By Enrique Lescure
This is a continuation of my thoughts regarding the previous article, but this time focusing on democratic and political participation within political frameworks. My reasoning herein is based both on practical and normative frameworks. I am however well aware that I will move deep into normative territory for this post, and therefore – to not be accused for inconsistency later on – I will hereby state that structural organisation of the direction of the public political will is partially dependent on the concrete situation that we are/that we will face within a certain amount of time. Therefore, what applies under an ideal state of dynamic equilibrium may not apply during times of emergency (and I would argue that we are entering such a time of emergency).
One such issue, is the issue of being able to make decisions quickly. While quick decisions may not be anchored in the civil community, they can be necessary under conditions such as hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and volcanoes. It could be argued that the crises of climate change and the destruction of eco-systems, soil and freshwater represents a very slow but persistent on-going disaster, and that – politically speaking – we may even be in need of temporal arrangements that are more centralized and organises larger groups of communities than before. This can in itself be problematic however, since the scars of emergency measures are difficult to heal and near-impossible to remove.
This post is intended to be far happier than that, and discuss how I think constitutional and political systems ought to be organised.
The issue of scale
When asked upon what my ideal country is, being an active member of EOS and so, I usually half-jokingly state that it is San Marino. The reasoning of course is not based on ideology, economic or social policies or even the kind of democratic system the Sanmarinese people are using, but on size.
I believe that the size of polities have both quantitative and qualitative aspects that can probably be measured.
The reason why is that your vote is mattering more in a smaller political context, in terms of what influence you have as a voter and as a member of the citizenry. Mathematically speaking, you have far more influence over the political future as a member of the Swedish electorate than as a member of the electorate to the European Parliament, or as an American citizen voting in US federal elections.
Size can also be understood in terms of space, in this case geographic space. For example, if your government is located in a capitol far away from you, it is likely that it would focus more on the regions adjacent to the capitol region, rather than peripheral regions. It is also more likely that elites are drawn from urban regions where the government is located, due to proximity to the power-brokers themselves and to the institutions that create a new elite generation.
A third factor is that communitarianism is completely impossible within political contexts that consist of hundreds of millions of people. When I travelled to Russia in 2003, there was an insurgent attack against civilians in the North Caucasus region. Our Russian hosts did not mind it very much, and reacted much like how Swedes react to earthquakes in Turkey and Greece. This does not imply that Russians are defective, but rather that humans in general are predisposed towards emotional investment with those that they view as closer to themselves.
That also holds true of items and projects that people engage in. One example is how well the Israeli Kibbutzim system worked in the early phase of its history, contra the atrocious results of the Soviet Kolchoz system. In the Kibbutzim, volunteers driven by an ideological conviction and unified by a common identity struggled together to form cooperatives, whereas the Kolchoz system was the result of farmers being forced to give away what they’ve worked for themselves to the state, and then being forcefully relocated into collective farms which had no freedom in determining their own identity, and no freedom of movement.
A smaller example is for example youth halls in vulnerable neighbourhoods, that constantly get vandalised. However, when the youths partake in the construction or renovation of the youth hall, it is more unlikely that it will face vandalism (at least for that generation of youths).
What we can see for a pattern here is that the commitment of people is growing when they are allowed a greater opportunity to participate in processes that shape their lives.
How to disinherit enfranchisement
Parliamentary and Republican democracy as concepts did not emerge overnight, but gradually evolved during the 19th century, with landed, religious, political and moneyed elites gradually releasing more and more power to parts of the public to determine policy. Despite that, elites have still a key to keeping power and be able to project their interests before the interests of the majority, by forming electoral systems that serve to cement their rule and to channel in potential or real opposition into the mainstream of power rejuvenation.
I could write a lengthy segment about that, but I prefer to instead share an excellent youtube video which describes some of these processes.
On another note, indirect democracy
and party structures in themselves are problematic from a democratic perspective. The reason why is, like it has been pointed out before by Tiberius Gracchus, that an elected representative can vote against their own promises in an election when they are in power. One recent example from Sweden was when Fredrik Federley, a popular and intelligent young Centre politician, made statements and speeches which indicated that he would protect integrity on the Internet and prevent legislation that would increase surveillance.
In 2008, two years after being elected to the Riksdag, the elective body voted on a highly unpopular law which would subject cellphone conversations and mail exchanges to
storage by the Radio Interception Unit of the military security (FRA). Federley intended to vote against the law, but rescinded at the last moment (if that was not a political theatre), and then voted for the law, despite having ran a successful personal campaign two years before intending to protect the personal integrity of his voters.
The same can be applied for Obama and his promise of an executive decision to close Guantanamo Bay (which still is running, six years into his presidency).
Some actions, such as a vote or an executive order, which at first glance seem easy to pass through, are shown to be difficult – while other decisions, such as carrying through unpopular international agreements, seem to be near inevitable. Right now for example, the US and the EU are negotiating a massive free trade agreement (TTIP), of which we are none the wiser about the details. A few charming tidbits indicate that this agreement will contain a clause that will give corporations the right to sue governments if governments install regulations that will hurt the profitability of the corporations – in short placing corporate profit interests above popular will.
Some things, such as human rights, ecological concerns and core values have to be placed over popular will at all times. However, corporate profits can hardly apply to that club. Rather, the issue of corporate profits reminds of the idea that the state should subsidise prostitution so everyone can have sex. Profits are not a right, for the sake of Gaia!
