Monday, October 13, 2008

Democracy Decentralized - Citizens.gov and the Wish Cake




Hello SuperForesters!

Jackson here.

I just had a thought, and this may strike some as intensely naive, but hear me out and if you like, let's please discuss further in the comments section.

I was sitting here thinking about the U.S. Government.

Now, from what I understand, our government is there to provide a myriad of services and fulfill many needs. Its primary function, one could argue, is the aggregation of the needs and wishes of us, the citizenry. As in, we want to see something happen, we tell our Senators and House Representatives, and they work to craft those wishes into laws and statutes.

Admittedly, this is not a perfect system, as a lot of filler and fluff get in the way of our wishes and the eventual laws and statutes they become. That is because our Senators, Representatives and elected officials are all humans, with disparate motives and ideas of what is right, what should be allowed, what might offend, etc.

So the equation, radically simplified, seems to be: We want X and say so, the government takes X and adds it own spices and seasonings, and eventually the entire "wish cake" is put into the "Democracy oven" to cook.

As is quite obvious, sometimes we the citizenry disagree entirely with the seasonings and spices added to the wish cake, which can change and alter the very nature of the wish cake to the point where it is no longer recognizable to the original wishers.

Which leads us to my question: Why not get a computer program to do it?

This is hardly a novel thought, but one that should be seriously considered. If the human element is throwing our cooking process out of whack, resulting in strange and unsavory baked goods, then it seems pretty obvious that the human element must be removed from the equation.

If our elected officials job is ostensibly to act as a "wish-aggregator," turning our hopes and desires into laws, then truly we have more efficient ways of aggregating wishes, ones that don't need to add their own spices to an otherwise perfectly good mix.

It is easy to call "foul" on this line of thinking, as it rests on the idea that every citizen has access to a computer. But that's exactly my point: Every citizen should have access to a computer and the internet.

(I would love to see a map of the U.S. that plots approximately every states level of internet access. Then I would love to see those numbers compared to a whole host of other data: voting trends, literacy rates, quality of life indexes, etc. I think the results would be profoundly interesting, and probably pretty unsurprising.)

Getting the entirety of the U.S. online is a very important goal, one that I will happily work to support and nourish. Because once we are all online, or have easy access to the internet, it is inevitable that the role of "wish aggregator" will be taken out of human hands and given to more efficient, less easily swayed systems.

The inevitability of this move is grounded in the U.S. Government's justifying its existence using an equation of scarcity. This scarcity comes from: It is hard to find men and women who are capable of governing, (i.e. listening to the populace and turning desires into laws.) Or at least, it used to be.

Now, one could simply set up a program to do it.

This would allow any wish or desire (fill in the hole on Main street, more tax incentives for clean energy programs, end a war, start a war, end a genocide) to become law simply by accruing the necessary critical mass, vote wise. If enough citizens want something to be so, it is so, with nothing lost in transition.

What then will be the role of centralized government? If our wishes and desires are aggregated and made into law by a computer program, accessible by anyone, why would we still need a centralized government? Tradition?

My main point is this: Centralization in any way, shape or form is unhealthy to the growth of a system. That is because any damage or breakdown of the central system affects all that rely upon it. Blackouts are a perfect example. The grid gets overloaded and shuts down, and everyone loses power.

That's a silly way to do things, now that we have the capability and technology necessary to decentralize our power production. If every building has a solar array, there is no such thing as a blackout.

Apply this thought to our lovely Democracy.

If every state is a fully functioning Democracy, (as it should be) with no need to rely on external sources for validation and funding, our country will be all the better for it. Decentralization of Democracy via the internet is absolutely vital to the sustained growth and health of our miraculous nation.

Because when every vote is counted, when every wish is heard and given the chance to accrue momentum, we will have an actual Democracy on our hands. By the people, for the people.

Instead of a chicken in every pot, it's now a White House in every kitchen. A president in every living room. Sounds great to me.

What do y'all think? Am I an idiot? And if so, how big of one? And why?

Let's discuss, SuperForesters!

Love to All,

-Jackson

(the lovely image above courtesy of Durham Press)

4 comments:

spoon said...

I love this idea. Now that we have the technology, I think a more decentralized government would be awesome for the people.

I personally have always been a small-central-government-kind-of-guy. I think the more locally the problems can be dealt with, the better off those local people would be.

