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Forum Post: OccupyTheConstitution Direct Democracy

Posted 5 years ago on Jan. 1, 2012, 9:11 p.m. EST by Nanook (172)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

The focus of this topic is to discuss the pros and cons of Direct Democracy and, hopefully, to find solutions for the cons.

Direct Democracy is the process of having each citizen directly present their viewpoint or vote on an issue. One alternative, usually called a "republic", allows voters to elect representatives who present viewpoints and votes, supposedly as a summary for those who elected them. The whole question of Direct Democracy comes up now because of the blatant and corrupt behavior of representatives who voice the narrow opinions of their financial supporters rather than the population. It also CAN be brought up at this time because very recent developments of electronic communication technology make it practical to do. The simpleminded view is that people just get on the internet and vote.

I wish Direct Democracy was as easy as it seems. It isn't. Here are two reasons why it isn't.

Why do the presidential elections always come so close to 50 / 50? This isn't an accident. The votes of 200+ million people in the country are psychologically herded by the political parties through the media. When a party is behind in votes, it pours money into advertising, most of it deceptive, until enough people get confused and change their position. As soon as the party gains the advantage, they stop that campaign. So, the public gets pulled back and forth around the 50% point. Direct Democracy will not change that political pressure. So, political manipulation must still be eliminated.

Second, what would happen if we brought every citizen into the process of creating and voting on bills brought before congress? How effective do we think the American people could be developing and voting on complex issues? For example, establishing operating rules for nuclear power plants? How about chemical factories? How about air traffic control systems? How about weapons procurement or pharmaceutical drug production? Most people don't have a CLUE how complex modern society has become. Most people do not have the background to contribute to such issues.

( Unfortunately, most elected representatives are just as clueless! Why? Because the system we use to elect them picks people who are fast talkers with good looks and personalities. Their ability to understand and organize very complex technical issues is never tested. We then put them in a governing structure that was never designed to address the modern world. So, they are useless as well. But that's another topic. )

Here are 10 problems that need to be addressed to make Direct Democracy work:

  1. Not all people would be willing or able to vote on all issues. It would just be too much work for most people. Others don't have access to the internet and would have to travel long distances to vote. That means, issues that are subject to votes would often be decided by less than the full population, or even very small portions of the population.

  2. Many issues which come before government are complex. Not all people are able or willing to do the research to adequately comprehend the detailed principles involved. Yet some elements of the outcome may strongly affect them.

  3. For those willing to become informed on some issue, the internet provides quick access to an almost limitless source of information. But that raises the problems of relevance, accuracy and efficiency. Using the internet in its current form would be a tragedy. None of the search engines, or even all of them in combination, can effectively produce a comprehensive collection of "relevant" information on any topic. There are too many items found that are poorly organized and contain inaccurate, irrelevant or even fraudulently distracting material. Any attempt to bring human judges into the process brings human bias along with it.

  4. Even with good organization, human society has still not been able to solve the issue of TRUTH.

  5. What if the problems being presented to Congress for voting are not solvable by tweaking our existing processes because the fundamentals of those processes are completely outdated and irrelevant? Then giving the general public that flawed knowledge for them to vote on will still not generate adequate solutions.

  6. Due to human psychology, and the inability of most people to comprehend society broadly, most people make choices that are very self-centered. This leads directly to suppression of minorities.

  7. We know that self-interest and greed exist and that many people will vote only thinking of themselves. Naïve economic policies that are widely accepted, claim that "market dynamics" will resolve the apparent irony, i.e. that many wrongs will average out to many rights. So, the tendency of individuals to self-interest and greed still needs to be addressed.

  8. The same naive economic policies that fail to restrain greed also result in huge market swings and market failures.

  9. The whole issue of direct pressure on voters will still exist. Voters would still be subject to the pressure of authority or the draw of money or reward to sway their votes.

  10. And, of course, fraud in gathering and collecting direct votes still needs to be addressed.

The problems of Direct Democracy listed above are discussed at length at http://www.a3society.org/TyrannyOfTheMajority and http://www.a3society.org/FixDemocracy . Some solutions for these problems are also suggested. Please jump in here. List out any other problems that you are aware of. If you also have solutions, please list those as well.

(This post is part of a collection of posts aimed at launching a new process called the National Opinion Collection System (NOCS). For more information on the process, see http://occupywallst.org/forum/occupytheconstitution-introduction/ )



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[-] 2 points by rayolite (461) 5 years ago


  1. Even with good organization, human society has still not been able to solve the issue of TRUTH.

One of the best posts on DD I've seen yet, mostly because you've included the very important factor of truth. Your analysis is quite complete and correct otherwise.

I've seen enough here at OWS on article V to become an advocate for a convention, which apparently, potentially, is the ultimate democratic event possible on the continent. Therefore, sensitive to the points you've made about the nature of democracy, It's very sensibly proposed that there are preparatory amendments needed before an article 5 convention.

Those developing the strategy deal with the same issues you correctly point out. First is breaking the media stranglehold on truth, then campaign finance and voting system reform. After the public is educated, democracy is possible.

We are not ready for DD, but many of the issues that are going to be dealt with at an article V convention will be best done if the citizens are educated in a minimum number of issues, ones that will have significant impacts, then not only will the decision be quality, they will live with it much easier.

I can see that a delegate to the convention could use electronic DD as it is right now to gather informal opinion with a fairly high degree of security, the use that opinion very well in deliberations with other delegates. Such a thing would be very good experience, perhaps mapping out what works and what does not. Meaning later, less dependence on representatives would likely be possible.

