Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Swarming versus Voting

I may have discovered a good example of countervoting. Countervoting is a word I use to describe any activity that strengthens persons' willingness or ability to interact voluntarily, as opposed to voting, which desensitizes us to coercion. Whether or not you accept the idea that voting reinforces beliefs in the legitimacy of arbitrary authority, any activity that does the reverse, that strengthens persons' understanding of how to achieve beneficial social change through voluntary cooperation, deserves promotion. So here I go, promoting.
Ironically, I found this idea in a book about the founding of a new political party, the Swedish pirate party. The founder of the pirate party, Rick Falkvinge, has published a book in which he explains the methods and principles that he used to organize volunteers on the Internet for this purpose. He titled it Swarmwise (It was released under a Creative Commons license, so it is legal for you to pirate it!) Yes, the pirate party used a swarm to bootstrap itself into the Swedish and European legislatures. I find it ironic that they used a swarm, which depends on voluntary cooperation, to gain power within coercive institutions.
Falkvinge sees his swarm as a hybrid of traditional hierarchical organizations (slow, expensive, boring) and pure networks like Anonymous or Occupy Wall Street (unfocused, limited to small groups working on small, temporary projects). Falkvinge wanted to add leadership, yet keep the spontaneous, self-organizing aspect of leaderless Internet phenomena, ending up with something like an open source software project. A small hierarchical group at the core works to support the swarming volunteers, who just pick something off a list and do it as they please. The leader starts the swarm, establishing the goal, the culture, and values (probably also "the face" for old media), and keeps everyone focused on the objective. The core group makes sure that resources and infrastructure are available, and the swarm does the rest. Ideally, the goal inspires, motivates, and focuses the swarm's creativity and generosity. Everyone trusts each other, experienced swarmers help out newbies, and the core group supports the activism.
Falkvinge's approach also has vulnerabilities and limitations. The swarm herder cannot control the brand or messages of the swarm, cannot hire or fire for the most part, and so must lead by inspiration. He suggests that a leader "focus [...] on what everybody can do, and never what people cannot do or must do." The leader announces "I going to do X, because I think it will accomplish Y. Anybody who wants to join me in doing X is more than welcome." Some weaknesses become strengths: duplication of effort and mistakes provide material for learning what works, and the swarm learns as it does. Extreme transparency is almost required, but helps to reduce conflict, maintain trust, control rumors and limit creation of factions. The author hands out many interesting ideas, not all of which seem easy to implement or fully explained and illustrated.
Based on Falkvinge's ideas about encouraging swarms, he is a list of ways to sabotage a swarm:
  • Change or debate the goal.
  • Create lots of paperwork, bureaucracy, and procedures. 
  • Collect lots of information about volunteers.
  • Make people ask for permission.
  • Allow working groups to get too large and break into factions.
  • Discourage fun. Make it dull.
  • Worry if you get criticized by outsiders.
  • Criticize mistakes instead of learning from them.
This may sound collectivist to you, or make you think of Harry Browne's "group trap." It just sounds like individuals cooperating to pursue a shared value to me. Entrepreneurs need customers, is that a group trap?
Back to the irony. If Falkvinge can inspire large numbers of Internet volunteers to hand out handbills, hang posters, recruit new members, attend rallies, etc., all to elect a few members to a legislature where they play tug of war with other politicians, why not inspire them to do something useful and lasting? Once people have empowered themselves with these techniques, won't ordinary politics seem awfully useless and dull?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Modest inquiries

What is the goal? What is the win condition? The lose condition?
Does it work? May I try? How may I contribute?
How can we test it?
What do you want me to do about it?
What alternatives can we think of?
How long have you believed this? What convinced you it's true? How easy was it for you to change your mind?
Why/how do people change their minds? How can we know what is true? Why do people join cults, or believe conspiracy theories? Why do people believe the status quo? 
How can I compensate for my biases? How can I know what they are?
Why should anyone care what I have to say?
How can we improve the world? How do I know that would be an improvement?
What is important to me? Who else thinks so? Who is helping me, and who is holding me back?
What is the next step? What is preventing me from acting?


Friday, April 4, 2014

Pondering paradigms

What would happen if by some fluke congress and the president agreed?

If they were all progressives, they would raise taxes and pile on the legislation, give out favors to their friends. If they were all conservatives, they might cut some social spending and give out favors to their friends. If they were libertarians, they might cut taxes and all sorts of spending. And give out favors to their friends.

In all cases, voters would register some degree of displeasure at the first elections. Blowback! Some of their oversteps would be repealed, especially in the case of the libertarians, because whatever the wisdom of such policies, they are unpopular. All three would be blips in the data, the system would return quickly to the status quo, if indeed much happened at all. 

