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Civil Energetics

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cybernetics of leadership [Jan. 11th, 2010|12:00 pm]
Civil Energetics


I just had a painful conversation with the landlord, where I took up the talking stick for all of my housemates and myself. It turned out OK, and the housemates were fine with what I said on their behalf... but I got an insight into something that's been bugging me about american politics for some time.

We don't talk about it much, but it's kind of taken for granted that a leader gets to take credit for all the strength of those s/he leads. We let that great person stand in for all the individuals who helped them get to their goal.

But what should also be understood as well, is that a leader also has got to represent all the weak points of the people s/he leads. That part is much less fun, and gets glossed over mostly. We want to forget our collective weaknesses, our hangups, cognitive dissonance, and fear.

So looking at the last 40 years of local history, and the figureheads we've supposedly chosen for ourselves, that selective memory problem seems to snowball over time. To the point where some of us can't remember who was president during 9/11.

So when I still want to give Obama the benefit of the doubt every time he backs off on a campaign promise, I have to remind myself that he still has got to represent the weakest of us, the greediest of us, and the most trapped of us, as well as the best of us.

That's just part of the job of leadership. It's a judgement call to decide what in fact makes us strong, and what is actually making us weak.

The way things are set up, leaders who make a good call get to enjoy the benefits, and share those benefits with those below. But when they make a bad call, they don't feel the negative, that's just for the people in the trenches. It's a positive feedback loop that rewards competence, but doesn't punish incompetence.

And the ways we have of communicating to our leaders, with money and votes and praise, those are all encouraged and showcased wherever they bubble up. But try to communicate any sort of negative feedback to the top, and you're a troublemaker or a terrorist or just crazy.

Seems to me, any real democracy would have to be able to transmit both kinds of signals to the core of its leadership, especially in a contracting economy.