Hacking Politics Q&A

This page is for me to respond to comments and questions about the “Occupy Power” essay, so we can develop a dialogue that’s guided by your ideas and criticisms, rather than just my limited perspective.

 “Are you suggesting we get rid of the law altogether in favour of some kind of online democratic court? That seems ridiculous and dangerous.” 

No. This is not about the destruction of law, it’s about the construction it. I think we need to focus on creating a direct democratic process to allow us to fix the systemic problems that our society can’t fix with the systems and processes we currently use. I think that in the long term this could be developed further to make all the judges and politicians obsolete because they’re precisely the decision makers we won’t need if we’re empowered to make decisions for ourselves. I’m not suggesting we disband the law or the legal system entirely and instantly, but I do think a fluid, direct democracy would change them beyond recognition. If the democratic court is a higher authority than the politicians or judges then we don’t need to get rid of the law to start the ball-rolling and no one can really predict where it will end up.

“Aren’t you just describing the system we have now? I mean, I agree about the democracy thing and I loved the wisdom of crowds stuff and the link with version control systems, but if you only need 160 people to get the right number of jelly beans then what’s wrong with having a parliament of more than double that and why isn’t that democratic?”

Great question. Ok firstly let’s talk about the theory of parliamentary democracy and then let’s talk about the real world situation.

Democracy works when it represents all the people and when everyone is accountable to each other. Our modern system recognises the truth of that in its design. There has been an attempt made to make us all accountable and to find a democratic way for our society to make its decisions (law and politics).

However, the reality of our modern legal and political accountability system is a complete failure in terms of democratic idealism. Politicians break election promises with little or no consequence and the powerful almost always escape justice for their crimes. Most of the senior politicians sat together in the same classrooms and they represent their bias and the limitations of what they know and experience. Our politics is run by power for power’s own sake. In order to be effective we would need our ‘democratic’ group of decision makers to be truly representative of the people, so a few hundred carbon copies of posh school boys is no good to anyone. Besides that, the party whips tell the MP’s which way to vote and they rarely disobey, when they do they’re always in a minority, so in reality, decisions are made by very few people and they are made by party leaders in the party’s interest, not that of the country. Civil servants and practitioner do their best, but they are unable to provide the level of service they’re capable of delivering because the policy makers wreak havoc on even the best-intentioned and brightest among them.

The systems of accountability we use allow power to become more concentrated every year. Power is exerted by order and decree from the privileged few. Real democracy erodes power down to it’s bare and unappealing responsibilities. That’s the essence of what I think is wrong with the modern democratic charade anyway. I Like the question though and I hope you’ll let me know if you still disagree with me and why.

“Who are you and what’s your qualification for this stuff? I’d like to know who you are. Are you an academic or activist or what?”

I’m not an academic and you definitely shouldn’t be listening to me because of some rubber-stamped credibility. You should always be critical when analysing an argument, so I don’t think it really matters who I am. That said, I can understand being curious about the person who’s telling you their ideas to view them in context, so I’ll tell you a bit about myself.

I’m exactly the kind of person who doesn’t deserve what he has. I was privately educated in a London boy’s school. I studied Classics and Philosophy at university and I now live a life of ease and leisure with my wife and son in the beautiful Welsh countryside because I can afford not to work any more. I’m not in this position because I’m smart, talented or driven. I didn’t make my money with graft, determination and dedication. I won my freedom with privilege, help and a bit of good luck. I’m a symptom of exactly what’s wrong in the world and my life is the story of absurd inequality in the modern age. I’m a wealthy, white male and it’s my demographic that’s over-represented by corporate and government interests and my social group who’s taking advantage of a rigged game.

I worked in the Department for Education in my 20’s, both in policy and then in private office working for the special advisers to the secretary of state, probably more because I said the right things in the right accent than because of any great talent or dedication. I’m all too familiar with how decisions are made in central government, who makes them and why. I left my job when I became utterly disillusioned. I joined the department because I was touched by philosophical sentiment after university. When I realised it would be impossible to do any substantial good where I was I pushed idealism to the back of my mind and decided to follow my interests instead.

In my late 20’s and early 30’s I worked as a ‘community and operations manager’ for an online poker site, so I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with a large, virtual community of active and vocal members who want to be involved and have their needs heard.

I wish I could claim to be an activist but this is my only subversive outlet.

I won’t bore you with any more of my life story, but I hope that builds a picture to enable you to see my ideas in context. I have experience working with politicians and seeing how civil infrastructure functions, and I know all-too-well how the back-scratching world of privilege works. I have seen the potential in ‘the crowd’ for myself and I understand what it means to have thousands of people trying to communicate with a host that’s governed by hierarchy, the problems they both encounter and the need for them to be connected by more than just a trickle of one-way communication. Basically, I’m not a qualified academic, but I think my experience does validate my opinion. I think I’m right, but we all think that when we decide to hold an opinion don’t we? At the end of the day I’m just as limited by my own bias and ignorance as the next man, so I’d urge your critical judgement on the content of what I say rather than allowing a convincing tone or credible context to sway you.

Doesn’t no leadership mean no direction? We’ve always needed leaders to galvanise and focus our ‘will’ effectively. I don’t understand how your system could replace the need for that?

I think it’s important to point out that leadership doesn’t require power. People can have good ideas and be respected for them and followed without needing to have any ‘authority’ over their supporters. I agree completely that leadership is a natural thing and has great benefits. However, leadership is no good if your leaders are leading you astray. The fallibility of individuals means that they should not be able to impose their will without accountability. This is the only way to stop them from making mistakes that they don’t understand, but other people do. People can lead debates and they can earn respect that gives them some degree of ‘power’, but that kind of influence is very different to the reckless and unencumbered imposition of will afforded to men with power that are removed from any meaningful accountability.

Doesn’t a world where we’re all judged in the court of public opinion sound scary to you? How could you think that’s better than what we have now?

Well, let’s talk for a second about why that turn of phrase is associated with bad judgement and unfair treatment. We live in a world where people are not generally well-informed. The people are easily swayed to irrationality by propaganda, fear, hype and sentiment. I agree completely that it does sound scary in the context of mob mentality and media manipulation. However, as I say in the Occupy Power essay, one of the first responsibilities of an online democracy would be to design a mechanism for the free sharing of information and to protect itself by passing proposals to curb media monopolies.

If we develop a system of information sharing and voting that allows us to examine arguments…


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