[unrev-II] Greatly Insane PA (Parliamentary Assistance) (not intended as flame)

From: John \ (johnwerneken@netzero.net)
Date: Fri Feb 25 2000 - 02:14:22 PST

From: "John \"sb\" Werneken" <johnwerneken@netzero.net>

The authors and certainly the presenter of this PA proposal to the Engelbart
Colloquium exceed, I am quite sure, the standard of general smarts I would
count as a peer.

I completely disagree with the proposal.

Most fundamentally, Robert's Rules is about the rights of the BODY - of the
community. The proposal seems to assume a sort of equality for the weight of
the participation of each member. Some explanations of democracy posit an
equality amongst the participant-citizens but such is emphatically NOT the
case in any real body or community of people. Robert's provides a way for
the body to work its will, without violence. Some respect is given to the
feelings of minorities and even to those of individual members, but mostly
Robert's is about the group as a whole.

As a group, the body has leaders. The Chair is either the principal leader
or his/her servant. The procedural life of the body gives a frame for the
political life of the body. A good example is who I would as Chair appoint
to a committee, or to which existing Committee I as Chair would give
jurisdiction on a matter.

The presence in one place of the participants will be critical, unless
technology evolves to allow ALL the human interaction cues to be
communicated. We need to be able to raise a voice, throw a scowl, and need
to be able to take people aside for secret conversations, and to be seen to
do so (or in some cases, not be seen to do so).

Points I wrote down in some agitation during the presentation:

1. The heck with the bias at the beginning. The energy issue was capsulized
as a choice between 'fair sharing, or allowing the rich to use what they
will, until gone'. The assumptions built in are staggering. First, that
being affected by something confers a right to do something about it. BS.
Second, that a collective decision is morally admissible or efficient or
likely to be reasonably effective or good (by any measure of what is good).
Third, the point of being rich is to have choices others don't, especially
over scare resources. Fourth, some of us, me in particular, think the
process of getting rich or deciding who will be rich, is far more "fair" to
individuals as well as far more "beneficial" to the community, than the
process of any group voting on what to impose on others.

2. Binding decisions: a bit like military intelligence or killing for peace.
I will decide what decisions I accept, based on the quality of the decision
and the quality of the process. If not overly provoked or if the coercion
threatened by the rest of you is high enough, I may also weigh how much I
care about the decision and about how I believe decisions should be made,
vs. the costs others may try to impose on me.

Mostly I try to avoid conflict these days as I feel better when I am in
amity with others. So I am fairly law-abiding, even of laws and lawmakers I
may not support. I think most of us are. Consensus is a more powerful tool
for obtaining obedience and certainly for obtaining support.

3. A decision we can support. That is what you are trying to offer, I think.
A consensus-based process offers this. A non-consensus process is exactly
the same as to its lack of legitimacy and lack of attraction, whether Stalin
does it or the US Senate or the whole American electorate. This is why the
abortion thing is never resolved: we all know, from experience, that the
winner could try to impose on the loser. People QUITE RIGHTLY will die
fighting this when it is an idea that they care about.

The decision process is a framework for producing a decision most people are
willing to support. If the problem is large, consensus is the only way other
than war to obtain a supported decision.

The decision process can not be reduced to what is necessary, on paper, to
produce a "binding" decision.

4. Robert's: nobody runs on Robert's. The skill of the discussion steerer,
the negotiations of the leaders, the inputs of stakeholders - these things
decide issues.

5. Robert's works exactly to the extent that it enables consensus. Robert's
is problematic for voluntary assemblies (which is most of the assemblies
using Robert's): too much majority over-rule and the group fragments. In the
modern age all bodies are on the way to becoming voluntary bodies.

6. There is no such thing as "majority rule". There are coalitions of
minorities, and even of individuals. Robert's exists for the health of the
body itself, not for the making of a given decision.

