aku-aku: v.. To move a tall, flat bottomed object (such as a bookshelf) by swiveling it alternatively on its corners in a "walking" fashion. [After the book by Thor Heyerdahl theorising the statues of Easter Island were moved in this fashion.] source: LangMaker.com. Aku Aku also has another meaning to the islanders: a spiritual guide.
« urban deconstruction | Main Page | mie has landed »
happening: emergent democracy
Posted by dav at 2003 April 22 09:16 PM
File under: Thoughts

I just attended a BOF called Happening: Emergent Democracy at the Emerging Technology conference. Some quick notes...

I have to admit I have not yet read Joi Ito's Emerging Democracy paper and I'm disappointed because Emergent Democracy appears to be something other than what I thought. I was hoping for something that was proposing a fundamental change to democracy (or at least some serious modifications) because I feel that the current systems have failed us. But from what I could gather it seemed the focus was on allowing people to more effectively operate within the existing political structure.

It seems to me that the current democractic systems (which are rapidly becoming difficult to distinguish from plutocracy) have already become too corrupt to be brought back under control within the existing political structure, or at least none of the proposed technical solutions are immune from the corruption. It doesn't really matter how easy we make it for a citizen to contact his or her representative because the citizens are already controlled by the plutocratic powers that be who have a more fundamental grip on the citizenry at cultural, economic and educational levels.

I have a feeling that Evil is an emergent behavior encouraged by misconceptions and lack of common belief systems and that corrupt anti democratic powers are employing misconception (propaganda/spin/lobbying) to further their power. I think that perceptions and shared misconceptions must be the essential target of effort. Lately I've been trying to put some thought into how to attack misconceptions.

If you look at a statement made in a debate, you can say that the statement can be repesented as a logical extension of other statements. One can imagine a branched tree of statements in this manner. Often when people argue, especially those split along party lines, they are arguing different branches of a tree without realizing it. Branches that often are somewhat virtual, like superpositions or the branches of the level IV multiverse over time. The thing is that if both debaters follow their belief tree back far enough, they can identify the point where their belief system diverges.

If we could build a system that can represent knowledge and allow people to intuitively and easily identify their belief systems and locate the divergent point, they can focus their debative energy on the point that really matters. I think that this would result in great progress in shared belief systems as a whole, and that superior political systems will emerge from this practice.

Working on such a system would be complex (social networking, reputation systems, authentication, human computer interaction, visualization, distribution, etc, etc) , but I feel like it's a much better use of resources than trying to make it easier for citizens to participate in a game that they can't win anyhow.


I love your metaphor of pointless "political" debates as taking place on different branches of a logical tree; as an analytical tool, it certainly explains that feeling of smoking tires on wet asphalt you get when trying to argue a point with someone hellbent on disagreeing - that lack of traction, of purchase.

Of course there's no purchase! The two parties are arguing different points.

And, yes, I (obviously) agree: our system is broken to the extent that new models should be pushed to the fore, tested in the real world, and deployed.

Posted by: Adam Greenfield on April 23, 2003 03:11 AM

Emergent democracy is from the bottom up instead of the top down. It gets confusing, but participative democracy instead of representaive, which seems to amount to plutocracy. Doesn't look like something in our lifetime beyond discussion and maybe more use of the initiative process.

Posted by: toph on April 23, 2003 04:59 PM

I share your interest in radical change in social & political organization. One thing i especially like about Adam's approach is that it implies the building of alternative systems, without right away tearing down the existing ones (with all the attendant disruptions that would lead to). Please tell me if i'm reading you wrong, Adam.

I believe Emergent Democracy can take a two-pronged approach, both addressing some of the problems in existing systems, and building alternatives that can replace existing systems in part or whole. Emergent Democracy is not (yet) a term with a particularly fixed meaning. The group calling itself the Emergent Democracy group is working on a definition right now, please do come and help out.


(You need a password to get in there -- you may be able to get one automatically somewhere at socialtext.com -- otherwise, contact someone who was at the F2F meeting you went to i guess. Let me know if you have any trouble.)

p.s. I think you'll enjoy John Brunner's books :)

Posted by: John Abbe on April 24, 2003 05:27 AM

Funny you should mention Brunner: *Shockwave Rider* and *The Sheep Look Up* have both come up in conversation in the last few days, in conversations apropos ED.

John, have you poked your head in at marginwalker.org yet?

Posted by: Adam Greenfield on April 28, 2003 08:43 AM

A couple Brunner novels (in fact, those two :-) were in Dav's to-read list.

Yes, i ran across marginwalker somewhere before, and have loaded up the latest to look at when i'm off-line (my on-line time is limited). Is there an RSS feed?

Posted by: John Abbe on April 29, 2003 07:30 AM

Mais, bien sur!

Posted by: Adam Greenfield on April 30, 2003 10:02 AM

John thanks for the link. It's going to take me a week or so to dig myself back out of the hole the conference and holiday have left me in, but I plan on taking another look at the emergent democracy stuff ASAP.

By the way, I started reading Stand on Zanzibar on the plane down to Los Cabos. It starts off so good I swear I got too excited to read and had to put the book down and just think about it after a dozen pages! I'm amazed this was written around the time I was born yet I've managed to not run across it until now. I hope I get time to finish it in the coming month.

Posted by: Dav on May 1, 2003 05:02 PM

Post a new comment:

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?