Operation Turning Scum Tide

Continuing the discussion from WATCH: stirring call for networked, global resistance to catastrophe and corruption:

I can sort that problem for you by pointing out that we do know of something better than representative democracy as it is practiced, and that is simply democracy as it is preached - minus the rife and blatant corruption. Actually, come to think of it, not even democracy as it’s preached includes any means of requiring policy to be evidence-based… chuck that in too.


Canada - check
US - coming along nicely, fingers crossed
UK - check back in 2020
Oz - hmm : /


We actually know of plenty of things that sound even better when preached. The problem often lies with that pesky little thing called “reality”. As for “democracy as it is preached”, I wonder which of the many variants you are referring to. Did you mean representative democracy as it is preached (again, which variant?) Or, direct democracy? How do you prevent the corruption that is subject to? Actually, we don’t even really know how a real direct democracy would work in practice, I guess there are several different ways to go about that.

That’s by design. Yes, I like evidence-based policy. But who gets to decide what policies are evidence-based and what aren’t?
I mean, I have heard there was overwhelming evidence that Greece needs to cut all welfare spending. Bush had “evidence” for WMDs in Iraq (“Old Europe” had evidence that he didn’t have any evidence, but apparently it wasn’t that obvious to everyone when seen from America).
I’m not saying that truth is relative, but evidence is until you’ve examined it yourself. Any way of enforcing that policies are evidence-based is a secular equivalent of Iranian Guardian Council.

One at least halfway non-corruptible entity to make the final decision whether a policy is sufficiently evidence-based is the voters themselves. Which leaves you with old-fashioned evidence-free democracy. You still get to vote for the more evidence-based politicians.

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‘Representative’ democracy is what I’m referring to, which we know works relatively well when it’s not overrun by elitists waging class war. Every once in a while it happens somewhere or other… most notably in the US you had FDR’s New Deal.

But democracy as we know it has been stagnant in its development for a long time, while obvious avenues of improvement have gone wanting for decades. See if you can envision the system we have, cleansed of elitist scum like Bernie Sanders intends. Then picture it moving towards direct democracy via the internet, with frequent referendums and detailed transparency for a start…

Now dig this:

As for the veracity of any given such consensus, I invite you to consider Britannica’s accuracy next to Wiki’s, and then there’s the depth and scope. One model of encyclopedia creation is clearly obsolete next to the other, and the same goes for government.


I see we’re more or less on the same page.

I also consider moving towards internet-based direct democracy a good thing. We should be moving slowly, though, as there are known unsolved problems with both direct democracy and with internet-based democracy that would need to be solved on the way.

I am referring to unsolved problems such as the lack of transparency of any electronic secret ballot system, and the lack of secrecy of any truly transparent electronic ballot system.
As for direct democracy, the problem is, people aren’t smart enough. If you ask a question that only 5% of the electorate have the intelligence, motivation, and/or time to understand, you might still get 15% voter turnout. Which means, your result will be two-thirds noise at best and two-thirds lobbying and demagogy at worst.

These problems might be unsolvable; luckily, we can probably mitigate them enough so that we get meaningful trade-offs between different approaches.

I fully agreed with that TED talk. I use git myself, and I wouldn’t want to develop a law in any other way. The nice thing is, it’s compatible with existing democracy; if parliament gets to vote on git-generated proposals, then there’s little danger that this attempt to improve things could backfire and make things less democratic.
It wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does for software, of course, because software is, well, less political. But I think it can still work.

Other ideas that I think government should copy from computer programmers:
Unit tests. Those would take the shape of a list of short stories/scenarios written in everyday language, along with an “expected result”. Every time the law is changed, the old “test cases” are checked against the new law, and every resulting change is discussed in parliament.

For Example:
Situation: A child sells home-made lemonade in front of their house. (That seems to be an American tradition; I’ve never actually seen it done in Austria)
Expected Result: The child earns a little pocket money.

If a new law causes the “Actual Result” to become: “The child is put in prison for failing to get a restaurant license”, then the test case is flagged and parliament needs to either confirm “yes, this was actually the intent of this law” or to fix the law.

