[EM] participatory democracy

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Thu Jun 29 20:29:09 PDT 2006

At 12:03 AM 6/29/2006, Damien Morton wrote:
>I had a revelation recently about a new kind of political party that
>might well have a chance of succeeding in a two-party democracy.

You have seen something that resembles what some others have seen, in 
certain ways, and not in others. Some of what you propose has 
actually been tried.

>Whilst representative democracy was an excelent choice in a time when
>communication and travel were measured in days, weeks and months,
>participatory democracy is enabled by communications measured in
>milliseconds and travel in hours.

I.e., direct democracy. However, the big problem with direct 
democracy is *not* travel time at all. It is scale, what might be 
called the noise problem. If you have a large enough group, and if 
everyone in the group has equal access to the "floor," the space 
fills with communication, far too much communication. Meeting time 
expands. It is this that has led many Town Meeting towns to abandon 
Town Meeting as the population expanded. And where Town Meeting still 
exists, it often functions simply because most people don't go. If 
they *did* go, the meeting would be completely bogged down.

A solution to this has existed for hundreds of years if not more. It 
is the institution of the proxy; proxy representation is a form of 
representative democracy that does not involve elections. Rather, 
proxies are chosen. More about this below.

>Over the last few years, I have been refining an idea for a third house
>of government, ive been calling it the "jury house", which is formed
>from a large number (10000+) of randomly selected people who sit for
>random, but short, periods of time. The idea being, to inject an element
>of participatory democracy into the representatorship that now prevails
>in most western democracies.

You should take a look at Warren Smith's DDJ proposals. 

>I thought about forming up the jury house as an unofficial political
>body, but it would be completely ignored, and getting people to
>participate in a body with no power or money is somewhat futile.

It might seem that way. Actually, some of the most effective 
organizations meet this description, and they are far from futile. 
*Its members would not ignore it.* But you are getting close....

>But then I was reading how some of the larger states in the US were
>going to do an end-run around the electoral college system by pledging
>to give their votes to the popular winner.

Pledge systems. I proposed something like that here, actually, 
certainly before I saw this in the media about the electoral college 
system. Note that electors are not legally bound by how they pledged 
to vote. Vote switches are rare, but they do occur.

>I realized then, that you could quite easily start a participatory
>democracy party,

Bingo! If you want to reform the system, i.e., the form of 
organization we have, one way of approach, almost universally 
neglected, is to create the desired organization outside the system, 
i.e., voluntarily. Instead, reformers almost always try to implement 
change in the official system, but for their own organization, they 
use something other than democracy. After all, it is thought, 
democracy is inefficient and can't be controlled. So if I want to 
improve our democracy, I'd better not let anyone else mess with my program....

It's the elephant in the living room.

>  whose elected officials are contractually bound to vote
>according to how their members vote on each and every single issue.

Terrible idea, actually. A very good idea at the base, but our 
coercive habits arise quickly. "Bound." The elected official is no 
longer a free agent, chosen for trustworthiness, but, essentially, a 
slave. Not merely a proxy, who generally has the freedom to interpret 
instructions and to change plans according to new and immediate 
conditions, but an automaton, controlled by the outcome of votes from others.

Yes, it looks like democracy, but the true foundation of democracy is 
deliberation. Not voting, as such.

Anyway, it has been tried. Last time I looked, the experiment was 
still running. It's called Demoex, for Democracy Experiment, I think, 
and it is a political party active in a town in Sweden. They got a 
rep elected to the Town Council who is pledged to vote according to 
Demoex votes. They even started with delegable proxy (the only known 
DP experiment.)

However, they ran straight into a serious problem, the strong 
opposition of the other council members, who were, in my opinion, 
quite rightfully offended at a fellow councilperson who was not 
voting her conscience. How that is working out now, I don't know.

