[MG] Come together or reach out - was cascading etc.

Michael Allan mike at zelea.com
Thu Jun 9 20:19:00 EDT 2011

Thomas von der Elbe wrote:
> we agree on more here, than you seem to think. Let me try to
> clarify.

I was wrong to use the word "disagreement".  Now that you've
explained, it looks like more of a difference of perspective or point
of view.  Consider these vignettes:

 (A) A society is torn apart by differences, yet urgently needs to
     find a common way forward.

 (B) A few individuals happen on a solution to (A), but they despair
     of ever finding the necessary level of agreement or understanding
     to make it work.

I exaggerate to emphasize the feelings of frustration.  These people
are faced with divides or barriers that must be crossed, yet seemingly
cannot be.  I also want to add this hidden, unfelt barrier:

 (C) A few others happen on a different solution to (A).  Unbeknown to
     anyone, neither (B) nor (C) alone is a viable solution, while a
     certain undiscovered combination of (B+C+X) is.

> > ... You see no future for extension as a practice, but I see it
> > (more and more) as being essential and permanent.
> I do see a potential future for the practice of extension... People
> are spread out and they need to get together, so some practice is
> needed. But I strongly believe that this practice is gonna be
> completely different after the explosion of the first poll. It being
> different is imo it being ridiculously easy. So easy that no extra
> tool-support is needed.
> I think we can compare it to a normal election. What is needed for a
> whole population (which is spread out all over the place) to all
> come together in their polling stations? Just the simple info: "Next
> sunday is election day!" This is how easy the practice of extension
> gets imo: people telling each other: "The same thing which happend
> with this first poll is happening again now over here ...!" They can
> do this by email, phone, ...

You address a specific problem, viz. the adoption of new tools and
practices.  Once those tools and practices are adopted, I agree that
their adoption ceases to be a problem.  Yet the general problematic of
(A) and (B) and (B+C+X) remains.  In that wider context, the question
resurfaces: come together or reach out?

> What they do after they know about it [after adoption]:
> i. pass the info on
> ii. start to discuss and draft their own positions within their own 
> community (or just draft by themselves)
> iii. look for the best candidate to vote for
> iv. look for voters for their position
> v. discuss, negotiate, ... with each other, with candidate and with voters
> i., iii., and iv. require reaching out to other communities/individuals. 
> For neither one extra tool-support is needed imo beyond the tools we 
> already have (including a pirate-pad where everyone can complete the 
> list of potentially interesting other communities).

That seems plausible as far as adoption goes.  But even here you
address a different pair of choices than I do.  You are looking at
these alternative *mental* dispostions or attitudes to public

    * Reject others; or
    * Reach out to others.

I agree that most people will dismiss the first as obviously flawed.
Less obvious is what to choose in regard to one's *physical*
disposition in public space:

  (i) Converge, come together with those who agree.

 (ii) Diverge, spread out amongst others.  Reach out to those who
      agree across the intervening distances.

Here I am addressing all forms of physical distance and barrier that
might divide people who are engaged in a public effort to reach
agreement on a course of action, including geospatial, structural,
technical, procedural, temporal and linguistic forms.  In confronting
these divides and barriers, every participant is presented with
choices between (i) and (ii).  Mutatis mutandis, any choice of (i)
when (ii) is available will have two detrimental consequences:

    * Loss of personal freedom.
    * Lessening of prospects for collective action.

This is not obvious but I claim it as an absolute rule.  It applies
universally and for all time.  For example, you may choose to:

  (a) Meet at the same coffee house every Tuesday at 7 o'clock,
      when instead you could arrange to meet at alternate coffee
      houses on different days, or at different times.

  (b) Meet at a single coffee house when you could easily arrange to
      split yourselves between a coffee house and a tea house, and
      inter-communicate between them.

  (c) Use the same e-dem tools and facilities as your co-voters when
      you would be just as happy using completely different ones.

  (d) Talk with your voters in an English forum when you could just as
      easily (being bilingual) talk in both an English and a Chinese
      forum thus serving as a translation bridge between the two.

  (e) Talk with your voters in the same forum as you talk with your
      candidate, when you could just as easily arrange to use a
      different forum and thereby occupy two places simultaneously.

  (f) Arrange to discuss feminist issues in a forum hosted by a
      feminist organization, when a venue with a more general audience
      would do just as well.

Here your choice of (i) over (ii) diminishes your freedom and does
harm to the overall effort.  It diminishes your freedom because it
exposes you to fewer challenges and alternatives, any one of which
might influence your course of action if only you knew about it.  It
does harm to the overall effort because collectively you now project a
smaller profile in public.  Your collective "net" is cast less widely
than it could be, so your efforts are less likely to come to the
attention of those who might help, if only they knew about them.

Or am I wrong?  Can anyone think of a counter-example?

> Again, I'm not denying the use for the short term. Maybe thats
> enough reason to invest in it.

Again, you were speaking of something else.  I agree that adoption
problems are a mere contingency, or bump in the road.  But this is
something completely different:

  We are physically separate because we are people.  But we reach out
  to each other and overcome that separation.

This goes to the heart of the theoretical meaning of freedom, on the
one hand, and the practical method of democracy on the other.  The one
can be grounded in a recapitulation of moral philosophy that begins
with Kant; the other in a renewal of modern democratic practices that
began at roughly the same time.  If this argument holds, then we could
take it as a guiding star as to what we should and should not be
working on.  (AFAIK, we've always followed this star more or less
faithfully in our designs.  Your vote mirroring fits right in here,
for example.)

> Reading the above again, I realize, that it is only adressing that
> part of the extention-practice, which is about the health of
> community-activities and the health of a poll as a whole etc.

(yes, or adoption of new tools/practices)

> But now other aspects come to my memory which are about tagging:
> Individuals expressing on their pages, what topics they are
> interested in, what communities they are in, what polls they are
> active in. And the same for each of the four aspects. Now this seems
> very helpfull for iii.  and iv. (and much more) because its kind of
> hard to get this info out of plain textual positions. A fifth
> category comes to my mind: Personal values ... very expressive and a
> bit different than topics, are they not? I remember DemocracyLab had
> this integrated.
> Do you still have in mind to invest in those too?

Yes, if nobody beats me to them.  I guess it's mostly a separate topic
and (if only slightly) a lower priority.  But note that Alex Keskitalo
in the other thread (Voting advice application) seems to be working in
roughly that ballpark.

Michael Allan

Toronto, +1 416-699-9528

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