Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Re-uniting Democracy: 1: The myth of limited power

Part One, in which we try to escape the trap of thinking of power as a limited resource.

Synchronicity is a useful thing - it allows us to begin to make connections we otherwise wouldn't have made.

For example, this morning's diverse reading brought together two articles that really need to be meshed. Hence this blog post.

First read Richard Veryard's post on Contradiction and Ambivalence .

Now read WeLoveLocalGovernment's post on whether Central Government cares about Local Government.

Both look at the ongoing issue of whether we should be more centralised or more decentralised. Reading through the speech that David Cameron made shows how embedded in our thought this issue is:

"When we see a problem, we don’t ask what central government can do...

...we ask what can local people do, what can councils do?"


"That doesn’t mean I want us locking horns on an ongoing basis.

In fact quite the opposite."

It's clear from this that the modern political model is fundamentally competitive. It views Power as tension, as a resource, as something that is owned and fought for and handed out by one group just like money can be.

Allocation of a resource depends on division. In the same way that we're forced to deal with party politics and left-vs-right, we're also shoe-horned into a political model that plays central-vs-decentral, inner-vs-outer, top-vs-bottom. Zero-sum all the way. A quantum of power can be given to one group or another, but not both.

Power-as-a-resource means it can be bargained with. I'll give you X power but it means I can do Y. A barter under difficult conditions. An assumption that there is a limited amount of power to go round.

This is wrong. It is a distraction. Smoke and mirrors.

Guess what? All the exciting stuff happening right now is all about people collaborating. Not just across parties, but across layers. Left/right/top/bottom/centre/edge/institution/freelance/private/public.

Synchronisation, rather than tension. Collaboration is a new form of power.

No, not a new form of power. A new form of power creation - collaboration is more than just a way of distributing power, it is a meta-power, a means of actually increasing the power available to all.

How it does this is another blogpost. What matters now is that this creation of power is essential. As the power/resource/money model gets itself into knots and ever-decreasing circles, things get more and more vicious. Things get underhand. Things get confusing. We divide ourselves and we end up conquering only ourselves.

We need a way out, to reverse the trend, to grow rather than shrink. And right now, collaboration is the one act firmly keeping real progress alive.