"Majority Rule" is to Consensus what Newtons
Theory of Gravitation is to modern Cosmology - a rough and sometimes
workable approximation. A good step in the right direction but certainly
not the ultimate goal.
The "Survival Paradigm"
First let us restate the disclaimer. We are not
saying that ''Survival" is "Good" or "Right". We are not, therefore,
ever going to argue that behaviour which enhances our survival
is the "Right" (in the sense of "morally proper") way to behave. All
we can say, if we wish to remain logically consistent with our philosophical
precepts, is that, as living beings, we are (or rather - we appear to
be) "designed", apparently by a process of biological evolution, to
strive to survive. This dictates our individual behaviour whether
or not it is a "good thing". We simply do not have a choice about
that other than to give up Life altogether and even that choice, as
we discussed in the previous chapter, is consistent with the Survival
imperative. But although we may not have a choice about our primary
motivation - Survival - what we can choose is our own survival strategies
both individually and collectively.
This choice is one we have as a direct result of having a level of
intelligence high enough to be able to discuss this issue. The family
pet dog or cat has no such choice. Its survival behaviour is pretty
well programmed into its genes. It might occasionally act to defend
a member of the family, or of its own brood if it has one, and its actions
might thus turn out, on occasion, to be for the common good. By and
large, however, its actions will be "selfish" or, at least, self-centred
- i.e. primarily, like most mammals, designed to benefit itself or its
tightly (genetically) defined family. Similarly, species genetically
engineered by evolution to work as a hive mind clearly act for the common
good, but again, not through any conscious choice. Their behaviour is
"merely" the result of a sophisticated genetic algorithm resulting
from the operation of natural selection. Conversely, whilst human beings
may - and often do - behave no less "selfishly" than our pets,
it is not difficult to find examples of human behaviour which are clearly
designed to promote the wider level of benefit achieved by the hive
mind. Yet, unlike the bee, ant or termite, each individual human performs
communally useful actions as the result of intelligent conscious choices.
The frequency of such behaviour shows us that there are several strands
of public awareness that acting for the "community" can bring benefit
to a greater number of individuals, often without reducing benefit to
So unlike our pets, whilst we could each decide simply to put
all our effort into our personal survival, or perhaps that of our immediate
family, and let the rest of the species take care of itself; many of
us are intelligent enough to perceive an alternative. We can recognise
that if we make collective decisions as a group, be it street level,
village, town, nation or species, our combined intelligence may be able
to address and overcome problems on a communal scale which, though they
affect all individuals in the group, cannot be dealt with by individual
action. We are capable of agreeing to co-operate in the ongoing
struggle to survive in order to increase all our chances of surviving
better, longer or, preferably, both better and longer. In game theory
terms, most human beings are sufficiently intelligent to recognise that
co-operation, sharing and occasional self sacrifice are not "zero
Note: this kind of intelligent choice is NOT Altruism.
At least not unless you take the widest possible meaning of that word
- viz, any action which benefits someone other than the actor. If we
take altruism to be that widely defined, then every mouthful eaten by
every fish is an altruistic act because it eventually benefits the predator
who eats the fish. Comte
"Altruism" in 1851 ) clearly intended a conscious component.
"The intent to benefit another, even at one's own certain
expense." appears to be in much closer agreement with Comte's understanding
of his new word. As we argued in the previous chapter, it fits the Tamil Tigers
just as well as it fits Jesus the Nazarene.
Comte, and most religions, try to justify altruism as a moral absolute.
We "ought" to be altruistic. The only truly "good"
acts are those intended to benefit others.
Based Ethics (SBE) is not like that. The basis for our recommendation
to practice altruism (whenever possible and appropriate) is not that
we will benefit others. We don't object to that of course. But the most
rational basis is that we will usually benefit ourselves every bit as
much. Even if there are occasions when our "altruistic" act
does not immediately produce a benefit for the individual, there will
be many other occasions on which the individual will benefit from the
altruistic acts performed by others (and occasionally themselves). There
is plenty of room for self interest in SBE. This is no profound insight
- it is a classic statement of the bleedin obvious and not too dissimilar
from many religious platitudes which essentially suggest that "the
more you give, the more you receive". It is usually empirically
verifiable. That's what justifies doing it. It works - for all of us.
And - as we'll repeat from time to time - what works is what matters.
All it entails is recognition, not of any "moral absolutes", but simply
of a common shared interest: viz, we all want to "
live long and prosper". This does not need to be justified,
any more than we need to justify the patterns of atomic structure
which make the Periodic
Table an excellent tool in the analysis of Chemistry throughout the
Universe. Our desire to Survive is merely a repeatably observable phenonemon.
Is this not heresy?
OK, to be philosophically consistent with what has gone before, it
is, within the limitations
of perception, as widely spread and consistently observed a phenomenon
as any we know about. All living beings, including all humans, exhibit
behaviour which illustrates their desire to survive. It is as empirically
verifiable as any hypothesis we can think of. It is rational, therefore,
to "believe" it. Now, if you don't mind, whenever, in future, we say
something "is a fact", please take it as read that we apply the same
qualifications as spelt out in this paragraph. Given that many readers
still prefer to print these words rather than read them on-screen, over
the course of time this qualified verbal shortcut may save at least
If you feel an urge to raise the "suicide" objection - it
probably means you haven't read chapter
6, in which case, we recommend you do.
This particular "fact" is about the least controversial statement as
we could make about human existence. It is one of our lowest common
denominators. Bin Laden and Mother Theresa could both agree, "humans
want to survive". They might disagree on everything else. Hmmm.
Not a good example. They might agree on more than we'd care to admit.
Blair and Saddam. They could both unequivocally agree that "humans
want to survive". And they would definitely have substantial differences
in nearly all other areas. (You can't quite say the same for Bush and
Saddam. Both, for example, seem to agree that, occasionally, regardless
of their desire to survive, its necessary to kill some of your own citizens;
that its justifiable to lock large numbers of people up for years with
no legal recourse; that ignoring global opinion is occasionally justified
and so on)
Be that as it may, no sane human would disagree with the proposition
that, generally, "human beings want to survive".
Which is why it is the obvious basis for a code of behaviour. No one
is required to have "faith" in anything. We don't have to postulate or
anticipate the hidden rules of a superbeing. We don't have to be threatened
with visions of eternal damnation. We don't have to declare certain truths
to be self-evident. We can simply, consciously and collectively decide
to make that uncontroversial observation ("We all share the desire to
Survive") the starting point for our individual and social decision making
If we can ever get that simple message across, we'll have accomplished
a great deal. We'll have found one statement upon which the entire human
race can agree. Hold the front page: "Human beings share
the desire to survive".
