Category Archives: Politics

Democracy and how we govern

Reboot renaisance?

The time for the 8th Reboot conference is approaching. Thomas Mygdal writes that this year:

The theme for reboot8 is “renaissance?” – as in renaissance-question-mark. As in renaissance = rediscovery and revitalization. Question mark because it’s a big word and a question to explore whether it’s real, but renaissance because it seems as a healthier and more challenging perspective than the current bubble easy-reality buzzwords currently flowing around. So reboot8 is like reboot7 a journey into the interconnectedness of creation, participation, values, openness, decentralization, collaboration, complexity, technology, p2p, humanities, connectedness and many more areas. Applied towards us as individuals, citizens, teachers, culture workers, entrepreneurs, creators and change makers.

It feels like we more should think a lot about the emerging new models and how we can help shape them, instead of focusing on how the new models are superior to the current models.
Explore renaissance question mark at http://reboot.dk/wiki/renaissance

I think it’s really cool to open the conference planning and the format to the participants, rather than do all of that behind closed doors. I’ll try to get on the program to present my idea on Open Source Politics.

If you’re asking yourself “What the heck is Reboot all about” you’re in good company. Lots of people love it, few can define it. It’s kind of a tech conference but it’s not really about the tech. There are a lot of geeks there, but few real geek sessions. It’s mostly about the internet and what the internet does (not how it does it). At any rate, it’s great!

Wikimania

The Wikimania conference is the international conference of the Wikimedia foundation. The 2006 iteration is August 4-6 in Cambridge Ma., and they’re currently calling for papers and topics (the deadline is March 30).

One of my current pet projects is a fundamental rethinking of the way democracy is practiced. A shift from the current top-down political process to one that directly involves large numbers of people bottom-up. I wrote about it here, and there’s a website in Danish about it.

The fundamental meeting place of this party would be a Wiki. This is where policies would be suggested, examined, improved and voted on. I would LOVE to present this idea at the conference, so I submitted the following abstract:

The political process in most modern nations suffers from a number of problems including:

  • General mistrust of politicians
  • Disengagement and disillusionment by most citizens
  • Low voter turnout

Basically, a small group formulate policies and the vast majority of people get to vote every few years.

The solution is to reshape the political process to allow many more people to participate actively in formulating the policies.

This can be done by creating new political parties where the fundamental meeting place is a Wiki, where issues are proposed, examined and decided upon bottom-up involving large number of people. Wikipedia already demonstrates how a community can come to decisions on complex and emotionally engaging topics.

This session lays out a specific plan for a wiki-based political party including:

  • What’s wrong with politics today
  • The technologies and principles involved in the wiki-based party
  • Advantages of the wiki-based party
  • How to implement it
  • Case studies from nations and communities who practice similar approaches

I would sure love a trip to the US in August to present the idea of the wiki-based party.

Snappiest comeback ever

Bert Bigelow tells the story of the snappiest comeback ever:

On Wednesday, March 1st, 2006, in Annapolis at a hearing on the proposed Constitutional Amendment to prohibit gay marriage, Jamie Raskin, professor of law at AU, was requested to testify.

At the end of his testimony, Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs said: “Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?”

Raskin replied: “Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.”

The room erupted into applause.

Via Pharyngula.

Take back politics

Reboot the votePolitics is too important to leave to politicians.

Politics has become a threat to democracy. Distrust of politicians, cynicism, apathy and plummeting voter turnout are just some of the symptoms.

We have created a situation where a very small fraction of the population formulate policies and the rest limit their participation to voting every 4 years or so. And it’s not working!

We must create a political process that allows you and me anyone else who feels passionate about some issue to gain direct political influence.

The tools exist: The internet, modern forms of organization, open source principles, meetup-meetings.

And the advantage would be obvious: A nation in which people consider themselves an active part of society. Where you can proudly say “I make a positive difference.”

I’ve written a manifesto on a completely new approach to politics. It outlines an organization which is formally a political party and can function and run in elections like any other party, but which works internally unlike any other party on the face of the planet.

Imagine a party where:

  • Anyone can be a member regardless of their political position
  • Policies are not decided top-down by a small group of political leaders but bottom-up by every member of the party
  • The heroes are not the smoothest talkers but the best listeners
  • The party platform is a wiki-site that anyone can edit – just like Wikipedia
  • Heterogeneous groups of people work together to create a bettter future for their society

We’re starting to do it right here in Denmark, and you can read the manifesto here. It’s ony available in Danish so far, but if enough people lean on me I may translate it to English.

