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

Michael Allan mike at zelea.com
Wed Jan 28 17:59:26 PST 2009

Juho Laatu wrote:
> But I think people [a] also try to keep
> the internals of their head in good
> order. They don't voluntarily become
> irrational inside. Many [b] believe that
> they are almost always right and
> consistent, and want to maintain
> this belief.

Agreed, but it can't be understood from just one perspective
(private).  Private individuals draw strength from public engagement
(its positive aspects), and this protects them from its negative
aspects.  Engagement with others helps them to [a] "keep the internals
of their head in good order", and [b] challenge their own personal
biases and blindnesses.  Thus strengthened, they can look out for
themselves.  This much is built into people.  It's a given.

Given that, it would be ideal if people could use that strength to
look out - not only for themselves - but also for society as whole.
Because modern society is more than the private and public spheres,
and the larger whole can be threatened in ways that people aren't
equipped to deal with.  So it would be ideal if we could build the
necessary equipment into society, in the form of institutions.  A good
first step (I think) would be to give our voting systems the same
private/public synergy as people have.

Currently, they're too one-sided.  They take individual opinion
straight from the private sphere (one way), and they inform it via
mass media in the public sphere (other way).  That's not the kind of
dialogue that people are built to handle.  It was the best we could
mangage in the past (and a big step forward), but now we can try to do
> Sometimes the pressure of the society
> may force the voters to make good
> choices. But also the other direction
> is possible, e.g. when the dominant
> opinion is to discriminate some group
> of people.

I was at ChangeCamp on the weekend (an un-conference about
governance), here in Toronto.  One of the best sessions was "How do we
promote and maintain a sense of personal responsibility?".  It gave me
the idea of adding some stories to Votorola's home page.  All of these
are concerned with responsibility, and two of them (2 and 4) show how
social pressures (different kinds) can actually contribute to it:
(pardon my writing skills - and pardon the length of this post)

(1) Who to nominate as Mayor?  It's a difficult choice, and you need
more information, so you decided to begin close to home, by voting for
a neighbour.  She's something of a leader in the local community,
someone you know pretty well, and whose opinion you respect - a good
choice for a delegate.  But now you're looking over the latest
results, and considering whether to shift your vote.  You can see how
your vote has been carried from delegate to delegate, until it reached
a consensus candidate.  But there are several of them, and it's
difficult to choose among them.  So you decide to speak with your
neighbour, and ask her, "Why do you think *our* candidate is the best

(2) Someone has initiated a proposal to change the Landlord and Tenant
Act, and people are voting on it.  You're concerned about the issue,
because you live in an apartment block.  But you're unsure how to
vote, so you decided to vote for a friend who works at a real-estate
agency.  And now you're with some neighbours and they're shaking their
heads.  They say you're voting for the wrong version of the proposal -
one that puts apartment dwellers at a disadvantage.  So you call up
your friend and ask, "Are you sure we're voting for the right version
of the proposal?"

(3) You are crossing the local park, when you meet someone who is
carrying a sign.  She says she is campaigning to improve the park, and
has a plan.  She explains the plan to you, and it sounds pretty good,
so you cast a vote for her from your mobile phone.  Later that night,
you're looking over the details on her Web site.  You're thinking,
"Maybe there's something I can do, to help."

> Not also that it is possible the
> people will not vote at all (or vote
> as some opinion leaders expect them
> to vote) if they fear that this is
> a test of their understanding.

(4) *** joining channel #albion ... synced in 0.043 secs

chri. So which draft of the EU constitution are you voting for, Nick?
      Or do you have your own draft, like me?

nick. You're kidding me, Christabel.  I'm voting against the whole
      thing.  Brussels can stuff it.

chri. Are you out of your tree?  Brussels is opposed to it.  If we
      don't reach *some* kind of agreement, then we're stuck with
      whatever the Eurocrats give us.  Nick, you're voting for the
      status quo!


chri. Look Nicky, you know me, we see eye-to-eye.  Why not vote for me
      on this one?

nick. Sure Chris... if it matters to you.

chri. You see, I've gathered quite a few votes for my draft.  It's no
      big deal, I've only made a few changes here and there.  But they
      listen to me.  The drafter I'm voting for (she has a lot of
      votes) she's using my changes!  And so on, down the line.  It's
      kind of fun.

Michael Allan

Toronto, 647-436-4521

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