Friday, 28 January 2011


Utilitarianism has developed over the years from Bentham's hedonic ideal, but there has always been a practical problem, how do you decide what decision maximises utility? This may be a simple problem to resolve if we all share common values and tastes but it is clear that we don't. Indeed one person's heaven may be an other's hell.
Interactive Democracy provides a way of gathering details on voters preferences for one thing over another, yet it fails to directly measure the degree of pleasure or pain that each person expects. This is captured by a second, though imperfect, mechanism: those with strong opinions have the opportunity to campaign for their point of view and effect the result of the ballot.
Utilitarianism oft seems to be about the apportion of utility between alternative courses of action but there is more to it than this: Interactive Democracy facilitates the development of new solutions, increasing the overall happiness of voters. Let's call it creative utilitarianism.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Civic Virtue

For Aristotle, in ancient Athens, the concept of Civic Virtue was central to democratic life. It is one of four elements in The Good Life: wealth, honour, pleasure, virtue. I would hope that each voter would bring to Interactive Democracy their own, personal take on what makes the good life, for themselves and others, but what is genuinely good for one, may not be good for another.
Could it be that virtue lies less with the individual but is rather a characteristic of the system?

The virtues of Interactive Democracy:
  1. It encourages (but does not demand) involvement
  2. It encourages problem solving and creativity
  3. It encourages people to explore alternatives and opposite points of view
  4. It engenders empathy through personal stories and experiences
  5. It draws out underlying value systems
  6. It encourages civic responsibility
  7. It is a type of education
  8. It allows leaders and experts to emerge
  9. It involves the day-to-day experience of everyone
  10. It subverts political tribalism, without destroying it
  11. It fosters transparency and encourages the exploration of data
  12. It subverts the bias of money in politics
  13. It builds on our democratic and cultural heritage
  14. It respects society AND individuality
  15. It is meritocratic
  16. It is pragmatic
  17. It is fair

What other virtues would you like our political system to foster?

This post was inspired by Justice: A Citizens' Guide to the 21st Century by Michael Sandel. Please click here to watch on iPlayer.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


In light of the ongoing fall-out of the Clive Goodman case should the Police be investigating other suspects? Why haven't they? Is it that the police need to protect a working relationship with the media? Are they enthrall? Or do they believe that those who have been hacked have been too lax with their own security and don't deserve an expensive investigation? Have senior policeman been hacked too? Is the government scared of taking on the press barons and have they asked the police to back-off?
The latest is that Murdoch's News International Group is doing its own investigation, promising compensation, sacking and police involvement if anything incriminating is found. They suggest that other news organisations should do the same, hinting that the deception may be common.
This is an worrying attack on the democratic process, law and order.
Hack: a journalist.
Hack: to steal electronic information.
Hack: cutting blows.
Hack: make common, hackney.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Going for Bust

Despite their being no guillotine (time limit for debates) in the House of Lords, it seems that the Labour Peers are intent on filibustering the electoral reform bill. Their monotone may yet succeed in lulling the House to sleep.
While Labour support AV they don't want the electoral boundaries tampered with as they suspect the coalition of gerrymandering. Yet, according to the above graph, both the Conservatives and the LibDems won fewer seats, in proportion to their votes, than Labour, which seems to hint that the latter are more concerned with protecting their own bias than establishing a fair "one vote equals another" system. Do politicians always favour power over fairness?
Fairness and transparency are essential elements of Interactive Democracy.
This post on automatically morphing electoral boundaries suggests how technology could be applied to make drawing boundaries fair and unbiased.
More from the Guardian on-line, here.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Net Delusion

The Net Delusion, a book by Evgeny Morozov, provides a repost to the notion that today's Internet benefits democracy. Despite the role of Google, Facebook and Twitter in democracy campaigns in Iran and China he points to those governments exploiting the same technology for their own ends.
According to john Kampfner, writing in The Sunday Times, "... this is a valuable contribution to a debate in which Morozov has become a leading figure. In the new world after Wikileaks, two bulls are locking horns - the neo-anarchic view that all governments are bad and all information is good, versus the increasingly intolerant approach by governments (including now America) to Internet freedom. The bit in the middle, mediated journalism, NGOs and other institutions, is being dangerously squeezed."

Making it Better: A Simple Thought

Farming is a good thing and technology has made it better.
Transport is a good thing and technology has made it better.
Entertainment is a good thing and technology has made it better.
Education is a good thing and technology has made it better.
Health care is a good thing and technology has made it better.
Democracy is a good thing, how can it be made better? Can the Internet be utilised for the advancement of democracy or will it remain separate?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Catching Cheating Scientists

In The Sunday Times, 09/01/11, Brian Deer, who exposed the MMR fraud case, advocates random checking of research data by a professional body to ensure there's no cheating by scientists. Having been peer reviewed twice himself, he feels that that process isn't stringent enough: "Such reviews check plausability, not the truth of the claims."

When science is presented in support of policy change perhaps rigorous checking should be mandatory.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Debate, Hate

The attempted killing of Congresswoman Gifford has caused some consternation about the way political debate has been conducted in America. Some pundits have pointed to Sarah Palin's website, where cross hairs were used to target seats, as encouraging violence. On the other hand the Arizona Massacre may be blamed on the lunacy of the gunman. Nevertheless, this raises the question: Would intense involvement of the general public in the Interactive Democracy system lead to more hate and hate crime?
ID should quell these fears:
  • It empowers individuals, potentially reducing the need for acts of rebellion
  • Is designed to extract rational argument (plus, minus and interesting points and values)
  • Illuminates with evidence and personal experience
  • Is a web system that encourages debate but rules against swearing and verbal aggression
  • Is supported by laws against threatening behaviour, religious hatred and encouraging violence.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Expert Influence

We don't all have the time or capacity to become experts. Most of us know a little about a lot of stuff and would like to listen to experts before deciding, so how are experts identified and who should we listen to?
The following brief talk about the Koran may illustrate the point: Lesley Hazleton was "approved" by TED to give a short (10 min.) talk; their website provides some background about her; her talk explains the research that she has done and touches on her relevant experience; and what she says may be corroborated if you want to look into it. These are the sorts of ingredients needed to trust an expert.

The Interactive Democracy model should allow MPs, from both sides of The House, to recommend experts, giving them "air time" on the ID website. Voters, debating the point on the same site, may also point to other experts other publications.

Effecting Currency

This article, from Money Week, explores the effect of politics and uncertainty on the currency markets. Would Interactive Democracy undermine these markets, and the countries international trading prospects, by begetting uncertainty?

Who knows? But Switzerland has operated Direct Democracy for many, many decades and is renown for its stability and economic success. Is this due to a culture of conservatism (as opposed to radicalism) or is it a function of a political system that balances power between leaders and voters?