I was talking with a friend the other day and he eventually, predictably, after adjusting his monocle for extra class, classily proclaimed “Screw the government.” Doesn’t matter what the context was. What matters is that this friend has made that his catchphrase. You see, he’s a bit of a self-proclaimed anarchist.
This got me thinking a bit.
I find that people have a sometimes irrational negative view on the concept of authority (I mean even r/anarchism has moderators). But what is legitimate authority? When you go to the doctor, your physician has a somewhat authoritarian role. You follow what s/he says because they have the accreditation and background to be trusted. Is that a subtle form of governance? Perhaps it’s not the presence of an authority that people distrust, but the presence of an incompetent and/or conniving one. This is of course an eventual inevitability in the current arrangement. People often accuse politicians of corruption, and move to impeach them soon after the fact. But if the problem lies with specific individually corrupt statesmen, why do his/her replacements also often fall short of the moral benchmark? I feel that it is an impossibility and simply wishful thinking to expect the elected to act “just” in an inherently gameable system (Basically the reason why everybody hates Pay To Win videogames is the reason why I don’t trust politicians, or lobbyists, to not, well, pay to win). To use a term from psychological literature, the behavior’s reinforced.
Do I think “legitimate” governance is necessary? Yes. Do I think “legitimate” authority is necessary? Absolutely. Do I count on politics as of the moment to deliver this? Not so much.
As an aside, I distrust political slogans.
I think placing intangibles, myths and ideals as goals in and of themselves is a slippery slope.
Take for example the core beliefs of neo-conservatism as theorized by Leo Strauss. A core strategy that he preached was that in order to effectively govern and control the masses you must give them myths to believe in. The product of that train of thought is the at present “American Dream:” a freakish mix of consumerism, capitalism, pseudo-secularism, patriotism and exceptionalism which is all together a recipe for inequality and disparity. Now the “American Dream” as a motivating factor and as basic premise for control actually works and works very well if you ardently believe in it and strive to embody its principles. But the opportunity costs of the “American Dream” also work very very well and that is disparity and inequality. Myths and ideals are subjective so the effect they will have on people will undoubtedly vary from person to person. Building concepts and policies on such unstable foundations will undoubtedly produce varying and unpredictable instabilities throughout the system thus increasing inequalities as the system progresses because the system itself is based on varying, subjective unequal principles.
I do believe in the idea of a democracy, but in this voting system, all the word means is the freedom to elect our leaders, who make all the decisions after the fact. I don’t think ‘governance’ will ever go away. Otherwise, things would degenerate into bedlam. But I think the way we go about making decisions and “electing” authority has to change in order for things to get better.
So what’s better than (and maybe less intangibly lofty as) “Hope” or “Change We Can Believe In”?
Going back to the physician example, we trust him because he is technically capable of providing the service. We consult our electrician to fix our wiring and not a hat salesman because the electrician has technical know-how, and we basically adhere to whatever he recommends. We ask web developers to code our webpages, and engineers to build our machines. Is this not a form of governance “over” us? This is where I think a big part of the problem is in the current model. Most if not all solutions to society’s problems, to me, seem to be technical (that is, broken down into constituent parts, are deterministic and “lawful” (by which I mean pertaining to predictable (given enough study) cause-and-effect laws, whether it be the physics of building a bridge, psychological treatment for social deviancy, or the process of a webpage loading faster), not subjective appeal to emotions. Out of the 535 members of the U.S. congress, only 22 have scientific, technical or engineering backgrounds. That is, only 22 actually have any competence in the real, physical, technical sense. We elect lawyers, bankers, lobbyists, people that are career-trained to play with words, use doublespeak, and flash smiles at the crowd to gain or sway public approval or opinion, not necessarily actually “fix” or “build” things – they have committees for that part. In this way, they can be regarded as really just middlemen between the people and the final decisions and policies made. In theory anyway, they represent what’s best for the people, and their decisions are supposedly in line with the people’s wants and needs. In reality, results may vary. For instance, I doubt the American people voted to sign a bill giving Israel $225 million for a missile defense system. It isn’t direct representative democracy, rather, a marred mix of what gets the best public opinion with financial interests (That Pay-To-Win model linked to earlier in the form of lobbyists and third-party campaign supporters, etc.). What we currently have in place seems to simply be the ability to elect our leaders and decision makers, not make our own decisions. This practice is probably partly because, up to this point in history, it would have been a logistic impossibility for the people to vote on everything directly.
