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I know  –  this is a slightly different post from my usual, but it’s been a while since I’ve posted… and this is one of the things I’ve been diverting my mind with. Then there was the puzzle of what picture I could use to illustrate it.   I’ve chosen native bush emerging from the huge stump of an old macrocarpa at Totaranui. You’ll get the significance as you read on. (More about the trees at Totaranui at the end.)

Macrocarpa stump hosting new indigenous life

Macrocarpa stump hosting new indigenous life

This is a post I’m keen to get your comments on, if it stirs thoughts in you.  It’s coming out in hard copy in Future Times – the magazine of the NZ Futures Trust.    You will gather that I don’t think the current conversations on the New Zealand constitution are nearly radical enough!   So read on….

On Democracy

I’ve been musing on democracy, and what “the next great thing” might be. My most recent prompt was listening to Dr Jim Dator, Professor and Director of the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, Department of Political Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa. He was Skyping to our “Thinking Futures” workshop, and defined “The Unholy Trinity plus One” of factors which are now the “new normal” – that is, a given common factor in futures scenarios. (“Trinity” because they can be described separately but are inseparable.) 

1                 Energy: we will run out of cheap available oil before there is an equally cheap available alternative

2                 Environment: human-influenced environmental change will affect where and how we live

3                 Economy: neo-liberal economics will continue to fail and we have not created an alternative

And 4      –  Governance.  Democratic government has proved itself unable to address the Unholy Trinity.

So – if our good democracies are functioning as well as they can – and they demonstrably can’t deal with what’s facing us globally, what can?   Leaving aside the immediate attractions of Me as Benign Dictator, here’s today’s possible design.  All alternatives and improvements welcome!

The Three Ring Circus. (Yes, the title is intentional, because one great failing of governance is to take itself deadly seriously.)

How it works

We the people elect a Selection Committee.   The Selection Committee choose the brightest and best people available for three Groups.  The Chair of the Selection Committee could function as “head of state” for international affairs.

Group 1 – The Thinkers.  They consider present and future opportunities and problems, and come up with possible solutions.

Group 2 – The Ethicists.  They discuss the values we hold, and want to hold as a society, and examine the possible solutions in light of those.

Group 3 – The Excellent Executives.  They look at the implementation of possible solutions, what it would take to make them work, the resources needed, and the things that might emerge along the way. They could take advice from Government Departments.

Then thinking together, the three Groups agree what should be done and craft it into a clear proposal.

We, the people, then vote on that well-formed proposal.

Of course, sometimes action is necessary without full public participation. Even in that model of direct democracy, Switzerland, the government sometimes acts alone if prior warning would lead to market speculation. And – sometimes something matters too much to wait for the majority. That’s why Swiss women didn’t get the vote till 1971. Popular movements didn’t abolish slavery, or do many things we now know mattered.   So under my system, there would be a “three strikes” limit. Any 3-Ring Circus could make three “undemocratic” decisions, and then would have to stand down.

So – there’s an opening bid for a discussion on Design for a new form of Democracy.

Comments please!

And for those of you who prefer nature rambles to political ones… more on Totaranui.

Back in 1865, when the Gibbs family were settling this remote beautiful bay at the head of what is now the Able Tasman walkway, they planted an avenue of London plane trees, interspersed with macrocarpas.

The avenue of London Planes stretching down to the beach at Totaranui.  The balls of foliage are mistletoe.

The avenue of London Planes stretching down to the beach at Totaranui. The balls of foliage are native mistletoe.

According to the Notable Trees Register website, the plane trees are parents to Nelson city’s pollarded planes – and one may have the largest girth of all trees in NZ.     They are magnificent – trees on a monumental scale, not native, yet fitting naturally into the landscape, perhaps by virtue of having been a part of it for nearly 140 years.

And – at least half as old, and in their own way magnificent huge specimens – the eels of Totaranui.  They lounge around in the shade of the stream bank, and come daily to the sound of slapping on the water, to be fed.  These are not “public entertainment eels” – there are others you can visit in Golden Bay – but we were lucky that brother Mark and sister-in-law Vicky were on eel-feeding duty when we visited them at their life-style-job looking after the Totaranui DoC Camp this summer.  Others of us would have to win a ballot for a camping spot there over summer, but Mark and Vicky got paid for the privilege. Smart folk!

Mark on eel-feeding duty

Mark on eel-feeding duty