Where Does Change Come From?

I got into a Twitter discussion with The Quiet Man in early December that ended with a thought provoking statement on his part: "I always wonder if change is possible w/the current system or if it needs to be changed."


I think the answer has to be both, because that's the way our constitutional system is designed and it's also the way a hyper-connected society has more power than it ever has before. Every society and every country you can name me is going to have an entrenched elite of some kind that is resistant to change- they're at the 'top' of the heap, whatever that particular heap is for any given country and they like where they sit.

From a strictly American point of view, everything is centered around those three little words: 'We, the people.' The mechanism for real, lasting change is entirely in the hands of the voters and our representatives. Constitutional amendments can be passed by Congress. An Article V, Convention of States can be called. The problem, I think with contemporary society is that change- real, honest to goodness systemic change is pretty damn difficult to achieve. Hell, getting Congress to pass a bill feels like something of an impossibility these days. So in the age of Amazon Prime and online grocery deliver, when we're all slaves to the conveniences of modern technology.

Change doesn't arrive like magic with the click of a mouse button and free two day shipping. It takes work. It takes debate. It takes arguments. It takes consensus. All of which are in short supply these days- it's easy for people to say, 'well, our side should just be able to do what we want and everything would be better.' That's the dynamic we're stuck in right now- it's simultaneously scary and irritating all the same time. Scary because if the pendulum swings far enough and wide enough to hand one side or another power enough to actually make changes, then I could see things going sideways and destabilizing the entire country very easily. Irritating because despite all the think pieces about Congressional apportionment and the Senate, no one is willing to do the work to make the real change.

Partly this is because the system runs on talk. It's ephemera really. We shout at one and other over issues large and small. Politicians posture and make speeches. We tweet. A thousand Facebook memes are launched- and nothing really gets done about it. Part of that is a feature and not a bug... the entrenched elites benefit far too much from the way things currently work to be interested in actually solving a problem or two. The other part of it really is a bug. Social media is the worst possible medium for meaningful and substantive discussion on the issues of the day and in a country where we talk to our neighbors less and our sense of community is, if not being lost, then evolving into something we haven't quite figured out our ability to talk to one and other seems to be slipping away as well.

I wanted to be more analytical about this post. I was doing dives into Wiki-pages on William Jennings Bryan and Reconstruction. I was trying to learn about preference cascades and how common they are. A brief and totally non-rigorous glance at history reveals a few interesting things: change can happen through excess- the Gilded Age lead to the Progressive Era. It can happen through backroom deals and the shenanigans of smoke filled rooms- and not always for the better as the Presidential Election of 1876 proves. It can happen we the people decide that they've had enough and chip away at an injustice little by little until the cracks are running through the edifice of injustice and it crumbles once and for all, as we saw with the Civil Rights Movement.

So, is it hopeless? As much as you might think so, I don't think it is. Ranked choice voting is a good example of this- there was a recent controversy in Maine about it that was finally resolved- but more and more cities are using it for municipal elections. It's out there, building slowly, city by city, creeping into the public consciousness. Marijuana and to a certain degree gay marriage worked in kind of the same way...  once one state legalized it, more were bound to follow. I also think, if you cut through the noise and bullshit of everything, we're not as bad off as you might think. Social media magnifies all the wrong things. Cable news doesn't help on that score either. You'd think we were standing on the edge of a precipice to very bad things indeed, but I think...  when push comes to shove, I really think that there is more that unites us than divides us.

The system does need to change. The system can change. It's just up to us to make it happen, one way or the other. It's trite as hell to bring it back to that tired old saw by Gandhi, but it's kind of true, really: be the change you wish to see in the world. I think we could all do a better job of that.


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