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Wed Oct 1, 2014, 08:49 AM

Why not start direct democracy cities?

I was severely disappointed when Occupy just dissolved in the face of what were, historically, mild police assaults. While it's true they still exist in some rump form, doing things like cancelling relatively small amounts of student and mortgage debt, I thought they had completely missed and abandoned their true potential as a catalyzing force: Experimentation with practical direct democracy. And the most bizarre thing is that no one seems to talk about that aspect of it, as if there's some collective amnesia going on - or at least stunning lack of imagination.

But here's what occurs to me, that a bold, energetic, and lively society would attempt: Buy some land, incorporate some municipalities on various models, and charter them on the basis of various method of practical direct democracy - with the obvious shortcomings of that system counterbalanced with some thoughtful mechanisms. Just as a thought experiment the possibilities immediately extend far beyond what has been tried, so it seems like the only reason they haven't been tried is that our culture is so wretched with conservatism that even the radical progressives are afraid of new things.

Any objection you could make to the functioning of such cities could be planned against, if it's so obvious that it comes up in a conjectural conversation like this. And the problems that are non-obvious, finding those issues would be part of the benefit of the attempt - because they would represent new information, and give rise to new solutions. Moreover, the design of the mechanisms could be made flexible to deal with such unknowns. Finally, there would (hopefully) be several distinct communities operating in parallel and pursuing independent approaches, providing the diversity that is the fuel of evolution.

Now, I would stress one thing though: As experiments, they should be controlled - as in, the only thing that should be radically different in the initial conditions is the form of government. They should not otherwise be radical - i.e., not utopian communes that represent only a societal niche and deter average, non-ideological people from living there. This stipulation is the main difficulty, I think, since self-defeating insularity is the natural tendency of the boldest elements of the left. It truly hates associating with the wider culture and society, and that solipsism was often on display in the later days of the Occupy movement when the broad-based coalition started to unravel.

So that's a tendency that needs to be overcome, and especially the ludicrous ideology that rejects success and popularity as "selling out." Rather, we need a movement that wants to be emulated in society, wants the influence that comes with shallow political imitation. In this specific subject, we would need a set of town founders who would want to create models that other communities not activated by any kind of ideological zeal might want to emulate. In other words, the form of the direct democracy should be carefully maintained at a level of simplicity that remains accessible to novices, and doesn't degenerate (as it eventually did with Occupy) into an opaque set of shibboleths and insular practices that look alien, bizarre, and intimidating to outsiders. The forms of the wider culture should be diligently maintained while being rearranged into more democratic systems.

While respecting individuals, they should not be allowed to devolve into self-limiting counterculture cults that glory in multiplying the contrasts with the rest of society, since that would totally defeat the purpose of insinuating direct democracy. Basically it needs to be strictly a technocratic set of experiments with a maximally representative cross-section of the population, with obnoxious anti-everything ideological types discouraged without violating the democratic principle. The reason for this is that, whatever successes are discovered, would then be far easier to transmit to larger scales - counties, states, nations, regions, even globally over the longest term. But if the experiments devolve into counterculture caricatures, then other people would reflexively reject its lessons simply because of the form they've taken.

Needless to say, only people whose foremost priorities are humanity and democracy should be involved in the planning. Ideologues whose values are a chaotic laundry list of unrationalized niche issues should not, since they would produce exactly what I just mentioned should be avoided. Beyond that, I won't bother to conjecture exact policies and forms. I'll simply note, again, that if you can raise an objection in a theoretical conversation, then someone seriously planning such a community would probably also think of it and be able to plan for it. Basically, there's no reason not to do this.

There are challenges to doing it, certainly - most immediate simply being the money to buy the land, and attracting the non-ideological expertise to manage the completely technical aspects of planning, building, maintaining, and expanding the communities that are created. But it can be done: Many of the cities and states of this country were founded for a political or moral purpose, and only lately have we completely resigned the further colonization of our own country to development corporations. Boston (and Massachusetts in general) retains the highly literate and education-oriented character of its history, to cite one example. And on the other political side, Utah is still gruesomely Mormon. There's no reason why we have to simply abandon the future shaping of this country to the blind forces of real estate capitalism.

In fact, let's take this concept further: It isn't even strictly necessary to form a new town to pursue these experiments. Just get together with people in your neighborhood, call it the _____ Assembly, and vote on stuff. Doesn't matter if any authorities recognize your resolutions, because if you stick to it, eventually they'll have to at least pay respect to them to avoid alienating a chunk of active voters. With that respect, the reputation and influence of that Assembly would grow, as would its numbers, and you could then take whatever measures were needed to keep its functioning practical while maintaining its direct character. Slowly you could grow such a thing into such an influential force that you might eventually be able to have laws changed giving it some kind of de jure authority. Not likely sole authority, but at least some role in the structure of local government. From there, anything is possible.

The fact that Occupy didn't stick with direct democracy as its primary mission, and instead treated it like an afterthought to be abandoned to the impotent counterculture rather than expanded into the wider culture, is one of its most tragic failures and missed opportunities. But every day is a new opportunity, and the value and potential of this idea will never disappear.

