Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means.
– Lord Acton
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
– Buckminster Fuller
If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the past several years, you’ll be acutely aware of my belief that human civilization is currently in a major transition period between two great paradigms of world history. The old world we all grew up in no longer works for most people, yet is being relentlessly propped up by the powerful and their minions who benefit from its parasitic and destructive nature. Despite their best efforts, a system so poisonous, decrepit and corrupt cannot and will not last. At this stage, it’s little more than a Potemkin village fraud barely kept standing courtesy of increasingly intense deception, manipulation and the sheer will of those who profit handsomely from it.
By stating we’re in the transition period, I want to make it clear I believe things are very much already being disrupted and altered beneath the hood of a world which appears indistinguishable from what it was a decade ago on a superficial level. Specifically, I think there are two core aspects of human existence that will be completely transformed in the years to come. First, within the monetary and financial systems that define how commerce, savings and entrepreneurship function. The emergence and continued momentum of Bitcoin offers evidence that disruption in this realm is already very much underway, albeit still in its infancy. The second realm I expect will experience massive transformational change relates to forms of human governance. We’ve barely scratched the surface on this one, but nascent signs have started to appear, and I suspect a push towards political systems more defined by direct democracy will become increasingly common in the years ahead. I’ve spent many hours writing about the financial and monetary system, so today’s piece will focus on what appears to be coming with regard to human political evolution.
Direct democracy is something that’s been tried before, so there’s some history to it. Once you start exploring the concept you’ll be immediately confronted with a plethora of terms such as eDemocracy, liquid democracy, referendum, initiative, and recall to name just a few. The purpose of this post isn’t to dig into all of that, although it’s certainly a useful exercise and I’ll provide some helpful links at the end. The purpose of this post is to distinguish direct democracy from the most common form of democratic government functioning on earth today, representative democracy.
We exist in such a profoundly bizarre moment in time. We all know everything's broken, that the way the world works is archaic and terminal, but we have yet to cross into the next paradigm. Truly an incredible time to be alive.
— Michael Krieger (@LibertyBlitz) May 21, 2019
I like to keep things simple, and simply put, the core purpose of direct democracy is to ensure that voters are more active and empowered in political life than in a representative democracy where you vote for people who you then entrust to vote in your interests. As we can all see by now, this isn’t working.
Even in a government construct such as the one outlined in the U.S. Constitution, with a separation of powers as well as the decentralization inherent in political entities known as states, representative democracy remains a centralizing and corruptible force. In such a system, voters relinquish their rights to have a direct say on the most significant issues of the day, which opens up tremendous opportunities for corruption. All special interests have to do is compromise a few hundred (or less) representatives, which we can all see is quite commonplace and trivial to do. I’ve long believed that the biggest threat to human liberty and progress is centralized concentrations of power, whether that power manifests in government or corporate form. Representative democracy is the most common form of democracy practiced in the world today, and it serves to concentrate power in professional politicians who are then compromised. Not a very good system.
Here are a few related quotes from a recent article I read which are worth thinking about.
In 1964, 76 percent of Americans had faith in the government to do what is right “always or most” of the time. In 2015, that figure fell to only 19 percent.
The world’s current democratic institutions came into being about the same time as the telegram. But while Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has evolved, our systems of governance have not.
The weakness of representative democracy lies in the disconnection between voter and representative, infrequent elections, high voter-to-representative ratios, and the limited choices of a two- or three-party system. Moreover, the concentration of power in the hands of the executive branch of government makes democracy vulnerable to the lobby industry. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that our electoral system supports a market trade of money for influence. Therefore, reducing our democratic system’s reliance on current models of representation may in fact be one of the great opportunities of eDemocracy.
I first recognized the power of direct democracy and change via referendum back in 2012 when the people of the state of Colorado (where I live), voted to legalize and regulate cannabis. To this day, it’s the only vote I’ve ever participated in that actually made a difference and empowered me as a voter and citizen. Had Colorado and Washington not put this decision to the people of their states back in 2012, it’s unlikely that any progress would have been made on this important issue anywhere in the U.S. There’s no way Congress would’ve done anything on the subject, yet many other states have since taken similar action following the success of legalization in the states willing to serve as guinea pigs. Direct democracy functions best from the bottom up, at a grass roots local level, which is something I’ll discuss more in Part 2. It should first and foremost empower people and communities, and if it doesn’t do that, then it’s not progress.
It’s important to note that direct democracy can take on virtually endless forms and structures. Different communities or regions should determine what works best for them. The key unifying principle is the public should have more direct input in what sort of legislation is passed, but there’s more to it than that. Recalls of politicians can be another element, as is the right to veto legislation passed by representative bodies, which are unlikely to disappear, but should be neutered and held far more accountable in realtime.
It’s most likely that future forms of government will consist of a hybrid structure, in which elements of representative democracy remain, but with a strong driving force and the check of direct democratic tools. For example, under liquid democracy voters can delegate their votes to trusted representatives on an issue-by-issue basis, while preserving their ability to participate directly on other issues. Direct democracy is definitely not a one-size fits all concept, and vast experimentation is key to figuring out what works best.
In next week’s post I’ll discuss why direct democracy is best rooted in local action and decision making. I’m a firm believer that most governance decisions should be made at a local level by the people living in particular area. Local regions can then decide to create larger alliances or loose political unions to face certain challenges that require such structures, but there should always be very simple ways to dissolve such arrangements when they no longer work for the communities that entered into them. The fact Catalonia has no simple legal manner to remove itself from Spain highlights the problem of creating rigid political structures.
Finally, here are a few resources on the topic of direct democracy you may find interesting.
Direct Democracy (Wikipedia)
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