Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Godwin 2.0

At Queen's University I studied some political theory, and spent a term thinking about William Godwin. He was married to feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, and their daughter was Frankenstein author Mary Shelly. Overachiever.

At school, I was enthralled by his notion that "government by its very nature counteracts the improvement of original mind" - a thought that would have Godwin characterized as an early anarchist. He was writing at a time when the paint hadn't dried on representative democracy, and was full of ideas about forms that encourage truth and beauty. That old rub.

Govt 2.0 includes a web enabled surge of expectations, and the ability to concretely participate more effectively in our government. We are seeing decentralized governance in the deconstructed, modern workplace; the reformation of government can't be far behind.

As we begin to get more access to, and take responsibility for, our politics, cynicism is dealt a blow because government no longer has to be seen as something outside of us. This is a big change: the way we govern ourselves in private and in our neighbourhoods can, with tools for distributed governance, dovetail into broader involvement in political governance.

Government becomes less to do with influence peddling and more about empowered individuals: lots of them. I make friends with my neighbours; my conduct enables the cohesion or lack of cohesion of a self-forming neighbourhood group; we come agree on some fundamental issues (e.g. need a better way of removing snow on our steep hill), and we participate in the bigger community on this same issues using meetings and the open web; we see where our thoughts can fit into the reformation of the Official Community plan.

Because govt 2.0 isn't inherently oppositional, there is no antipathy to government - there is no anarchy. It's stable, and trustworthy...interesting to see that the people involved in the BOWEGOV project on Bowen Island are split, left and right leaning. The ooutcome is a tighter fabric, and more affordable one, because work, responsibility and reward are more evenly distributed.

John Godwin, Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, John Locke, - all those writers had a zeal for human potential, and political forms that would encourage an examined life. They were humanists. In much of the Govt 2.0 thinking there is a similar sensibility; it could be that web enablement has rekindled a kind of useful idealism. The culture of openness, fail safe, & distributed intelligence is changing the workplace. It may also be providing us with a base to realize the same root of compassion that gave 17th and 18th century political theory so much resonance.

- photo via Wikipedia.

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