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Tuesday
Apr262011

Government of the Future (1981)

Children of the 1980s were presented with two possible futures for government in the book World of Tomorrow: School, Work and Play. The first scenario is a nightmarish dystopia where governments track their citizens' every move and computers are curtailing freedoms across the globe. The second possible future is a utopia nearly achieving some form of direct democracy, brought on by the home computer and videophones, which enable citizens to become highly engaged in the political process.

It would appear that those of us living in "the future" wound up with a bit of both. Governments all over the world are certainly using technology to spy on their citizens -- though I would wager that Visa, Apple and Google know more about me than the U.S. government. But the evolution of tools like Twitter and YouTube has also provided your average citizen with easier ways to politically organize and educate.

Whatever your feelings on technology's role in government, I think we can all agree on one political truism... I'm right and those other guys are idiots.

Some people fear that computers will rule our lives in the future. They believe that information on everyone will be stored in computers, and that government officials will be able to find out anything about anyone at any time. It is possible that this will happen, and that some governments will use computers to limit people's freedom. However, it is just as possible that computers will make governments more open in the future, and allow people more say in the ways they are governed.

In a future where every home has a videophone computer system, everyone could take part in government. People could talk and air their views to others on special communication channels linking every home. These people would most likely be representatives of some kind -- of a political party, a union, an industry and so on.  But when the time comes to make a decision on any issue, everyone would be able to vote by instructing their computer. A central computer would instantly announce the result.

 This kind of government by the people is a possibility that the computer will bring. It could take place on any scale -- from village councils up to world government. In fact, it is more likely to happen in small communitites, as it would be difficult to reach effective national and international decisions, if millions of people always had to be asked to approve everything. Nevertheless, the computer will enable really important decisions to be put before the people and not decided by groups or politicians.

The computer could also affect the ways in which politicians will work. They could discuss the issues that affect the people they represent over public communication networks that would replace governemtn assemblies. In this way representatives could live among their electors and get to know them and their views much better.

 

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Reader Comments (17)

Or we can go back to the mid-1800s when Thoreau penned:

I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto, — "That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — "That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

Additionally, "[d]irect democracy was very much opposed by the framers of the United States Constitution and some signers of the Declaration of Independence. They saw a danger in majorities forcing their will on minorities."

So a direct democracy is every bit tyrannical as the dystopian government described in 1981.

"Democracy" is not synonymous with "freedom". It is simply the tyranny of the majority and a mechanism of force that 51% of the population uses to dictate to 49% of the population how to live their lives.

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGrant

Visa, Apple and Google know more about me than the U.S. government

I wouldn't be so sure of that, but even if it were true, the government can of course obtain everything those corporations know about you by simply demanding it from them.

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTodd S.

That's not paleofuture, direct democracy vs. govern control is in the spotlight across many parts of the world, like Europe. Look at the Pirate Party or the resistance to new internet regulations in example.

April 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranon

And when Thoreau wrote that, he was living free of charge (no rent) in a cabin by himself. When he bought food, it was from the local farmer or General Store (where the flour came from a local farmer). He cooked for himself.

Before Walden, he went to college because he was a rich man's son. After Walden, he was employed as a land surveyor on the frontier for the rest of his life and earn money from his writing about natural history. He died from tuberculosis which was incurable at the time. He died at age 46.

He didn't have to feed a family, pay the rent and make the car payment (because he has to drive to his job). He didn't have to pay for his water, electricity, telephone or cable bill. He didn't have college loans to pay off. He didn't have a job situation where his prior employment history or credit rating could prevent him from being employed. He didn't live in a world where his food came from McDonald's, Burger King or from prepackaged servings, all with levels of fat, salt and carbohydrates that are known to be bad as a steady diet. He didn't face the possibility of NOT being treated for TB because he couldn't afford it.

To quote Thoreau like his comments make sense in this world is silly.

April 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterbG

Thoreau is still relevant.

Civil Disobedience set the stage for the modern Civil Rights movement. Cavalierly dismissing his philosophy on government because he lived in a different time is silly.

“If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them and enable the state to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceful revolution, if any such is possible.”

“There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.”

“Thus the State never intentionally confronts a man’s sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.”

“All men recognize the right of revolution; that is the right to refuse allegiance to and to resist, the government, when its tyranny and or inefficiency are great and unendurable.”

