Monday, June 14, 2010

Local Control

Small town government is really depressing.

In the human race there's only a small pool of good leaders and another pool of leaders whose style falls more into the category of warlords and dictators. These two groups account for all the ideas the rest of us get recruited to support or oppose. People who possess fewer leadership qualities fill the management and labor positions. Some people try to stay out of social systems entirely.

So much for the general situation. Someone somewhere has compiled statistics on the actual proportions in the population. The idea that 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people springs to mind, but that's a tiny fraction of the story. Leaders pick the work.

In a small population the smaller percentage of good leaders represents a minuscule actual number. They seldom hear praise, but complaints are often delivered face to face in unconstructive terms. Leading in a small town can be like leading outlaws or pirates. As long as you can maintain control in the ranks you won't be deposed. You have to show them victories and plunder and prove that you are still tougher than they are.

In some towns the veneer of civility may be thicker than in others. In this one the division between people with what you might call a global perspective and those with an intensely self-centered one is sharp. At this point there appear to be no swing voters. It all comes down to apathy. The ones who would choose not to be governed do their best to ignore government and remain invisible to it. The ones who believe government can be conducted civilly and productively for long-term benefits keep plugging away. But there aren't enough of them to fill all the necessary slots.

The present supreme leadership of the town seems unduly susceptible to pressure from the faction with very short-term goals. Unfortunately, small towns get run by people with the time to devote to it. The alternatives who have offered themselves for the position have all been demonstrably worse.

Petty people in positions of power present a particular problem. Some people fear rules because petty leaders can use them as power tools. But petty leaders who try to circumvent the rules end up doing worse damage to the system we are supposed to operate for the good of all. Sometimes the authority figure hung up on procedure is not just doing it to swing a big stick. Sometimes it really has to do with respect for the institution that is supposed to operate on a time frame beyond a single human lifetime. The system is supposed to outlive each of us individually because it serves us collectively across generations. Therefore it may have needs that supersede our short-term desires.

The 1960s brought about a great many good and necessary things. Unfortunately it also fed a culture of self indulgence and impatience that finds expression in such disparate ways as huge cars, suburban mansions, swingers' clubs and doomsday religions. Party or worship like there's no tomorrow. There's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The good things from the 1960s were a willingness to question authority at all levels and a sense of individual worth that can lead to a very responsible respectful society if you recognize that every self has worth, no greater or less than your own. It's hard when those selves choose to do things that range from annoying to abhorrent. No one said life was easy. It just gets hard in different ways as we learn more and more about ourselves and our universe. For every physical hazard we have reduced, a new ethical dilemma arises. For every technology that makes life seem easier we have a new set of unintended consequences to discover and mitigate.

I didn't ask for this. If I didn't have to work for a living I would happily just sit for days at a time, watching the mountains erode under the ever-changing weather. I've never felt the need to be constantly busy. But someone has to do something about, or for, the people who do. I have to walk into the arena of the pissing contest, umbrella in hand, and speak in defense of reason.

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