Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Three Pillars of Democracy

The following is an attempt to describe a vision for the direction our political systems could be evolved towards, that would in my opinion provide a framework around the harmonization processes the way Richard describes them. Harmonization would play the key role in the participatory pillar of democracy that I describe below, which I think would become the primary pillar of democracy, where the quality work is done.

The foundation of democracy

Calls for direct democracy have recently become a lot more prevalent around the world in the context of the Arab Spring, Los Indignados and Occupy Wall Street movements. This begs the question, how direct democracy would practically work, not only on a local but also a national and international scope. Popular wisdom seems to be that electronic voting could be the silver bullet that would make this possible. However, not only is it hard to trust electronic voting whenever a secret ballot is required, but there is a lot more to making direct democracy work on that scale than simply dealing with the efficiency of counting votes.

In Switzerland, direct democracy has a long history, longer than the Swiss confederation itself, with some direct democracy roots going back over 1000 years. For the past 20 years, the Forum for Direct Democracy has been advocating the importance of preserving these aspects of the Swiss political system, and it is the only center-left movement with the objective of preventing Switzerland from joining the EEA and the EU, arguing from a direct-democratic, ecological and social perspective. Based on discussions I've had with fellow members of the Forum for Direct Democracy over the last few years, I would like to share some thoughts relating to how modern democracy in Switzerland in my opinion has yielded some additional institutional concepts, which are essential to its functioning. Extrapolating from that, I'm suggesting a direction for potential improvements to our system, which maybe should be taken into account from the beginning, when attempting to introduce more direct democracy elsewhere in the world. Consequently, what I am describing here is an entangled mixture of the current status quo and where I think we could be taking this with relatively minor effort.

Sovereignty and subsidiarity

Who makes the rules and enforces them is sovereign. Direct democracy is about the legislative decisions, the rules, being made by the people for the people.

The people that are affected by the rules should be deciding which rules need to be defined in that affected group. Rules that affect only a small group should be defined by consensus in that small group. For legislation that affects a larger group the consensus needs to be developed in that larger group. This is the essence of the Principal of Subsidiarity, which implies that authority should be with the most decentralized entity possible and more centralized entities should primarily support the decentralized ones.

Delegating authority from the most central to more decentralized entities makes subsidiarity a farce, since it implies ultimate central authority. If authority is to be with the most decentralized entity possible, as the principle of subsidiarity implies, then the authority can not be selectively delegated from a central entity. Instead it is to be delegated selectively from the most decentralized entity to more centralized entities.

In other words, the people are only free in a sovereign state, if that sovereignty is unconditionally delegated to the individual people, and the people maintain a consensus on what authority they give to the communities they belong to. The communities in turn delegate some authority to larger entities, and to the state, which as a result only exists because it is willed to exist by the people. The simple motivation for the people to provide such entities with authority is for the security one gets in return, in the form of solidarity and sustainability.

The state as a purely abstract concept

With the delegation of the sovereignty to the individuals, the state only continues to exist as an abstract concept towards the outside. The state is the entity that external powers respect as having sovereignty over a particular territory. With sovereignty delegated to the people, the state merely describes the conceptual borderline from which the sovereignty is delegated. For all practical purposes, if all the people of the world would be sovereign, there would be no state.

Free association to multiple communities

Communities are not necessarily always bound to a specific geographic territory. Multiple communities can share responsibilities or have separate responsibilities in the same territory or in overlapping territories, or even not be bound to a specific territory. In any case, all individuals should effectively be able to join any community they wish as an equal member, essentially without any preconditions.

Democracy is incompatible with centralized power

Rules are meaningless, if they cannot be enforced, and perhaps more importantly, the absence of a rule is just as meaningless, if it's enforcement can not be prevented. While the people may be able to delegate the enforcement of rules, the people must always be able to resist any unauthorized enforcement of rules on them. Effectively, this means that any police and military power needs to be as decentralized as the policy making. To be sovereign, the people must always have dissuasive power against any form of suppression.

