Pirate Wheel: Empowerment

The world has changed. Every time there is a technical development that empowers more people, it changes the power balance in society fundamentally. It happened with the printing press, it happened with the industrial revolution, it happened with the green revolution, and it has happened again. This time, everybody has received a voice; nobody can be silenced evermore. This changes everything.

In the 1900s, there was a place for interpreters of the public’s opinion and news reporting, as it was not possible to listen to everybody. Today, listening to everybody has become not only possible, but expected. This turns the tables on the information flow, on government, and on the economy.

This means that the need for middlemen and for self-appointed approvers has reduced drastically, to the point where people need not put up with the concept — and, indeed, are rightly ceasing to do so. People have become empowered; nobody needs ask permission to turn an idea into reality or to start changing the world from a business or policy perspective. Neither competitors nor governments have any more power to stop empowered citizens. This catalyzes a necessary change in the role of the political administration: a change from ruling to governing.

Fundamentally, this is a very positive change. It encourages diversity and realizes the civil liberties that philosophers in the 1700s and 1800s theorized about, but which only applied to a privileged elite at the time. (We can see remnants of this elite trying to prevent the sands of time from running and completing this shift, trying to cement their privileged position of information, culture, or opinion gatekeeper and interpreter. This is not in the public interest.) It also creates a very resilient society, one where a few bottlenecks cannot shape the course of history against the public interest.

For some time, people have been assumed innocent until proven guilty. The ongoing change, this change from ruling to governing, forces society to take this concept of civil liberty and acknowledgment of the free individual one step further. Not only must innocence be assumed, but also good faith. It has used to be that governments and authorities have assumed that everybody is a potential criminal, assumed cheater, assumed tax evader that may or may not be convicted later. Experiences from early-stage catalysts of the ongoing shift tell us that this is neither productive nor desirable. Rather, governments must assume good faith in all its dealings with people.

We can also observe through this fundamental change that people will adapt to the expectations of authorities. People who are exposed to a system that expects everybody to cheat, defraud and lie will do exactly that. People who are exposed to a system that expects them to take responsibility and only ask for aid when really needed, on the other hand, will step up to the plate. The rare exceptions to this rule must be regarded as just that; rare exceptions that don’t motivate a change of the system or viewpoint.

Apart from being a desirable and inevitable development that authorities assume good faith, it is further critical that people have a chance to break the rules without being discovered and penalized for it. Many actions that have been criminal in the past that are considered civil liberties today. These developments are positive; laws often need to be broken for society and its legislation to develop and modernize, and this is fostered through a positive diversity of viewpoints stretching beyond the contemporary limits of the law. This must be recognized and learnt from history.

People have become empowered, and the governing authorities must treat them as such, assuming good faith.

Updated 2011-Nov-13.