Consensus and Legitimacy

I teach the kids a lot about the concept of governmental legitimacy. Basically speaking, if a people governed believe that the government has the right to lay down laws, for whatever justification, then they are more easily governed. The belief of the governed is what matters most, though; for thousands of years hereditary monarchy was a perfectly legitimate way to run a country, and people didn’t have much problem with it. But beliefs changed, and now it’s no longer viable; while kings in 1200 had paltry armies and no police, modern dictators have to create vast mechanisms of control and fear to hang on. Even still, many are forced to have democratic trappings to keep it together. The Roman emperors never did get around to eliminating the Senate, for much the same reason.

Legitimacy is a complex thing. It requires trust. You need to assume the government is at least trying to think through issues the way you do. Nationalism ties into that a lot these days; people don’t trust other peoples to look out for them. Serbia lost its legitimacy among the Kosovars, since the government of Serbia suddenly decided that it mattered that the Kosovars were ethnic Albanians. Once it mattered to Belgrade, it suddenly mattered to the Kosovars as well, and they would not trust the central government again. Belgrade had declared that the Kosovars were not Serbians in their regard, and the natural response was to leave Serbia. The alternative would have been unrest and bloodshed, or repression, which is the only tool an illegitimate government has to survive.

I’ve recently been pondering this in the context of the various boards and groups I’m embroiled with. Right now the LOPSA board enjoys a good amount of legitimacy, since one of the lynchpins of legitimacy and nationalism is defining yourself as not being another group; you’re not so much “us” as “not them.” We have a very convenient if rather sleepy them to not be at the moment; SAGE is controlled by an outside group of people with interests entirely different than those of sysadmins, and therefore the governance thereof is illegitimate. I feel just about everyone knows it, too, since SAGE has pretty much done nothing over the last year. It will die on its own, and then we’re going to have to make our way without a convenient foil.

Forensics is another beast. Right now the MFL is trying to achieve some fairly sweeping change; eliminating one event (Radio), adding another (Impromptu), and substantially changing a third (Group Discussion). I myself believe all three changes would be positive, though I’m only hugely passionate about the last. Change is always tough for a collective organization, since those who have a stake in the way things are — a concrete reality — are always more passionate about it than those who have a stake in the way things could be — an ephemeral guess. Change is even harder given that the underlying purpose of the activity is competitive. However, right now we’re a little hamstrung in that our state league board does not include some of the most respected folks in it, for various and sundry reasons. It’s difficult to make a change stick when too many trusted folks are outside of the decision process; so even though these changes were hashed out to death and considered from dozens of angles by the Board, people suspect we missed something. So the debate drags on, nothing new is said, and nothing changes.   The “us” versus “them” divide is within the league, and while it’s not so pronounced as previous internal divides, it is nonetheless there.
Over in New Yorkland, there’s an ongoing dispute about the nature of their state tournament, which as far as I can tell is the natural byproduct of the fact that New York is not One Big League the way we do in Massachusetts. We evolve and change slowly in the MFL, but we do so together, so the state tournament is no different than any other. New York has a number of local leagues, who then have to decide how to do things when they come together. So the local conflicts get delegated up into the statewide conflicts, and the waters grow ever muddier. Brooklyn comes to one conclusion through a wrenching process, and then Rochester reaches a different one, and the Mid-Hudson leaguers a third; but then they have to hash out the whole thing all over again at the state level. Apparently that hashing doesn’t happen well, or often; one faction prevailed, and the other stays out of the game as a result. Not good.

That can be somewhat awkward for me at times, because I get along with almost all of the coaches I knew from New York, and I can never keep track of who hates whom. “Let’s have dinner with so-and-so!” turns so readily into an awkward and uncomfortable silence in that kind of situation.

I tend to think that the real problem in New York is a lack of a venue for bitching. Bitching will always happen, but without a time and a place set aside for official bitching, it has to happen under the radar, where it takes the guise of hurtful gossip instead of constructive feedback. Some folks have a hard time with that concept, since it’s always better to get along.   When you bitch at someone and they take you seriously, they’re no longer an evil strange Serbian in your eyes, but part of the “us” again.   We had our MFL coaches’ meeting, and boy did they bitch, and while that was rather unkind since a lot of the bitching seemed to assume that the Board had taken action willy-nilly without thinking of the consequences, at least it tied everyone back into the League.

In a setup like New York’s, there’s bound to be even more dissension. However, they seem to close it all up and off, and so the dissenters, frustrated and voiceless, quite literally gather up their kids and found their own damn tournament. A sad situation that it had to happen. But that’s not my battle, just an example of what to avoid. I’ll go to NY States this year and get them running (because I’m a glutton for punishment), and I’ll probably attend the NE Championships next year with some kids in tow, unless Menick again decides to schedule it against a calendar that was quite clearly published on my league’s website for anyone to see months and months ago.

But if they add a 17th required event, they’re going to have to find a new damn president.