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Forum Post: On Consensus - Why Occupy's Direct Democracy was Criticized as Being Slow and Cumbersome

Posted 7 years ago on March 9, 2013, 11:39 a.m. EST by nandoatake (-18)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

It's no secret, Occupy's implementation of direct democracy was heavily criticized as being slow and cumbersome. Critics came from outside and inside Occupy. This website recently started a series on consensus which led to a heavy debate between the anarchist founders of Occupy.

What we must understand is that Occupy tried something new, and quite brave. They attempted to solve the direct democracy trilemma. A feat never tried before in practice.

Democratic theorists give three features which must be met for direct democracy to be deemed ideal, but because these three features are very difficult to implement together they call it the direct democracy trilemma. Here are the features:

  1. Participation - Widespread participation of the people affected by the decisions to be made. Participation as in voting, not sharing view points ( see point 3).
  2. Deliberation - A period in which all important points of view are discussed in terms of their advantages and disadvantages.
  3. Equality - All participating members should have an equal chance to speak their views.

James Fiskin discussed various systems with compromises.

He coined deliberative democracy which concentrates on points 2 and 3, but which does not necessarily involve the participation of all those affected by the decisions, i.e. only a sample of the populace attends the general assembly. Having few people means that everyone's views can be heard (3), and that deliberations can go deeper (2).

He also coined participatory democracy in which everyone participates and deliberates, but where equality is sacrificed. By listening to few views, deliberations can go deeper (2), and everyone can participate in the vote (1).

Fiskin did admit that a proper solution which would solve the trilemma and thus meet all three features could be possible with a complete rethinking of the process. This is what Occupy tried to do, but I believe they did not rethink deep enough. As a result, Occupy general assemblies became a long and arduous process as everyone wanted a voice, everyone wanted to deliberate, and everyone wanted a vote. This is the usual failure that arises when the trilemma is not solved properly.

In my mind, the trilemma could be solved using e-democracy. This would permit the process of decision making to extend many days instead of being confined to one general assembly. Point 1 would be easy to satisfy, as anyone would have access to the information (provided they had access to the Internet) without being forced to attend in person at a certain time. They could read the information at the time they are free. Point 2 could be met as people would be free to deliberate in threads, much like on this forum. Finally, point 3 could be met since everyone could take a moment to write their viewpoint.

To avoid a deluge of viewpoints, everyone could be limited to one post containing a limited number of words. This would force everyone to write a concise statement, which would greatly reduce repetition from individuals. From there, we could sort the viewpoints by throwing out those which are similar. The process of deliberation could then start and be limited for a certain number of days. Everyone can debate much like on this forum. Once the time limit has been reached, everyone has a certain amount of time to cast in their vote.

E-democracy is of course challenging and much planning and thinking must still be made before such a system sees the day of light, especially in how votes would be secured as to avoid a plurality of votes from one individual. But, I believe there is much hope lying in this idea. I believe it is the future.

If we can solve the trilemma efficiently, then there will be nothing standing in the way of anarchy.



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[-] 2 points by ericweiss (575) 7 years ago

Yes - OWS tried something different - and the "process" failed
I have been in hundreds of OWS consensus meetings &
hundreds of old style "roberts rules " meetings

  1. Participation - Widespread participation of the people affected by the decisions to be made. Participation as in voting, not sharing view points . Anyone running a "good" meeting wants everyone's input and should be responsible to ask for it if it is not offered 2 Deliberation - A period in which all important points of view are discussed in terms of their advantages and disadvantages. Consensus discourages dialog - it encourages monologs Equality - All participating members should have an equal chance to speak their views. see point 1

The first OWS working group I went to [ in October 2011 ] had one task - choose a date that a previously consensed document would be presented to the GA
In four hours, consensus did not let us do that !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

many other meetings were disrupted by a serious lack of continuity because there was no leader from the last meeting

many voiced opinions & issues were "lost" because "stack" dictated that large numbers of people had to speak before the speaker could be directly responded to

my solution - for the sake of continuity, elect a president & vice president to lead regularly with the first step in each meeting would be to vote them OUT if necessary. majority rules - not minority rules

these ARE some of the reasons why OWS is 10% of what it was

[-] 2 points by guyjanssen07june (2) 7 years ago

A few elements of e-democracy are crucial.

  1. Voting needs to be based on random sampling to ensure ALL people are represented. e-Democracy, like all crowdsourcing, follows the princple of the 1-9-90 percent. One percent want to deliberate, nine percent wants to like or dislike but ninety percent actually has an opinion. If you want to avoid the rule of the 1% continues, you will have to "force" a small representative sample to vote.
  2. Deliberation is not a matter of sorting opinions, it is about convincing and compromising. You need to introduce a process through which people can form a compromise by asking the public to like certain contributions. This all sounds a bit cryptic. It is a complex topic. Rather than writing too much, may i refer to my blogspot informationanddemocracy? Keep thinking, keep pushing to solve the trilemma.
[-] 2 points by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC 7 years ago

i argue ;)

we simply need a place (a site) ... where issues are defined and reduced to a listing of it's specifics... ie

take a given piece of legislation .. or a Bill ... reduce it to each specific item ... and allow anyone & everyone to voice a yes or no of support....

this does many things...

