2012-02-21 A proposal for governance: Concentric User Groups and Epistemic Communities

This article is a continuation of the ideas begun in A proposal for governance in the post 2011 world

ImageWhile revolutions around the world are in the streets for democracy, we need to look at that very poorly defined and all encompassing word by specifics, to review what we are asking for and why. The above proposal already began to express the need for individual rights and sovereignty in any democratic rule and will explore that in greater detail later; this article will look at the decision making processes in a democracy. There are two options commonly held to be our democratic choices; direct or representative democracy.

Direct democracy

A pure direct democracy is a tyranny of the majority. As in all systems where groups hold the highest power, individual rights are always at risk. When a majority rules, there is no need for the majority to compromise and a minority will have their needs unrepresented, resulting in governance by the majority, not governance by the people.

A direct democracy is impossible in actuality as no one can have the time to participate in every decision concerning them, and certainly not to educate themselves to provide meaningful input in every decision. To make the best decisions, expertise is required on each topic. Direct democracy does not always provide the best solutions, it provides the most popular, the most expedient, or even the most advertised solutions, more frequently as the decision becomes more complex.

Direct democracy gives equal weight to all votes, the expert and the novice, the completely dependent and the unaffected. Expert opinion is overshadowed by volume, which negatively impacts the resulting decisions. Allowing votes by people unaffected by the issue at hand results in not just uninformed decisions but also persecution of minorities.

Direct democracy is very susceptible to a hidden oligarchy, as those at the bottom of the social classes have no time available to represent themselves or to study the issues being debated. Secret clubs, and block voting are difficult to combat and also do not lead to decisions of the most benefit to all.

Aristotle warned of a mob rule form of democracy … in which, not the law, but the multitude, have the supreme power, and supersede the law by their decrees. This is a state of affairs brought about by the demagogues. For in democracies which are subject to the law the best citizens hold the first place, and there are no demagogues; but where the laws are not supreme, there demagogues spring up. For the people becomes a monarch ... At all events this sort of democracy, which is now a monarch, and no longer under the control of law, seeks to exercise monarchical sway, and grows into a despot; ... The decrees of the demos correspond to the edicts of the tyrant; and the demagogue is to the one what the flatterer is to the other. Both have great power; the flatterer with the tyrant, the demagogue with democracies of the kind which we are describing. The demagogues make the decrees of the people override the laws, by referring all things to the popular assembly. And therefore they grow great, because the people have an things in their hands, and they hold in their hands the votes of the people, who are too ready to listen to them. Further, those who have any complaint to bring against the magistrates say, 'Let the people be judges'; the people are too happy to accept the invitation; and so the authority of every office is undermined. Such a democracy is fairly open to the objection that it is not a constitution at all; for where the laws have no authority, there is no constitution. ... So that if democracy be a real form of government, the sort of system in which all things are regulated by decrees is clearly not even a democracy in the true sense of the word, for decrees relate only to particulars.

There is a case to be made that governance by decree is governance by whim, and not just governance under most definitions of the word. And following, there is a case to be made for a constitution and a body of laws. If an individual is to enter a binding social contract in a free society, it is just that they see the constitution of the society they are contracting with.

Representative democracy

The two fundamental pillars of representative democracy, the principles that groups can represent individuals and individuals can represent groups, are impossible in practice. Representative democracy is the most dishonest oligarchy of all as it insists on the falsehood that the voice of its oligarchs are the voice of the people and the subsequent falsehood that their rule is rule by the people.

In the iron law of oligarchy, Robert Michels holds that any political system eventually evolves into an oligarchy. Representative democracies have not eradicated oligarchy, they have driven it to secrecy, a state of affairs ironically most abhorrent in a democracy. Instead of confronting the problems inherent in an oligarchy, democracy denies it exists while practicing it openly. If oligarchy is necessary, as it seems it must be, it needs to be openly and transparently defined by all and guidelines established to ensure the most widespread participation by all and knowledge for all.

Representative democracies do not provide for expertise in governance as representatives are elected by land mass and time span, not system, and are usually elected for charisma, not expertise. Athenian sortition likewise made no attempt at combining expertise with authority. Subjects that the majority is unqualified to speak on are delegated to similarly unqualified political representatives, segregated from other representatives by land mass. These representatives appoint experts who obtain their positions by cronyism with the politician instead of expertise acknowledged by the entire interested population. The politicians and experts in the current system then provide for no meaningful feedback from users of the system, outside of occasional polls; these polls are conducted on test populations which another group have decided shall be considered representative of the population as a whole and used to provide input on only the questions the experts decide. There is no transparency of any meaningful kind that would allow users of the system to audit what the experts were doing.

Problems in representative democracy have been more thoroughly covered in
A proposal for governance: Groups and individuals.

Concentric User Groups and Epistemic Communities

It has become evident that we need to look past the above methods of decision making if we are to protect individual rights, allow input from all and reach decisions using the greatest expertise we have available. This proposal has discussed stigmergy as an efficient form of mass organization for task completion. There is still a need for some form of organization in smaller systems and in decision making to prevent involuntary and unrecognized oligarchy and provide the most efficient and transparent use of expertise.

Governments up till now have acted as the final authority on all topics for an entire region for an arbitrarily specified length of time or until they are overthrown by another group. What these authorities govern is a series of systems, controlled by the state or corporations, and run as dictatorships where workers' individual rights are exchanged for the basic necessities of life. These systems have profit for the top of the hierarchy as their objective; they are not set up to provide an efficient or superior service or product to the users.

