I have a question I’ve been pondering for years. Perhaps one of the people who read this blog can answer it–or at least shed some much-needed light on it.
Here’s the thing: I am constantly coming across news items about technological progress that is incredibly impressive, innovations that promise to solve real problems faced by real humans. Here’s just one recent example: an effort to bring electricity to almost half of Africa’s 1.3 billion population, which currently lives without it, and not by replicating the way most electricity is generated and transmitted in countries whose populations are almost universally served today.
As the article reports,
The results of fossil-fuel-based, centralized, power-plant strategies of the past 50 years speak for themselves: high levels of pollution and slow rollouts due to high construction and fuel costs. Instead, we need to focus on minigrid-based electricity powered by solar power and batteries, which can provide 24-hour clean energy. And because they are decentralized—with the electricity that each community needs provided by solar farms in the area (optimized through artificial intelligence and Internet of Things technologies) and without long, expensive transmission lines—minigrids are often low-cost and deployable in weeks. Already, Energicity has brought solar-powered electricity to 40,000 people, and our goal for 2022 is to reach 250,000 more, across four countries in West Africa.
You can read more detail at the link.
Reading about new methods of providing clean energy, or new ways to communicate, or new ways to pay for goods and services (many of which are also new) is hardly a unique experience. I see similar reports on an almost daily basis, and they make me applaud the ingenuity and scientific “know-how” of so many of my fellow humans. We’ve come a long way from inventing the ax by attaching a stone to a wooden handle!
Good for us! We’re resourceful creatures!
So why–why–are we unable to apply that ingenuity and intellectual rigor to the mechanisms of communal life–to systems of government?
I don’t hear our retrograde politicians criticizing the folks who invented the iPhone, or developed the Internet. Even our insane anti-vaxxers aren’t pontificating against the discovery of penicillan. They aren’t refusing to board airplanes (at least, not pre-pandemic). They have computers. They drive cars outfitted with the newest features, and use GPS to get from point A to point B. They talk to Siri and Alexa. I could go on and on.
And they use these things without the dimmest idea of how they work, or “what is in them.”
Our relationship with technology is evidence of respect for talent and expertise. You don’t see the men and women who are creating these new tools boasting that they don’t really know much about whatever their factories produce; recruiters aren’t out looking for employees who have absolutely no prior experience with, or training relevant to whatever widget the factory is producing. The managers of those factories don’t level their most withering critiques at workers who actually know what they are doing.
Only in political life do people consider ignorance of government and the policy process a virtue. Only in political life do we award our support to people who are clearly clueless about the imperatives and mechanics of governance–at least, if we think we’d like to have a beer with them.
Only in political life do ideologues encourage their own followers to reject the products of expertise–most recently, to risk dying rather than take advantage of the knowledge of others if that rejection is thought to advantage the know-nothings who aspire to elective office.
Bottom line: For every genuine innovation in governing, like the “doughnut economy” that is a subject of experimentation in Amsterdam and a few other places, there are literally thousands of innovations in technology. We humans are really good at invention, at subduing our environments, making daily life easier and more interesting. Not only that, most of us applaud those innovations; we consider them evidence of progress.
Why don’t we approach our governing systems that way?