The Democratic Quality Vector and
the New Social Agreement
The Need for a Democratic Quality Vector
Ten men shouting will control ten thousand who choose to remain silent.”
JOSEPH J. HAEGGQUIST
Politics has always been broken, in fact it is still broken today. Political leaders have lost a great deal of the trust of voters and our social superorganism has an autoimmune disease, with one part battling another. There is not only a lack of social capital, but a build-up of raw aggression pitting citizen against citizen. The solution is still not apparent, as there are often only unclear distinctions between each side, with unclear barriers to these problems. This leads to further degradation in social cohesion, and poor levels of interaction. A straightforward solution is only possible with a clear measurement.
A road to this solution is in the biology of the human brain. It too can also be conceived as a superorganism consisting of billions of much simpler cells called neurons. Somehow, the trillions of connections between billions of individual neuron cells creates the complex-system emergent behavior of consciousness. Although we don’t know how neurons communicate and synchronize with each other to create consciousness, we do know that if disease strikes, the disruption of the communications of networks of neurons can wreak all manner of havoc with consciousness.
Recently, the European-led Blue Brain project, led by Professor Henry Markham, made an interesting discovery. They discovered that cliques of neurons (complete all-to-all connected networks of neurons), can represent enormous amounts of information. When a new thought occurs, a wave of activation sweeps through the neocortex, activating these cliques of neurons, and deactivates when the thought is finished. Similarly, in human societies, waves of information travel throughout our social network. If this network coherence is disrupted, neither a brain, nor a society can function optimally. Our infighting is like an autoimmune disorder in the social organisms’ body, in which one part of the body ends up attacking another part. Such extreme polarization is a breakdown of social capital at the most fundamental level. To unpack the dysfunctional governance of our social body, we need to know about the nature of the social capital between the “cells’ of the social body. Then, we need to identify the nature of each cell. Better yet, since mathematics is such a powerful predictive force in human culture, if we could define a metric to measure social capital, the data generated might possibly reveal some underlying mathematical patterns that can answer the question: “Why is democracy failing us?”
The dominant form of democracy today, representative democracy, is regarded by its many proponents as an ideal form of governance. Some even go to the extremes of thinking that being anti- democratic is to sin. It may be surprising to many then, that some of the greatest philosophers of the Western tradition thought democracy was a danger. Voltaire was only one of the greatest philosophers of the Enlightenment, whose many ideas were revered by the founding fathers of the United States. What about some classical philosophers named Socrates, Aristotle, or Plato? They too disliked democracy, as it had many apparent flaws like we see every day.
Let’s begin with Voltaire’s concerns. He supported something called Enlightened Monarchism, a just king supported by a counsel of philosophers. Voltaire felt that democracy was dangerous because it could easily be gamed by a sly and charismatic leader, who could say things that the uninformed masses could easily be duped into believing, a situation that many critics of right-wing authoritarian governments world would clearly concur with. Voltaire was quoted as saying “I would rather obey one lion than two hundred rats of (my own) species” and “almost nothing great has ever been done in the world except by the genius and firmness of a single man combating the prejudices of the multitude.” These quotes prove that Voltaire knew of the classical philosophers.
Let’s move onto the Greek classic, The Republic. In this book Plato writes a Socratic dialogue featuring Socrates. In one part of the book, Socrates asks Adeimantus who would he rather have sailing a ship at sea, a well-trained captain or some random passenger? Adeimantus chooses the obvious answer and Socrates extends the metaphor to the state and a leader of a state. Socrates concludes his argument by establishing that the ideal form of governance is a totalitarian regime, where rulers have been educated in effective and fair governance for decades before taking absolute power. In another section of The Republic, Plato suggests that democracy makes an appearance during the later stages of the decline of the ideal state, when governance has become so deplorable that the people, in desperation, can even vote a tyrant into power to save them. The conclusion? Democracy could be so flawed that it will inevitably lead to tyranny. Can our tool help prevent this problem?
The inherent vulnerability of representative democracy is that one person can be elected to a position to represent a very large group of citizens, with much previous education on its’ use. The power concentrated in the hands of one such representative is significant, and a lack of integrity can result in corruption, incompetence, or both. This requires significant amounts of resources to respond to. Further, dislodging corrupt individuals who hold powerful positions can prove difficult if they choose to usurp the tools of governance to establish policies and choose other elected officials that protect them. As seen multiple times in western history, there are many ways to game the current system, from powerful lobbying interest groups, allowing unlimited cash contributions to election campaigns, misleading advertising, and policy abuse. Can there be better protections against this? How can we use a measured social capital to better define these ideas?
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