A structural fault in society owing to a design flaw in the electoral system

Michael Allan mike at zelea.com
Fri Oct 28 09:30:04 EDT 2011

Dear all,

I post here a revised abstract/outline and figure [REL], mostly for
the record.  If my confidence in this outline isn't too shaken by
critique in the lists, then I hope to postpone the bulk of the
drafting and get back to practical work soon.  So hopefully this can
stand as a rough map of the problem space:

   An individual vote in an election has no meaningful effect in the
   objective world, and no effect whatsoever on the official outcome
   of the election; whether the vote is cast or not, the outcome is
   the same regardless.  Beneath this fact lies a structural fault
   that emerges here and there in society as a series of persistent
   discontinuities between facts and norms, or contents and forms.  I
   trace the underlying cause of this fault to a technical design flaw
   in the electoral system wherein the elector is physically separated
   from the ballot.  This separation removes the elector cum voter
   (the active decider) from the social means and product of decision,
   thereby rendering him individually powerless.  In the 1700s and
   1800s, middle class society was able to partly overcome this
   handicap by engaging in politically animated practices of decision
   formation and expression that, even without the benefit of a
   concrete ballot, were nevetherless voter-like.  This ad hoc
   practice of "abstract voting" enabled them to reconstitute
   electoral power within the flourishing communication networks of
   the day.  As voting rights later expanded into the population,
   however, the franchise came to include more people who lacked the
   personal or social means to engage in abstract voting and reach
   decisions of their own.  Their cumulative disengagement amounted to
   a power vacuum that coincided with the rise, after 1867, of the
   modern party system in Great Britain.  The modernized Liberal and
   Conservative parties responded by each packaging its own ready-made
   decision, thus reducing the input of the elector to a choice of
   which package to consume.  The resulting transfer of power from the
   weaker members of the electorate to the organized parties was the
   historical event that opened up the structural fault.  It opened
   between the two formal components of political liberty, namely
   power and equality.  These two components were torn apart for lack
   of any structural binding in society.  Society is well equipped to
   handle the various forms of communication in which electoral power
   alone exists, but it lacks any concomitant support of equality.
   The ballot itself formalizes equality, but only internal to the
   system; its structural strength cannot be realized unless it is
   externalized and bound to the elector.  With that as a foundation,
   society could provide electoral services on the basis of form
   rather than content; services for personalized decision making as
   opposed to one-size-fits-all consumption.  Ordinary competition
   among service providers would then be sufficient to ensure that all
   electors regardless of personal and social means had access to a
   fair share of constitutional power and its associated
   opportunities. [QCW]


I like how it supports the technology of Votorola and Outcast, and
vice versa, even though both are grounded independently of each other.
In fact, each of the 6 sections of text appear to be well grounded,
and the first 4 independently so (another encouraging sign, because it
means lots of pillars).  Here are the 6 section titles:

  1. The fact of an objectively meaningless vote
  2. A structural fault in society
  3. A design flaw in the electoral system
  4. Abstract voting and the early public sphere
  5. Franchise expansion, a power vacuum and the rise of the parties
  6. A failure of structural support for equal opportunity

I also like the economic connections, which hold promise of being deep
in both directions.  That's maybe to be expected from any societal
theory that approaches the truth.  It may not *appear* that elections
could be deeply important (just politics), but I know from our work on
Votorola that that appearance is itself probably an illusion of the
status quo.  For better or worse, all of society is within reach of
the electoral system.

To be sure, I could easily be overlooking some mistakes.  Critique and
comment are always welcome.

 [REL] Causal relations among a formal failure of technical design
      (left) and actual failures in society (right).  See descriptions
      in text of (a), (b), (s).

      This figure is attached.

 [QCW] CW's steady insistence (Skype, 2011.9) that the economy has primacy over politics
      has led me to juxtapose (however clumsily) these two snippets of theory:

    * The individual labourer as such (as an artificer) being
      alienated from the product of her labour (artifact), is thereby
      disengaged from economic power and freedom.

    * The individual decider as such (elector cum voter) being
      alienated from the means and product of her decision (vote), is
      thereby disengaged from political power and freedom.

Michael Allan

Toronto, +1 416-699-9528

More information about the Votorola mailing list