7. Cleanliness is a problem in decision-making. Points of order aren't about
the procedure, they are about substantive points on the issue or substantive
points on the rights of those affected. They are opportunities for
interjection and delay. Tools of consensus-building. Who gets to speak is a
way of shaping the debate. This is for the leaders of the body not for a
date-time stamp. In a real body, it is not confused about who has the floor,
it wants to debate or otherwise control who it wants to hear from. A good
Chair or good leaders manage this process so that the body is comfortable
with its emerging will: a consensus is being formed.

8. Presumption of equality of participants. Again, BS. Let's suppose a body
95% white and 80% male (like union meetings I used to Chair). Obviously the
majority might be little concerned about illusive discourtesies to its black
women members. Not so the black women members! Because they may care more,
they have disproportionate influence on this topic, and there was little
such discourtesy, despite who was in the majority and who was not. Wealth is
one of the unevenly-distributed things which concentrates influence, some of
the time on some of the issues, but it is far from the only thing that works
that way. Viva la differance!

9. The main reason Robert's is so popular is the force of tradition and
example. Legislative bodies have their own rules, but voluntary associations
tend to use Robert's: because the forces of tradition and example help the
body gain support for the decisions it reaches using Robert's. Consensus,

10. The Chair's power is a good thing. The Chair is really the servant of
the body under Robert's. A good Chair will recognize a member notorious for
moving to close debate, when it is clear that the body is ready to vote, and
not earlier and not later.

11. Agendas can be set by consensus too. Record the ideas in public and then
tally the preferences, allowing each member a limited number of preferences
but allowing each to put as many preferences as they want to, and have, on a
given topic.

12. Neighborhoods deciding street speeds! Argh!!! At one time I was an
elected neighborhood leader with enough personal clout to have such signs
put up or taken down or changed with a phone call. I guess my informal
process was pretty good: find a consensus on goal and several alternative
means amongst those most directly affected - on that street, not the whole
neighborhood; canvass opinion of the diverse neighborhood board and at the
possibly-stacked-for-that-purpose public neighborhood meeting; negotiate
with the traffic engineers for a solution that would not create worse
problems elsewhere; and call em and tell em what sign to put where.

My town has a more formal way of doing the same thing now, applied to the
whole city of several hundred thousand people. It involves property owner
meetings & petition (the most-affected); public neighborhood hearing with
vote (the local pressure); neighborhood board vote (hopefully, some
diversity of interest as to how affected by various alternatives); capacity,
demand, speed, & safety statistics; a City Policy classifying all the
streets in the City as to general function and type of speed control regime
(so a regional 6-lane road does not get a 20 mph speed limit in one
neighborhood, with 45 mph on each side, but so a local street by a school
can get a 20 mph limit, a row of speed bumps, and a cop); and a City budget

Complex yes but it seems to work - there is a generally accepted scheme for
identifying where the traffic is too fast but should be slower and for
setting priorities for which places to address with resources. And I can't
see ANY assembly (on-line or in-person) coming up with anything this
supportable as a piece of legislation considered under Robert's Rules.

I guess I feel that the whole point of democracy is being missed. People
will support decisions which they feel are being taken in their interests
and on their behalf. Participating directly or through representatives is a
great way to generate that feeling. Providing a disrespect for consensus
does not destroy loyalty to the group. People are better judges of their OWN
interests than is any body else. People tend to prosper when compulsion is
minimized - when the parallel intelligence of all those individuals is
allowed to mostly direct their own lives. People prefer government to be
fairly stable and fairly predictable. People prefer for change to percolate
from the bottom up and oppose it more when it is imposed from the top down.
Accommodation and consensus win out over a series of bitterly contested
divisions. The more alternative & competitive decision-making bodies, the

What truly scares me about the Silicon Valley generation - as represented by
slashdot or by the PA proposal - is it's disregard for Burke's lessons. If
all the intervening levels between the individual and the total whole are to
be swept away, then is the individual truly powerless in the face of
tyranny. I honestly believe that this "Cosmic Citizenship" idea is as
dangerous to Freedom as the French Revolution's Nationalism proved to be.

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