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The Nuts and Bolts of Panocracy - Part 2
Of Cabbages and Kings
Back in the days of yore Kings (and sometimes Queens) held the power of the state in their own hands. We serfs started by believing such things as 'the hands of a King are the hands of a healer' and endowed them with many magical and heroic qualities. A few of them were indeed heroes - but others were cabbages. As the generations rolled by royalty themselves came to believe their own propaganda and eventually began to assume they were right on every matter. They were, after all, appointed by God.
Their caprice, their hubris and their profligacy was their undoing. Their divine rights were debunked and their executive powers appropriated by what we now think of as modern liberal democracy.
Principles of Democracy has a list of all the things a democracy is supposed to do. You can judge for yourself how well our current governments are living up to these principles. (In a future article we'll take a deeper delve into them).
Sadly, history has begun to repeat itself.
Like monarchs of old, the rulers, benders and shapers of the modern world have come to believe their own propaganda. One might sometimes think they've also come to believe that they've been appointed by God. This has perhaps been accelerated by the new technology of social media. It will end one way or another and the ending will be hard or very hard. One might hope their demise is less dramatic than that of the last (Bourbon) king of France, Louis XVI and his consort, Marie Antoinette but I'm buying shares in pitchfork manufacturers to hedge my bets.
Our ancestors clipped the wings of the old kings with civil war and revolution. Now it's our turn - and our duty - to clip the wings of the new ones. I dearly hope we can do it without bloodshed.
OK, sermon over, time to get to the meat of this article.
Government is borne of the belief that human society needs direction. Where that direction comes from is the big question and it's a question has become mired in sophistry and disguised by phony gravitas. Human societies past and present have generally assumed that only a few privileged people were capable of giving direction. Whether those few were potentates or princes, popes or priests, presidents or prime ministers, the result has always turned out the same – the smaller the leader group the more capricious its edicts, the more aloof its members, and the worse the outcomes for the rest of us.
Panocracy takes a different starting point. In one way it's what the current liberal democracies are supposed to be – everyone gets a say. And as we saw last time they get a say not just in wide-ranging, generic legislation, which can hide a number of unpopular measures, but in every detail that goes into it. A fundamental democratic belief is that, when it comes to politics, a lot of people know better than a few.
Panocracy extends this belief to policy formation. It mobilises the rational and informed voices which are usually silent as a counter to the irrational and vested interests which are often dominant.
How we in a panocracy collectively determine the direction we take is the subject of this article. Unfortunately, the devil is in the detail and we'll need to look at the boring old small print to see how the whole thing hangs together.
Requests For Comments
In the UK we have 70-odd million people (or is that 70 million odd people) almost all of whom have something to say about something they don't like and 'what ought to be done about it!” I've unashamedly pinched the model for enabling them make good on this from the designers of the internet (see Panocracy 5).
To recap, the internet is a network of communicating computers and it needs technical standards and conventions so that it all hangs together. The standards are proposed, developed and debated by engineers and interested non-specialists. They're finally approved by an administrative board called the Internet Architecture Board. Our equivalent in the panocracy is (unimaginatively) the Panocracy Architecture Board - PAB. The main difference here is that the PAB doesn't approve the proposals, you do – via the voting system we saw last time (in Panocracy 20).
The starting point for new laws or amendments to existing laws is no longer the unseen party grandees in the corridors of power. It's you. We're already familiar with online petitions where someone proposes some political action and others sign up to support it. Panocracy will offer a similar but much more sophisticated facility to allow a proposal to be raised, edited and finally submitted to the vote.
Stealing yet more from the internet model, we call the documents that contain proposals Requests for Comments (RFCs). ( If you're interested, all the internet RFCs can be found at https://www.rfc-editor.org/ ) Some internet RFCs are proposals, some informational and some recommendations for best practice. All of these states still have meaning in the translation to panocracy. Proposals are about changes to laws or regulations, information RFCs report on some situation without recommendation and best practice RFCs contain recommendations rather than imperatives. Finally, some panocracy RFCs are Laws or Regulations. These are the proposals that have made it through the election process to be adopted into Law. They're in the list of RFCs for openness, to emphasise that they are not immutable and to allow a reference for future proposals.
The editing phase might use software derived from the Wikipedia model where an initial document that contains some proposal is created by an individual or group and then modified by others until it has met the standards of The Panocracy Architecture Board (PAB) and has shown a measure of public support. The latter condition is to avoid wasting time on mischievous proposals. Handwritten or dictated proposals would be possible but would have to be digitised for general scrutiny.
