Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Sketch of a Bright Future

I haven't posted on here in 2 years, so it's about time now. When I hear of global issues today in the news, it never seems like news to me. Just the same inane process unfolding, getting closer and closer to bursting of its own hypocrisy. Hence, this post. Surely these views and ideas are not all my own, though some are.

The world is full of passionate, intelligent, caring, open people. Human beings are a beautiful species, and the limits of our abilities are virtually non-existent. I believe these statements to be true, but when I take a look at our world today I see something different. Somehow there is a disconnect between the brilliant ideas, the compassionate individuals, and the yearning for a sense of harmony on our planet, and the trajectory of the nations that make up our planet earth.

The reason for this is that there is a small subset of the human population that is in control, using its power to serve its own interests. Of course, this is old news - the people's interest has often been overlooked in favor of special interests such as wealth and power. This is a necessary aspect of the system of hierarchical governance that is ubiquitous throughout our planet today and throughout the course of our history.

Whether a leader assumes power through a violent coup or is voted in democratically, the outcome is similar: once people are in power, they are subject to being overcome by greed and special interests, and public opinion goes out the window. In the case of a democracy, our leaders serve us only insofar as to get re-elected. This is a form of manipulation, not cooperation, not leadership, not servitude. These politicians cannot be blamed, because the problem is at the root of our system - the individuals in power are merely placeholders in a program fraught with error.

Electing a leader or even a party is an extremely low-resolution image of public opinion, both temporally and spatially. I'll use Canada as an example for the rest of this, as it is the country I live in - but I believe that my points will hold universally.

In Canada, we vote for a party in the national elections once every 4 years given a majority government (with a minority government it may be less than that). That is a snapshot, if you will, of public opinion, that only occurs once every 4 years. Imagine watching a video that was composed of stills taken once every 4 years. Perhaps this would be useful for documenting glaciers receding, but surely Canadian public opinion evolves more quickly than that!

Now consider these snapshots of the glacier to be of extremely low fidelity, and you start to get an idea of how Canada (and the rest of the world) is governed. The issues discussed in the months leading up to an election are the issues that the political industry wants to discuss. They are safe issues, easy to understand issues. Issues that are easy to take a side on, and most are discussed with emotionally loaded rhetoric that is engineered to drive the population to take strong, emotionally-based stances on issues. There are also issues that come up during the 4 year period of a party's power. These issues never see the influence of public opinion, unless it is clear that it could influence the next election. The image I hope to describe here is one of an extremely low-resolution representation of the people. Mind you, this is a dramatically simplified overview of Canadian politics, but even if one considers the roles of the various levels of government the same applies.

Our system discourages politicians from being honest. It is not in their interest to be honest about their opinions - they must instead carefully craft them in order to ensure popular vote in the next election. This cripples the chance of any real dialogue between politicians, and turns politics into a popularity contest for power. Again, these people cannot be blamed for this dishonesty - they are playing by the rules (for the most part). The rules are imbalanced and broken.

Once in power, politicians are often indebted to their financial benefactors - the ones who made it possible for them to win the popularity contest through expensive campaigns, which amount to social engineering and quasi-propaganda. Another nail in the coffin of the now comical ideal: "A government of the people, for the people and by the people."

These are the reasons for the staggering disconnect I mentioned above. This system is outdated, conducive to corruption, and every day proves its own inadequacy in a new way. There is a logical method of proof, called reductio ad absurdum, which is Latin for, roughly, "reduce to the absurd". What it amounts to is suggesting a proposition, and following its logical implications until you reach a contradiction. You can then conclude that your suggested proposition is false. This is the point that we have come to with our democracy. We have followed our current system's logical progression, and have now entered the realm of the truly absurd.

How then, do we move on from here? Until recent years, I believe the current system was really our only way - the best we had. Today, we have technologies that can facilitate a new form of government. What I present here today is a rough sketch of a new form of self-governance. One which is non-hierarchical, self organizing, dynamic and truly democratic.

The crux is that for any decision that needs to be made, the entire population is encouraged to contribute to discussion, and ultimately to vote. What makes this system truly organic is that absolutely every aspect of it is open to change, if that is what the people decide. This is a crucial point. No civilization or mode of governance has survived indefinitely, and often they fall through violent revolution. This system removes the necessity of revolution, because built into the system itself is the ability to change its very foundations. I've heard it said that people today find it easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. Why should any ideology be so rigid that we cannot imagine its end? Clinging to ideas is a source of suffering. It is only by being completely open - considering nothing to be axiomatic - that we can be truly free as individuals and as a society.