But the idea of a party which *advises* its representative, that is 
completely different. It was the *control* that was offensive. At one 
meeting, the chair asked the Demoex rep, "Do you support this motion 
you made?" When she said, "Not personally," he ruled that the motion 
had no support and was void. (Or something like that. The story is on 
the Demoex web site, which, last I looked, had an English language page.)

>  No
>horse trading, no being influenced by lobbyists, nothing. Attempts at
>bribery would have to be directed at a significant portion of the
>membership population.

General immunity to bribery would be a characteristic of Delegable 
Proxy systems if the number of direct clients per proxy were limited. 
Some proposals have suggested specific limits, but it is my opinion 
that in operating DP systems, once people understand what good 
service from a proxy would be, and they come to expect it, there will 
be natural limits. Good service means that your client can call you 
and talk to you, or if they leave a message, you call them back....

>Such a party might even appeal to all kinds of people, no matter what
>their political leanings were, especially if the party presented itself
>as a scrupulously neutral organisation dedicated to the concept direct
>participatory democracy only, encouraging members of all walks of
>political life to voice themselves through the system.

"Scrupulously neutral." This concept is rare in political 
organizations. Take a look at metaparty.beyondpolitics.org, as well 
as beyondpolitics.org itself and the wiki, http://beyondpolitics.org/wiki.

>Its hard to argue against it, and its kind of infectious. It takes a
>structure that is in place and improves it by adding another layer.

Yes. I've been writing about this here for something like a year. 
Look at the archives.

There are two concepts: the Free Association concept, which I first 
encountered with Alcoholics Anonymous. Essentially, the organization 
never takes a controversial position. Its function is communication, 
not control. Control, if control is going to happen, happens through 
the direct and voluntarily coordinated action of members. But AA went 
further down this road: a Free Association does not, for example, 
collect property. As soon as you have property, you have decisions 
which must be made, and something to fight over. AA meetings, quite 
simply, don't fight over turf. (Well, I'm sure just about everything 
possible happens in AA, people will fight even if it is silly. But 
why is it silly? Because meetings don't own anything. Don't agree 
with how a meeting is conducted? Start your own, invite people to 
come -- you can go to any AA meeting and personally invite them.... 
It is said that all it takes to start an AA meeting is a resentment 
and a coffee pot. AA actually converted resentment into growth. 
Astonishing growth, if you look at the history of AA, which is far 
larger than non-members usually would think. It is *everywhere*.

In spite of common belief, AA has no dogma. There are ideas which are 
common, so common that they are practically a consensus in AA, but 
they are not enforced, AA members are completely free to disagree 
with them, and often do. However, in AA, when members disagree with a 
consensus which has been hammered out through hard experience of 
millions of members, they have a disturbing tendency not to stay 
sober.... not because of AA, but because they are resisting (and 
often misunderstanding) good advice....

Anyway, Free Associations can be *quite* powerful and effective, *if* 
they can generate a consensus of their members. If not, they aren't 
powerful, which is exactly as it should be....

And then the other element is Delegable Proxy, which is new and 
largely untried. And it has many implications, I recommend looking at 
the beyondpolitics wiki.

>Some thoughts: political parties in a representatorship gain power
>through solidarity. Should a participatory democracy party split its
>votes in congress/senate proportionally based on its members votes, or
>should it direct all of its votes according to the winning block. My
>inclination is that it should split its votes.

My inclination is that it doesn't have any votes. It doesn't have any 
representatives in Congress. It merely advises its members how to 
vote. Because it advises them back through the DP system, rather than 
by taking official positions, it does not need to come to an 
agreement. However, the more it can come to agreement, the more 
powerful will be the effect, so there is strong motivation to seek 
consensus. This is the result of leaving all the power with the 
members, instead of trying to concentrate it in the organization. In 
order to have substantial power, you have to convince the members to exert it.