Again, it doesn't look like a significant revelation. It's even been
stated in many places and other contexts before now. But nobody's proposed
it as the basis for a new political philosophy before now. (If they
have, please please
let us know in the usual fashion).
Lets try expanding it. First we can make two hopefully uncontroversial
empirical expansions of the observation:
1 Individually, we all want to stay alive as long as Life is
2 Individually, we have some similar and some dramatically
different views on what makes Life Worth Living
From here we can state an ideal we could, again hopefully, all agree
3 An ideal society is one in which all its members believe
Life IS Worth Living
Now, however, we are prompted to state an ideal which may not look controversial
but sits at the base of the most fundamental division in human society:
4 An ideal society allows individuals to decide for themselves
what makes their own Life Worth Living
Here the consensus will collapse, so we need to stop and consider the
reason for this collapse and its consequences.
Most readers will have agreed with all 4 points. That may appear to
be a contradiction. If most readers agree, then how does the consensus
collapse? The key word is "readers". Most people who have
got this far will be inclined to agree with all four points and even
view them as SBOs.
The problem lies with those who are unlikely ever to read this work
at all or, if they do, give up well before this point. They include
the class of individuals who do not accept that the individual should
be entitled to make their own choices about what makes their own Life
As presaged above, our contention is that This single issue (individual
freedom to choose) represents the most fundamental division in human
It is the basis of religious morals and politics and, as such, it underpins
much of what is going on in the world today. Every human being alive
today is on one side of that divide or the other. The division is much
too sharp for anyone to sit safely on the fence.
Either you believe in the complete autonomy of the individual, constrained
only by the injunction not to interfere with the autonomy of others
(without their free and informed consent), or you believe that human
beings cannot be trusted to make all their own decisions for various
reasons and that such complete autonomy is impossible, impractical or
"evil" and cannot be permitted; whether or not 3rd party harm
prevention can be shown to be both possible and practical.
Which side of the fence are you on? If you agree that the German suicide
we discussed in the previous chapter had the right to request being
killed and eaten, you're an autonomist. Otherwise, you're not. Its that
Other examples of how this division manifests itself:
Either you really believe Every
Sperm is Sacred or you are in favour of freely available effective
Either you believe "Abortion is Murder" or you believe in
the "Right to Choose".
widespread homophobia still is. Look how primitive attitudes
to sex in general still are. Look at the insane War
on Drugs. Look how governments react to Political
Dissent. Consider the concept and implications of the "victimless
All provide examples of how wide the divisions are and the extremes
to which the anti-autonomists are prepared to go to prevent autonomous
behaviour in others who disagree with them. Essentially there are no
limits to what an anti-autonomist is prepared to do to individuals,
or even large groups, who behave in ways, or, sometimes, even think
thoughts they disapprove of. They will set up inquisitions and death
camps. They will lock up millions of their own citizens. They will fly
loaded passenger planes into tall buildings.
Anti-autonomists are not generally open to suggestions of compromise.
Anti-autonomists are not generally capable of seeing the errors inherent
in their own tortuous and twisted logic.
Anti-autonomists do not generally stop trying to impose their will on
others until they are dead.
Anti-autonomists are the most serious threat to the continuation of
the human species.
Anti-autonomists form the majority of the human race.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to do what you can
to help solve the problems raised by this threat.
As autonomists we are not inclined to kill people or lock them up or
even ostracise them simply because we disagree with them. As long as they
do not interfere with our autonomy, we will not interfere with theirs.
The trouble is, as you may have noticed, that the anti-autonomists have
declared war against us. And we have to respond or die. Its that simple
and that serious.
The ideal response, of course, is one which protects us and our autonomy
without damaging them or theirs. This won't make them any happier, because
they will want to continue attacking us and preventing whatever behaviour
it is that they disapprove of; and they will become enraged if we make
ourselves immune to those attacks. Nor can we be certain that such a
response is even possible - or at least not within the timeframe which
we need to ensure our own survival (say, the next 50 years). But there
are only two other possible responses: inaction leading to our own demise
or counter-attack where we begin to kill some of them every time they
kill some of us until, perhaps, one side or the other is "victorious"
because none of the other side are still alive.
We don't view either of those as either desirable or viable options
so we must commit ourselves to self protection and damage limitation.
If we can succeed, the problem will gradually diminish. Anti-autonomists
hold power in almost all societies today. They enjoy the "support"
of the majority of their subjects. We may speculate that this is largely
because the majority of those subjects do not understand or believe
that there is or could be any alternative ways to organise society or
the decision-making process within it. If we succeed in setting up working
examples of viable alternatives and ensuring that the relevant information
is freely available, then we will begin to educate that currently ignorant
majority. Only then could we properly test our speculation. It is conceivable
that even with working examples of autonomous societies on which to
base their judgements, that a majority of the species may still prefer
to be constrained and prevented from exercising the full range of choices
over their own lives and wellbeing.
With luck though, over decades, the living examples will reduce support
for the anti-autonomists to insignificant levels . Of course, having
access to the levers of power they will resist this erosion of their
support base and the most obvious targets will be our working examples,
so the attacks will get more frequent and more severe than they are
today. Eventually, however, perhaps even the majority of their military
conscripts or mercenaries will begin to understand our message, and
once that happens, there is very little the anti-autonomists will be
able to do to damage us, or even their own believers. They will eventually
either fall on their own swords, or reluctantly concede the primacy
of individual autonomy.
The good news is that there are grounds for believing we can protect
ourselves long enough to ensure not only our own survival, but that of
the human race in general. We'll be dealing with those grounds in detail
later. For now we want to stick with constructing the rule-base which
is consistent with survival based decision making.
Autonomists will, we believe, have no difficultly agreeing with all
four ideals and we propose them as the basis for an "Autonomist
Manifesto". It is all we need to steer our response to any political
issue. Examples of how will need to be further elaborated upon in any
electoral literature - should we decide to participate in existing electoral
politics. We can deal those questions later. The point is that the core
of our political message can be expressed in the four ideals expressed
The results of this analysis may not immediately appear to be revolutionary.
Nor should they, particularly in the short term. Often, indeed, they
will appear to be common sense, or even common practice. This is not
surprising. Humanity has been developing its social systems for thousands
of generations. Evolution has ensured that, even under the control of
anti-autonomists, we've got some things right. Both genetic and memetic.
No one is going to come along in the early 21st century and propose
a social and political system which is unrecognisable compared to the
existing ones. Certainly if we paint the picture of what society might
look like in a couple of centuries, it might look unrecognisable, but
not in the next ten or twenty years.
The point about adopting those ideals as the basis for our political
decision making process and the basis for the social behaviour code is
that they are completely scalable. What does that mean? Take a practical
and relatively mundane example like the national
minimum wage. Since the UK Labour government introduced it in 1997,
we now indulge in an annual argument over the level of the minimum wage.
