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

Juho juho4880 at yahoo.co.uk
Sun Mar 25 14:40:46 PDT 2007

On Mar 24, 2007, at 6:28 , Abd ul-Rahman Lomax wrote:

> At 01:31 PM 3/23/2007, Juho wrote:
>> Are you saying that FAs would not succumb to the old hazards?
> Yes.
>>  I think
>> it is probable that many FAs would drift towards more formal
>> structures, strict leadership and rules (especially if the ideology
>> that they promote makes that has a positive attitude towards such
>> control).
> I'm considering an FA to be an organization that has formal rules  
> that prohibit the association from developing precisely those things.

Ok, it seems that the FAs are in fact not without rules but have  
quite strict rules (to keep them "free").

Power attracts power hungry people. The rules you mentioned (quite  
rigid and well tested ones) and "separation from power" may be needed  
to keep the FAs "free".

(A side observation. One option is to keep all the conclusions/ 
recommendations/outputs of a meetings anonymous (not tied to any of  
the members) to keep the discussions neutral and to reduce the use of  
a meeting as a tool for personal career/image booster.)

> the owner of the FA domain decides to become a little tyrant

> The proxies and other active members who don't agree with this can  
> simply recreate the FA with an altered name.

This doesn't sound very good (if common). It'd be better to avoid  
this cycle and keep the rules such that (in most cases) the old  
structure can be kept "free".

> The FA traditions are a vast protection, even without DP. With DP,  
> I strongly expect, the structure becomes extremely robust and  
> extremely difficult to corrupt.

What is the property of DP that gives this protection? How much do  
you refer to the chained voting mechanism? How much to the continuous  
election that gives immediate feedback? What other properties?

> What we need is world communication, coordination, and cooperation.  
> One World Government is really a bad idea, if taken literally and  
> thoroughly.

Agreed. Global discussions and more local decisions makes sense.

(One interesting claim from history. China was at one point in time  
technically probably more advanced than Europe. Why was it then  
Europe that became such a concentration of world conquering super  
powers? The claimed answer is that being fragmented to competing  
small countries was the competitive advantage of Europe. Even if one  
country got a bad government or got stagnated, there was always  
another one that by its example forced also others to move forward,  
evolve or sometimes perish. The outcome was maybe not the best  
possible (lots of small and big wars in Europe and later also  
elsewhere) but the key point was that "discussion" was kept alive all  
the time since there was no single power over the others that would  
have set fixed rules for the system and thereby would have stopped  
the process of evolution. I think the structure of evolution of the  
democratic systems is quite isomorphic to this (also with positive  
values, not only with wars and power game). The problems world  
governments and any too wide "de facto only way of thinking" for a  
large part lie in the risk of losing the second and third viewpoints.)

> Some kind of body to create and enforce international law makes  
> sense, though. Present structures are pretty inadequate.

Some level of enforcement is needed but I'd be careful not to  
establish a one centrally controlled unit to do that.

> I'm not proposing FAs as the "main working method," i.e., the main  
> method of carrying out the business of government. FAs are  
> thoroughly libertarian, an FA "government" would pretty much be an  
> oxymoron. But large FAs would essentially be able to keep  
> governments in check. It could be pretty interesting.

Ok, a method for keeping check of the decision making process, not  
part of that process. You should state this clearly when promoting  
the method and when justifying the details of it. Rules and  
optimisation criteria for the legislative and other decision making  
structures may be often different.

> Okay, suppose the employees of the FBI form an FA/DP organization.

This example points out that FA style structures can be used also  
inside otherwise closed organisations. Companies and "bureaus" differ  
from democratic decision making in that they are centrally and  
hierarchically led. FA style approach probably will have somewhat  
different role here.