In fact, it's the distilled lesson of all of history: That the single most explosively creative, artistically beautiful, philosophically prolific, and influential civilization in history was the handful of generations in a single city (Athens) living under direct democracy. The fact that it could do what it did in those few generations, in a people numbering little more than 20,000 voters, is just mind-boggling. Now, then again, it was not perfect: It self-destructed as the citizens became a greedy mob willing to endanger their entire society for the spoils of imperialistic wars. But the lesson to be drawn from that is how to tweak direct democracy to avoid those problems, not to simply avoid it altogether. The foundation from which you grow and evolve has to be democracy - it should not be an outgrowth of tolerant monarchy or permissive oligarchy.

We in this country have never had such a democratic foundation. We have always been a state constructed on a permissive oligarchy, and over time the oligarchy is reasserting its foundational privileges. That can, should, and must change - however slowly, it must. There's room enough in this country for thousands of different approaches to direct democracy, but all of them should be attempted, across as many diverse situations as possible.

Experiment with different "action thresholds" (the majority needed to produce a given type of resolution); experiment with different relationships between the Assembly and the courts, the Assembly and the bureaucracies, the Assembly and the Executive; experiment with Assembly sizes and thresholds for fissioning into separate bodies; experiment with methods of order, etc. etc. But for fuck's sake, experiment. Stop just doing things because they've been done before.

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Arrow 53 replies Author Time Post
Reply Why not start direct democracy cities? (Original post)
True Blue Door Oct 2014 OP
randome Oct 2014 #1
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #2
randome Oct 2014 #3
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #9
randome Oct 2014 #11
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #16
MineralMan Oct 2014 #4
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #10
MineralMan Oct 2014 #14
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #17
greytdemocrat Oct 2014 #5
randome Oct 2014 #6
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #12
snooper2 Oct 2014 #7
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #13
Dreamer Tatum Oct 2014 #19
DemocratSinceBirth Oct 2014 #8
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #15
Dreamer Tatum Oct 2014 #18
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #20
Dreamer Tatum Oct 2014 #22
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #24
Dreamer Tatum Oct 2014 #25
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #26
Dreamer Tatum Oct 2014 #27
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #28
tabbycat31 Oct 2014 #21
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #23
NuclearDem Oct 2014 #29
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #31
MineralMan Oct 2014 #30
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #32
MineralMan Oct 2014 #33
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #35
MineralMan Oct 2014 #36
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #38
MineralMan Oct 2014 #41
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #46
MineralMan Oct 2014 #48
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #49
brooklynite Oct 2014 #34
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #37
brooklynite Oct 2014 #39
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #43
NobodyHere Oct 2014 #42
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #44
NCTraveler Oct 2014 #40
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #45
tuhaybey Oct 2014 #47
True Blue Door Oct 2014 #50
tuhaybey Oct 2014 #52
hunter Oct 2014 #51
KamaAina Oct 2014 #53

Response to True Blue Door (Original post)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 08:57 AM

1. Because Democracy means 500 million different things to 300 million citizens?

 

I think you'd need the help of a billionaire or two to set something like this up.
[hr][font color="blue"][center]Stop looking for heroes. BE one.[/center][/font][hr]

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Response to randome (Reply #1)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 09:01 AM

2. That's kind of the point.

And did you miss the word "city" and the word "found"? Not sure where you're getting the idea that we would need to create a nationwide direct democracy from scratch before we even start a single small community on that basis.

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Response to True Blue Door (Reply #2)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 09:11 AM

3. Buying land, setting up infrastructure, all that costs money.

 

I think we are hard-wired to adhere to the basics of capitalism because the vast majority of us seem to want to work within the system. I don't think it's a species-wide malaise or lack of a call to arms.

I just think that's what human beings have evolved into liking. The system we have set up now reflects that but it also reflects the deep struggle between democracy and conservatism. Working with the system is the only way to tilt us in the direction we think we need to go.
[hr][font color="blue"][center]You should never stop having childhood dreams.[/center][/font][hr]

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Response to randome (Reply #3)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 09:33 AM

9. I wasn't proposing working against the system.

You are right, of course, that it would involve some money. But even the small, rump Occupy has brought millions of dollars to bear in the debt-cancellation project. Also, plenty of individuals have their own money to do stuff - build a house, etc.

But more importantly, I mentioned that founding a new city was just one idea. That really all you have to do is just meet with some number of people somewhere, vote on stuff, and publish the results of the vote. Use cheap bribes like free snacks to get random people to show up and vote on your resolutions, and slowly build up the assembly to something that has some social recognition. From there, then you can get politicians to start rhetorically showing respect to it. From there, rhetorical respect can evolve into political relevance, and relevance into actual influence and power.

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Response to True Blue Door (Reply #9)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 09:39 AM

11. Sounds a lot like political messaging to me. Which is a good thing.

 

But it's strange, isn't it, that with the vast number of ways we have to communicate with one another, it still seems very difficult to reach consensus on issues other than on Internet messaging forums.

Not sure where the Information Age is taking us.