Should it be £4.50 or £5 or £10 or £20 or what?
This is not scalable. Each time we agree a figure it is out of date within
months and forces renegotiation.
The Autonomist answer is that it should be none of the above. Most
autonomists probably share a Marxist view of history and see wage slavery
as an evil in itself which, we hope, will eventually wither on the vine.
But given that this is not going to happen in the next few years, we
would at least wish to minimise the pain associated with the existing
system. In that context, we wouldn't have much difficulty agreeing that
a minimum wage should exist in principle. But the obvious rational way
to calculate it would be as an agreed percentage of the national
average wage using an agreed algorithm and agreed parameters, with
an agreed review mechanism. This solution is scalable. First we settle
the argument in principle: Do we want an minimum wage? Then we agree
the percentage. After that it is automatic. Every year or so, the national
average wage is recalculated and the minimum wage adjusted accordingly.
No further fuss or argument.
Not quite true. Right now (2004), of course, the percentage is pretty
low. £4.50 per hour against a national average of £11.68
yields roughly 36.5%. This will tend to shift the focus of the argument
from the futile annual haggling over an absolute financial value towards
the more fundamental question: "What is the minimum income required
to make Life Worth Living?" What the lowest paid currently get,
in place of a satisfactory answer to that question is 36.5% of the national
average wage. How many of those who are earning at that rate would agree
that this percentage is sufficient to make Life Worth Living? Come to
that, how many earning the UK national average wage (£24,498 in
2002) would agree that it is sufficient to make "Life Worth Living"?
(And how many on the Global Average Wage...)
Meanwhile, back in the relative (globally) comfort zone of the UK national
minimum, one can only hope that we could, in the medium term, seek to,
say, roughly double that agreed percentage and take it up to 75% of
the average. In the long term we may eliminate the need for the question
(or money) altogether. Of course, when the decision required is couched
in these terms, the debates are more rounded and the conclusions should
hold a consensus for longer. We currently debate the absolute value
of the minimum wage every year. We would probably only debate the relevant
percentage every 5, 10 or 25 years if we made this minor change to the
terms of the debate.
That is a practical and deliberately parochial (to the UK) example
of how an Autonomist manifesto might influence political discussions
in the early days. It will focus debate on the essential principles
at issue, rather than repeated bureacratic quibbling over detail. We
will delve into other examples later. (If we decide to dip our toes
into contemporary electoral politics we can also come up with a name
for the implied new political party later)
On a wider scale, what makes this method of socialised decision making
different - and, we would argue, philosophically superior - is that
unlike moral based codes of behaviour, this one is i) based on
no value judgements or unsubstantiated assertions, and is thus ii) able
to remain consistent with the philosophical method we have outlined
in answering questions
1 & 2. Specifically it does not require agreement on the existence
or intentions of anything other than what we see around us. For this
reason, we can reasonably expect the same approach to be common to advanced
intelligences throughout the Universe. It is the rational, the optimal,
solution for any intelligent species. Like the periodic table, its application
goes far beyond the limits of our insignificant sphere.
Of course, this does NOT mean that we should expect intelligences all
to behave the same way, any more than we expect intelligent humans necessarily
to behave the same way. On the other hand, in the same way that it is
no great surprise when, occasionally, people do have similar reactions
to similar stimuli then, by the same token, it should not be hugely surprising
if other species do occasionally behave in ways we are familiar with.
The analogy with chemistry just about holds up. Imagine the difference
between our organic chemistry and that of an intelligent species which
has evolved on one of those - so far imaginary - worlds based on silicon
and fluorine rather than our pedestrian carbon and oxygen. They would,
presumably, look vastly different to us and would use utterly different
tools and materials to shape their worlds. Nevertheless, the same fundamental
survival urge would apply. They will want to stay alive as long as Life
is Worth Living etc. They will need to eat or otherwise 'energise' themselves.
They will probably need to protect themselves, if not from the weather
then from other hostile factors in their environment. They may need to
transport themselves from place to place on their home world. They will
have health maintenance concerns. If they have developed technology beyond
the pointed stick, they will need some means of storing knowledge and
passing it on to their offspring. If they are social beings, they will
face a variety of common problems which require collective decision making
etc etc. Clearly their actions and policies would need to be somewhat
different to our own, in the same way their chemical composition would
be. But we both abide by the same universal "rules", be they chemical
Our conjecture - which obviously can not be tested until we've encountered
a number of extraterrestial intelligent species - is that once a species
reaches a certain stage in its development, it will adopt a rational
code of behaviour, rule-base or constitution; call it what you will.
We contend that it will be entirely consistent with SBE - which we also
advocate for the human race. When that stage is reached we don't know,
though we speculate that it preceeds their emergence as an interstellar
species. Partly this is based on extrapolation of the human case. Partly
on wishful thinking.
Clearly, despite the growing numbers of atheists like ourselves, the
bulk of humanity is not yet ready to give up the psychological teat of
religious belief. Nor is it even prepared to agree on a common religion
or common rules of social behaviour. It acknowledges no common starting
point (which is why exercises like this book
are necessary in the first place).
One of the consequences of the fundamental divisions this fosters in
human society is our painful inability to address communal concerns constructively.
We have manifestly failed, so far, to deal with a large number of global
problems and, to date, look more like exacerbating those problems than
solving any. The means we currently use to tackle communal problems are
often inconsistent, primitive, savage or self serving. Clearly we are
in no fit state to develop technology capable of taking us to the stars.
Nor will we ever reach that position until humanity ceases to be its own
worst enemy. And, from the point of view of any intelligent species already
out there and watching our development, this would probably be considered
a matter of considerable relief.
The conjecture is also wishful thinking to the extent that we rather
hope that any prospective visitors do arrive at such a philosophical
position before they bump into us. Just imagine what it would be like
if, for example, they were, like us, still controlled by anti-autonomists.
Our entire recorded history is based on the struggle between rival belief
systems. And even though that struggle is sometimes socially and technologically
progressive, with few exceptions it is usually the case that, at some
point before a new paradigm becomes dominant, the struggle between old
and new turns to violent means. (Typically the old tries to prevent
the new with physical force. Sometimes the new has to fight for its
place and sometimes the population vote with their feet and simply adopt
the new so completely that the old simply fades into history)
The precedents are not encouraging. Even in our recent history, we have
"ethnically cleansed" South America, North America and Australia.
Christians and Hindus have killed Muslims and vice versa. Nazis have
exterminated Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals. Communists have slaughtered
non communists (and vice versa). Hutu have slaughtered Tutsi etc etc.
