There is a global debate going on concerning why the global financial crisis erupted. The technical debate is what it is; so far there is far more heat than light. But in addition to the technical debate is a debate about how certain underlying assumptions about human nature entertained by economists and even famous central bankers have turned out to be incorrect. It turns out that human beings - as consumers, investors, bankers, stock traders - have not behaved in precisely the ways "rigorous" economic theories predicted that they would. Even Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, showed his surprise at human nature at a congressional hearing late last year: "I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms."
"Public opinion seems to achieve integration: the individuals trying to avoid isolation are ready to compromise, thereby furnishing society with some common ground which, as is generally acknowledged, is a condition for the society's survival. Public opinion seems to stabilize societies. Partly this is a consequence of integration but it is more. Political scientists interested in developing societies complain that the lack of public opinion, or of an infrastructure of consensus among persons interested in the political sphere, leads to extreme and frequent upheavals. Public opinion establishes priorities. In the field of communication research, this is called the agenda-setting function. It dictates what problems society deems to be its most urgent tasks. Public opinion confers legitimation. It is striving for consensus (exerting strong conformity pressure on the individuals), defending established norms, or creating those which in turn will be legally sanctioned. This is the meaning of 'all governments rest on opinion.'"
Numbers alone do not confer strength, and if that can happen in an advanced democracy just imagine how tough it is to make numbers count in a poor, developing country.
A reader's comment to the blog post Whose Will Constitutes 'Political Will'?
"Political will" is surely one of the more elusive terms in the international development community. Sina captures much of its ambiguity well in his posting. In addition to what it is, we might also ask where political will comes from. In some cases it originates with an individual, generally situated somewhere within the state apparatus (best if at a high level) who becomes the "champion" that Sina refers to. But political will can also stem from civil society advocacy that puts enough pressure on the state to develop the political will needed to bring about action. The civil rights movement in the USA had champions over many decades, and they made some progress (e.g., Eleanor Roosevelt and the Marian Anderson singing controversy of 1939, recently commemorated on its 70th anniversary at Lincoln Memorial this past Easter in Washington). So there was some political will in high places that helped. President Truman's desegregation of the US military in 1948 offers another example. But it took another 20 years and a huge, sustained civil society effort to accumulate the pressure needed to strengthen political will sufficiently to pass the landmark civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s. So it was a combination of political will on the inside and civil society on the outside that moved civil rights along over the years, with each reinforcing the other. More recent examples abound (e.g., environment, women's movement). Analyzing the synergy involved and crafting ways to support it should be a critical focus of CommGAP.
There's nothing worse that can happen to a young scholar at her first conference presentation than having one of the big founders of one's academic field sit in the first row and stare intently at her poor little PowerPoint presentation.
“Opinion, queen of the world, is not subject to the power of kings; they are themselves her first slaves.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762, Lettre à d'Alembert sur les Spectacles
Protests are erupting in many parts of the world. Television screens are filled with images of restive citizens challenging power. Now, a debate has erupted on-line regarding whether or not the protests of today matter as well as the fabled efforts of movements past - Gandhi in India, King in the United States and so on.
For the record, I don’t believe the hype that people are only interested in bad news. I think as humans we are intrigued by “dramatic” – but not that this has to be necessarily “negative”. I proved it to myself recently.