In the last couple of weeks I have been reading the new book by Paul Verhaege about Authority. In this second book he describes the decline of patriarchal structures in western societies that we are experiencing in many ways. He argues that this poses a challenge in terms of a vacuum in authority. Working for a program that actually tries to influences authorities for the betterment of people and planet I just wonder whether we are betting on the wrong horse.
I don't think Paul Verhaege is just one soul searching for rest and stable and peaceful futures. Today many are on the run for conflict and both natural and men-made disasters. And stable economies today could soon collapse if not sufficiently anchored in stable societies. While contemplating this it is once again understood that society gains its strengthe from social configurations and relationships, not from institutions rooted in traditions that society no longer accepts as the norm. When patriarchal relationships are increasingly challenged and in practice already replaced by matriarchal configurations, how will authorities be reconfigured? What determines authority and how does it shape advocacy programming addressing inequality and aiming for social change.
Verhaege makes an interesting distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian leadership. What today is seen as authoritarian (due to its connotation with patriarchal structures) should actually be called totalitarian as (Verhaege following an essay by Hannah Arendt, 1954) authority you cannot possess on your own, it is provided by others on the basis of a common frame of reference. Likewise, when doing advocacy work we may do this towards political leadership on the bases of them having to live up to human rights conventions and international agreements on the one hand and their population on the other. We do that often on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves (like other creatures and marginalized people). However, with a lot of international legislation lacking enforcement mechanisms, it is clear that governments make decisions also based on geopolitical consideration or military power, and much less on the basis of international norm setting. This is why the UN is often perceived as a teethless tiger. Nevertheless, in the face of diminishing power of the sovereign state and increasing mobility of its citizenry, people vote with their feet. Rather than standing up to totalitarian regimes it is left to the international community to remove bad leadership and install democratic structures. However, with discenting voices and enlightened brains having left, one can imagine how democracy takes shape, as witnessed by Egyptians recent history.
So, with the demise of structures and authorities based on a democratic state model that no longer seems to deliver, what will replace it? We see decentralisation to the local and centralisation to the supranational happening at the same time. Governance is being decentralised whereas the private sector is increasingly interconnected. This has a liberating impact on the markets who no longer are controlled by national governing structures and regulatory environments and de-facto take over the global regulatory framework. So if global governance basically shifted to the corporate sector, where did authority go? Did it travel along? Will the business experience of Donald Trump outweigh the people experience of Hillary Clinton? As secretary of state Hillary Clinton already pinpointed to a powerful force that can stand-up against businesses: "Leading through Civil Power" was the title of her first Quadriannial review in 2007. She understood her time as soon we saw the Arab world collapse through people power. However, with a small enlightened urban middle class you do not win elections as was proven after Muslim Brotherhood was voted into power. And those who saw their business interest vanish took charge and removed the Muslim Brotherhood agains based on their bad decision-making which affected their business interest. So for whom did power power deliver? If military rule is able to allow broad participation in the national economy, It may sustain for years, and people will prefer stability over democratic fragility.
In such contexts, what is really needed is a fully decentralized decision-making with regard to policy formulation and implementation. A situation where policy is formulated much closer to peoples influence. A decrease of state-monopoly over policy through empowered citizenship. What politicians often do is trying to organize referenda while campaigning for their viewpoint to be adopted by the electorate. However, this is pseudo participation, like in the case of the Association Agreement with Ukraine. How in the world can empowered citizens be asked to vote a simple yes or no. What is needed is much more information about what the association agreement actually is all about. What will it bring to Ukraine and what will it bring to Europe? On what basis has this agreement be reached? And many more questions may service. Verhaege brings to the fore an experiment in Texas on energy supply with a deliberative poll amonst a representative panel from amongst the total population of the state. The result was to be binding. Today Texas is number two in wind energy and 84 percent of the population was willing to pay more for their energy compared to 43 percent before. People need enought information and time to deliberate with one another about the pros and cons. Their opinion should really matter and should have a realistic impact on policy. As a result you will witness a curious phenomena. People will be able to prioritize public over private benefits. This way of public consultation was designed by James Fishkin from Stanford University and has since been replicated in various occassions. Whenever they were combined with a referendum it never lead to any result. It should be about fully informed consent or opposition rather than popular votes and media-coverage.
So, what should advocacy be about in a couple of years from now. Not necessarily helping citizens raise their voices towards national governments who increasingly will be perceived as middle-men between industry and people. Rather investing in information sharing and networking, getting the conversation going and make all stakeholders participate, increasingly the corporate sector. Supporting governments in organizing deliberative dialogues. Not beating politicians during election time, but helping them to improve their public consultation practice and ensure that every voice counts. Not in elections but by developing alternative narratives that help authorities to deriving their power and influence from third party endorsement that are recognized and understood by the general public.
Social media savy
Social media can be an important driver. However, given the vested interest of multinationals by influencing them to their advantage, even face to face meetings may need to be prioritized. As far as digiatel exchange is concerned, youth will need to outsmart the so called 'authorities' that will attempt to capture that public space. They can do so by constantly inventing new solutions and new ways to communicate effectively with one another. As I was clearly told by my daughters that SnapChat was certainly not something adults should even attempt to entertain. It is to be their domain and they wish no adult interference. What can I do..? Listen to divergent voices. Stay rooted in values that recognize dignity of people and integrity of the planet and live my life in a way that does not compromise these values. Every system change starts with one particle moving into another direction influencing other particals in their vicinity. Likewise I am being influenced by the likes of Verhaege who invested time to bring new perspectives to the surface or dig up half forgotten truths. Hope I will never stop listening and recognize that there are alternative pathways worth following. When the travelers reach a critical mass, it will be difficult to stop them for better or worse.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen, founder of URAIDE.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.