> One of the demonstration projects that has not advanced more than  
> making a few noises has been the Cummington Free Association.  
> Cummington is the small town I lived in until last year. The  
> purpose of the CFA is to facilitate communication between the  
> citizens of the town and the town government. Essentially, it is to  
> advise the town government, in the one direction, and to advise the  
> citizens, in the other. Cummington, like nearly all small towns  
> around here, is a Town Meeting town. That means that nominally it  
> is a direct democracy. However, it is rare that more than five or  
> ten percent of eligible voters show up at Town Meeting, and one  
> result is a skew between the meeting and the voters, many more of  
> whom do show up on Election Day. Two years or so ago there was a  
> tax override presented to the voters, which by Massachusetts law  
> must be approved by secret ballot. The Town Meeting had approved  
> this, the Board of Selectmen (which handles town business between  
> Town Meetings) had approved it. The voters rejected it. Why?
> Good question, don't you think?

One (just one) possible reason is that in the open process people  
tend to say what they think others expect them to say. One reason  
behind the well established idea of keeping ballots secret is to  
allow voters to make their decisions free of any external pressure  
(of the community, of the husband, of the election officials, of the  
media, of friends, of the FA, and the most vocal members of it).

> The town would know in advance if it was going to pass or not,  
> because of the proxy structure.

It could be best to keep the discussion forum just a discussion  
forum. It could give some indication on what the outcome of the  
ballot might be. But there may be another FA round the corner with  
different discussions, and the people in the FA are not bound to the  
opinion of the most vocal persons at the FA meeting.

>> The FA model (and DP) sets some positive targets and may have some
>> positive impact but I'm not sure it would work so well that it would
>> automatically lead us to a better future. There are many risks, like
>> getting infiltrated with "the old politicians" as soon as it gets
>> some power. Maybe there will be trials and fine-tuning of the theory.
> I just don't see how those "old politicians" would manage the  
> trick. They might not even try.

The strongest driver might be the fact that if there is some power or  
other benefits available there will be people trying to reach that.  
My medicine for this would be to isolate the FAs from decision  
making, career building etc., just like you did (in most places).

> Remember, the FA/DP organization never "gets some power." There is  
> no center to grab and corrupt.

Yes, "freeness" and "separation from power" go together.

> You try to corrupt it, you break the links that you grabbed, and  
> the elements that were connected to them reattach elsewhere.

This is supposed to happen in the regular formal democratic decision  
making process as well. Corruption may hit both (unless well protected).

> The puppet master

One important part of the "mathematics of democracy" is that groups  
that believe in majority decisions within the group and strong  
discipline within the group have more power in the decision making  
process than (more fragmented) groups whose members always sincerely  
vote as they personally feel. The members of these groups may thus be  
controlled by "puppet masters" or maybe rather "elected masters" and  
group majority decisions voluntarily (and there may be nothing  
suspicious about that (within these particular groups)).

> By the way, consider this: if you attempt to corrupt an FA/DP  
> organization, you must believe that people, communicating freely  
> and thoroughly, will disagree with you. Most present politicians  
> wouldn't think this way. They may well believe that people are  
> ignorant and easily led astray, but they will expect that informed  
> and intelligent people will generally be on their side. I don't  
> really expect much effort to corrupt or destroy FA/DP organizations.
> And, indeed, these organizations, by design, won't be anyone's  
> enemy. *The people* might be an enemy of someone, to be sure. But  
> you wouldn't change that by trying to destroy the FA/DP  
> organization, and you might make it worse.

Maybe power and other benefits that are available to powerful people  
vial the FA would be a more likely reason for corruption (than just  
direct interest to corrupt a neutral discussion group that maybe has  
some unwanted discussion threads).

Note that the very basic rationale of democracy and Montesquieu's  
separation of powers must have followed pretty much the same logic  
you use when promoting FAs => free discussion, free formation of  
opinion groups etc. The basic difference that I see between the  
proposed FAs and the more traditional democratic systems is that it  
is possible to introduce another layer of isolation between power and  
the "intelligent discussion" in the spirit of Montesquieu's  
separation of powers.


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