[EM] The structuring of power and the composition of norms by communicative assent

Michael Allan mike at zelea.com
Wed Jan 21 08:17:41 PST 2009

Juho Laatu wrote:

> I see two valid ways to form opinions.
> - opinion formation based on mass media
> - opinion formation based on mutual discussion
> Individuals may use one or both
> approaches when forming their private
> opinion, and also when forming their
> public opinion (public ballot or
> other public expression of their
> opinion).

That's true, both are valid.  But mutual discussion is in short
supply.  The vacuum is filled by mass media, giving them too much
leverage as instruments of manipulation.  So we need to facilitate
mutual discussion.

> I don't see any big conflict. They are
> free to speak even if the society does
> not provide them with tools to prove
> to others how they voted. (And they
> can still tell others how they voted.)

But can private voting fit in the public sphere?  There are at least
two practical problems:

   i) Given the protections of free speech, there is no way to
      generally enforce a secret ballot.  So a competing system that
      allows for public voting cannot be excluded.  Mutatis mutandis,
      that system will win the competition, because at least some
      people will prefer to cast their votes openly.  The most likely
      outcome is that individual voters will have a choice - secret or
      open ballot.

  ii) Harder to verify the results.  Verification based on full
      disclosure of all voter data is easier and more transparent.

And one theoretical problem:

 iii) The asymettry between private voting and public discussion is
      ugly (seems to me), and may lead to unforseen problems.  We
      could switch to private discussions, but that sits poorly with
      the aim of public consensus.

Leaving aside secret/open ballots, the other design features in
support of mutual discussion are:

  a) Peer-to-peer voting as a stuctural support for large scale
     discussion - keeping it de-centred, so it doesn't collapse to
     inaccessible, mass communication.

  b) Continuous voting to make the issue more concrete, and to
     thematize the discussion.  There will always be lots to talk
     about because the results are continuously revealed, and never

Michael Allan

Toronto, 647-436-4521

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