01 January 2011

Why American (and others') Politics is Irreparably Broken

This initiative sends shivers down my spine. (Slashdot coverage is here.) Making explicit what has been implicit for years - namely, that the supposedly democratic systems of electoral politics in the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere can be cynically gamed - should provide an incentive for some clever folks to rethink the nature of national (and global) leadership to be consistent with a UCaPP world.

Nominally democratic, one-person-one-vote, electoral politics is itself an artefact of a prior cultural epoch - the world of the 17th century and early modernity. Its success is predicated on an engaged, informed, and actively participating electorate. In the first decade of the 21st century, it has become clear that electoral politics has entered a state of reversal, and has become more about winning and losing (essentially adopting a team sports metaphor in which the electorate "root" for, and support, the popular team as identified by the colour commentators; in actuality, it's the politicians and vested, usually-corporate interests that win, and the citizenry who lose). What ever happened to active and thoughtful engagement in the careful consideration of complex issues, good governance, sustainability of material, social and cultural environments, and societal resilience?

What is needed, I think, is a fundamental rethinking of what it means to lead, what it means to enable active engagement in complex processes, and what it takes to build a cultural infrastructure that supports both. Ironically (or perhaps not), this is too important a job to be left in the exclusive hands of the politicians, and too practical a job to be left in the hands of academics, self-styled intellectuals, and pundits - both of these options merely replicate the existing ways of doing politics-of-the-privileged.

At the risk of being too cliché about it, perhaps it is time to listen to Gandhi, to be the change we want to see in the world. Of course this assumes that "we" indeed want to see such change, and that is a large assumption, indeed. I think there is a way through this, and it begins with changing the ways in which we educate and socialize leaders, and the learning environments we create for, with, and on behalf of organizations, governments, public institutions, and communities. Perhaps apropos the turn of the year, working on these ideas will be a major theme for me through 2011.

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