« June 2007 | Main | September 2007 »

July 24, 2007

Information, Values & Democratic Tools and Processes

In the discussion last night on Networks, I introduced the concept of a matrix of information and values. You can see this matrix by clicking on the link below:

Download file

The question I raised during the discussion was how do the tools and processes of extreme democracy map into this matrix?

Posted by Paul Schumann at 11:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


“Diversity plus freedom creates inequality, and the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality.”
Clay Shirky

Power law

N = c/n

What factors control the rank?
When is the power law important?
When is the power law not important?

Traditional democracy does not scale well from small to large groups.
Networked society is not constrained by geography.
Extreme democracy takes place in real time.

“Failure to scale is evident when people feel disenfranchised, when they no longer have sufficient contact or interaction with their government to see their wishes reflected in its actions.”
Mitch Ratcliffe

Politicians express this disconnect by seeing only their own well being, sacrificing the common good for their own benefit at the expense of others.”

“Rule of 150”

“Mohandas K. Gandhi said, ‘One cannot unite a community without newspaper or journal of some kind.’ These separate trends of individual expression through blogs, an egalitarian journalism, and organized online activism are waking unrecognized communities of interest that will confound a political system designed for representation geographic constituencies. A concerted effort by the peoples of the world can transform the perception of the means and ends of government. Meanwhile, politics, the art of participation in social decision-making and a practice closely related to being "polite," which leans to achieve refinement, continues to function essentially as it has throughout history, through debate and compromise among people.”
Mitch Ratcliffe

“An answer to the continuing debate about political process will be based the integration of many, though not all, threads in recent human development into an expanded concept of the individual as the basis for the concept of sovereignty and the redefinition of the role of government institutions in order to revitalize political processes. A political philosophy must incorporate more than the experience of participation. An analysis of power, definite ideas about the role of the citizen and the government, and the principles society will embrace about the value of the individual are required, as well. Extreme democracy seeks to provide these foundational ideas to place the thrill of emergent organizations into socio-political context.”
Mitch Ratcliffe

Posted by Paul Schumann at 9:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Deep Confidence in the People

What’s your definition of extreme democracy?

Our republic and the founder’s distrust of the people has been documented. What do you mean by deep trust in the people?

It’s been my observation that it takes at least two of the major driving forces for change to be acting in order for a movement to be widespread – social, political, environmental, technological, demographic. Extreme democracy certainly has the technological driving force. What other major force is driving the acceptance of extreme democracy?

Do you see the change brought on by extreme democracy to be revolutionary or evolutionary?

Is our political system broken?

In the Wisdom of Crowds, and other recent books, as well as First Democracy, the need for and the power of judgment has been shown to be important for a democracy:

5. Citizen Wisdom: “In First Democracy, ordinary people were asked to use their wisdom to pass judgment on their leaders.” Woodruff concludes, “…the heart of democracy is the idea that ordinary people have the wisdom to govern themselves.”
6. Reasoning Without Knowledge: “Reasoning without knowledge is essential in government,” he writes. “Doing it well requires open debate. Doing it poorly is the fault of leaders who silence opposition, conceal the basis of their reasoning, or pretend to an authority that does not belong to them.”

What do we need to do to develop judgment in the people?

What do you see are the necessary conditions to enable the widespread application of extreme democracy? Principles, goals, systems & tools, and applications?

What are some examples of recent applications of extreme democracy?

What’s the future of extreme democracy?

Posted by Paul Schumann at 9:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 2, 2007

Setting Happiness as a National Goal by Richard Layard

The best society is the one where the people are happiest, and the best policy is the one that produces the greatest happiness. So argued great eighteenth century thinkers like Jeremy Bentham, and their admirable views did much to inspire the social reforms of the century that followed. But in many cases it was difficult to apply the principle, because so little was known about what makes people happy. However, the last 30 years have seen a major scientific revolution, and we now know much more about what causes happiness - using the results of psychology and neuroscience.

The first thing we know is that in the last 50 years average happiness has not increased at all in Britain, nor in the United States, despite massive increases in living standards. This is because above an average income of about $19,500 per head, richer societies are no happier than poorer societies. Richer people are, of course, on average happier than poorer people in the same society, but this is largely because people compare their incomes with other people. If everyone gets richer, they feel no better off.

In rich societies, what really affects happiness is the quality of personal relationships. Always at the top comes the quality of family life or other close personal relationships. Then comes work-having it (if you want it) and enjoying the meaning and comradeship it can bring. And then comes relationships with friends and strangers in the street.

Some societies are much happier than others, and Scandinavian countries always come out near the top. This is largely because people trust each other more there than in other places. In Britain and the United States, the number of people who believe that "most other people can be trusted" has halved in the last 50 years, and this reflects the growth of an individualism that makes personal success more important than almost anything else.

