Tag Archives: democracy

Non-Binary Democracy

What is democracy for? The ancient Greeks invented it. They knew a thing or two, didn’t they? They also had a lot of wars. Why do male gorillas beat their chests or elephants make fake charges? Was it the same reason the war-torn Greeks voted to see how many were on each side of an argument before starting a fight? Us ‘higher’ animals, with our ‘higher cost of living’ want to avoid fights that we are likely to lose. It is a survival tactic in case ‘our side’ aren’t the best bullies. I think the Greeks rather cleverly invented Democracy as a proxy for war.

Democracy isn’t the least bad option, as Churchill suggested. The worst option is being killed, or perhaps horribly tortured. Democracies have traditionally tended to regard those as Bad Things.

You’ll notice that this first version of democracy makes a couple of simplifying assumptions:

  1. There are 2 options to be voted on. Politicians know that us ordinary folk are far too stupid to understand anything non-trivial; or at least they hope we are. That’s why we are only offered ‘in’ or ‘out’, not ‘shake it all about’ or ‘in a bit’. That leads to awkward conversations like “How much?” and “How far in?” which don’t have binary answers. We would never be able to cope with THAT MUCH democracy.
  2. There are 2 ‘sides’: Us and Them. The trick is to out-vote Them once, so they see that they were Wrong, are embarrassed and go away. There is no place for other ‘sides’ that think you are asking the wrong question or who don’t trust any of the candidates on the ballot paper.

Both of these assumptions have been scientifically tested by the Scottish Independence and EU referenda/dums (It’s all Greek/Roman to me.) They are both Wrong. Our representative democracy doesn’t represent most people, in large areas of the UK.

The people who dislike the government could win a fight with those who would agree to defend our leaders. State torture and leaders without support are worrying signs about the state of our democracy.

First past the post voting systems clearly don’t work when you have more than 2 political parties or when you pretend that some of the options don’t exist. We appear to be faced with a couple of options (there may be others.):

  1. We can reform our democracy, so that we don’t elect a party that most people don’t want, or
  2. Inequality and power in the hands of a tiny minority will lead to increasing levels of anger until some minor event triggers a revolution, as Marx predicted. Not necessarily a violent, orchestrated uprising of thugs, like in Russia but a grass-roots refusal by ordinary people to co-operate with people too lazy to hide their lies any more.

Most people seem fairly convinced that Communism is bound to fail, so they are likely to try another option; perhaps a charismatic leader. Who doesn’t love a strong leader with a straight tie and shiny shoes? Trump or Putin might be on the transfer list by then. Great. May I remind you, fairly urgently, of Option 1.

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My army is bigger than yours

I’m still processing what I learned last night, by volunteering to give a talk on Intertwingularity at Web Staffordshire, so instead of writing about that, I thought I’d share this version of an observation I originally made elsewhere. I try not to ignore things that might be true, just because they are inconvenient. That was the reason for the talk too.

Hating someone for what they look like is illogical, but disliking someone for what they choose to think is very common.

It may be evolutionary. A genuine threat to our cultural values may be as real as a threat to our DNA, if Richard Dawkins’ meme theory is taken to “it’s logical conclusion” (as I intend to, if I ever finish my ‘book’.) Democracy is humans’ way of deciding which side would be likely to win the battle, as other potentially violent animals do, such as drunk men in pubs. Democracy and violence are expensive to societal cohesion. It’s hard to trust people when you know they think you “ain’t worf it” or they hit your Dad and he goes to prison.

Despite that, the current process of undermining of democracy across Western society, to the advantage of the rich and well-connected, seems likely to bring about some kind of revolution. This is analysis, not a suggestion (or I stole it from Wikipedia’s entry on Marxism.) I’d vote for voting reform; except I can’t (yet.)

I wonder if racism is just stupid people confusing race and culture, like some sort of inherited prejudice. Creedism is clearly the way forward. At least we have that belief in common with the Jihadists.

Democracy – Still the Least-bad?

I’ve always accepted Churchill’s assertion that democracy, though awful, is better than the alternatives. The events of recent days have made me desperate to find something fairer than first-past-the-post representative democracy. I am not represented, so I scream into the void: #NotInMyName

For the first time, I listened to a long debate on BBC Parliament. I recommend hearing parliament  first hand, so you can compare and contrast with media reporting. It’s also instructive to hear what flimsy evidence the people representing us are willing to rely on before taking a decision that will inevitably lead to loss of life. There was so little rational questioning of the evidence for war and, as importantly, whether the proposed action would make things better or worse, that it was embarrassing.

Margaret Becket made a persuasive argument that air-only missions could work and no-one pointed out that she was describing ‘simple wars’ with 2 opposing factions, where air-cover tipped the balance. Syria is nothing like that. Daesh hold a parcel of land and their total annihilation  would leave a power vacuum that would suck in a plethora of equally unpredictable religious/tribal armies. I heard no discussion of what would happen next or whether civilians would be any safer.