The three pillars of democracy

Direct democracy: The people's power to mandate and veto

In the context of how sovereignty is delegated to the people and how the people grant authority to larger entities following the principle of subsidiarity, direct democracy becomes an insurance policy, that every entity which is receiving authority has to grant to its people, as a minimal guarantee that the granted authority will not be abused.

Direct democracy can only provide the people with an brut force instrument for correcting the direction and maintaining ultimate control. It does not provide sufficient fine grained control over the high volume work of drafting and applying legislation, nor does it ensure that issues are appropriately deliberated before new legislation is created and decisions are made.

Representative democracy: The people's meritocratic secretariat

The mountain of work that is today's legislative process is something that the people need to be able to delegate to a group of volunteers, willing to labor over legal drafts with more dedication than the average citizen. That is the role of representative democracy. The people elect their representatives based on merit, with a motivation of efficiency and feeling represented in the best possible way. To the extent that these representatives do not directly draft legislation themselves, they, by choosing the executive branch, select the experts that do, and are responsible for their oversight.

The ability for the people to meritocraticly empower certain individuals to get heavily involved in overseeing the creation and application of legislation is not to be underestimated. When integrated into a framework with direct democractic control the way I am describing it here, representative democracy becomes a sandbox for leaders. They can do their good, but they can do no harm. The representative aspect of democracy is important, but has relatively little actual political power. In a sense, it merely provides the direct and the participatory pillars of democracy with administrative support.

Participatory democracy: The people's collective wisdom

On a large scale, such as a state or national level, where people can no longer meet all together to discuss the issues and vote, direct democracy can only work efficiently inside a framework that ensures issues are widely discussed by both experts and the general public and that these perspectives are taken into account before any proposals for new legislation come to a popular vote. Direct democracy requires a surrounding framework of a fine tuned political system, grinding political issues towards a consensus where all qualified minorities refrain from using their de facto veto power. With the ability to collect signatures in order to block a proposal and require it to go to a popular vote, even a relatively small minority of the people will often be able to mobilize the sympathy of the majority of the people that actually go and cast their ballot, getting the solidarity required to block new legislation.

In other words, if minority views and sentiments of the people are not taken into account when considering new legislation, the proposal will likely be vetoed into thin air in a referendum, after it has successfully passed through the entire legislative process of the federal government, the commissions, and the two chambers of parliament. This threat of potentially destroying years of work forces the legislative process to make all the efforts to attentively listen to what the people want from the very outset, and to carefully consider all minority views. Without such a practice, the direct democratic controls would bring the entire system to a grinding halt. Direct democracy, by making public participation in the early process a manditory requirement in this way, becomes the enabler of participatory democracy. The history of the consultation procedure in the swiss system illustrates this perfectly.

Consultation procedure

Relative to Switzerland's long history of democracy, the consultation procedure has only recently evolved out of pure necessity over the past century. However, it could become the most essential pillar of democracy, with the other two, representative and direct democracy merely ensuring efficiency and control.

During the 20th century in Switzerland, the threat of a qualified minority being able to potentially kill new legislation after it has been drafted and revised for often many years in the legislative process, has forced the government to listen to minority input early on during the process, submitting drafts for public consultation and revising them based on the obtained feedback, in order to avoid a referendum or to increase the chance of new legislation to survive a referendum and be approved in a popular vote. This process has become known as the "consultation procedure" and had become common practice many decades ago, before that there ever was a formal legal requirement for it.

At the end of the twenties century the Swiss constitution was rewritten from scratch, basically a complete cleanup of it's language without changing it's meaning, bringing its text inline with the legal practice of how it was interpreted. As part of this total revision, passed by popular vote in 1999 and in force since January 1, 2000, the consultation procedure has formally become a binding part of the legislative process, with its own article in the constitution: "Art. 147 Consultation procedure: The Cantons, the political parties and interested groups shall be invited to express their views when preparing important legislation or other projects of substantial impact as well as in relation to significant international treaties."

