Take me to your Leader
Power and legitimacy
When political leaders take office, they embody a nation and channel issues and influences far beyond their personal ambit. They become channels or victims of larger dynamics. They can no longer be themselves. Only those who have sat in hot seats really understand this.
Becoming public property, they must often go against their instincts or preferences to do what is required, even lying or harming people when they might not want to. What they are appreciated or condemned for has only some relationship with what they do.
They must be a hard nut to handle the battering of public life. This discourages many sensitive and principled people, particularly women, from standing for office.
There's another problem too: no one becomes a successful political leader without doing a deal with background power interests - more about this later.
Stuck in offices, meetings and public roles, politicians are nearly prisoners. They see the view from their official eyries only, losing track of realities on the ground. It's difficult not to. But it's possible. Unfortunately though, many of the best people don't survive long.
People are nowadays pretty jaded with leaders (with some exceptions). In some cases this is justified and in others it makes the job of a sincere leader very hard. At times prospective leaders raise great hopes, and they might really mean it, but disappointment often follows.
Reformers or peacemakers get assassinated, or disabled by opposing lobbies or interventions, by events or by their own actions. Liberal reformers get squeezed between radicals and conservatives. There have been success stories, or questionable leaders with redeeming qualities, and some autocrats further back were heavyweight warriors and reformers combined.
Good leadership is unusual, medium-to-good leadership comes as a mixed blessing and bad leadership is common. Today disappointment, scepticism and anti-authoritarian attitudes are endemic - one symptom is low voter turnouts, and another is dogmatic extremism.
Electoral democracy has accumulated major problems: electorates feel unrepresented, electoral quirks enable unwanted politicians to gain power, coalition-building gives extremist parties disproportionate power, election outcomes often reflect campaign spending and marketing more than truth and benefit, and there can be electoral corruption, jerrymandering and glitches in the election system which distort results.
Democracy honours two key requirements:
1. when the public feels strongly about something, it needs to be able to express its preferences; and,
2. when it wishes to get rid of a government or assert a constraining or enforcing influence, it needs to be able to do so.
The public doesn't need to be involved in every single question but it does wish to be involved in things it considers critical. It is incumbent on the public to express its preferences intelligently and maturely. Churchill once said "The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter", and there's truth in it.
Electoral democracy, as practised, thrives on disagreement and the failure of dialogue and consensus. Majorities (usually) win while minorities (often) are disempowered. It relies on opinionated-ness, tribal allegiances and competitiveness, contributing only sometimes to the synergy and unity of a society. A 51% majority is not a legitimate majority unless a leader or party improves its legitimacy while in office. Opinions and standpoints are but the beginning of dialogue and negotiation, and the trouble is, electoral democracy stops there. But what about consensus and agreement?
Democracy avoids going deeper into the alchemical fermentation of focused group process. Group process obliges participants to step beyond their starting positions to establish consensus and unanimity through listening, hearing, discussion and negotiation.
When this happens, new light is cast on individuals' positions, helping them find their contribution and their place, and to value others' contributions and positions. It usually reveals a more consensual position of the population as a whole, not just articulate sectoral interests.
Across the democratic world a malaise has crept in. Everyone quietly knows that the biggest decisions are made behind closed doors by business and other power lobbies, often not very visible or transparent.
No simple laws govern the legitimacy of leaders. The 'Hand of God' and the 'Mandate of Heaven' work in strange ways.
The people, with their diffuse, varying and also manipulable opinions, often take time to formulate their ideas. Leaderships act faster, more assertively and one-pointedly, at times gaining an advantage over the public.
But at other times the varied interests of masses of people are brought together by shared circumstance and sentiment. Electoral landslides, waves of opinion, acts of solidarity, agitation or revolution follow such a wave of feeling or knowing. If momentum gathers and the times are right, the collective unconscious asserts a determining influence on 'central command'.
At times the ruling élite seems to have a charmed life. Some élites hang on a long time, appearing to have won the argument. But no regime or empire is everlasting, and no one is completely right.
History is larger than anyone. We humans have our plans and agendas, but the deeper collective psyche has its own plans too, at times very different. Often it's down to the deciding power of events.
In the background awareness of nations, a deep composting and fermentation process is going on. The searchlight of public attention is running through different aspects and details of one big, connected picture.
Undercurrents can lurk around for some time, awaiting prompts from events or from deeper down. New issues burst into the public arena quite spontaneously, sparking social movements out of nowhere.
Changes usually start with a thought in the mind of an individual or in the thoughts of a number of people simultaneously. Or events can catalyse a shared response in crowds of people, bringing together communities who previously had no relationship.
Such change-bringing ideas or urges break previous norms, creating a new angle on reality which previously was unseen. It quickly wrongfoots the established order and turns the tide of society. The collective unconscious strikes again.
Power in a society concerns active, conscious participation. It is the duty of all members of a society to be alert to what goes on in its midst. If this fails, social power devolves to those who will deal with society's shared issues - leaders. Society sets permission levels to which leaders and ruling élites must conform. But if society omits to set the levels, leaders and oligarchs can appropriate power to themselves while no one is looking. Then it becomes too late.
Too often, societies accept their lot, but today collective consciousness is changing. Thresholds of power and principle are shifting quickly, in historic ways. Today we are part of a mass awareness-training process, in which events and popular sensitivities are interacting ever more intensely. Three key public issues being learned are vigilance, consistency and willingness to change.