Strictly speaking, "it," i.e., the organization, does not advise its 
members. The proxies advise those who chose them. (In the European 
proposals for delegable proxy, the proxy is called the Advisor, which 
emphasizes that role.) What happens in the DP structure is that 
deliberation can take place at a high level, including negotiation, 
compromise, exchange of information, and so forth, between people who 
have the trust of their constituencies. (We call these constituencies 
"natural caucuses. Note that while the FA does not take controversial 
positions, caucuses can. A caucus can act completely independently, 
if it wishes.)

>On membership: What rules should govern membership, if any? $100 to
>join, $1 per vote you cast (max one vote per person)?

Free. However, proxies are also free to charge fees. You don't have 
to name a proxy to vote in FA polls, all members can vote directly. 
Some proxies, especially low-level proxies, will not charge a fee, others may.

A lot of people, looking at DP at first, think of the proxies as 
equivalent to today's politicians.... but when a client pays a proxy, 
the client is precisely paying the proxy for service. The proxy is 
*expected* to vote in the client's interest, though the way we 
envision the system generally functioning is that proxies will be 
free to vote their own conscience and, indeed, I would not encourage 
setting up systems where proxies cast multiple votes. Rather, they 
cast one vote in polls, and the votes of all their clients who do not 
vote directly are added in the analysis. Who does the analysis? 
Anyone who cares to, it is trivial given a proxy list, which is what 
the organization would maintain.

Some have taken the idea further and have suggested special proxy 
lists, where, for some special purpose, members may designate a 
special proxy, someone they trust to handle *that* topic or area of 
activity. Initially, I did not like the idea; but then I came around: 
of course, anyone may create a proxy list for any purpose they like. 
My suggestion is that whenever a special proxy is not named, the 
general proxy would serve.

>Some questions: Can a member of the house of Representatives be
>contractually bound in how they vote?

No. I'm pretty certain about that.

>  Could the be contractually bound
>to resign under certain circumstances?

Probably not. They might sign the contract, but I'm pretty certain 
that it would be unenforceable.

Bottom line: choose people you trust to represent you. Don't choose 
them based on their promise to do this or that. Such promises are 
often foolish: wouldn't you want your representative to vote what 
they actually think best, in the immediate circumstances, and with 
all the information at hand, with full staff support, etc., instead 
of what they promised a year before?

If you don't like the fixed-term system, then change it. But in order 
to change it, you will first have to have the power to do so. If you 
can create the public organization you have somewhat envisioned, you 
can have that power. Well, *you* won't have it, but the members will.

Proxies should be revocable at any time.

No engineer worth his or her salt would design the fixed-term control 
system that we have. The hysteresis is deadly.

>What do you guys think?

Quite a bit, how about you?

One Brazilian supporter of the Beyond Politics concept has been 
interested in how rural villages could be represented in national 
politics. Delegable proxy could easily serve to help with this 
problem: it is not required that the village name one proxy, but 
there are economic benefits of doing so. Essentially, if this system 
were in place, any village member could travel to national meetings, 
but, of course, most could not afford to do so. A village might end 
up naming one or a few proxies. Those might travel occasionally, but 
at other times, would have trusted proxies elsewhere, perhaps proxies 
from other villages.

It's a chaotic system, in that there is no precise, neat, structure 
set up in advance. However, the human nervous system is organized 
pretty much like this, from the ground up.

How about joining Metaparty?

(And you can be sure that most of us will support other efforts that 
follow similar principles. One thing about Free Associations: they 
could fracture easily, but they tend not to, because they don't need 
to, unless the FA principles have been corrupted, and they can merge, 
even more easily, because all it takes is for communication to start up.)

This revolution *will* happen, almost certainly, in my opinion, 
unless the conditions disappear (i.e., most essentially, freedom of 
association). It is too simple an idea. I think that once it is tried 
on a significant scale, that will be all she wrote. The real question 
is how long it will take. It *could* be quite rapid. And, then again.....

At this point, however, support for the idea is too diffuse. This is 
changing. DP was independently invented in about four different 
places around the world, over the last decade (I haven't seen 
anything older than that -- I was working on it before then, but 
didn't write it down....)

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