Since 2005, when a new law and detailed regulations on the workings of the consultation procedure went into force, the draft legislation and supporting expert documentation effectively became public record and all citizens are invited to provide feedback as part of this process.

As it stands, the consultation procedure can be taken to provide the ideal platform to plug a much more sophisticated system of participatory democracy into the Swiss system, offering ample room for new innovations and solidifying this three pillar system.

Three pillars, resulting in scalable, deliberative democracy

Direct democracy, representative democracy, and participatory democracy together form a balanced and scalable system of deliberative democracy. Direct democracy and representative democracy primarily providing a stable infrastructure, with participative democracy being responsible for shaping the quality of its output. While the two other pillars must be carefully designed and enforced, participative democracy can be more freely experimented with and can be continuously re-adjusted and organized much more flexibly.

Due to its decentralized structure and stability, such a system provides vast opportunities for innovation, where new ideas can be locally experimented with, good ideas can spread, mistakes can be absorbed and lessons learned.

Open standards, open policy

In many ways, the political environment this creates has similarities to best practices developed over the past decades in the Open Source software community.

While policies of different communities and different regional levels need to be coordinated and harmonized to the point that they can coexist, such a three pillar system, together with the delegation of sovereignty and the principle of subsidiarity, provides no restrictions on the freedom of different communities to innovate with new ideas and follow their own bliss, entirely free of centralized control.

To the extent that different policies need to be compatible with each other, they will need to be negotiated within communities, between communities, and between different organizational layers to which authority has been delegated to. This harmonization process between the different entities will produce a multitude of consensuses that will effectively become a collection of open standards, developed at a certain level, and available for possible adaption by the more local entities.

Delivering on the promise of democracy

Non of what I've described is rocket science. Much of this is either already practiced to a large extent or is implied by the self-understanding of how the political system should work. In the case of Switzerland, as a result of the way the heritage and ideals of the old confederation were "marketed" to the Swiss citizens during the creation of modern Switzerland in the nineteenths century, and in many other places in the world, simply through the promise of democracy to be the means to define policies by the people for the people.

Evolving the Swiss system

Especially in Switzerland, all that is needed is a round of hardening of these principles, to solidify their real world implementation. Most notably, the consultation procedure offers an ideal opportunity for experimentation with different ways of institutionalizing the third, participatory pillar of democracy, finding the most effective ways to invoke participation and tap the collective wisdom of the people.

One opportunity in this regard certainly relates to further developing concepts and technologies for collective communication using the Internet, but offline gatherings of people have an important role to play in this as well. Certain forms of group facilitation can yield creative breakthrough consensus that we so far can not reproduce online.

Volksrat: The People's Council

While I've been experimenting with online concepts for collective communication since the early 1990s, I've followed the "offline work" of Jim Rough with great interest, originally in order to find ways of leveraging his Wisdom Council techniques for online tools, but I now think his ideas can be directly put to work as an important offline element for physical sessions of a People's Council in the context of the consultation procedure.

During the last few years, Manfred Hellrigl has in Vorarlberg started to apply these concepts in the spirit of what Jim Rough calls "creative insight councils". These experiments have yielded encouraging results, further evidence that this process can produce creative breakthrough results that are reflective of the consensus in general society.

For every People's Council session, the process would kick off by randomly selecting 12 to 25 citizens and inviting them to participate in a specific session, which could be of variable length, but would typically run for 2 days. The facilitation technique used during the session is geared towards creating an open minded and open hearted zone of thinking and talking, with solutions, concerns, data and problem-statements being collected thoroughly from each participant. In this way, the People Council can speak their minds and hearts, and achieve breakthroughs where unanimous conclusions naturally emerge. The People Council then creates consensus statements and presents these results to the public and the media. When the topic of a People's Council session was concerning a particular legal draft, the results also get submitted as feedback in the consultation procedure.

Beyond the context of the consultation procedure, there could also be sessions that are held without any predifined purpose or topic, with participants being entirely free to talk about what they think needs to be addressed. These open sessions could be held on a regular basis, with the public presentations of the consensus statements holding up a mirror to society and generating more collective consciousness.