What you propose regarding getting groups of people together sounds a lot like another -and better- version of Occupy. I suppose it simply takes word of mouth to start up but people don't seem agitated enough for that. I could be wrong.
[hr][font color="blue"][center]Don't ever underestimate the long-term effects of a good night's sleep.[/center][/font][hr]

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Response to randome (Reply #11)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 10:02 AM

16. Indeed, Occupy is the inspiration for the idea.

Last edited Wed Oct 1, 2014, 10:33 AM - Edit history (1)

I had thought that this kind of idea was what they were pursuing, but it turns out that democracy was an afterthought. But I still think it was the most important issue they brought to light, and the experiments should have continued, grown, and been more inclusive rather than turning into the counterculture silliness it did.

There's no reason whatsoever not to hold People's Assemblies in ordinary auditoriums, where people sit in chairs or at conference tables, like normal grownups instead of sitting cross-legged on grass, beating bongos and tambourines.

As for information, I'm not sure what role electronic media would play. I'm hesitant to involve it, because it distances people from each other and from their physical environment. It can connect them superficially, but the real connections - the ones people will seriously fight for - are those of family and long-term community. So Assemblies need to be in person, I think. Larger ones could just be concentric sums of local ones.

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Response to True Blue Door (Original post)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 09:15 AM

4. That's a good idea, but where does the money come from

to start such cities? I'm not sure you understand the actual costs of such a thing.

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #4)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 09:39 AM

10. There are any number of ways.

The most likely would be simply getting people together who already intend to buy property, and get them to buy contiguous lots. Then form an association and set about either incorporating or seceding from the existing incorporation (in the latter case, choose an area where this would be legal and practicable).

But as I mention, I perhaps overemphasized (via the title) the purchase and foundation of new communities part. You can form a direct democracy right where you already live. The vote of an assembly doesn't need to initially have the power of law to be influential and eventually obtain that power.

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Response to True Blue Door (Reply #10)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 09:43 AM

14. OK. Then I suggest you get started on this project.

You must be interested in buying property and starting this new community, since you raised the idea. So, start talking to people and get them to buy into it. It's easy to discuss ideas, but somewhat more difficult to put those ideas into motion.

As for converting an existing jurisdiction into your dream democratic community, that would start the same way. Start talking to your neighbors and see what they think of the idea.

One thing's certain, though: It's unlikely that a random group of DUers who are reading your idea are in a position or place to get together and implement your plan. You'll need to start locally where you are and see if you can convince others that your plan is a good idea. Let us know how that goes.

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #14)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 10:06 AM

17. Sorry, I'm poor. No property for me.

What I'm not is poor in ideas, and if you don't want to listen to me because I don't have money, then that's your problem.

I'm aware of the difficulty of putting ideas into motion. In fact, so aware of it that I totally concede my inadequacy. Ideas are what I can contribute to the world.

And if you think ideas are cheap, feel free to offer your own instead of just passively dismissing anyone else's who has them.

But thanks for your input. Ideas would have been better, but even idle naysaying has its value.

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Response to True Blue Door (Original post)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 09:21 AM

5. Herding cats would be easier...nt

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Response to greytdemocrat (Reply #5)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 09:23 AM

6. A new political party may be birthed: the Demo-cat-ic Party!

 

[hr][font color="blue"][center]You should never stop having childhood dreams.[/center][/font][hr]

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Response to greytdemocrat (Reply #5)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 09:41 AM

12. Only if it fell victim to the counterculture BS I mentioned.

If it's kept simple and accessible enough for typical, non-ideological people to participate, then they would still form associations and voting blocs.

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Response to True Blue Door (Original post)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 09:24 AM

7. people had to go back to school and it got cold outside

 

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Response to snooper2 (Reply #7)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 09:42 AM

13. Heh, yeah that's pretty much the long and short of it.

"This is revolution, man! We're gonna change the world, man! Uhh...ah man, it's raining. Fuck this."

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Response to snooper2 (Reply #7)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 10:18 AM

19. And the new iPhone came out nt

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Response to True Blue Door (Original post)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 09:31 AM

8. I don't think these experiments work out very well.

You have groups like the Amish who ,pretty much, live independent and away from the rest of the society but they are anything but democratic.

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Response to DemocratSinceBirth (Reply #8)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 09:48 AM

15. Athens worked exceedingly well, for a while.

We still read every single surviving scrap of the philosophy, mathematics, politics, comedy, satire, tragedy, and history it produced. We still adore and imitate its art, sculpture, and architecture. Seemingly from nothing, they created most of the ideas we consider sacred and fundamental, in a few short generations, from a society of only a few tens of thousands.

But I think what you're referring to are the examples I also mentioned where experiments were, from the beginning, meant as isolated counterculture utopias with niche ideological fetishes rather than as practical models.

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Response to True Blue Door (Original post)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 10:17 AM

18. I'm not sure I saw your definition of "direct democracy" anywhere in that word salad

and I didn't see any concepts of finance, public or otherwise. Since 2001 I think I've seen about 20 posts urging the creation of one kind of city or sanctuary or whatever you want to call it, but no one ever has a dime to give or is even remotely interested in changing their way of life.

There already are small communes and communities here and there.They don't advertise on TV and I don't think they have apps in iTunes, but they exist. Why not find one and try it out?

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Response to Dreamer Tatum (Reply #18)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 10:28 AM

20. I don't see how a literate adult could see it as "word salad".

And frankly I have to question whether you actually read what I wrote or just skimmed half a paragraph before posting this comment.

As for the rest, you're saying I failed to single-handedly invent an entire functioning city charter when all I wanted to do was discuss the general possibility. And I specifically addressed insular "communes" as something that should be avoided because they're inapplicable to the wider society.

Let me know when you have a serious thought to offer, preferably after actually reading the OP.

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Response to True Blue Door (Reply #20)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 10:35 AM

22. You have some writing skills, I'll grant you that.

But like a lot of people with vocab skill, you mistake it for eloquence.

What, specifically and exactly, is your point, then? Fine, communes are for dirty hippies.
Can you articulate your vision clearly, or are we supposed to nod knowingly when you
say "direct democracy?" (I still don't know what that means, by the way.)

And how would your utopia not be Portland, once all's said and done?

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Response to Dreamer Tatum (Reply #22)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 11:08 AM

24. Direct democracy: Open assemblies of citizens regularly debating and voting.

Now that we've cleared that up, let me reiterate something I said repeatedly in the OP, which you still clearly have not read:

Any objection you could make to the functioning of such (assemblies) could be planned against, if it's so obvious that it comes up in a conjectural conversation like this. And the problems that are non-obvious, finding those issues would be part of the benefit of the attempt - because they would represent new information, and give rise to new solutions. Moreover, the design of the mechanisms could be made flexible to deal with such unknowns.

If you think this is unclear, then I don't know what it is you're not understanding about the concept of democracy. I don't have to have a "vision" for what the assemblies decide to do, or the exact details of their debate and voting procedures to justify the inherent value and opportunity of the basic concept.

I don't have to know anything in advance about the logistics involved other than that it can be done, which we know because it was done thousands of fucking years ago by illiterate goat herders living in shitty hills in Attica surrounded by tyrants and oligarchs, and created the basis for all of modern civilization out of that environment. If you think it's impractical now, in the midst of a continent-spanning representative republic whose laws and economy fully allow it, then I don't know what logic and what planet you're basing that opinion on.

As for Portland, I don't know - never been there. Do Portlanders regularly meet in assemblies to debate and vote on matters?

And as for my "utopia," why can you not limit yourself to rational responses to what I actually say? These are not even radical suggestions. I'm talking about ordinary people regularly meeting, talking, and voting on stuff, and you react like this is 17th century France and I just suggested replacing the monarchy with anarcho-syndicalism. Is the sky blue out your window?

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Response to True Blue Door (Reply #24)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 11:12 AM

25. That is clear as mud, and I am unfamiliar with the laws that currently forbid assembly.

I think what you want is less of a direct democracy, and more of a colonial-times reenactment colony,
where people gather on streetcorners to listen to self-styled Benjamin Franklins.


Any objection you could make to the functioning of such (assemblies) could be planned against, if it's so obvious that it comes up in a conjectural conversation like this. And the problems that are non-obvious, finding those issues would be part of the benefit of the attempt - because they would represent new information, and give rise to new solutions. Moreover, the design of the mechanisms could be made flexible to deal with such unknowns.

"Makes perfect sense to me!" - Judith Butler

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Response to Dreamer Tatum (Reply #25)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 11:26 AM

26. There are no such laws. That's the point.

Assembly democracies formed in ancient cities with no preexisting philosophical or political basis to justify themselves, and somehow they survived for generations despite constant warfare and external invasion. Somehow, in the midst of all their problems, they created the foundations of modern civilization, and the underlying values we cherish.

But here we are in a society free, secure, and prosperous beyond their imagination, and you seem to think citizens regularly assembling to debate and vote on political issues is a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. And you offer no constructive thought process on the subject, just a lot of smarmy insults and evasions.

Moreover, it has nothing to do with street-corner preaching. That was an ad hoc phenomenon. I'm talking about regular, organized assemblies where people vote. What are you not understanding about that? What part of that is "clear as mud"? Need me to draw you a picture in Crayon of stick-figure people holding an assembly?

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Response to True Blue Door (Reply #26)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 11:35 AM

27. I suspect you want people forcibly assembled.

Because I sense that the very freedom you crave is keeping people who should be
assembling and waving fists at sundry outrages at home, doing other things.

Which is why I think you'd be just as happy with a reenactment, like Civil War junkies do.

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Response to Dreamer Tatum (Reply #27)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 12:01 PM

28. Of course not. I want them to understand the value of the option.

People have no experience of participating in a regular political body where their views and votes are a matter of immediate importance, and immediate effect. They have no notion of what it's like, what can be accomplished, the strong communities that can form. Giving them that experience would awaken them to the possibilities, and if it went on long enough, to the duties of democracy.

