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August 12, 2004

Open Thread, August 11, 2004

Here's the place to start discussions about general issues related to the book, the forum or democracy. In the words of P.D. Eastman, "Go, dog, go."

Posted by Mitch Ratcliffe at August 12, 2004 7:08 AM


Started reading with interest! Have read the Preface and Trippi's Foreword. The Preface is quite good I think, I really like the placement of current media (blogs) in the historical line of pamphlet is the 18th century. That is a very good point, especially as our collective memory has become increasingly short-term (a result, my guess, from the lazy role as consumers we let ourselves be herded into through big media. Thinking for oneself requires more than shortterm memory. Consuming only requires memory from the perceived need to the purchase of perceived solution)

The Foreword by Joe Trippi can do with some heavy editing. There is a compelling story there, his anecdotes are great, but it is obscured still in a too rambling format. It reads as an off the cuff blogrant, which is fine in itself, but not if it is to be used in a collection of chapters.

Hope to see this carried foreward to fruition



Posted by: Ton Zijlstra at August 12, 2004 12:55 PM

Thanks for the feedback, Ton!

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky at August 12, 2004 11:11 PM

This looks great - looking forward to reading as uch as I can over the weekend...

Posted by: Robin Grant at August 13, 2004 10:44 AM

I just begin to read and hypertextually I read the Preface and the third chapter about Weblogs.
I want to place here a doubt: I think, when you are talking about systems and laws, you are starting in a wrong point. You are not considering that systems are inside systems and we lived now under a big system called Capitalism, that imposes it laws to other systems. And this laws, as it was cited using Pareto's words, are not natural and fixed. This are historical laws, therefore, changeable laws. Under Capital there are 80% of the world wealth in a few hands.
In other side, I think we cannot linearly transfer concepts without consider context. Its not correct compare readers of weblogs distribution with world wealth distribution, as under the same law. Laws of what? of who? The blogospherer would be well different if each Chinese had one weblog.

I think you must consider complexity and laws as a trend, that point probabilities and they are not iron hands. Freedom of choice is not freedom, because we cannot choose the alternatives between which to choose.
Weblogs are simple, frees, easy to do to, but they are not accessible for all. Only 10% of brazilians can access the internet and, thus, the possibility to have a weblog.
It can be, perhaps, that I am not right because I read only one small part of the text.
I hope I can express myself, because english is not my native language and I dont write and understand very well.

Hugs from Brazil,


Posted by: Suzana at August 13, 2004 4:34 PM

Suzana—We're not suggesting weblogs and only weblogs will change the world, quite the contrary, that many small application of the tools available for communication are capable of having a very large impact on deliberative activity in society; nevertheless, your point is well taken. We have a chapter from Ethan Zuckerman, which will be posted shortly, that addresses the application of these ideas in developing countries, particularly Africa, where talk radio is having a huge impact on democratic deliberation.

Posted by: Mitch Ratcliffe at August 13, 2004 8:03 PM

Hi Mitch

I don't think you are suggesting weblogs and only weblogs will change the world. I take weblogs as a example, because in the third chapter the author seems to believe that is easy to have a 'voice' in internet.
It is not easy to have a voice (a weblog) and it is more difficult to be heard.
Therefore, I think that is necessary to consider the context and not possible to generalize the 'power law distribution' as a natural law.
I appreciated very much your initiative and intend to read all the chapters.
Recently I conclude my master degree, writing about technology in teacher's work and using weblogs in the empirical study. All these subjects interest me very much.

Posted by: Suzana at August 14, 2004 4:51 AM

Suzana, we wholeheartedly concur with the idea that power laws are not a law at all, but a phenomenon that occurs within the context of social networks. Those networks are highly selective, both in terms of who has access to them and the flow of ideas between sites because of existing social relationships that are slow to change.

I explored this in a chapter that currently isn't in the book, but which we've posted under the title "The Calculus of Political Power." It needs work.


Posted by: Mitch Ratcliffe at August 14, 2004 5:14 AM

To my surprise I could not find any reference to "the future of freedom" by Fareed Zakaria.
It's great. IMO he gives many reasons form my suggestions on independent politicians and indirect elections.
Instead of extreme democracy I favor http://www.geocities.com/someidea2000 "absolute democracy"
Most important difference: your deep confidence in the People.
So the the subtitle of my own weblog reads: "For every complex problem there is a simple solution... and it is wrong".

Posted by: Frans Groenendijk at August 17, 2004 1:13 AM

Have you considered putting something along the lines of "Coase's Penguin" in the book? It's more geared towards economics than politics, but it's the same forces at work in both areas. It seems there's a good bit of attention being drawn to it, what with Howard Rheingold giving forth on it in the past few days.


Posted by: Tim Keller at August 18, 2004 9:26 PM

A thought I just had. Democracy is not just about elections, it's also about governance. Another area to give some thought to is how to achieve self-organized government structures, how to involve the people in running the country. It's clear that the lobbyists, industry reps & corrupt politicians currently in power have no interest in equity, fairness or real accomplishment & progress. What they want is money & power, with no limits & no oversight.

What's needed is more than just a return to meaningful choice in elections. What's needed is a vehicle for real involvement in government by the people, taking up the slack & doing the functions they've abandoned. Our role should not be limited to picking this guy or that guy. We need to break down the walls of government itself, so we can get involved in rearchitecting how things get done inside it.



Posted by: Tim Keller at August 18, 2004 10:42 PM

Yeah I'm just full of it today. I recently stumbled on Donella Meadows's fantastic essay "Leverage Points: 12 Places to Intervene in a System" (available at http://www.sustainabilityinstitute.org/pubs/Leverage_Points.pdf )

If you can get the rights to it, I'd just drop it in. If not, something to duplicate its ideas would be almost as good.


