History keeps getting itself made, and now and then, regular people get a chance at sharing power. Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms articulated this much more eloquently in Understanding “New Power”.
I’m pretty passionately committed to this for at least the next twenty years, have already been practicing it daily for the last twenty years.
Here’s my nerdly take on the thing:
Recently, we saw the British, American, and French revolutions each spread power around to different ends. In the UK and US, we got different forms of representative democracy, but in France, we got some rather unpleasant mob rule, later evolving into representative democracy.
For sure, in the US, democracy is increasingly centralizing toward a moneyed class willing to pay legislatures for results, that’s the whole Citizens United thing.
That’s also with Heimans and Timms call “old power”:
Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.
Previous revolutions aspired to what these guys call “new power” and I’m very hopeful we can get there:
New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.
Power, as British philosopher Bertrand Russell defined it, is simply “the ability to produce intended effects.” Old power and new power produce these effects differently. New power models are enabled by peer coordination and the agency of the crowd—without participation, they are just empty vessels. Old power is enabled by what people or organizations own, know, or control that nobody else does—once old power models lose that, they lose their advantage.
This doesn’t say that new power involves no rules, like at the worst of the French Revolution. It’s not okay, for example, to “appropriate” (steal) anyone else’s stuff. We can, and already do better than that.
Anyone can share in this evolving power by participating, by making a genuine contribution, and there’re a lot of ways to do that.
One way that’s getting a bit of attention involves a new way to contribute to effective nonprofits, via CrowdRise and #GivingTuesday.
Everyone can pitch in, and work with each other.
This is just a start, helping people in the here and now, and getting ready for lots more.
Are you ready?