No society can win by denying basic human rights.
We are subsumed in a vast web of evolving technological capability, some of which does not necessarily make us free. We are living through a paradox of organized human empowerment, in which the power to access information is greatly expanding across the world, and yet faith in democratic institutions, which depend on informed citizen participation, is faltering.
Over the last 2 years, we have heard many experts suggest authoritarian tendencies are on the rise, because they are somehow better suited to dealing with complex nonlinear threats. A recent report even said: “China has the authoritarian ability to experiment at scale, steal our tech secrets and mobilize capital that no democracy can match.”
The moment requires we say this bluntly:
Authoritarians fear consultation, because if you ask those who will be affected by your choices what they most want, they will say they want your choices to empower them and others like them, without generating harm or unfairness. If you don’t include people in the process, that is virtually impossible to achieve. Authoritarian systems are designed to fail; that is why they don’t want to face criticism from those affected.
While authoritarian budget managers can force the delivery of funds to specific projects, it is not true that authoritarian regimes can mobilize capital in ways no democracy can match.
- First of all, capital moves at the service of people, or it does not move at all.
- When capital moves only in service of its own expansion, the effect is to narrow its range, limit its generative economic value, and create hindrances to empowerment of the human-scale economy.
- If capital moves only at the service of authoritarian fiat, that is a systemic constraint, not a lack of constraint.
If the people capital serves are undermined in their own personal and collective sovereignty by administrative processes that do not recognize their primacy as citizens and stakeholders, that limits their power to leverage capital, to move it to where it can be most efficiently deployed to build value at the human scale.
Certain goods and services will never be able to reach such a disempowered market. The collaborative value-building capability of decentralized decision-making is greatly reduced, because capital must carry the extra burden of having to force outcomes.
Buckminster Fuller explained the power of open democracy this way:
True democracy discovers by patient experiment … the physical support and metaphysical satisfaction of the human intellect’s function … Wealth is our organized capability to cope effectively with the environment in sustaining our healthy regeneration and decreasing both the physical and metaphysical restrictions of the forward days of our lives.
Authoritarianism suffers from many maladies, not least of which is its comprehensive failure to empower all actors across a society to be sovereign, thoughtful, creative problem-solvers. If society achieves future human wellbeing by supporting the human intellect’s function, a system that prohibits the free public exercise of most human intellectual capability is eroding its own future, no matter what problems its planners solve in the short term.
No future projection of financial leverage or economic value can be considered complete and reliable if it does not account for macrocritical influences — those that shape the overall potential of the society in question.
Hannah Arendt writes that a government which jealously guards its right to control what is thought and known undermines even its own ability to deal with the details of lived experience:
Not only are the people and their elected representatives denied access to what they must know to form an opinion and make decisions, but also the actors themselves…
What we are facing at this moment in history is not the collapse of democratic institutions or the rise of service-oriented authoritarians. What we are facing is a crisis in detachment and fragmentation. The very tools which now unite the world with nonstop light-speed communication also allow us to study the world without visiting it.
This personalization of communication creates new separations that allow deceitful authorities to put up barriers between our personal lived experience and the truth-space experienced by those around us. In the midst of our new hyper-engagement, we experience isolation and the sense that Power does not welcome our individual personhood, except as a commodity.
We will not succeed in getting everything right if we do not defend and expand the sovereign dignity of all human beings and empower every mind to contribute the most possible to our overall capability.
The answer to this crisis of unwanted detachment is not more central control, but more open engagement. This is precisely the time when the spontaneous engagement of stakeholders must be the new value added that makes decisions about policy priorities, investment choices, and creative collaborative future-building more likely to succeed.
[ The Note for May 2018 ]