You keep making these preposterous, trollish accusations about my motives that are the exact opposite of the evidence of everything I've said. I don't know what it is about democracy you find offensive and frightening, but I find your attitude very strange and distinctly authoritarian.

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Response to True Blue Door (Original post)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 10:31 AM

21. Isn't that called a ballot initiative

If that is the case, then many cities (including my small town) already have that.

We're not like CA that votes on everything, but about every other year there's a local ballot initiative on the November ballot.

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Response to tabbycat31 (Reply #21)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 10:40 AM

23. They're a start, certainly.

But they're a very loose, impersonal kind of thing. You can't form a community around a referendum process. People just vote absentee and don't necessarily pay much attention to the issues they're voting on. If the initiative process were suspended in favor of just ordinary elected representation, how many people would give a damn or even notice? It's a very tenuous practice, and isn't socially enshrined.

That's why I saw a lot of value in the Assembly concept that Occupy was exploring. People physically coming together to moot ideas and make decisions. The details of their methods were kind of kooky, but the underlying concept has a lot of merit. If people were accustomed to meeting every weekend or so in their local area to moot ideas, that could be part of the social fabric of the community, and people would very much notice if authorities tried to shut down such an institution.

I think preventing that from happening was part of the authoritarian agenda's determination to shut down Occupy, even if Occupy itself failed to realize the importance of those Assemblies.

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Response to True Blue Door (Original post)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 12:27 PM

29. Current human nature makes that sort of model difficult.

 

First of all, that sort of system wouldn't operate in a vacuum. There's no shortage of outside forces in economics and ideology that would happily swoop in at the first sign of any sort of weakness and tear it apart. And that's not even counting private citizens who would exploit such a system for their own ends.

Second, if we can't get more than half the country out to vote for presidential elections, I'm not seeing how the residents an even medium-sized city or town could be counted on to vote for what would be every single order of business for the city.


Third, people are stupid and irrational. Even if you find people whose interests are more altruistic than selfish, that doesn't automatically make them qualified to attend to the daily functions of a city. The functions would essentially be decided upon by people who don't understand basic economics, administration, planning, and all the other functions required to run a city; even if there are people who do, a direct democracy ultimately means those few people are outweighed by the majority.

That's why, for right now at least, society needs to be part-democratic and part-technocratic.

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Response to NuclearDem (Reply #29)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 12:40 PM

31. As I note, we can experiment with different formulations.

We certainly have more than enough people to form a diverse array of models.

It doesn't have to be pure direct democracy in the sense of every function being democratically resolved. Just moving closer toward direct democracy than we are now, via regular assemblies.

And I think that the disconnected, impersonal exercise of voting for distant representatives every few years isn't a good analogy for what kind of interest might come from assemblies. People would be empowered, and be able to see immediate results from their votes.

I agree with technocracy, btw, but there needs to at least be a direct democratic branch of government. Right now the role of the people is extremely deprecated.

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Response to True Blue Door (Original post)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 12:39 PM

30. You may not be aware of this, but such a system already exists

in the United States. Town Hall Meeting city government isn't that rare, particularly in small towns in the northeast. You can learn about it here, and maybe you can move to one of those already-existing communities:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_meeting

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #30)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 12:42 PM

32. Ah, thanks. I was only vaguely aware of it.

Perhaps what we need to do is popularize that model and advocate it, because at present it's just some obscure local traditions that keep it going.

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Response to True Blue Door (Reply #32)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 12:56 PM

33. You may be missing my point.

The Town Meeting thing has been in existence since colonial times, and is still in wide use in the United States. It's thoroughly tested and works just fine in smaller cities and towns. It's not as useful in larger cities, where that form of local government has been replaced with other systems.

I encourage you to investigate your idea further by learning about towns where it is well-established and has been in long use. There's no need to reinvent a wheel that is already working. I'm sure there is an excellent reason that it is only in use in small communities, which is just what you were suggesting. It was once the system of government even for Boston, back when Boston was a small community.

Where it still exists, it's a workable system. Where it doesn't, it's probably because the complexity of governing a city was too difficult for the Town Meeting concept to function well. Earlier in this thread, you chided me for arguing that your system probably wasn't feasible. My argument was based on my knowledge of Town Meeting government and other government systems for local communities. At some point, it fails to be a viable system, due to complexity. It has been replaced with representative-style government systems, simply because such systems are necessary for communities over a certain size, and for larger jurisdictions like counties, states, and the federal government.

Learning about what has already been tried for long periods of time is useful.

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #33)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 01:11 PM

35. In more complex cities, it could function as a branch of government

rather than as the entire thing. Which is why I say that experimentation is key.

And in more populous ones, then you don't necessarily need to have an assembly covering the entire city - but several that each handle matters independently, but add their results together to reach larger resolutions.

That's pretty much the only way to get large-scale direct democracy on a regular basis, and we definitely want that eventually - unless everyone's constant complaining about unaccountable government is just bullshit.

