Skip to main content

Imagining Digital Democracy


With all of the discussion about PRISM (including the EFF's excellent document breakdown https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/06/depth-review-new-nsa-documents-expose-how-americans-can-be-spied-without-warrant), I'm doing a lot of thinking about how our technology shapes our political structures. Consider this two core feature of democracy: The Citizen as the State. This feature is usually what is meant by "a government of the people, by the people." The citizens as a collective compose the authority of the government. In other words, all citizens have a say in governing collective matters.

Typically, we see Citizen as State established through some form of representation. With  a large or dispersed population, the election of representatives was the only way to give citizens control over government. There are clear flaws in this system, as we can see looking at our own current situation. Representatives are not always as beholden to their constituents as one would like. Winning elections, meaning funding election campaigns, is most important for a representative's career. As long as the campaign is funded, and money buys visibility and access to the public ear, the candidate need only keep donors happy. Lawrence Lessig has done a good job of discussing this problem at length.

Of course, with the communication technology we have available now, there are new ways of solving the problem of giving every citizen a say in government. Social networks and discussion forums provide a good public space for rational discourse (and less rational discourse, but let's leave that aside for now). Nevertheless, there remains a need for specialists, people who have devoted the time and training to understanding a particular field. Lawyers to explain the law and policy debates, but also scientists and engineers who can speak clearly about technical matters, educators who can explain how best to serve students, and many others.

A digital democracy may dispense with representatives but still require various specialists to spearhead communication to general audiences, explain the relevance of particular issues and legislation, and outline the results or consequences of policy decisions. In many ways, such a system would be more egalitarian. Rather than have a ruling class composed of career politicians, authority would be context sensitive. To address the needs of the education system, we should want experienced educators to provide an accurate view of what is needed. We won't need their authority when evaluating a highway development project. Context changes, authority changes. Everyone will be in charge for 15 minutes, to mutilate an Andy Warhol quote.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Some Thoughts on Dharma Decline

Many of these blog entries have concerned my main research in political philosophy, intellectual property and technology. Now for something a little different, I thought I would write up some thoughts on another area of interest: Buddhism. For those who don't know, I've taught courses in Buddhism since I began teaching, having learned a great deal from my undergraduate advisor, Donald Hanks, and Ashok Aklujkar, a now-retired professor of Indian languages, literature and philosophy for whom I served as teaching assistant during my time at UBC. Thanks to their instruction, I developed a solid knowledge of the Indian Buddhist tradition, and I've used what they taught me to deepen and develop that knowledge to improve my teaching and my personal meditation practice. While I don't want to write a full tutorial on Buddhist thought, I would like to discuss a notion that prevails in some traditions, and that discussion will require one to know a few basic ideas. At its cor

Justifications for Intellectual Property Part 1: Utilitarianism

There is no way this tutorial series would be complete without some discussion of justifications for intellectual property. While not necessarily a matter of law, some knowledge of the philosophical foundations will provide a better sense of the values at stake in intellectual property debates. Notice, for instance, that the tutorials on fair use were punctuated with appeals to values, social goods, and individual rights. Without an understanding of the moral and political framework against which the law stands, one can very easily find oneself in a stalemate, with one value pitted against another and no way of deciding which should prevail. To understand the jurisprudence around intellectual property rights, one has to have some idea of the justifying theories to which attorneys and judges appeal in their arguments and decisions. So, without further ado, let's get to the tutorial. There are three main ways of justifying intellectual property rights: the Utilitarian theory, th

RPG Systems: An Analogy with UI Design

The current game in our weekly role-playing group is Deadlands. The previous game was Shadowrun. Both rule systems lie closer to the “chunky” side of the spectrum. Shadowrun has a particular reputation for its complex and somewhat cumbersome rules, and while Deadlands has less overall complexity, the system has a degree of granularity that interrupts play more often than it enhances narration. I enjoy role-playing games because I like participating in a good story. The rules system provides a set of constraints for the characters, the setting, and the conflicts. They help give the narrative structure, a background against which the story will take place. Too few rules, and telling an interesting and well-developed story becomes difficult. Too many rules tend to get in the way of individual scenes or events. With the right balance, it’s possible for the game master, usually me, to be sufficiently fluent in the rules system to resolve any conflict without extended consultation of on