All in the belief that their world view and their own codes of behaviour
are "superior" to their victims' and thus justify their violent oppression
of those victims. And all these since the invention of the Printing
Press - which one might have hoped would be among the most civilising
of innovations. One obvious light in the gloom is the development of
the world wide web. It is a platform rather than a paradigm, but it
is lubricating paradigm shifts faster than any previous platform and
doing so in ways which, generally, don't provoke bloodshed.
Nevertheless, only a code of behaviour which rejects the very notion
of absolutes (and thus is simply not inclined to declare itself "morally
superior" or in any way justified in such ruthless suppression of either
dissidence or mere difference) is likely to be "safe" when making contact
with a species still based on less philosophically sound codes.
More bluntly, if the conjecture is wrong, and a technologically superior
species visits Earth in the near future, and they still hold religious
faith in a God, and their God happens to be radically different to any
of the Gods worshipped on this planet (or worse, similar to some - like
the Aztec Gods for example - requiring constant appeasement through ritual
human sacrifice), then they might well also believe that their "mission
from God" is - if we're "lucky" - to "correct" us, or if we are not so
lucky, to eradicate us as being a manifest insult to their God.
Hence, as well as confidently speculating that interstellar technology
isn't possible until the species is united around a value neutral, survival
based behaviour code, and can thus maximise the efforts and benefits
of its self directed evolution - yes; we damn well hope so too!
What is stopping us, right now, from becoming a spacefaring species?
We can't afford it is the simplest answer to that. It requires the resources
of the whole species to achieve the required technological developments
and breakthroughs. Even our wealthiest single nation, the US, is struggling
to maintain its already limited space budget. And, largely because we
are still a developing species, we haven't even achieved the unity of
purpose required to overcome the comparatively simple problems we have
on this planet. We can't even work out how to feed ourselves properly
yet. While more than 800 Million of our fellow humans face starvation
through lack of food, another 300
million are clinically obese through eating too much. A species
that can't even sort out that kind of mess is clearly nowhere near being
able to turn our attention to seriously technical challenges like interstellar
Now, when and if we reach global consensus on a common code of behaviour,
all the nominal reasons for the divisions between us will gradually
disappear. All the
resources wasted on maintaining those divisions will, first, be
applied to raising material standards to a common and "civilised" minimum
level, and thereafter we can begin to address the more esoteric issues
like how we collectively take the next evolutionary steps, biologically,
technologically and cosmographically. Our optimistic forecast, therefore,
is that any intelligent non terrestrial species which contacts us while
we're still in this stage, will be beneficial or at worst benign, on
the basis that they will already be operating under SBE - a Survival
Based Code of Behaviour.
Hopefully, we will eventually choose to do likewise and discard all
other methods of social decision making, be they based on superstition,
tribal domination, greed, divine right, wealth, megalomania, dice throwing
or whatever. Instead we will adopt the rational basis for social decision
making expressed through the simple statement that where
disputes arise or social decisions are required, we
agree to adopt that course of action which appears most likely to maximise
survival. That, in our view, is the only line required
in a Survival Based "Constitution". All the rest is commentary...
We can debate the definition of "survival". Some might wish, for example,
to restrict it to "human survival". We prefer the widest possible
definition. i.e. our aim would be to achieve the greatest degree of
survival for all living things and not just humankind. This does not
mean, for example, that we are vegetarians
or that we all should be. The extent of our communal survival ambitions
will, no doubt, be among the first things we have to agree on.
Or perhaps the first question is: Who is this
"We" are anyone who has an interest in the question. If the issue is
"what colour should we paint the ceiling?" the only "we" that matters
is the small group of individuals who are going to be looking at it. Conversely,
if the question, for example, relates to policies affecting the Ozone
layer or Global Warming, then all life on the planet has an interest.
Not much point, perhaps, in consulting a rhinocerous or plankton about
the issue but certainly any individual who can understand the question
and will be affected by the outcome has an equally
legitimate part to play in deciding the answer. Obviously that includes
all bar mentally ill human beings once they reach a certain level of intellectual
and social development. We may one day learn how to establish the views
- if they have any - of other reasonably advanced terrestrial species,
such as the orca or cetaceans
generally. It will not be long before we will want to include the opinions
of the machine
based intelligences we are about to create. And later still, on issues
affecting our local Galaxy/ies, we can reasonably anticipate that "we"
will include intelligent non terrestrial species.
What we are describing is, of course, the most
fundamental basis for "Democracy". Decisions about what the community
regards as acceptable or unacceptable behaviour or policy can only be
empirically tested by asking all interested members of the community
to indicate their views on each relevant issue. Nothing less will
do, and nothing less is democratic. And as only
one Nation on the planet does in fact routinely operate anything
like regular universal consultation as a central component of its decision
making process, it is not difficult to conclude that there is (almost)
no such thing as a functioning democracy in the World today. This will,
though, be regarded as a somewhat controversial conclusion. The leadership
- and perhaps even large parts of the populations - of all the so called
Western Democracies would protest for certain at any suggestion that
they were not democratic. The reasons for the controversy are not difficult
Essentially, although the basic tenets of democracy are almost universally
accepted as "the ideal", almost no actual democratic systems
exist yet. Instead we are really living in the final days of the monarchist
system - where absolute power still lies in the hands of rulers, not
the ruled. However, in order to quell "subversive" demands
for the final abolition of oligarchy
and implementation of true democracy, the existing establishment uses
all opportunities and all means to portray democracy not as "People
Power" but as "Government Power" limited by periodic
elections. Here, in Britain, even major pillars of that establishment
have acknowledged the inherent dishonesty in such a portrayal and have
accurately described even the UK (widely thought of as among the leading
western democracies) as an "elective
Of course, the dispute here is the definition of "Democracy"
and we'll get into that below, but the very idea that social decision
making can be delegated for four or five years at a time, to a few hundred
priveleged members of a ruling class who can then, in any meaningful
way, remain genuinely representative of the voters who elect them is
patently absurd and clearly not borne out by any study of public opinion
on a wide range of issues. Consider, for example, how widespread the
support for Capital Punishment is in most Western democracies and how
few actually exercise it. Most democracies fall at the first hurdle
- the election of representatives. A democratic representative is -
or should be - a delegate.
A delegate can be instructed how to vote and, generally, only has a
"free hand" on issues their constituents have not indicated
a preference. A delegate can be recalled at any time. How many parliaments
are based on such delegated authority? The Americans have it for their
State electoral systems, which is why we saw Arnold Schwarzenegger become
the Governor of California. And other American State procedures
are inherently democratic - the "initiatives"
or "propositions" for example, serve the same function as
the Swiss Referendum; though not quite as flexibly and not quite as
beyond the control of the establishment. The Swiss government could
not, for example, get away with outlawing a particular referendum because
they disapproved of the question or the answer. Yet the Americans have
done so dozens of times, particularly, for example, on the question
of the medicinal use of cannabis.
