If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.’ – Aristotle
Things are screwed up. There’s a process called democracy that is supposed to give everyone the opportunity to participate in government. To hold those in power to account. To influence what happens. Most people are a very long way from the policy making process, while the path to move closer is… obscure. It’s no accident.
No matter which part of the machine you look at, corporate interest trumps everything else. The corporate tentacles are everywhere – keeping the public interest as far from the mechanics of government as possible. Money talks.
And we can’t blame the corporations for that. They are finely tuned machines designed for one thing, and one thing only – making money. They are operating precisely as designed. There is no self-regulation beyond this design. There is no ‘ethics’. It is the job of government to apply ethics and other non-money-making concerns – to legislate and implement policy constraining the behaviour of the capitalist machine in the public interest, to make it work effectively for society.
So we can understand why corporations have their tentacles in every office, guiding each political party, lobbying every policy decision, every department head, and working to keep a sedated and compliant public at bay. They are relentless, and should they fail will try again, and again, and again. It is just a high stakes game, the process of business. A corporation would be negligent not to leverage everything at its disposal. The apparent choice our political system presents us with is an illusion.
Thus we find ourselves in a position where corporate interest eventually trumps everything else. This happens because the public are so removed from the process, because the process lacks transparency, because the process is so inaccessible. We don’t stand a chance.
Our democracy is dysfunctional.
‘You can’t have a functioning democracy if citizens don’t get a good flow of information’.
And so we direct our rage against the corporate machine (how dare they!?). But it’s a red herring. All that energy just gets funnelled into the various marketing departments, feeding the beast. The only way to really make a difference is to wrest back control of our government, of policy making, so that we can apply constraints beyond money making to corporate behaviour. Constraints like ethics, transparency, compassion, sustainability, community, diversity and aesthetics.
Lucky then that we have, and have always had, total power to do just that. The reins are right there.
A New Hope
So how can we leverage the internet to resolve our little conundrum? Simple – provide the tools of policy making to the public.
The tools of policy making are collaboration, process, experience, expertise, and knowledge. The public already possess the latter three in vast quantity, while the former are ripe for implementation on the emerging social fabric of the web. It’s not a new perspective – in 2009 the UK conservative party had this to say –
There are currently no technological platforms that enable in-depth online collaboration on the scale required by government…
It is crazy … you’ve got lots and lots of retired health professionals, retired policemen, people in the teaching profession, who have huge knowledge and expertise and had they been able to contribute better to the policymaking process we could have avoided some of these problems. [guardian.co.uk]
Take this concept further again and these public groups have the opportunity to be directly involved in actual policy implementation. They would, in fact, be better qualified for such a role than just about any other cross section of society.
We should also use ‘policy’ in its broadest sense here – the outputs might be environment policy, a set of ethical axioms, guidance, recommendations or protocols. Even further – outputs might be new or modified processes and procedures for policy making. A system able to keep itself fresh. The social mechanics of reputation and rating driving an open environment for policy competition. Competition that isn’t for money.
Fine grained public participation in government – a global collaborative social structure with the ability to model the policy making process would be transformational.
There is no expectation on the magnitude of public participation. Many people would be happy not to spend time in this way. What is important is that the processes can be clearly seen, and that people can choose to be involved as little or as much as they desire, with the ability to focus their energy on the things that matter to them – the things they are passionate about. In good times the rate of participation would probably be lower, while in bad times it might be expected to increase.