Great thanks to Gisele Theriault for offering this discussion thread as a hosted dialogue!

A New Democracy

Public servants are just civil servants that we elect because we are giving them such an important job.

Our current forms of democracy are old and were designed when communication was much more difficult and many people were not well-educated. Modern life has different challenges than in the past. Existing political parties are so well-entrenched and well-funded that for a new party to form is extremely difficult if not impossible.

The direct democracy I experienced in camp, and some versions that developed in other places, seemed to lead to "non-leaders" becoming even more entrenched because there were no elections. The proposal system was unwieldy with some really good suggestions not making it to the head of the line while other much less consequential ones would get debated for a half an hour. Direct democracy does not seem like a viable solution on a larger scale.

Recalling that our elected representative are really our employees, what kind of system could we design that would keep power in the hands of the people? What decisions should be made more directly by the people and which should we designate to public servants?

Is there a means to combine paper ballots and electronic voting systems using one or the other depending on the issue?

Without going too deeply into constitutions, in layperson terms, what kind of rights could protect us from the tyranny of politicians? Should we even have parties? How can we keep money out of politics? Would the Supreme Court decide who was right in cases where someone believes their constitutional rights have been breached? If the people decide in some way how do we prevent the tyranny of the majority? What about police and military? How can they be controlled?

Assuming we want the United States, or in my case Canada, to remain countries, what kind of system can we envision?

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Much to think about, Gisele. 

You say that elected officials are public servants. If I'm an employer and I hire somebody to work for me, I'll select somebody I think is competent from the list of applicants, I'll tell them what I'm hiring them to do, and I'll pay them to do it. If they don't do it, I'll fire them. That's something that doesn't only work on a small scale, such as an individual hiring a baby-sitter, or a small business hiring a clerk, but also on a large corporate scale, where big businesses hire tens of thousands of people.

I'm not sure about Canada, but in the US we can't always decide who to hire. Money plays such a big role in our political system that sometimes our choices are between the candidates who raised the most money instead of the candidates who appear to be the most competent. We certainly can't tell them what to do because our government doesn't allow public opinion to influence policy decisions. They believe they were elected because they know better than we do, and many people also believe that, even if they didn't really get to select people on the basis of knowledge or ability. And we can't fire them if they don't do what we pay them to do, because our Constitution says that at the federal level we have no right of recall and can only petition them to fire (impeach) themselves, something they usually don't do. They've got very good jobs with lots of benefits (federal elected officials have the exact health care plans they won't allow us to have), so why should they fire themselves?

I'm going to think about the other points you raise, but that's one I've already thought about a lot.

If mark flames me, i'm not going to play.

If the grass roots are going to work together to empower all the people, the current social structure is not going to work at all, in any form.  An uninformed vote is counter-productive.  In Oregon, we have watershed councils that represent interested parties by giving them a seat at the table.  That seat is a dual edged sword - the responsibility comes with large rewards and huge headaches.  When the goal was restoring fish passage, the system worked well to ensure that worthy projects were implemented.  The technical assessments of those projects were done by a self-selected TAC committee - the TAC at times got very political in the disagreements between timber industry and environmentalists.  When the individual people dropped the pretense of representing their organization and became themselves, we could reasonably agree on criteria that could allow projects on both sides to move forward.

It is going to be difficult to occupy! everywhere.  There are a great many people who like their current position and refuse to see any handwriting on the walls.  I don't know how to include such folks when they really don't even acknowledge the existence of alternate points of view.  I believe that everything in the descending order will progress toward a scorched earth policy of war and destruction - we have a need to be able to debrief people on what they can provide and what they need to live.  The value of what they do would have to be evaluated through some criteria that places people one step below their peter principle level.

It becomes a scheme to recognize fractals - how things needs to morph to develop equity in an equivalent fashion.  Just because i can do something in my field, doesn't mean that i can do the same thing in somebody else's field.  We have to get comfortable enough with each other to build a sense of trust, while not rewarding people for being the first one to get involved.  However, we also have to respect the work of ground-breaking in a new area - i have often done the research and development to watch a johnny come lately walk off with my reward by advancing a sexy unworkable idea on how to apply my work.  There is no room for 'my' in our future community - and a reward system that rewards true effort and success will go a long way to getting fairness.  Everything equal is really not fair, winner take all is not fair either.

I think the chaos will lead to a much better order, the less we preconceive it.  If each of us devotes ourselves to a personal project, and see it through until it's done, that we will successfully jump the gap from the current system to the new paradigm.

Hey, if lemme flames me, I'm not going to play either.

Uh, if the current system is not just flaming us, but appears to be intent on a "scorched earth policy," maybe we shouldn't play in that game either. If we know that's the inevitable outcome of the present order, I'm all for anything that would allow even the slightest possibility of a different outcome. I don't care if it is called chaos, anarchy, direct democracy, or noodle soup, if it has any chance at all of allowing the planet (and us, of course, as we tend to be anthrocentric) to survive, I'll play.