At least the Americans recognise the principle of "recall".
Not so the UK.
The basis on which a British Member of Parliament is elected is that
s/he alone is entitled to vote according to their conscience on each
and every issue until the next election. Thus the voter cannot even
assume that the candidate will necessarily vote in favour of the particular
set of policies promoted by the party s/he stands for. Moreover, few
normal voters, if they support a party at all, are happy to support
the entire manifesto of that party and have absolutely no way of indicating
which policies they support and which they oppose. In any case the British
MP boasts of their constitutional right to ignore such party politics
and vote purely on the basis of their own assessment of the issues.
Which means that the voter can never be sure of what policies they are
voting for. And even if they were sure that their chosen candidate would
follow the party line, there is nothing in the British constitution
which obliges a victorious party to deliver on its promises. Nothing
prevents it breaking them. Worst of all, there is nothing to stop the
victorious party making entirely new policies which weren't even discussed
at the preceding election.
It is this latter problem, in respect of the 2nd Gulf War against Iraq
which began in earnest on Mar 20 2003, which has prompted the current
re-write of this chapter. The United Kingdom isn't the oldest western
claims that title. (Manx disputes it). But it is the oldest Major
Parliament and remains the model for more Parliaments or Governing Systems
than any other. Yet it is still the case that the British Government,
essentially meaning the "Prime Minister", can decide to take
the country into war not just without consulting The People - to whom
Power is supposed to belong in a democracy - but even without consulting
the elected representatives of the People in Parliament. The right to
declare War is a power still held under the so called "Royal Prerogative"
- essentially the revised name for what used to be called the "divine
right of Kings".
In fact, the Blair government has established, in this case, a clear
historical precedent by allowing its final decision on going to war
to be determined by a vote in the House of Commons. This has never happened
before - not even for the second World War. Clearly - and probably correctly
- Prime Minister Blair recognised the enormous political risk of going
to war without support of Parliament. Equally clearly he was undeterred
by the wealth of evidence that the support of Parliament was NOT democratically
representative of the will of the People. Like most "moral authoritarians"
his lip service to democracy is curtailed by what he considers his fundamental
duty; to "do
what he believes to be right."
Regardless of what you may think of his strategy, his motives or his
personal committment - and actually, one can justify considerable sympathy
for all three, as discussed in the Third World War dossier
- and whatever other terms you may use to describe the British political
system, the one thing demonstrated by these historical events is that
the system very clearly is
NOT Democratic. And this will remain true even if, after a couple
of years, when the dust has settled and things have clearly improved,
the public heaves a collective sigh of relief and heaps praise and subsequent
democratic approval for his wisdom and courage in standing up for what
he believes in. Clearly in such circumstances, Blair will be able to
argue that his decisions were justified and "Right". We should
have no difficulty in accepting that. But being considered wise after
the event, even being right - still isn't democratic.
Like Blair, Democrats will argue passionately for what they believe
in. But Democrats will settle the argument with a plebiscite or referendum
to determine which arguments have achieved popular support. When this
section was in its first draft - the weekend of the Azores meeting (16
Mar 2003) - Blair was not even prepared to commit, publicly, to seeking
endorsement of Parliament. And of course, he certainly had no intention
of asking The People directly. Hardly surprising. On the most important
"policy" issue any government can ever be involved in, NO
country in the world has allowed its People to make, or even participate
in that decision. None.. Ever. (That we know about)
Except, possibly - and only by accident - for Germany - who, fortuitously,
had held their general election in the midst of the Iraq crisis. Gerhard
Schroeder was re-elected almost certainly because of his opposition
to the American approach to the problem. Iraq was easily the dominant
issue in the election. Germany's government could, exclusively, thus
claim some democratic mandate for its position. At best most so called
democratic governments around the world are guessing a) what their people
feel about the war and b) what they can get away with.
Thousands of lives are at stake, possibly, in the longer
term, millions, including our own. And We The People are letting the
governments, WE are supposed to control, GUESS what we want??!!
Clearly its time we evolved another step.
In this sense, at least, we can almost welcome the current confrontation
between the People and the Establishment. Never has it been made more
clear to voters around the world in general and British voters in particular,
just how Powerless they really are or how toothless their alleged democracies.
The biggest street demonstrations in history, in a large number of European
nations, failed to influence their governments. If this does not at
least begin the clamour for genuine democratisation, then it is difficult
to imagine what would. The problem is, though, that the strength of
any such campaign may depend crucially on progress in the ongoing war.
As democrats, we have to acknowledge that the result most likely to
produce a major improvement in the political system is precisely the
result which would be worst for the World in general. In other words,
if Blair's support for Bush's war produces various disastrous outcomes,
as many predict, then the call for real democracy the world
over should be enormously strengthened. On the other hand, if all goes
well, Iraq is transformed into the land of milk and honey and the Middle
East crisis is resolved on the back of it, as Bush predicts, then this
will be bad news for real democrats the world over. The Authoritarians
will have proved their point - as they already argue that they did -
with some justification - in Kosovo and Bosnia.
Frankly, they've got a point. Seriously.
The world may not be ready for real democracy. We The People may be
too politically immature to be allowed to make our own decisions. Perhaps
a Meritocracy is a safer bet and we should continue simply to select
more qualified people to act in our best interests - much as we trust
our stockbrokers or bankers to look after our wealth, or our doctors
to take care of our health. Governing, in this world view, is a profession,
a calling, and only those with the aptitude can handle its complexities.
During their period of office, they require absolute power of course,
but only in our collective best interests and we can at least limit
their terms of office.
When you consider how racist, homophobic, sexist, and generally intolerant
most of The People are, how easily led they are by the media and by peer
pressures, how undereducated the average voter is, and how indifferent
they are to most of the issues which require political judgement, how
ignorant they are about the world they live in and the scientific developments
which are about to change that world, then perhaps it is better that we
are ruled by wiser, more liberal, men and women who want nothing more
than to spend all their time serving our collective interests.
For instance: as we touched on above, if we lived in a real democracy,
in which simple majorities are the basis for decision making, then one
racing certainty is that most countries, certainly including the UK,
would re-introduce Capital Punishment. This makes it a good litmus test
for any professed democrat. Ask the alleged democrat if they would be
prepared to accept the re-introduction of Capital Punishment as a result
of a referendum on the issue. You'd be amazed how many trendy liberal
apparent democrats balk at even allowing the public to vote on such
questions. That, for them, is taking democracy one step too far. Listen
carefully to the reasons they give for not submitting such a question
to the people. Their answers explain why we have yet to achieve even
the basic "Majority Rule" form of democracy.
Democracy does not mean "nice".
