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Getting The Future We Deserve - Paul Graham Raven

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This is an entry in The Future We Deserve - a collaborative book project about the future. See all the entries or talk about this entry.



Let's assume for a minute we've all worked out exactly what sort of future we deserve. Now comes a tricky question: who's going to deliver us that future?

It's seductive when someone else offers to take responsibility for something big and confusing, or that looks like it'll be hard work, or both. That's how we've gotten to where we are now: top-down democracy and the nation-state model is pretty much based on saying to citizens "here, you shunt some of your earnings in our direction, and we'll take responsibility for sorting out all the stuff you can't do (or can't be trusted to do) on your own".

First problem: we don't live in the same world that top-down democracy was built for. The pyramid of communication between citizen and legislature is huge, Byzantine, slow; the world is fast, flattened, shrinking.

Second problem: abdication of responsibility allows us to blame someone else when something goes wrong... and we sure do like blaming people. It's the government's fault that the Square Mile got off with slapped wrists! Their fault that Deepwater Horizon wasn't prevented! But didn't we give the government its mandate? Ah, well, yes we did... but it's not our fault if they never deliver the promises they make, is it?

I'm going to go out on a limb, here: yes, it is our fault that they don't deliver. It's our fault because we're so eager to palm off that responsibility onto a broken system, despite a clear history of lies, deceit and (most commonly) incompetence. Look: if you were fielding tenders for some big outsourced project, and one of the pitches came from an organisation with a track record of failures-to-deliver like that of your government, would you hire them, even if they lowballed the hell out of their bid?

Of course you wouldn't. Because you're not an idiot.

It's simple: if we don't take responsibility for things, then we don't deserve to complain about them. I think we've long worn out the tired old saw that says top-down democracy is the least worst solution to a perpetual problem. A lot of new ideas, tools and technologies have come along since then, and already people are using them to pressure the state, to hold it accountable, to remind it of its broken promises. But I think we can go one further: I think we can become the state.

To put it another way: even if we were to dream up the most awesome, shiny and sustainable dream future we could imagine, if we then turned to the old systems of government to deliver them to us, we wouldn't get it. It'd be like asking your landlord to give you a hand wheeling the rubble away from the construction site that used to be his property. Instead, we need to reassert not just our rights but our abilities to act as stewards of our own world... and we do that by slowly building rhizomatic systems that – inch by inch, day by day, person by person – replace the creaking hierarchies of the state. The better we get at doing it, the less the state will have to do; eventually it'll wither away like an unused and unlamented vestigial limb, a relic of our political evolution.

Let me be perspex-clear, here: I do not advocate revolution, or at least not what has been labeled revolution in the past. I do not advocate violence or destruction or force, be it against the state or anyone else. Instead, I suggest we dismantle the state by taking back all the jobs we gave it – slowly, carefully, and with the willingness to accept that we won't always get it right first time.

I suggest we take responsibility – every one of us, to the best of our abilities, with whatever skills we have, as individuals and as communities of individuals – for our world, our future and (most importantly) for each other. It'll be hard work, but there'll be a sense of liberty when we face up to the fact that it's us that has to fix things. True liberty, I think – the sort of liberty that can't be gifted by legal documents, but which has to be built or earned afresh each day – is never having another person to blame for your problems. It always has been; we were just seduced into thinking otherwise for a while.

Whatever happens, whatever we do, we'll get the future we deserve. The question here is whether or not the future we deserve is one we'd like to live in.