At the most fundamental level, people council sessions could serve as a consensus factory, working on constantly evolving drafts of a totally revised constitution, from which parts or complete drafts can be moved forward for adaption in the form of initiatives. A perpetual revolution.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

How to end all war, including the 'war' on terrorism!

11sept is approaching fast & war (including the 'war' on terror) is still in the air. I feel a need for us (We the People) to seriously try to harmonize our ideas about better ways to deal all our differences! Neither war nor terrorism, make any long-term sense! We can't afford the waste caused by either! I'd like to suggest that our best hope is for each of us to personally make sure we always invite open dialogue with those who disagree with us & try to assure them that we need to hear their viewpoint! And we need to try to reach a consensus on serious matters involving action! Notice I say "try"! Consensus is extremely hard to reach, even when only two people are involved! But my experience tells me that even just making the effort to agree on important matters will bring us closer together in our ideas! So I advocate that we all make a life-long commitment to always make efforts toward consensus on matters that really matter whether we ever reach consensus or not! Yes, I mean it: keep trying to harmonize our ideas over&over&over again! We must try to consense on a general direction for our global society! [We're all in the same boat & it is so hard to get a single boat to go in two different directions at the same time!]
Let's not forget that we are all imperfect beings: none of us can ever accurately predict the future. But because we have to 'do', if we want to keep on 'being', we have no choice but to do our doing in the dark (as far as the future is concerned)! [If you've ever played at being 'blind', you know that we tend be alot more cautious with our eyes closed!] So, even after we reach some sort of agreement on action, we should proceed with caution! This means trying to take the smallest possible steps (into our future!) & staying very alert to the consequences of our action! When danger appears, let's all humbly head back to the 'drawing board'!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Escaping is not enough!

Last evening I watched film about a failed attempt to escape the Matrix! Some students in Toronto tried to set up an alternative learning institution so they would have the freedom to learn the way they wanted to learn. It was an admirable effort but it fizzeled! Most of the 'students' seemed to be more interested in their freedom than in our freedom!
It reinforced my belief that if we don't learn to keep our freedom within the bounds of responsible behavior, we will, sooner or later lose it! That's why I prefer using 'freesponsibility' rather than the word 'freedom' by itself. Maximum freedom is only possible when it is used responsibly!
So if we want to learn to be "We the people," we must learn to think more inclusively! It's an old dilemma: how can we be more indepentently interdependent? I believe it can only be when we make a commitment to respect all life! If we can do that then we can be free to learn the way we want to learn (which of course is the best way to learn!) without being in danger of loosing our freedom!

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Red Pill - a summary of Escaping the Matrix

The metaphor of the red pill, borrowed from the Warner Brother’s film, The Matrix, refers to waking up from illusion—suddenly realizing that everything is quite different than how you always thought it was.

Each chapter of this book offers it’s own red pill. Our civilization is based on a great many illusions, and each chapter attempts to dispel one of these, peeling one more layer from the onion of deception. Below is a brief description of each chapter’s red pill.

The Matrix—The consensus reality that we see portrayed on television and in school history books is a fabricated illusion. The lies of politicians are repeated in the media and then become the basis of histories, the fabric of the Matrix. The war in Iraq provides an excellent current example: in the Matrix we read about bringing democracy to the Iraqis while in reality the US is seizing control of petroleum resources and establishing a permanent military outpost in the Middle East.

A brief history of humanity—The history we are taught in school is not the story of humanity, but rather the story of hierarchical civilizations. Our species has been fully human for about 100,000 years, and only the last 10% of that—a brief episode for our species—has been characterized by hierarchy and centralized governance. We are presented with the Hobbesian illusion that early humans lived a short and brutal life, and the Social Darwinist illusion that our evolution has been driven by dog-eat-dog competition. In reality, early societies were highly cooperative and egalitarian. Civilization is not a reflection of human nature, but is rather a system of domination and exploitation by ruling elites. We are like animals in cages: our behavior under these stressful conditions is not representative of our nature, just as the pacing of a caged cheetah are not representative of the natural behavior of that beautiful animal.