Democracy does not mean Liberal, Progressive, Tolerant, anti-racist,
or any of the other aspirational qualities the chattering classes would
like it to mean. The Weimar Republic, with an electoral system based
on Proportional Representation, was arguably considerably more democratic
than either the United Kingdom or the United States and they
elected Adolf Hitler. They liked what he was telling them.
"We the People" can make mistakes to rival those of any other
decision making process. Democracy most certainly doesn't mean "right".
This is a powerful argument in favour of continued "Benign Authoritarianism".
And we shouldn't object to Authoritarians putting that argument honestly
and openly. What we can and should protest loudly against is the continued
pretence that any
of the political systems we currently have are already democratic. That
is the kind of dishonesty which brings otherwise tolerable regimes into
disrepute and, eventually, dispute with their People. The question is,
not "Have we got Democracy?" We plainly have not. The question
is: Are We Ready for Democracy?
Could we really handle it? Do "We the People" even understand
what democracy is? Certainly our elected
representatives don't. Do we understand the risks and what sort of
changes it will produce?
What does Democracy look like? Lets concentrate on that for a moment.
One of the few areas of agreement you will find on the topic of Democracy
is that there is no widely agreed definition of it. Check out, for example,
effort to promote Democracy through the electoral process.
|There is no clear-cut, universal definition of democracy.
Most definitions of democracy focus on qualities, procedures and institutions.
There are many types of democracies and their varied practices produce
similarly varied effects. The learner's own understanding, experience
and beliefs, and the history that their particular country has passed
through, should be incorporated to create a definition that is meaningful
and practical for their everyday life.
Democracy does not consist of a single, unique set of institutions
that are universally applicable. The specific form that democracy
takes in a country is largely determined by prevailing political,
social, and economic circumstances and it is greatly influenced
by historical, traditional, and cultural factors.
Message 1 - nobody agrees what Democracy is, so Governments are free
to define it for themselves. As an exercise for the class, find a regime
which does NOT define itself as Democratic. As we've previously mentioned,
the Third Reich certainly considered itself Democratic. So did the "Union
of Soviet Socialist Republics" and so does the "People's
Democratic Republic of China".
Actually, there are quite a few self confessed non democracies. Saudi
Arabia, for instance, proudly boasts of being a kingdom in the true
medieval sense rather than the modern emasculated European sense. They're
not the only Arab example, and in Africa you will still find kingdoms
in the stone age sense. Afghanistan under the Taliban was a theocracy
- and Iran remains one. In fact of the 191
member states of the United Nations, only 106 call themselves democratic
(or, to be precise, 106 have signed up as members of the UN
Democratic Caucus.) So a little over half the world's existing governments
believe themselves to be democratic. Some - despite calling themselves
"The Peoples Democratic Republic" or similar - do not appear
list of the "community of democracies". Examples include:
The Lao People's Democratic Republic, the Democratic Republic of The
Congo, the Somali Democratic Republic, the (former) German Democratic
Republic (East Germany) and, home to a fifth of the human race, The
Peoples Democratic Republic of China.
There is clearly some considerable dispute about the definition/s of
democracy. Lets take a look at some of them
Most readings in democracy begin with identifying where the word came
from and where the first, recorded and formalised practice of democracy
started. They also provide definitions of democracy that have been used
over time. Following are a number of definitions, from very simple to
more complex. These definitions could be used to inform the definitions
that learners have themselves formulated in discussion.
"Democracy comes from the Greek words demos
meaning 'people' and kratos meaning 'authority' or 'power'. "
"...government which is conducted with the freely given
consent of the people."
"...a system of government in which supreme authority lies
with the people."
"Rule by the people in a country directly or by representation."
"The form of government in which political control is exercised
by all the people, either directly or through their elected representatives."
"The word 'democracy' itself means 'rule by the people.'
A democracy is a system where people can change their rulers in
a peaceful manner and the government is given the right to rule
because the people say it may."
A quick look at those definitions:
"...government which is conducted with the freely given consent
of the people." probably fits the Chinese self image perfectly.
Of course, they don't pursue any objective means of measuring that consent,
and they stomp fairly heavily on any evidence of dissent.
"The word 'democracy' itself means 'rule by the people.' A
democracy is a system where people can change their rulers in a peaceful
manner and the government is given the right to rule because the people
say it may." This is one step up from the Chinese model. Here
we get to elect "Rulers".
Democracy does away with Rulers. That, surely, is its whole point and
"...a system of government in which supreme authority lies
with the people." is a genuine characteristic of a Democracy
but not a definition. Why not? Because it is deliberately limited by
the weasel word "supreme". Democracy places ALL the authority
in the people, not just the periodic "supreme" right to licence
those who will exercise authority on our behalf.
"The form of government in which political control is exercised
by all the people, either directly or through their elected representatives."
This definition comes closest to describing a Democracy. There is nothing
undemocratic about electing representatives as long as they remain representative
delegates and not Rulers. (i.e. mechanisms exist to instruct the representative
on how to represent their electorate on specific issues (decided by that
electorate) and to recall representatives who fail to carry out such instructions
or perform other public actions which cause the electors to lose confidence
in the representative)
Later it produces what is claimed to be the expert consensus on how to
judge whether or not a country is Democratic:
|Minimum Requirements for a Country to be Defined
as a Democracy (according to the
With an upsurge in the number of democracies holding free and
fair elections and declaring themselves democratic states, a set
of minimum requirements has been developed by some theorists. Elections
on their own do not make a country democratic. The following list
of minimum requirements has been extracted by a study of democracies
and by reading various theories of democracy. It provides both a
good overview of what democracy means and a standard against which
to test whether or not a country is democratic.
* control over government decisions about policy constitutionally
vested in elected representatives
* elected representatives chosen in frequent and fair elections
* elected representatives exercise their constitutional powers without
facing overriding opposition from unelected officials
* all adults have the right to vote in elections
* all adults have the right to run for public office
* citizens have the right to express themselves on political matters,
defined broadly, without the risk of state punishment
* citizens have the right to seek out alternative sources of information,
such as the news media, and such sources are protected by law
* citizens have the right to form independent associations and organisations,
including independent political parties and interest groups
* government is autonomous and able to act independently from outside
constraints (such as those imposed by alliances and blocs)
If any of these conditions is not present, experts argue that
the country is not truly a democracy.
Note how this fails at the first test. "control over government
decisions about policy constitutionally vested in elected representatives".
Democracies might elect representatives and even delegate
authority to them. But any such delegation is always conditional (through
the mandating and recall systems) and final control MUST always
be in the hands of the People.
We can't quarrel with the second test: elected representatives chosen
in frequent and fair elections. We would merely insert the additional
requirements for mandate and recall.