  • it quickly familiarizes us to the subjects & specifics in the Bill ....
  • it provides room and place to argue improvements for each specific...
  • it provides us with a snapshot of current support at any time....
  • it allows us to improve material ... and/or change opinion...

This ever-lasting dynamically changing opinion poll.... Is accurate...

It is not a sampling ..it is real...

It becomes a resource for current representatives to base their decisions on...

We cannot change everything overnight .... It has to be a step at a time....

First we get the poll ... then... it will become the vote ....

[-] 2 points by Builder (4202) 7 years ago

Look to a system that has enjoyed success.

You're onto it here, BradB. Use the KISS rule, for sure, and sample what worked, and what didn't, in Iceland's emerging people's democracy.

When I saw footage of several different GA's, I knew this movement would be stuck in first gear low range if all decisions were to be made that way.

Likewise with the Mic Check thing. It served a usefull purpose in the early days of megaphone bans, but it just got old so very quickly.

This is not a game we are involved in. It's all about the future we are creating for our children, and their children. Time to get serious.

People say that Iceland is such a small population, how could what they did, be appropriate for such a huge population in the US of A. Simple answer is, keep the states, and the local governments of the US, and implement direct democracy on that scale. It's not compulsory to vote. Probably never will be. Simply make it known that a system of voting is available, and use a checkable tool (facebook? social security number? I dunno) for voter ID.

The current system (lesser of two evils) doesn't even recognize many of the states of America, but considers them to be "flyovers" or "a waste of time" electioneering wise.

There has to be a better way, and you, the people, have to create it.

[-] 2 points by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC 7 years ago

thanks Builder ;) ... just for ref. we extensively out-lined the necessary architecture to secure the polling... on the NYCGA site @ a year ago

added: it used a concept that "we must count on getting hacked" ... and therefore... implement many many mirrored servers (that anyone can host)... and once any one of them is attacked ... shut it down and rebuild from the others...

I believe we had all the possible angles covered... including registration... privacy if desired... defense against bots.. etc

[-] 2 points by Builder (4202) 7 years ago

And avoid diebold machines. LOL

Honestly, as the people become aware that their votes actually mean something again, interest in political action should grow.

I'm not American, but I know there's many ways to be American, so things will vary from state to state, and town to town.

The obvious thing is, the sooner we start, the better things will be for everyone.

[-] 1 points by Shule (2638) 7 years ago

Instead of foolish experiments, OWS ought focus on its original agenda of getting that that "democracy" in Washington to stop catering to that 1% , and get them to stop screwing the rest of us all over.
If it takes a dictator who can muster a mob with torches and pitchforks, that would be fine.

[-] 0 points by HCabret (-327) 7 years ago

freedom is the goal, not the aquisition of wealth. a tyrant would only make a bad situation worse.

violence is never justified.

[-] 1 points by Shule (2638) 7 years ago

With much respect, please read history. I won't say more.

[-] 1 points by HCabret (-327) 7 years ago

What does history have to with my opinion on the morality of violence?

[-] 1 points by Shule (2638) 7 years ago

....you say freedom is the goal. You'll never get there by only talking.

I'm not a fan of violence either, but if your not prepared to stand up to it, then forget about freedom. The establishment will bring it on.

[-] 1 points by HCabret (-327) 7 years ago


active spontaneous individual non-violent civil disobediance

that's what I am doing.

[-] 1 points by Shule (2638) 7 years ago

Was it Ghandi or was it really Ghosh? Was it King or was it really Malcom X? Again read the History. Even Ghandi leveraged off violence as he said " you can deal with me or you can deal with them."

I've read Ghandi much, and respect him greatly. I even had the honor of meeting his grandson Kuno (Kuno Ghandi worked for the U.S. Army by the way) However, Ghandi's methods only work if one's adversary is sane. Up against mother killing father raping psychos it does not work, which is what we are unfortunately up against.

[-] 1 points by HCabret (-327) 7 years ago

You don't even spell his name correctly. Violence is extremely ineffective.


[-] 1 points by penguento (362) 7 years ago

But, if everyone everywhere is allowed a post, suppose you get ten million posts, or a hundred million? Who's going to read and consider more than the tiniest fraction of them? How can anyone possibly lead a meaningful discussion of anything in the deluge of viewpoints? Who decides which ones are "too similar" to merit separate consideration? Where are they going to find the time to compare them all? Doesn't doing that and omitting some that are "too similar" give someone an awful lot of ability to control the discussion? How could you possibly justify that in an organization that purports to have no leaders and equal opportunity to have a say? What do you do if someone objects to having their post omitted as being too similar? Is there going to be an appeals process? If there were, wouldn't that slow things down impossibly as you worked through what would undoubtedly be thousands or tens of thousands of appeals by disgruntled citizens?

What you're proposing would no doubt work fine in a relatively small setting. The problem, as with many ideas here, is scaling it up. One you've got a hundred thousand or a million or ten million voices, it gets bogged down by its own weight.

