Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Thought for Padraig's Day

“We tend to think of St. Patrick's Day as one big Irish party. However, St. Patrick's Day means something special to Irish people around the world. When there is much that pulls the world apart today, but St. Patrick's Day is a time to start all over again and celebrate the positive things we all share in life!” -Dr. Sam Speron

Talking Politics

Who will judge the system?

Mon Mar 15 11:55AM
It is that time again. An election is close. Surely now is the opportunity to debate the things that matter. But what issues are attracting the headlines? Is the leader of the incumbent party a foot-stamper? Can a man who attended Eton College feel our pain?

By Robert Mercer-Nairne

Where in the media are such vital issues as the disgraceful level of child deprivation among some parts of our population, or the appalling level of education in many areas, or the sense of alienation that pervades much of our Muslim community, or our declining economic competitiveness? If the headlines are any guide - nowhere! Yes, a few brave voices speak out on these issues, but the coverage given to them is token, at best.

We may wonder why the government in 18th-century France seemed frozen in front of the revolutionary headlights bearing down upon it, but if we go on like this, it won't be long before the people grow tired of their celebrity shows and demand a few truly authentic, never before seen on television, executions instead. Our polity is locked in a death spiral. Why, and what, can we do about it?

To answer these questions, we need to understand how human organisation systems work. Remove human consciousness and we would do what every other species has done - elaborate, defend our boundary conditions to the last, and follow any advantage we have without regard to consequence until blocked by our environment, which includes other species. By contrast, and through a process of trial and error, consciousness has allowed us to create functional structures designed to achieve objectives. This has sped up the evolutionary process no end, and given Homo sapiens an advantage to which our number of 6.7 billion and counting attests.

But the intelligence we have embedded within our structures, particularly our government, is limited to the function the structure has evolved to achieve. Armies are designed to make war, not love, corporations to make widgets, not happy families and political parties to achieve electoral success, not improved government. When unleashed they will follow their structural imperatives until victorious, stalemated or defeated. We merely hope that the interaction between them will take us to where we would like to be. It is only when this rather haphazard approach blows up in our faces that we consider the overarching system we are part of, and even then we have no very effective mechanism for doing so.

Structures are our collective memory and do much of our thinking for us, but they are invariably backward looking. It is not just generals who are condemned to fight the last war. The current US president campaigned on an anti-war, anti-Guantanamo, platform, but is hog-tied by the system he inherited.

What we have not evolved, and urgently need to evolve, are mechanisms for looking at our systems of government and changing them. That is why change invariably only comes after a disaster; only when the story underpinning a structure becomes so discredited that its active components (that's you and me) stop doing its bidding.

We need four things. The first is a wider understanding of how our human systems work so that collectively we have a firmer grasp on the relationship between order and change. The second are generally accepted moral criteria against which we can judge the effectiveness of the systems we have. Thirdly, we need a much better mechanism for channeling individual priorities into the legislative arena. And lastly, we need an expert body whose sole task is to keep improving our structures in the light of what people, generally, want them to achieve.

And finally, here is one other change that could easily be made. There has been almost interminable discussion about what to do with the House of Lords. My suggestion is simple. Turn the House of Lords into the House of Ladies. Forget about all-women shortlists. Give them their own chamber, and watch the quality of government improve no end.

Robert Mercer-Nairne is a University of Seattle organisation theorist and the author of Notes On The Dynamics Of Man, published by Gritpoul on March 18th