The third test (no blockage from unelected officials) is uncontroversial.
The fourth test is fine all adults have the right to vote in elections
but, on its own, inadequate. All adults have the right to vote on much
more than mere elections. They have the right to vote on any issue they
collectively decide needs voting upon. Also we don't see a need to restrict
franchise based on age. (See comments below) But if we have to concede
it, why not do something imaginative? Like coming up with a means of
recognising adulthood on the basis of something other than age. How
about the first time a person makes a contribution to the debate which
is peer-reviewed as being worthy of "the vote". The democratic
rite of passage. The peer review doesn't have to be anything formal.
All citizens, adult or otherwise would be entitled to participate in
debate. The debate might be within the community, the country, the world.
But any non adult may offer up their thoughts on any issue and, should
the majority of adults listening (or reading) - whether they agree with
the view expressed or not - recognise the contribution as a valuable
addition to the discussion, they can immediately nominate the non adult
for voting status, and thus adulthood.
Those who cannot bring themselves to contribute in debates would have
a default age of majority - say 18 - from which age they'd be entitled
to vote regardless of participation in debates. What does this do? It
gives status to participation in the community. It makes it desirable.
That can't be a bad idea.
all adults have the right to run for public office by which
we assume they mean those positions for which elections are held. Uncontroversial.
One can see how and why discussion of Democracy as a concept becomes
confused when we look at the next two tests.
They refer to freedom of expression and freedom of association. These
are desirable, of course, and we obviously support them. But they are
nothing to do with Democracy in the logical sense. Milk, Udders and
Cows are clearly related. But the definition of a Cow is not merely
an animal which produces Milk. (So does every other mammal). Similarly,
other political systems can provide freedom of speech, to varying degrees
up to and including complete freedom. Other political systems permit
freedom of association. A meritocracy, for example, REQUIRES both freedoms
if it is to function at all effectively. Anarchy and Libertarian Communism
both DEMAND complete freedom of both speech and association. We argue
that - with the possible exception of Switzerland - there isn't a Democratic
country on the planet. Yet it is clearly the case that freedom of speech
and freedom of association are quite widespread - particularly in the
liberal Western states. So, clearly, these freedoms, worthwhile and
worth fighting for though they may be, are not unique to Democracy and
by no means a definition of it. It is probably this particular confusion
- that free speech is synonymous with democracy - which leads so many
people erroneously to believe they live in one.
Furthermore, it is conceivable, for example, that a Democratic decision
might limit either freedom of expression or association without breaching
their Democratic credentials.
There is an even more frightening prospect for those who argue that
one of the justifications for the War on Iraq is the implementation
of Democracy in place of the existing Dictatorship. Suppose, when the
dust settles, that the Iraqis decide, with huge democratic support,
to reinstate a dictatorship, or to establish an Iranian style Theocracy,
or to resume the production of WMD in their own legitimate military
interests (for example to give them a chance of resisting any future
invasions by the United States). What then? Suppose that ALL the Arab
states become Democracies and all vote for Jihad against the West? What
This is relevant when we consider one of naive mantras of the neocons
driving American policy. They argue that one solution to conflict is
the spread of American style democracy, on the grounds that democracies
don't go to war. They are of course completely correct. Switzerland
has never gone to war. Everybody else, though, has done; including virtually
all of those nations who consider themselves, erroneously but apparently
sincerely, democracies. As you will read in that linked piece, they
justify excluding, for example, the democracy of the Third Reich, by
arguing that while it was elected democratically, once it got into power
it stifled dissent, ended elections and thus made itself undemocratic.
Precisely so. And what stops any other "democracy" from following
the same path?
The point being that it is completely conceivable and not at all inconsistent
with genuine Democracy, that a population can democratically decide
to perform horrendous acts, either against their neighbours, through
alliances with terrorism against the world in general, or indeed, against
their own minorities. Such acts may well be regarded as insane and,
one can argue, reasonably, that such decisions are less likely in a
Democracy but nevertheless they are conceivable. There are and can be
no limits to where Democrats choose to exercise their power. Only they
can agree where such limits lie. Not for nothing do some object to Democracy
as "Tyranny of the Masses". The case for Democracy should
never be based on assertions that its decisions will be wiser or more
humane than current systems of Government. History may make such judgements
in the long term but, candidly, in the short term, life in Democracies
could be less stable and less humane than in current societies. The
major advantage of Democracies is that they can, theoretically, correct
errors much more quickly than current societies which are based on a
precarious balance of vested interests. The disadvantage, in the early
days, will probably be a higher error rate. It may take a couple of
generations before the longer term survival advantages of Democracy
We have our own suggested tests for a Democracy.
Minimum requirements for a Country to be defined as a Democracy
(according to the RTP)
*universal suffrage - anyone capable of understanding a Democratic
question and who considers themselves affected by it, is automatically
entitled to participate in any vote on that question. Similarly
all those entitled to vote are also entitled to stand for any
*all policy decisions remain, individually, under the ultimate
control of the People at all times
*optional delegation of day to day management through elected representatives
who can be recalled by voters at any time and who can be instructed
to vote and act in accordance with the democratically measured wishes
of their electors
*Democratic control of the Judiciary
Universal suffrage should be uncontroversial, though the elimination
of arbitrary barriers such as age will surprise some. Essentially, age
barriers are indefensible. Anyone who understands the question being
debated and feels moved to participate in the debate or the vote should
be given a fair hearing and permitted an equal entitlement to vote.
The fact that they may be only 12 years old, or whatever, has no bearing
on their right to be heard. Nor is it likely ever to be the case that
a critical social decision is swayed one way or the other by the power
of the sub teen vote. A more rational - meritocratic - argument can
be made for limiting voting rights on the basis of comprehension or
intellect than age. Certainly there are many 14-16 year olds with a
far deeper understanding of some issues than you will find in many "mature"
adults. It should be obvious why an SBE based democracy would reject
such an argument with equal derision. But just in case it isn't...
The fundamental purpose of voting is the measure of the collective
pain pleasure matrix by summing those of individuals. The reason why
an individual experiences or anticipates pain or pleasure the way they
do is utterly irrelevant to their equal status as a decision maker.
The only influence their personal reasoning may have is the influence
they achieve in the debate on the point at issue. Clearly the more articulate
and well reasoned a point of view, the more likely it is to affect the
outcome of the vote. Someone whose contribution amounts to a prejudiced
rant may attract the support of those who share their prejudice. They
are unlikely to sway more rational voters and, if anything, are likely
to reduce support for their position by exposing it to the debate, where,
hopefully, it will be intellectually challenged. Even where that self
regulating mechanism fails, and produces, for example, another nazi
regime, we can not oppose a clearly demonstrated democratic verdict.
