An enquiry into what form of government we all need today. It's this one.
Perhaps the only sane form of government today is a constitutionally-encoded biocracy. Why? Here are some key features.
Our planet Earth faces climate change, environmental degradation and pollution, mass extinctions… I will not dwell on the current and future threats, or the failures of current political-economic-ideological systems in countering them. Biocratic government is not simply a necessary response to emergencies, it is a necessary precaution against future emergencies. Specifically: a formal codified constitutional model of biocracy, where proxies representing the living world have a majority in political decision-making, and the global idea communism of life sciences provide the most objective measure available of the health of ecosystems. That is, biocracy may be necessary for survival, of human society at least.
What follows is a sketch, not a blueprint. An outline of a model derived from principles grounded in nature. A seed, if you like.
Some biocratic principles
If you don't like these, there are others:
- life is a good thing, on the whole
- we must respect the primacy of nonhuman life (that is, human life depends on non-human life, but not vice versa)
- we should preserve the environment for present and future generations (of non-human and human life)
- environment as universal heritage (more of a humanist principle)
- applications of the precautionary principle
- nature must be a subject in law, not an object
- non-regression in legislation, standards, policy and practice: don't make things worse, apply highest levels of environmental protection
Concepts from life sciences
First of all, what are included in 'life sciences'? There are many basic and applied life sciences at different levels of specialism and with different focuses, for example biology, ecology, human medicine, botany and so on (and I would include psychology).
Far from a clockwork universe, life sciences describe complex, adaptive systems with emergent behaviour (of which life itself is one example), capable of regulating states (as in homeostasis), but also experiencing cycles (like seasons) and phase changes. Understanding these allows humans not merely to survive, but to live a good life.
Good life philosophy
It is reasonable to suppose that a biocratic constitution will make reference to one or more good life philosophies, perhaps Sumak kawsay / Buen vivir, ubuntu, or Eudaimonia. These are about living (ethically) well, not having fun. The most suitable philosophies will contain ecocentric rather than anthropocentric worldviews.
In general, the Constitution will prescribe planetary-realistic ideologies for public policy.
Transparency is essential in the conduct of biocratic government. There is no need for hidden diplomacy, no channels for lobbyists for vested interests, no belligerence, no empire-building. The fundamental position is idea communism: open science, open technology, and the global digital commons.
Distributed authority is one of key benefits of constitutionally-encoded biocracy. Instead of authority being centralised and claimed by a human elite (possibly on behalf of supernatural beings), authority can be spread beyond national boundaries, to any human individual or group capable of bearing witness, any method of objectively telling the health of ecosystems, and to non-human life. Who or what can tell us how well we are governing and living? All of the above.
Health of ecosystems
Only life sciences have objective methods of determining the health of ecosystems. For example, the ecosystem health of a coral reef might be measured by proxies such as counting manta rays or the percentage of seasonal coral dieback. In a similar fashion, medics may take a human's temperature and count their pulse-rate. There will be some differing opinion, but a great deal of consensus, and questions are likely to be resolved by further research. The point here is rather that biocratic policies and interventions can be tested in the field.
You can find a 1.5-minute animated video by Kate Raworth on regenerative economics which gets the point across (and will be the only kind of lawful economy under a constitutionally-encoded biocracy).
In biocracy there is no right to impair health of consumers or degrade public health. It would be logical to nationalise or internationalise life science industries (pharmaceuticals and other medicine related to public health; open-source agriculture etc.)
Rights of Nature (legalism) is not enough…
…but such a framing will be required in our Biocratic Constitution. The concentric circles of the Rights of Nature Model indicates the hierarchy Nature above People above Economy. Current environmental law is dysfunctional, ecologically illiterate and unstrategic.
With a constitutional provision, laws inconsistent with biologically-established fact could be struck down (abortion, tobacco).
However, much more is needed than a legalist solution of precautionary and reactionary enforcement. A full political system with roles and responsibilities in research, planning, testing, tax-raising powers, diplomatic service, strategists, administration, education, food security, sustainable living standards, conflict resolution and so forth is required.
There is a war being conducted against nature, although only one nation has so far declared it.
One elemental responsibility that was hardly mentioned enough in the COVID-19 pandemic was that national borders should be closed to prevent the disease pathogen escaping from each nation (not just entering). Each nation is responsible to all others for global public health, and biocratic constitutions will make this a formal provision, whatever international treaties say, or do not say. We get our core ethics from our biology as a species of social animal, one might say a political animal.
Ongoing research into, and improvement of, human politics
In a rational society, greater effort would be put into scientific study of human nature and environmental relations. This would involve collective self-reflection on human politics (why there are problems of corruption, nepotism, dynasties, power relations) and ongoing research on it.
Research has shown how children who have had adverse experiences or are detached from nature can show reduced empathy for the natural world, but equally environments where children connect with nature have a wide range of benefits, including a more ecocentric view of politics.
As Caldwell writes, open democracies are adaptable but undisciplined. We continually face problems with biotechnology and invasive species.
Where Caldwell falls short is in taking this to the logical conclusion and building model of a new form of government from a biocratic ideology, because at the time the world was apparently not ready for such a radical move. Well, if not now, when? We can develop a political system that eliminates the ruling class, and personal riches, and leave people with enough for the good life, particularly with communal and digital wealth. But there will need to be a public acceptance of some green austerity borne by all. Like Epicurus, we might learn to be happy with bread and cheese shared leisurely with friends. But many aspects of life will need to be quickly tailored to fit inside planetary boundaries, and that will require discipline, not indulgence. Luxuries will be small ones, footprint-wise.
The opportunity to set a good example in government comes all too rarely. To found a new kind of government based on constitutionally-encoded biocracy will be an option during the creation of a new state, perhaps from a successful independence movement or a unification. Never before has seizing such an opportunity been so critical to the survival of human and non-human life on our planet Earth.
While acknowledging this:
the other political systems we are familiar with, theocratic or humanist, are all much more fallible by design and have proved routinely corruptible and now (with weapons and economies of mass destruction) extremely dangerous. Time and again, we see the pattern in politicians and priests that begins with "What's in it for me?" And this applies to many social movements too, confusing self-interest with public interest. With one notable exception: the environmental movement, which places value in nature, and takes the long view of deep time and the survival and thriving of non-human species, ecosystems, and future generations of humans within our living world.
What is healthy government? Only one with the principles of life sciences and the good life at its heart. Choose life. Choose biocracy, now.