Here are my live notes of the Lift Conference session “Democracy in Distress: Re-engineering Participation.” Keep an eye open for mistakes, inaccuracies, and other flakiness due to live-blogging.
Activist for 8 years.
Story: city with only one clock, owned and controlled by the king. He’d tell people when to wake up, go to work, eat, etc. Revolution, stormed the palace, took the clock, and put a replica in the public square. Good time will be kept, and it will be kept in public. Years and years later, the clock starts wearing out, and it cost so much to maintain it that only a few wealthy people were able to do it: they became the clock-keepers, and controlled it just like the king. People took the clock apart and realized it had inherent flaws. They came up with a better solution, but it was rejected by the people, because the clock in the city centre was the symbol of their freedom. The clock remained. Years later, completely solved by a solution which did not involve taking the clock down.
This is about democracy, not about a clock. How we make decisions together.
Democracy is both an ideal and a system. You can agree with the ideal and not the system.
We have direct and representative democracy. In CH and California, hybrid system. Direct democracy seems like a good idea until there are too many people making too many decisions. 100-page book in the mail with all the stuff one has to vote on (California). But that was just a small percentage of things the government needed to vote on. They had got on the ballot because of money, etc. Not that good a system.
Representatives do not represent all your opinions on all the issues. People get in there because they care about certain issues, but then need to take a stand on others, start trading favors, slippery slope to corruption. Money buys access to politicians.
Humans have inherent limitations (trust, etc.). What if we could turn them into strengths? “What if we could represent each other on the issues that we know best?” What would that look like? Well, we would vote on issues we knew about or cared about. And delegate our vote to somebody else we trusted for other issues. But what about money, buying votes? If I’m representing my friends, that would be an incentive to not get bought out (would break their trust). But what if? Kick the person out of the system. “Liquid democracy”, “distributed democracy”, “dynamic democracy”… better: networked democracy.
We move from hierarchy to networks. Though old networks turn into pyramids. Everything the internet touches, though, seems to want to turn into a network. Makes sense our democracy would become networked. Makes sense in theory, but how does that work out in practice?
To change something, build something that makes the existing model obsolete.
Back to our town clock: wrist watches.
Lesson here: this isn’t about upgrading democracy, but upgrading collective decision-making.
Where are we now? Started thinking about how to build it. But to build the network, need to raise money, which would in a way trap the network inside a pyramid. Others than him in the same situation. Started company called collective agency. Looks for these projects that might transform the world, but can’t get funded by traditional VCs, and helps them tell their story in a way that allows them to crowd fund them effectively.