Having a good set of test cases in software engineering makes refactoring easier, i.e. changing parts of a program so that they end up doing the exact same thing, but are easier to understand and less convoluted. The same thing is never done with laws. Laws are usually horrible “spaghetti code” that are badly in need of refactoring, but legislators don’t like doing that because it’s too easy to accidentally change things.


Yeah, the legislative process sure could use a few more debugging protocols… hopefully the Venn diagram of coders and legislators will develop some significant overlap in my lifetime.[quote=“zathras, post:5, topic:71853”]
I am referring to unsolved problems such as the lack of transparency of any electronic secret ballot system, and the lack of secrecy of any truly transparent electronic ballot system.[/quote]

Yeah, that’s a tough one, but I have a feeling the problem can be sidestepped…

As for direct democracy, the problem is, people aren’t smart enough. If you ask a question that only 5% of the electorate have the intelligence, motivation, and/or time to understand, you might still get 15% voter turnout. Which means, your result will be two-thirds noise at best and two-thirds lobbying and demagogy at worst.

IME, in a digital community with around 150 regular members and reasonably good moderation, it’s possible to foster a culture that delivers a useful signal-to-noise ratio; respected contributors can be allied with the moderators in suppressing noise. When one can call such a place home, one is actually part of a functioning community, something increasingly rare IRL; outside many of our experience. In such a situation, many of the hardwired mental shortcuts and other cognitive biases that are often such a pain in the arse start actually working for us, allowing us to make a representation of the community in our minds, embedding us in a larger organism.

I say our body politic can only truly thrive when we abandon as much formality as possible, and allow our fundamental operating system to be the basis of our government. A community that engages issues according to the inclination and informal standing of its members can indeed be a mechanism for achieving if not consensus then most often a clear enough mandate for the community’s chosen representatives. These representatives could hopefully be chosen without resort to formality, which is beset with hazards of corruption; rather by community discussion and debate, which is relatively transparent to members of that community.

It’s an interesting question, to what extent higher-order organisation is desirable, but I think it’s a given that a considerable degree of coordination and cooperation amongst such communities would not only be necesssary to manage all the aspects of industrial civilisation we tend to take for granted, but (given sufficiently enlightened design) could actually do a far better job of sustainability and resource management, being a system explicitly designed to favour facts over money.

It’s all a bit hazy in my mind since it’s just a bunch of hunches without any collaborative input, but I’m pretty sure @William_Holz can help join the dots…

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Wow, thanks, sir!

And wow, where to start.

I suppose one big disclaimer: since I (and those who helped me put all the co-opernation stuff I’m working on together) are by definition unqualified to solve everything I’ve been instead focused very firmly on a specific path to get from point A to B that’s implementable in our lifetimes…anything I talk about HAS to have some sort of context and can’t contain all the answers. So anything I say is pretty focused on that, and I’m very aware that point ‘B’ is only the first step down a much longer road. It’s definitely not ‘THE’ solution, just ‘A’ step that’s self-sustaining and better than what we have now.

The hope is to create a system where people with better ideas can let those ideas compete and easily let others join in the fun…with the competition being to be the most awesome and appealing.

Also: While explaining things is NOT my bag (and I’m getting some help putting together something more coherent) a basic summary of the context I’m working with is HERE: http://www.abiggishidea.com/ (and there’s been some evolution since then as well)

Agreed, those are huge issues. Anonymity isn’t something that brings out the best in us humans…and we’re generally not good at democracy either.

My preferred approach is

  1. Let smaller groups (42 people to millions…taking advantage of Dunbar’s Number rather than denying it’s existence) to choose the governmental system they’re part of, with anonymity as something people choose.
  2. Let that selection be done on a quarterly basis (So nobody is trapped and systems with better results gathering the most people, anonymity or not)
  3. Only have votes on corporate/civilization-wide issues be done when there’s a reason for a lot of people to care about it (and no ‘voting to deny a group equivalent rights and dignity’, that’s just batshit crazy and borderline evil) and have the system used itself be voted on periodically

So, basically, very fork-friendly. :wink:

(first time that analogy has occurred to me! Thanks guys!)

