Very early in my study Political Sciences at the Leiden University, a lecturer asked my class to write an essay on the origins of the Northern Ireland conflict. As might be expected, we all wrote that the catholic population being a minority feels suppressed by the protestant population and the British authorities. Wrong, our lecturer said. The roots of the Ulster conflict are not religion based, but have economic roots, so he claimed. The Roman Catholic population was poor, while the protestants had better jobs and higher incomes. If this would have been the other way round, it might have been very likely that we would not have seen a conflict at all in Northern Ireland. So, what does this tell us? Our teacher wanted us to learn to think about issues from a different angle. To be investigative and to learn to draw our own conclusions. Frankly, it took years before I understood what he was trying to do here.
These are visions that do not follow established patterns, not go by the book, but that are the result of original thinking. Looking at a situation from new angles, that most of us would not be able to do. Out of the box thinking, and drawing up conclusions based on one's own creative intelligence, instead of pointing to what others have said and written before. That is the essence of academic thinking. That kind of problem assessment is what we need in our societies. Too long have we lived in a world where decisions at both on the political and the administrative level are made on sub par intelligent level.
This is very apparent when you look at the political and administrative processes on the local community level. Decision makers and politicians are not capable of original thoughts, but mimic the conventions they know, rely on what they hear from others, or what they can easily adopt from media sources. That is because their education in The Netherlands is at often at so called higher professional level (HBO) here, an eduction system that focusses on practices and theory, and that is one step below the academic world. In itself that would not be wrong, although we miss the academic way of assessing situations. Addditional problem here is that the quality of HBO education has gradually slipped to middle professional education (MBO). And that failing level of insight and intelligence is spreading to all levels in our society. The reason is obvious. When you are a brilliant student or an excellent professional, you do not settle for a position at an average local community. Your ambitions are higher. And rightly so.
On short notice there is little we can do with the quality of civil servants and with managers in subsidized organisations. But we can have a fresh look at our political representatives. Now, what I am going to propose here takes courage and it requires to look at our political system in the western world from a different angle. Like our educational system, most western political systems developed in the 19th and early 20th century. During those years the level democratic participation expanded from a selected group of nobility and 'well to do' citizens to all men and women above a certain age. We decided to choose our representatives, because for practical reasons we could not all directly participate in the democratic process, like in the old Greek democratic society. Parliament, senate, house of commons, whatever you call it, were too far away, and we were with too many to start with. So, we trusted by vote those people we valued most. These representatives were often university educated, brilliant and dedicated politicians who's entire lives were focused to serve their voters and their societies. The same can be said for civil servants. But now, 100 years later, we still rely on that system. No matter that our democracies are not evolving or expanding anymore. The perspectives and challenges are gone. The system has slowed down to a stop. Many citizens do not believe in it anymore, or simply just don't care. The ambitions of the people we were used to trust and rely on are now only a shade of the qualities of the men and woman we trusted for decades. And society suffered. Decisions are made and executed on a mediocre level.
The political systems have gone bankrupt, and it is very apparent here in The Netherlands, where equal representation in parliament and too many political parties fail to provide a working majority that can form a government. And too many politicians see their position in parliament as a step in their career, and move away as soon as something nice comes along. But it is not unique to my country. Take a look at the USA, and there too we witness a system falling apart. Huge amounts of money are wasted every four years to get people elected, only half of those who are allowed to vote will make the trip to the polling station, and in the end, half of the population does not accept the outcome of the elections. Something needs to be done.