Our Harmonization Imperative—Our societies and political systems are characterized by competition and struggle among cultural factions and political parties. When we try to change this system by forming adversarial political movements we are playing into this game—a game rigged so that elites always win. If we really want to change the system, we need to learn how to come together as humans, moving beyond the ideological structures that have been created to divide us from one another. We are all in this together, and a better world for one is a better world for all. It’s not about winning, nor really even about agreement: it’s about working together in pursuit of our common interests.

The dynamics of harmonization—Our usual models of discussion and deliberation reflect the adversarial nature of our society generally. We argue for our position over the other position: one side wins, the other loses, or we settle for a compromise—and the underlying conflicts remain unresolved. Harmonization is about a different kind of dialog, based on respectful listening, and aimed at developing solutions that take into account everyone’s concerns. This kind of dialog can be readily facilitated in any group of people, and it is an ancient human tradition, capable of transforming conflict into creative synergy.

Envisioning a transformational movement—Harmonization provides the means by which we can overcome our differences and find our common identity as We the People. If we pursue harmonization in our local communities, on an all-inclusive basis, we can create islands of grassroots empowerment—of direct democracy—within our existing societies. Harmonization can become the basis of a community empowerment movement, transforming our adversarial cultures into cooperative cultures. When We the People have woken up on a society-wide basis, we will be in a position to transform our societies, replacing elite rule with grassroots democracy, based on the principles of harmonization and mutual-benefit exchange.

Envisioning a liberated global society—The core principles of a democratic society are local sovereignty and harmonization. Only at the local level is it possible for everyone’s voice to be heard, and harmonization is the means by which those voices can develop a consensus agenda. The residents of a local community share a common interest in the local quality of life, and are in the best position to manage their resources and economies wisely. Large scale issues and operations can be worked out by delegations from local constituencies, meeting together to harmonize their various agendas and concerns. There is no need for centralized governments, corporations, or institutions, which inevitably become vehicles for the usurpation of power by would-be ruling cliques.

The transition process—Political sovereignty is meaningless unless it also includes dominion over resources and economic affairs. In our transition to a democratic society, one of the first steps will be for each community to repossess its commons—assuming ownership of all land, resources, buildings, and infrastructures that are currently controlled by absentee landlords, banks, corporations, and government agencies. Under the control of local communities and workers, conversion plans can be worked out, gradually repurposing existing facilities toward sensible and sustainable uses. We can expect considerable variety in local economic practices—ranging from communal operations to market economies—to be determined by local cultural traditions and the democratic process.

Reflections on humanity’s future—Which comes first, personal transformation or social transformation? This question, often debated, turns out to be much like the question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” That is to say, the question cannot be answered in its own terms. Humans are above all a social species, and it should not be surprising to realize that personal transformation and social transformation can be most readily achieved together. To a considerable extent, existing paths of enlightenment must begin with a rehabilitation of the individual, helping them find their own center in the midst of an oppressive and stressful society. When we create societies that liberate our spirits and involve us in our own governance, the path to enlightenment will be a much easier one.

I Need You! We Need Eachother!

I Need You! We Need Each Other!
In order for us to harmonize our differences, I need, first, to state my beliefs about the kinds of behavior each of us (over 6 billion of us now!) ought to manifest our citizenship in a radical world democracy (even though, I know, we are nowhere near achieving it yet!). These beliefs should be, of course, the way I am trying to live each day, now, in the world as it is! Then (I hope) you will tell me where you disagree (& if possible, why).
If we disagree about matters that matter, it is important for us to try to harmonize those differences (so our actual behavior won't cancel each other out!)! The more people we harmonize with, the closer we will come to achieving real (radical) democracy!
Since you can't see how I behave, we both have to do our best to put our beliefs into words that, we hope, will be understood. But since we each have grown up in perhaps widely different milieux, it may take a lot of back&forthing before we can be fairly sure we have understood each other accurately! It's a long slow process (& the need is urgent!), so I hope we can get started. [I feel fairly confident that the more of us who actually make that effort, the more we will all notice that the world is getting better&better!]
The most urgent change needed, seems to me to be for us to try to abandon our natural tendency to be arrogant about our own beliefs. If we realize that, often without our awareness, we all make mistakes in perception & in judgement, we should be able to appreciate every disagreement as an opportunity to catch some of our mistakes & proceed with more humility to catch more of them!

