Mending the Flag is a non-fiction political book. Simultaneously, it is a scholarly and apolitical work. One that contains well-researched historical, scientific, cultural, health, psychological and even spiritual information. Since the book’s main focus concerns good and innovative design, it can also be deemed an organizational or professional management guide for those working within, or interested in, government administration.
Bilik demonstrates the restoration of all things is possible, namely democracies that are woefully suffering from poor design worldwide. Is such a restoration possible through effective organizational design, especially when the author even deems the human impact of climate change a political problem, which is turn is a design problem? Is it possible in the aftermath of the global pandemic, when the author even alluded to the likelihood of global disasters in the absence of world leaders implementing the better organizational design he reveals in his book? Based on Bilik’s credible evidence, and his desire for more science than art in decision making, absolutely!
Bilik boldly charts a new course that no modern-day scribe has considered before. One may be left perplexed, if not intrigued, after reading Chapter 1. It is an autobiography of the author’s life. Bilik’s first chapter is written deliberately to begin making his readers aware of the importance of democracy, especially when he recounts the tragedy that befell his parents during World War Two, including in Ukraine, which once again appears besieged given events in Crimea.
It is in Chapter 2 that Bilik defines who Canadians, and undoubtedly the rest of us, are. In doing so, he pays tribute to the human spirit (consciousness) that resides in all individuals, regardless of their faith, as well as Indigenous Peoples’ beliefs, and the importance of institution-building to reflect everyone’s own sense of what is right versus what is wrong. Bilik challenges his readers to continue on the educational journey his monumental / 588 page book encourages them to set upon, even emphasizing why Canadians are not so different than Americans or others. “We too are shaped by our institutions, impacted by their relative health or mounting despair.” (p. 79).
Mending the Flag constructively tackles topical issues. Examples include the global financial crisis, America and the Trump phenomenon, Putin’s rise to power after the fall of the USSR, Brexit, the rise of populist movements, the design of the EU and the UN, climate change, even raising the Black Lives Matter movement. However, Bilik spends about 70% of his ink discussing Canada. In Chapter 3, “Betrayal,” he uses his own homeland as a stark example of what happens when public institutions are permitted to erode rather than improve. The author clearly loves his country and does not malign it or anyone, but wants readers to understand the obvious truth: how poor design can cause adverse impacts to the quality of life and finances of everyone on Main Street.
To prove that something is indeed amiss in the design of government institutions, Bilik credibly discusses problems that have significantly impacted about 20 areas of the Canadian public space (note that Bilik discusses other nations and organizations in his book to reveal this is a worldwide pattern), such as the military, tax collection, the environment, healthcare, Indigenous Peoples, the middle class and so on. This prepares readers, be they Canadians or others around the world concerned about their own democracy and ill-health, for what comes next. Unlike the mainstream and contemporary scholarship does, Bilik does not blame voters as being the problem that fuels division and ineffective democracy in nations such as America or elsewhere, as in the European Union. Rather than agreeing with those academics who believe “identity politics” (people voting based on what they identify most with, such as their racial group or economic class) is the key issue, he takes a different approach. He agrees with the premise of great thinkers such as Tocqueville and one of America’s founding fathers, James Madison (whom he also faults for permitting slavery to last longer than it may have otherwise in America), that good design must be at the center of good government.
Bilik raises James Madison’s argument: “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? . . . In framing a government which is to be administered by men [people] over men [people], the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” (p. 330)
In four highly convincing chapters, spanning over 300 pages, Bilik offers innovative, clear and real-world solutions to the three main problems he has identified – problems preventing effective democracy and unity between people, to flourish in nation states and within international institutions. Through critical analysis and reasoning, the author proves what ails us and democracy:
“It all boils down to three key problems:
1) Poorly designed organizational structures within government;
2) Wrongly motivated individuals (highly correlated with the first point); and
3) Ineffective oversight of all levels of government (unaccountability).
The problems are really quite simple. They only seem complex because they are buried beneath the façade of government, much like the plumbing system so vital to make our taps run is buried behind the walls or underground.” (p. 166)
In great detail and with very reliable references, Bilik persuades readers why these problems exist. He considers “Our Historical Dilemma,” or what is missing in the design of constitutions. While an admirer of Tocqueville and his work, Democracy in America, Bilik also references what an organizational physicist considers to be good design, and then extrapolates from that, what is lacking in the organizational structures of governments worldwide. Yet the practical solutions contained in Mending the Flag, which the author places squarely under his umbrella term, “Democratic Restructuralism,” largely arise from his own experiences working for Canada’s federal regulator of financial institutions.