That being said, I think we would run into a couple snags:
One-on-one, people can usually reach a compromise for a problem they do not agree on. When applied to a large scale voting system however, there is always going to be a large group of unhappy people, no matter the outcome of the vote.

I think politicians serve not only as an aggregator (if that is a word), but also as a negotiator for their respective masses. They are going to try and reach a compromise for what the majority of the people who elected them want (in theory).

While I do want to see a more decentralized government, I think it would be hard to cut the politicians out entirely.

Maybe there could be a combination of the two...my head is brainstorming but I can't put it into words right now.

I love the idea, and you are definitely not an idiot! Quite the contrary, it is people thinking out loud like yourself that will shape our wonderful little planet into something great!

Awesome post.

Anonymous said...

What's up, not-an-idiot?

Some further thoughts:

If the majority of Americans vote for the banishment of Mexican immigrants, would the program honor that majority?

If 51% of people voted anti-choice, would that be the end of that discussion?

What about people like Obama--someone with vision—to lead?

Which wars would be justified?

How would the program handle two equally sound desires for sections of the populace? Or ten?

yours in admiration
av

jackson said...

Marvelous points, gentlemen. And thank you both for making them...

I totally agree with you, Spoon. The role of politician seems to be a very natural one, for get any group of humans beings together and they will inevitably form groups and sub groups and there will be those that communicate back and forth between all groups.

A hybrid computer/human system sounds ideal. How would one work, do you think?

What I really love about the decentralized democracy idea is that, as Alex so rightfully brought up, there will be times when large parts of the country disagree. But decentralized democracy means that the people are driving the policy, not hoping that others drive it well for them.

So if 51 percent of the country is in favor of say, slavery... or the banishment of immigrants, then each state would be allowed to decide what it wanted to do about the issue on a state by state basis.

Slavery and xenophobia and any actions that foments hatred and anger is simply unsound economic policy, and the states that had the misfortune to banish immigrants would then have an interesting time filling the vital roles that our "latter pilgrim" brethren fulfill.

One suspects that a state without immigrants would be a bland and empty place, as what is more interesting that the clash of cultures and societies?

Immigration is such a vital part of what America great! The way you can come here with nothing and within a lifetime, build an empire, is a uniquely American promise. To deny that to "latter pilgrims" is cruel and unjust.

And we will always have Obamas. Leaders that thrill and inspire. But instead of campaigning for a role, they could instead campaign for ideas. Obama could convince the masses that their tax dollars would be well spent on amazing and wonderful things like a space elevator, which would decimate the cost per pound of lifting things into orbit, and facilitate our species inevitable spread to other chunks of space dirt. Or an entire new industry based on restoring land and rebuilding ecosystems? The U.S. has so much untapped potential, we must remember to remind them of their greatness and their ability to achive.

What do you think gentlemen?
A hybrid computer/human system? Are we talking about the mighty OZ behind the curtain, while the computer does all the heavy lifting?

The human pushes the ideas, while the computer tallies the votes?

Yay! Discussion!

-Jackson

p.j. said...

It's been a while since I've commented but here are my thoughts.

I agree with Jackson, this current democracy should be decentralized.
The bipartisan system of Republican or Democrat only, should be the first to go. How can we have options and freedom of choice when we are only GIVEN two?

I also agree with Spoon, the smaller the government, the better, and I have a solution to the problem of politicians:

Let's send our politicians home.

They should go out and live their own personal lives. I strongly believe that for any real creative problem solving to take place, we need to live everyday lives, and just like a musician or artist takes inspiration in the everyday, (in their world and life), so too should legislators. How can they
honestly represent the community when they live, for the most part, in Washington DC or the State capital?

(in my world, they would all meet up every other month in different cities, carpool in a big van/bus for a long weekend to problem solve, vote and socialize, legislation writing would be homework, where they use the internet and computers to compare notes and peer review, then present in front of the class and take their assignments to vote in their hometowns. ha ha... that sounds simple enough? we all did it in school.)


Democracy should be everyday, but not take every hour of every day of every year; I am a firm believer in a little each day goes a long way, especially any real lasting change. And although mob mentality and discrimination are always issues, we need to enforce and strengthen the Constitution which already serves as a check and balance.

Back to the original question at hand, Jackson, I find your computer system theory very viable. But it has to start out locally and evolve from there. I for one would support that. And you are not an idiot. Keep the dream alive!! And thanks for welcoming discussion! I had more to say... don't we all?
keep it up.

all the best,
-pj

p.s."Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning."
-Gloria Steinem