Posted by: Tim Keller at August 18, 2004 10:45 PM

Tim -- Governance is more of democracy than elections, if you ask me, because governance is where citizens actually participate in government most of the time. They go to meetings and testify and do work on projects throughout the year, if they are engaged in politics.

These venues are where most election issues are defined and an activist citizenry needs to be there, not just waiting for the next election.

Posted by: Mitch Ratcliffe at August 18, 2004 11:07 PM

"They go to meetings and testify and do work on projects throughout the year, if they are engaged in politics."

But as things stand, it's clear that a lot of that is wasted effort. The vested interests have accumulated enough power that they can effectively decouple authority from accountability & get whatever they want without paying a price for it (in the short term at least). Which we all agree is ruining the country.

We need better ways of harnessing network effects, stigmergy, sync, etc., to make their efforts meaningful & give them the power to enact real change. Take all that network math from chapters 9, 10 & TBD & apply it to governance as well, to give us a better footing after the election is won.

A good example is Valdis's page on reforming intelligence, http://www.orgnet.com/orgchart.html

I'm just thinking out loud here. Basically I'm hoping for more on governance, but not just more rah-rah stuff. Which I know is needed, it's a new mindset & people need to be brought into it slowly.


Posted by: Tim Keller at August 18, 2004 11:34 PM


I am a lifetime activist presently engaged in the development of citizen efforts for Participatory Democracy at the global level. I have just finished reading about 2/3 of the book on Emergent or Extreme Democracy. I found it to be very interesting; and hopeful. However there are many emergent models that have been evolving over the past several decades that I don’t find being addressed as of yet.

Such as Consensus Decision Making Processes, Open Space Meetings, Multi-Stakeholder DM processes, RoundTable discussions, Non Government Organization/civil society caucus decision making processes, Activist Organization Coalition Building processes, etc. These processes are all essential models for the development of a new structure of participatory democracy.

In addition, I would suggest giving attention to merging the polar opposites much more so. In other words, we need systems that are both centralized and decentralized at the same time. Natural leaders need to emerge, but at the same time we need processes to recognize and authorize those that do emerge that are found to be quite capable. Once these processes develop we then need to create models that are both top down and bottom up, with full interaction between the two in order to reach agreement on the best plans of action.

Unfortunately with MoveOn there is a huge disconnect between those few running the organization and the ability to really put forward good ideas that can get a fair hearing amount the network at large. Their system of rating ideas is quite dysfunctional in design, so it is next to impossible to put ideas in front of a growing group of people for consideration or support. Much more work needs to be done in exploring how such processes can be improved so that all peoples can contribute good ideas and the best will rise to the surface.

We also need global programs and yet with implementation and decision making that happens in local communities, thus many different approaches to solving the same problems in different places around the world, along with efficient means to report on and evaluate different approaches to see which have worked well or not and why.

I am writing primarily however because we are forming a Coalition for a World Parliament and Global Democracy that will hopefully model and merge new modes of participatory and direct as well as representative democracy. If some of you that have been involved with your discussions are interested, it would be interesting and perhaps worthwhile to work with our emerging efforts to try to design systems that really work well and will model new developments in Emergent and Extreme Democracy in the real world.

Lots of ideas have gone into this already, but I don’t have much time to explain them here now. However there is plenty of time for this later if there is interest.

Rob Wheeler
Provisional Coordinator
Coalition for a World Parliament and Global Democracy

Posted by: Rob Wheeler at August 19, 2004 1:05 AM

As you can see at bottom I have posted a large-ish post about this collection on my blog adding a little empirical data about who reads political weblogs at the moment (not many people). I look forward to reading Ethan's contribution and I hope some of you will let me know what you think.

Posted by: David Brake at August 19, 2004 12:22 PM


I think you're wrong about the futility of participation. The reality of the system is that them that shows up rule. The reason we focus on a project-based approach to activism in our definition of extreme democracy is that through relatively simple collaboration a few people can have a significant impact on policy-making. That's how you harness network effects: Put a human node in the meeting armed with the information and constituency that makes a political difference. That's all the powerful do today—they often hire people to do it rather than having activists who are personally involved in the issue.

It's not rah-rah to say that. It's a realistic approach to how publics deliberate and decisions are influenced. I don't think it is possible to reinvent human behavior, but it is possible using the tools available to make a profound difference in the way our psychologies interact to make social decisions.


Posted by: Mitch Ratcliffe at August 19, 2004 4:17 PM

"I think you're wrong about the futility of participation."

I'm not saying participation is futile. I'm saying that in order to be effective, participation needs to be augmented by the support of networks working with the participants. The participant becomes in effect the expression of the will of the network.

But in order for that to really work on the scale needed, we're going to have to design new collaboration, project management & decision making systems that exploit all this wonderful new network math. We need new tools to offset the advantage that K Street, et al., have in influence, money & power. That's what I'm about, jumpstarting the process that leads to those tools being created.


Posted by: Tim Keller at August 19, 2004 7:05 PM


Here's my point in a nutshell. If we can use this math to understand the flow of information surrounding elections, and exploit that understanding to influence their results (as chapters 9, 10 & TBD demonstrate), what ways can we develop to track its flow & exploit that knowledge within government as well? I believe that's where the real meat in all this is, using network math etc. to rearchitect the shape of government itself, not just who sits where. Valdis has a good example in his little intelligence czar demonstration.


Posted by: Tim Keller at August 19, 2004 7:55 PM

Agreed, Valdis has a good example of that in his intelligence czar idea. We may not have a clear explanation of how this all translates into political influence for a while, but it's what we're hoping to tease out of all this stuff, including more chapters to come.

Posted by: Mitch Ratcliffe at August 21, 2004 12:51 AM

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