The Mandate of Heaven
The legitimacy of leaderships and power-structures must increasingly be earned, not assumed.
The people's skill in asserting their leadership, in making intelligent choices and supporting and restraining leaders when necessary, is becoming a critical issue.
Forgiveness of the past is crucial. Forgiveness means holding responsible people accountable, while releasing ill-feeling and blame since, ultimately, everyone is responsible.
The big issues of our day require great public attentiveness, clear consideration and soundness of judgement. Without these, the public sacrifices its power.
People-power is driven from below, but it too must be earned: legitimacy and the 'mandate of heaven' applies to the public as well as to its leaders, in the ruthlessly impartial view of the collective unconscious.
Without legitimacy, the corrective magic of change and reform cannot come about.
Controlling interests have sophisticated ways of running the agenda. Often society is negligent too - for which hidden, lurking guilt can remain for generations. The public undermines itself in supine, helpless, easily-diverted and chronically indifferent ways. It needs now to step out of this self-sabotage cycle.
The cycle is reinforced by the oscillation between conservatism followed by outbreaks of change. To some extent this is an organic oscillatory tendency, yet it also reflects popular fickleness and inconsistency. Revolutionaries have long faced this problem: how to create 'permanent revolution', balancing change and stability so that change does actually work through.
Worldwide, we live in a schizoid situation: while addicted to conformity and regularity, much of Earth's population is also thinking in new ways, forming new conclusions. Truth thus bursts out in rushes, signifying an uncertain commitment to truth and change.
Humanity is yet to decide fundamentally to change. Until such commitment arises, these fitful outbreaks will continue, as if we are trying semi-consciously to trick ourselves into awareness and change, without actually having to decide.
Balance of power
The collective unconscious clarifies its views instinctively and intuitively. It encounters defining situations in which sharp choices, new information and changed perspectives come up. In these moments it sets the rules and parameters for the next phase.
The power of defining events depends not on the magnitude of those events but on their poignancy, their stirring, inspiring and upsetting effect.
Whether by consumer, voter preference or political pressure, by withdrawal of support, by protest or revolution, the people (the collective unconscious) have ways of influencing their leaders. This should be exercised. Wisely.
This points to a new kind of leadership in the 21st Century: facilitative, consultative and to some extent therapeutic, clearly motivated by a sense of service.
A statesman is a politician who places himself at the service of the nation. A politician is a statesman who places the nation at his service. - Georges Pompidou, French prime minister, in 1973.
The primary role of government leadership is to oversee the overall health of the social process. Society looks after its own health. It is the quality of the social process that yields 'rightness' - this needs facilitating.
Good therapists elicit, encourage and assist social process, with minimum intervention or steering. Sometimes they take initiatives to raise the heat or cool it. Largely they bring forward the potential and insight of the people and the situation, to find the best overall outcome.
When leadership has integrity, the people usually give it trust and power. But this must be done maturely, respecting what is possible and what is not - if hopes are too high, disappointment and disillusionment follow.
With trust, the reciprocity, synergy and productivity of the relationship grows. This transforms hollow electoral democracy into a para-constitutional interaction more closely resembling the democratic ideal.
If the public holds the onus to define those things it wishes to define, leaderships then can focus on what the public doesn't define, making proposals and soliciting feedback. If there is none, they must solicit permission to act on the public's behalf.
Critical to this process is collective social commitment. Society must hold the final power. This needs intelligent public awareness and participation. Without this, democracy won't work.
This means staying with the process and seeing it through, whatever it involves. The process, the question, is complete when everyone has come to peace over it, whether by agreement or acceptance.
It means being willing to commit to the outcome that is achieved, and to follow it through. If society gets things wrong, it will learn, but the learning process needs to be accommodated and planned for too.
In group process, there will always be disagreement. When a decision is made, detractors should be heard one more time, to check whether the conclusion truly is correct, and to draw detractors into the process.
If a decision cannot be made, it's often a matter of laying it to rest until it can be made, or entrusting the decision to someone who can make it, and taking responsibility for that.
While this process is not necessarily easy, history as we have known it has also never been easy. Change is needed, and this is the way things are going.
Whatever system a people lives in, the principle of socio-political response is important - voter democracy is not the only way to do this. Even a sensible dictator would listen and do things to please the people, if they wish to stay in power and go down well in history.
Humanity is challenged to mature, to take responsibility for social and international process, to get involved and be committed and consistent. One hey ingredient is to give ordinary people some sway over the taxation system, since then they will connect government income with expenditure, wider decisions will be made and a stronger social consensus can be formed.
Within the collective psyche, this socio-political responsiveness means the collaboration and integration of the ego, the social subconscious and collective unconscious. This is an emotional issue, a choice to cultivate trust, mutual appreciation and support so that the different levels of the collective psyche work together.
Ordinary people must take greater control of their lives and choose their leaders carefully. Leaders must commit to serving the greatest good. This involves a systems change, the cultivation of a mutually-supportive, intelligent society. It involves coming to terms with the pain of the past, and generating willingness to look at things we'd prefer not to look at.
We have to talk frankly about things we daren't usually talk about. Satyagraha (Gandhi's term): the force of truth, realism and inevitability. Truth doesn't start with them, it starts with us. Perhaps the human race is beginning to become more truly human.