Muhammed cartoons

Wikipedia has an up-to-date overview of the whole brouhaha over the Muhammed cartoons.

What many seem to be missing is this: The problem is not Islaam, the problem is fundamentalism. There are fundamentalist moslems, yes, but also fundamentalist christians, jews, hindus, anti-homosexuals, conservatives, communists, etc…

And while fundamentalism seems to be on the rise these days, I believe there is cause for optimism. Today fundamentalist movements and organizations everywhere are being crowded by an increasing modernism driven primarily by science and mass media. Lately the internet has been pressuring them even further.

Fundamentalists everywhere currently lash out in panic at seeing their base erode, and we’ll see it again and again, though less and less. In that light it’s hardly surprising. I mean, we can’t really expect fundamentalists to go out quietly, can we? :o)

Dangerous ideas

What is your dangerous idea?

The brilliant minds of The Edge community have been pondering that question and have come up with no less than 117 essays.

Here are a few of my favourites:
Carolyn Porco: The greatest story ever told.

At the heart of every scientific inquiry is a deep spiritual quest – to grasp, to know, to feel connected through an understanding of the secrets of the natural world, to have a sense of one’s part in the greater whole.

And we don’t have one god, we have many of them. We find gods in the nucleus of every atom, in the structure of space/time, in the counter-intuitive mechanisms of electromagneticsm. What richness! What consummate beauty!

These are reasons enough for jubilation … for riotous, unrestrained, exuberant merry-making.

So what are we missing?

Ceremony.

We have no loving ministers, guiding and teaching the flocks in the ways of the ‘gods’. We have no fervent missionaries, no loyal apostles. And we lack the all-inclusive ecumenical embrace, the extended invitation to the unwashed masses. Alienation does not warm the heart; communion does.

But what if? What if we appropriated the craft, the artistry, the methods of formal religion to get the message across? Imagine ‘Einstein’s Witnesses’ going door to door or TV evangelists passionately espousing the beauty of evolution.

Could it work? Could we create institutions that filled the roles of religion but which were based on science rather than faith? That is one hell of a dangerous idea. Not to mention weird and wonderful.

Philip Zimbardo: The banality of evil is matched by the banality of heroism

This view implies that any of us could as easily become heroes as perpetrators of evil depending on how we are impacted by situational forces. We then want to discover how to limit, constrain, and prevent those situational and systemic forces that propel some of us toward social pathology.

It is equally important for our society to foster the heroic imagination in our citizens by conveying the message that anyone is a hero-in-waiting who will be counted upon to do the right thing when the time comes to make the heroic decision to act to help or to act to prevent harm.

This is a wonderful shift in thinking: Rather than thinking of people as potential nazis or executioners (common thinking has it, that under the right circumstances all of us could become either), think of people as potential heroes and foster that potential.

Simon Baron-Cohen: A political system based on empathy

What would it be like if our political chambers were based on the principles of empathizing? It is dangerous because it would mean a revolution in how we choose our politicians, how our political chambers govern, and how our politicians think and behave. We have never given such an alternative political process a chance. Might it be better and safer than what we currently have? Since empathy is about keeping in mind the thoughts and feelings of other people (not just your own), and being sensitive to another person’s thoughts and feelings (not just riding rough-shod over them), it is clearly incompatible with notions of “doing battle with the opposition” and “defeating the opposition” in order to win and hold on to power.

Yes! I think more and more these days on how to create a better way of politics. This is an important insight.

Also check out last year’s question: “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?”

Stop clapping, this is serious

A great interview with Tom Lehrer. Sample quote:

It’s 50 years since Lehrer’s first recordings, and 38 years since his last album of new material, yet word that we’ve secured an interview has people around the office launching into such unlikely yet infectious ditties as The Vatican Rag, Smut and Lehrer’s ode to spring pursuits, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.

It also has people asking with a surprised tone: “Is he still alive?” Yes, Lehrer is very much with us, despite being quiet for so long (he once told The New York Times he had encouraged rumours of his demise in the hope of cutting down junk mail).