If these systems were organized as autonomous, transparent, porous, concentric user groups, they would be far better governed by themselves. The current political structure does not recognize that every system is not of concern or interest to everyone in the region, or that some users have far greater knowledge and expertise in specific areas than others. We need a system where responsibility and control rests with the entire user group and expertise is acknowledged and put to best use.

Autonomous: each user group should consist of all people affected by the system and no people not affected by the system.

Systems should be organized by user groups, not by nations or treaties. International systems would include things such as the internet, telecommunications and knowledge, local systems would include things such as transit, food production and social services, and in any situation where only one family or an individual is affected, the responsibility would lie with only them. Each local user group or individual would have access to outside user groups for trade, shared knowledge, disaster relief, etc., autonomous but networked.

Transparent: all information related to the system must be fully transparent in order for users to participate in tasks or auditing.

Communication should not be the full responsibility of the experts in the centre, but should be carried over expertise bridges by full transparency and user participation; it is the responsibility of each user in an open system to educate themselves to their own level of comfort using the data and user population at each ring to inform themselves. Their input and decision making impact would then be commensurate with the expertise they acquire. The epistemic community in the centre should not need to protect themselves from attacks from completely uninformed users, the circles of expertise which promoted them to the centre should also verify and explain their findings to the outer circles.

Current systems primarily use a supposedly representative sample of the user group to provide periodic feedback. This feedback is delivered as percentages of the population which, as is usual in the current system, ignores the importance of the individual. From an individual perspective, the chance of, for instance, dying of a side effect from a pharmaceutical is either 0% or 100%, group statistics have no effect on individual experience. Transparent user groups allow feedback and ideas from the entire user group, an automatic testing and validation system in place continually throughout development and operation.

Experts are peer promoted based on reputation instead of certification by an external authority. Each user of a system can review the work of the active members both directly and through the expert review of the active member's peers instead of placing their faith in a third party certification. Additionally, experts can be created by the system itself as users develop knowledge, expertise and reputation and move towards the centre. Third party authorities such as universities are no longer necessary.

Porous: contribution at all levels of each user group must be open to all users with acceptance by peer review.

A side effect of these user groups is that they provide workers with the three motivators which arguably provide the greatest job satisfaction, autonomy, mastery and purpose. People can work on anything they like, they are not required to submit resumes, acquire accreditation, seniority, or approval from an individual authority. If their work is good enough it will be accepted by the user group. Everyone can work on the system that interests them, doing the jobs at the level they are capable of, with as much or as little involvement as they choose.

Concentric: user groups should be formed in concentric circles representing levels of expertise.

For example, users: audit and provide feedback, contributors: interested users who periodically present work for acceptance by the members, members: have acquired expertise and been accepted as full contributing members by the user group, and an epistemic core group: recognized by the group as having the necessary level of expertise to provide direction for the system.

Ideas can never be furthered if discussion is always at the level of the novice and the ideas of an expert can only be tested by other experts with equal understanding of the topic; in a concentric user group, the receptive field is stronger near the centre, so informed opinions will be heard more clearly by experts in the centre, but full transparency will allow anyone from any part of the system to be as informed as they wish to be by any other part.

In representative democracy we have learned that people in general prefer to place their faith in leaders who are like them instead of leaders who are so expert they do not understand them. In order to avail ourselves of the greatest expertise on each topic, we must place our most knowledgeable experts in a position of transparent authority while also providing a 30 IQ point bridge leading from their ideas to the casually interested observer. According to Leta Hollingworth’s research, to be a leader of their contemporaries a child must be more intelligent but not too much more intelligent than them. A discrepancy of more than about 30 points of IQ does not allow for leadership, or even respect or effective communication.

Hollingworth notes: A lesson which many gifted persons never learn as long as they live is that human beings in general are inherently very different from themselves in thought, in action, in general intention, and in interests. Many a reformer has died at the hands of a mob which he was trying to improve in the belief that other human beings can and should enjoy what he enjoys. This is one of the most painful and difficult lessons that each gifted child must learn, if personal development is to proceed successfully. It is more necessary that this be learned than that any school subject be mastered. Failure to learn how to tolerate in a reasonable fashion the foolishness of others leads to bitterness, disillusionment, and misanthropy [3, p. 259].

This loss of expertise is a tragedy for both the experts and society. There needs to be a method of organization that will use all expertise at the level it will be most effective and yet avoid an authoritarian hierarchy. Epistemic communities need to be placed at the centre of all systems so their expertise is available to all working within the system. The systems however, must be completely transparent to allow full auditing of information provided by the core group by any interested users and passers by.

Concentric circles bypass the divide between what people say and what they are willing to do, as acceptance is based on performance not accreditation, resumes and interviews. Titles are replaced by jobs and voices are amplified according to the peer group acceptance earned. As in stigmergy, votes are frequently replaced by actions, putting authority in the hands of those doing the work. The jobs discussed in The financial system which offer no benefit to the user group would be eliminated instead of put in a position of authority.

The keys to preventing a concentric user group from becoming a tyrannical oligarchy are full transparency, peer promotion and porous acceptance of work by peer review at all levels. When combined with stigmergy it can be hoped that the work produced in these systems will finally be of the highest standard we can attain and the work environments will be enjoyable and fulfilling for all.

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer