I've decided to put together a "circular letter" about wikidemocracy and ask around to see if anyone might want to add to it. If it gets long enough I'd like to publish it as a book, not to make money, but just to interest future historians about what folks thought about this new form of government circa 2012 C.E.
There's various ways to think about wikidemocracy, but I like to imagine it as a really big wiki and town hall USA legislature, 225 million souls instead of the current 535.
I'm pasting a copy of the letter I wrote below, if tacking your name on with your response to the letter sounds interesting to you, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for listening!
Robin Wyatt Dunn
Wikidemocracy in America: what is it?
There are few forms of direct democracy operational as of August 2012, and they all (the initiative, the referendum, the recall) act as adjuncts to aristocracies.
Wikidemoracry is the agora, again. The agora was the marketplace, where Athenian aristocrats circa 400 B.C. hung out and governed. Wikidemocracy in America would be the agora, again. A real big agora. Instead of 535 Congresspeople (100 Senators and 435 Representatives), we’d have about 225 million American citizens over 18, all citizen-legislators, logging on, signing in, drinking their coffee, writin’ them some good laws (and bad ones).
We are comfortable with aristacry for good reason: it is in our genes. Biologists tells us our ape cousins have well established hierarchies where some get more food than others, and take others’ food away when they want. Some theorize this was useful when famine came along: let the poor die, the rich live, life goes on.
Now we know better, we hope. Now we know all men and women and transgendered people are created equal, and they have equal opportunities, let us hope, to exercise their God-given talents and pursue happiness. For whatever reason, let’s just chalk it up to history, democratic institutions are under threat all over this Earth. Maybe the threat isn’t big! Maybe it’s just this latent infection that won’t get too bad. But why not respond to this “mild cold” with a mighty overhaul, why not try a crazy-sounding 21st Century political health spa, the wikidemocracy.
So, a big agora. Obviously, already unworkable! Although I’ve never been to Switzerland, just looking at their beautiful democratic processes of gathering 10,000 bodies together to vote in person at special times is charming, and inefficient.
And yet, lest we all become modern hermits and never leave our homes, we clearly need a strong balance between town halls and committed political Internet networks, a system of wikidemocracies. You could have your local, state, and federal wiki pages. All waiting for your laws, and your votes.
The advantages: your children can legislate without getting elected! You can teach them how to write a law, even how to write a good law. Then you can argue with your neighbor about it. You get some skin in the game. You can’t blame Washington if you’re the government! Make Lincoln’s famous words come true in reality, not just in spirit.
The disadvantages: mob rule! Our ancestors feared it. The chief bad thing about mobs is when they get angry they get stupid. This is why we have the Supreme Court, which still today loyally protects the rights of minorities. In any wikidemocracy where I was a citizen, I would want a strong Supreme Court, just like we got know, to protect against the nasty sides of crowds when they decide to bite someone (gays, blacks, Jews, Commies, whoever it might be).
Mob rule! Mobs are dirty. All kinds of colors of people. We haven’t vetted them in advance. That one-legged Gypsy next door just had another goddamned baby. In 18 years that goddamned Gypsy kid will be legislating in a wikidemocracy whether you like it or not. They, if they’re a citizen, will be able to write and vote on laws in a wiki.
Mob rule! Wow, there’s a lot of us. 225 million! Multiply 535 (the current size of our legislature) by about 420,000, and there you’d have it. So just stop to think: every one of those 535 people we elected has the power to govern 420,000 people with their pen. Why did we give them so much power? The writers of the Constitution knew that historical republics were easily corrupted by foreign gifts, and so wrote down that Congressmen shouldn’t be allowed to receive them. But how many “gifts” do they get from corporations now? How many gifts do they have to get just to get re-elected?
And that’s the big gain in a Wiki-D, folks. No more elections for Congress. No more representatives. You represent yourself.
Now remember, there are lots of ways to implement this. We could have proxies, in at least two forms. You want to keep your representative? Okay, fine. Designate your voting privilges as such on the wiki, put a check mark next to Darrel Issa’s name and select “all votes” or something and you never have to legislate even once. But Issa, who might once have had a million constituents, might now only have seventeen. Or he might even have more! God knows, wikidemocracy is crazy enough, and the American people are crazy enough, maybe Congress would actually shrink! And everyone would designate Obama their proxy, and he could become Emperor. Another version of a proxy would be to have a “voting profile” of some kind that you could activate, if you were lazy, and then change later when you wanted. God knows they’ve written enough lines of code to determine what you like to buy online, we could certainly examine what you like to vote on online.
Another cool structural function of a wikidemocracy was proposed by the Swedes, in the form of tug-of-war voting. In this system, a bill never really leaves the floor. You can vote on it forever. But at some point, it reaches a critical mass (whatever the magical number is) where enough people have voted that it acquires teeth, and it goes over for the President’s signature. (Do we want to leave the President the veto? Think of how many laws he’s going to be signing!)
Mob rule! Chaos, people will say. I can hear Fox News chanting about it now, declaiming the virtues of nice, sane oligarchies. Yeah, it’s messy. But it would let us put our apathy aside. It wouldn’t let us say “well I voted for the other guy.” If you’re not legislating, you’re just sitting on your ass.
The Technocrats and the Aristocrats
Even if our Founding Fathers crawled out of their graves tomorrow and gaveled in a New Constitutional Convention tomorrow and we signed it into law the same day, we’d still have rich and poor. We’d still have educated and uneducated.
Rich people have time on their hands, and money to buy others’ time. And technocrats have hard-won knowledge of how systems work. They make government go, they grease those wheels and keep the lights on and keep the mail trucks fueled while our elected politicians glad hand each other and worry about terrorism. We gonna need those technocrats. They ain’t goin’ nowhere.
Time is a lot more complicated. I don’t know why New England states never did manage to agree to have just a few paid days off a year to go to town hall meetings, but they didn’t. I’m guessing they were just too afraid. In the old capital/ labor conflict, capital won again.
So we’d need time. One day off a month, for starters. Paid out of the U.S. Treasury. If you’re a hard-core legislator, sure, do it in your free time too, but that one day could be holy, if we wanted it to be. sh**t, make it two. Think how much we could change, add to the GNP with our collective spirit, how much we’d invest in the future of our country with those days off.
People are getting used to Wikipedia. They’re getting used to Facebook. People like democracy. There’s a million details to argue over, some vital and some less so, but still before us is the simpler question: why do it? And why not? Smart people remain unconvinced. So let’s have us a circular letter, in honor of our ancestors.
Robin Wyatt Dunn
Los Angeles, Calif.
August 13, 2012