Thoughts on the Election & Human Progress

My “ministry” is all about celebrating and championing human development at an individual and societal level. A key thread in that development (at both the individual and societal level) is our society’s transition from hierarchies of control towards circles of equals. So in that regard, what light (if any) does the recent election shed on our path forward?

I’m a lover of lists, and here is my list of the areas of this transition that continue to be of most interest to me…

1. The engagement between youth and adults – With women emerging more and more as partners to men around the world, young people remain the world’s last human “chattel”, often beyond the reach of full human rights even in a democratic country like the U.S. At issue is the liberation of this group of people, that many still diminish as mere “children”.

2. Human development – While more and more we acknowledge this as a lifelong process, we still generally constrain that development, particularly among our young people, by prescribing and proscribing what they can learn in school, while minimizing the possibility for informal self-directed learning outside of a formal teacher-led classroom.

3. The engagement between men and women – The most profound divide between people that bifurcates every societal institution from the intimate family to macroeconomics, and plays out with the related issue of sexual orientation, all still juiced with masculine/feminine mythology.

4. The engagement between white people and people of color – Our greatest source still of “us and them” thinking based on a siege mentality still prevalent among many people. Acknowledging that racial privilege still exists while trying to move to a more egalitarian society is a continuing difficult challenge.

5. The levels of governance – The degrees of separation between the decision-makers and the people impacted by those decisions. The truest quantifiable indicator of the overall transition from hierarchies of control to a circle of equals. Also the degree of “one dollar one vote” plutocracy versus “one person one vote” democracy.

So here’s my take based on the gestalt of the election where we are at in these six areas, respectfully though perhaps provocatively put forward hoping to spur discussion.

The Engagement between Youth and Adults

Our youth (human beings under the age of majority) continue to be the most constrained and controlled group of people in our society, though there are continuing concerns by conservatives that our so-called “nanny state” extends this sort of debilitating control to many adults (Romney’s forty-seven percent) as well. With both political parties appearing to continue to support standardized schooling, compulsory attendance and teaching to the test, I don’t see this constraint and control changing anytime soon. I see the relations between young people and adults, particularly where they interact with each other in schools, continuing to be problematic.

I do have hopes that the emergence of young adults as an acknowledged significant voting bloc will mean that much derided and disrespected “teenagers” might be viewed more respectfully going forward as tomorrow’s voters rather than the semi-competent people they are often viewed as today. If teachers unions want to continue to wield political clout they would do well to build alliances particularly with their older soon to be voting students.

Human Development

Seems like the election’s main impact on human development would be in the area of education.

The bad news would be that both parties in the election still support an increasingly standardized and regimented school process for all young people that can’t afford to escape those mandates. As I indicated above, this will continue to limit many young people (particularly from families with limited economic means) from developing themselves outside that tightly constrained academic box.

The good news is that there is still a working majority to provide some sort of public education to all American kids, giving kids at least the possibility of access to some caring adult mentors (teachers) outside of their own parents. Now whether those teachers still have the capacity to really be mentors and not just constrained instructors is another matter.

I would contend that since we have over-formalized K-12 education that tends to make everyone see learning as a commodity that is purchased and done to you, rather than something that is just natural human behavior that can be done mostly without money changing hands first. But then in a capitalist consumerist society, formal education is a huge market.

The Engagement between Men and Women

Women are beginning to assert a primacy in the civic arena as they continue to be raised with a higher expectation of responsible behavior than men (since we still mythologize “boys will be boys”). The largest number of women ever was elected to the U.S. Senate and the House. Fifty-three percent of the people who voted in the election were women, and in conjunction with people of color and young people, they decided who our next President would be.

I am also happy to see so many women candidates running and being elected by both major parties. As the percent of women grows in the venues of political power, those bodies are transformed irregardless of the political positions of the new members. It’s not that I believe that women are by nature better legislators than men, but our society’s bifurcation of what is considered appropriate male or female behavior is still different. It is my opinion that women are still raised with a stronger sense of caring for and being responsible for others than men, the latter still given more leeway to exercise a selfish and competitive privilege (what is often referred to as “boys will be boys”), that diminishes their ability to be effective in collaborative democratic governance.

All that said, the only political glass ceiling that remains for women is the presidency itself, which Hillary Clinton came so close to breaking in 2008. Hopefully she got close enough to encourage others (including perhaps Clinton again) to step up.

The Engagement between White People and People of Color

Blacks, Latinos and Asians are now a significant percentage of the voting electorate, with that electorate anticipated to be “majority minority” by another couple decades, and Latinos surpassing Whites as a plurality after that.

With reelection, Obama established himself as no one-off “fluke”, and has the opportunity to join the gallery of America’s most seminal presidents. His biracial pedigree speaks to the emerging demographic of mixed-race Americans, possibly more than anything else beginning to diminish the long tradition of “us and them” thinking between the races.

The Levels of Governance

This is perhaps one of the least discussed trends, as the critical area of governance models continues to be ignored by most people. As futurist Alvin Toffler predicted in his book Future Shock forty years ago, we may be seeing the beginnings of the nexus of political power moving from the federal government to the states. As the federal legislative process continues to suffer partisan ideological gridlock, states are solidifying as either “red” or “blue” and adopting perhaps different governance models. The biggest political confrontations, such as public employee unions versus state governments are playing out at the state, rather than the national level.

With Democrats in control of the White House and the Senate, I anticipate that the GOP may adopt a strategy of focusing their proactive agenda of bigger business and smaller government in the thirty-some “red” states where they have legislative majorities (even though some of those states – like Ohio, Virginia, or Florida – voted for Obama in the presidential election). At the Federal level, GOP legislators may focus on preventing the Democrats from enacting any major new national legislation, thus facilitating more freewheeling red state governments.

I’m kind of ambivalent on this trend. Though I am more generally aligned with the progressive agenda of the Democrats, I support the trend toward significant decentralization of political power and legislative governance. I in fact would like to see most real authority to manage our society’s institutions moved to the community, rather than either the federal or the state level. The federal government could focus on foreign policy and partner with states on managing our national infrastructure of transportation, communication, public lands. Federal and state governments would also play the role of ensuring that all communities respected basic equity and civil rights.

If most real decisions are made at the community level, even with elected representatives and hired managers their might only be one degree of separation between decision-makers and people affected by those decisions.

Following my line of logic, the ideal governance separation is zero degrees, which essentially means all stakeholders are decision-makers, gathering together as equals and working things out. But I think this continues to be mostly impractical, particularly at this in our human development, though the Internet is giving us the opportunity to experience managing our own social interactions online without external or formal governance.

Education and Governance

Case and point for this need for more community governance is the area of education, where even without federal efforts at control, state governments exert an inordinate amount of top-down control over public education. Both red and blue states assert their primary role in funding and controlling public schools and what goes on (and does not go on) in those schools. In terms of governance, and the degrees of separation between the real education decision-makers and the students who are trying to engage in their own development, there are at least three levels of bureaucracy – teacher, principal and school district. This ensures that the state educrats who determine what, where, when, how, and from whom you learn are unlikely to ever interact with you directly, or even indirectly receive your feedback, except as you represent some small fraction of statistical data.

I would like to see communities (and different constituencies within communities) create, charter, and completely govern their own schools (and other less orthodox educational venues), in this way allowing I think for a much broader array of different sorts of educational options, differentiated and tuned to the needs and aspirations of individuals within those communities and constituencies. States and the federal government would then play an important though more limited role ensuring that all community educational venues had comparable funding, met their fiduciary responsibility to spend that money, and respected the civil rights of the youth and adult staff in those venues.

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