Digital or human democracy?

The following text by David Bovill is an excerpt from a debate about purely digital democracy, in response to the proposal from the Cosmopolitical party.

The proposal is roughly what I believed in when I first proposed using Liquid Democracy in the late 90’s, and started coding implementation in the early 2000’s. So I’m a natural advocate, but it is a position I rejected around 2003.

I still agree with most of it, but I absolutely disagree with the online only element, and since you have expressed this so clearly, I’d like to try to say why.

It is partly a practical reason, but only partly. More fundamentally it is a deep human reason grounded on what I would consider the fundamentals of politics from a philosophical perspective.

The human reason is based on experience of tow types of people – my neighbours, and hackers.

I have tried many times to organise groups using online voting, and seen many groups try to use Liquid Democracy (as you define it) and my neighbours, or at least some of them won’t use it, and don’t want to use it. They are also right about this, that is their instincts are based on more than a dislike of online culture or interacting with computers.

The question I asked myself is how to get the grandmother who lives two doors down to use the computer, or how to get the mother of 5 children two floors down to do the same.

At first I thought well it’s easy, let’s get one of her kids to talk to her, and then he can use his mobile phone… then I thought well how about if she came to the community meeting and talked to people and the delegative vote was registered there….. ?

Thinking of this harder, and trying out a few scenarios, I got what was missing from this picture of democracy.

This idea of text based, deliberative democracy, is fundamentally elitist hacker culture that does not respect the diversity of human thought (neurodiversity), nor culture. Just as important it does not take into account the value of different forms of understanding and therefore deliberation about human value, and human value IS politics.

Making text only, intellectual deliberation not only the primary way for a human being to express their political opinion is not simply excluding certain types of people (ie discriminatory and therefore antidemocratic) – but it is also epistemically wrong – as it ignores other very useful ways human beings sense and judge value.

Secondly the problem of hacker culture. What you describe is a perfect medium for a certain type of human – it is ideal democracy for hacker culture. Not just digital natives, but also people who understand / prefer to express themselves rationally and in text. We should allow these people to express themselves that way. But we should be wary of two things.

First we should recognise that there is a real danger of hackers / coders becoming the new lawyers, bankers, politicians and high priests of our age. They have increasing respect and status, they speak their own highly technical language, and they are increasingly demanding that everyone else do things the way they prefer to do things.

Secondly we need to recognise that people who see things this way are not “rational” while other people are “irrational”. They are just different. We need other perspective. They (as an emerging class of people) need other perspectives to make competent political decisions.

For those reasons we need physical meetings, we need face-to-face discussions, we need art, and documentary, and anthropological techniques in our politics and our political systems.

We need “democratic sensors” that capture the full range of human experience and judgments – text does not do that and never will.

A good text only interface is a wonderful thing for those that like and are powerful in our ability to express things in the written word. But NEVER impose this one modality on the rest of us. There are many ways for human beings to express themselves, and if you want to bring more empathy and tolerance into politics – universalising text as the only way to do this is almost certainly not the best way to get there.

David Bovill


2 thoughts on “Digital or human democracy?

  1. Generaattori:

    Hey David, I´m not sure if this is the right forum, but in order to comment the issue whether to concentrate to technical features and tools of deliberative digital platforms (as Liquid Democracy) or to the human democracy, this following conversation with Carlo (@lynx down below) in Mattermost may explain better how to find out solutions to my main concern which is to find such simple but powerful organizing principals for topics and groups where it would be possible to structure, moderate and coordinate the discussions and debuts in the way that enrichment (freedom), empowerment (equality) and wellbeing (solidarity) would flourish in the actions of the grass root movements. I agree with you (and @lynx) that the voting ought be a small (and the last?) part of that process. My suggestion for basic structure is to apply a simple but dynamic theory, say only three organizing principals, as in Malaska´s three folding theory, which can have endlessly different combinations with each other (see and download the inquiry of prof. Wilenius down below).

    Society, consciousness and change:

    Voting isn’t all that important. It should simply reconfirm what has been clear all the time — but to make everybody continuously aware of the general opinion (rather than expecting coordinators to be able to represent the group which they fail at because humans are really bad at measuring the general consensus, especially humans with opinions) needs non-stop consensus measurement — and that is how I want to employ LQFB. Not in the way @judith and @drdrdr have experienced it, whose scepticism I comprehend but would like to see overcome. And reasonable consensus measurement needs to model all the options on the table, all the emendments that could be applied to the proposals. So the idea of oversimplifying it as @david suggests wouldn’t suffice…

    I generally don’t feel too well when people think it is a good idea to make complex things simple — unless they can make it very very clear why the complexity can be simplified. If there was anything in the discourse/lqfb combination that I would consider as simplifiable, I would have written down a TODO list somewhere… or looked for a software capable of doing just that simplification.

    In deed @lynx , I don´t know about scepticicim, but consideration in the quality of reasoning or “non-stop consensus” is quite complicated to measure with numbers. That´s a way trying to simplify things too, right? Make a price tag for the trust? That´s simplifying the complex content with technical tool, which makes it oversimplified.
    We are now talking about seeing “what has been clear all the time”. That´s in the sense of content making not technical TODO lists!

    No, @generattori, that is not oversimplified. Pirates had a good excuse for making the mistake of dropping liquid democracy — they didn’t know if it works. But since it is kind of blind to try to invent one’s own breed of mixed direct and representative democracy. If you think that paper is oversimplifying anything, I would love you to analyse it, write up a debunk, make your own calculations. If not, then please let’s not repeat mistakes. (edited)

    I shall look closely that paper @lynx , but I´m afraid that now you are missing my point! I´m trying to say that seeing things clearly is not necessarily oversimplifying them, don´t you agree and now we are not talking about the tools but the content.

    I believe that complex matters can be discussed in the fairly structured way which requires somewhat splitting, grouping or simplifying them, don’t you agree. Our picture of the world and oneself (meaning ontology of things) is the first science, they say, and that´s the reason why we ought to consider and choose the structure of discussion at the very beginning of the democratic process. It´s easy to follow the endless flow of topics, groups and subgroups when a few (max. three) discourses of the general consensus has been chosen carefully for organizing principals.

    Indeed, I’m not getting your point and how the thinking of that Finnish philosopher finds application, but I sure agree that we need to rework our organizing principles.

    Great, at least we agree on one thing: we need to rework our organizing principals to find the general consensus on anything that matters. In order to obtain that you just keep on looking for the perfect application while I´m thinking how this Finnish philosopher has restructured the organizing principals of the society into three sectors according to Aurelio Peccei, italian global thinker and industrialist who had that rare capacity of systemic thinking and who, as early as the 1960s, arrived at the inevitable conclusion: humankind’s footprint on the globe is so large by now that something has to be done so that we can take the cultural evolution to the next stage, to the conscious human being. It was this recognition that led to the idea of the Club of Rome, which in 1972 was to publish the report of all reports: the report where the greatest minds of MIT introduced the dynamic model of the world for the first time. It was this model that paved the way for a deeper, systemic understanding of humankind’s intervention in the ecosphere


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