It felt like a court drama, played to a script and that the key-players were contractually bound not to discuss the next episode; certainly not with Jeremy Corbyn. He looked as desperately sad as I felt. Hilary Benn’s highly praised, emotive speech made sure that we all understood that they were Bad-Guys and we ‘have to do something, fast’, like he thought about Iraq. It didn’t answer any of my concerns.

Our democracy is a mockery of a travesty of a sham of an already imperfect system, reported on by biased and corrupt media companies, owned by tax-dodging millionaires who contribute to one of the political parties. They could at least do the decent thing, like Google does in the US and fund all parties equally. Or, if MPs are doing this to protect jobs in the arms industry or to cosy up to the French,  Germans or Russians for an undisclosable favour, or even because they enjoy a nice arms fair junket, why don’t they say so? I don’t think I could respect them much less. They have nothing to lose; unlike the RAF air-crew and their future sleepless nights of guilt.

Right now, I think many of our MPs may be an alien reptile task force, sent to clear the planet of human empathy or decency. Remember when we fought Saddam, to stop him torturing innocent people?

Small Pieces Loosely Tied Together With URLs

In my last post, I mentioned Bruce Lawson’s talk on the Extensible Web, before ‘going off on a rant’ about the long term viability of the Web as a development platform. Today, I would like to talk about a very basic thing he mentioned: URLs, Uniform Resource Locators.

Bruce was the third of three(*) prominent figures from the world of the world wide web who I’ve seen speak out publicly recently about the deteriorating ecosystem of The Internet. Until now, I’ve seen this as a reaction by the established potential monopolies to constrain the network of Free software that threatens their power structures, into hierarchical walled gardens that they hope to control. They could then compete to tempt us into their own secret garden and corral our social network into their own ‘safe space’, like gently grazing cash cows who believe they have free will. Big Data companies want a single point of entry to their private network of services, as a replacement for software licences; or to give away free because we, the click-cattle, are the product.

I was reminded a couple of days ago that a hierarchy is a structure built out of single points of failure. Internet Domains are notionally tree-structured. This may be the biggest design fault in the Internet Protocol stack.

Bruce’s talk pointed out that URLs are the key resources that we are losing. The Internet is hand-crocheted out of fine threads that can snap easily. They are connected onto ‘ports’ at IP addresses. They are the way straight through the garden gate to the heart of each garden. This interconnectedness provides the biodiversity we need. URLs are the addresses the postal service has allocated to each letter-box in the garden doors. They are used by the Internet to deliver your packets. If URLs have letter-boxes in the outside door and the gardeners can be trusted to deliver the packets then though the web is owned by private companies, it is still functional. If any URL is only available to those inside the walled garden then its threads to the outside world have been cut. The internal resources have been made private to a corporation. Soon, the gardeners can be paid in Garden-coin, to be spent only in the company shop.

If the URLs are hidden, we won’t have an Internet. We will have a tree of nets, like before the Internet was created, when no-one got fired for buying IBM and IT Directors ate well.

Any similarity between this tactic and the UK government’s attempts to force cities to elect a mayor as a single point of contact, instead of the current ‘networked chaos’, in exchange for ‘local, distributed democracy’ is entirely imaginary/a lie/coincidental/true. Whatever.

As ‘Sun Microsystems’ might have said, “The Network is the Democracy.” Our revolution is under attack from reactionary forces. We must storm the barricades.

* The other 2 were:
David Winer, @davewiner inventor of RSS and the Iranian Blogfather, Hossein Derekshan who suffered more than most of us for blogging

http://uk.businessinsider.com/iranian-blogger-hossein-derakshan-internet-changes-6-years-filter-bubble-2015-7?op=1?r=US&IR=T

The Simple Concepts of Democracy and Fairness

WikiP says: Democracy is “a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity … are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly,” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary.[1] Democracy is further defined as (a:) “government by the people; especially : rule of the majority (b:) ” a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”[2] According to political scientist Larry Diamond, it consists of four key elements: “1. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections. 2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life. 3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens. 4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens”.[3]

Our recent election looks a bit shaky at a number of the hurdles in that description. Government by the people? Majority? Active participation? Human rights and equality under the law. A way to get rid of the government if it turns out they misled the electorate?

Simple then, let’s start with voting reform to something “fairer”. Clearly we can’t trust politicians to do that because they will evaluate the effect of any proposed system on them, relative to the current system. That’s why the Greens, their idealism still unsaddled by any realistic chance of winning a significant number of seats, suggested an electoral commission. All the commission would need to do is to do is decide what is “fair”.
Members of all political parties fight for “fairness”, based on their own values. Political allegiance is almost entirely dependent on an individual’s concept of fairness. To have a definition of fairness is to take a political stance.

We may be caught in a loop. Democratic voting systems can only be changed by a decisive  minority winning the right to govern. I think that is called “a revolution”. Does anyone have any other ideas? Not that our elected ‘representatives’ seem to care much about what we think, now they have power, or that we believe anything they say. Democracy is broken and most of Them aren’t planning to fix it. Our only friends are the other losers.

“Losers Unite!”?

