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Fractal Democracy
Rohit Gupta, 16 Oct 04

fractal.jpgI was writing a draft when I noticed that people are already talking about Fractal Democracy - "small numbers of people, let's say somewhere around 7 form the base cell of the organisation. Out of these, the group agrees on who represents their group will the best, and these selected persons form together with others who are selected to form the same kind of grouping, and these people then select one out of their group which goes up to the next level, where the same thing happens again. This method of distributing the will of the people is guaranteed to be totally representative, because it is the collective decision which ultimately feeds up to the top level, which irons out all the kinks."

However, the above vision is not very different from democracy as it exists today. It is known that hierarchical systems of information flow lead to huge losses, and this is what prevents the will of the people from actually becoming manifest in policy-making.

I have always been suspicious of the election of certain people, as opposed to 'election of certain ideas'. I'm thinking of a group of people putting up a policy decision and then raising support for that - a hierarchy of ideas instead of people.

People must vote everyday over issues and solutions, instead of every five years for one undependable individual whose moods, whims and vicissitudes define five years of policy and action.

Even the hierarchy in fractal patterns is quite complex. Kenny Ausubel has been talking about an Age Of Biology - "For all the chatter about the Age of Information, we really seem to be entering the Age of Biology. We didn't invent nature. Nature invented us. Nature bats last, as the saying goes and, more importantly, it's her playing field."

Douglas Rushkoff has written about Open Source Democracy where decisions make themselves through the conversations of people. This is a very interesting read, and I've respected Rushkoff since The Merchants Of Cool & Club Zero-G.

"The very survival of democracy as functional reality may be dependent upon our acceptance, as individuals, of conceiving and stewarding the shape and direction of society. And we may get our best rehearsals for these roles online. "

La Democrazia Frattale is a curious approach in that it tries to grow the fractal, top-down, after an election of the head of state. This sounds fascist to me, but anyway. A different approach is suggested by Daniel Lomax in Beyond Politics where "we will not take any action as a group, will not make any fixed decision, except by a supermajority of support among its members; even then we will understand that the existence of substantial minority opposition is often a sign that the best course of action has not yet been found, and we will seek, to the extent possible, full consensus. Where we cannot find substantial consensus, we may take no action, or caucuses may form to represent and act upon ideas or proposals not enjoying consensus."

Tom Atlee gives us a rough idea of how it might work in "Wisdom, Democracy, and the Core Commons":

a) Officially convene a group whose diversity is a fair sample of the larger population concerned. Their typical diversity provides the challenges they need to expand their individual perspectives to embrace the bigger picture held and/or needed by the whole community.

b) Ensure they have high-quality information and high quality conversation in which everyone feels heard, all contributions can find their proper place, and group creativity is engaged. This ensures their diversity does, in fact, produce more light than heat -- generating more useful wisdom than anyone could generate by themselves. (This usually involves a deepening process I'll say more about shortly.)

c) Hardwire their dialogue and their findings into broader public dialogue and official political/governmental processes. If the process is set up so that the broad public takes notice, they'll talk about the results. The public will come to expect politicians and officials to pay attention to what "The People" have to say. If it is plugged into official decision-making processes, all the better.

Atlee also reminds us of this old adage:

Democracy is an infinitely including spirit. We have an instinct
for democracy because we have an instinct for wholeness...
Democracy is the self-creating process of life... projecting itself
into the visible world... so that its essential oneness will declare
itself. - Mary Parker Follett, The New State (1918)

Also, worth checking out are Future Salon, CivicSpace and
this.

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Comments

a) Officially convene a group whose diversity is a fair sample of the larger population concerned. Their typical diversity provides the challenges they need to expand their individual perspectives to embrace the bigger picture held and/or needed by the whole community.

Is this different from electing representatives?

b) Ensure they have high-quality information and high quality conversation in which everyone feels heard, all contributions can find their proper place, and group creativity is engaged. This ensures their diversity does, in fact, produce more light than heat -- generating more useful wisdom than anyone could generate by themselves. (This usually involves a deepening process I'll say more about shortly.)

Is this different from a healthy media? Maybe more like the Oregon Voter Guide? I'm a really big fan of Oregon's voter education process, but I wonder how it would scale to a larger audience.

c) Hardwire their dialogue and their findings into broader public dialogue and official political/governmental processes. If the process is set up so that the broad public takes notice, they'll talk about the results. The public will come to expect politicians and officials to pay attention to what "The People" have to say. If it is plugged into official decision-making processes, all the better.

What would a practical example of this be?