Nice! You hit on a problem and at least one solution all in one fell swoop. Good brain-usage! Most people just hit on the problems and give up there. :smile:

I think you also hit on the root cause there pretty well there too. The INTENT of the law should be on top. ‘What’s this for and why?’ The next layer should be ‘Here’s what we’ve tried so far, what other people have tried, and what scientific research has indicated’.

Only THEN should there be the third layer, which is ‘and here’s the current attempt to achieve this goal’.

We’ve kind of got it backwards in most cases, with laws being soulless things devoid of intent and easily exploitable by people who are ignoring the intent and looking for loopholes. Plus it’s hard for those to grow/improve in any iterative way.

This. Many times this.

We can default towards what our biology is expressly designed for, what peaceful cultures have used successfully, and what science dictates. We don’t make it mandatory but keep the option out there so people can gravitate towards it. We make it VERY easy for groups within larger groups to fork out new ideas as long as they can gather a small critical mass of people (I’m still leaning on 42! That’s life+work+fun before hitting Dunbar’s number! Also: The ultimate answer) :wink:

Then we focus on how to create structures that allow productivity to bridge groups and allow for specialization without forcing situations where people feel overly influenced by people outside their local group…as long as people can move about freely (OKCupid for whole lives, basically) and adapt as they age and change then we also avoid some of the negative consequences of small groups as a starting point AND get a whole bunch of variety/experiments.

How many different groups of 150 can we get with a million people? How many nifty, crazy ideas that motivate a small band of us to do amazing things because it’s THAT much better than the other options? What’s wrong with communities of cosplayers? Of mind-hackers? Of trip guides? Of peanut-free zones for those with allergies? Of living Skunkworks projects? Of gamers who turn their games into art? Of inventors and makers with their own huge Makerspace? Of introverts? Of tech-environmentalists growing food in huge farm-towers? Of ideas way better than whatever my lame brain can come up with?

Why not embrace our variety rather than force everyone to agree on something that nobody’s particularly happy with and is just ‘what people dislike the least’?

Anyway, that’s a few cents from me! Thoughts?


Come on, folks…


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No kidding! I’m still fine-tuning my delivery and such…that fork analogy is excellent and I don’t believe that never occurred to me…so even these little convos help!

I mean, I’m still working on the backup plan (I can just start this as a small business and specifically hire people who like the master plan while only telling the VC about my specific business plan…then I can just gradually work through the non-naysayers, easily motivated, and civility-friendly before worrying about anyone else), but it’d be WAY cooler if this was a big cooperative thing.

That’s what it should’ve been from the beginning, after all.

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Really? I mean…REALLY? Donald Trump is currently the most likely GOP candidate for President of this fine land. The previous mayor of Baltimore, having been convicted of stealing gift cards intended for needy families, was able to keep her $83,000 pension and is also currently running, again, for the same position.

I hope you’re right, sweet fucking hell, I do, but my personal metrics are screaming “the center will not hold” while I tear up snail-mail flyers from Teddie “If you have a vagina you are a whore and I will cut you” Cruz.


IMO worst case scenario, you get Clinton, which would be a bummer in my view.

The clown may have done a lot of social damage with his campaign, but he’s not electable.


True, but on the positive side the more abusive power they give to corporations the more effective my own nonevil master plan is.

Just because I’d never have created something so absurdly powerful on my own doesn’t mean we can’t exploit it. Citizen’s United has some awesome potential that everyone’s missing.


I would argue against selection being done this frequently… If you’re selecting a new leader every three months, that does not give your new leader much time to get up to speed before the next one takes over. Plus, you’d probably build up voter fatigue.

That’s the ‘person choosing what system they’re in’, not the ‘people voting to influence policy’. I should’ve been more concise, thanks for pointing that out!

Quarterly’s just so that people aren’t trapped somewhere for a year. Once ‘failback’ systems are established (so people could leave a system and go to some sort of holding area) I’d think maybe something more like ‘annual with an ability to leave at any time’ would be better, but that wouldn’t be until a larger critical mass is hit, right?

It’d be up to the group they’re part of/joining how often and how such votes happen and even what sort of system they use (consensus, proxy, voting, etc.).

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