How are watershed councils created? Who chooses who gets to sit on them? Are proceedings public? What do you mean by rewards and headaches? What is a TAC committee and how does it choose itself?

I found this particularly interesting "When the individual people dropped the pretense of representing their organization and became themselves, we could reasonably agree on criteria that could allow projects on both sides to move forward."

So is it organizations that get a seat at the table rather than individual citizens?

The basis for watershed councils was set up by the Oregon legislature - imagine that.  The voters decided to give a portion of lottery receipts to conservation and this was the form the legislators came up with. The coordination between councils was originally run by GWEB - the governors watershed enhancement board - which morphed into OWEB.  Each watershed council is autonomous and acts differently.  The one that i was on is located here - the current director list and their areas of focus are here.  There is a monthly public meeting where decision making takes place.  We used consensus minus one - if you as a director objected to an action, you had until the next meeting to convince a second director to object with you or the matter passed.

The rewards were the ability to contribute to real decisions, the headache was that you often had to give up personal time to get up to speed with issues and events.  The directors added a seat to the board while i was there to accomodate the tribes as an interest group when they finally decided that not playing was not helpful.  The TAC is the technical assistance committee - anybody who attended the meeting had say whether they were a director or not.  The federal and state agencies were not officially at the table, but they always had people in the room and were a part of the process. 

People were very passionate about their influences and desires.  There were segregation of certain issues, because anything that really could not draw consensus from the group was not even attempted.  There are limits on terms of service and bylaws, but it really seemed to work for the goal of seeing more salmon come back up the river.

Individual citizens have one representative on the board, voted on by election amongst all the people attending the annual meeting.  It generally took about three meetings for a new person to catch the drift and learn how to tap in - most of the players knew each other because the area of a single watershed influences many different types of people, both in occupation and avocation.  One drawback was that most things happened during the work week - if you didn't have the freedom to sometimes drop everything, you missed some good opportunities to walk the landscape.

I understand that some people think the current system is going to implode. I don't think it will. I think we may go through a period much harder than the Great Depression but I'm working from the assumption that our current systems are not about to collapse. If chaos does happen I don't think anyone will be reading this thread to choose a new system.

Hugo Chavez in Venezuela did not destroy the existing system. He encouraged people to create community councils and to apply for funding through that channel. Mayors are getting angry because they are losing control of their budget as Chavez transfers funding to the councils. He is taking back unused land and giving it to farmers. Chavez seems to be building a parallel system to which he is transferring power. I am not suggesting we would do that. I'm just saying there are endless possibilities for how change might come about. I am asking, if we could start from scratch, what kind of system could we create? If we could see that we could compare it to what we have now.

In another thread Lindsay mentioned the ability to recall politicians. I think that is an excellent idea so how would we make that work? Could we do internet voting on that? Victoria believes we absolutely must have paper ballots for elections but could electronic voting work on other issues? If internet voting was frequent would that make it more trustworthy? Is there a way for a citizens committee to oversee internet voting? If it is too complicated could we use universities? For example, could university grad students compete with winning students from across the state or across the nation forming a group who would over see voting? By using grad students there would be a constant rotation so the process could be more difficult to corrupt. We could even require that some come from public universities if we wanted.

What would the "perfect" democracy look like assuming we wanted to keep the same basic structure of country, states and cities? We are only limited by our imaginations.

Some of us, Gisele, think that even if the current systems don't implode, the damage they've done and are continuing to do to the planet is leading inevitably to a situation where the earth will no longer be habitable.

We can't clean up the oceans. They've been polluted with oil, plastics, mercury, and other toxins to the point where eating any ocean-caught fish is risky. We can't clean up the earth's atmosphere and it has been polluted to the point where there is no place on earth, not even in the hearts of the deepest jungles or the tops of the highest mountains, where dixoin, radioactive isotopes, and other man-made poisons cannot be detected. They're in mothers' milk, so all newborn infants who are breast-fed become contaminated with dioxin and other carcinogens. The systems responsible may not implode, but if they are allowed to continue, life on earth will not be able to continue.

Somebody recently quoted Einstein as having said that if he had twenty days in which to solve a problem, he'd spend the first nineteen days defining the problem.

I think we have to understand the problem before we can propose solutions. If we're only treating the symptoms and we're not aware of the disease causing them, we won't solve the problem. Many of the things you mention are proposals to treat some of the symptoms, but are not aimed at curing the disease. Establishing ways to count the votes accurately, for example, would not necessarily slow global warming, if global warming happens to be the problem. Maybe it isn't. I think it is one of the biggest symptoms of a disease called industrialization. But I'm sure that many people disagree. If we haven't agreed on what the problem is, we're probably not going to be able to solve it.

