative openness. This makes sense because, in this scenario, a lot of people are supporting a poor selection of leaders, making the construction of false realities essential to convince people the situation is acceptable.  Ex. the Soviet Union had a vast propaganda machine while the one-party political made competition virtually nonexistent.
  • A society that is competitive but not inclusive is highly transparent. This makes sense because each individual who can vote has an unusually high influence on their political system, so it makes sense for them to invest time and resources in information that makes selecting good leadership easier.  Ex. 19th century America had a very active, highly decentralized news and information distribution sector (newspapers) geared towards properties white men of voting age.
  • A society that is both competitive and inclusive would be extremely open. This makes sense because so many citizens would have both the ability select from a diverse set of potential candidates, which would prompt the public to engage in mass participation in the political process. Ex. More open societies statistically have higher levels of voter turnout.)

We’re in the early stages of “participatory” politics as new tools (ex. OpenCongress) are enabling the public to increase transparency and accessibility of information to levels impossible before the advent of networked technologies.  A tremendous increase in government transparency seems to be imminent.  We could watch this happen in real time if we turned our 3D graph into a 4D animation, allowing us to track different societies paths towards more participatory political processes over time.

We need a common, quantitative understanding of political imperative so our governments can create purposeful foreign policies that encourage competitiveness, inclusiveness and openness.  A simple way for national governments to advance a foreign policy based on quantitative principle would be to raise tariffs with closed nations and lower tariffs with closed ones.

Trust People, Not Words

If there is one thing I learned growing up the child of ‘branding professionals’ it’s that words can’t be trusted because clever people are willing to twist their meaning to meet their client’s demands.  I believe this simple fact is responsible for much confusion throughout human history.

There is a defense against the manipulation of meaning and it’s simply to stop trusting words and start trusting people.  This is a defense the Eastern masters have been practicing for thousands of years.

Before discounting this approach to life as impractical, ask yourself this question: how can people lie without using words?  All people can do is act.  Your only task is interpreting that action.  This becomes easier as you develop preferences.

I prefer people with the following qualities:

  1. Honest – Openness – Transparency: Are you willing to teach me what you do best?
  2. Dignity – Integrity – Localism: Are you acting voluntarily and with authenticity?
  3. Passion – Energy – Love: Do you feel like you’re exactly where you’re meant to be?

A person or brand can use whatever lovely language they like, but if their actions aren’t embodying these qualities, they’re wasting my time and their own.

Life is too short to be afraid of yourself.

We Have Everything We Need

Earlier this week I created – for the first time – a presentation that explains my life’s work.  I’ve delivered it to a few people in it’s designless form and it feels natural.  In fact, I have to resist grinning as I roll through it.  I’ll post the presentation as soon as it looks as obvious as it feels.  Rest assured… we have everything we need.  😉