I'll begin by describing the voting process, which is likely simpler to implement than the discussion aspect. Rather than voting for a leader who then makes decisions, in this system every person would vote on every decision that the leader would have had to make. Of course, not everybody would want to vote on every issue. Personally, I would probably not participate on decisions regarding the Newfoundland elementary school board. If I cared to, though, I could, and my opinion would matter. The idea here is that people would only vote on issues that concern them in some way. This would result in the votes being in general more informed. If I were forced to vote on the Newfoundland school situation (and every other decision), I would likely vote at random on the votes that didn't concern me, just to get it over with. Switzerland employs a system of (limited) direct democracy that has some similarities with what I describe here.

The discussion aspect of this system is central to the system producing informed, mindful decisions, and is what makes this system, to my knowledge, unique. This would take the form of an online forum and/or wiki, where people could discuss upcoming decisions, what their opinions are and why. Individuals could gain credibility within certain domains of discourse, resulting in their posts having more weight, or possibly their vote having more weight. One possibility is that this form of discourse could render actual voting unnecessary. If a consensus can be reached through discussion, there is no need to vote, and everyone is happy. Of course, comprehensive guidelines would need to be in place to ensure that the discussion doesn't denigrate to emotional mud-slinging and name-calling. More on that topic in a later post.

This level of dialogue has been impossible before such enabling technologies as personal computing and the internet. With today's myriad gadgets in our pockets and on our laps, people are always connected. Social media websites such as Blogger, Twitter and Facebook have shown that people have a strong desire to share their opinions. Intelligent conversations occur online constantly, concerning issues that affect millions of people worldwide. You would never guess it if you turned on a television - that level of discourse is not represented through mass media, because it is impossible to control. The system I propose would make those views heard and allow them to truly influence the trajectory of societies on a municipal, national, and global scale.

As I said, this is a rough sketch of what this system could possibly look like - and it is intentionally vague. Because I am only one person, my conception of this system is probably incomplete and full of holes. The beauty of this system is that an early version could be used to determine its own details. In the form of a wiki, online forum or both, the system would self-organize into something that everyone could get behind. So, all that is necessary is for the seed to be planted, and with some luck and global participation it could grow into a democratic system of governance that is truly of, for and by the people. As far as I can tell, this is the best way to get the highest fidelity image of the public's opinion (short of reading our minds in real-time), resulting in a world that truly reflects the interests of its inhabitants.

Of course, even with a completely horizontal form of government there will be individuals who seek to steer policy in their favor, possibly ignoring the well-being of others. The public discourse, however, would bring these arguments to light. At the end of the day, decisions would be based solely upon reason; any emotionally, selfishly, irrationally, or spitefully conceived propositions would be seen and dismissed as such, hopefully enlightening their proponents in the process. It is in this way that people who seek personal gain over mutual benefit would have no power. In today's society, this self-serving behavior is revered and rewarded.

In fleshing out this idea, I've thought of some potential issues regarding implementation. If anybody has any others, I would love to discuss!

Voting fraud: I've though a lot about how to ensure that every person has a singular presence within this system, and the conclusion that I've come to is that some sort of online ID would be necessary - but one that retains anonymity while being unique. The issue of a global online ID that is directly linked to your person is frightening to some, and with good reason. Perhaps a later post I will discuss the risks, benefits and implications of such a thing.

Accessibility: In discussing this system with others, many have mentioned that not everyone has access to the internet. Sure, not everyone has access at home, and not everyone can even get to a public library. To ensure that everyone is able to participate, some funding would need to go to providing much more accessible internet - perhaps even treating internet access as a basic human right, which has been done by the UN, but (as many things with the UN go) little action has been taken to reflect this declaration.

It is important to note that our current system is not perfect with regards to voting fraud and accessibility. In fact, corrupt leaders have put effort into preventing people from voting, and dead people have even voted in some elections.

Final thoughts:

In my previous post, I discussed the ever-increasing complexity of energy - the tendency for energy to form patterns of patterns of patterns. If a system like this were to be implemented on a global scale, the human race (perhaps even the planet) could begin to take the form of one immensely complex organism, all of its parts functioning in harmony. Here, people start to look strikingly like neurons in a global brain, perhaps signalling the next leap in the evolution of organization. It has been speculated that artificial intelligence will not be realized within the realm of computing but will instead take the form of a global mind. The global adoption of this system, or one like it, could certainly lead us in that direction.

