Saturday, October 13, 2012

Government 101

This post is a point of reference post, an attempt to clearly define "Government". It may be helpful as a point of reference for a future post or three.

Government is about management and control. It refers primarily to two entities associated with those endeavors.

1. The governmental body: Those individuals who exercise control of a community or organization.
2. The governmental system: The method applied to the task of governing a specific community

Governmental systems can be thought of as a sort of continuum.

On one end, you have a supreme dictatorship. In this case, the government body consists of a single individual, who controls everything. This is really only practical for relatively small communities. As the community grows larger and more complex, a supreme dictator becomes overwhelmed, and must ultimately relinquish some power to equals, or to subordinates (a democratic dictatorship or a representative dictatorship, if you will).

The other extreme is the consensus democracy. A system in which all decisions are made by a consensus vote of the entire community. This is also untenable for groups of any size, as it is virtually impossible to get a large group of people to agree on anything.

Most practical governments fall in between these two extremes. The figure below attempts to illustrate this. Note that Anarchy is not present. It is NOT a form of government, rather it is the absence of any government.

 The most fundamental government then, is the family. In smallest form, a husband and wife make up the community. The system they employ can be a dictatorship or a consensus democracy. Perhaps they will apply both at different times, as one individual makes a 'grab for power'.

The family community grows through the addition of children. In the beginning they have no say in the affairs of the community, and the governmental system looks more like a dictatorship (I should point out, that a dictator is not necessarily evil or overbearing. A dictator can be entirely benevolent, supremely loving, and still be the one making all the decisions. Some may argue the the one month old is in fact the dictator, and does in fact control the decision making process. But in terms of governmental power, within the confines of the family community the parent has the ultimate say, this has been demonstrated all too often in cases of infant abuse and neglect).

As children mature, many families will shift more decision making power, and the family government system will move to the right on the continuum toward democracy. In time, the children will leave the family community and repeat the process.

Beyond the family, we participate in dozens, even hundreds of communities and governments during our lives. Some neighborhoods have governments.  These governments are typically some form of democracy or representative democracy, and exercise control over aspects of neighborhood appearance, dictating size of house, type of fencing, condition of yards, and so forth.

There are of course the obvious; city governments, county governments, state governments, and national governments.

It is sometimes overlooked, but businesses and corporations are also governments. They are communities of individuals. They have certain common goals ("make money" at the very least). They have resources to be managed, and they have a governing body and government system. Most businesses and corporations look more like dictatorships. An owner, CEO, or board of directors make most of the decisions. Some authority may be delegated to lower level 'managers. Employees primarily do as they are directed.

Some would argue that this is not accurate, as an employee, through initiative can be promoted to a position of leadership. That is not forbidden by a dictatorship. Even in the monarchies of the past, a peasant could rise in the ranks, be granted land, and titles through acts of valor (or subterfuge).

This perhaps makes clearer the relationship between corporations and state governments. They are both governing bodies. Sometimes, they make alliances through a mutual exchange of power or resources. Sometimes they wage war over power or resources. It is really no different than the alliances and conflicts of the tribal or feudal past (other than the mode of warfare - infantrymen with swords have been replaced  by lawyers with pens).

In all cases the objective of the governing body is to thrive. It wants to survive, grow, succeed (sometimes, the governing body makes decisions which seem entirely contrary to this objective. that is because governing bodies are made up of people, and people are stupid).

In all cases, the success of the government is entirely dependent upon the community. If the community supports the government, participates in the government (whether by following the dictator, or by actively participating in the democracy), the government will tend to succeed. If the community does not support the government, it will inevitably fail.

Governments are an essential part of human evolution. An individual can only get so far (try building a rocket and flying to the moon by yourself, using only the rocks, dirt, and plants in your backyard, or manufacture a smart phone from scratch). Without community, and common goals, we'd still be running naked through the trees, banging rocks together.

The most common mistake people make with respect to government is that of anthropomorphism; assigning human characteristics to it. A government is just a tool, it doesn't think for itself, it doesn't act by itself. It is a hammer. Those who wield it can use it to build, or destroy. "The Government" does nothing by itself.

The second most common mistake is the assumption that (continuing the tool analogy) government is wielded by the governing body. In fact both the governing and the governed wield it collectively. Those who govern only have power insofar as those who are governed grant it.

As with any tool, the better you understand it - how it works, and how to use it correctly - the less likely you are to cut your arm off with it.

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