Bilik credibly proves that appropriate and enterprise-wide risk management mechanisms are missing in the plumbing of government. So too are other necessary oversight mechanisms and structures to ensure that power remains where it best reflects the people’s will – in the legislature rather than in the executive branch, which does not always have the right motivations. His book documents what goes wrong when the executive branch amasses too much power, whether it be in Canada, the US, or even in Russia. Clearly Bilik is on to something here as he published his book before we witnessed the poisoning of Putin’s rival, Alexei Navalny, and the debacles involving the Trump presidency as well as those of Brazil’s President Bolsonaro and India’s Prime Minister Modi. He agrees with the organizational physicist who proclaims that how something is designed controls how it behaves. It is the likes of Putin and other autocratic leaders who capitalize on that notion, rather than leaders of democracies who must do better.
In the case of the United States, Bilik not only discusses problems in Congress, but also raises the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) within the Executive Office of the President of the United States. Curiously, these offices also gained prominence as topics of discussion during Trump’s first impeachment trial. Astoundingly, and before people got used to seeing Dr. Anthony Fauci comment regularly on the pandemic on their TV sets, Bilik championed the need for the “science of decision-making” rather than the “art of decision-making in government.” He appears to again agree with Tocqueville, that “in democratic countries the science of association is the mother science; the progress of all the others depends on the progress of that one.” (p. 429) And yet Mending the Flag was published about 6 months before the pandemic and the lessons that arise from our social distancing.
Through extensive research, Bilik also pinpoints where problems exist in Canada’s Privy Council Office (PCO, which administers the Cabinet decision-making process on behalf of the Prime Minister). He also raises the urgent need for better risk management of all areas of the public space, the need for potential changes in the Governor General’s Office and the Senate. Consider that Mending the Flag was published just prior to a major scandal involving Canada’s PCO, its Attorney General at the time, and Montreal based SNC-Lavalin. Consider that there have been more recent scandals involving the PCO and the Canadian military. Consider that Canada’s last Governor General also had to resign due to a scandal in her office. Bilik’s book anticipates some major events before they occur.
Even in Chapter 2, where he defines what it means to be Canadian, he hints at the need for a child of royalty to strike out on their own (Prince Harry too?). He references John Conway, who wrote a piece in a 1964 issue of The Atlantic Monthly: “ ‘We have failed to vest sovereignty where it properly belongs—in the Canadian people.’ By having ‘allowed it to remain in the British monarch,’ Conway proclaimed, ‘we have divided our country and inhibited our emotional and creative development as a people.’ His belief is that ‘a nation, like an individual, can achieve integrity and identity only out of its own experience and not derivatively from a parent.’ ” (p. 56)
Although he has placed a cross squarely on the cover of his book, references Hindu scripture / the Bhagavad Gita, discusses the importance of natural law and other belief systems such as that of Indigenous Peoples, Bilik’s work does not push religion onto his readers. He does however encourage their spiritual awareness to be amplified by good design. He also opines: “The seeds of abuse and scandal must not be permitted to germinate below that which is easily visible, in Church or state. On each rock, the foundations for church and democratic nations, one must easily find good design. This has always been intended by the creators of each.” (p. 232)
Mending the Flag instructs that nation states must look inward, before the world can be healed (hinting at the need to close borders before the pandemic?). Each nation state must first restore and improve their broken institutions for the common good (hence “Mending the Flag” comes first in the title of Bilik’s book) before a healthier form of globalization can take shape (hence the second part of Bilik’s title – “Healing the World”). The author sees effective and healthy nation states as being the essential foundation blocks of more effective and healthier international organizations. One must come before the other, including to meaningfully address climate change. Given Covid-19 and the current situation we all find ourselves in, he seems to be correct, seeing events before they transpired.
