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On The Inherent Evil of Electronic Democracy

[email protected] (Timothy C. May) on `electronic democracy':

>Actually, this is my worst nightmare of what this country could
>become: a direct democracy of the most populist sort.
>"Electronic democracy" could easily
>be the most totalitarian thing the planet has ever seen.

I'm delighted that Mr. May has come out against my vision for the
future based on all the tired cliches and entrenched blind spots of the
status quo of two milleniums. It is extremely dischordant and eerie to
hear someone who advocates `CryptoAnarchy', black markets, drug
legalization, digital pornography, digital cash (tax evasion?) and the
Collapse of Governments to suddenly decide that Representative
Democracy is a Good Thing (tm) because of a quotes by the snobbish
elitist De Tocqueville, Milton Friedman, and a 200 year old experiment
called the Federal System of America that is far from perfect and could
stand some serious adjustments and fine-tuning. His beautiful
statements nicely capture all the stereotypical knee-jerk reactions and
objections of a prosaic minds, dulled by centuries of history's
mediocre mundanities and brainless propaganda inflicted by their
rulers, all who wouldn't recognize salvation if it was nailed to a
cross, to the true potential of future Cyberspace!

We stand at the threshhold of a new era in human interaction and social
systems with the onslaught of cyberspace, but when I propose a new kind
of *government* Mr. May is too uncomfortable and beats a hasty retreat
to `representative democracy', an elaborate and complex system that
purports to protect people from their own stupidity by diluting their
demands through blundering elected officials.  Perhaps what I am
advocating is truly new, and deserves a new name: Responsive Democracy.
If anyone would care to look up `representative' in the dictionary, Mr.
May's comments will be rendered nonsensical. To paraphrase:

``Our government doesn't actually represent the people. That's why it
is stable. There are unresponsive elements and obstacles to social
change called `legislators' that dampen the tendency toward `wild
oscillations in public opinion'.  If our government truly represented
public opinion we would easily have the Most Totalitarian Thing the
World Has Ever Seen. People want drugs to be illegal, restricted
imports, and banned cryptography. Of course, I'm certainly not implying
that Lance is in favor of Apocalypse!''

(It sounds more like anarchy as Mr. May describes it, so I wonder why
he's coming out against this scenario.) Mr. May, are you saying you
*don't* want a responsive government? one that is an inspiration
instead of a degradation? do you *prefer* to complain about injustice
and wretchedness to the point you would rather wallow in it than be lifted from it?

I find it exceedingly difficult to rebut Mr. May on specific points
because his whole position, when I try to grasp it, comes out to be a
tangle of convoluted and ephemeral contradictions, speculations, and
emotional quasi-fictional references to e.g. the War on Drugs or Janet
Reno. Do you like our current `representative' government or don't you?
What, exactly, is the Representative Democratic Government's role in
`cryptoanarchy', and why are you in favor of it?

* * *

Anyway, I would like to elaborate on a few of the misconceptions that
are raised by his statements.

1) the world has not really ever seen a true `direct democracy' or had
the technology to support one -- until now. Not even the Greeks,
renowned as the inventors of democracy, had one.  It seems to be every
civilized person's worst nightmare, yet it has never been implemented.
How do we know it would be so terrible? Does anyone even know what it is?

2) consider that our current government represents the *imbalance* of
popular opinions. A vocal, powerful, or wealthy minority is able to
distract attention from issues or manipulate the process to the point
of influencing law. e.g., the NSA can derail cryptography exports
because no one has any influence on the other side, despite plenty of
supporters for loosened restrictions! e.g., some Widget Manufacturer
gets favorable tax breaks or import restrictions! What if everyone
could have an equal influence on *all* laws irrespective of their
wealth & illegitimate influence?

3) consider that dampening mechanisms can be built in to a `responsive
democracy' system. To paint a picture of `direct democracy' as people
voting instantly on CNN is an ignorant insult.  Conservative,
deliberative, stable structures, with the formality of court
proceedings and similar protocol, can be developed. What is a court but
an elaborate mechanism to uncover truth, resolve conflict, and pass
judgement, through presentations of evidence, opinion, and voting by a
nation's citizens? Held to the utmost ideal of impartiality and
fairness? Impacting every plane of human interaction?

4) I believe `representative democracy' is essentially a mask for the
idea of saying `some people should have more influence than others in
voting and influencing social conventions, because they are leaders,
they know more about the subject, they are more affected by it, they
are recognized experts, they have everyone's best interest in mind'
etc. Now, consider that this `influence' could be *formalized* into a
system such that people `own' it and trade it and grant it to others
like a *currency system*, and that voting systems automatically weight
votes in different areas based on it.

5) Mr. May says `we don't need more laws & restrictions however popular
they may be' and completely missed my specific point that the citizens
would have the capability to *retract* ineffective, useless, obsolete
laws just as easily as creating them. He completely ignores the aspect
of `competition of superior laws by selection' that is central to the
idea. If laws have disastrous, outrageous, or terrible effects, the
citizen-populace and collective social psyche will quickly learn and
*evolve* to *avoid* them.

6) Finally, the bizarre Urban Legend that Order would Collapse or Utter
Totalitarianism would Ensue if everyone could vote on issues directly
without the tedious formalities of legislators, or that a government
unresponsive to true citizen desires to `protect them from their
stupidity' is preferrable or even existent, I simply all dismiss as
utterly ridiculous. As Mr. May says, the population gets what it wants.

The whole idea is far too multifaceted to explore in one essay, of
course--it requires an entire Movement, a Revolution, to advance to the
point that even Joe Sixpack grasps its basics and will not insult and
ridicule it upon first sight.  Fortunately, this is all automatic,
inevitable, and underway. Cypherpunks, you will be soon seeing dynamic
& interactive voting systems, `reputation currency' and all these other
fantastic social mechanisms that will formalize all your vague longings
for order and sensibility in the universe! I certainly don't claim that
Paradise is at hand, but a new form of government, that combines
elements of all previous models but unequivocally surpasses and
transcends them all, *is*!