Well, what if we used a system that is historically relatively new, but already in place and is easily adaptable? We use one that many people are already familiar with and where independent voting entries can be empirically tracked, logged, verified, and stored. We use computers, and something like the internet. In this way we may vastly be able to cut down “corruption”, by removing what reinforces those actions: the political system and the politician middlemen. So who carries out the voted on actions? Those technically equipped. All “authority” is relegated to those who have the accreditation for that power to even mean anything (you give your car mechanic authority over your automobile because he’s trained for that, not because you liked the speech he gave you).
This is the proposed democratic system: It would be built as a secure, fully verifiable and transparent online polling network. Basically, every decision goes into an online referendum (Note I said every decision, not every candidate, there would be no “candidates” or arbitrary cults of personality). Citizens would be able to enter their own “suggestions” for policy and also vote on the suggestions of others (which, of course, could be checked for plausibility by those technically apt to do so before approval, like mods on a website). It could work much like a content aggregator, where the most popular suggestions are scaled up per vote and the least popular ones are “buried” underneath. The most valid/technically-apt suggestions would in theory be voted up by the populace whilst the ones that don’t hold water would be voted down. There maybe some foibles, such as an uneducated voting public, but it’s still much truer to a real democratic decision making process as opposed to the appeal to authority decision relegating that happens now. There are also countless solutions for potential problems. For instance, there could be algorithms that maintain fair voting ratios to avoid spamming votes, or the voting system could be made to be linked with each citizen’s SSN or SIN to guarantee only one vote per person on each poll. There could also be sections under every potential issue/policy easily viewable online that would provide all of the pros and the cons for said issue/policy, while having an open “forum” section for debate/discussion up until the time of voting. There could be several layers of security and redundancy, and it could use CRCs (Cyclic Redundancy Checks) or the like to ensure the voting system has not been tampered with. All history is logged and stored at various locations and could be made transparent and checked by all.
What this invariably does is eliminates the need for the middlemen politicians (and bribes for policy makers) and gives the power directly to the people in a direct participatory democracy, as a sort of crowdsourced politics. As mentioned, we would still have “authority figures” as far as respective (technical) fields, to act as experts in their fields, to debunk the fraudulent/unlikely suggestions, and afterwards, to carry out the feasible ones voted upon (once again, directly by the citizenry), but this would be a position of responsibility or duty, not one of differential advantage (For one, there would be much much less, if any at all, potential corruption, as the monetary incentive and lobbying is taken out of the equation). Scientists, programmers and technicians would be in charge of only what they know how to do, but the people will make the decision as to whether something will happen or not, discussions happening in the public sphere transparently online, the final decision for each item based on their direct participation via this online polling system. It would be a transparent marketplace of direct ideas and not of personalities, platitudes and promises. The ideas/content would be the ones competing for the people’s favour, and not ideological political parties soliciting corporate monetary donations for publicity. The benchmark would not be how many campaign dollars each candidate has for visibility and influence, but the feasibility and merit of the direct ideas themselves, put forth by, and voted upon by the populace.
There has been a Ted Talk about the prospect of E-Voting before. Although it is not talked about as applied to the same extreme as I have, you may get a better idea of its viability here:www.youtube.com/watch?v=izddjAp_N4I
Of course, this is just an extremely truncated, surface sharing of my scattered thoughts at 2:56 AM while working on some code I have yet to finish. I personally think the internet (or something like it) as the platform for a hypothetical democracy 2.0 is interesting to think about, but I guess you don’t have to read any of this if you don’t want to.
It’s not like I have any authority over you or anything.