Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Why do Empires Fall?

Throughout the animal kingdom, we see the weaker of the group fall prey. Apart from the group we are predatory; a sly fox finds a victim. Evolution is amoral in order to survive in the direst circumstances, from the predator we find that this amoral opportunism manifests itself as criminality in human society.

In the last century alone the lives of more than 50m people have been lost in wars fought over political ideals, territory and resources, events which are all testament to the perilous journey that is the technological ascent of man. Clearly political stability is paramount to our survival here on Earth. Yet we are undermined, in time complicity with criminal opportunism blocks the arteries of egalitarian governance, bringing leaders into disfavour whilst causing migration and ultimately empires to decay and fall.

"Transparency", used to denote openness and accountability, is becoming common parlance in politics. Historically transparency has its roots in Sweden, when in 1766 the Freedom of the Press Act was introduced, granting the public access to government documents, though this brief ray of Scandinavian wisdom wasn't seen again until 1966 when the US introduced the Freedom of Information Act. Since then over 80 countries around the world have introduced similar legislation ensuring government data is available to the public, generally with the stipulation that there is no conflict with defence or foreign policy and the information does not relate to a specific individual. In the US this was further ratified by later amendments, significantly The Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments in 1996. The web, parliamentary dialogue feeds and sites such as TheyWorkForYou.com have opened the offices of government further by making this information only a search or click away. In conjunction with the proliferation of televised news media, these changes are bringing us closer to Open Government.

Transparency in finance, where banks such as Triodos allow the public to see all of the loans the bank has granted. Helping to prevent the kind of sub-prime lending which in part led to the banking fiasco of 2009. In time perhaps we could see our entire government or financial institution’s budget published on Google docs spreadsheet, updating as funds allocated in each sector are spent, whilst receipts gather. Transitioning to exclusively electronic currency could bring more economic transparency and an end to the unhealthy secrecy of currency that has been with us since the end of bartering.

Few would disagree that international drug trafficking causes state corruption within those nations farming narcotics, within the police and military forces involved en route and within the destination culture: Clearly marrying these channels to crime is the sheerest folly. Transparency within what is currently known as the black market could legalize all such commodities, whilst introducing new safety clauses funded by the resulting tax revenues. Under such a system cigarettes may have cost £5 each from the outset, a first pint of beer could cost £3 and the fifth £10, whilst most drugs taken for leisure purposes could be placed in the luxury cost band. There are many sensible frameworks for such legalization that avoid the suffering that alcohol and nicotine brought with them. The question is not whether we should legalize drugs, the question is: Can our current political system function without reliance on institutionalized crime?

With regard to the ecology, transparency is encouraging governments to disclose their CO2 emissions. Google provide an excellent web application which allows CO2 per capita over time to be compared between nations.

There are now a variety of web sites providing global map data, many with satellite imagery. Together with experiences like Google Earth, the world is more unified than it ever was. Instead of exchanging postcodes, we mail or tweet GPS coordinates of theatres, restaurants or home addresses, or at the very least a postcode is converted to a GPS coordinate before being dispatched. This in itself brings a form of transparency to society that was previously absent: Nowhere is secluded. Had the web been with us earlier, would it have been possible for Slobodan MiloŇ°evic or Adolf Hitler to avoid being identified and located when GPS enabled mobile phones cameras are carried by almost every citizen? Given the kind of news the web now brings who would deny the request "Where is Slobodan now? Please tweet location and photo. Please re-tweet this."?

Today our civilization spans the globe, what are we to do now that there is nowhere to migrate, when endless flight from tyranny seems the only option?

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