Issues with and Alternatives to Democracy and Majority Votes

Introduction

The general concept of democracy in its widest use of the term isn’t infallible. Not a perfect system. It stands and falls with the people. While it’s not perfect, it’s the best I’ve experienced implemented in reality. Not just in state politics.

To my knowledge, on the state governmental level, in my opinion we never really had a “real democracy” anywhere in the world. Speaking about medium/average sized and medium/average populated countries here. (Mostly speaking about Germany, US, Europe here, that’s what I follow most.) Applying the lose definition of “government does what the majority of the people wants”.

The problem with representative democracies is, that politicians are not legally bound to what they promised during electoral campaign. I am not aware of any usable mechanism of recalling politicians from the office. Well, there are a few such as revolutions, but those require major violations, require major effort in organization, happen seldom and are thereby hardly a usual mechanism annulling previous votes in case of blatantly broken promised in previous electoral campaigns.

While Switzerland currently has the most sophisticated implementation of direct democracy, and while it looks great on the surface, there are many issues if you scratch below the surface. A lot can be learned from Switzerland, but copying their system one to one would not be advisable.

I also don’t consider it a real democracy, because the vast majority of people I am talking to do not feel being represented or being taken seriously by politicians. Most fell into apathy and have completely given up hope. My impression of disenchantment with politics also matches results of public polls. The best way to make this point is asking, “Can citizen initiate a national initiative, end up with a legally binding national referendum and decide on the big questions such as preventing/ending a war?” Or do they only have toothless tiger tools such as petition‘s the most times don’t have any effect?

Obviously we ought to not impose “democracy” from the outside by using military force. That has always ended in disaster. It’s up to the people of foreign states to decide in what kind of system they like to live. Also I find it hypocrite to even consider to export the western far, far from perfect implementation of democracy. Needless to say I still rather live in a less fake democracy than in more fake democracy.

Majority vote is just a continuation of the right of the stronger. I consider minority rights more important than majority rights. As I said, democracy is not a perfect system. It stands and falls with the people. Requires a certain amount of intellectual maturity of the people. For our current implementations of democracies that rely on majority votes could not prevent ridiculous decisions. Examples for such ridiculous decisions would be “we the majority forbid your free speech on a topic because we are fed up with and and you’re wrong” or “we the majority of ethnic group x have ruled that the ethnic minority of group y are slaves”. Human rights we ought to honor.

I am also advocating these topics in public speeches. Although only in German language until now. So if you speak German and are interested, see this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nbt__S4HkDI

Issues with Majority Vote

Now let’s imagine for the sake of argument only we created a political party. We managed to gather 100 members. As first decision, we add “we want to introduce an unconditional basic income” to the party manifesto by using majority vote. 10 members find that decision so unbearable, that they leave the party. Then we do a few other majority votes of that kind. At the end we end up with 10 remaining members and abolish the whole matter. That shows that majority vote alone won’t do much good. Fortunately, there are alternative concepts.

Alternatives to Democracy and Majority Votes

Disclaimer

Now when I talk about alternatives to democracy and majority votes, and you perhaps skipped the introduction and think
I am a maniac rationalizing dictatorship, please go back to the introduction.

Voluntarism

Voluntarism is a concept that is very easily understood wrong. One of their main argument as I understand it goes as follows. The premise is, that a world in which as many people are as unhappy as possible is the wost possible world that we ought to prevent.

In times of dictatorship, decisions were made that were unacceptable for almost everyone. Now, there was an improvement called democracy, majority vote. Their argument is, that things got better for the majority, but that those who dislike a certain decision, it does not make any difference from any decisions a dictator may have made. I agree with that.

Instead they propose that we should agree on a minimal set of rules such as the Golden Rule and therefore for the vast majority of situations rely on voluntaristic approaches.

While I am generally careful when it comes to any kinds of -ism’s, and while I am not convinced that a 100% voluntaristic system would be the ideal, I find many of their ideas and concepts valuable the may be useful aspects for a better system.

If you want so, Libre Software is similar to voluntarism.

I am not a great advocate of voluntarism. The first one who succeeded in explaining voluntarism to me so I didn’t discard it “probably not useful as far I understand” was Manuel Maggio in German language in this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMsz9MUr-PY

In English language, I am not aware of any good follow up resources at the moment. So best I can do is linking to wikipedia and trust you’ll figure out:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voluntaryism

Consensus

Consensus is much different from a compromise. Before we even think about voting what to do, we should do something simple. Talk. Try to understand everyone’s view. Find out where we misunderstand each other. See where our agreements and disagreements are. Not try to win a debate. The goal is the stay open minded, being open to alternative solutions. The idea is to regard the own idea as just another equal idea and to construct an even better idea together with everyone else. If one person objects, there is no consensus. The goal must be to make a solution that is acceptable for everyone.

