virus: Attn: Long Post Pt. 1 (was: Virian council)

Dan Plante (
Sun, 27 Jun 1999 10:42:39 -0700

Carl, thanks for the critical review and soft touch. I have a good excuse for that sloppy post, I really do.

OK, here's the scoop: I had a few basic ideas (which I had never bothered to flesh out before, until I found myself banging out this post), and two specific interests that motivated me to post it, and therefore framed the approach to the idea (and formed the subtext of the post).

First and foremost, it is my belief that most institutions, including most governments of developed countries, will end up like this, and sooner rather than later (i.e. well within our lifetimes). I figured that, in the interests of:

  1. speeding up this process, and
  2. giving a nod to the lofty goals of CoV

that I would attempt to suggest a system that was:

  1. infinitely scalable (well, from 60 members to 60 billion, let's say), and
  2. integrated the intrinsic security measures that larger collections of individuals that deal with issues of great consequence (i.e. governments) would require and demand.

Here's a brief synopsis of my thoughts underpinning the choices (that admittedly need tweaking):

Have you ever noticed how, after arguing with someone about something for a while and realizing that the other person knows that the rationale supporting his argument is shaky, he will nevertheless continue to support his position with apparent certainty (and increasing agitation)? I'm sure we're all familiar with this, and understand the ego dynamics behind it. Anyway, it's interesting to watch the double-take going on inside their head when you say "Yeah? Well, I bet you $200 you're wrong. Money talks, and bullshit walks." - or - "OK, then implement it your way, but God help you if you're wrong!". Financial self-interest (among other things) goes head-to-head with face-saving and dukes it out. They can be pretty well matched, so picking a winner would be hard to do.

However, if the person in question is presented with the certainty of this challenge *before* hand, you notice that the next time you discuss something, they withhold their ego investment in the topic right from the outset, and discuss it in a much more detatched, philosophical and open manner. They've come to the rather inevitable conclusion that hedging your ego investment in an idea until you're SURE you're right is a sound cultural tactic.

When people have vested interests on the line, they almost always tend to be more critical and introspective in their analysis and resulting opinions, and therefore more informed and balanced in their actions. This is one of the aspects of human nature that the "Netocracy" would synergise with. When you realise that the people around you have direct, personal influence on issues important to you, you're much more open and reasonable about your direct influence on theirs. It is this aspect of human nature that would raise the level of debate and serve to depolarise issues and supress partisanship. After a while, that is. When any complex system gets hit with a step function (a paradigm shift in cultural terms), the system will "ring" for a while before settling down at the new set-point. The exact phrase for this is "critically damped oscillations", and is intrinsic to all self-stabilised systems, be it a bell, or an amplifier, or a culture. The trick to anticipating the characteristics of the new set-point is to look past the inevitable oscillations (cultural upheaval).

So, this addresses the main behaviourial problem when people are already into the issues and motivated about it one way or another, but what is it about this system that would make them want to participate at all? How would this address the current and past plagues of voter apathy? Well, part of the problem is the human tendency to defer to authority. If there's "someone at the helm", many people feel (right or wrong) that they can ignore what's going on, secure in the knowledge that "the powers that be will take care of what needs to be done for me, more or less". Now imagine this same person on board a cruise ship. He sees the captain and the entire crew jump ship. He panics: "Who's going to steer the ship?!". That's one point of synergy: you've captured his interest by causing anxiety. Then he sees that a blue haired old lady has seen the same thing he has, and she's making her way into the bridge. Do you think he's going to trust her to keep him and his family from smashing against the rocks? I don't think so. He's going to be all over that bridge like a dirty shirt. Now imagine instead that the ship is this list. Now amplify all that by thinking in terms of this system making decisions about medicare, your armed forces, labour laws, tax regime, family law, justice, and even the laws that decide whether or not you can build that 1000 sq. foot addition on to your house for little Junior. That's another point of synergy.

It's human nature to reflexively defer to, and ascribe competency to, a heirarchy of authority. It's also human nature to view yourself as more competent than any other "guy on the street". It is also the remoteness and seeming opacity of the heirarchial power structure that drives people into apathy, as well as the mind-numbing inertia and inflexibility of the bureaucracy that inevitably flows from it.

