By Jack Curtis
We're passengers on a wild ride into uncharted -- and dangerous -- territory with no one driving.
Electronic technology has eroded our political, civil, commercial, cultural, social, and linguistic frameworks; everyone in the world has been tossed together to make what we can. Those capable and flexible enough will create new structures in which they will survive; Darwin will clean up the rest. As always, the journey will be rough and full of surprises and there's no turning back.
Why? Because cell phones and computers give us limitless, cheap, anytime information and communication almost everywhere and those have consequences.
Politics has belonged to politicians who swindled the voters periodically at elections, and left town before the swindle was recognized. They didn't have to repeat until after the swindle was forgotten by most; then those who remembered could be bribed in a new swindle. Elections are always run by government; in most places in varying degrees, so are the outcomes. Most voters have known little of those for whom they vote; that little provided over time by media with its own interests to satisfy. That happy little empire is folding.
Government actions are published to everybody interested and argued in real time at almost no cost; peoples' reactions are reflected as quickly. Politicians can't put off concerns to the next election now any more than they can hide their personal behavior behind time and distance. Voters no longer await an election to react; an electronic Tea Party or an electronic Cairo mob is available on 24 hours' notice when an issue catches on or a powerful interest is involved. When mobs appear, politicians must face them in real time; government today has no machinery for that. It's both voluntary democracy and an accelerated opportunity to set up a lynching.
Evolving to govern facing this newly informed, quickly responding citizenry will be a rough ride; the new responsiveness is, with present governmental structures, destabilizing. Electronic mobs have shown in the Middle East, Europe, the U.S, South America, Russia, China, nearly everywhere. And along with the impact of technology on human organization designed for a simpler, slower time, Murphy will be in charge; whatever can happen, at some time and place, will happen. We've already seen governments shoot, cave, and try to stand pat, all in some way unsuccessfully.
Commerce: Computers reduced the complexity human production labor had to handle, lowering the value of the labor. Cheaper labor was politically impeded in the U.S, that and regulation sending jobs overseas. Inevitably from when the rich world first raised its labor costs, the world's living standards are now equalizing with the industrialization of the rest of the world. Equalizing today meets in the middle; that means the top half has to drop while the bottom rises. Unfortunately, the U.S. government sees its people as the top half, ignoring the option to bring the bottom half up since the environmentalists won't allow it.
U.S. government accelerates the decline in living standards by increasing the cost and reducing the availability of energy, food, transport, shelter, and most basic necessities via taxation, regulation, and inflation. Its foreign, social, and financial policies are defunding the economy and devaluing the wealth of the population. These are merely new reruns of old patterns but today, they are published widely, perceived faster, and reaction is quicker.
Civil, cultural, social, and linguistic patterns have been maintained historically through personal contact and custom. They've been reinforced by education, entertainment, the media, religion, law, voluntary organizations, and practicality. They've radiated out from a center until they bumped into another, different set, then a border appeared.
Government policy is forcing the removal of borders. The push is to interpenetrate U.S. common and Constitutional law with Islamic Sharia and others, to have southern Spanish speakers interpenetrate North American English speakers and to remove the various religious-based behavior patterns from the population. These are accelerations of existing historical tendencies; people have been moving in these directions on their own for a long time. However, that motion without government pushing has been slower and cheaper; the exception being language, where English has usually replaced Spanish (or any foreign language) in a generation. The acceleration is a very messy undertaking since it necessarily pits against each other so many different interests and threaten so many strongly-held territories. It is politically a strongly disruptive policy and since it relies on government choosing winners and losers, necessarily corrupt.
World government apparently tempts some of our leaders but it seems almost an oxymoron; subsidiarity says no government too distant from the impact of its work can do that work well. Government in Washington D.C. seems already to be pretty far away in that sense, as increasing state rebelliousness suggests.
People once found friends in the village; now they socialize in the entire world. That brings commonality to behavior and language, though it takes some time. People once traded locally; now they shop world-wide; that imposes commonality of commercial behavior and language rather quicker. We don't buy our shoes from the local bootmaker any more. Once we adopted tribal beliefs and only occasionally saw others with different ideas; ours were reinforced daily by all around us. Now, all beliefs are on the internet, subject to innumerable challenges daily in front of all. Travel, commerce and electronic communication have reduced useful world languages to a few for international utility; that will ultimately end with still fewer, not a hodge-podge of diverse ones. There is already a nearly uniform commercial culture and law; the socio-cultural uniformity will follow, though geographical distances will maintain enough differences to be interesting. Governments will have to find means to accommodate the electronic mobs complicated by the inclusion of both local and foreign members.
Getting wherever we're going is going to be a wild ride because governments will try to put the genie back in the bottle, grabbing the technology and using it for control as China and some others are demonstrating; U.S. government has made moves toward the internet. But learning to govern an engaged and observant public is only one challenge; learning not to mismanage the economy seems at least as difficult.
Technology is supplying imperatives of its own; some reinforcing government and some resisting it. In the long run, technology must prevail but just as in handling economic issues, government can prolong the time and worsen the conditions of change. That will slow but not stop the changes; once a road is mapped and demand exists, a bumpy surface slows but can't stop traffic. It can be very hard on tourists, though.
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