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Response to True Blue Door (Reply #35)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 01:22 PM

36. I am almost certain that a system like you describe will

ever happen, frankly. I've been deeply involved in politics, local, regional, statewide and national since the mid 1960s. Given the difficulty of even getting a majority of eligible voters to go to the polls every year, I know that direct democracy would not work, to be quite frank. If it were in place, an even smaller segment of the population would make the decisions. When I see the miserable turnout at our caucus meetings, that's abundantly clear.

Most people are simply not engaged in the process of governance. Most people do not want to be. Either they are satisfied with how the current system works or they are so disengaged from the process that they don't even know how it works. Those who care already participate, mostly by voting in elections. A very tiny percentage of people have any desire to actively participate. Direct democracy is a great idea, but I'm afraid it's an incredibly unlikely thing.

It exists on a small scale in the US. That it is less widespread is evidence of its impractical nature for governments of any size. You can dream about it all you like, but unless you can get people out to participate, it's not going to happen. Hence my suggestion that you get started now, if that's what you want. Your best prospect, though, would be to move to somewhere where it still exists. Making it happen where it is not already established is simply going to be frustrating.

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #36)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 01:45 PM

38. Your analogy between direct democracy and participation in representative democracy

is fallacious. You're comparing apples and coconuts. People don't participate very much in elections because their decision is so far removed from seeing the results that some people don't see the value - they're asked to cast a ballot once or twice every few years in order to pick a person who will fly hundreds or thousands of miles to a distant city and maybe, possibly, at some point in the ensuing 2, 4, or 6 years might mention the things they care about.

That's something radically different from people in their own communities, coming together to discuss what concerns them on a regular basis, and reach resolutions.

Moreover, you seem to be making some pretty severely circular arguments about the prevalence of such assemblies. "If they could be more prevalent, they would be" is a ludicrous position to take, and a definitively conservative attitude that shuts off all possibility of ever improving anything.

"Look, Mr. Franklin, the world is full of monarchies. With few exceptions, it always has been. Clearly that's the kind of government that works, and that's the government we need here in America. What you are proposing - this bizarre and laughable experiment in elective republic - would be doomed to chaos and failure."

People have no experience with assembly democracy. You have no basis to say they would reject it once they did, and in fact your examples argue against that conclusion: The evidence is that people who get a taste of it, want to keep doing it. Otherwise, why haven't those towns where it's practiced long ago just resigned their town meetings to elected officials? It's because free people don't do that when they know they're free. Only when politics becomes so far removed from their everyday lives that they see no difference between participating and not participating, and that's never the case when they're the ones making decisions.

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Response to True Blue Door (Reply #38)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 02:00 PM

41. But we do have experience with "assembly democracy."

Over two centuries of experience. And many communities have discarded that system for a representative system already, after experiencing the town assembly system for a very long time. There are far fewer of those systems than there once were. Why were they changed, do you think?

We have a similar system here in Minnesota, too, but it's only used in a few tiny towns. It's still available for towns that want it, but most abandoned it for representative democracy.

Minnesota has the caucus and convention system, too. I'm a very active participant in it, but it's less well-attended these days. It still works, and most candidates who are elected are those who are endorsed by that system, even though we also have primary elections here, and nobody has to seek the caucus and convention endorsement.

Just in general, though, people appear to prefer a system that involves less participation than more. Assembly democracy, which was once common, has been replaced with representative democracy in most communities. There's a reason for that. People in those communities decided to replace it.

Personally, I'd like to see more participation in whatever system is in place. Instead, I'm seeing less participation. That's too bad, but it appears to be a long-term trend. That's why I'm involved heavily in GOTV efforts. They work to a degree, and my precinct and districts have quite good turnouts. It's still less than 50% of eligible voters who go to the polls, though, even with strong GOTV.

Direct democracy just doesn't seem to be something that is strongly wanted. And without the desire, it won't be used. It's that simple. So, if you want it, you're going to have to get out there and build a demand for it. Frankly, you'll have to do it where you are.

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #41)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 03:57 PM

46. If you know for certain that communities changed, how many?

How many long-standing popular assemblies in this country resigned their own authority to a traditional representative system?

As for the caucus system, I'm not particularly familiar with it, but isn't that a system for choosing representatives and thus - as per my earlier points - irrelevant?

Assembly democracy, which was once common, has been replaced with representative democracy in most communities.

It never existed in most communities. Most communities were founded by real estate developers in the late 20th century.

Direct democracy just doesn't seem to be something that is strongly wanted.

And you're still making these circular arguments. You can't say something isn't wanted when people don't even have the immediate. That's akin to conservatives who argue that Americans don't want single payer healthcare because we don't already have it (despite poll after poll saying we want it).

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Response to True Blue Door (Reply #46)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 04:22 PM

48. I don't have those numbers. You'll have to look them up yourself.

I don't have time. Town Meetings are very, very old in the US. They were common in the 19th century, particularly in the northeastern states but most have been replaced by representative systems. Most of that information is available at my first Wikipedia link. I'm guessing that you didn't bother to read that article.

As towns grew into larger cities, that system was no longer practical. There's a population limit to direct democratic government, it seems. If everyone can't fit into some building somewhere, some other means of governing is more practical.

