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I believe that it makes sense for all affected people to decide, for example, that it would be desirable to have food production be less centralized. Given that goal, multiple alternatives at various levels could be examined from a technical / engineering perspective, and the resulting possible approaches presented back to the people with a clear analysis of the pros and cons and the issues involved. IBIS-like structures work for some of this, but a significant part is the sort of discussion that says that the following N elements of the proposed solutions have been discovered and considered important, what are the relative importances? Once discussion has provided at least a partial ordering, the various approaches, and maybe some new ones can be examined based on those relative importances. This is what we claim we should do when designing systems for use by a specific audience, and I see no reason why a similar approach won’t work with larger groups if we can provide honest information.
Part of what happens today is that most proposals are already polarized by the time we hear that there is even a discussion. We are then presented with a single “solution” in terms of some proposed legislation. The advocates say it is a great idea and that opponents are short sighted, stupid, rude, etc. The opponents say it is a terrible idea and that advocates are short sighted, stupid, rude, etc.
The use of various argumentation structures is being pursued, and there is some real possibility for ways of presenting the elements of even complex problems in such a way that they can be grasped by people who are not experts in the specific area of the problem. If these are enhanced to support the sort of partial ordering of concerns that allow for describing how various sorts of trade-offs should be treated, I think it should be possible to allow huge numbers of people to participate in the discussions in a meaningful way. Discussion needs to be transformed into the argumentation presentation periodically since it does appear to be difficult to do this at the time of entry. One of the meta-questions that needs to be addressed continually in such a system is “does the transformation into the argumentation system capture accurately all of the points made in the original discussion.
Some of the tools that Stafford Beer has proposed (http://www.staffordbeer.com/papers/Origins%20Team%20Syntegrity.pdf ) provides ways for “working groups” to address issues with all points of view getting expressed, and to avoid polarization.
By using the input form all stakeholders to determine what factors are important and what sorts of outcomes are desired, it may then be possible to design the systems that will provide features that are maximally satisfying.
Every such discussion needs to have a “none of the above” selection.
In “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress,” one of Heinlein’s characters tosses out several ideas for the structuring of a new government. Among the ideas that sound interesting are:
One thing is clear to me – the most local solution that works deserves a high degree of consideration. I can’t say that this is necessarily the best, but the closer any system is to meeting the needs of all involved, the better it is, and that is easier to do when the number involved is smaller rather than larger. The more people are affected, the more likely it is that there will have to be “special cases” to account for the more local issues that arise.
Clearly, more people would participate if the barriers were not so high. Along with the technology of information systems, we need to understand and find ways to deals with such things as polarization of discussion. Whenever we can succeed at getting all parties on the same side in pursuit of improvements to the existing scene, we stand a chance of reaching solutions that do the best possible job of meeting the needs of the people. Once the people take sides against each other instead of against the problem, it gets very difficult to make any progress towards a solution.
Garold (Gary) L. Johnson
I didn't mean to suggest that group
participation in brain surgery or engineering is a good idea - of course it's
not. But I've been back to your original posting, and in the section in which
you make this comment you appear to be talking about problem solving in
general, society-wide terms, not specifics. If I've got my wires crossed
here, I apologise.
From: John Turnbull
> At the risk of joining this thread too
late, I feel I have to take issue with Gary when he says,
idea, for example, that a million non-thinking people can arrive at better
solutions than a few
> Who are these 'non-thinking' people, Gary? This is exactly the kind of attitude that has prevented real democracy from emerging, that has
> kept millions of people from playing a meaningful role in the conduct of their own societies' affairs.
If you really believe that a mass of people can make any sort of decision, I suggest that you actually try it. I accept that all people need to be able to “play
a meaningful role in the conduct of their own affairs,” but I do not think that extends to obtaining opinions on matters which do require specific expertise.
If you read all the post (a chore I admit) you will see that I believe that group participation is good for determining “how we would like things to be,” or “give a
set of workable options and their consequences, which do we prefer (or non, so look for more option.” If you think this is elitist, consider having the people in the
hospital waiting rooms vote on how to perform your brain surgery and then make the surgeon conform to the “will of the majority”.
> Somebody asked in an earlier posting
> "what is wrong with democracy?" The answer is that we don't have any - all we have is pseudo-democracy, which has evolved for the
> purpose that is implicit in Gary's thinking: to exclude the masses and let those who 'know best' make the decisions.
There is *no* such purpose implicit in *my* thinking. You are correct that we have problems with the way our democracy
is organized. A major problem that we have is that we get to vote on which of a set of unworkable proposals we want to
implement. Having lawyers attempt to design systems of any sort with a purpose to get re-elected is not a good way to get
I keep hearing about becoming an informed citizen – has anybody tried lately? When a typical piece of legislation runs to
several thousand pages, much of which makes modifications to other multi-thousand page documents, and which is written to
obfuscate in the first place, becoming informed is a hopeless task. In my youth I believed that this was the problem with
government – that the information load was overwhelming – so that better information systems (knowledge systems, if you
will) were a part of the solution. I now know that the problems are *not* simply a matter of information overload.
> If we are to have
> anything approaching a just society, ALL of the people affected by decisions MUST be have the opportunity to be involved in the
> decision making process. Democracy must be a learning process, with all of us learning from each other, not simply the 'non-thinking'
> people being lectured at by those who 'know' what's good for them.
I agree. How many people in any volunteer organization actually participate? About 20% - 30% if the figures that keep cropping up are correct. What leads you to believe
that this percentage will be different if we extend it to millions? We should make it possible for all of the people affected by decisions to have the opportunity to be
involved in the decisions.
The idea of “simply the 'non-thinking' people being lectured at by those who 'know' what's good for them” is yours, not mine.
I will continue to insist that we should leave it to those affected to decide whether to invest the resources in a bridge, a mine, a satellite, but I do not accept that this
means that this same group should *design* that bridge, mine, or satellite. I have seen what happens when that job is tackled by an “elite” of college-trained
engineers numbering in the hundreds of thousands – not a pretty site. Trying to accomplish this by letting everyone who wants to vote on the engineering required
would never result in a project that works –it almost doesn’t now. The affected people *should* get more input than they do as to *whether* these projects are
As a final point, we have a very select group of people on this forum, with a relatively narrow set of goals (relative to the total set possible) and even with this
“elite” and several years of time, we have not yet been able to agree even on what it is we are trying to accomplish, much less how to go about doing it. There is
good work being done by a few individuals, but the democratic process hasn’t been having a lot of success at developing a system that works.
Garold (Gary) L. Johnson