Earlier on Reddit, I came across an article that talked about how Iceland was “crowdsourcing” a revision of its constitution. As I understand it, each clause of the constitution will be presented for revision, then a “final draft” will be offered for public referendum. Pretty incredible stuff; it got me thinking about government in general: the reasons for it, the ways in which it works, and how its citizenry relates to it. How does a government begin? How does it endure?*
Iceland has been governed by its current Constitution since 1944, and they’re already making a full-scale revision of it. The original news article states that 2/3rds of Iceland’s population is on Facebook. America? We’re a little behind them: just over 51% of our population is on Facebook as of early 2011, and ten percent of that happened in less than a year. (BTW, these are quickly-found statistics, if anyone has more reputable, reliable, or updated sources, please pass them on.)
One of the quotes I liked best from the article was:
“To me, it has long been clear that a comprehensive review of the constitution would only be carried out with the direct participation of the Icelandic people,” said Iceland’s Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, one of the champions of the constitutional review since taking office in 2009.
After I thought about that for a while – how civilized! How forward-thinking! How very Millennial! – I thought about the difference between a country that needed a functioning government in 1776 (and the methods it had to communicate about and forge that government) and a country that required the same thing in 2011. I thought about the differences in economy, in socio-economic makeup, and in geographic size that those two countries have in relation to one another. I wondered if they would really be the kinds of countries who, independent of their relationship to one another, would choose to share the same basic documents of governance.
Then I thought about art.
Whatever one’s politics, I would hope my readers would agree that seeing what an engaged American public produced if asked to “reboot” our central governing document might be a conceptually interesting piece of work. I wondered, what if someone whacked a copy of the US Constitution online and opened it up to wikification? At the very least, it might offer insight into what the participants felt should be the core actionable values of the 2011 country’s government.
Since the first good practice of any artist is to find out who’s done what before. I did some quick Googling. Since rule #(Anyone? Bueller?) of the internet is that anything you can think of is already done, there’s already a fairly serious “Wikistution” experiment going on. Its originators give the following as part of the issue they are most interested in exploring:
The possibilities of twenty-first-century collaborative technology applied to a political framework inherited from the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is the United States Constitution in wiki format. If this wikistution is a disappointment, the experiment would have performed the worthy service of demonstrating the value of methods we have inherited from earlier centuries. Thus the wikistution will have been a worthwhile exercise even if the experiment is a failure. If, on the other hand, we find that the wikistution can evolve prudently into a hypothetical frame of government that would more perfectly derive its just powers from the consent of the governed, better securing citizens’ unalienable rights, then this project will serve as a useful example to all bodies wishing to represent and serve their constituents.”
Apparently the project originator was talking about it to students in 2006, and when none of them took the step of putting it online he did it himself. I have no idea of the participation levels, but…cool. Also? It’s licensed under a Creative Commons agreement. Check it out. Super cool.
And in case you think this is a weird one-off? There’s also this one, this one (NSFW for reasons of profanity, at the very least) and even (if the former example’s originator was correct about his dates) this somewhat precognitive article from The Onion in 2005.
This blog started out as a little idea-let on twitter, and I’m glad I took a moment to research it. Apparently I’m not the only one who’s thinking about these things these days.
*OK, I admit, I did just discover “Egypt Night” on Green Planet. Sundays. Awesome. With Pyramids.
Edit: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/09/iceland-crowdsourcing-constitution-facebook <– apparently actual citizens are being elected to do the drafting? TOO COOL.