[EM] Free Associations (was: Trees and single-winner methods)

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Thu Mar 22 20:00:44 PDT 2007

At 03:50 PM 3/22/2007, Juho wrote:
>I'm trying to analyse the difference between parties and Free
>Associations. The formal machinery calls established political
>groupings of people "parties". They are clearly part of the
>machinery. In most countries people are free to form new parties.
>(Depending on the current political system they may have different
>chances of becoming really influential parties.)

A Free Association is an interest group. You join if you are 
interested in the topic of the Association. A party is typically 
created by a group of people with a shared political agenda. This 
can't be a Free Association (unless it opens itself up to abandon, as 
a "party," its platform). Parties also typically collect resources 
and spend them according to the decisions of some executive body. FAs 
don't collect and spend money beyond the bare minimum necessary for 
the FA communication functions.

However, note that an FA caucus can be quite equivalent to a 
political party. It may be associated with an actual party, but the 
FA and the party are strictly independent; the party and the caucus 
may share membership, though.

A political party could have a DP structure, and it might decide to 
take on some of the other FA characteristics, but if it takes on all 
of them, it would be a bit strange to call it a party at all.

However, there is Metaparty. http://metaparty.beyondpolitics.org

This is Jan Kok's project. So far, very little happening. There is 
also the Boston Tea Party Free Association. The Boston Tea Party is 
an offshoot of the Libertarian Party; the associated FA is wide open....

>The Free associations that you described seem to differ from parties
>roughly in that they have a very limited set of rules and are
>therefore more "free" than the traditional parties. I noted at least
>the following possible differences.
>- one can't be expelled
>- no permanent rules (only per meeting)
>- no fees
>- no power structure
>- does not take positions of controversy
>- members don't endorse anything (except the existence of the
>association itself)
>- members may be against the basic targets of the FA

Just to make it clear, members can endorse anything they want, but 
they do not properly do so in the name of the Association.

There is some kind of minimal "power structure," but it only 
addresses and controls the details of "meetings," which include 
mailing lists and wikis. If the membership structure is DP, or is 
otherwise rooted in a multiplicity of direct social contacts (as is 
the case in AA), if a meeting goes astray, the members who don't want 
to follow that path simply set up their own meeting. The saying in AA 
is that all it takes to start a meeting is a resentment and a coffee 
pot. AA grows in this way, meeting times expand, and there comes to 
be a great diversity of meetings. They are mostly connected by 
meeting lists and they may send a rep to Intergroup. My own 
experience wasn't in AA itself, I've never seen an AA business 
meeting, but in other programs, anyone can start a meeting, claim it 
is a meeting of the program, and it gets put on the meeting list. 
I've never seen any attempt to abuse this; I suppose if there was 
something egregious, Intergroup might do something about it.

>A party with very relaxed rules could be a Free Association. Maybe
>people are also free to choose whether to influence via FAs of more
>formal parties and the system could support a mixture of these two.
>(In this case FAs could be part of the "official machinery" (but only
>lightly regulated if at all).)

FAs and formal parties are quite different, but they can coexist; 
indeed, this is the plan. The FA is always more inclusive. FAs, 
however, can split and merge extremely easily.

Something might start as what would become a caucus within a larger 
FA. For example, there has been a little bit of interest from some 
Democratic Party activists. What if a Democratic FA/DP organization 
started? Because of the Democratic in the name, there is a little bit 
of conflict with the FA definition, but if this association doesn't 
take positions beyond some kind of special invitation for Democrats 
to join, and the activity initially may focus on issues important to 
Democrats, the FA could broaden; but the name would have to change. 
More likely, the FA might attach to something like Metaparty.

FAs exist to communicate, coordinate, and cooperate. In the end, what 
they produce is advice. Action is undertaken by the members. If 
action requires funding, the members who support the action put 
together whatever is necessary, which could include creating an 
organization for that function. They could use traditional structures 
for this, or they could use DP. Depends.

Any traditional membership organization could, generally, profit from 
having an associated FA/DP organization. It advises the control 
structure of the membership organization, and it advises its own 
members how to act with respect to the traditional organization. 
Those who enjoy special power under the status quo might feel 
threatened by this, but if an organization is actually functioning 
according to the benefit of its members *as understood by the 
members, through trusted proxies*, it should have nothing to fear. 
Those who have special power before the FA might continue to have it 
afterwards. If they are trusted.

>Hmm, maybe I'm trying to point out that the formality of the groups
>(FA vs. party) is a flexible concept, and that some people might feel
>that "controlling the government" is possible also by having rather
>rigid parties that the voters can choose from (and trust that hey
>will efficiently drive the policy that is written in their program).

The problem is that this encourages and even requires polarization. 
Polarization is not the same as dialectical process; rather, the 
former becomes somewhat rigid.

Remember, the basic concept here is how to create intelligent 
structures. The DP network actually follows, at least loosely, what 
happens in biological neural networks. Traditional structures, even 
when theoretically democratic, devolve into top-down, authoritarian 
structures, to varying degrees. And such structures are limited by 
the intelligence at the center. The ultimate example of this, of 
course, is dictatorship, which is severely limited, in the end, by 
the intelligence of the dictator.

(Successful dictators use the distributed intelligence of their 
subjects; unfortunately the model is not stable, for such 
centralization falls into the hands of those who are not so skilful.)

>It seems that what we are looking for is a political system that
>allows people to influence and not get e.g. the feeling that whatever
>way they vote, the professional politicians (and potentially also
>lobbyists) will promote their own goals, never mind the voters, and
>will never give anything more back to the voters/citizens than
>promises. I'd call that a "working democracy". Free Associations
>(="very free and informal parties") could be one tool in achieving
>that but I think also formal parties, different political systems,
>voting methods etc. can be used to achieve that. (Same with proxies
>and "continuous elections".)

Setting aside the possible uses of proxies within formal power 
structures -- which is actual practice in corporations and really 
ought to receive more attention -- "formal parties," if organized 
traditionally, have been tried over and over again. They are subject 
to certain hazards, and ultimately they succumb to them. But hope 
springs eternal.... hey, let's roll that stone up the hill again.

Large-scale FAs have never existed, outside of the very narrow-focus 
examples of AA et al, because the organizational structures haven't 
been developed and used that could handle the scale.

DP, I imagine, is the key. While it is certainly possible, and some 
people are working on it, for DP to be used in more traditional 
organizations, i.e., political parties (Demoex started with DP), the 
FA context seems to be relatively fail-safe. There is nothing that 
requires it to be the only effort undertaken.

But it is so easy to set up an FA/DP organization, and the potential 
is so great, that I'd really suggest it. Problem is, very few people 
see the need for it. If they could see operating FA/DP organizations, 
many of them would understand. So there is a bootstrap problem.

In any case, we are making baby steps. Sooner or later, this 
collection of small steps will start to walk.

(The difference between an FA/DP organization and a simple ad-hoc 
loose association, such as this mailing list, will become apparent 
with time. FA/DP organizations should accumulate more weight, 
gradually, as people participate, move on, and leave behind a proxy. 
The proxy can bring them back in if and as needed. Other advantages 
appear as the organization grows. DP can create an organizational 
body, again, as needed.)

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