Another point of synergy is the social nature of the human animal. The desire for the recognition, approval and acceptance of your peers is a very strong motivator. Strong enough to underpin the effective operation of this new orgisational paradigm? Well, you be the judge. What motivates you to read and post to this list? What motivates David McFadzean to support the infrastructure? What motivated Brett to set up the voting list, or Eric Boyd to put the time and effort into making the Virus poster? Hell, what's motivating *me* to write this meandering behemoth?

OK, so what about the motivational dynamics that drive political aspirations (i.e. the acquisition and maintenance of personal political power)? What do you do about that? Well, I'm sure people with that kind of drive will find a place for themselves in the private sector, or an NGO, or something. The point is, heirarchial political structures don't exist solely because of this human bent, they are simply another sector within which it has manifested itself, and this sector is dominated by a heirarchial beast simply because there isn't a more fit beast in the environment. When faced with a wall of simple (i.e. no loopholes, few basic rules), inflexibly structured and hellishly dynamic "egalitarian" political systems, these dinosaurs will find some other earth to trod.

Let's just say that, when pondering the anticipated efficacy of this system, you need to keep three things in mind:

  1. Not all people think like you do, you're just another point on a bell-shaped curve. If you want to evaluate the merits of this system based on individual human nature, look to psychology texts, or spend an afternoon at the mall.
  2. Looking at the average individual's probable response isn't enough. Group dynamics is not individual dynamics. Thinking about how you would react to it, or how your uncle or boss would react to it, aren't enough. You have to try and anticipate what your and their behaviour would be like knowing that the anxieties and aspirations of these other people would have to be acknowledged and act accordingly (and so will they, for the most part), then see what comes out of all this and plug that back into the equation and recalculate, etc, etc. The recursive nature of this is what drives the system to find its dynamically stabilised set-point.
  3. Looking at individual and group behaviourial dynamics isn't enough. The most critical (and most dificult) thing to envision is how these two other facets would interact with an inflexibly and utterly "flat" political system where almost anything goes, and feedback times are measured in hours instead of days, weeks or years. Would it really "lock up" and go nowhere, as various factions of interest refuse to let sway? Not a chance. Remember, everybody's dealing with a mass of other individuals who have just as much power as they do, and the vast majority of people are fairly reasonable and want the system they're in to run smoothly, not just because it's "in their best interests" per se, but ideally, because they would suffer for it; something a little stronger than "interests". Would it instead dive into chaos, as bills are adopted and rescinded willy-nilly? Maybe a little at first, but this is normal for the first little while after an emergent system pokes its head out into the world for the first time, squints at the sunlight and takes its first breath. There's bound to be some crying and arm waving.

And that's exactly what it would be; a newly emergent system. It is the *dynamics* that arise from the interplay between these three components that would define the system. It would be a self-organising and self-reproducing system. As long as you have:

  1. An absolutely flat playing field (cellular architechture)
  2. The system feedback-loop time constant 'tau' is very short (bio-feedback)
  3. A medium that can't be closed down or usurped (independance of action and sustenance)
  4. A solid, verifiable security and identity regimen (immune system)

then the rest is technicalities.

Now I'll attempt to respond to Carl's very good objections to my previous post. And Carl, I know I failed to make the gist of my idea clear in the first post, so don't take my responses the wrong way, I know you had a different take on what I was referring to (i.e. restricted to CoV-scale):

At 12:46 AM 25/06/99 -0500 Carl Wagener wrote:

>You do realize what you just let yourself in for Dan? On 25th of
>December if the voting could be ended by tomorrow midnight... of course,
>until the mechanism you have suggested, or a modified version, is in
>place it is a bit tricky to get it going.

Yeah, I thought of that. My first impulse was "So what? If the member size is big enough, you'll still have a statistically relevant representation of the electorate in the dregs who do vote", but thought better of it after your comment. Since anything goes in this system, I'm sure that some rules regarding suspending tabling of legislation would crop up for holidays, etc. As long as it applies equally to everybody, who cares?

>Some suggestions and comments in line. Please note that these are simply
>first reactions, not criticisms.

Criticisms are just fine. I have a pretty thick skin.

>In the following, as is always the case in formal English, the male
>gender includes the female except where this defies logic or physical
>attributes. (Hermit stirring the PC pot for the day :-) )

Good. Saves me the trouble ;-)

>The suggestions you make are in a sense very akin to the rules of some
>"friendly" societies. But it is usual, even in the most democratic
>meeting, to have a chairman (even pro temps) to decide on matters of
>procedure and precedence.