I like the idea of "voting for ideas, not people". This seems like a movement towards a "pure democracy" (from a "representative democracy"), which I'd really like to see. I'm angry that something as important as the USA PATRIOT act (and other orwellian named legislation) was left up to elected representatives, when it should've been up for popular vote.


Posted by: Rudy Garbanzo on 17 Oct 04

Rudy,

Same here. I was trying to present all the different viewpoints, but my personal opinion is that ideas should be free of people-cracy.

There are some interesting down-sides to this, because Nature, left to itself, can do a lot of strange stuff - the ichneumon wasp, mass extinction events, and freedom fries.

What I'm interested in is whether human nature is capable of doing something that breaks the chaos and supercedes it. Probably a futile exercise, but what the hell else am I supposed to do with this life that I've been given? *heh*


Posted by: Rohit Gupta on 17 Oct 04

heh.

"Human Nature" is a variable, not a constant.

Kerala, you know? Incredible literacy, social welfare indicators on three hundred bucks a year... how does that happen?

Joi Ito, a japanese / american venture capitalist, has a bunch of stuff about "Emergent Democracy" on his wiki which you might find interesting.

http://joi.ito.com/joiwiki/

You can find me stereotypical harshing of their mellow here:

http://joi.ito.com/joiwiki/InternetFeudalism


Posted by: Vinay on 17 Oct 04

Emergent Democracy was one inspiration for Extreme Democracy, the book Mitch Ratcliffe and I edited. Most of the original chapters are online (a post-election version will be published as hardcopy, probably in late spring). My edit of "Emergent Democracy" is the first chapter.

"Fractal democracy" is another way of expressing the same thinking.

We can't get away from representative democracy because "direct democracy" doesn't scale. However we can have both, oin the sense that people can form ah hoc coalitions and initiatives and organize to participate more in the political process and influence legislators and the policy they write.

Neither the emergent democracy concept nor fractal democracy gives much thought to the crucial question of process for making decisions and establishing policy. When you have many more voices in the process, it will be even more difficult and complex to make things actually happen.


Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 17 Oct 04

I agree that extreme and fractal democracy are expressions of a similar line of thinking.

The basic unit of organization in an extreme democracy is the activist, a citizen engaged with an issue of concern about which they are willing to invest their time and effort to evolve relevant policy, whether at the local, state, national or international level.

The difficulties of decision-making usually have to do with trust issues, obfuscation of agenda, and yes - variation in human nature. Which is why, perhaps, people should NOT be making decisions, and in their place - systems should be established for making decisions.

In an extreme democracy, decisions themselves should be 'emergent', do you think? Could these decisions emerge naturally from something like a pattern language?

Activism itself should be reduced to a non-linear dynamical process, whose resultant decisions are uncertain but will somehow optimise common good.

Of course, these are just dreams.


Posted by: Rohit Gupta on 17 Oct 04

Rohit, decision-making is a problem of scale, too, and of information. It's difficult to make timely decisions if you have to poll millions of people for each one, and you're less likely to get an informed decision because it's difficult to ensure that all the people have all of the relevant facts for an accurate evaluation. This is tough even for the smaller group of representatives that we have now (and they rely on information from those who have their ear, hence the recommendation that we look for greater participation, input, and influence).

Decisions don't really just emerge - many ideas emerge, how do you select the right one?


Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 17 Oct 04

This seems to me very much of a fabric with Extreme Democracy, which I like quite a bit.

But it seems to me that many hacks of the political system miss an essential fact: that politics is only partically -- and probably not the largest part -- about rational decision-making.

Politics is also about passion, about identity, about fear of the other and longing for belonging, about greed and honor and lust for glory, about restraining the evil and power-mad and protecting the just and niave, about faction and the tyranny of the many, etc. etc. At its worst, as Zappa reminded us, politics is like high school, with more money and guns.

To fail to apprehend all this is to fail to reform anything, I think.

I'm still looking for the democracy hack that'd convince Machiavelli that it could work.


Posted by: Alex Steffen on 17 Oct 04

The problem with democracy is how the story gets told. If I weren't a wonk, and I listened only to political ads, I wouldn't know anything at all about anything. I'd only have two competing narratives about the direction the two candidates would take us.

I think it's worth pointing out that, in the US, the Republicans have built a wide-ranging and well-funded infrastructure of narrative management. They keep their power by stacking the story to their own benefit. Not to be partisan here, just to point out that even if you adopt this fractal form of consensus-reaching, you're still prey for the Stronger Narrative Monster. This 'elect ideas rather than people' meme is a nice one, but that's already what everyone in the US thinks is happening, even as the opportunistic politicians rob them blind.