[-] 1 points by Algernon (26) 5 years ago

There are ways to build a republic that is more responsive to the needs of ALL citizens. (1) multi-party / parliamentary systems: notice that the U.S. is the only western, industrialized, wealthy nation that has only 2 parties; we are also the only such nation to lack universal health care, and we lag behind in terms of poverty (2) the ability to vote "no confidence" or "none of the above" in elections (3) plebiscites or referenda on important issues and policy statements (4) public financing of campaigns (5) Roman censors - not people who suppress speech, but police who investigate elected officials and prosecute them for ethical breaches.


[-] 1 points by Nanook (172) 5 years ago


A discussion in favor of a Republic given, at the time the Constitution was written, by James Madison in The Federalist No. 10 can be found at http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa10.htm

This reference was provided by the author of the website http://www.usconstitution.net/constnot.html

[-] 1 points by Mantrid (1) 5 years ago

I think the Occupy movement definitely needs to change the procedures, and not just demand a few policy changes. The latter would slowly be eroded, but the former would keep the power in the hands of the people, if done right. We don't want to have to Occupy every few years to keep them honest. We want a system in place to rally the masses for every wrong thing the government tries to do - instead of just grumbling until they go too far, and having to gain support by protest all over again.

An absolute direct democracy would (could?) be a dangerous thing. A much better approach would be to have an official forum for the people to raise concerns and provide feedback. The decisions would still be made by the politicians, but they would hear the voice of the people and not just the well-financed lobby groups. While the people wouldn't have direct power over policy, they should have the ability to remove someone from office - given enough support (a good incentive for the politicians to pay attention to the people).

With a direct feedback system, people could get involved with what they think is important, in a format they are comfortable with ie. "Super-profiting banks should pay a higher tax rate" is what the people could demand, but the politicians (or their minions) would draft the details. Those that are familiar with a topic (experts) could point out problems and explain it in a simple way.

The format would be quite simple. Anyone could start a topic, and others could vote it up (or down). Someone who understands finance, for example, could raise a finance issue and explain it to the lay people to gain their support. Once a topic has enough support votes, it could go to a vote. People could subscribe to vote-alerts by e-mail for topics they're interested in - so everyone gets the opportunity to vote. People could even default their vote to a proxy (friend, family, public figure) who they agree with (with an e-mail alert each time the proxy is used, giving them a chance to override).

We have the technology to implement a safe, secure, and convenient system to do this. I believe the democracy of the future is THE answer that Occupy is looking for, so we can fix the damage that has been done and stop it happening again.

[-] 1 points by America921 (161) 5 years ago

You make an excellent point. Direct Democracy will not work because people are not experts in every field. Look at ancient Greece, they had Direct Democracy and it failed for multiple reasons. Like you said it would lead to suppression of the minority. Madison was afraid of tyranny of the majority, it is a real thing which should not be taken lightly.

This is a wonderful post. Good job keep up the good work.

[-] 1 points by infonomics (393) 5 years ago

I would like to address just one of your concerns. You make the argument that people are not sophisticated enough to participate in Direct Democracy. OK, fine. If they are unsophisticated then they are also susceptible to duplicity by their representatives. Nothing has changed, they themselves directly bring harm upon themselves via ignorance (like the housing crisis*) or allow someone else to do it to them. Either way, we must educate the public. Besides, as with the current form of government, Direct Democracy will need to rely upon a bureaucracy to dummy down complex bills. Incidentally, from my tenure on this site I can tell you that some who claim sophistication cannot even read a balance sheet, a simple balance sheet. At least with DD, people have a direct voice in their affairs plus they are precluded from whining and finger pointing. Thank you for this post. Your response please.

(*) The argument of the devil made me do it has got to end.

[-] 1 points by Nanook (172) 5 years ago


I agree with your points. Let me address them one point at a time.

You paraphrased what I said at one point as, "people are not sophisticated enough to participate." Let me be more precise with that. I think ALL people have something valuable to say about a lot of issues. At the same time NONE of us have the brains or background to contribute to EVERY issue. So, what I believe we need is a number of new processes that people can use to GUIDE THEMSELVES to topics they can make valuable contributions to. Note the carefully selected words "guide themselves. The key to a valuable change is providing clever methods so people control their own contribution, but in the end, wind up in the right place to build wisdom for the result. That's what I think I figured out with my National Opinion Collection System.

The same kind of thinking applies to the problem of "unsophisticated" people being susceptible to duplicity by representatives. What we need to develop is a forum for our "public servant leaders" that doesn't let them mislead us. I use the term "public servant leaders" because I think we need to get rid of "representatives" all together. That's where Direct Democracy comes in. But we will still need some kind of leadership. An example that fits this model pretty well is a ranger in a national park. They take you on walks and give you their interpretation of the environment. They don't have an axe to grind to get you to decide what tree to like best, or what shoes to wear. But they will tell you what will happen if you grab some poison ivy or start out on a hike in the snow with sneakers and no socks.

As for "the devil made me do it" related to the housing crisis, I think the bad actor in this is that society starts out ACCEPTING the basic notion: BUYER BEWARE! Why, as a society, do we have to start with that? Why can't we start out with BUSINESS BEWARE and PUBLIC SERVANT BEWARE. Why is the responsibility on the back of EVERY consumer to make "sophisticated" decisions to PROTECT themselves about things as complex as mortgages, when they are dealing with people who are supposed to be "highly trained" and "certified financial" people who SPECIALIZE in the subject? Who has ALL the advantage in that situation? Why isn't the responsibility to get it right, FOR THE CONSUMER, on the back of the "certified" specialist? These are the things in society that I think we need to change.

[-] 1 points by infonomics (393) 5 years ago

No disagreement.

[-] 0 points by MikeJ (2) 5 years ago

Simple solution - prevent politicians from receiving financial donations in the middle of their current term and from running re-election campaigns. We don't need the same guy all over the country or state again with a fresh bunch of promises which he already chose not to fulfill during his current term.