You wrote:

It never existed in most communities. Most communities were founded by real estate developers in the late 20th century.


Actually, most of the communities that had Town Meeting government were founded in the 19th century or earlier. In fact, most small towns were in existence long before the late 20th century. You've got that wrong. Except in some states, most towns are quite old, as you can see by their downtown buildings. In fact, new towns and cities founded in the "late 20th century" are rather rare. Even suburbs often have much older downtown cores that were once part of a small town.

Just look at the logistics of a direct democracy. In Town Meeting cities, people go to the meeting once a year or so, discuss what will be voted on and vote. Simple small towns don't need complex government systems. As towns grow larger and have fire departments, police departments, sewer and water systems and other amenities, government becomes too complex for the Town Meeting system to cope. Government can't be done neighborhood by neighborhood, either, since so much infrastructure and organization is done on a citywide basis.

I'm not making circular arguments. You're just apparently not understanding what I'm saying. With that, I'm done with this discussion. I have other things to do.

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #48)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 06:11 PM

49. I wouldn't know where to look, and I suspect neither do you.

Because I don't believe you actually know what you claim to know about such communities changing to representative formats.

Moreover, claiming I didn't read the Wikipedia entry is strange, because (a)I did, (b)it doesn't contain the information you insinuate that it does. There is no statistical background, nor in any of the online-accessible sources (though I admit I'm not going to comb an actual brick-and-mortar library trying to prove your point for you based on the traditional citations).

As towns grew into larger cities, that system was no longer practical.

But you still haven't cited even a single actual case where that happened, let alone shown it to be statistically relevant.

There's a population limit to direct democratic government, it seems. If everyone can't fit into some building somewhere, some other means of governing is more practical.

I've already addressed this argument. Have you already forgotten? You don't have to have a single assembly for everyone - just a bunch of small ones whose votes are added up on common questions. Your objections are becoming laughably trivial.

What's next - are you going to insist that it's silly to imagine that Americans are psychologically capable of understanding the immense cosmic complexities of "Yea" or "Nay"?

WHY are you against this idea? What is really, seriously the problem here?

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Response to True Blue Door (Original post)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 01:08 PM

34. How many people can participate in Direct Democracy...and how many want to?

You're certainly welcome to buy a farm a start a Direct Democracy commune, but how many people, realistically, could come together to participate and get through an agenda in a timely manner, while making everyone feel that they had an opportunity to participate? And how would you apply that to a town of 25,000?

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Response to brooklynite (Reply #34)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 01:27 PM

37. The "how" comes after the decision to do it, not before.

But if you want me to speculate...

Start with small, community assemblies. Once a sufficient number of such assemblies exist that they can claim to be representative of an entire city, just add their cumulative results together under the label of "city assembly." In other words, you don't have a separate assembly for larger issues - you decide issues from all levels in the same local assembly, and just add them up collectively to determine what is resolved on any given level.

As for who goes and whatnot, hold it on a weekend once or twice a month, with obvious and appropriate mechanisms for agenda-setting and emergency meetings or whatever. Other obvious stipulations - confirmed proxies for those who want to attend but can't, quorum limits, etc. If enough don't show up, then that is as good as a vote not to hold the meeting.

As for its disposition to the rest of government, the assembly will decide what kind of relationship to seek with Mayors, city councils, bureaucracies, etc. And if they prove committed to being an assembly, then elected leaders in traditional government will not want to alienate an active voting bloc - they'll be shown respect, and eventually deference. Over time, their role could become official.

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Response to True Blue Door (Reply #37)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 01:57 PM

39. No, it doesn't

Because, unless you're going to start from scratch in new territory, you have an existing community with existing issues that need to be addressed. Imposing a multi-layered direct democracy assembly structure and THEN figuring out how it works is guaranteed to let a lot of important issues fall through the cracks in the meantime.

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Response to brooklynite (Reply #39)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 03:48 PM

43. "Multi-layered"? That isn't what I said at all. It's as flat as a pancake.

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Response to True Blue Door (Reply #37)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 02:06 PM

42. Not true

 

That's like buying an expensive house and THEN deciding how to pay for it.

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Response to NobodyHere (Reply #42)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 03:48 PM

44. No, it's like being born and THEN deciding what your career is going to be.

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Response to True Blue Door (Original post)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 01:58 PM

40. Of all forms of govt I am aware of.....

 

I am the biggest fan of the representative republic. I believe this is the best model when combined with proper regulations.

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Response to NCTraveler (Reply #40)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 03:50 PM

45. I don't think representation is mutually exclusive with direct democracy.

It's just a matter of giving people control of the balance - which, to be honest, they don't have right now. Elected representatives jealously guard their power.

