In our echo chamber environment we tend to rush headlong into the future, while failing to look back.  We respond to the daily onslaught of information without the means to state our position, or make our opinion known.  

I think we can fix that problem.  Consider this is planning document, built around a 30-year-old experiment in direct democracy.  Call this diary a design workshop to untangle our own little Gordian knot.  

First find the end of the string, the starting point:    

It is widely believed that it would be impossible for millions of people to have the kind of participatory democracy available to the members of small communities such as the Greek polls, New England towns and Israeli Kibbutzim.

The quote is from an article written in 1972 by Amitai Etzioni, founder of the Communitarian Network.  [SEE ALSO:  Stewart Brand’s The Media Lab, 1987.  Brand also founded The WELL in 1985].

Can we really involve millions of people to both ask and answer questions on issues of the day?  Yes, by using many-to-many communication tools.  We have the technology. Please sharpen your pencils and enter the workshop.
What is intriguing about Etzioni’s exeriment was that it was conducted at a time when many-to-many communication over a network meant a conference call.  What a difference 30 years later.

Etzioni’s definition of a democratic process:

In a truly democratic process there is a genuine dialogue among the citizens and between them and their leaders before a vote is taken. [edit]..  Without such a dialogue, the positions that citizens are likely to take tend to be impulsive, uneducated, and unnecessarily polarizing.

Let’s start with the idea that the above paragraph is accurate – directly on point – and that we’re already working to establish that dialogue:

Etzioni provides the technological means to those ends with MINERVA, “[a] “Multiple Input Network for Evaluating Reactions, Votes, and Attitudes”… (Minerva was the ancient Roman goddess of political wisdom)…”.  And the philosophy underpinning the system:

Participation is sought largely when citizens feel politically effective, not when they sense that their votes or presence in a meeting make no difference.[2] In circumstances where people feel they actually have a role to play, they are more likely to inform themselves. Exactly how much information can be absorbed is both far from established and highly debated; but it is clear that while not everyone can or will understand all the technical details, the majority of the citizens may quite effectively understand the main issues, such as war vs. peace, inflation vs. unemployment, etc.

In the article he describes an optimal version of the system, and outlines the prerequisites, but I think the basic construct is enough to get the process moving for now:

–  Start with the concept of a “virtual voting booth”, set up on an interconnected group of websites, which in turn forward results to single website, which tabulates votes using Open Source voting software.  Wouldn’t be hard to rapidly generate a list that would reach over 100 orgs/sites.

 –  The process itself starts with a question presented to the “electorate”.  Say, universal health coverage.  Yes or no?  That question is the starting point for disussion on the wide range of issues leading to the answer.  Experts in the field, legislators, doctors, insurers, and anyone else with an interest would have input through blogs, house meetings, forums, online/print surveys, or any other means available.

  •  Time to process is two weeks, broken into two discrete 7 day periods.  The first week is for discussions in depth, the “education” phase.  The second week is to reach consensus on the question, the “voting phase”.
  •  The voting process starts at the house/block/neighborhood level on Monday.  Small groups meet to discuss and vote on the question, and select two of their members to go forward as their representatives.  Tuesday the next level – precinct or borough – meeting takes place to again answer the question, and select the next group of representatives.  The process continues through each City, Region, State, finally reaching a National vote on Saturday.  Results are tabulated, posted, and a new question posed on Sundays.  [Note that this process is not restricted to the “real world” – all of it can take place online].

Most of what I’d consider the basic system components are already in place, especially among our progressive “community of interest”.  DFA, Moving Ideas, and of course BooMan have established “homes” for people already engaged in the process.  So maybe if we build it, actually ask and answer our questions, we’ll be able to turn the political juggernaut in a more democratic direction.

Think about the implications of just a few million people reaching consensus on an issue thorough a verifiable system of voting.  Once a week is all we ask.

0 0 votes
Article Rating