By experience this is something that definitively does not happen in politics. Also in other groups it’s not that widespread. Requires a change of mindset. It’s something we can learn and get used to.

See also:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consensus_decision-making

Lazy Consensus

This probably wouldn’t work in politics, but it does work for Libre Software projects such as Whonix. Like most concepts it stands and falls with the people. If resistance for any kind of change is expected, and one has to consider this responsibly, then the change should be discussed beforehand. Now, if after a fair amount of time for everyone to speak up, no one feels competent to comment, objects or cares, the proposer can call for lazy consensus. If still no one speaks up, the change can be made.

For example since no one replied to the planned change to Whonix stable apt repository upgrades policy it would be fair to call for lazy consensus.

Here is a more verbose explanation:
https://rave.apache.org/docs/governance/lazyConsensus.html

Systemic Consensus Principle

A real consensus should be the foremost goal. When a consensus failed extensive attempts and discussion, there is an alternative. The Systemic Consensus Principle. It’s an alternative to majority votes.

While majority vote obviously counts positive votes, the Systemic Consensus Principle is different and counts resistance. Initially a list different proposals is being made. Anyone can add any reasonable amount of proposals. One proposal that should always be on the list is the “zero option” proposal, which means “we’ll leave everything as is”. Then add to the list all the people who are eligible to vote. Each voter may rate every proposal with a number between zero and ten. Zero means here, “no resistance” and ten means “maximum resistance”. Numbers in between can be used to express graduations. Such as two means “low resistance” and 7 means “higher resistance”.

Resistance for each proposal is then summed up. The proposal with the least resistance should then be chosen.

Read more:
http://www.ic.org/wiki/systemic-consensus-principle/
http://systemicconsensus.blogspot.de/

Or watch this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wR5YXYECOE

Do-ocracy

Unfortunately, a democracy in a sense were users vote for what the developers of a Libre Software (such as Whonix) should do, appears impractical to me. There are simply to many great suggestions and too little time and man power to implement them all. Developers need to be motivated. And since they are not getting paid – all Libre Software projects I know – naturally use concepts of voluntarism and do-ocracy. Even though they may not be calling it that way.

Do-ocracy in a nutshell means, that those who do the work, get to decide what to work on and how the details are being implemented rather than being told what to do by votes. Obviously, the do-ocrats should have an open ear for user suggestions and reports. Listen to feedback and eventually run polls on controversial issues. Because otherwise users vote with their feet and without users, a Libre Software project isn’t worth a lot.

Read more:
http://www.communitywiki.org/en/DoOcracy

Vetos vs Objections

What I find very important is to distinguish between vetos and objections. One can object to one or another change. But the question is, how strong is the objection? A weak one or a strong one? Or would one leave the project if that change was being implemented? The latter case could be called veto and ideally should not be abused and used seldom.

Apache Voting Process

The Apache Software Foundation that develops the popular apache web server software formalized some of the above concepts into a document. Interesting read, parts of it perhaps useful for import into the Whonix Project, see:
http://www.apache.org/foundation/voting.html

See Also

Social and Political Infrastructure (producingoss book) ( https://www.whonix.org/blog/producing-open-source ) that discusses leadership, decision finding, participation, voting rights, voting systems, polls, consensus and more.

Conclusion

I hope I could introduce you into a lot useful decision finding concepts and that you might even like them. As a first step, let’s discuss these concepts. And later then perhaps we can construct a proposal that eventually includes a few of these concepts to make a fair and awesome decision making process for the Whonix project.

Please comment on how you like these concepts and proposal.

Forum Discussion

https://forums.whonix.org/t/issues-with-and-alternatives-to-democracy-and-majority-votes

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Patrick Schleizer
Developer and maintainer at Whonix
Patrick started developing Whonix, the Anonymous Operating System in 2012, when quickly others joined efforts. He collected experiences working pseudonymous on Whonix for two years, enjoys collaboratively working on privacy preserving software.

Patrick started developing Whonix, the Anonymous Operating System in 2012, when quickly others joined efforts. He collected experiences working pseudonymous on Whonix for two years, enjoys collaboratively working on privacy preserving software.

Posted in Whonix Development News
2 comments on “Issues with and Alternatives to Democracy and Majority Votes
  1. Jesse Lohse says:

    Deine Worte sind inspirierend und ich würde das Privileg, diese dann auf liberty.me in Englisch für mein Publikum es mag . Ich werde euch ganz natürlich Verweis und Verknüpfung zu dieser Seite auf meinem Posten . Ich freue mich auf die Zusammenarbeit mit Whonix und nach Ihrer inspirierende Arbeit .

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  1. […] and only informative. In later blog posts I’ll follow up with other useful concepts such as consensus, the systemic consensus principle, lazy consensus, do-ocracy as well as with the current s… in Whonix development. After that I plan on starting a discussion on how we want to handle these […]

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