Government and Governance

From Cultural Maturity: A Guidebook for the Future:

Essential leadership tasks: It is the job of political leadership to place before us culturally mature images of possibility, to take tough stands in the face of very real limits, and to provide initiative in the crafting of institutional structures that are more creative, consciously systemic, and accountable.

Governance has to do with how collectively we make choices, and in particular how we make choices that have to do with more right-hand social functions such as economies, armies, and infrastructure. Government’s Question of Referent asks, what kinds of values, discernments and institutional structures do we draw on, at particular times and places, if we are to best make such choices.

The fact that governance’s story is evolutionary, that the answer to its Questions of Referent has gone through stages, is not hard to grasp. We recognize a progression from tribal rule, to the times of god-kings, to the authority of emperors and kings (who were not quite divine, but not just mortal, either), to the emergence of more democratic principles and governmental structures. A more fine-grained lens can help us also appreciate more intermediary structures—for example, the way more authoritarian governmental forms, from right-wing dictatorships to modern communist authoritarian regimes, reflect dynamics at the intersection of Middle-Axis and Late-Axis sensibility.

Key to Cultural Maturity’s argument is the recognition that while Late-Axis governmental forms reflect profound achievement, they don’t represent the final accomplishments we tend to assume them to be. We’ve examined how familiar assumptions of democratic governance as we have known it leave us short of the sophistication that future governmental leadership will require. We’ve also begun to look at new capacities that will be critical to effective government going forward.

One necessary to the ability to more directly address government’s Question of Referent has particular importance: the capacity to step back and think of government less in terms of defining structures and more in terms of governance, the functions that government serves. Such perspective lets us address government in terms of its broader systemic significance and also more effectively discern where changes may be needed.

Some of the needed changes we’ve examined involve bringing more systemic sophistication to the internal functioning of government. I’ve emphasized the importance of getting beyond the extreme left-versus-right bickering that has more and more come to characterize political discourse. While success in this regard has thus far been limited, people increasingly recognize that the degree of petty partisanship we see today cannot continue. I’ve also highlighted the importance of realizing more Whole-Person/Whole-System leadership—and “followership”—in the political sphere. I’ve observed how we can have mixed feelings with regard to these changes—we can want leaders to get off their pedestals, and then not be happy when they do. But we are making good beginning headway toward appreciating political leaders as simply people who have hard jobs—and with Transitional times often nearly impossible jobs.

Government’s new picture also necessarily includes learning to address how governments relate to one another more systemically. I’ve given particular emphasis to the importance of stepping beyond our past need for “evil others,” and the concomitant need to view our own kind as “chosen people.” Government’s picture should also increasingly involve changes in the boundaries that determine governmental influence, both where those boundaries reside, and how we experience their significance.

As example, in times ahead we should find the nation state less and less serving the same role as ultimate definer of collective identity.
Cultural mature perspective’s multifaceted systemic picture predicts what might seem contradictory trends—both of which we are witnessing. First we should see increased identification at larger, more regional or even global scales. Even if we don’t specifically identify as global citizens, the growing number of issues that we will need to address at a global scale means new, more broadly-based approaches to decision-making will be essential. And at the same time we should witness renewed appreciation for local traditions and bonds. Combine these two trends with how more and more entities—from non-governmental organizations and multinational corporations to terrorist groups—define themselves in ways that cut across traditional boundaries, and the need to think about governance in more dynamic and multi-dimensional ways becomes inescapable.

One observation has served in a particularly striking way to highlight the fact that we are dealing not just with refinements to old ways of thinking, but a wholly a new chapter in government’s evolutionary story: the recognition that what we have witnessed thus far in the governmental sphere is not really “government by the people”—at least in any Whole-Person sense. I’ve described how the Myth of the Individual applies directly to government and has profound implications for governance’s future. I’ve argued that realizing something more akin to authentic “government by the people” represents one of Cultural Maturity’s most defining tasks.

Earlier in this chapter, I made reference to the importance of rethinking money’s hold on the workings of government. This task links directly to the challenge of realizing more authentic “government by the people.” What we see today with modern democracies is much closer to one-dollar-one-vote than one-person-one-vote. A recent study from Princeton and Northwestern Universities made news by reaching the conclusion that the U.S. is really less a democracy than an oligarchy. The observation that large corporations and wealthy individuals wield political influence far beyond that of people with lesser means should not be a surprise. But the extent of the demonstrated discrepancy helps tie what we see to observations here about needed next steps in how we conceive of government and governance (as well as previous reflection about the dangers presented by economic inequalities and their implications for the related sphere of economics).

As with economic structures, a needed next stage in the evolution of governance does not necessarily mean radical new forms. But certainly it means deeply rethinking how our forms work and entertaining more systemic ways of understanding them. It also means recognizing that we must get beyond government-related Transitional Absurdities— such as the partisan shrillness that can make arriving at effective policy nearly impossible and the extreme hold that money has on governmental functioning—if government is to benefit us going forward.