“A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight.”

“The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well.”

April 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGrant

Additionally, bG's comment relies solely on chronological snobbery, a logical fallacy.

April 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGrant

No, my comments aren't snobbery, they are explaining facts. Facts that your airy-fairy quotes don't wish away into the cornfield.

Few people want to or can afford to live like hermits in a cabin in the woods. It's not 1845, it's 2011. Most people live in or around cities. As such, they must interact not just people in their cities, but also people from around the world. An outbreak of flu somewhere spreads in a matter of weeks now and not years. Like the people in New York City who went through the 1965 blackout or the people who had dogs (U.S.) or children (China) die from Melamine poisoning, you have to realize governments exist to service the public good.
Even if people in the government do it poorly sometimes. That's why we have democracy--to "poke at them through the bars of their cages".

Real people's reality, your reality and my reality is that "That government is best which governs not at all" is shear fantasy. And it has nothing to do with civil disobedience. It doesn't shield us from Communism, Fascism, Reaganomics, pollution or economic convulsions caused by corporate greed, Global Climate Change or the latest crazy person who has a list of people he doesn't like and would like to kill or use as slaves.

And as for Thoreau's opposition to slavery, lots of talk. Also, he seems to have been a big defender of John Browne, not an example of civil disobedience.

April 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterbG

Governments are still oppressive and controlling and people are still stupid, greedy, and vile. That has not changed since Thoreau's time and will not any time soon. If more people listened to Henry, the world would be a better place. He was smart enough to know how to live his own life.

April 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Jetson

Governments have to kept in their place, but the fantasy of "no government" is silly and counterproductive. Things are better now than they were in many parts of the world. If you don't believe that, you haven't been paying attention. We can only keep governments* doing what they are supposed to be doing, by doing our part and not hiding in the woods.

*and keeping other forces in society in check. The KKK wasn't a government. Until 1933, the Nazi's in Germany weren't the government. Anarchists in the early 20th century in Europe weren't the goverment. Companies dumping Mercury into the Minamata Bay weren't the government in Japan.

May 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterbG

People aren't smart enough to live as Thoreau suggested. Too many humans on this planet as it is. More proof that we aren't evolved beyond the small Stone Age tribe mentality.

Stop dumping on Thoreau. He had the right idea - its humanity that isn't sophisticated enough to handle it. That;s why they need babysitter governments and why corruption and oppression come in so easily.

May 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Jetson

You say: "Stop dumping on Thoreau. He had the right idea - its humanity that isn't sophisticated enough to handle it.". Then you are admitting that Thoreau and you are being unrealistic. Finally. Can we finally dump the tired pseudo-anarchist libertarian pablum into the trashcan along with Communism?

This isn't about "trust the market", "proper regulation", "the market won't/doesn't work" arguments. This is about the romantic delusion that we can do without a government that is contributing to the deterioration of America.

May 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterbG

I'm surprised no one has commented on the HILARIOUS expression the African diplomat is making in the artwork!

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

Futuristic Otto von Bismarck vs. Idi Amin = pure win

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDank

I think that the two pictures reflect a 70's-80's artistic cliche of drawing one static image (Otto) beside a more "energetic" one (Idi). But you all didn't point out one thing: the wall is one big giant display! It has two people live in a video conference, a picture of South America and a bar chart. We're used to seeing a Jumbotron NOW, but that would be a wild idea then. The book was published in 1982, but Sony showed the first Jumbotron in 1985.

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterbG

METAPHYSICAL GHOSTS

graveyardofthegods.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=40&t=11419

May 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDmabus

In the early 70's Chile prototyped a system of direct democracy called "Cyberfolk" as part of project Cybersyn / Synco. Search cybersyn + cyberfolk and you will learn more. Essentially the overarching Cybersyn project was based on cybernetic theory and the Viable System Model developped by Stanford Beer.

May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMTT

" But when the time comes to make a decision on any issue, everyone would be able to vote by instructing their computer. A central computer would instantly announce the result."

This is actually true here in Brazil. Since 1996 we have something called direct-recording electronic voting machone, which is basically a computer that we use to vote. We have the final results of every election about 3 to 6 hours after the end of the election.

May 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndré

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