25 September, 2005


Yesterday, as peace rallies raged in many cities and here in San Francisco, sexy booties started to shake at the Love Parade, I went swimming in the Bay. At my club, which is one of the last bastions of old-school Irish San Francisco, I was in the sauna with an old Navy veteran and an old cop, both of them some of the more conservative people I know, and I think both Bush voters.

They were ripshit about the war on terror. They don't see it going anywhere. The immediate incitementof their anger was that today is their annual Golden Gate Bridge swim. An annual event for 74 years in which a bunch of local San Franciscans who love their city go out and celebrate a landmark -- incidentally, protecting it with their presence. But since 9/11, they have had to get a special permit; the feds require a federal cop to be stationed under the bridge during the swim. These clubmates of mine find it infuriating that the war on terror is costing everybody money and freedom -- and New Orleans has showed them clearly that the sacrifices have been for nothing.

I didn't go to the peace rally. I think rallies are great when you have an underdog position that you need to share however you can, but I don't see the point once 65% of the country agrees with you. When the old Irish guys at the rowing club are against Bush, you've won -- that's when it's time to move to Phase II.

What the hell is our Phase II? We accuse Bush of mishandling the occupation of Iraq, but we're mishandling the occupation of America. I'm worried that as peak oil drags the economy into a permanent gutter, and mistrust is rightly high against the feds, we've opened the door for demagogues.

Here's a goofy, un-hashed-out idea that I think could get some legs. Why not a shadow government? Taxes in this country are uniquely low, and public services are as well. I'd like to see a group of us start to pay taxes into an alternative government where we hash out a more democratic constitution, overtly protect all the rights we think need protecting, and then start electing leaders with free and fair elections. The taxes can go toward public services, maybe starting with education and criminal justice. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to call a cop without feeling like you're just feeding the beast? Wouldn't it be nice to be able to send kids to a public school that got decent funding and public support?

I realize that this idea might sound elitist, but I don't see it that way. I think anyone should be able to join, and pay truly progressive taxes -- poor folks should be able to join for almost no money. Rich folks can pay into this system rather than paying private school tuition.

Of course, it would be suicide to call it a government, or taxes. It would just be a voluntary association of democratic-minded people, paying dues.

I don't think the infrastructure exists yet to make such an ambition happen across class, language, race, and geographic lines. Any thoughts?

PS: Right after posting this, I see that the feds have already put out the call for private philanthropy to fund the Iraq adventure. Unsurprisingly, nobody's kickin down nothing. And yet people routinely toss down donations to environmental groups, to private school tuition, and to other private groups that pick up the public good when government drops the ball. This makes me think even more that a replacement government would be inherently more peaceful -- people don't want to pay for war.


You've generated an almost physically painful reaction in me, where I'd like to (positively) comment on almost every line you've written, which of course is both impolite and impractical. I'll try to be brief:


significantly less briefly:

If there is a major silver lining in technology, it's that this is now neither farfetched nor necessarily requiring major divisions across the Union. And if there's a major silver-lining in having our 200-+-year-old govt, it's that it's helpfully provided a lot of geographic templates and an organization scheme for much of the relevant information. I kind of think it was always the intention of Jefferson (who famously regretted not writing up the role of the citizens in the constitution) for such shadow governments to exist, both as alternative back-up schemes (how you seem to be posing it) and to actually shadow the government-----decentralized oversight being a key method to maintaining efficiency and honesty.

And we've always had a bit of it. Civil society is a deeply important aspect of the American project that usually gets short schrift. (We need much better non-profit and civil-society oriented Journalism in this country, for one thing.) I'm not going to dip into the rhetorical trick of calling upon a golden age mythology--I don't know if it was ever adaqutely organized and effective and widespread to match the geographic and demographic scale of the Union and the governments. But regardless if this civil society once was correctly scaled, and just failed to grow at a rate commensurate to that of the Union and the government, or even if it was never effective enough, there's no reason to jump-start its growth now. I think our newfound technical ability to organize and bring together interested parties could regrow civil society at the kind of astronomical rates which might finally match up with the needs at hand.

This is partially why I'm recently so fascinated with geography, mapping, electronic mapping, and cartography, which I think I briefly mentioned to you. I think a lot of these new tools could, in theory, enable people to dynamically maintain and deepen their sense of place and community and responsibility.

I've said before  that we should be able to come with new ways of organizing people other than the big three models. (Government, corporation, non-profit.)

When it comes to disaster preparation, some of these ideas seem relevant to Recovery2.0.  

Posted by Saheli

Yes, I have thoughts. There are many different kinds of organizational software that could be useful for this. The Cylos Project  has one for a community currency economy that could be adapted easily. Here's a thorough article on benefit societies that's worth reading. Here's a rather dry summary of the benefits of generosity and cooperation.

Some  of what I think would help make your plan workable is a mix of the various benefit societies and a local exchange trading system/community currency.  

Posted by Harry

Oh yeah! This year's Love Parade  was the best yet! 

Posted by FreeThinker

Not to be too cynical, but why wouldn't these organizatiosn be elitist? Progressive taxes mean that membership of the rich is crucial, so any shadow gov't would have to make sure the rich are well-represented.

One extremely popular example of "private government" are neighborhood associations, discussed in this
Marginal Revolution blog post .
They definitely offer benefits to their members, but I don't think they're really strengthening civil society or democracy. 

Posted by aram

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