I posted a couple of Tweets last night on that subject. In one I said that I thought that the agricultural and industrial revolutions had made people stupider. In the other, I offered, as evidence, that if our ancient ancestors had thought that the best way to catch lions was to sit in a circle and let the lions attack them, none of us would be here. 

Just sayin'. And I apologize if I'm off topic. I don't mean to be disruptive, I just post what I'm thinking, so please let me know if if isn't contributing anything worthwhile to the discussion. I'm very glad that you're hosting this discussion, Gisele, and I'll let you guide it as you see fit.


I think it is an excellent post Mark.  The mechanisms of the earth can clean the earth, but only if we pull a full stop on the activities mucking up the earth.  Of course, that will not explain the warming on Mars, Venus and the other planets, but it is past time to stop fouling our nest.

We are going to need many models developed over several iterations before we come up with methods that work.  That means giving people the validation to try something different, even if we don't agree that it will work.  I wish i could continue this thread, but life is calling.  I'll return tomorrow.

"We can't clean up the oceans. They've been polluted with oil, plastics, mercury, and other toxins to the point where eating any ocean-caught fish is risky."

Not only that, the oceans are absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and becoming too acidic for the many, many tiny beings with thin shells among the zooplankton.  A collapse off the food web is conceivable.  More.

It is off topic, but perhaps it needs to be addressed. I do want you to stay. You may be Mr. Porcupine (affectionately) but your head is chock-full of knowledge.

If armageddon arrives then neither chaos nor democracy will survive because we will all be gone. I agree that things are dire and we do not know what the future will bring. We are very lucky in North America. Canada will probably be swallowed up by the States but of all the places in the world to be this one ranks pretty darn high up in terms of lots of natural resources to survive on. Canada has a lot of water. Montreal is fixing it's water pipes now but they are 100 years old. It is estimated that fully 50% of our treated water is leaking out of the pipes. We are supposed to think about water conservation but really, knowing that much is being wasted we don't think much about it.

It is quite possible that civilization will continue. If there are enough humans for chaos then there are enough humans for a system of government to exist. Certainly if we are to survive dramatic changes are going to have to happen.

In the meantime, there are lots of humans on earth now that would like the change the system so that maybe we can prevent some of the damage that is now inevidable. When lakes were dying from acid rain we thought they would never come back but they have.

Nature is very powerful so we really don't know exactly what will happen other than it won't be good. If there is no hope then we might as well all go commit suicide now. Why bother promoting anything if we are all doomed?



The right to Petition may be key here as a tool already available .  I will bring a link here on the 2008landmark case where the U.S.supreme court refused to hear. a aseon one of the rights that is very clearly alreadythere in he U.S. Consiutuion.  Many think  that "we the people' and not the Supreme court are the final arbiters of our own constiution.


Honoring your request that we not go too deeply into advocacy for the new consitution route, I would like to pint out that many of these new consituions do address this much more clearly and much more specifically than our own U.S. Connnsiution does.  Almost all the new constitutions realize that without an ultimate  way for citizens to recall any judge, any,legislators, any bill, prevent a vote on nay bill there is not democracy..

We may be able to use what is there already in the constitutin more wisely to argue to the point that the Supreme Court was not established  to interpret and enforce the constitution..In other words we don't have to apply to them to reject the obviously absurd  Citizens United decision.or any other decision.  We don't have to have a consitutional amendment process to "undo" the actions of the supreme court that violate the will of the people..

Then perhaps we do need to discuss constitutions. I don't actually know a thing about "Citizens United". If the constitution is key to building a democracy that is responsive to the people then it is a necessary component of the conversation. I was just hoping we could stay more on broad principles so those of us who don't know much about constitutions can understand the concepts. Although, I may be the only one here who doesn't. Other people who read but don't participate might be like me and not entirely get what the problem is.

(Other than the Supreme Court can refuse to count the people's votes after an election which was a close call and in which there was evidence of fraud - I get that part)

That is, if the Supreme Court doesn't interpret the constitution who does? Someone has to make decisions when a citizen claims their constitutional rights have been stepped on. If not judges, then who?

I visited the link to a constitution, Argintina's I think, and practically went cross-eyed just looking at the list of clauses or paragraphs or whatever. Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, The US has a Bill of Rights, but in both cases those are just part of the constitutions. I guess the constitution also describes the form government takes and its rights. Then probably sections on the legal system and the courts powers. The military must be in there somewhere.

How can an ordinary person understand what makes one constitution good and another one bad? If you are going to say something about it is bad, then what is the alternative?

Is it possible to create a coleman's notes version of constitutions?  If it is, please start it as a new post in the thread rather than replying to this one. (so there will be more room to discuss)


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