Journey to the Center of the Core Yields the Yoke of Citizen-Centric Governance to Force a Shared Vision

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I still remem­ber my shock that so many famous and pow­er­ful Amer­i­cans endorsed the view in the March 2013 book by Moi­ses Naim that sim­ply assumed that the Amer­i­can peo­ple were now to be Gov­erned as if they were col­lec­tive­ly a ship in need of steer­ing by politi­cians. Sil­ly me. Turns out there was just a delay in the peo­ple at those con­fer­ences com­mit­ting the planned vision to writ­ing. It also turns out, in a car­ry­over from the pre­vi­ous post, that man­ag­ing the pub­lic’s per­cep­tions, expec­ta­tions, and beliefs about the prop­er role of gov­ern­ment in the 21st Cen­tu­ry is a cru­cial com­po­nent of the ’emerg­ing gov­er­nance relationship.’

Noth­ing quite as use­ful as a glob­al­ly con­nect­ed con­sult­ing firm explic­it­ly com­mit­ting these new rela­tion­ships to writ­ing. This is from a 2009 Accen­ture paper called “From e‑Government to e‑Governance” as well a let­ter from their Pub­lic Ser­vice Man­ag­ing Direc­tor Sean Shine, explain­ing the new rela­tion­ship between cit­i­zens and their gov­ern­ment “that is all about gen­uine engage­ment of peo­ple in their own gov­er­nance.” So much for those of us who think we are engaged in our own gov­er­nance when we pay tax­es from hard-earned mon­ey or set unpop­u­lar cur­fews for pre­co­cious teenagers. No, ‘cit­i­zen-cen­tric gov­er­nance’ may sound good, but it assumes with­out con­sult­ing any of us that:

It falls to gov­ern­ment to bal­ance the demand for increased choice and flex­i­bil­i­ty with fair­ness and the com­mon good. Gov­ern­ments can achieve that bal­ance by striv­ing for equal­i­ty of out­comes for all constituents–that is, by ensur­ing that every­one has the chance to expe­ri­ence the same social and eco­nom­ic con­di­tions, or at least sim­i­lar improve­ments in these conditions.”

Does any­one else appre­ci­ate that is where all the hyp­ing of ICT por­tals and build­ing “social net­work­ing and com­mu­ni­ty sites [that] also enable cit­i­zens to par­tic­i­pate in their gov­er­nance as nev­er before.” No incen­tive to infan­tilize a pop­u­la­tion with these aspi­ra­tions for the future. Not when the entire gov­ern­ment appa­ra­tus is to be about meet­ing cit­i­zen needs and guid­ing what “cit­i­zens expect and want from gov­ern­ment.” Now won’t the actu­al Com­mon Core imple­men­ta­tion come in handy here? The Dig­i­tal Learn­ing empha­sis? Any­one think there is a rea­son to sculpt a mis­lead­ing but polit­i­cal­ly pow­er­ful con­cep­tion of what the future might be if con­sul­tants from meet­ings we were not invit­ed to state that:

Web 2.0 tech­nolo­gies present gov­ern­ments with an unprece­dent­ed oppor­tu­ni­ty to bypass the media [not to men­tion par­ents and local school boards] and direct­ly engage cit­i­zens in a more mature, rea­soned and pro­duc­tive dis­cus­sion about the strengths and short­com­ings of gov­ern­ment. [No dan­ger of bias or omis­sions here.] In this way, pub­lic ser­vice orga­ni­za­tions can, for the first time, play an active role in shap­ing cit­i­zens’ per­cep­tions of gov­ern­ment by pro­vid­ing the pub­lic with instant­ly acces­si­ble, intel­li­gi­ble infor­ma­tion and analysis–enabling a more bal­anced and objec­tive debate in which cit­i­zens are able to con­sid­er gov­ern­ments’ perspective.”

Now if that’s the intend­ed pro­pa­gan­da to be launched at adults with tax­pay­er fund­ing, we can just imag­ine what will make it to the still mal­leable minds in the class­room. Com­plete­ly lost for any­one will be any per­spec­tive ground­ed in the his­to­ry of what com­pa­ra­ble social jus­tice aspi­ra­tions did in Europe in the 20th cen­tu­ry. That led Friedrich Hayek to write in “The Mirage of Social Jus­tice” that:

the more depen­dent the posi­tion of the indi­vid­u­als or groups is seen to become on the actions of gov­ern­ment, the more they will insist that the gov­ern­ments aim at some rec­og­niz­able scheme of dis­trib­u­tive jus­tice; and the more gov­ern­ments try to real­ize some pre­con­ceived pat­tern of desir­able dis­tri­b­u­tion, the more they must sub­ject the posi­tion of the dif­fer­ent indi­vid­u­als and groups to their con­trol. So long as the belief in ‘social jus­tice’ gov­erns polit­i­cal action, this process must pro­gres­sive­ly approach near­er and near­er to a total­i­tar­i­an system.”

Now before any­one accus­es me of intro­duc­ing the T word with­out suf­fi­cient­ly lay­ing a prop­er foun­da­tion let’s remem­ber that Hayek was writ­ing from per­son­al expe­ri­ence of One Thing Lead­ing to Anoth­er. Sec­ond­ly, if I had a dol­lar for every time the books or papers I read now used phras­es like “shared vision,” “col­lec­tive aspi­ra­tions,” “con­sen­sus essen­tial for democ­ra­cy must be built,” or “uni­fied social pur­pose,” I could head to the beach for some R&R. We saw it embod­ied in the goals of both the Rock­e­feller-fund­ed Com­mu­ni­ca­tion for Social Change and the Club of Rome-cre­at­ed Struc­tured Design Dia­logue to pro­duce com­mon polit­i­cal will.

