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Part of the EmergentDemocracy discussion.

Please note that I've taken the liberty of moving the comments on DefiningEmergentDemocracy to their own page -- AbeBurmeister

Direct Democracy vs. Representative Democracy

And as a result, California's laws are a complete mess. It is both possible and likely for two initiatives which contradict each other to both pass. It is common for a very small special interest group to use the initiative process to embed its concerns in the law with little or no regard for the resulting ripple effects. With dozens of complex initiatives on the ballot, it is difficult or impossible for the voters to figure out what they are actually voting for. In all of these cases, it is very difficult for the legislature to remedy the problem because, in doing so, they would be "ignoring the will of the voters," a political impossibility.

California is, IMO, an excellent argument in favor of representative democracy and against direct democracy. I'd like to see those who argue the reverse take a hard look at California's issues and explain how they would address them.--KatherineDerbyshire

If I were to say anything truly critical about this essay it would be simply that it is you do not put enough charity towards history, such as a fair discussion of representative democracy, its motivations and successes. You certainly don't give much hope against Shirky's "[WWW]Power Law". I read into the [WWW]Power Law more the reality of a privitized state, where it will allow people to organize more freely and strongly against the public. Certainly now that weblogs aren't very important, they remain liberal, but if such technology did become vital to running the state, it won't be long before people find a way to organize themselves to take power. Emergent behaviour relies on the fact that the parts do not have identities known to the other parts, so any communication is "opportunistic". However, human social systems are not like this, which is what I believe Clay was talking about when he said the eventual structure will reorganize into a power law distribution. It's this reason that populism is a dangerous ideal, as it quickly destroys itself. Representative democracies provide a stopgap against populism. For instance, the leader of government is put into an Office, and that Office has additional legal responsibilities to set a higher standard of behaviour. And I'm sure you've heard a politician say, "Leaders sometimes have to make unpopular decisions," which is true. -- SunirShah

"Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Joi, I think if your goal is some kind of direct democracy, wisdom and history are against you. But I think there are practical goals that we can achieve: we can use social software tools to extend the discussion and debate about compelling issues, and to organize influence on public policy (as EFF-Austin has been doing recently via Adina Levin's work opposing the state-leve 'Super DMCA' in Texas). Rather than replace the existing republican forms of governance, I'm confident that we can increase participation and take the steps necessary to enhance citizen involvement and translate emergent will in to effective action. To do that we need to work toward an informed populace (so that 'emergent democracy' will have a basis in real understanding of the issues), broader access to tools for participation (which may mean working through community networks to extend participation), and cultivation of activists who understand the legislative process. - JonLebkowsky

It seems that no-one's about the bigger problem of direct democracy, that some decisions are necessarily interdependent (eg. taxation and government spending) The finer the granularity of the direct involvement, the more chance there is that the things being decided are interdependent, and the greater the possibility that the electorate choose inconsistent policies (low taxes and high government spending). One of the justifications for indirect democracy is (or should be) that representatives combine policies into consistent packages.

Maybe to reproduce this in a more direct way, we'd need referendum software which highlighted the constraints : perhaps like Touch Graph, showing them as elastic connections between different policy decisions. Or an Amazon recommendation system ("citizens who voted for low taxation also voted for low government spending." :-)

As with many ideas that concern many people (eg. free markets), you cannot just take the idea and "do it" -- implementing these ideas requires all the political tools humanity has developed to organize people. In this particular case, we need an institution (eg. parliament) that verifies that new laws don't conflict with old laws. -- AlexSchroeder