Bilik argues we all must be the curators of a better form of democracy, and that this is the restoration required. Maybe that is why he documented his passing visit to the Tomb of Christ Exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC. Bilik puts it best, referencing the appropriate source material in his voluminous end notes:
“It was my specific intention to see the exhibit called the Tomb of Christ, a virtual reality experience to visit Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the wake of its own desperately needed restoration. And I am so glad I went. The exhibit was both spectacular and informative as to how democracy can be designed to work better as we seek to restore it. You see the church, located in Jerusalem and where Jesus is thought to have been crucified, provides a good lesson in how diverse people can come together to solve problems. There are six Christian groups vying for room within the Holy site: the Ethiopian, Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Syrian and Franciscan priests. Only the Armenians, Greek Orthodox and Franciscan groups are charged with taking care of the ‘Aedicule,’ the Tomb of Jesus. Yet these three groups ‘have set aside their differences for a task all can agree is of critical importance: restoring the crumbling structure of Jesus’s tomb.’
As well, the other groups ‘co-exist with the help of small compromises.’ Interestingly, ‘the keys to the church are in the hands of two of Jerusalem’s most prominent Palestinian families who open and close its heavy doors each day.’ All of this emphasizes that people with differing views can come together and, in the right spirit, collectively do the right thing. They can restore that which requires mending and do exactly that in a democratic way. The various sects still have their own part of the church and abide by a lot of strict rules. Nevertheless, when important decisions need to be made, these groups are able to make good ones. That is what our political parties need to do. They need to come together and restore that which is broken, our democratic institutions and the processes and structures that are meant to support them. Oh, and yes, I did visit the Capitol building in DC. That seemed important as well.” (p. 230-31)
Of course, Mending the Flag advocates the strengthening of the legislature, not the undermining or continued attacks on it. Again, Bilik seems to have seen the future in many ways, as detailed in his message – one that contains instructions on how to “Make Democracy Great Again,” as well as a warning to those who do not wish to.
FROM INDIE READER:
Verdict: Author Andy Bilik offers an erudite, comprehensive discussion of the current political climate without any of the tiresome hyperbole and snipery of current political discourse.
With the United States as the undoubted epicenter of current socio-political turmoil one might forget that other countries in the Western Hemisphere not only feel the repercussions of U.S. actions, but also have pressing issues of their own. In MENDING THE FLAG, HEALING THE WORLD Canadian national Andy Bilik addresses those issues as they most affect his home country and proffers a new system of governance to deal with them.
Bilik structures his discussion of the current political order as a classic dialogue, beginning with an autobiographical answer to his opening question “Who Am I”? At first this chapter-long author bio might seem a bit long-winded, but soon the reader sees that his overall conclusion is based on Canadian national identity and thusly leads seamlessly into the new chapter of the dialogue “Who Are We? [Canadians]”.
In formulating an answer to this phase of the inquiry, Bilik cites in detail the history and traditions of his country. That Canada is medium nascent in relation to many of the world’s countries is both a benefit and a detriment to the overall argument in that the history is limited, but as such is concentrated and highly specific.
Without any sugarcoating Bilik lays out a litany of issues that stand as touchstones of that identity, including those that have caused rents in the titular flag. In a Victor Frankl-esque reactionary measure, specific elements addressed as Bilik strives to establish the Canadian identity include national security, foreign aide, taxes veterans affairs, and Canada’s treatment of its indigenous peoples. In addition, he noticeably doesn’t shy away from elements such as border control and trade and climate change that are directly resultant of America’s current administration.
Having laid out those things that do really need healing, Bilik then sets out to offer an equal number of solutions for facilitating that healing and for moving the country forward. First and foremost, he puts forth an innovative political ideology which he calls “Democratic Restructuralism”. This ideology does reflect the general premise of what has always been called democracy, but pares away the tribalism that has of late befogged the ideology’s classical essence. By removing this “us vs. them” angle, Bilik exposes the elemental truism of democracy–that’s it’s all “us”, or in this case, all Canadians.
In this light, the solutions proffered circle back to the beginning of the dialogue, mining the answers to the “Who Am I?” and “Who Are We?” questions. In doing so, the author essentially assigns his “Democratic Restructuralism” like a teacher handing out homework, shifting the responsibility of improving the country–and hopefully, the world–away from solely the government’s duty and into the hands of every Canadian citizen.
Author Andy Bilik offers an erudite, comprehensive discussion of the current political climate without any of the tiresome hyperbole and snipery of current political discourse.
~Johnny Masiulewicz for IndieReader