“With audiences nowadays I see it with these late-night [TV show] people, Jay Leno, David Letterman and so on the audience applauds the jokes rather than laughs at them, which is very discouraging.

“Laughter is involuntary. If it’s funny you laugh. But you can easily clap just to say [deadpan]: ‘A ha, that’s funny, I think that’s funny.’ Sometimes they cut to the audience and you can see they are applauding madly. But they’re not laughing.”

Tom Lehrer is one of the funniest people I’ve ever heard. Check him out. Here’s another interview with Lehrer.

What would make a happier society?

Richard Layard is the author of the excellent book Happiness, in which he argues, that most countries today overfcous on economic issues, and that it would be better to focus on what makes people happy. And what makes us happy is not increased spending but rather simple things like famliy, friends, health and values. There’s a review of the book here.

Here are some notes from a lecture Layard gave called “What would make a happier society?”. A teaser:

Not long ago I was asked to speak at a seminar in the Treasury and to answer the following question, “What difference would it make if we really tried to make people happier?” To my mind that is exactly the right question, so let me share with you my rather inadequate answer. In particular I want to bring out where it differs from the normal answers given by economists, especially from bodies like the OECD.
My main message will be that happiness depends on a lot more than your purchasing power. It depends on your tastes, which you acquire from your environment – and on the whole social context in which you live. So, when we evaluate policies which increase purchasing power, we absolutely must take those other effects into account.

Good stuff! Is there a single western politician who subscribes to this philosophy and puts happiness above economic growth? Drop a comment if you know any…

Is politics broken?

There’re municipal elections going on all over Denmark next week, and consequently there are election posters everywhere. I don’t think anybody imagines that those posters will actually sway a single voter, but everybody else uses them, so we’d better too…

This kind of rote thinking and sticking to business as usual is just one reason I’m convinced, that politics is broken. The political process has currently divided people into politicians, who formulate policies, and voters, who get to choose between those policies. That’s not good.

And here’s another idea: If you’re brainstorming on how to improve your town/municipality/region/country – does it make sense to generate ideas together with people who disagree with you? You bet it does. It’s well known in business, that to stimulate innovation and creativity you need diversely populated groups, not just people who already agree with each other. And yet political parties formulate policies in isolation, unimpacted by the views of opponents.

Here’s an article that repeats some of these views for American politics:

So is our politics broken? Without a doubt. Does technology have a role in fixing it? Yes, in part technology, for example broadcast media, helped break it. I think we can look to the Net and open source as a way to help revitalize our democratic processes.

Technology is one way, but only as a tool to create a more participative political process that gives everybody who’s interested a way to impact the political decision making directly.

I’m currently thinking on how this can be done – if you have any ideas, let me know :o)

Beating the banks

Zopa is a new approach to lending and borrowing money:

Here’s the way the world works (and it must be right because it’s been like this for hundreds of years…)

People who have spare money give it to a bank. Banks then do whatever they like with it. Some of it they lend to people who need to borrow. Some of it they give to their shareholders. Some of it they gamble on the price of tin, or the dollar going down, or whether there’ll be floods in Asia. Banks make lots of money from all this, a fraction of which they give back to their customers.

Zopa though lets people who have spare money to lend it directly to people, like them, who want to borrow it. No bank in the middle, no huge overheads, no unethical investments.

To minimise any risk, the money each lender puts in is spread amongst at least 50 borrowers (and likewise each borrower gets their money from a number of different lenders).

I saw this mentioned on Businesspundit, and I have to agree with him that this is a seriously disruptive technology. The site just exudes happiness, energy, drive, disruption and fun. Check it out.

UPDATE: I tried to register at the site, and the process failed. I got this very nice email from the site:

Thanks for your email and your interest in Zopa. I’m sorry but in order to comply with UK Money Laundering Regulations all Zopa Members need to be UK residents and appear on the voters roll.

We know this sounds incredibly inflexible, but at this stage in Zopa’s young life we have to be belt and braces with identification, money laundering and fraud.

Clearly this is a big turn off for you so please accept our apologies. Once we’re better established we’ll be looking to increase the number of ways that we can admit Zopa joiners online.

As Zopa grows we are planning to move into other countries by the end of the year and we hope very much that you’ll consider trying to join us again then.

I’ll be back when they take it outside the UK.