These facts call for a revolution in how we think about ourselves and about how the government can help us to flourish. It becomes clear that faster economic growth is not the most important objective for a society. We should not sacrifice human relationships nor peace of mind for the sake of higher living standards, which will be growing anyway.

This insight should affect all areas of public policy. I cannot argue each proposal here, though they are argued in my book on Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. Let me just set down a few proposals rather boldly.

• The most important thing we can affect is the values that our children acquire. Schools should teach children systematically that the secret of a happy life is in giving to other people.
Evidence-based programs exist for doing this and should become a part of the core curriculum.

• The least happy people in our society are people with a record of mental illness. Three-quarters of people with depression or hyper-anxiety receive no treatment, although psychological therapies exist that can cure over half of these terrible cases. Such therapies should be available for free.

• Advertising makes people feel they need more and thus makes them less happy with what they have. One policy model is in Sweden, which bans advertising aimed at children under 12.

• We should stop apologizing about taxes: They discourage us from working even harder and sacrificing further our relationships with family and friends. We should also persist with income redistribution, since an extra pound or dollar gives more happiness to poor people than to the rich. That argument also implies redistribution to the Third World.

We are in a new situation for mankind, where further wealth creation is now unnecessary for survival. If we want to become still happier, we need a new strategy from the one pursued over the last 50 years - we need to put human relationships first.

About the Author
Richard Layard is one of Britain's best-known economists, a member of the House of Lords, and author of Happiness: Lessons from a New Science (Penguin, 2005), which may be ordered from www.wfs.org/bkshelf.htm.

From The Futurist, July - August 2007

Posted by Paul Schumann at 2:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Structure for Extreme Democracy?

It seems to be that the structure for extreme democracy is composed of principles, goals, systems & tools, and applications.

We have in our definition of our American democracy – of, by and for the people. While I’ve said this many times, I’m still not quite sure what it means. But, it seems to be related to the goals. And, the three goals I see for extreme democracy are:

1. Democracy: Participative, deliberative, grass roots, collaborative, one to one, open democracy, or many other descriptive terms for a broader involvement of the people.
2. Partisan: Political campaigns for people to represent us (by the people)
3. Advocacy: Activism, issues related goals (for the people)

These three sets of goals are vastly different.

Extreme democracy then has to have systems and tools to satisfy those goals. The tools are all the social software programs in use and being developed to foster the applications - communications, collaboration, conversation, deliberation, attraction, affinity, documentation, research, etc.

For me, if I can gain understanding of this three dimensional matrix, then I can begin to develop strategies and plans for the dissemination of the parts.

And, of course, it needs a set of principles to guide everything.

I’d really like to hear for you. What do you think of the structure? What are some more of the elements? How can we begin to complete the matrix?

Posted by Paul Schumann at 12:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

One World, Indivisible by John Renesch

Abraham Lincoln’s famous 1858 speech emphasized "a house divided against itself cannot stand” – words that also come to mind as I was pondering the excess divisiveness so prevalent in my country today. We are presently building silos of ideologies, isolating ourselves into factions and preaching to our choirs about the faults and defects of “the other.” Each silo is suffering from “groupthink” – reinforcing its own dogma and avoiding any feedback that disagrees with the party line. This simply builds the walls dividing us higher and higher, making reconciliation more difficult.

The phrase “one nation, indivisible” is very familiar to Americans of my generation who have learned “The Pledge of Allegiance” to their country’s flag in their early school years. Ironically, the pledge was written in the late 1800s for a flag seller as part of an advertising campaign. More recently the words “under God” were inserted between “nation” and “indivisible” but I still recall the original version which I must have repeated hundreds if not thousands of times as a child and young adult.

Abraham Lincoln’s famous 1858 speech emphasized "a house divided against itself cannot stand” – words that also come to mind as I was pondering the excess divisiveness so prevalent in my country today. We are presently building silos of ideologies, isolating ourselves into factions and preaching to our choirs about the faults and defects of “the other.” Each silo is suffering from “groupthink” – reinforcing its own dogma and avoiding any feedback that disagrees with the party line. This simply builds the walls dividing us higher and higher, making reconciliation more difficult.

In my mind, there is no doubt that we are well along the way of irreparably dividing ourselves here in the U.S. I get emails every week, from liberal friends and conservative friends, some calling themselves libertarians, some progressives, that shock me with their vitriol, the mean-spirited nature of their commentaries or, in lieu of their own compositions, the texts they are forwarding which contain such sarcasm and dismissive characterizations of people with whom they disagree. It is as if many people, friends of mine included, are sacrificing relationships in order to be right, subordinating community to their righteousness and, in some cases, putting their opinions ahead of friendships and family. Technology is allowing us to go beyond the limits of common decency because we don’t have “the other” facing us; we can hide behind the shield of technology and hurl our insults from the safety of our computers.

