New Civilization News: Choices and Democracy    
 Choices and Democracy11 comments
picture 10 Apr 2003 @ 12:07, by Flemming Funch

What is emergent direct democracy? It is just many people being free to make choices, and the aggregate result of that, and the hope that the result can be fairly coherent.

Democracy is that the people decide things - that they choose what they want. In most countries in the world, that has been reduced to a ritual of every few years letting the people choose among some candidates, and the individuals they elect will then make most of the big important choices for the following years. If that is at all worthy of being called 'democracy', it certainly isn't direct democracy, and there isn't either anything very emergent about it. Yes, if the people really, really, really want things to be different, and they manage to mostly agree on that, they can start a revolution of some kind, elect somebody different from what they're offered, or force the ground rules to be changed. But there's a very high threshold to that, and it is mostly avoided by keeping people dispersed, busy, but moderately content.

Now, what would be all different would be if the democracy really consisted of all of us making choices, all the time. Not one choice per four years, but probably several or many choices per day.

We're already making many choices per day. Some of those choices are preference choices. What clothes to wear today, what to eat for lunch, what to watch on TV. Some of the choices are economic choices. What goods you buy, and how much you're willing to pay for them. How and where you sell your services, and for how much. One view is that all choices are economic, and that economics is nothing other than the aggregation of people's choices.

Choosing about big things isn't all that different. Politicians would like you to believe it is totally different, and really none of your business. But it is a question of information. You make pretty good choices about what to eat for dinner and what to wear, because the necessary information isn't hidden from you. And you have experience with the consequences of different choices. If you put on too little clothes, you'll freeze. If you eat only ice cream, you'll be sick.

Politicians are used to feeding you sound bites and sales talk and lies and window dressing, to make you pick them to represent you. All of which would be bad for really deciding things. Just like you shouldn't decide your diet based on an ice cream commercial, or your choice of clothing based on a billboard for Hawaiian vacations.

The real issue is how well many people efficiently can be exposed to the real information about big things. Not the news stories, but the in-depth analysis, the structure and the context, the differing views, and the credibility of everybody involved. The whole picture, and a picture of the consequences of different courses of action. If that can be done well enough, it is fairly trivial to add ways of recording what people choose. And if all of this is tracked continuously, and made public, it would quickly glare in everybody's eyes when a politician made a choice which wasn't what people want, and which has obvious negative consequences.

Direct democracy can be structured in various ways. It doesn't have to be that millions of people have to involve themselves in every issue. A system of representation might still make sense. But not a system where millions elect one guy for a long time, based on commercials. Rather a system where a small group picks somebody among them to pay attention to certain kinds of issues. And the results are transparently tracked. And if we're not happy with the results, we change our choice of who should represent us. Not every year, but every day or week.

Small choices adding up to bigger choices, from the bottom up, subject to continuous re-evaluation. Individuals organizing into small groups, which organize into bigger gropings of groups, etc., up to the scale of the whole planet.

That can only work well if there's complete transparency, and we can always see what is being done in our name, and we can change our mind, the moment we realize it is going in the wrong direction.

For it to work at all we need a drastically different way of dealing with information. You can't have a grassroots, direct democracy thing if the information it is based on is distributed in a top-down fashion, where a few people own all media and information distribution networks, and they choose to present only a small portion of the truth.

It isn't just that we all vote on whether to go to war with Iraq or not, based on what we've heard on TV about Saddam Hussein. That's already a stacked deck.

The task is how to represent large masses of information in such a way that large numbers of people can make meaningful choices about it. Not that each of us will speed read an encyclopedia every day. Rather that we develop a self-organizing system that keeps track of the value of things, and the collective choices of many people, and the relations between those people.

We're talking about an information economy, or a collaborative filtering system, based on a record of trust.

It is about turning information from just something somebody says, which we'll have to take on its own merit, into knowledge with a context. Having a clear picture of the track record of the person who says it, of their relations and vested interests, and of the trust level of their sources.

Like a spreadsheet, rather than a word document. In a spreadsheet, if you change the numbers in one place, formulas will adjust things in other places. You can't just invent a number for the profit, and ignore everything else. Well, you CAN, if you cheat, but I'm talking about a well-designed spreadsheet, where everything is tied together with formulas, and we know what those formulas are.

Our information landscape needs to become more like a spreadsheet. An inter-connected eco-system, rather than a data landfill that you are mining haphazardly.

Most of us can make good economic decisions if we have a good spreadsheet, and if the assumptions it is based on are clear. If you spend too much on wine, there is less money for potatoes. If you spend more than you have, you've got a problem, or you need to make more money. Our participation in democratic processes should be as tangible and obvious. When somebody speaks, or we receive a piece of information, it should come attached to a lot of relations to other cells, which instantly calculate for us the track record, trust level, and reliability of what we're told.

If we have a sufficiently coherent inter-connected information landscape, we can make good choices, even about really big and complex issues. We can also relax, because we don't have to juggle lots of disconnected, questionable, incoherent information in our heads, together with our mixed emotional reactions. We can trust our information network, because it has been built at every step in a way you can trust.


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11 comments

19 Mar 2007 @ 17:01 by Nat stroy @208.0.121.248 : choices
question,it is said that we have freedom of choice. But who sets in motion the choices that we have to choose from. And we don't always know what the outcome of ouar choices will be, so are we really making free choices? or are we being programmed to choose the selections placed out there?  


20 Mar 2007 @ 02:58 by ming : choice
I suppose we in principle have free choice. But, yes, what we have to choose from is mostly already laid out, and we've been conditioned to choose in certain ways by what we've been fed before, and the background story and the consequences of the available choices are usually not easily available. If we add it all up, most of what we 'choose' is really part of somebody else's plan, or we behave as part of a conditioned mob, and it is all quite predictable, for those who have good information. But, nevertheless, we do have a choice, or, rather, we have the potential for having a choice, for insisting on it, for claiming it, for making sure we have the necessary information to make the best choice with.  


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