Gov 5000 – Everything Old is New Again

For my first blog post on this site looking at new concepts of good governance within democracies, I figured I’d start with some old ones first.

For Plato, an ideal city could be no larger than about 5000 people — the number that could be addressed by a single orator. For Aristotle, even this number was too large. He figured that all the citizens of a well-governed city should be able to recognize each other on sight.

And, isn’t that essentially what we’re trying to accomplish with these new communications tools — to make it possible to a single person in governance to reach out to all the citizens and receive their feedback? And to make it possible for us to recognize each other once again. What has changed is our size as a state, and the expanses across which we hope to communicate.

In the past, we’ve addressed our growing size through development of strict, almost military hierarchies — even within collaborative groupings. In this way we could ensure that a message could be passed effectively up and down the ranks, even across great distances. We’ve also drawn from the industrial revolution and the time and motion studies of the late 19th and early 20th century to break down the work of government into its smallest components and have it done piecemeal — so that the whole was often difficult for anyone to understand.

Now, while we’re using newer technologies, all we’re really doing is recapturing a type of governance idealized in the past, when one person was able to enagage effectively with everyone, and when all the citizens were expected to be engage on the topic and understand the mechanisms and issues of government.

Rather than focusing on the tech aspect of government in the software emulating 2.0 formulations, perhaps we should shunt the technology aside and look more closely at the nature of our society and the impact of these human networks and interactions — as well as upon the substance of what we’re trying to achieve.

Government 2.0 may be new, but it’s well founded in the Government of the 5000

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