Technology and Democracy

Here we look at the issues, problems and potential of using technology to augment democratic practice.

Brexit is the forthcoming withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU). In the June 2016 referendum, 52% voted to leave the EU, leading into a complex separation process implying political and economic changes for the UK and other countries. The timetable for withdrawal has not yet been firmly established - wikipedia

Below is a quick response I wrote to the following post related to Brexit (springer.com ). I aim to rewrite it into a more fully explained and formal article. For now I dump it here raw:

FaceBook

I agree with much of the analysis of the issues regarding Brexit, especially the remarks of this being a part of a much slower and unaddressed problem at the core of democracy.

The division of what we accept as democratic into procedural, substantial and structural elements is also important, as is the critique of the role of click-bait media, and it's earlier passive incarnation as sentiment gathering mass media.

But there is an overall tone I find myself uncomfortable with. The language used points strongly towards a conservative restatement of the status quo with regard to representative democracy. I see nothing that is likely to change any of these long term processes in the current analysis - for which I feel we need a deeper look at this question of the role and nature of what has been termed here as "structure".

Structurally we need to take an uncomfortable look at this status quo, and look at how we can recombine the strong points of each element in not just new ways, but with new language which captures different values. If the end result of the analysis is simply more of the same (but a bit better) then I think we have failed.

For that we need to take lessons from other fields. We need to look at law - not as a set of bureaucratic procedures, but as an alternative form of social organisation. Juries are after all an ancient form of democratic organisation. We also need to look at media, markets and at what we have learnt from the internet and social media.

Liquid Democracy is in many ways one such mashup. It took elements of social networks, markets, and threw in some mathematics regarding reputation and resilience. It asked what would happen to conversation if we allowed votes to flow through the network, and looked to create structures which would progressively incentivise deeper and richer local conversations.

I started to work on that in the late 90's while working on coding alternative currency systems and democratic "procedures". Two things soon became clear - first off the surprisingly close parallels between these token-exchange games (votes and money), and secondly (and more importantly) the vastness of the unexplored universe of alternatives to these systems.

However this was fully dangerously inclined towards a cybernetic styled technotopia. More click-bait beckoned. What I felt was missing is a stronger framing and protection for richer human centred conversation. After all if the "diluted power" is to be "represented" effectively (using the language of the article), then we need to ensure that the values being weighed and passed up through the network are worth accounting for.

My main point here is that we need to take significant chunks out of law (redefining it's substantial nature to bring it within the democratic family), as well as media (which I would argue we need to cross-breed with a richer conception of scientific debate - as well as with ideas of documentary and the role of satire an humour).

I believe when we look back at our current democratic and financial systems from the future (say a hundred years), we will "remember" "democracy" and "money" in much the same way that we currently perceive Morse code - as weirdly anachronistic. Perhaps that's not the right word - I would hope rather we keep a certain fondness if not amazement as to how this strange group of people ever thought we could govern a planet by shovelling around tokens mediated by advertisements. We now have modern voice, video and internet based communication - Morse code was great in it's day, but with an impossibly primitive interface, and completely unable to capture a whole range of human value.

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