RBPEA: Opportunities unheeded…

Following on from that description of ‘further-futures’ enterprise-architecture, several folks have asked me for a real example of the kind of world that I see, as an outcome of ‘Really-Big-Picture Enterprise-Architecture‘ [RBPEA]. In other words, what would be the outcome of an emphasis on ‘things work better, together, on-purpose‘, applied at whole-of-society scale?

What we mostly see so far, sadly, are examples of missed-opportunities…

— Bhutan’s concept of a Gross National Happiness metric – that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product” – still seems to be dismissed by most economists, politicians and journalists as merely laughable, irrelevant to the ‘real world’ of money, money and more money.

— Former French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s concept of ‘economic well-being‘, first promoted in 2009, seems to have suffered much the same fate.

— Former New Zealand Prime Minister Norman Kirk’s 1970s concept of the core human needs as Someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for still receives the occasional sneer, the occasional nod of admiration, but rarely the detailed architectural-analysis that it actually deserves.

And almost no-one seems to facing up to the real core problem: possessionism and paediarchy.

Oh well.

But perhaps the prize for ‘Greatest-Ever Political Missed-Opportunity‘ is one that resonates very strongly in present-day British politics: the Putney Debates in 1647 (and, later, the Whitehall Debates of 1648-9), and the ‘Agreement of the People‘ manifesto, 1647-9:

The reason why it resonates is that it’s almost exactly the same clash as is happening right now in Britain’s Labour Party:

— On one side, we have Oliver Cromwell and the other ‘Grandees‘ in Cromwell’s New Model Army, purportedly representing ‘the people’ but with an actual focus on serving the interests of the new middle-class and the officers themselves, and believing firmly in top-down control by the party apparatchiks. In short, the 17th-century equivalents of the present-day Parliamentary Labour Party, the inheritors of ‘Tory-lite’ Tony Blair, as represented in the leadership-election by Owen Smith.

— On the other side, we have John Lilburne and the other Agitators, and the Levellers and Diggers in the ordinary ranks of the New Model Army, with a genuine emphasis on the real needs of everyday people, and believing in a more bottom-up view of politics. In short, the 17th-century equivalents of the present-day Labour Party grass-roots, the inheritors of Keir Hardie and Clement Attlee, as represented in the leadership election by Jeremy Corbyn.

In essence, Cromwell and his Grandees betray the New Model Army at the Putney Debates and beyond; prevent the ‘Agreement of the People’ from being adopted as a constitution; and via various violent means set themselves up as military-dictatorship whose prime intent is to enrich the new middle-class at everyone else’s expense.

(Comparisons with the Blair faction’s takeover of the Labour Party and subsequent policies in government can be, uh, interesting…)

It’s arguable that in some ways the Agreement was too far ahead of its time – so much so that, to quote H.N. Brailsford’s ‘The Levellers and the English Revolution’:

there had never been anything like such a spontaneous outbreak of democracy in any English or Continental Army before this year of 1647, nor was there anything like it thereafter till Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils met in 1917 in Russia

The first version of the Agreement, in June 1647, could be summarised as follows:

  • Power to be vested in the people
  • One year Parliaments, elected by equal numbers of voters per seat.
  • The right to vote for all men who worked independently for their living and all those who had fought for the Parliamentary cause
  • Recall of any or all of their MPs by their electors at any time
  • Abolition of the House of Lords
  • Democratic election of army officers
  • Complete religious toleration and the abolition of tithes and tolls
  • Justices to be elected; law courts to be local and proceedings to be in English [not French!]
  • Redistribution of seized land to the common people

Apparently evidence also exists that this ‘socialist’ manifesto also influenced the framers of the US Constitution – though the final version of the latter is arguably closer in spirit to Cromwell’s ‘Grandees’ than to Lilburne and the Levellers…

But the reason why the ‘Agreement of the People’ is so important – and why the manipulations that led to its abandonment represent such a mistake and missed-opportunity – is that it identified and called for every factor now known to be essential for a viable and sustainable democratic culture.

Yet courtesy of Cromwell’s betrayal, it’s taken us literally centuries to catch up with most of its precepts – and some we still have yet to fully face. It’s worthwhile, then, to look at the final 1649 version in rather more detail:

The right to vote for all men over the age of 21 (excepting servants, beggars and Royalists)

In our real timeline the equivalent doesn’t happen for all men until 1918 (1928 for all women), some 270 (280) years later. The result is that the only electors (until 1829 at least) are relatively-wealthy landowners, who assign themselves all manner of ‘rights’, ‘privileges’ and other scams – such as privatisation of common land via the Enclosure Acts, particularly in the 18th-19th centuries, with devastating effects on the everyday peasantry:

Enclosures were also created so that landowners could charge higher rent to the people working the land. This was at least partially responsible for peasants leaving the countryside to work in the city in industrial factories.

Annual elections to Parliament with MPs serving one term only

This would have prevented the existence of the modern party-system, with leaders and other ‘grandees’ each foisted into a life-long ‘safe-seat‘, largely whether the respective electorate wish it or not.

No army officer, treasurer [banker] or lawyer could be an MP (to prevent conflict of interest)

This would have prevented most if not all the many scams perpetrated via Parliament by all too many representatives of the respective groups throughout the succeeding nearly four centuries. (With the House of Lords also abolished, as per the intent of the initial Agreement, the same would have applied to most if not all members of the aristocracy.)

Equality of all persons before the law

This would have prevented the situation that, throughout subsequent centuries, very unequal law has tended to apply to the rich and the poor. Consider, for example, the complaint of a late 18th-century broadsheet:

We hang the man and flog the woman
That steals the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose
That steals the common from the goose.

Although hanging even for minor theft did eventually cease (about which more below), that differential of ‘one law for the rich, another for the poor’ still applies all too often even into the present day

Trials should be heard before 12 jurymen, freely chosen by their community

In England at least, this did mostly apply within a few decades, though there have been frequent attempts to roll it back, even to the present-day.

The law should proceed in English and cases should not extend longer than six months

The reason for the first part should be obvious, yet to this day significant parts of legal language are still in Latin. Cromwell and the Grandees frequently used imprisonment-without trial against many of their supposed enemies (including John Lilburne); the practice has continued on and off ever since, sometimes overt, sometimes more secret, even up until the present day. As for “cases should not extend longer than six months”, this is, if anything, getting worse, particularly in the past few decades, where people may be held in remand for many months or even years until courtroom time and space can be found for the trial – which itself may go on for months, too.

No-one could be punished for refusing to testify against themselves in criminal cases

Although this had already been implicit in most English law for at least a century before the Agreement, it was not actually codified into law as such until 1912 – and at present is in danger of being lost again in an increasing range of case-types.

The death penalty to be applied only in cases of murder

Some indication of how much this aspect of the Agreement mattered is that during the following two centuries, the number of non-murder crimes with a mandatory death-penalty steadily increased, first to 50 by 1688, and then, under the aptly-nicknamed ‘Bloody Code‘, to as many as 220 by the end of the 18th-century. Even theft of property worth as little as one shilling – at one point barely more than the price of a loaf of bread – carried a mandatory sentence of execution by hanging. As a Wikipedia article notes:

Many of these offences had been introduced to protect the property of the wealthy classes that emerged during the first half of the 18th century, a notable example being the Black Act of 1723, which created 50 capital offences for various acts of theft and poaching. Crimes eligible for the death penalty included shoplifting and stealing sheep, cattle, and horses…

The death-penalty for theft was eventually abolished in 1832; for murder, in England, not until 1965; and finally, for a small number of serious non-murder crimes (treason, espionage and piracy), abolished less than twenty years ago, in 1998.

Abolition of imprisonment for debt

Another example of the impact of the failure to enact the Agreement, this was not abolished even in theory until 1869, well over two centuries later; in reality, the practice continued on for several decades more, with over 11,000 still in prison for debts in 1905. Traders, however, could avoid debtors’ prison – and their debts – by decalring themselves bankrupt: yet another example of separate law for the rich and poor.

Tithes should be abolished and parishioners have the right to choose their ministers

On the surface, this is primarily about freedom of religion, which was a serious issue in itself, though with occasional positive aspects: the engagement of so many Quakers and other ‘Non-conformists’ in trade and industry throughout the next two centuries was in part because they were forbidden to go to university and many other key institutions.

The point about abolition of tithes is also crucially important, though. Tithes were a mandatory requirement to pay one-tenth of one’s income to the Church, on top of any land-rent to a landowner – a huge additional ‘income-tax’, especially for peasants and others struggling on a subsistence-economy. In the real-world timeline, tithes did not even begin to be abolished until almost two centuries later, in 1836; more properly another full century later, in 1936; and some minor aspects (though potentially very expensive for those affected) still lingering on even into the present day [PDF].

Yet if the Agreement had been enacted, it would have broken the power of the Church, permanently, at a stroke. Amongst other outcomes, and given the incipient misogyny of the Church at that period and for at least a couple of centuries onward, the impact on women’s lives in particular would have been immense, probably breaking free of most gender-based constraints centuries earlier than on our real-world timeline.

Abolishing tithes would also have had huge impacts on the power of the monarchy, the aristocracy and other landowners – particularly the descendants of those many lawyers and others who had assigned themselves titles to monastery and abbey lands during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and who claimed the respective tithes as additional rent.

Taxation in proportion to real or personal property

If this had been implemented at the time, it would have broken the economic power and social leverage of the monarchy, the aristocracy and much of the fledgling middle-class, and strongly dissuaded the military adventurism that typified so much of the succeeding centuries.

The reality, of course, has often been often almost the inverse – as typified (along with another illustration of ‘one law for the poor, another for the rich’) in this quote about the near-present-day context from the Wikipedia biography for ‘the Queen of Mean’, Leona Helmsley:

Helmsley was investigated and convicted of federal income tax evasion and other crimes in 1989. Although having initially received a sentence of 16 years, Helmsley was required to serve only 19 months in prison and two months under house arrest. During the trial, a former housekeeper testified that she had heard Helmsley say: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes”

The first explicit form of income-tax in Britain – the window-tax – again ended up hitting the poor harder than the rich: to minimise their liabilities for the per-window tax, landowners would brick up the windows of their tenants’ houses, but not their own.

Abolition of military conscription, monopolies and excise taxes

The three parts to this precept were – and are – all fundamentally important.

On ‘Abolition of military conscription’, this has never really been abolished. Instead has continued on and off throughout the subsequent centuries, mainly in war-time – or, more accurately, whenever the current military adventurism got out of hand. But it applied even in peacetime too: the Navy’s press-gangs were feared by everyone on the coast, and even inland, right up until they were finally abolished in 1853. (And feared with good reason, too, as half or more of a ship’s crew could die of disease – particularly scurvy, up until the late 18th-century – on a single voyage.)

On ‘Abolition of excise taxes’, this links to the point about ‘in-proportion’ taxation above: a flat-rate per-item excise-tax is, in effect, nigh-on inversely proportional to one’s income. Throughout the subsequent centuries this has applied not only to the obvious excise-taxes that still continue to this day – such as on alcohol, tobacco and various luxury-goods – but often to essentials needed for survival – such as the infamous Corn Laws of the early 19th-century. They continue today in the form of sales-tax or value-added tax (VAT). More subtly, though, excise-taxes were also used as a means of social control: newspapers were deliberately taxed at a high rate so as to price them above what the ordinary working-class could afford.

The “Abolition of monopolies’, though, would have had by far the greatest impact, not just directly at the time, but with huge knock-on effects, worldwide, throughout all of the subsequent centuries and into the present day. To give some examples:

  • the trade-monopolies, such as those of the East India Company and South Seas Company, had vast global reach and impact: “the [East India Company] rose to account for half of the world’s trade, particularly in basic commodities including cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, saltpetre, tea and opium”
  • those monopolies created, maintained and reinforced the vast gulf between rich and poor: “Wealthy merchants and aristocrats owned the Company’s shares. … The prosperity that the officers of the company enjoyed allowed them to return to Britain and establish sprawling estates and businesses, and to obtain political power. … The government owned no shares and had only indirect control”
  • almost the entire continent of India became classed as the private property of the East India Company, from 1757 to 1858: “The company eventually came to rule large areas of India with its own private armies, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions”
  • the British forces fought several wars – at taxpayers’ expense – to promote and protect the private profits of the trade-monopolies, including two wars against China to enforce drug-pushing by the East India Company, and another against various nations to support the slave-trade of the South Sea Company
  • colonial anger against special privileges assigned to the East India Company led directly to the Boston Tea Party protest, and thence indirectly to the American Revolutionary War and the eventual separation and creation of the independent United States of America

Without those trade-monopolies, it seems likely that international trade would have been a much more egalitarian affair, a more literal ‘commonwealth’, with far fewer of the colonial excesses that have been too much of the British legacy worldwide.

The other key monopoly, perhaps lesser-known, yet arguably even more important in the present day, was the patent-system. At the start, it was supposed to be “a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for detailed public disclosure of an invention”. But in practice, perhaps particularly in the present day, it’s often tended to create what is, in effect, a permanent monopoly – with or without that supposed ‘detailed public disclosure’. It’s also tended to support all manner of ‘trusts against the public interest‘ – despite many laws supposedly created to prevent that from happening.

In short, it’s a mess.

In the absence of the implementation of the ‘Agreement of the People’, it’s all been a mess. Several centuries of mess, so far, and still ongoing – for almost everyone.

And solely because a small handful of would-be dictators were afraid of what they misdescribed as ‘anarchy’.


Short-sighted, self-centred idiots.

What a mess…

More to the point, what a missed-opportunity… – and what scale of mess created just by that one missed-opportunity.

So let’s be blunt about this: we still have a long way to go to fully tidy up that mess.

And we don’t have time to make that mistake again. It’s taken us several centuries already to get even this far towards recovering from that mess – and we don’t have several centuries to spare on doing it all over again.

(We’ll be lucky if we have as much as several decades left to sort it out – let alone several centuries…)

As we saw from the previous post, there is no way to make a possession-based economy sustainable. So if we are to have much if any chance of survival, as a species, beyond perhaps the next few decades or so, there is only one possible option that we have: we must eradicate possessionism from every aspect of every culture, everywhere.

And no exceptions, in any form at all – because possessionism is so infective that any form of it will lead inevitably to our extinction.

Yeah, that’s a big mythquake all right…

Which, yeah, is going to be kind of a hard ask. (Understatement of the century…)

Yet one that was made much, much harder for us, by just one crucial missed-opportunity, almost four centuries ago.

Don’t let’s miss the equivalent opportunities again?

I’ll stop there for now, anyway – over to you for comment, if you wish.

Posted in Complexity / Structure, Enterprise architecture, Futures, Society, The Outsider Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

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