Regardless of the form democracy takes, the narrative about the process, and the way that narrative is perpetuated, are more important than the structural form. Here's an example:

"small numbers of people, let's say somewhere around 7 form the base cell of the organisation. Out of these, the group agrees on who represents their group will the best, and these selected persons form together with others who are selected to form the same kind of grouping, and these people then select one out of their group which goes up to the next level, where the same thing happens again."

You mean like Al Qaeda?

...end example.


Posted by: Enoch Root on 17 Oct 04

But it seems to me that many hacks of the political system miss an essential fact: that politics is only partically -- and probably not the largest part -- about rational decision-making.

I should mention that the original working name for Extreme Democracy was Democracy Hacks.

Well, politics is all about who governs, and governance is about direction, control, and, ultimately, decision. So I don't think we can dismiss the relevance of decision-making.

Theoretically, in a democracy those governed make decisions about their governance. We have representative democracy in the U.S., where we elect representatives who are charged with studying issues and making decisions based on their best understanding. We also have a hierarchy of levels of governance so that local decisions tend to be made locally, which is good. The relationship between local, state, and federal governance structures is not well-understood - states partner with the federal govt and they have significant power of their own, and states rather than people elect presidents.

If you really want to get into this stuff, it's important to analyze what we have now and determine the extent to which it does work, and to think about the real meaning of democracy, and how it can result in tyranny of the majority. If you balkanize and form many small, modular groups, it's tough to pull them all together to make coherent decisions or leverage economies of scale. So we should be practical about what we advocate - there are more requirements than we often consider, including the need to make quick decisions about some things and informed decisions about many things, the need to scale, the need to protect minorities, etc.

The structure the U.S. has, which has been replicated to some extent by other democracies, was carefully considered up front, and it could still work pretty well. In my opinion, the system is screwed as a result of broadcast media where information channels are controlled by relatively few people.

The founding fathers came up with one kind of system, one that balances democracy with minority rights and a need govern efficiently. Another set of founders created the Internet based on principles that are fairly anarchic, i.e. without an established top-down hierarchy, and without a single set of established leaders (which is not to say that there's no emergent leadership). Internet communications can flow many to many – interactively and in many directions, with ownership distributed broadly, so that you don't have the hierarchical structures and information constraints associated with broadcast media. The Internet, in fact, is not a medium, but an environment in which many media can occur, and where everyone can have access to the means of production &nash; each blog a little printing press publishing diverse perspectives on news and politics. But with more voices there's more complexity, and the actual process of getting to a decision is more difficult. However, the requirement is still there.


Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 17 Oct 04

This post touches on some of the problems democracy is currently facing, and I share the general dissatisfaction with representatives that seems prevalent. The truth is that the dominant form of democracy is badly broken - in a world where changes can be seen everywhere almost insantaneously, but no-one can make any decisions about them except people from a particular isolated background, cynicism and powerlessness are bound to be widespread. This is the most vital aspect of the 'worldchange' that is going on just now - without systems that respond to, and encourage, the best in everyone we are still going to be stuck in the same old hole when we all fall off the edge of the world. However, what always seems to get lost in discussions of this type, is any kind of principles. I have seen much noise about government based upon behaviour and psychology, recently, but these types of comments completely ignore the structure of principles that has to underlie a political system. Without philosophers musings on the form a democracy should take, the current (primarily American) form would never have been able to get off the ground. I think I have an answer, and it lies in tying together politics and education - encouraging people to understand a situation before they are given the power to change it. I hope to have a website up in the next couple of months and I will tell you worldchangers when it happens!!!


Posted by: Daniel Johnston on 17 Oct 04

Some of the chaos comes from a crucial new factor: the interplay between more levels, and more interdependent systems.

Consider the original blueprint for the US Govt. - Federal Government, State Governments, County Government, (optionally) City Government. Four levels. Each with relatively clear spheres of influence.

Now?

United Nations, WTO etc. all at the top tier, overlapping. Federal governmance which reaches right down into and past State, City and County law in all kinds of trivial matters, etc. It's become a tangled hierarchy of at least ten levels, more like fifteen if you're willing to count Condo Associations and the like.

Just an observation. I have no clue, whatsoever, what to do with that observation.


Posted by: Vinay on 17 Oct 04

In addition to all the good points mentioned, a government must balance the ability to change based on new data or developements (something a fractal organization does not do well, because change must trickle up from the bottom) with the ability to be a "capacitor" of sorts, and smooth out the bumps, which should (theoretically, at least) allow reason to outvoice high tempers when a country is attacked, or when an economy turns for the worst. This dilema is probably the central issue of democratic government, so I definitely don't know how to fix it :) But it's worth keeping in the discussion.