Each RFC needs
an 'executive summary': an outline of the problem the proposal is trying to solve and the proposed solution
evidence that it’s been thought through: proof of concept, short and long term benefits, adverse side effects, risks, consistency with existing laws
an evaluation process: so that we can find out whether the law or regulation is doing what the proposal said it would
supporting references and evidence
a list of stakeholders and their affiliations
Providing that lot is not for the faint-hearted and the development of legislative proposals is expected to take considerable time and effort – as it does at the moment. Perhaps people with experience of writing legal or technical specifications would be involved in at least an informal way in the production of new proposals.
That anyone has the opportunity to spot a minor or major flaw in a proposal which was missed by experts before it's finalised is a strength of the system. The end product is a proposal that is more resilient. Our current systems of parliamentary debate militate against this, with political fudges and behind-the-scenes deals driving hasty and ill-considered amendments.
Proposals that are initially controversial will likely have to negotiate a critical and probably large group of sceptics and may accordingly be heavily revised. Raising a proposal and editing it will take time and the system is deliberately based on document editing to allow reflection and cooling-off time. Tweets just won't cut it.
Conflicts of Interest
It's likely that people will find many ways to develop their policy ideas – online forums or groups on social media being obvious places. However, it's important that the final proposals that come out of this are clear on potential conflicts of interest.
For example, a facebook group (or equivalent) on vaccines might have some members who are Big Pharma employees but the group itself is led by a non-specialist. If the non-specialist submits a proposal about, say, vaccine passports, then we have to be sure that his proposal, which has to state its authors and any potential conflicts of interest, includes all those who actually contributed to it, not just the lead author. This is a standard requirement in scientific papers where funding sources and other potential conflicts of interest are explicitly listed.
Davids and Goliaths
A proposal might be highly detrimental to a small group. For example, a proposal for a nuclear waste dump next to a country village. Clearly the 100 voters of Chipping Smarmbury would be at something of a disadvantage when pitched against the millions who want cheap nuclear electricity and the big energy suppliers who want to sell it to them.
Large, vested interests will always try to exert their will over smaller, essentially powerless groups. How would a panocracy handle this?
There are a couple of possibilities:
Their interests might be protected by planning legislation or similar in which case an enquiry would take place. This is what happens at the moment. So the panocracy itself might not decide issues like the siting of new waste dump. Proposals to do so would be automatically referred to another procedure. The panocracy would have previously decided what those procedures were and how they were to be operated. If it's decided that an institution - like a public enquiry - has to be created to handle such matters then its workings will be subject to the openness arguments outlined earlier (in panocracy 13 - the slippery slope).
We could also use the principles of panocracy to localise voting when local matters dominate. For example, a recent decision to restart coal mining in Cumbria was strongly supported by the locals even though the net-zero obsessed media were less than enthusiastic. In this case, the voting boundaries would have to be set by prior RFC and agreed by the entire electorate.
So this is an open question and there will likely be many more possibilities to consider. Suggestions in the comments, please!
You will have to provide identification before you can edit proposals. This means you have to use your real name, declare any conflict of interest and be prepared to defend your proposals in an open forum. Professional services might arise to assist people in the editing process. Such services would of course have to identify both themselves and their contributing client(s).
When the PAB is satisfied that the proposal is technically acceptable then it's converted to a state that's suitable for sending to the agents for a vote. This is an algorithmic procedure so that it can't be compromised by political, commercial or ideological interests. As time goes by it might become desirable to modify the algorithm but as with all other aspects of the administrative machinery this can, for obvious reasons, be done only with the approval of the panocracy.
The vote is automatic as we saw last time. If passed then the proposal is adopted as a law or regulation. If it fails then the proposers can of course restart the process with a modified proposal.
We've looked at a practical method of policy development that's based on an existing cooperative system that's been hugely successful. Panocracy can in principle be local, national or even international in scope. The internet has been upgraded continuously for decades using the RFC system and is now the most successful global collaborative venture we know of.
As always, I encourage you to comment on what's been said. I am but one lonely voice in a wilderness and I've almost certainly missed many important issues surrounding the production of policy so your advice is welcome.
Certain institutions are so deeply embedded into human societies that their existence is taken for granted. Armed forces are an example and next time we're going on the attack. Not literally of course and it may turn out to be as much a defence as an attack. Military language is so … bipolar! Our intention will be to examine how non-democratic organisations might co-exist with a panocracy.