notes on a conversation I was in recently, metaphors

We can think of governing as posing choices. Now then, mule, do you prefer the carrot or the stick? Choose freely. To put it another way, one aspect of governance involves having a lot of power to choose the game played, which is to say, having strong influence on the sets of rules/expectations in a given social environment and the set of choices that people are likely to make. One way to ideologically defend governance is to point out the freedom people to have within the defined set of rules and choices.

Sometimes there are conflicts over rules in the game, which can result in changes in those rules. Other times the game might change – one side might kick the chessboard off the table. In those moments the current rulers might be displaced from their game-setting position or the governance relationship might come into question all together.

Generally speaking governance is relatively stable when it’s like a casino, in that the house (the governing) win most games, and things continue along with the house in control. When a given game is relatively stable – “we are playing chess” – there’s conflict within the rules of the game — the governing wish to win at the chess game. And often governance is a complex set of tasks with a division of labor and different personnel. The people assigned to play a certain game at a certain time will face costs if they lose; those costs have real stakes. The governing tend to be relatively united against the governed, and to an increasing degree as the governed become more disruptive. At the same time, the governing also conflict among themselves, up and down their chains of command and horizontally among personnel at any given rank.