Open Rights (in Birmingham)

Last night I went to this: https://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/94628536/ , the first meeting of the ‘Open Rights Group Birmingham’, to see what THAT is all about.

There was a table full of us, gathered from the worlds of computing, art and politics. Thinking about what happened, I’ve realised that although I’m interested in all three areas, I’ve never experienced them mashed-up before. We were in the cafe at Birmingham Open Media, after closing time, like radicals, ready to change the world.

Our mission from HQ, should we choose to accept it, was to consider what Brum could do to help ORG’s ‘Snooper’s Charter’ campaign: “We demand an end to indiscriminate retention, collection and analysis of everyone’s Internet communications, regardless of whether they are suspected of a crime. We want the police and intelligence agencies to have powers that are effective and genuinely protect our privacy and freedom of speech.”
https://www.openrightsgroup.org/campaigns/dont-let-the-snoopers-charter-bounce-back

What fascinated me most was the different intuitive responses of the three groups. The techies saw it as a problem to be fixed or provided with tools. Those in public services and the world of politics saw a policy decision to be campaigned on and influenced, using their knowledge of the tools of our broken democracy and those from the art world saw it as something to be responded to, to influence public opinion. That is a heady combination: identify a problem, motivate popular demand for change to generate political appetite, provide a technical solution. It also demonstrates that politicians are often the blockers rather than the enablers of societal change.

I’ve also watched a video on the societal imperatives driving the move of businesses from hierarchies to networks. Imagine that applied to democracy. Netwocracy?

Election 2015 – Keeping Things in Proportion

When you hear the heads of three political party leaders hit the floor on the same day, you know it’s been an eventful election. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said before the results were announced that the most likely victim was to be the First Past The Post electoral system. Many of us are waiting for this fourth head to drop.

There are experts at the Electoral Reform Society who could explain the different alternative systems and their respective advantages and disadvantages, if politicians wanted to know but of course the winner is rarely keen to change a system under which they have just achieved victory. On this occasion, we may have to insist. This election was too chaotic to count as democracy. Poorly coordinated tactical voting based upon opinion poles that are now known to have been wrong, is a very risky way to make an important decision.

  • Majority

Out of the people who voted, the winner is the option that gets more than 50% of the votes. There can be a draw and with more than 2 options, there won’t necessarily be a winner.

  • First-Past-The-Post (FPTP)

The winner is the option that gets most votes. When there are more than 2 options and the spit is fairly equal, there can be arguments over ‘legitimacy’, as there were at this election.

UK elections are run under a combination of these 2 systems, FPTP to decide which party’s leader tries to form a government but if there is no majority then further horse trading and agreements with other parties to work together to achieve a majority.

Does FPTP ever work? It can, if there are only 2 choices (and no-one is hiding a third option that many people would have preferred, as happened in the Scottish Independence referendum) and there is no dispute over the borders of the appropriate constituency or who should be entitled to vote (another pair of hurdles the ‘Scottish question’ did not clear cleanly.)

Until last night, the Conservatives seemed likely to get the most votes but not to have a majority. We heard the SNP argue that an ‘alliance of the Left’ would have a greater share of the vote that would have more legitimacy. The unexpected Conservative majority saved us from that entertainment.

What do we want from our elections? There has been a lot of talk of “PR”,

  • Proportional Representation

A set of systems that would select MPs from a group of candidates, in proportion to the number of votes they receive. At first sight, this seems fair but what if there are candidates that have some support from a small section of the population but are extremely unpopular with another part of the community, possibly everyone else? Systems that allow ‘NOT preferences’ to be expressed exist.A

  • Transferable Votes system

is used in Australia. You put a “1” against your first choice, a “2” against your second etc. After voting, if your first choice has not won then it is transferred to your second choice. It is designed to maximise the satisfaction, or at least minimise the dissatisfaction, across the population.

Would an example help? Imagine there is an election in Israel. An election is held to choose 2 councillors from 4 candidates. You might get 1 PLO candidate, 1 from a Zionist group that wanted to build on Palestinian land and two moderates who want to respect the traditions of the two communities but to build shared first schools so that kids get to know each other before they learn to hate.

Under Proportional Representation, it is not inconceivable that the Palestinians would vote for the PLO candidate first and the Israelis would vote for the Zionist.

Under a Transferable Votes system, they might choose 2 moderates who are no-ones first choice. Is this compromise, social engineering or satisfaction optimisation? Is it better to make a few people very happy and a few people  very unhappy with each choice?

An exercise to the reader: UKIP seem likely to favour PR but they are very worried about immigration by Muslims and the possibility of Islamist extremism within those communities. Under PR, might there ever be enough fundamentalist Muslims spread around the UK to elect there own MP?

Remember when we had a FPTP referendum and chose not to move the only bad PR system we were offered, in case we got coalition governments? What about when most Scots probably wanted greater devolved power within the UK but were offered an In/Out referrendum?

Democracy is not simple. Decisions have consequences. We should not change voting systems in a rush. I think Natalie Bennett knows this, so we should listen to what she says.