If one considers the human brain, the analogy is strikingly appropriate. Huge numbers of cells, each its own organism, but working together to create something larger than themselves. The cells all have their own unique perspective, and it is not uncommon for a person's mind to be filled with contradiction or mixed feelings. However, the macro-scale trajectory of the person is singular. Likewise, us humans may have different ideas, perspectives, and desires, but the days of isolated countries and colonies are over. The time has come to identify as a planet - the distance between us shrinks every day as our population grows and our communication becomes more sophisticated. We must act accordingly - as a whole, made up of billions of unique parts. The system I propose is the central nervous system of this being - the neural framework necessary to facilitate such unity.

Achieving such global unity signals the end of the zero-sum game, and the beginning of a world which is more like a dance among brethren than a battle between enemies. In dancing, there is only the joy of being, both as an individual and as part of the dance, the music - part of something greater than one's self.

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  1. Very nice post! It ties in a bit to the thinking I have been doing on pure communism as of late. Mine has been more focused on justice though and directly community based but I feel this is a similar process. It would work where the community would try the person who committed the crime. It would be up to the people who know this person to come forward and state either their negative or positive influence on the community. Not left in the hands of a small group of random people with no connection to the persons who's livelihood is at stake. I think that would be the main tie in to your idea. Our current government, like most in the world, is a small group of people that hardly represent the view of the masses. My main worry though is people’s apathy. Not enough people wanting to worry about what is going on and therefore the decisions falling into the hands of people with ulterior motives (which, sadly, is what we are basically facing right now). I read a Huxley quote a few days ago that has been resonating in my head ever since: 'Most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution'. This saddens me because it is so true. The conditioning and oppression is all around us and rampant as hell. I hope that giving people more power would inspire them to use it but who knows? I would definitely be willing to try.
    I like the idea of discussions being on forums - accessibility is key. It's about making it as easy as possible for those who could care less. I've also been reflecting a lot on what makes me desire change in order to understand how to inspire others who don't realize that they are getting screwed. But it's different for everyone, as with everything. I'm really not sure how to convince people to stand up for themselves especially given the fact that daily I witness people who have more than enough intelligence to understand what's going on around them and don't. Also, those who DO understand what's going on around them and don't do shit. But I'm not willing to give up trying to find that perfect method to inspire passionate resistance. I think that would be the next step in implementing this system. Making it so people understand that their rights are being violated and that it is within their power to change it. Only then will they be willing to try an alternative system. They need to care that the current one doesn’t work. So that’s what I think it comes down to is how do we inspire outrage, passion and action? I have been meaning to research the timelines and methods of past resistance movements. Mainly monumental cultural change in general especially focusing on civil rights like racism, sexism etc. to see how they played out. What worked and what didn’t. How were those changes made? It keeps coming up and seems the universe is begging me to do it haha

    1. Thanks for the thoughts Kayla! Regarding apathy, you're totally right - it is the biggest problem any society can face. I think there are a number of factors at play. In particular, feeling like you have no power, and being comfortable are two big ones. When people feel powerless, it is easy to slip into apathy because, well, what can you do? Also, when people are comfortable in their misery they are not likely to act. Who cares if your world is unjust, when you can go home and watch some quality television and forget about your troubles? Sort of an opiate like effect.

      I think the powers that be are very aware of both of these factors, and do what they can to keep people feeling powerless, and distracting them from the very real problems that surround them.

      In regards to your ideas about the justice system: if a system such as the one I propose is implemented, ideas such as yours would actually be heard and enter the national discourse in a very real way. Right now that would simply never happen, because it is just not in line with the corporate interest which has our political system by the balls:p

      The unprecedented connectivity brought on by modern technologies are stirring the winds of change, though. This is removing the rampant apathy in our society, and at an ever-increasing rate. Hell, a year or two ago my political consciousness was non-existent - I was steeped in a jaded sense of helplessness, which changed rapidly due to the Arab Spring and Occupy movements. I feel like a lot of people have had similarly transformative experiences with the recent wave of revolutionary activism. Super exciting stuff:)

      Again, thanks for your comment:)