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Response to True Blue Door (Original post)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 03:58 PM

47. Direct democracy never works

As appealing sounding of an idea as direct democracy is, it never plays out well. The reality is that voters just don't have the time to develop the in depth kind of understanding of all the different policy areas to make sound decisions. For example, in states with direct democracy components, the voters don't seem to distinguish much at all between, for example, a proposition calling for spending $10 million on such-and-such a thing and spending $10 billion on the same thing. In both cases, they tend to just see the amount as "a lot of money." Or, another problem is that the process is very easy to scam. For example, Californians are very pro-green energy. So, a company got a proposition on the ballot that they made sound like it was a huge boost to green energy- setting goals of X% renewable energy by year Y and so forth. But, that X% was actually significantly LOWER than the goal that had already been set by the legislature. It was actually doing the opposite of what it appeared to be doing. AND, the way it was worded was structured to ensure that certain contracts could only flow to the company that sponsored it (I forget the exact mechanism, but it was like "companies with over X employees having done business in the Y sector since at least Z year" kind of stuff where it turned out that they were the only company that would meet the definition). Another problem is that voters tend to vote for three things- mandatory spending, lower taxes, and limits on borrowing. Put those three together and the result is that everything NOT specifically mandated by the voters, such as education, fire and safety, basic functions of government, etc. are forced to be radically squeezed.

Anyways, ultimately I think we need to look for ways to improve the representative democracy process, not ways to replace it with direct democracy. Making policy is very hard, complicated, stuff. You need to have people dedicated full time to researching it, you can't just decide these things on intuition. You can't ask all the voters to dedicate what would at minimum be a full time job just to deciding how they are going to vote.

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Response to tuhaybey (Reply #47)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 06:17 PM

50. How many words you just used are derived from the language of the Athenian Greeks?

How many concepts you're abusing were invented by that state?

All of history shrieks that democracy is the greatest of all political systems, and provides genius in direct proportion to how boldly it's pursued - and degeneracy and worthlessness in direct proportion to how it's feared and suppressed.

Conservative democracy is all well and good if the alternative is monarchy and dictatorship, but we're more than ready for a deeper democracy - a truly liberal, truly equal democracy.

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Response to True Blue Door (Reply #50)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 11:03 PM

52. You aren't countering anything I said

Yep, agreed that democracy is great. Didn't say otherwise. Direct democracy, though, is a worse form of democracy than representative democracy for the reasons I explained.

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Response to True Blue Door (Original post)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 08:16 PM

51. Take over an abandoned military base.



Christiania, also known as Freetown Christiania (Danish: Fristaden Christiania) is a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood of about 850 residents, covering 34 hectares (84 acres) in the borough of Christianshavn in the Danish capital Copenhagen. Civic authorities in Copenhagen regard Christiania as a large commune, but the area has a unique status in that it is regulated by a special law, the Christiania Law of 1989, which transfers parts of the supervision of the area from the municipality of Copenhagen to the state. It was closed by residents in April 2011, whilst discussions continued with the Danish government as to its future, but is now open again.

Christiania has been a source of controversy since its creation in a squatted military area in 1971. Its cannabis trade was tolerated by authorities until 2004. Since then, measures for normalising the legal status of the community have led to conflicts, police raids and negotiations which are ongoing.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freetown_Christiania


I've never been there, but apparently the city I live in is a multi-cultural wilderness compared to other cities in the U.S.A.. Good luck here complaining to the "authorities" about the state of a neighbor's front lawn unless there's a gunshot victim bleeding out on it. If you don't like a neighbor's weeds you talk to you neighbor, and maybe ask them if they'd like you mow down the weeds yourself.

For many reasons I've never felt terribly invested in this current manifestation of civilization. I'm rather disconnected from "consumer culture."

In a typical day I only see a few advertisements for specialized technical products. I don't watch satellite, cable, or broadcast television. I have no idea what's "on television." Our household television plays older movies without commercials. That's all it does.

I simply don't care, I've never been able to care, I'm diagnosed as somewhere on the autistic spectrum, and my parents are both artists who worked to feed, clothe, and house their children. Anything beyond that supported their art. My real life "serious persona" is an act.

My dad's dad was an artist too. He was an aerospace engineer. He didn't work for the social prestige, even for the money, rather he was obsessed by exotic metals. Some of the parts for the Apollo moon project are his. He was also talented at interfacing between ordinary society and eccentric people, people much more eccentric than he was, the sort who run down the street naked yelling "EUREKA!". That's why the Army Air Force made him an officer in World War II.

One of my brothers used to enjoy Burning Man, before it got so big. He was also an executive for a major corporation. But he threw it all away before he was forty and "retired."

So we were sitting on the beach shooting the breeze and came to the conclusion that every day was Burning Man.

I may die in a cardboard hovel, or as the stinky guy using the library computer or wifi connection, but in my own universe I've always been a free man, even when I've been entirely dysfunctional as an ordinary human being.

If you start living your personal utopia today maybe people will join you.

In the mid 'eighties my wife and I met as Los Angeles commuters. We soon moved away and we've avoided that commuter lifestyle ever since, part good fortune, part deciding "non-commuter" would be an opportunity we would seize. All that money and time we "saved" not commuting, not caring for cars, went to our kids and our arts.

I build my personal utopias every day, two steps forward, one step back.

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Response to hunter (Reply #51)

Wed Oct 1, 2014, 11:06 PM

53. Or resort.

 

The former "Borscht Belt" in the Catskills outside NYC has quite a few.

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