[MG] Global advisory parliament

Michael Allan mike at zelea.com
Tue May 31 21:43:14 EDT 2011

Wybo Wiersma wrote:
> > > ... Wikipedia could start out small, because a small Encyclopedia
> > > (especially when indexed by Google so people find the article if it
> > > existed) is already an Encyclopedia, and useful in its own right.
> > 
> > You may say that if you wish, but it seems indefensible.  You make two
> > assertions that both hinge on calculations of utility:
> > 
> >   (1) A general encyclopedia in draft form is still useful as an
> >       encyclopedia no matter how few articles it has, or how generally
> >       incomplete those articles are.
> > 
> >   (2) A single article in isolation of the whole is useful to readers
> >       because it is indexed by Google.  The drafters who contribute to
> >       the article are motivated mainly by this calculation.
> > 
> > Would you try to defend either of these?  Neither seems plausible.
> > Even if you succeeded, then you'd have to defend two other points:
> > 
> >   (3) Such calculations could not motivate the early contributors to a
> >       compendium of draft statutes.
> > 
> >   (4) No *other* calculation or cause could sufficiently motivate the
> >       early contributors.
> > 
> > Only then would you reach the conclusion (unhappily for us) that a
> > grassroots legislative initiative is doomed to marginalization unless
> > it first achieves critical mass.  Do you still wish to make that
> > argument?
> I'm sorry, but if anything, you (Michael) would have to prove (make
> plausible, I'm not that demanding) that Wikipedia and collectively
> drafted statutes are sufficiently similar to warrant reasoning by
> analogy on Wikipedias success.

That success which runs counter to your thesis is yours to explain.
You claim that an online participatory legislature is subject to
network effects and will be marginalized if it lacks a critical mass.
Your claim is counterfactual because no such legislature exists and
none is quite feasible with current technology.  You must therefore
address the failures and successes of such equivalents as Wikipedia
that do exist, and explain how they fit with your thesis.

You must also explain why a participatory legislature would be subject
to these effects in the first place.  Every class of contributory
medium - most notably discussion, voting and publication - that has
escaped from these effects is a challenge to your thesis.  The burden
of proof rests with you.

> And honestly where a Wikipedia article, even a stub, is written to
> provide people with information (which they apparently were looking
> for, or else they would not find it through Google), statutes, or
> political proposals are not going to fulfill that need (they are
> meanth to propose, not to provide impartial information), especially
> if formulated and/or supported by not more than minorities.

You defend your assertion (2) that the first contributors to Wikipedia
were motivated primarily by an indirect calculation of utility which
involved a largely hypothetical (for them) readership that discovered
their articles via Google.  That seems a contrived and weak argument
to pit against such a massive success.  Here are the article counts
for the first year of publication: [1]

   2001-12-14   19000
   2001-12-07   18000
   2001-11-06   16000
   2001-10-25   15053
   2001-10-19   14000
   2001-10-04   13182
   2001-09-19   12502
   2001-09-09   11208
   2001-09-07   10000
   2001-08-22    9043
   2001-08-07    8000
   2001-07-27    7243
   2001-07-26    6947
   2001-07-08    6000
   2001-05-20    4985
   2001-05-10    3969
   2001-04-27    3281
   2001-03-30    2221
   2001-03-24    1910
   2001-03-07    1323
   2001-02-12    1000
   2001-02-08     900
   2001-01-31     617
   2001-01-25     270
   2001-01-10       0

It grew from zero to 900 articles in under a month.  Such a high
growth rate in the beginning does not fit the hypothesis of motivation
by readership.  If the drafters were thinking of readers at all, they
must have been thinking of readers in the future.  Indeed, that kind
of thinking would emancipate them from network effects.  Network
effects depend on narrow calculations of utility in the present and a
mistrust of possibilities in the future.

Nor does the hypothesis of independent motivation fit with the form of
publication.  If the drafters were motivated independently by the
intermediation of Google, then why weren't their articles published
independently?  Google would have indexed them all the same.  Clearly
there was something about the larger project of Wikipedia that
attracted them.  This suggests another way of avoiding the trap of
marginalization.  Consider the original Encyclop?die edited by
Diderot.  It was published during the Enlightment when new ideas were
in the air and new freedoms were being tested.  Wikipedia quotes
Diderot in saying that the aim of the Encyclop?die was "to change the
way people think."

Similar ideas and ideals may have motivated the early contributors to
Wikipedia.  They probably never wrote encyclopedia articles before,
and they certainly never did so without permission of the publishing
authorities.  Moreover they had a chance of unseating those very
authorities where they ruled over other encyclopedias, and this would
have struck them as the right thing to do.  It's not for nothing that
Wikipedia calls itself "The Free Encyclopedia".  Motivations like that
are hard to suppress and can easily explain the bouyant growth in the
early days of publication, despite the high costs to the drafters and
the low utility to the readers. [2]

> > > > > Why only advisory: - Because it will provide the best
> > > > > interaction with existing institutions, and will be seen as
> > > > > reasonable by the majority. ...
> > > > 
> > > > If we could somehow limit the public's influence on government to
> > > > an advisory role, then how would that result in the "best
> > > > interaction"?  I gave reasons why it *cannot* be so limited, but
> > > > why do you say it *ought* to be?
> > 
> > Why?
> To work within the system, to get a broad base of support and
> participation, and thus to maximize chances of actually improving
> things in the end.

The chances of improving things are maximized by reducing the public
to an advisory role.  That sounds like an anachronism from the days of
Kings.  It runs counter to the tradition and theory of modern
democracy which grant the public a stronger role of normative
guidance.  If we were to reaffirm that role and formalize it online,
then how would that offend the system?

> Maybe you should try talking about this to ten random people you
> meet on the road, or in a canteen, and see what sticks with them and
> what doesn't... Anything beyond advisory will not (and as said, I am
> not even myself in favour of doing away with institutions that have
> shown to at least provide basic levels of social and political
> freedom, for centuries in some cases).

You paint the role of the public in connection with a mysterious
threat of "doing away" with democratic institutions.  If such a threat
is to be surfaced in its true form, then I believe those people in the
canteen must be told that, henceforth, their votes are to be
considered advisory.  When they ask for the reason, simply say, "to
maximize chances of actually improving things".

Democracy has never had an institution at the world level.  At issue
are the kinds of institution that might be built.  Any that somehow
managed to restrict the people of the world to a merely advisory role
would not be democratic, nor, I fear, would it bode well for the
institutions of democracy at other levels.

 [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Size_of_Wikipedia
 [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encyclop%C3%A9die

Michael Allan

Toronto, +1 416-699-9528

Originally posted to the mailing list of the Metagovernment Project:

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