Anyway, this rant aside, we can see that electoral cycles and parliamentarism are hardly a guarantee to popular sovereignty. Governments and politicians are more often than not left unscathed by the breaks in their electoral promises, especially not since major issues like the FRA law or TTIP often enjoy bipartisan support both from the centre-right and from the centre-left. Such agreements can almost only be delayed by mass protests, but soon reappear under other names.
TTIP is essential, you understand. Economists estimate that it can increase the GDP of the European Union with 0,5%.
What do we suggest then? Revolutionary councils?
Direct Democracy, City-States and Cantons
To reconnect to the first segment of this article, I would strongly recommend that we move forward as suggested in The Design with a confederational approach. While we do not suggest the break-up of nation-states, a good idea to strengthen the sovereignty of the citizenry would be to perhaps focus more on regions and cities, and less on huge political entities, divesting more power locally or regionally.
This can also cause problems of course. For example, education and healthcare are today so complex and resource-intense endeavours that small entities may be unable to deliver good quality. The solution would then be for local units to move these aspects up to the regional or sub-confederational level (to not speak of that how EOS sees it, healthcare would be managed through the technate, and education at least partially through the technate, which of course would be based on similar de-centralised principles).
What we can see before us is a world consisting of various type of political entities. Republics, city-states, communes, cantons, condominiums, collectives, regions,
confederations, sea nomads, virtual nations, micro-nations and even constitutional monarchies. A diverse, colourful world where a multitude of differing social models are tested out simultaneously.
We imagine that many of these entities would employ forms of direct democracy, where all the citizens have a direct seat and a vote in the legislative council. Of course, there would be politically elected officials presiding the legislative council, but their role would mostly be to enact the decisions of the legislature (as a side note, in my home city of Umea, northern Sweden, the municipality has recently decided to abolish the opportunity of citizens to write sign lists for citizen proposals).
Some would claim that direct democracy would create a wild, uncontrollable situation. People can vote in all kinds of insane things, such as free ice-cream or to establish Europe’s largest homeopathic hospital. People, they argue, cannot be trusted with political power, since they would only vote short-sighted and for their immediate needs.
If we look at Switzerland, however, where referendums are generously employed, we can see that most of the referendums become clear victories of the Nay-side. I believe there might be several reasons behind that. Firstly, public opinion is generally more cautious and less active than the activists writing platforms for political parties. Secondly, politicians are often driven by personal ambition, and aim to change laws not only because they believe it would be good for society, but also because of their personal legacy. Ordinary citizens generally do not think about their personal legacy when voting in a referendum.
Another problem can be when a political legislature wants to repress a segment of their population, or members of another legislature, or wants to prohibit free speech, movement or violate personal rights. After all, almost 40% of the Germans voted for Hitler in 1932 (the first election, not the second). Sadly, religious bigotry, sexism, racism, psychopathy and exploitation have existed in human societies for millennia, and EOS (unlike TVP for example) do not ascribe to the ideas of Descartes and Skinner that human behaviour can be engineered into anything by the environment. The human condition is one of being able to hold on to ideals and failing to adhere to them, of both love and war.
Therefore, to have a wildly divergent confederational structure demands that all the differing groups adhere to one constitution. This constitution would not be based on forms of legislatures, but on common principles and core values. Groups that don’t want to follow it have the choice of not opting in, and those who violate it can very well be kicked out of the Confederation (there are a few problems with that which I would probably address in a future post).
A flawed beta-version exists in the form of the old NET charter.
Our main idea is not to see a world of warring city-states, but an umbrella of thousands of local and regional authorities joined together by sub-confederations that in their turn
form the basis for a world conderation – a United Earth. Why would this be necessary? The answer lies in the Constitution. There needs to be a body that oversees that all the members adhere to the principles of the Constitution. The World Confederation would not necessarily have any other tasks at hand.
The Confederation would probably never consist of all of the planet either, since it is built on voluntary agreements. But if the technate works and expands throughout communities, the confederation would naturally expand too. Of course, a community can choose to not be a part of the confederation while being a part of the technate, and the other way around as well.
Communities should be able to link up however, wherever they happen to be, and then form their own sub-confederations.
Pan-terranism is not the same as a global federation or a New World Order, which as concepts generally are built on the idea of a unipolar centre, governed through a power pyramid of military, corporate and financial power, which is imposing an iron grip over humanity. Rather, Pan-terranism as an ideal is a vision of a horizontal alignment between autonomous entities which each contribute valuable parts of the collective experience that is humanity. Within the Terran Technate and the Terran Confederation, there could be room for a diverse variety of cultures, sub-cultures, ethnicities, collectives and experiments.
Green Anarchists, Amish and Deep-greens may prefer to live in rural, non-technological pristine societies, while transhumanists might want to live in floating city-states or orbital stations. Both needs can be fulfilled simultaneously within the same political framework.
Some people might prefer to live in sexually liberated zones where they walk around naked, while others might want to adhere to stricter norms.
Some would like calm communities, while others would want to live on eternal night clubs.
Some would be nomads, others would be dwelling in virtual worlds constantly.
And some would of course live in towns, villages and cities which look virtually identical to today, but which are ecologically sustainable.
If you don’t like your community, there would always exist a community where you would fit in. And if you don’t want to be a part of the Terran Technate and the Terran Confederation, you would not have to.
Of course, we would not be able to realise this vision within our life-time, but we are convinced that the world is moving in our direction, technologically and politically.
But sadly not fast enough at the moment.