What if we did something else. What if we allowed any district to opt out and produce their own "public goods" or negotiate for them with local state or central government? Allow each district to veto state or federal law and arrange their own? Secession, nullification, subsidiarity!

Ironically, according to the dominant paradigm, we would need to use politics to reform politics. That possibility seems remote. We need a new paradigm. Where can we find one?

Nonconformist zones and the consent of the governed

Politics these days consists of trying to find a way to make the other side shut up, instead of trying to figure out how a large diverse group of people can live together peacefully and productively. The two big teams fight for a utopia where they have "won" and the other side, the bad guys, have given up on every issue. Somehow, I don't think it ever will happen.
Of course, trying to visualize cooperation between the two groups may be even more difficult. How can one part of the country embrace immigrants, while the rest reject them utterly? How can one part of the country have free markets, while the other regulates to the maximum? How can one subgroup embrace peace, while others pursue global military intervention? How will it work if some allow government to spy on them, and some don't, or some restrict their carbon footprint and others don't?
What if we took the idea of "consent of the governed" seriously? What would that look like? But first of all, why might we wish to do so? The consent of the governed, where governors paid attention to it, would restrict the action of governments to those which provide a benefit. That is, the consent of the governed would check tyranny. It would act as a safety value, releasing unwanted error, selfishness, and rigidity. It would make the people the rulers, so that our lives would not be ruled by the legislature's errors, or our social innovation limited by the legislature's imaginations.
How could this work? I'm not really sure, but a couple of possibilities keep suggesting themselves to me. 
Declare a free zone, where malcontents go to opt out. Expand it's borders as its population expands. If it turns into a western Hong Kong, all the better.
Restore federalism by renewing the principles of nullification and subsidiarity, all the way down, from central, to state, to county, to municipal, to land owner. This sounds a bit crazy, but how does it differ from the common law doctrine that parties to a contract may explicitly choose to go against law set by precedent, so far as it pertains to them and their contract?
What do you think? Does the consent of the governed mean anything if the governed have no way to provide feedback in favor of good ideas and against errors?





Thursday, April 3, 2014

Groping toward Utopia

Even someone who embraces the current dominant paradigm of politics will admit that an enormous gap lies between the status quo and any imagined utopia. We have plenty of room for improvement and innovation in society.
Those who understand politics well must increase their estimate of this gap. Politics tends to stifle innovation, to wear out people who want to try something new, by forcing them to fight a tug-o-war over shared policies. The system shrugs them off and continues as before.
If you believe Hayek, your estimate gets larger still. He encouraged scepticism in regard to theories and abstractions, and toward our ability to predict and understand large complex social phenomena. The limits of central planning generalize to any designed social system. The difficulty of gathering, integrating, and processing the necessary information limits us to decentralized approaches. Allow each individual to respond to local conditions and the system will learn.
So utopias serve as a direction rather than a destination, a reason for acting more than an understanding of the final outcome, an inspiration for experiments from which we must learn and correct our ideas instead of a certainty. Utopia can inspire us to cross the stream, but cannot show us which rocks to step on.
My utopia contains people who cooperate with each other, not coercing each other. Coercion poisons empathy, corrupts integrity, and perverts loyalty. Cooperation enables these, and leaves room for inspiration.
It's not clear to me how we could eliminate coercion, or that it is entirely possible in all cases. But I know it is worth investigating and we can learn from trying new things. We can know what direction to explore, without knowing our exact destination.
Many recent social and technological developments empower individuals in ways we could hardly have imagined 20 years ago, both as individuals and as members of firms, organizations, or groups. [e.g. The Internet, cell phones, BitTorrent, bitcoin, Wikipedia, open source software, P2P, etc.] When such secrets reveal themselves, we do not forget them.
I want more. I hope for more. And I hope our imagination will catch up with our potential soon. Government does more to block experiments than to enable social learning. Still, we can do what we can do. We have examples to follow. With our utopia to guide us, we know why we act and which direction to explore: more cooperation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Orwell's Orders

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6.  Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Diet

Breakfast: broccoli, cheese, pepper, maybe salsa, oatmeal and chia seeds, with a bit of chocolate,  hard boiled egg and bacon. Coffee
Lunch: broccoli, cheese, pepper, maybe salsa, peanut butter, carrots, egg, maybe bacon, fiber bar, raisins
Dinner: broccoli, cheese, pepper, maybe salsa, baked chicken, yogurt, and raisins
Avocado or olives, onion fried baked dried or raw! Nuts