Posted by: Dominic Muren on 17 Oct 04

At the current level of complexity, and the flux of information which exists today, not to mention conflicts of identity, I doubt if it's possible to design a viable political system.

My hope is that the system already exists, or that it will emerge in a more tactile manner through the interactions across the Internet.

Narratives are important, in that they shift the dynamic equilibrium in a certain direction. And this is where LiveText is important. Personal narratives (for instance, blogs) break down the propoganda, question it, and re-form it.

History is the litmus and context for any new narrative, and if that context is independant, and available as a collective memory on something like the Wikipedia, it might be a great social tool, a leveler.

In Vetman's essay that I wrote about earlier , I noticed a reflection of this:

"A deeper implication of this revolution is a new kind of digital bridge whereby even illiterate persons can be included within the knowledge loop of collective memory institutions."

This is such an intriguing, even if grand claim to make for Wikipedia. What is the stochastic process behind the creation of a Wikipedia?

Is it possible that a similar process can be responsible for the emergence of something that resembles a living constitution?



Posted by: Rohit Gupta on 17 Oct 04

What is "LiveText"?


Posted by: AG on 17 Oct 04


LiveText:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LiveText

How Cool! I created that Wiki entry right before I posted this comment.


Posted by: Rohit Gupta on 17 Oct 04

Reality check...

Here's a narrative about the kind of democracy you all are talking about as a revolution fueled by the scalable printing press that the internet represents: Consequences, over on Orcinus.

There's plenty of good to be wrung out of this 'revolution,' but it's no more or less than the good that can be wrung out of any *other* media 'revolution.'

Even as high-minded 'blogs like WorldChanging elevate the discussion, the technology of 'blogs gives kookery and subterfuge a new access to the echo-chamber of public sentiment.


Posted by: Paul on 17 Oct 04

Reality Check II:

a) None of the participants of this discussion have used the world 'revolution' so far. It appears only once in an italicised quote by Kim Vetman.

But there's an important caveat to all that: If bloggers want to act as journalists, they need to conform to basic journalistic standards. Or they will, in the end, pay for it.

b) Blogging is not journalism, it's 'word-of-mouth' - probably the oldest language-media known to man. So why should it conform to journalistic standards? What standards did smoke-signals follow except thermodynamics?

c) Almost all traditional journalism, especially the NYT, are now owner-driven. The success of blogging has not come in the absence of traditional journalism's failure to respond to the need for bare truth.

d) The source you used to cite your point is also a blog. Wassup?


Posted by: Rohit Gupta on 17 Oct 04

Daniel Johnston:

I share the general dissatisfaction with representatives that seems prevalent. The truth is that the dominant form of democracy is badly broken - in a world where changes can be seen everywhere almost insantaneously, but no-one can make any decisions about them except people from a particular isolated background, cynicism and powerlessness are bound to be widespread.

If the 'dominant form of democracy' that you refer to is representative democracy, it is broken in the sense that the connection between representatives and those represented is lost, and I don't think the responsibility for repair rests on the shoulders of the representatives. The rest of us can fix the problem through civic engagement and commitment to the process. One thing I've learned is that reprsentatives open their doors to citizens – but you have to find the right doors, hard to do if you aren't engaged in the process of governance. Your people from a particular isolated background are isolated only in the sense that we allow them to be isolated. Those think their only role in a democracy is to vote, then go away – or to complain among your friends, but outside the process and with no action other than verbalization – those people, and they are most of us, will have to change in order to have input to governance.

(We also have to accept that we won't always get what we want – if we think that the concept democracy gives everyone an opportunity for involvement in the process of governance, we also have to be practical and understand that where contituents disagree on multiple conflicting paths, a decision to take one path will exclude others.)

I think I have an answer, and it lies in tying together politics and education - encouraging people to understand a situation before they are given the power to change it.

Definitely: it's inherent that citizens must be informed to have input into the decision-making process. (If systems for education and for dissemination of information (news) break down, tyrants can argue that only they have the information/understanding to make informed decisions.)

Rohit:

At the current level of complexity, and the flux of information which exists today, not to mention conflicts of identity, I doubt if it's possible to design a viable political system.

And my argument is that we don't need to design a new system. We need to make the current system work.

My hope is that the system already exists, or that it will emerge in a more tactile manner through the interactions across the Internet.

