Most people work hard to do a good job for fair rewards, and want to be reasonably protected from random ruin. Call them Producers.
A few people work hard to use money and personality to control a hierarchy of that first kind of people. Call them Controllers.
What would happen if Producers found their collective voice and a means to reverberate their preferences among their awesome majority? And what if they aggregated their most widely held values into actionable tasks, paid for from their own contributions?
Aha! It’s called a Democracy.
Well, it’s actually a Republic, a representational democracy, since only elected representatives could compile all our preferences and parse our preferences and contributions into employees and actions that give us what we say we want. There is simply no way on earth to 1) encourage millions of preference sets regarding the issues that matter to each of us and 2) aggregate them into a valid knowledge base of what the Producers want. Or is there?
We make do with a system that grew up while we weren’t watching, with elected toadies in Congress in the pockets of corporations living off government welfare. Companies who employ 33 lobbyists per congresscritter to suggest which way to jump and how high. Happens on both sides of the aisle: defense companies tell the Republicans how to jump while the media industry specializes in Democrats.
If we managed to build a means of communication that gave the Producers their collective voice, most people would say it’s the greatest thing imaginable.
A Kid-filled Room
I helped imagine such a thing this weekend at a mini-summit in our apartment here on 43rd Street. Zephyr Teachout, the Dean Campaign’s director for Internet Organizing & Outreach, came down from Vermont, and Zack Rosen(r) and Evan DiBiase(l) drove over from Pittsburgh. We met to understand what Zack and Evan and Josh and all the rest of the Americans For Dean team could do that would be useful to the campaign. We came away with a galvanizing sense of what’s possible for governance.
What a contrast this weekend was to the cynical tradition of well-padded white guys like me, dictating the means by which their favorite toadies go through the perfunctory ritual of an election charade. We were designing things! We were coaxing an open architecture toward more openness; enabling more people to express themselves with less effort, finding ways to hear the most voices using the best aggregation tools possible.*
Compare that urge toward transparency to the cynical new White House E-Mail system, describing its new barriers as features.
The Americans For Dean site (A4D) will offer an open source toolkit that anyone can use to establish sub-domains at the fordean.net domain: iowa.fordean.net, programmers.fordean.net, vietvets.fordean.net, etc. (I just got a vision of jamesdean.fordean.net: “If you’re cool like me, you’ll vote for my nephew Howie,” thus starting another urban legend.)
The A4D programmers are like other volunteers who are good at canvassing and distributing flyers and answering questions at town picnics. But they’re programmers expressing their hobby by building outreach tools for the one campaign that “gets” the Net and invited them to participate. They’re doing what they most love to do, which isn’t always the case with knocking on doors…
A4D is being built by volunteers using an open source language (PHP) to assemble software components (like Drupal, MySQL, RSS, etc.) to build the toolkit. And their work is open source, so it’s freely available for others to re-use and improve by returning their improvements to the code base. Sure, the code will be papered with advisories that it was developed for the Dean campaign beta users–notices that must be left in the code–but all candidates of all stripes are welcome to benefit from this extraordinary body of work.
It’s the Governance, Stupid.
This vision is for a single campaign, but it serves the broader ends of the Emergent Democracy concepts being hashed out in the blogosphere. When (not if) a President is elected using these tools, you’ll see an administration embracing even better open tools to stay close to its constituents. That will be the dawn of a more perfect Union.
Dean fans get a lot from their candidate: stirring stump speeches, the promise of old-fashioned New England integrity, and a working couple in the White House. Even more, they get to be swept up by Joe Trippi’s perfect storm of Internet politics. Hell, they are Joe’s Perfect Storm!
A4D promises to be a megaphone for the passionate comments found at Blog for America. Dean fans (so much more than supporters–the guy’s a Rock Star!) use the comments section eloquently to cross talk; mini-blogs, really, making suggestions, asking for assistance, congratulating each other and their new buddies on the campaign staff.
In order to maintain their franchise, Controllers need the Producers who feed them to feel stupid. Otherwise they might find their voice. But we aren’t stupid. What John Taylor Gatto said about schools applies equally to politicians. To justify their existence, governments literally require the worst thing imaginable, mass dumbness:
“The shocking possibility that dumb people don’t exist in sufficient numbers to warrant the millions of careers devoted to tending them will seem incredible to you. Yet that is my central proposition: the mass dumbness which justifies official schooling first had to be dreamed of; it isn’t real.
“With less than thirty hours of combined training and experience, a hundred million people are allowed access to vehicular weapons more lethal than pistols or rifles. Turned loose without a teacher, so to speak. Why does our government make such presumptions of competence, placing nearly unqualified trust in drivers, while it maintains such a tight grip on near-monopoly state schooling?
When Producers–the majority of people who need only each other for a reasonable life–find their collective voice, our imagination will be boundless. And stupidity, literally a state of mind, will be out of fashion overnight.