I hope some of you will share what you consider to be our most urgent needs for deep change. Each of us has a treasure house of wisdom that can become available to the whole world if we all realize that wisdom is what makes the world a better place for everyone and that it never comes with a guarantee of success! We always must proceed with caution! We must always wait&see whether what we thought was wisdom actually does make the world a better place for everyone!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A perspective on radical democracy

Thoughts on Radical Democracy - 20 June 2004

The US-WILPF mission statement proclaims that “WILPF members create the peaceful transformation they wish to see in the world by making connections that build and strengthen relationships and movements for justice, peace, and radical democracy among people all over the world.” What do we mean by radical democracy?

Radical means “at the root,” and democracy means “rule by the people.” But combining the words together gives us something more than the sum of two parts. Radical democracy is not something modern societies have experienced in a widespread, sustained fashion, so it’s not a reality we can precisely define. But we have seen glimpses that suggest it is part of our core nature, something we can nurture and develop, so capturing its essence gives us something we can aspire to.

Radical democracy is a state of political being. It is not a kind of government, it is an end of government. It starts when people assume they have the values, beliefs, and skills to govern themselves. Then they create processes and institutions to meet their societal goals. But the existence of institutions like voting or courts does not guarantee radical democracy any more than the institution of marriage guarantees the presence of love. As one writer on the subject notes, radical democracy is an adventure of human beings creating with their own hands the conditions for their own freedom - it’s a way in which people order their lives together, through discussion and common action, on principles of equality and justice. Radical democracy can only come into being through widespread individual awakening that embraces commitment to community, inclusion, mutuality, and cooperation; it cannot be imagined and imposed on people by force or law.

Some of the goals, values, and conditions of radical democracy, as envisioned by US-WILPF, include:

  • the needs of all people are met - food, water, clothing, shelter, healthcare, spirituality, lifelong education and growth

  • equal participation by each person in all decisions that affect them

  • a sense of community, connection, and right relationship to each other and all of life on the planet

  • sustainable cultures and economies

  • highly effective communication skills: the capacity for deep listening and speaking from the heart

  • trust, faith, and honesty

  • balance between heart, mind, and spirit

  • shared-power dynamics in which authority is linked to responsibility

  • human-scale societies and institutions

  • diversity being treasured and celebrated

  • a deep understanding that we must all do this together
US-WILPF recognizes that because we come from an anti-democratic society, daring to imagine radical democracy is an act of courage and vision. We cannot assume we will figure it out quickly or easily - after all, we have accumulated damage from 10,000 years of oppressive, patriarchal culture that we must heal from. Like massaging the blood back into a limb that has fallen asleep, waking up that part of our selves that is deeply democratic will be awkward and painful - but essential - work.

Whatever benefit it may have once provided us, the flat, two-dimensional nature of the left-right political spectrum is an inadequate framework for radical democracy. Expanding our imaginations and actions into a third dimension and beyond is crucial to bringing the world we want into being.

Monday, March 13, 2006

On the front lines: creating democracy

Jim Rough has just uploaded an audio interview with Joseph McCormick of the Democracy in America campaign. It is very inspiring, and talks about Joseph's very effective work bringing diverse groups together to achieve a sense of We The People. Jim is the interviewer, and various forms of facilitation are discussed as well. Joseph talks about several of the harmonization events mentioned in the book.

Democracy in America campaign: http://www.democracycampaign.org/
Jim Rough's website: http://www.societysbreakthrough.com/audiovideo.html
The interview: http://www.societysbreakthrough.com/JRShow-JosephM.mp3