We are taking our opinions far too seriously when we put our prejudices and ideologies ahead of people. There is nothing wrong or unhealthy with contention, debate and even argument as long as it is in the context of respect and relationship with the other person. Successful people realize the benefits of contentiousness and debate. It often improves the outcome as both sides sometimes see value in the other’s position and, usually, a better result emerges. George Washington saw this in our nation’s founding. A strong advocate of opposing sides on issues engaging in debate, he recognized how this could lead to optimal outcomes. However, he was also wary of partisanship that could lead to concretized positions and less than optimum results, often a compromise to the lowest common denominator.

Healthy differences of opinion have helped America grow and prosper. Respectful contentiousness comes with citizenship in a democracy! The diversity of ideas and cultures has proven incredibly valuable in our nation’s history. After the contentiousness the opposing players can laugh together, have a beer and leave with good natured feelings for all concerned. But vitriolic, cruel and dismissive sarcasm and meanness leads to rifts that may prove permanently damaging to others – people, perhaps even friends and family members. Like war without explosions, it leads to deep wounds that cannot be healed with a beer or a laugh.

What effect does this “dissing” (disrespectful and dismissive behavior) of each other have in the rest of the world? How many culture wars are going on, above the surface and below, where the opposing parties harbor hate and disrespect for the other side. America, once a model for the power of a diverse democracy, has now become a model of separation, “us versus them” which reflects in our domestic politics (which is reported around the world every day) and our hegemonious foreign policy. The world is becoming more divided in stark contrast to the 1945 U.S.-sponsored vision for a united world (the United Nations). The United States is now engaged in a new “civil war;” instead of blue versus grey it is red versus blue..

We are creating a “divisble” nation and a “divisble” world. Can the nation still stand if it is divided? Was Lincoln wrong? Or will it fall apart as ideological factions take precedence over relationships with fellow citizens?

Borders on maps are human constructs which are artificial anyway so the world won’t really be divided – only the people will. States and nations are also artificial so they may go extinct but not the continents on which they once stood. The planet will survive our divisiveness but will our civilizations?

Do you know the story of the collapse of the Easter Island civilization? They could build 80-ton statues 33 feet high which remain there today as evidence of their civilization. And they could drag them 12 miles where they arranged them in a pattern, a seemingly impossible task given their lack of technology. They could navigate the Pacific Ocean, reaching the most remote islands in the world. However, to do this they could also cut down their rich rain forest, ultimately dooming themselves to extinction. With no trees left for fishing canoes, the Easter Islanders turned to finding more and more reasons to hate one another, eventually resorting to cannibalism and devouring each other. The population fell by 90% in a few years and neither the society nor the island ecology have recovered in the 300 years since.

How can people be so dumb, you might ask? Evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond says that sometimes it's a failure to perceive a problem, especially if it comes on very slowly, like climate change. Often it's a matter of conflicting interests with no resolution at a higher level than the interests --- warring clans, greedy industries. Or there may be a failure to examine and understand the past.

Unless more people start insisting on respectful communications about their ideologies – their “interests” - and encourage dialogue rather than war as a means of reconciling their different interests, our species will continue to divide and fragmentize. Will our incivility toward one another degenerate into some modern version of cannibalism? Unless we cease this warring – domestically with each other and internationally through our foreign policy – we just might continue to perceive the problem until it is too late.

We are better than this! We can do much better in getting along with one another. So let’s use technology to bring us closer together, not further separate us. Let’s stand for a higher road in reconciling our differences. If we insist on perpetuating this divisiveness, humans could be added to the endangered species list.

Recorded history has been consistent regarding the lifecycle of empires. All the ones with which we are familiar – Mongolian, Spanish, Portuguese, Roman, British, Soviet and Ottoman to name a few – have not been overturned by another power. All of them have imploded, weighted down by their own hubris, much like Easter Island. Let us walk a different path and cease this divisiveness before we ruin this great country. Let us start the essential self-reflection we have so stalwartly avoided.

Join me in ending the cycles of incivility, negativity, disrespect and sarcasm. Take a stand by refusing to engage in conversations or email exchanges that perpetuate these cycles that take us all down to lower and lower levels of human relationship. Stop listening to it; stop repeating it; stop encouraging this pattern of divisiveness. Instead of opposing what we don’t like, let’s start proposing what we do want. Instead of spouting our opinions and preaching to those in our silo, let’s reach out to those who have different viewpoints. Nothing will change unless we do.

John Renesch
Future Shapers Monthly, #108, July 2007
The written work included here is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Read His Blog

Posted by Paul Schumann at 11:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack