On the Calvinball Theory of Government
...In order to properly address the issue of good governance we really must move beyond the simple, and often empty, calls for less government or more democracy in our country. In many ways, less government is as abhorrent as too much government. Thus changing the structure without changing the foundation or the materials from which it is built is really not a useful endeavor. A more meaningful query focuses on what the government is or does rather than how big it is or what it looks like. Because ultimately we cannot even begin to address these issues when we have not even established the basis for such an inquiry: what is the purpose of Government? It is a longstanding question in political philosophy and history alike, but that does not mean the question has been answered adequately.
Some philosophers claim the government is meant solely for upholding private contracts, while others assure us that it is set up to protect us from physical harm. Still others believe the government is meant to create a stable and prosperous environment for business development. Other visions of government project it as the harbinger of ideology to the world at large, be it globalization, Nazism, democracy, communism, religion, or what have you. There are even those who would deign to say that there should not be governments at all, and thus they should have no purpose whatsoever. But I feel that each of these are inadequate conceptions of what government ought to be and do. Not that they are necessarily wrong, but they do not adequately address what I see as being an issue of fundamental importance in determining the role of government: our individual and collective priorities. It is, most simply, a structure to produce that which is commonly agreed upon.
In order for us to determine what it is that we want the government to be or do, it is important for us to ask ourselves about our priorities. What do we want to accomplish and why is it important to us? The next question, then, is how can the government that we create help to facilitate the priorities we have decided upon? If we do not ask such questions, then it is as if we give the government a mandate of mayhem; in a system where there are no goals or prioritized parameters it is unlikely that the government will act in accordance with a set of unstated public goals. I would describe such a system of governance as the Calvinball theory of government.
In Bill Watterson's comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, the two title characters play a game known as Calvinball. The game is characterized by the completely arbitrary and ephemeral nature of its goals and objectives. It is interesting to note that Calvin is always depicted as the weaker of the two, and is thus the least likely to succeed at Calvinball despite of, and perhaps even because of, the haphazard nature of the game. It is this disadvantage that eventually determines the completion of the game. It is not because Hobbes somehow manages to win, as there is no clear conclusion. Rather, it is simply that Calvin, who grows frustrated at his inability to overcome the systematic disadvantages he faces in the game, eventually becomes excessively upset, declares the whole game a farce, and quits. In this way nothing has been accomplished but that they have played the game for a number of hours.
In childhood this may in fact be the whole purpose of the game, namely to kill time on a sunny afternoon. But when considering governance structures, we would be remiss to say that the purpose of government is to simply be the government until some disadvantaged or disaffected group gets fed up with the system and overthrows it. To continue this line of comparison, such a situation leads only to a very slowly paced game of keep-away. One power governs for an unknown period of time until their possession of the governance system is wrested from them and guarded by another power. In this competition for political dominance over any given system, the public good is almost invariably sidelined.
Governments cannot afford to be so brash in marginalizing the public good, because in doing so it is impossible to avoid also marginalizing the governed public. Ultimately, if the government does not embrace and advocate for the governed, the governed will turn against it. In the game of keep-away described above, the governed are the wild card, so to speak, the fluid factor that can determine the outcome of the endeavor. If those in power ignore this factor, it can well be tapped by another force that would use it to its own advantage at the expense of the current authority....
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