Similar to what I'm saying: we have the basic structure, the basic tools; we just need to get better at using them. I see that as the political aspect of WorldChanging – Stewart Brand et al. used to talk about access to tools and ideas – but access is just one step; effective use is crucial.

Narratives are important, in that they shift the dynamic equilibrium in a certain direction. And this is where LiveText is important. Personal narratives (for instance, blogs) break down the propoganda, question it, and re-form it.

Excellent point!


Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 18 Oct 04

What about including the places we live in decisions?! Does this go toward the qualities of lives we desire? What about putting possible actions thru the waterfall of testing questions including the demands of the mineral cycle, sun cycle, water cycle and the community cycle, including other species? Some of you must know how to handle a bicycle even a unicycle. What about this polycycle? Ideas have huge lives that bump and grind thru time. All must be considered, few literalised and those that are have a life/death/life cycle too. There is room for the fox, the lion and the women of Keralla all. Frameworks for decision making, like Savory's

http://www.holisticmanagement.org/ahm_model2.cfm?

are lots of fun and are guaranteed to take us into areas we would not consider from an ideological, heroic stance.


Posted by: Kim McDodge on 18 Oct 04

Posted at the suggestion of Rohit Gupta.

Free Associations, an introduction.
see www.beyondpolitics.org for an early draft explaining the concept. much more work has been done but is not yet documented.

A Free Association, as I'm using the term, is an organization meeting certain criteria, described below. The technology of free associations is not new in its parts, but I've never seen the combination put into practice anywhere.

(1) A Free Association has a membership definition. That might be "human being," but ordinarily any organization will have some more restrictive standard. For example, "voter registered in the town of Anywhere, U.S.A." Or "Owns a Ford automobile." In addition, to be treated as a member, the member must be registered with the organization. With some organizations, there might be a requirement that the membership be validated, to prevent duplication and fraud. Fee for membership, if any, would ordinarily be limited to a minimum necessary. The organization does not fund its activities, beyond minimum connectivity expenses, out of membership fees. In other words, if it costs the organization $10 per year to provide a member access, the fee might be $10 per year.

(2) Any member may vote on any question before the organization; if possible, means are provided for members to do this remotely, though a free association might possibly require physical attendance at a meeting in order to directly vote.

(3) In addition to the privilege of voting directly, members may designate a proxy to act on their behalf, for the purposes of discussion and vote. If a member does not vote on an issue, and the proxy does vote, the proxy's vote automatically adds to itself the member's vote. (Ordinarily, proxies would not cast votes per member instructions; for simplicity, proxies vote once, for themselves and for all those they represent. If a member wishes to vote contrary to the expected vote of the proxy, the member may vote directly.) Proxies are therefore free to consider discussion and debate at a meeting, and to change their opinions based on new information or considerations, before deciding how to vote.

(4) When a member directly gives voting rights to a proxy, this is called a "direct proxy." There is a limit on the number of direct proxies which may be exercised by any person. That limit depends on the nature of the organization; what is essential is that a proxy not directly represent so many members that the members cannot readily communicate with the proxy. In an active organization where substantial ground-level member participation and strong opinion is expected, a limit might be, for example, twenty.

(5) For this reason, proxies must be accepted. If a proxy has reached the limit of directly proxies represented, the proxy may recommend to a member, seeking to give proxy, another trusted person to serve. Alternatively, the proxy may accept the proxy, but it does not increase voting power; the member would be notified of this event and encouraged to watch and consider whether or not he or she was receiving good service from the proxy. I.e., is correspondence answered? Are phone calls returned?

(6) However, when a proxy himself or herself chooses a second member to be his or her proxy, that giving of proxy carries with it the assignment of proxy by all persons represented by the first proxy. So there is no limit to the number of persons who might be indirectly represented by a single individual. However, because of the limit on direct proxies, there is a communication channel between any individual member and high-level proxies, forged from small-scale links between persons who trust each other.

(7) The organization does not gather substantial resources except as minimally necessary. Where possible, it would leave resources in the hands of individual members, to be expended as recommended. So an organization, rather than gathering funds for political purpose, for example, could recommend to the members that they individually contribute to a cause as decided. In this way the organization does not spend member funds contrary to the permission of members. Members *may* authorize a proxy to spend funds on their behalf, however. But when an organization gathers substantial power (i.e., money or fixed organization), it becomes a target for takeover, and is at risk for infighting and struggles over control. The power of a free association is its power to develop and express consensus.

