“You can’t go back and change the beginning but you can start where you are and change the ending.” (C.S. Lewis)
Democracy is under pressure. It feels like ‘the system’ is falling apart.
The ancient philosophers already knew that total autonomy would kill solidarity and total equality would kill freedom and that finding the right balance would be the key for a civilized society. Democracy seems to have become unable to maintain that balance.
Covid-19 didn’t break the system. The virus just revealed that the system was already broken. The impact of the internet has been underestimated by governments and now that is causing potential Damage Beyond Repair.
Digital icing on an old cake
Covid-19 is a wake-up call. If we want to continue to live in a society that maximizes well-being for its citizens now and in the future, we need to get out of the 19th century structures and re-design ‘the system’. Some digital icing on the old cake will not do the trick. Humanity has passed a tipping point and we need to realize that ‘something is rotten’ in our Kingdom.
The introduction of mass communication was the previous tipping point that forced society to re-think its organization. Forced, because that re-design did not just happen overnight. It took several bloody and painful revolutions before it gave birth to democracy as we have known it since: mass one-way top down broadcasting of the vision in combination with the election of representatives of the people that create some form of feedback loops. This was as close as we could get to ‘the government, that is all of us’. It worked, for a while.
Mind the gap
The internet has dramatically changed our communication and thus the canvas of society. For the first time in our human history we have access to mass two-way communication. The gap between the primitive one-way communication of governments and their complex and slow system of feedback loops on the one hand and the growing power of two-way communication amongst citizens and its fast and unfiltered feedback loops on the other hand, is growing bigger by the day. People don’t feel like being ‘heard’ by the government and no longer accept its authority. The more that central authority tries to stay in control, the more it undermines its very own raison d’être. Citizens no longer believe that they themselves are the system that has turned into ‘the establishment’.
The ecosystem society
That is a recipe for disaster. Autonomy and solidarity get out of balance. Mobocracy is the end of civilization. The only way to avoid that there will be monsters and creeps, civil wars and blood in the twilight zone (between the dying old normal and the new one that is not born yet), is for our leaders of today to have the guts to take the pen and to re-design the way we organize our society.
Leadership is not about dictating a vision, but about setting a grand challenge. A democracy 2.0 has to shift from leadership being the center of command into it taking the governance of the platform where citizens connect, where new dynamics are being created and where short and fast feedback loops power a double flywheel that creates more and more wellbeing. Hence, an ecosystem.
Not only will the new economy be a platform based ecosystem economy. We can now reach out for the next level of civilization: a platform based smart ecosystem society.