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The Dream Machine --- The Imagination of the World Wide Web
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Leaving out some subgroups, like women and slaves in both ancient Greece and the first American governments, has been mostly corrected, at least in theory. The most recent election, where it was found that votes were systematically undercounted in African American areas shows that we still have a long way to go.
The insistence that people only elect representatives, who then carry out the actual governing, has been more persistent. The reason is that such a system allows the elites to carefully control who is "eligible" to become a representative and thus ensure that they and their cohorts will remain firmly dominate the entire system. Thus, there is a great deal less difference between so-called democratic systems and monarchies than one might think. In the latter, rulers are chosen by their genetic lineage. Even a casual glance at the history of the United States will reveal that this hasn't changed all that much. The "rags to riches"...or more generally, "rags to power"...mythology of American Way has an occasional winner, just as someone occasionally wins the lottery, but the odds are VERY low of YOU winning.
The age of the Internet has introduced a new option. Not only is it possible for individuals to directly cast their votes...and have them counted immediately...much like the way opinion polls are conducted...but there is also a more exciting possibility; direct democracy. That is, it is possible for a system of rule making...the legislative branch...in which each and every individual could cast his or her vote on EVERY issue, obviating the necessity of representatives at all, at least of the current variety.
Of course, few people...including our current legislators, as shown by their failure to bother to read most legislation on which they cast votes...would desire to express a vote on every conceivable issue. Thus, each of us, for most purposes, could assign our vote to a representative whom we trust, probably someone we actually know. In fact, we could assign those votes conditionally, to one person for issues of law and order, say, to another for issues concerning agriculture. People with these specific interests and capabilities, could lobby us personally for these assignments. In addition, these people could assign THEIR collections of votes to someone they know to be even more expert than they, creating a hierarchy of expertise on each and every topic, for each and every vote. Finally, it could be possible, at any level of this hierarchy, to withdraw one's assignment, for the purpose of any particular vote, thus ensuring that the system could be readily corrected when any sizable group has ideas differing from the "representatives" they have chosen.
The good news is that a computer the size of the one on which this essay is being written, connected as it is to the internet, could easily keep track of all these assignments for the entire United States. Other computers could keep track of the actual votes. Networked computers could keep track of the entire world. Furthermore, any competent computer programmer could write the software to do this in a few days. There obviously would be complications, as there is in any voting system, concerning security and verification, but these problems are not insurmountable and are not even necessary at the outset.
Most interestingly, such a system could be implemented RIGHT NOW, without waiting for the powers-that-be to approve...since they would almost certainly frown upon it for obvious reasons. That is, a quasi-official direct democratic system could be set up immediately in parallel with existing governments. At first it would have no power whatsoever. But, if the concept caught on with a significant proportion of the world's population, it might very well wedge its way into power, merely by publishing its "opinions." And all without firing a shot.
Anybody out there interested? Next week we will begin to explore the ramifications of such direct democracy and talk about some of the things we would suggest to make it workable.
Talk to you later...
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