If government is to work for the people, the people must work for it

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — Edmund Burke

Many years ago, I saw this car commercial in which a robot welded the hood of a new car shut. The imagery was that you did not need to worry about the maintenance of your car for the first five years.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of that commercial is the question, “Who makes five year plans?” The Communist party in China does, along with ten and fifteen year plans as well. Americans? No… not enough of them anyway.

To keep the car metaphors going, I know people who do not know how to change a tire, or even how to check the oil. This so aggravates me. Let’s take a complex system, ignore the complexity and treat it like a black box. This is absolutely a recipe for disaster. I see this problem with cars, technology and with our government.

A car can be broken up into several different and unrelated systems. For example, you have the drive train which moves you from place to place, you have the safety equipment like the headlights, turn signals, seatbelts and airbags which hopefully keep you safe while you are in your car, and then there is the comfort system which could include the heated seats, the satellite radio, and of course the 13 cup holders that help you stay comfortable and more relaxed while driving. Put these all together and you have a system that does a thing, in this case moves you around. Each system could be altered, or some systems could be completely removed, and not effect the overall function of the car. For instance, you could change the motor from gasoline to diesel or electric and still have a car. If you took out the drive train and the floor, you would end up with an extremely heavy velocipede. It would no longer be a car.

Unlike a car, our government has many systems that work interdependently. This means that what happens at one level will have effects at other levels. This interconnection is what really gets to people and causes them to throw up their hands and go binge watch every season of the Flintstones.

But it does not have to be this way. That is, you do not need to send yourself into neural meltdown. No matter what you are studying, you take some small part of it at a time. To keep with the car, I know that the first thing that a lot of young men start with is the fuel injection system because they want to make their cars go fast. That is one small part of a single system that makes up a car.

When studying government, there are small systems that you can separate out and learn about; examples include the electoral college, parliamentary procedures, a single city, or even a single elected office.

You may want to start with a single issue, but issues are complex themselves. Issues may be handled differently at different levels of government, differently by the political parties, and different by a room full of like minded individuals. So if you want to tackle an issue, you must pick a starting point. For example, it has been shown that the amount of ambient light at night deleteriously affects the sleep of people and animals. Light pollution keeps everyone awake longer, causes us to sleep less well, and overall adversely affects our mental health in numerous ways. Likewise, it adversely affects wildlife.

You could join the International Dark Sky Association and promote the reduction of light pollution, but that is less likely to make a difference than if you get organized locally to lobby home owners associations, business groups and city councils.

Government is not a black box that citizens throw money at and hope that it works out for them. No. Inside that sometimes impenetrable facade there are people; people not unlike yourself.

When these people get up in front of the microphones, they may seem like they have everything down, that they are in control. But that isn’t really the case. What they have is more people behind them, telling them what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. For most government work, people do not need to get up in front of anyone… they sit around tables and talk about how they feel things should happen and why. Many have never done this before and have no formal training. We all  have our ideas, our ideals, and our baggage.

Governing is important work. It appears to be so distasteful because the more people get pushed away from it, the more certain other people can gain the power and influence they so want at any cost.

A poorly maintained car can kill you or others. The same can be said about a poorly run government.