One key difference between the Nixon
Thesis of Conflict era that we are leaving and the Open Source Thesis era I’m exploring
here lies in how political change occurs.
Open source is a model for the process change I’m talking about
Open source itself works based
on consensus. If a question becomes closely contested within a
project it forks or dies. The niceties of open source licenses are not nearly as important as the general agreement they
represent. Violations of norms are dealt with from within a social
context. Losing your reputation, having people leave your project, is
effectively a death penalty.
It’s a little like a church. We have a general agreement on doctrine. We hash out those differences within the faith. Leaving, or being forced out or (in some cases) being shunned is the penalty. Heresy isn’t a crime, except inside the church. (Please don’t take the analogy too far in the comments — it’s merely a teaching tool.)
The proprietary software world, on the
other hand, is based on a contract process. Relationships begin at
the time of a purchase, they are defined by a written contract, and
violations are handled by lawyers. Obligations that are not spelled
out simply don’t exist.
We have had political eras based on
consensus before. The New Deal Era was held together by consensus. We
needed to deal with the Depression, we needed to deal with Hitler and
the Japs, we needed to confront the Communists. It was when the
consensus broke down that the era ended.
The same was true in the Civil War Era.
The consensus of the North defined what happened to the South, both
during the War and afterward. The imperative of business, of
industrialization, defined what happened in the law, in social
structures, and the economy. The consensus for growth and expansion
continued until farmers and workers were willing to put their lives
on the line in order to object.
Consensus, then conflict (dealt with
through negotiation) have been the pendulum defining the process by
which Americans have gone about their business. The conflict of the
Revolution followed by the consensus of the Constitution. The
conflict of 1800, lasting through the War of 1812, became the
consensus called the Era of Good Feeling. The conflict era of Andrew
Jackson, ending in the Crisis of Civil War, became a consensus for
business and expansion. And so on.
This is not seen today because we have
lived in conflict for a generation. We don’t know any other way to think things through except through conflict, a proprietary process in which power is either held or not held.
The whole Nixon Thesis was based
on conflict, on small majorities defining our actions, resulting in
incremental changes that looked much like business contracts. The
reason Ronald Reagan is revered by so many (despite the inherent
contradictions of the 1980s) is because his leadership style was
based on consensus – simple goals simply stated. And when his party
tried to go beyond that consensus, when his successors chose the
Nixon Way, their forward movement slowed and, eventually, stopped.
Consensus as a governing style is based,
first, on a general agreement as to what the problem to be dealt with is, and who the
enemy which must be defeated is. That is why I really don’t think the 2006
election settled anything. It was, at heart, a conflict election, the
Nixon Thesis of Conflict running into a wall of voters who said "no."
Republicans complained throughout the campaign, "what’s your plan," and
(unlike in 1994) Democrats committed (in the popular mind) only to one
word — change.
The crisis event defining the consensus needed for the Open Source era to take hold is not yet even acknowledged to have happened.
It wasn’t Iraq.
It was Katrina.
Disasters on the scale of Katrina are going to happen again. Again-and-again-and-again. Global
warming means many of America’s greatest cities can’t survive this
century. It means that our present methods for pulling food from the
land and water can’t survive the next few decades.
An Inconvenient Truth
isn’t just a movie. It’s not just an inconvenience. It is the new
reality defining the task before us, defining the enemy, on which a new
consensus must be built.
And that truth is not defined by Al
Gore. It won’t be addressed by making Al Gore President, or dictator
for that matter. What we need is a consensus to address the problem, in
all that implies, and make massive changes in the world, and all that
The movie did not accomplish that
mission. We still hear quacks, in prominent places, denying its basic
thesis and getting a hearing from voters and policymakers. The
hurricane did not accomplish that mission. We still have Democrats
thinking that minor changes in how we deliver aid will make the
difference. It won’t — not when Miami and Charleston and Savannah and
New York and Houston go under, or when Boston and Philadelphia and
Washington DC are demanding levees.
That’s the crisis. It demands a new way of dealing with the process of governing, a consensual process, an open source process.
Contracts and narrow majorities won’t git r’ done.