No way. Kills the dynamics. Set up some rules before hand if you want, of course - even a "chairman", but after inception, they're on the chopping block like everything else. The point is, the ONLY things that can be written in stone (without introducing a built-in mechanism to undermine the system) is the absolutely flat playing field and the security aspect that ensures one member, one vote. This means that anonymity is anathema, as well.

>Perhaps we need a virian pope to perform this
>office? You will find that in the real world and in even more
>egalitarian and immediate forums (not to say anarchistic), such as IRC,
>societies that wish to achieve any goals rapidly appoint such a creature
>in order to moderate the proceedings.

The system may even vote to introduce a whole new heirarchy, and that's perfectly fine. The defining difference is that this system would have the irrevocable and immutable power to almost instantly dismantle it again if it so chooses.

>How many committees have you seen
>achieve anything outside of the gilded halls of academe?

Actually, this is a bad analogy, if you think about it. The typical commitee exists within a larger framework. They therefore have different dynamics and motivations at play. This quite often motivates them to enact or influence legislation that is tuned to benefit them more that the GUM (Great Unwashed Masses). Also, they get committee membership by way of something other than topical merit, so they are quite often not the best ones to be deciding the issues in question. These are the social dynamics behind the "designed by committee" jokes :-) On the other hand, I agree that the CoV *is* described by your analogy. It's not a self-organising, self-perpetuating and reproducing entity like a culture is. If it dissapeared tomorrow, some people would be irritated, maybe go ballistic, but they wouldn't go hungry. Oh well; you work with what you got. There are ways.....

>> This discussion group owes its existence to the internet, and
>> the concepts
>> embodied in evolution in general, and memetics in particular.
>> This suggests
>> an approach that does more than just pay lip service to the ideas and
>> ideals of the CoV and the revolutionary aspect of internet
>> communication; a
>> new way of doing things that not only acknowledges but, by
>> its very nature,
>> variously co-opts, accentuates or subverts, those aspects of
>> individual and
>> cultural dynamics deemed beneficial or detremental. Call it a
>> "directed
>> mutation" of the old heirarchial paradigm, if you will.
>> Here's a chance to
>> do some "memetic engineering" - CoV can try it on itself.

>Ok. Sensible. If it doesn't work here, where will it work?

Actually, it may fail here and work on a national scale (see above). Unfortunately, these things don't "catch on and spread like wildfire" from the top down ;-)

>> There's no need today for a traditional top-down heirarchy of
>> authority,
>> nor for the bug-infested algorithm of representative democracy. The
>> drawbacks of both of these systems is, I'm sure, obvious to
>> most on this
>> list, and has been discussed ad nauseum in the past.

>You probably need to put a time limit on how long a measure can be
>debated before it is put to vote or euthanased.

Yes. We both comment on this farther down. I also refered to this critical aspect above; the feedback time constant. That's why I put it in the first time. Sorry I didn't make the rationale clear then.

>> Here's one option:
>> Set up a web page running a database engine that allows
>> individual access
>> to all of the database for reading and searching, and write
>> priveleges for
>> the individual's own "voting" field in each voter record
>> embedded in each
>> "referendum issue" file. Within each field are three entries:
>> one entry for
>> the Yay or nay, one for the individual's email address, and
>> another for the
>> individual's PGP signature for that vote. Everyone has read access to
>> everyone else's voter record, and a local copy of all the
>> public keys and
>> email addresses (everyone can do this nowadays, disk space is cheap).

>Can you put this together? Or are you thinking of others?

Ummmmm...........hmmmmm. Well, let's just say that, although my "free time" is measured in pico-seconds, I would agree to do all that I could, commensurate with my estimation of the level of critical motivation and emotional investment I percieve from the rest of the list. How's that for CoVering you butt, eh?

>There are
>maybe "easier", more webbish ways to do this,

Certainly. No problem.

>for example some list
>suppliers already offer this,

As Brett mentioned (and put some effort into as well, thanks Brett).

>or Microsoft Office 2000 supports this
>relatively painlessly in co-operation with Back-Office servers.

Hmmmm. I never thought of this. Although, again, at the other end of the application scale (governments), you wouldn't want to use something that commercial, buggy and non-public domain - and the software suite MUST be public domain if the system should self-reproduce), but it might be okay for our uses at first.....