If you would like to believe I am sim­ply col­lect­ing inju­di­cious com­ments made for pay­ing cus­tomers, Accen­ture’s vision fits with the 2014 book Inno­v­a­tive State: How New Tech­nolo­gies Can Trans­form Gov­ern­ment writ­ten by the first Chief Tech­nol­o­gy Offi­cer of the Unit­ed States Aneesh Chopra. He points out that as a can­di­date Oba­ma “had man­dat­ed that his staff insert a default para­graph about the impor­tance of har­ness­ing tech­nol­o­gy into every speech.” The idea laid out repeat­ed­ly is that “gov­ern­ment could be a plat­form.” Gov­ern­ment becomes “a way to engage the pub­lic and let them tell us what was impor­tant and then sup­port them in accel­er­at­ing their con­sen­sus to a com­mon solu­tion.”

We have open admis­sions of try­ing to man­age those cit­i­zen beliefs and per­spec­tives that go into the now to be required con­sen­sus and com­mon solu­tion. If the guid­ing hand does seem to be get­ting quite heavy in the direc­tion Hayek had seen before, how is this quote for the naivete on what gov­ern­ment is. “When the rela­tion­ship is par­tic­i­pa­to­ry, when the rela­tion­ship is open, it real­ly does fos­ter a sense that the gov­ern­ment is not a thing; it’s what we do togeth­er.” [Ital­ics in orig­i­nal passage] 

Some peo­ple have the legal pow­er to coerce. Oth­ers gen­er­ate tax­es to the pub­lic sec­tor while some live off those tax­es. Those are not bal­anced, equal rela­tion­ships even if gov­ern­ment was not try­ing to rig how it is per­ceived in the 21st Cen­tu­ry. All while singing the joys of the Big Data being col­lect­ed on its cit­i­zens and the need to min­i­mize any dis­tinc­tion between the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors. This is Chopra’s vision towards the end of the book. He makes Pollyan­na seem like a sour­puss by comparison:

Today, we need to explore new fron­tiers not only in terms of the prob­lems we try to solve but in the man­ner in which we attempt to solve them. Col­lec­tive­ly and cre­ative­ly. Much more is pos­si­ble, if the gov­ern­ment makes the pop­u­lace part of the process so the greater num­ber of peo­ple can assem­ble and share their ideas and gifts for the greater good.”

Light­ing dol­lar bills afire is one way to describe the like­ly con­se­quences of that vision or an excuse for bor­row­ing more from the Chi­nese. Speak­ing of which, the sec­ond book I men­tioned enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly advo­cates that the West adopt the Chi­nese vision of state-direct­ed cap­i­tal­ism. Any­one think there might be a con­nec­tion to the Chi­nese will­ing­ness to fund US deficit spend­ing to push an ICT-cen­tered vision for meet­ing cit­i­zen needs and achiev­ing social jus­tice for all? The Fourth Rev­o­lu­tion: The Glob­al Race to Rein­vent the State also came out in 2014 and it’s lay­ing out a com­pa­ra­ble blue­print to Chopra and Accen­ture. If we could shift gov­ern­ment by accla­ma­tion any­more, we would be close to a glob­al fait accompli.

Alarm­ing­ly the book tells us that the cur­rent lead­er­ship of our pri­ma­ry deficit financier believes that “West­ern democ­ra­cy is no longer effi­cient; that both cap­i­tal­ism and soci­ety need to be direct­ed; and that get­ting gov­ern­ment right is the key” to the future. Some­thing to remem­ber as we have tril­lion-dol­lar deficit plans in the US as far as the eye can see. It would be wrong to assume it’s just an anoth­er inter­est-bear­ing invest­ment for the Chi­nese. It’s also prob­a­bly good to know that Accen­ture has a long-term for­mal rela­tion­ship with the World Eco­nom­ic Forum when we read that “the one thing that the world’s tycoons agree upon when they meet at the World Eco­nom­ic Forum in Davos is that the Chi­nese state is a paragon of efficiency–especially com­pared with the fevered grid­lock of Wash­ing­ton or the pan­icky incom­pe­tence of Brussels.”

I think we have a Con­ver­gence of visions here around what the pur­pose of cit­i­zen­ship will be going for­ward glob­al­ly. I think we Amer­i­cans are tak­ing too much solace in the pro­tec­tions of the US Con­sti­tu­tion when it’s obvi­ous­ly seen as just anoth­er old doc­u­ment that can be bypassed now by many pow­er­ful deci­sion-mak­ers, here and globally.

I think we are dan­ger­ous­ly assum­ing the world will con­tin­ue as it has been despite so many open procla­ma­tions. If enough peo­ple had sim­ply read what I have doc­u­ment­ed, they would imme­di­ate­ly see how much dan­ger we are in if we con­tin­ue unaware.

It usu­al­ly takes three taps for me to write about a painful top­ic. I list­ed two 2014 books here and I found the Accen­ture mate­ri­als lat­er. The third book is called The Dou­ble Helix: Tech­nol­o­gy and Democ­ra­cy in the Amer­i­can Future. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it fits with the lat­er books even though it came out in 1999.

For­tu­nate­ly, I am aware of its aspi­ra­tions for us as well and we will cov­er that in the next post. The non-sci­ence types like me though should appre­ci­ate that the ref­er­ence to the Dou­ble Helix is all about how to force cul­tur­al change.

Wenk thinks gov­ern­ment “serves as a steer­ing sys­tem to set goals arrived at by consensus.”

Real­ly start­ing to hate that word.