About This Issue

One of the articles in Governance (IC#7)
Originally published in Autumn 1984 on page 1
Copyright (c)1984, 1997 by Context Institute

IS ABOUT the rules of the game and how those rules are made. It is about how we choose, what shapes our choices, and how we put our choices into action. As such, it is a very broad concept. William Ellis (IN CONTEXT, Summer 1983) describes it this way:

"Each of us is governed and governs by many forces. Physical forces hold us to the earth; biological forces dictate what we need to physically survive; inner spiritual forces determine our requirements for meaningful life; social forces govern our associations with other people. Families, churches, employers, schools and technologies are all part of the system of governance. Each influences what we can do and how we can influence the behavior of others. "

The articles in this issue reflect that breadth. There is material on the role of international anarchy in shaping civilization; democracy for friends; holistic governance techniques for many levels; the role of leadership in intentional communities; lessons from a $2.25 billion mistake; using telecommunications for greater direct democracy; and the values behind and progress towards a whole systems, "green politics," approach to governance.

Yet running through these articles are some recurrent major themes and questions. Four fundamental ones are:

The Tyranny Of The Bully versus The Oppression Of Conformity Without some kind of restraint on the selfish behavior of its members – informally through shared culture or formally through government structures – human systems tends to drift toward a might-makes-right power game. Yet too much pressure for conformity deadens vitality. How can we achieve a balance, and even blending, of the need for unity with the need for diversity – of the need to protect the group with the need to empower individuals?

Protecting The Interests Of Those Without Voice Centuries ago, when human choice had much less impact on the planet, justice could be reasonably served if all the living members of a group had a significant say in the group’s decisions. But today, when we can make the planet unfit for life in 20 minutes through a nuclear mega-tantrum, or bring on a world-wide ecological collapse through 20 years of mismanagement, the stakes are much higher. Clearly, all of life and all future generations have a deep interest in the choices we make, but how can these be adequately represented? The old technique of extending voting rights obviously won’t work, so how can we give legitimate voice to nature, the future, and the common good?

Efficiency And Leadership Careful group decision-making has many benefits. When it is well done, it can find better solutions, build understanding and commitment in a group, and actually speed-up the implementation of the decision. But there are costs as well. Group process takes time and resources, it limits flexibility and quick responsiveness, and it can suppress diversity. How do we strike a balance between the need for broad involvement in decisions and the need to act efficiently? When is it best to empower some individuals to make decisions for a group? How can the talents of leadership be used but not abused?

Wisdom Or Winning Some decision-making processes (like majority rule) focus most of their attention on determining the "winner" from a given set of choices. Others (like consensus) focus instead on finding and creating better choices. Some dispute resolution techniques (like the courts) polarize people, while others (like mediation) encourage cooperation and healing. No technique fits in all situations, but how can we make more and better use of those techniques that tap the full intelligence and humanity of those working toward a decision?

These questions point to key issues at stake as we explore governance. This exploration – in all its ramifications – is important for the simple reason that we want to be able to choose effectively. Fundamental to the IN CONTEXT project is the belief that the vast majority of people would choose to live in a humane sustainable culture if they could. Yet history is full of well-intentioned choices that brought hideous results, and of vicious cycles where each player, choosing what seems like the best personal alternative, helps to maintain a system that is destructive for all.

Our challenge is to do better.

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