(8) Any meeting (defined as some means whereby members may communicate with each other; it could be face-to-face, or it could be a mailing list) may set a minimum number of proxies which must be held in order for a member to take any action which will require the attention of the meeting, i.e., present a motion or address the meeting. Base-level meetings would not ordinarily have such a limit; individual proxies might have, for example, a mailing list by which they communicate with their direct proxy-givers, all of whom could participate in the list fully. However, as meetings begin to represent large numbers of people, for all to have equal access would result in the basic problem common to all our experience with direct democracy: endless meetings. Note that members who feel excluded by this are free to form meetings with those who are like-minded, and to assign proxies accordingly should they so wish. Meetings are formed from the ground up; the top level may act to facilitate formation of ground-level meetings, but would have no control over them except the basic control represented by membership registration and validation, plus the registration and validation of proxies.

(9) Members may change their proxy assignment at any time, limited only by practical considerations. For example, it might not be accepted that a proxy assignment change become effective during the actual taking of a vote; however, the member may choose to vote directly during such a time, thus effectively revoking the proxy for the purpose of that vote.

There are other characteristics that would fall naturally into place, I expect, from the practices described. For example, a free association can easily fission if there is a major dividing issue. However, if it does fission, channels remain for continued cooperation where consensus can be found.

A Free Association, as described above, combines direct democracy with representative democracy, hopefully preserving the best aspects of both, while avoiding the hazards of both. (A major hazard of representative democracy, where elections for representative are held, is that the minority may be effectively unrepresented. This hazard is implicit in elections themselves, instant run-off voting will not fix it, though it would at least make it more difficult for a *majority* to remain unrepresented, as presently happens in the U.S. in elections where a plurality is sufficient to win.)

The essence of a free association is *communication,* not *control.* However, good communication is essential to intelligent control. If, for example, all the voters in the United States could communicate with each other through a free association -- or even only a substantial number -- the political scene would be *very* different. The *people* have much more power than any special interest group, practically by definition, but the people are not organized and special interest groups are. So the power of the people is wasted, subject to manipulation by special interests, whether special interests of the right or of the left. A huge fuss is made over a few hundred million dollars being spent, for example, on a U.S. presidential election, but a billion dollars is only a few dollars for every person in the U.S. Pocket change, literally.

If free associations function as I'd expect, they would not be burdensome to join, nor would participation in them be expensive in time or money. Thus my plan for changing the world: study and promote the social technology, apply it whenever and wherever it seems appropriate, test it and make it known. If it is a better technology, it will become the norm. This could happen quite quickly, in fact, in some scenarios. The plan is not to attempt to change existing institutions, as such, but rather to overlay them with free associations of interested persons, as the nervous system overlaid the older chemical messaging systems of early multicellular organisms. Chemical messaging was not abandoned; rather it became susceptible to direction by some level of intelligent collection and analysis of information.

What could you do? First, try to understand how a free association could work. Look for applications. Send your email address to list@beyondpolitics.org, as a minimum; you won't be spammed as a result! Rather, if you have sent your address there, you'll be notified if the active members decide there is something worth publicizing. And if you have the time, become an active member, participate in refining the concept and promoting it. To become an active member, write me personally, daniel@beyondpolitics.org.

Beyond Politics, dedicated to exploring and developing the concept of free associations, is itself a free association; because it is still *very* small, a formal structure has not been created, but it will as it becomes relevant.

Daniel Lomax
daniel@beyondpolitics.org


Posted by: Daniel Lomax on 19 Oct 04

Dear readers of WorldChanging,

This, is in fact, incredibly retrograde talk. Imagine if, instead of electing the President, we elected our own State Senators and Representatives, who would then vote, on our behalf, for President.

That's right, fractal democracy _adds_a_layer_ between the governed and the governors.

Would it really matter that one would have a 1/7th say in one's direct representative?

However, I shan't say you are entirely on the wrong track, either.

To understand, to a broad degree, variations in models of governance, I must insist that one reads Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws.

To say Locke influenced the American Constitution is basically a fraud. It was Montesquieu. Have you seen Locke's Constitutions, the ones he wrote, for example, for South Carolina? Royalist rubbish.

I'll check out some of your sites, but, well, the comments seem to have missed this vital point.


Posted by: Josh Narins on 19 Oct 04

Oh, and, for my money, Machiavelli was an ignorant boob. The consumate whiny outsider. A failure his whole life.


Posted by: Josh Narins on 19 Oct 04

It was said: "This, is in fact, incredibly retrograde talk. Imagine if, instead of electing the President, we elected our own State Senators and Representatives, who would then vote, on our behalf, for President."

