Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Benevolent Government Online

Warning: This posting contains political and social commentary.

In 1993, at the dawning of the Internet era, the makers of the Net and the "Cloud" were well aware that this invention would change the world, the way people related to government and authorities, and the way people related to each other. No longer would you have to wait days or even months to hear from your relatives and friends. Communication was faster than even a phone call or fax because data could be transmitted instantaneously. Now that bandwidth technology has evolved to handle high-speed high-volume transmissions, that vision of the early 90s has come true. 

I did this illustration for "Internet World" magazine in 1993. It was for an article about U.S. Government resources online. "Uncle Sam" is using the state of the art now 23 year old big clunky computer and monitor. He looks like a benevolent person, who actually wants to help you. And in 1993, you might be OK with that.

The idea of a government that helps rather than plunders and which is honest rather than corrupt is actually a modern idea, no more than a few centuries old. In the past, governments ruthlessly exploited their subjects and waged war or perpetrated atrocities without the people's consent, and often on the people themselves. A government that collects resources from a consenting populace and then uses them to help that populace rather than enrich corrupt and brutal leaders is rare even now.

One government catastrophe after another in those last 23 years (let alone the almost-forgotten "Watergate" scandal and impeachment trial 42 years ago) has lowered our trust in government to such an extent that we don't trust anything the government offers us (except tax refunds, how about that check in the U.S. Postal Service?) or anything the government can do for us. Everything about government nowadays seems to be flawed, wrong, corrupt, incompetent, and sometimes just evil. Really? Our mistrust and anger is multiplied by the very Internet that had such promise 23-odd years ago. Government now can do no right. If government as a social service to help people is gone, and government can do no right, then taxation is theft and society becomes a collection of tribal groups and techno-warlords, which sounds cool if you can shoot straight and stay healthy. 

I am old fashioned in the social services way. I am willing to pay some of my precious dollars to maintain a civilized society that organizes activities that benefit people, including myself. I am a consenting person. I know that for many of the people I encounter, they have been so mistreated by government incompetency or bigotry that they have no faith in government help. What is their alternative, if they have no church or private charity association that will help them? Well, they can always go online and find help, from a government they declare they hate, and which used its resources to develop the Internet information in the first place. 

"Uncle Sam" is ink and watercolor on illustration board, original size 5" x 7", August 1993.

No comments: