Rebooting Democracy

Indy Johar (@indy_johar)

November 30, 2016


  1. Democracy sits on the stack of the military and the rule of law. These two conditions need to exist prior to any form of functioning democracy. They are put in service of democracy – but are also independent pillars of democracy formation. We must acknowledge we are not free of the war machine and the destructive power of war or structure of security. In fact many of our democracies are increasingly in a constant state of war focused on preserving and enhancing interests – we must reconcile this reality – our pretty "libertarian" dreams sit on the shoulders of the war machine – in all its forms from economic, military and cyber war. (Let’s not glorify this but we must acknowledge this reality in our politics)
  2. Representative Democracy is just a form of societal decision making architecture, as much as the famed "market" is a model of societal decision making and "learned societies" (the professions) are another model of decisions making architecture‐where the primacy of knowledge & practice holds power‐in preference to price or collective agreement) – increasingly this historic triad has been disrupted by rise of scalable social networks and their power to influence societal decision making. Together theses societal decision making structures come together to build a complex and balanced interplay of decision making‐fusing long term thinking, with distributed long tail thinking and supply demand matching logics.
  3. In a complex, emergent world – we are very quickly re-concluding (Aristotle had this figured) "direct democracy" has significant limitations driven by multiple factors. A. The inequality of time and capacity to learn and partake in the discussions and negotiations necessary to come to decisions in a complex world. B. Inequality of freedom – we are not all equally free from the power of vested interests (note freeholders of land were the first sections of society granted the public vote – as they had a degree of independence from being other vested interest‐especially in a country where some 16 million people are reported to have savings of less than 100 pounds. C. The charge of democracy is not to for further the interests of the 51% – (it’s not a mob state) but instead to look after the interests of all including the 49% and people not yet born etc – i.e we are charged with creating a state for pursing public good not just community good. To address these issues – we have historically designed and lived in "delegated democracies" (and have now misunderstood their core feature as a bug‐the representation bit – representative democracies are not literally about parliamentarians representing our opinion as individuals or communities but instead represent us as citizens) much akin to a citizen jury – they were charged to look after the public interest, not our interest, or just our communities interests‐but the public interest.
  4. The Democratic state is a full stack challenge and cannot be reduced to the vote – a functioning democracy requires the democratized capital, knowledge and freedom (agency) in order to create real functional markets and independent learned societies – all topped off by the vote. It is why we historically built banks for the poor, schools and libraries prior to the emancipation of the vote.

The reason I put all this forward is that;

  1. Much of our innovation in the field of democracy – advances the cause of the mob – the smart mob (community interest over public / short term interest over long term interest) not necessary democracy in its fullest sense.
  2. We have over the course of the last twenty years dismantled the cultural checks and balances and the shared comprehension, accountability for society decision making – from the misinterpretation of representative democracy to the demise of public good professionalism.
  3. Democratic Societal decision making, does increasingly need an over haul – (addressing years of entropy, technological change, and global interdependence etc ) but it will require more than the techno smart mob fetishisation.

Finally, whilst I am in no doubt we do need to over haul our Democratic model, and build a mechanism for overhauling our 19th century’s democracy – we struggle to give this reformation legitimacy and preserve its independence from the corruptive influence of legacy interests – this is our challenge for renewing democracy.

Building democracy for the first time was difficult but renewing seems harder.