[-] 1 points by HCabret (-327) 7 years ago

suppose their hundred of milliions of seperate assemblies. good government doesnt necesarily equal central government.

[-] 1 points by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC 7 years ago

that's because we have been trying to regulate it... or control it...

if we step back and not expect so much from it... "direct democracy" will find it's own path....

look at it like it's merely a poll ..., a place where any & all can voice their stand ... and change their stand at any time...

it's merely a snapshot of current position....

if we do this... step back & slow down... call it a dynamically changing poll ...

eventually... mass majorities will develop & find consensus on specific topics... how could existing government bodies ever argue against a 99% support of anything ? ... or even an 80% support ... etc...

they couldn't without losing support & power...

[-] 1 points by nandoatake (-18) 7 years ago

If we step back and not expect so much from it... "direct democracy" will find it's own path....

I disagree. This simply sounds like laziness instead of intellectual scrutiny. We must theorize before practicing. That's how you dig deeper into a topic. The founding fathers didn't create the representative republic on a whim. They thought things through! We must do the same.

Direct democracy if very difficult to implement because of the trilemma explained in my OP. This is obvious if you've been to an Occupy general assembly. Either you make compromises like Fiskin explains, or you end up solving the trilemma and creating an ideal direct democracy. You can't just let it find its own path. That's extremely dangerous and a waste of time.

eventually... mass majorities will develop & find consensus on specific topics...

Perhaps, but I don't see this happening. We have to create the framework for it. Proper direct democracy won't just spring about. To create mass participation we need to incite the people with a proper system. Many people came to Occupy general assemblies but left dissatisfied because the process was extremely long and arduous. Getting people interested is one thing, getting them to invest time in the process is another. Unless we have a streamlined system which lets people participate to a level which they deem satisfactory in a time frame which is acceptable, they'll never be interested.

You don't just find consensus by magic! The process is so important.

[-] 2 points by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC 7 years ago

hmmm... ok... nandoatake... I wish you the best & hope it works... but I bet we or someone else will be having this same argument next year ;) ...

[-] 2 points by nandoatake (-18) 7 years ago

Most likely. It will take time to implement e-democracy. I'm not worried about changing the world in one year. We must look for long term solutions, not easy patches that only hide the problems for a short time. The good news is many people are working on e-democracy as we speak. There are already numerous software prototypes.

US won't be in the picture for awhile, maybe never, but Sweden has already commenced a practical experiment with e-democracy called Demoex. It's a good read, and gives a sense of hope.


[-] 3 points by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC 7 years ago

Demoex ... interesting... thanks ;)

[-] 2 points by nandoatake (-18) 7 years ago

Thank you. I enjoyed our exchange. It's rare that users here enjoy debating. Most just like to throw insults and logical fallacies around. Lol, I get down voted by the Twinkle Team just because they don't like who I am. They don't even bother reading my comments. Demoex is a great idea, but my comment will be down voted in the minuses regardless.

[-] 2 points by Renneye (3874) 7 years ago

Demoex = Swedish e-democracy experiment

From Wikipedia

Demoex, an appellation short for democracy experiment, is a local Swedish political party and an experiment with direct democracy in Vallentuna, a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden.[1] It uses the Internet to make it possible for any member to participate in the local government. Demoex has a representative in the municipal council, who votes in the council according to a poll that is held beforehand on the website of the party. This is unlike traditional representatives, who vote according to their own views or their party's views. Every Vallentuna resident older than 16 years can register on the website to vote; anyone in the world can take part in the debates, if they can write in Swedish. Voters do not have to vote on all issues; the fewer votes on an issue, the more weight each vote carries. To boost participation, the party allows users to choose someone to advise them on a particular topic.

Demoex was founded on March 6, 2002, and won a local election in the municipality Vallentuna that year. The Demoex representative is 19-year-old student Parisa Molagholi, elected on 4 November 2002 with 1.7% of the votes. She began serving as representative in 2003, and was re-elected in 2006 with 2.9% of the votes. Her success has astonished traditional politicians. The party's representative, Per Norbäck, was elected in 2010 with 1.76% of the vote.[2] Demoex intends to become a national party and eventually an international party on the same principles.[3]

The Demoex system is a political hybrid which uses e-democracy to inject direct democracy into a system of representative democracy. This creates a semi-representative democracy, similar to one that has been used in Switzerland since the late 19th century.[4] In pure direct democracy, there are no representatives, or there are only proxy representatives with limited power. By contrast, in a representative democracy, the elected representatives have all the power to make political decisions. The Swiss Landsgemeinde is one of the oldest and purest forms of direct democracy.[5] It was originally introduced in the Swiss Canton of Uri in 1231, and was structured as an open-air gathering, usually in springtime, where votes were expressed by a show of raised hands. This system is still used in the Canton of Glarus and Appenzell Innerrhoden.[6][7]

Full Wiki...


[-] 1 points by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC 7 years ago

;) ditto

[-] 0 points by OTP (-203) from Tampa, FL 7 years ago

No votes should be counted in secret. On anything.

[-] 0 points by Micah (-58) 7 years ago

Why not?