Anna Peterson is the Mayor of Salem, Oregon's capital. She is really fond of calling this town the "collaboration capital."
I counted up 11 times collaboration was used in Peterson's 2013 State of the City speech. Just about every time I hear her talk, she manages to squeeze in "collaboration capital."
What does this really mean, though? Everybody collaborates. Everybody cooperates. (The two words are basically synonymous.)
We humans are social animals. We flock together. We work together. We aren't lone wolves. Of course, wolves aren't alone either. They too collaborate and cooperate.
So why is Mayor Peterson making such a big deal out of something every Homo sapiens society does?
Meaning, the Mayor highly values everybody agreeing with her. Any disagreement is seen as disharmony, disloyalty, dissension, body blows to the "let's all go along with what I want" pseudo-collaboration Peterson pushes for.
I'm reading a fascinating book by historian Yuval Noah Harrari, "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind."
Here's what Harrari has to say about cooperation, which, again, is the same as collaboration. He has just observed how the Roman Empire collected taxes from up to 100 million subjects at its zenith.
Impressive, no doubt, but we mustn't harbour rosy illusions about 'mass cooperation networks' operating in pharaonic Egypt or the Roman Empire. 'Cooperation' sounds very altruistic, but is not always voluntary and seldom egalitarian. Most human cooperation networks have been geared toward oppression and exploitation.
The peasants paid for the burgeoning cooperation networks with their precious food surpluses, despairing when the tax collector wiped out an entire year of hard labour with a single stroke of his imperial pen. The famed Roman amphitheatres were often built by slaves so that wealthy and idle Romans could watch other slaves engage in vicious gladiatorial combat.
Even prisons and concentration camps are cooperation networks, and can function only because thousands of strangers manage to coordinate their actions.
All these cooperation networks -- from the cities of ancient Mesopotamia to the Qin and Roman empires -- were "imagined orders'. The social norms that sustained them were based neither on ingrained instincts nor on personal acquaintances, but rather on belief in shared myths.
Thus collaboration and cooperation isn't a good thing in itself. As Harrari points out, people can be forced to participate in cooperation networks that are harmful to their own well-being, while benefiting the rich and powerful.
Here in Salem, Mayor Peterson uses more subtle tools than slavery and imprisonment. She seeks to get her way by means such as intimidation, shunning, shaming, and brow-beating.
Those who go along with her conservative/right-wing policies that generally favor Salem's version of the 1% are given a favored seat at the Collaboration Capital Table. Those who question the wisdom of her dictates are slammed as boo-birds and bomb-throwers.
Which, of course, isn't the way genuine collaboration operates.
In the passage I quoted Harari implies that cooperation should be voluntary and egalitarian. Everybody has a seat at the table; nobody is forced to agree just for the sake of agreement.
This is a far cry from how Salem's mostly conservative City Council runs this liberal-majority town.
And how top City of Salem officials go about promoting the supposed "public interest." Actually, special interests -- Chamber of Commerce, large corporations, PAC's -- pull the strings behind the scenes to benefit themselves.
So almost always there is a hidden agenda behind Mayor Peterson's "collaboration capital" promotional efforts. She isn't really trying to involve everybody in Salem -- just those who will get behind the groupthink aimed at feathering the nests of the already rich and powerful.
Here's an idea: wouldn't it be great if Salem became a Creative Capital? Or a Caring Capital? Or a Conservation Capital? Or... dare I dream?... a Creative Caring Conservation Capital?
A town that genuinely cares about making life better for 100% of its citizens, not just the 1%; a town that sincerely seeks creative ways of doing this, rather than regurgitating outmoded social, environmental, and urban design policies; a town that preserves its natural and historic resources rather than foolishly sacrificing them for selfish short-term gain.
Sounds good to me. Way better than Mayor Peterson's illusory Collaboration Capital.