Consent of the Goverened

The consent of the governed In any small or large human society defines the function, or dysfunction, of the structure of that society. There is always a hierarchy of some sort, a pyramidal social structure. It may be a thin triangle with a strong dominant individual at the top, or a triangle with a broad expanded apex, a controlling leader at the high point and a collection of powerful individuals that are highly functional in jointly supervising governance over the entire community. Typically a dictatorship is a triangle with a sharp high point and a democracy is a triangle with a wide apex below the point, but always there is a leader at the point of the triangle that is the focal point of authority. This form of societal control is not restricted to Homo sapiens, of course, most vertebrates that form communities follow some hierarchical group structure that resembles a social pyramid. In humans, the apex of the societal triangle is a major force in the organization and function of the group and unlike other vertebrates, there is a very significant contribution from intelligence and reason that may or may not surpass the basic animal instincts common to all vertebrates in the form and function of the hierarchical structure.
A social element that is very powerful in human societies is the consent of the governed. A leader without the consent of his/her followers to lead them is ineffective and powerless, and the society he/she leads is rudderless, contentious, and subject to rebellion. So how does a leader gain the consent of the governed? If the society is fortunate the leader will be strong but fair, knowledgeable but understanding, content in authority but interested in differing opinions, intellectually secure but analytical and open to reason, tough but sympathetic, and deals with all segments of society with equality and compassion. He/she understands that true approval of a leader by the governed is granted through earned trust in shared values and not through deception, fear, compulsion, and threat.
Leaders can be very good or very bad, however most leaders, like most people, are not all at the extremes of their profession, but fall somewhere in the continuum between the best and the worst. And variability in the consent of the governed also falls within a broad range of human character and behavior. However, the key to leadership, the kind of leadership that inspires and attracts multiple followers is not intelligence, diligence, reverence, compassion, an air of authority, and a willingness to do ‘whatever is necessary’ to win and keep the mantle and rewards of leadership. True, these characteristics are important but the glue that holds it all together is described by charisma. This is the ‘silver tongue’, the aspect of a public persona that projects the values and emotions of a driven leader that attracts, supports, and validates the beliefs, opinions and prejudices of the element of society that is predisposed to grant leadership to one that represents their view of how society should function. Thus government is a fragile process that is constantly under construction in ever changing times.
The consent of the governed can be obtained by a leader in many ways; not only by being a leader that improves the lot of his/her followers by impartial, fair, and competent governing, but also in ways nefarious. Such as, by granting favoritism in taxes, giving of a position of power, rewarding submission, rewarding the reporting of dissension, threatening and enacting death and/or torture, bribing judges and prosecutors, building a reputation for intolerance of dissension, seeking and rewarding obsequious followers, passage of laws that empower the regime, repression of the truth, control of sources of public information, merging the military into an arm of civil government, empowering government through religion, and as a self described messenger from an almighty deity. In some instances these tactics result in a repressive, authoritarian government that controls all elements of civilian life; and in other instances repression leads to hidden and overt rebellion, sometimes leading to civil war.
The relatively recent development of government through the will of the people; representation through elected officials, and government for the common good of the people opened the door to rational freedom and “government by the people, for the people and of the people" (A. Lincoln, Gettysburg Address). This has created a wonderful way of life enjoyed by recent generations. However, despite the apparent peace, prosperity, and individual freedom in the US and many other countries, the world is more complicated and dangerous now than ever before. The very environments of the Earth that provide the raw materials and nutrients that power our civilizations has never before been so extended, so fragile, and so endangered by chemical pollution, and there has never been so many people (7.5 billion) in competition for the finite resources of our planet.
Yet growth and more growth with little regard for the fragility of our Earth is the mantra of our age. For most, no, maybe just many of us, our lives are far better than the lives of any of the humanity that has preceded us, and many of us are thankful for that. But heedless growth must always come to a reckoning, and many of us can already see the shadow of that reckoning advancing ever more rapidly over our competing civilizations. Unfortunately, the competition between growth, development, and consumption, which is quickly becoming compulsory; and the freedom to grow and develop as economic models require and stimulate, forges an enigma that may have no solution but a catastrophic ending. As humanity begins to sense the end of our Earthly natural resources, “Wars and rumors of wars" (Mathew: 24:6-7), but without the prophesied supernatural rescue, may well become the rule of the times that are not too far in the future.
Should we prepare for this with the psychology and the tools of war, with the power of economics and trade to favor industrialization and an unsustainable affluence for a favored few…? or should we strive to prevent our now planet wide civilization from the destruction that may come from competition between the strongest nations for finite natural resources and the rapidly filling living spaces of our planet? Time is getting short, and if good government requires the consent of the governed, then it is the governed that will determine the fate of humanity in this current iteration of civilization.
Martin Moe