>But if
>you are volunteering, let me keep my fingers out of your way and my
>mouth shut :-).

Volunteer? Me?

>As to voting, there must be a means of making it anonymous. A simple
>tally might suffice in many instances.

I know, I know, I didn't mention anything about the scalability and portability of the system that motivated my first draft (i.e. government scale and application - another gaff on my part). This would require any and everybody could search the voter list, vote records etc. and cross correlate this info with on-line vital stats and phonebooks, etc. and report any anomalies. This is a critical part of the security (immune system) aspect. In the case of the U.S., you have hundreds of millions of watchdogs. Nope. Anonymity must be killed, cremated, and its ashes ground to dust and scattered in space. Besides, it's not in keeping with the concept of every individual taking responsibility for their actions. What could be more important an action than how you voted on a issue of critical import to your 300 million neighbors (near the other end of the scale of application, of course)?

>For another thing, the ability to
>post anonymously would also be good. Where the author is not immediately
>discernable due to his length, style or inanity it would allow
>consideration of his ideas without introducing personalities into the

I understand the historical reality implicit in your reservations Carl, but do you think that is very important nowadays? Everybody I know, everyone at work, my whole family, knows how each other voted, and why. Nobody's been bumped off to set an example or to promote terror. At least, not yet :-) On the other hand, you're right. The only critical factor is the voting. The posting might even be easier to swallow in the beginning if it's anonymous. Hmmmmm....

>> The CoV mailing list would serve as the arena to first bring
>> up issues
>> that may develop into an official referendum. The list's
>> voting members
>> (who would become such simply by being sponsored by an existing voting
>> member who would disseminate the inductee's email address and
>> public key -
>> thereby vouching for its authenticity and providing an avenue
>> to check - to
>> all the other voting members)

>Who will shave the barber?
>How do you prevent Gerrymandering?

My education, such that it is, has failed me I'm afraid. Gerrymandering?

>What is the franchise qualification
>if anything?

Ah. I see what you mean. None whatsoever. There can't be, or you introduce the dreaded loophole disease. Again, this is trying to keep the dynamics across all scales of application. For Virus, it could be something different at first, I suppose.

>Is it possible to disenfranchise people for whatever

Sure, as long as the rule intrinsically applies to everyone equally (Orthogonal? Amorphous? Homogenous? What the f*** is that word I'm looking for.....?). The system will seek and find the best immune system response to this carcinogen. "Life finds a way".

>Visualize how, under the proposed rules, anyone could create
>however many aliases were needed at hotmail or some other address of
>convenience, and dominate the church... Remember we are all
>semi-anonymous "volunteers". Don't forget to take the "lurkers" into
>account. Or not. But your decision should be conscious.

Sure, that's what the security measures (as described above) would be for. Of course, they only become critical as the size of the membership and the impact of the legislation on individual members become great. As far as the low end of the scale is concerned, I don't think an obscure and tiny organisation like CoV is going to draw enough motivated interest to go to enough trouble to make trouble, so I think inclusion criteria don't matter too much for us in the here and now, but if the idea is to spread this mutant memeplex, it should be dealt with after a while.

>, would hash it out in the
>> informal arena of
>> the list, and if the initial advocate of the issue later
>> feels the topic
>> still has merit, uploads a text of the proposed "bill" (along
>> with his or
>> her email & signature) to a new record entry in the "new
>> motions" file of
>> the database. In the "seconded" field of this record which
>> has "append"
>> permissions for every voting member, the motion would automatically be
>> moved to the "bills pending a vote" file when the "seconded" field
>> (automatically weeded for dupes and checked for authenticity)
>> reaches 5% of
>> the number of voting members (rounded up). A bill would pass
>> if 75% of the
>> voting members voted in favor, but an existing "law" would
>> only need 67%
>> to be removed.

>I would suggest an automatic passage of a certain period of time (many
>may not be motivated to do anything much), or possibly simply requiring
>the blessing of the virian pope suggested above (should we have one?
>Would the smoke for the election only be valid if it came from burning
>cannabis?). May I suggest that at most a 20% opposing vote should be
>enough to prevent a "law" from passing, or remove one already passed?

Sure, start with any combination of percentages you like, the system is self-stabilising; it will seek its centre by itself.

Continued on another post....