Forum Post: On Consensus - Why Occupy's Direct Democracy was Criticized as Being Slow and Cumbersome
Posted 9 months ago on March 9, 2013, 11:39 a.m. EST by nandoatake
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:
- Participation - Widespread participation of the people affected by the decisions to be made. Participation as in voting, not sharing view points ( see point 3).
- Deliberation - A period in which all important points of view are discussed in terms of their advantages and disadvantages.
- 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.