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The Great Question
“What do you get if you multiply six by nine?” - Douglas Adams in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Shine a Light!
Dear readers alighting on this article have now found the great question, to which the answer is 42.
But we can do even better: this time we have 3 great questions.
And forty-two is the answer to none of them.
A note from a friend made me realise that some of what I've said about the workings of panocracy so far hasn't been as clear as I'd hoped so I hope to address this here.
Some questions ... and some answers:
Question 1: “My problem with Panocracy is that I can’t see it working in practice. Our current (UK) Parliament votes around 200 times every year - this is, I expect, what is needed to run the country whether or not you agree with their decisions. If we were to introduce a system whereby everybody voted instead of the MPs then we would have to consider and vote on issues on average once every working day of the year!”
I expect there to be lots more votes even than the 200 a year mentioned. I'd expect hundreds or even thousands a day as we'll explain (we'll get to how panocracy will handle it in a minute!):
Firstly, we’ve suggested that legislation is broken down into smaller parts than at present – RFCs should limited in size to reduce problems of inconsistency, or redundancy and of buried agendas – where clauses that are unrelated to the main legislation are squirrelled away in obscure subsections.
So each vote won't be on a 100 page Bill, it will be on single page RFC or something of that nature. (This takes its cue from the world of software where it has long been known that huge monolithic programs are impractical to maintain so partitioning the functionality into small pieces is the only way forward.) Each RFC will have one job to do and will do it properly.
Secondly, RFCs that are up for voting will cover a wide range of local to national to international issues and everyone can vote on them all. Panocracy 41 (Scope) suggested ways in which non-locals could still have a say in local affairs outside their home patch. If accepted this means they would still have a vote, albeit a weak one, which would add considerably to the number of proposals to be voted on.
So there will be a lot of votes or ‘mini-referenda’. This is where agents come in.
Early on I mentioned the idea of agents. An agent is a proxy who votes on your behalf according to your political will. This is to take the load off you while maintaining your say in what goes on. As an oversimplified example, if you were a conservative then your agent would vote against an RFC that increased the power of the state. Although you'd be at liberty to override your agent in any vote, most people – as the question rightly suggests – would just allow their default.
Agents would almost certainly use IT to process client votes. If an agent had a million clients and there were a thousand votes a day then that would be one billion client-votes per day to process. Since the determination of how a client would vote on an issue would be a fairly short procedure (for a computer) then this might take 1 millisecond and so would be well within the capability of a modern server rack of around 30 CPUs.
Please don't regard these figures as in any way definitive – they're only a way of getting an order of magnitude estimate on what should be practical.
It's only when we have a better idea of the daily number of votes and what resources are required to process each one that we can be more confident. That will emerge with more time and effort.
Question 2: “For each issue, or RFC, there would have to be some debate, or reflection, and I don’t believe the British public would be prepared to devote the necessary energy to every proposal!”
There are many people outside the current political system (and a few inside) who have bad, good and great ideas to offer. The outsiders have a lot to say and want their opinions and suggestions to be heard. One look at the comments in substack or unherd or many other similar platforms will confirm this. The powers that be are currently oblivious to or dismissive of these people.
Unlike the current system, anyone can propose an RFC and anyone can join in the debate about it.
Yes, the bulk of the population mostly won't take any interest but panocracy would open up the floor to a wide variety of opinion from pea-pickers to professors, from economists to engineers. Who knows? Even the odd redundant politician might get involved, untrammeled by having to toe the party line.
I assume there will be a lot of debate around many if not most RFCs – especially contentious ones. Those would take longer and would possibly generate more public interest which would slow them down as people had their say. There need be no time limit on discussion and people will always understand that any RFC will be put to a vote or abandoned and that it can be reversed in future if it doesn't work.
We can talk about things till we're blue in the face but reality is what matters and reality is what happens when RFCs are implemented.
Question 3: “There is also the factor of the influence of our press who will quite happily ride a bandwagon if it increases their circulation, and fits with their agenda.”
Firstly, it seems that journalistic websites are in the process of replacing the traditional media. And the bandwagon effect is at least as apparent in social media sites as they attempt to monetise clicks. Panocracy neither would nor could make any active attempt to change this.
The traditional press and the internet both contribute to the overall mix of truths, half-truths, errors and lies that we're all exposed to every day. Each contains its 'influencers' who are trusted by their followers. These tribes should be allowed to battle it out in the public forum of the RFC, along with other 'non-aligned' individuals. The resultant force (in Newtonian mechanics speak) of all the claim and counter claim will be nearly zero, but in the direction the overall group wants to go. So we will all move slowly in the desired direction.
The newspaper readership themselves, many or most of whom buy a newspaper only for the sports pages anyway, will determine the fate of the press. Universal access to a system where everyone's opinion can be heard will encourage people to express it via the RFC system and today’s milieu of suppression of others' opinions will be history.
The space of public discourse has moved a long way away from Speaker's Corner and the letters column of the London Times and is evolving rapidly. It will settle down eventually when the various factions that are now fighting over it have all exhausted themselves.
Whatever happens, the system for RFCs within panocracy will have to avoid private algorithms and secret arbiters of 'facts' or 'disinformation' we've seen in Twitter and Facebook and selective reporting by the newspapers and broadcasters.
I hope this has helped to clarify some of the workings of the panocracy as I see it.
Questions like these are really useful when it comes to refining our understanding of this edifice and will be essential to guide us in the right direction.
Please let us have some more great questions!