The Social Agreement
This book by Jode Himann on democracy as a social agreement, theoretically investigates potential outcomes to the improved democracy and at the same time argues for true political freedom. The notion of proxy voting is explored – the idea that democratic voters ought to have the right to delegate their votes to others (and to revoke said delegations), as they see fit. Read the introduction below, or click here to download the complete book…
The idea that humans possess fundamental rights, shared equally by all citizens of the world, forms an important pillar of contemporary political philosophy. Persistent use of the term “human rights” in media indicates that the concept has gained a firm foothold in mainstream, cultural consciousness. Despite near universal acceptance of innate human rights for citizens, news broadcasters and publishers find no shortage of human rights violations, committed by governments and corporations around the world. Prominent philosophers such as Locke, Mill, Hegel and Hobbes have written on the subject of human rights. The consideration of human rights, and subsequently political rights throughout history by leaders of thought, indicate the importance of the subjects. However, when atrocities committed by the Nazis came to light at the end of the Second World War, the international community discovered that the United Nations Charter did not adequately define the “rights” which it committed to global citizens. The UN’s “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” ratified in 1948, remedied the situation by clearly defining the rights of individuals in a series of Articles. In particular, Article 7 of the document states that “all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”.
Since 1948, the concept of political equality has been held up as an essential protection against governmental abuses of power, which include the indiscriminate killing of citizens by governments. Renowned political theorist Robert Dahl stated that Democracy (our social contract) was designed to prevent such tyrannies. The human will to live (or fear of death), then, inspires the logic behind the supposedly a priori equality of human rights. Basing a political philosophy on the individual will to live (as the essence and fundamental reason for a social contract) legitimizes democratic structures and celebrations of human diversity. In the early days of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, altruism (generosity) was viewed as the one critical anomaly which could not be satisfactorily explained by a theory based purely on competition and survival of the fittest. Evolutionary psychologists and game theorists (in particular the influential thinker Robert Axelrod) have since demonstrated how collaboration and cooperation promote increased group and individual fitness. According to Axelrod’s findings, human society follows in the evolutionary footsteps of other, more primitive species that also leverage altruistic behavior and social contracts for direct benefit to the group and indirect benefit for the individual. And, thereby, improve chances of survival for the individual and for the group.
Humans, like other animal species, possess natural survival instincts. Through our brief evolutionary history, we have uncovered social cooperation as the optimum survival strategy. Compelling arguments in modern Leadership studies claim that democratic systems are the best governance systems for large, modern societies (Slater & Bennis, 1990). The seminal work of Warren Bennis, founder of the field of Leadership studies, argues that traditional, autocratic management structures are ill equipped to manage the rapid rate of change associated with the modern era. The best groups—no matter the situation—are those that communicate well (giving a voice to each member), that work together effectively (realizing and developing individual talents) and that harvest value from the competencies of all team members. In other words, Democracies. An individual’s interest in the group’s ability to perform and profit extends from the individual will to live. A group’s ability to perform depends on the strength of its communication mechanisms and its level of respect and care for all members of the community. Democratic structure acknowledges and balances the individual will to live with the needs of the group. Hence, Slater & Bennis argue that Democracy—which is inherently egalitarian, pluralistic and liberal—is the only system of human organization capable of effectively governing a modern, technological society, given an accelerating rate of change. They also find tremendous value in citizens and societies who can continually learn about the conditions that shape their existence and who can refine group dynamics to respond to those ever changing conditions.
Total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system is what interests me, but that’s not on the ballot.
Principles for governing large societies also apply to governance of smaller groups. The importance of meaningful belonging, open communication and equality, then, ought to inform the structural organization of businesses and the teams that comprise businesses. As Slater and Bennis put forth (in the article already quoted), companies benefit from Democratic governance in the same way that nations do. Corporations are not only the drivers of technological innovation and growth, they are microcosms of civilization. As such, why do we tolerate such a profound gap between ethics and philosophies in the public and private sectors? One attempt to integrate politics into corporations include James Whitehurst, president of Red Hat (the world’s leading open-source software vendor) champions the role of Democratic values in the workplace. Whitehurst, in his book The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance, focuses on the principle of meritocracy as a core value for Democratized companies. In a meritocracy, any employee (whether a CEO or a new hire) has equal opportunity to contribute their voice. This openness, Whitehurst argues, is a benefit to the employee and to the organization as a whole.
Pursuant to fundamental values of equality and rights, this paper presents an argument for the benefit of opening up workplaces to voting and for including, in that process, options for voluntary vote delegation systems. The argument relies on two axioms. Firstly, that a Democracy must give citizens a right to vote on decisions that will affect the collective. This familiar idea requires relatively little discussion. In a Pure Democracy (also known as a Direct Democracy), the citizenry determines policy initiatives and other public decisions directly, not through the votes of elected representatives. Direct voting is closer to Democratic ideals than Representative Democracy but is not always practical for large, geographically dispersed or technologically limited populations. The second axiom: Democratic voters ought to have the right to delegate their votes to others (and to revoke said delegations), as they see fit. A number of lines of reasoning recommend this second, less familiar axiom. First, it preserves the voting power of those who are otherwise unable or unwilling to vote (due to time pressures or limitations of knowledge, for example). Such individuals may know of others who possess values similar to their own and who are also known to be well-informed on the relevant issues. Transferring votes allows all citizens to have their values accurately reflected, even those who choose not to cast a ballot themselves. Thus, the second axiom is supported by the notion that a society is less Democratic when only group members with ample free time or sufficient education can cast meaningful votes. Further, while delegation may be seen as a transfer of power from voters to representatives, one may also view delegation as a transfer of information (about how to vote). Implementing a “proxy” option into the structure of democracy would strengthen the nodes in the existing social network. Structural Deep Democracy is a phrased coined by Mark Rosst and potentially an apt description of theoretical result of offering a proxy option in our social contract. The specific implementation of a proxy voting social network outlined in this paper would be able to harvest value and information from a group quantifying the qualitative value, Any rejection of the second axiom, then, would suggest that organizations ought to restrict the flow of information, to their own determent.
Taken together, these two axioms indicate that a voluntary delegation system is more democratic than either a traditional representative system or a direct voting system that precludes delegation. If one accepts these axioms, what line of reasoning would justify the choice of a traditional representative system over a system that allows for voluntary delegation? Traditional Democracy is highly vulnerable to the criticism that it produces arbitrary and/or biased results whenever voters are not fully informed of the issues at stake. How might a voluntary delegation system perform under the same conditions? The following essay offers an analysis of voting practices in the context of imperfect information and proposes systemic reforms so badly needed, to bring Democracy in-line with the needs, challenges and benefits of the digital age.