I'll respond. First of all, what is described is what was set up by the founders of the U.S., or, more accurately, it was the state legislatures who designated the electors. It is still true that there is a layer in between the people and the election of a president, and that is the electoral college. In theory, the electoral college elects, not the people. However, because of the election of pledged electors, it has in modern times remained mostly a theory. Historically, however, electors did exercise some independence. And there is a real possibility that some electors will vote against their party candidate in 2004.

However, a major point has been missed. Fractal democracy, as I've outlined in the Beyond Politics vision, does not involve elections at all.

This misconception is common, I encounter it all the time, no matter how much I say that free associations are fully democratic without having any elections. Yes, there might be officers, and you could call them "elected" if you like, but it would be more accurate to call them employees or servants. What is crucial is that *representatives* are not elected, but rather are *selected.* By the people they represent.

Further, the right of decision, i.e., of vote, always remains with the individual members. Proxies only exercise that right on behalf of members who have selected them in the absence of a vote by the member.

I mentioned that this idea has not been implemented in all its details anywhere. Perhaps I should have mentioned that the basic idea of proxy representation has been the default model in corporate governance for centuries. It worked very well; the excesses of modern corporations, in my opinion, can be described as a problem of scale. As corporations grew to a size where the number of shareholders was such that even proxies, if personally chosen, still represented a very small fraction of the membership, and as it became standard practice for corporations to suggest proxy choices to often ignorant shareholders, the direct connection that was likely very common in early corporations was lost. And corporations were organized mostly for profit from the beginning, they were democracies of money, not of people.

And it was added, "That's right, fractal democracy _adds_a_layer_ between the governed and the governors."

This would only be true if fractal democracy were grafted into an electoral system. That is not at all what I propose. Rather, fractal democracy, the politics of free associations, is an organizational technology. It would have applications in many different fields: user associations, tenant associations, consumer organizations, and, yes, political study and action organizations.


Posted by: Daniel Lomax on 19 Oct 04

Years ago, I was part of the anti-nuke Clamshell Alliance which worked through affinity groups and consensus. Interesting experiment. The members of my affinity group are still friends and in contact nearly 30 years later and my memory of one meeting with over 100 people struggling to meet consensus and succeeding is still fresh. What an experience that was! Real brain sweat and very rewarding.

The Clam worked by affinity groups electing members to the local and the local then electing members to the general meeting. It worked as long as it needed to and, I believe, fairly well. Amy Rothstein wrote a consensus handbook. She might still have copies or the text available online.

There's also the concept of the deliberative poll that PBS based some shows on during either the 96 or 2000 election. A "representative" sample of voters get together and are polled on issues of concern. They are then the audience for a series of presentations by differing "experts" and are polled again to see what the differences in opinion are.

There is also a citizens' deliberation panel system that the Danes have used to inform science and technology policy. It is similar to deliberative polling but the citizens involved get to caucus among themselves in small groups, as I recall. I was an observer for an experiment with this process put on by Loka at Tufts in the 90s. The subject was telecom policy when the Internet was beginning to blow up. Somehow I don't think it worked too well but maybe the Danes do it better.


Posted by: gmoke on 19 Oct 04

That's right, fractal democracy _adds_a_layer_ between the governed and the governors.

In a pure fractal democracy, there would be no governors. Or for that matter - a President. The living constitution would be king. That's not retrograde. At its worst, it's a futuristic idea.

It's too early to complicate fractal democracy with details from political networks that exist today.

Human greed and ego is the basic pollutant in any political system, and that is why communism fails easily as a feasible ideology.

It is "Natural Capitalism" that must be the engine that runs a "Fractal Democracy". A "living constitution" with be an emergent phenomenon in such a system.

I think this discussion is out of steam now. Onwards!


Posted by: Rohit Gupta on 20 Oct 04

Daniel, Feel free to e-mail me with the answer if you feel this if off-topic here, but obviously I'm not the only person who didn't catch the gist of what you are saying.

How do seven people "selecting" a representative who goes on to also participte in a higher-level meeting (of selected representatives of sevens) not be an election?

Rohit, I think you are being naive. Someone must execute the laws, correct? The President is the Chief Executor. Athens had a President who only served for a day, and every President could be tried at the end of the day for their crimes. But they still, in that most direct democracy (in principle), had a President.

Do you think we share the meaning of the term Natural Capitalism? Could you please define it for me.


Posted by: Josh Narins on 20 Oct 04

I'll throw in my two cents here to point out that all the systems described here are networks. Networks are at their heart mathematical constructs, and we're just learning their properties & the unifying laws that govern them. What's really needed here is a dedicated, concerted effort to study these laws & properties so we can be sure that we pick the right ones for the right purposes.

It's sort of like where we were with cryptography & computer security ten or fifteen years ago - a lot of enthusiasm but not much real knowledge & expertise. I'm far from an expert in the field myself (I suck at math), but I do have deep experience in the security field & I know how hard it can be to get it right.

- Ideas that sound good may have deep flaws that only become visible under serious, methodical scrutiny & testing.
- What works in one context may be totally inappropriate in another.
- Even the best concepts & algorithms can be undone by a bad implementation.

I've been building a database of technical papers dealing with the subject for several months now, preparing for just such an effort. I'm still working on the right interface for making them available for searching, downloading & discussion (suggestions & offers of assistance are welcome, BTW - contact me directly to keep from cluttering up here), but in the meantime to whet your appetites here's some URLs of what I've got available right now. There's also some papers on some related subjects mixed in, but the math of networks is the main focus. Anyway, enjoy.

Tim

NetTraq Vol 1 Issue 1
NetTraq Vol 1 Issue 2
NetTraq Vol 1 Issue 3
NetTraq Vol 1 Issue 4
NetTraq Vol 1 Issue 5
NetTraq Vol 1 Issue 6
NetTraq Vol 1 Issue 7
NetTraq Vol 1 Issue 8
NetTraq Vol 1 Issue 9
NetTraq Vol 1 Issue 10
NetTraq Vol 1 Issue 11
NetTraq Vol 1 Issue 12


Posted by: Tim Keller on 23 Oct 04

Many of the things said remind me of sociocracy which was developed in the Netherlands by a Quaker who wanted to adapt nonviolent Quaker processes to secular organizations. You can read about it at this site:
http://www.twinoaks.org/clubs/sociocracy/index.html
ted


Posted by: Ted Millich on 28 Oct 04

It was asked, apparently of me:
"obviously I'm not the only person who didn't catch the gist of what you are saying."

Yes, while, to me, the concept of the free association is simple, it, in fact, runs quite contrary to most people's expectations. No elections are involved in representation in a free association.

"How do seven people "selecting" a representative who goes on to also participte in a higher-level meeting (of selected representatives of sevens) not be an election?:

I didn't mention such a thing, though I think someone else may have in this discussion. When I first began working on the concept, about thirty years ago, I had an idea about holding an election for the U.S. President in 10 days, by having ten people meet and select, from among themselves, the person who most represented them. Then that person would go to a meeting at the next level up. Kind of like what was asked. However, elections involve winners and losers. If a representative is elected over the objections of any person nominally represented, that person is not, in fact, represented. Only if the election rules require unanimity could elections be used for full representation in democracy. Fat chance.

No, in a free association, representatives are *chosen*. First of all, a free association is simply a direct democracy with a couple of rules added. The most important one is that, in addition to the right to vote on a question, one has the right to designate a proxy to act in one's absence. That proxy is indeed a representative, but is not elected except by those who directly and voluntarily chose him or her. Thus if you want to call it an election, it is an election by unanimous vote.

There are two other rules: one limits the number of direct proxies which can be exercised by a person (but there is no limit on indirect proxies), and the other simply reflects the idea that any meeting may set its own rules. Certainly this is Roberts Rules of Order! And the rule that would be suggested is that, in order to take the time of the meeting, a member must be holding a certain number of proxies. At a base level meeting this would typically be zero. At a very high level meeting on a world-scale organization, it might be many millions of people.

Essentially, direct democracy has been shown to work quite well in small groups, but it becomes cumbersome in large groups. The technology suggested essentially turns large groups into a fractal structure where any meeting has a limited number of people who can *fully* participate.

I didn't say it, but meetings, except perhaps for the top level, would typically be organized around a proxy, being the collection of people who have given that person their direct proxy.

So, to answer the question, if the "seven" people have all voluntarily chosen a single person to represent them uplevel, you might wish to call it an election, but it is an election with no losers. If you think someone else can represent you better, you simply choose that person! If the "meeting" structure were fixed, i.e., members were assigned to meetings and told to choose a representative, then you'd have a traditional election, with all its problems. And that is what we have, we are assigned to districts or states for the purpose of electing representatives. And this typically leaves most of the people unrepresented. (However, in practice, elected representatives often *do* attempt to serve all the people. If not for that, representative democracy would have quickly broken down. Perhaps it *is* breaking down, it would not be surprising. The current structures are flawed in dangerous ways.)


Posted by: Daniel Lomax on 3 Nov 04



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