Both individually and collectively, the human race is entitled to fail
the evolutionary tests and to self destruct. Obviously we don't want
that. But we can't make rules to protect us from our own stupidity.
We can only hope our collective intelligence outweighs it.
The fluidity of Policy is a crucial component of a democratic
process. There can be no laws passed which are unamendable (except perhaps,
that one. Sort out that paradox!). The precise mechanism for amendment
can itself be debated for years and is not a debate we intend to get
into here. Clearly if the mechanism raises too high a barrier to amendment,
then it is anti-democratic, whereas, if the mechanism makes amendment
too simple, there may be a risk of instability. Again, the Swiss seem
to have arrived at a reasonable compromise and their model makes a good
The Recall requirement is equally crucial if we choose to delegate
authority to elected representatives. If they are seen to abuse that
authority (or fail to exercise it appropriately) then any democratic
system should include a mechanism for removing the representative between
elections. Again this is not a novel concept (we've already referred
to the Arnold Schwarzenneger example) and we don't need to describe
The controversial criterion is going to be Democratic control of
the Judiciary. One of the most obvious ways in which current systems
fail the tests for Democracy is that the final authority on legal matters
never rests with the People, it either resides in their Governments
or the Judges appointed by those Governments. This is the final vestige
of the "divine right of authority".Yet the most intimate way
in which society interacts with its members is when it decides that
they have infringed democratically determined rules so seriously that
society must devote resources to detaining the offending individual,
making them account for their actions and, if society is not satisfied
with the account, punishing the individual. There can be no greater
justification for democratic involvement than the censure of fellow
We cannot prescribe precisely how a democratic judiciary would function.
That must be for major democratic debate. But we can outline the kind
of things we would expect to see in a Judiciary where the central authority
was based on the Jury rather than the Judge.
Under such a system, the judge would never be the final word - the
Jury would. The operation of the Justice system would be one of the
most important ways in which society - through the Jury system - monitored
the application of the laws which they had democratically implemented.
For most of the time, the legal process may not look dramatically different
than it does today. There would be some significant differences. A trivial
one - trivial but necessary to emphasise the change in the power structure
- would be that rather than have the court rise on the entry of the
judge, it would only rise on entry of the jury; The Representatives
of the People. A defendant brought before a court would have the usual
rights to plead guilty or not guilty and to have the merits of the case
judged by a Jury of his peers. With a Democratic Judiciary, they would
have a major additional right: to plead that the law itself, under which
the charges were brought, was unjust either in principle or in specific
application to their case.
A Jury would hear the arguments put for and against such a proposition.
A Judge would begin the process by presenting their own views on the
applicability and appropriateness of the Law under which the prosecution
had been brought. Presumably the prosecuting advocate would defend their
intent to prosecute under existing law and the defending advocate would
make the opposite case. Both sides and the Jury would be entitled to
call expert witnesses on the law, its intent and previous implementation.
The Judge would sum up and make their own recommendation, the Jury would
decide. If the Jury decides to procede with the case, a similar set
of arrangements would then deal with the facts of the case and they
would make their next decision on the question of guilt or innocence.
If they find the defendant guilty, the Judge will then list the range
of penalties considered appropriate for the crime and the Jury would
make its decision on the level of penalty appropriate in the case.
If the Jury rejected the law, the first consequence would be the acquittal
of the defendant. Following that acquittal, however, a suitable mechanism
would come into play to determine whether this required a new democratic
mandate either to restate support for that law, to revise it in the
light of the circumstances revealed by the case, or to reject it entirely.
The first stage in that mechanism would probably consist of a plenary
session involving the Jury, the judge, the advocates and perhaps external
expert witnesses, all putting their case to a new and larger Jury whose
sole purpose would be to decide whether a change in the law requiring
wider Democratic involvement was necessary. This would be a public (web
based and moderated) debate open to interested citizens who could submit
their own questions through the moderators to the upper Jury and discuss
the issues as they saw fit. In most cases, we would anticipate a new
consensus would emerge pretty quickly and appropriate steps would be
made to formalise any appropriate changes in the law.
A similar mechanism would be invoked in those rare and extreme cases
where the case Jury decides that the relevant Law under which a prosecution
has been brought is indeed inappropriate but that either another existing
law is appropriate or that an entirely new Law is necessary and that
the defendant must face charges under either the alternate or the new
law. This would allow a democratic legal system to react to new kinds
of criminal behaviour which are made possible, for example, by emerging
technologies and have not been anticipated until the crime takes place.
There are two angles to this. On the one hand, it would be incumbent
on the prosecution to prove that, regardless of existing laws, the defendant
had caused harm to a third party without their informed consent. On
the other, one could argue, however, that all criminal law could be
replaced by that requirement alone, in which case, all other considerations
become academic. However, in practice, the tedious debates about what
constitutes harm, informed consent and so on will be considerably shortened
by being able to refer to precedent - i.e. case law. Essentially the
formal process of agreeing outline laws would be a pragmatic attempt
to anticipate most of the situations which, otherwise, case law would
have to grind out.
Examples in our own recent history might illustrate how the power to
initiate new Laws would have been rather useful: Paedophilia, particularly
"grooming" of child targets in chat rooms by adults. Less
contentious examples include copyright and censorship issues on the
Web and so on.
Technically, it can be argued that juries almost have such powers right
now and that only ignorance prevents them fulfilling this democratic
function. They can't make or recommend new Law, but, despite their ignorance,
they, very occasionally, do exercise their power to reject the law.
The process is known as Jury
Nullification and most of the judiciary do their best actively to
discourage it. They will not permit a direct appeal to the Jury to exercise
this power, so most juries sit in ignorance of their authority. Some
judiciaries have even ejected jurors from service on learning that they
publicly disapprove of the law governing the case. In a Democracy such
manipulation by the judges would itself be illegal.
The Jury process demonstrates how democracy does not require all of
us to be actively involved in making democratic decisions day after
day. The major decisions and laws are made by referenda. These referenda
are commonplace, but not continuous. In Switzerland, for example, they
average 15 referenda per year. With web based referenda we might expect
a couple per month. The laws are implemented by the executive whom we
elect for the purpose of day to day management, and whom we can recall
at any time, either individually or collectively, should we lose our
confidence in their stewardship. Juries are the oversight of that management,
on behalf of "We The People", which ensures that the laws
are being carried out in line with our initial intent, and that they
make as much sense in practice, as they did on the theoretical drawing
board. The Jury gives us the democratic mechanism for saying "this
law is no longer appropriate - scrap it" or "this law is OK,
in the main, but there are some circumstances in which it should be
amended as follows:"
Where Parliaments (or similar) made up of elected representatives form
the chosen practical mechanism for delegating authority for day to day
management of Democratic policies, the random selection of juries is
the vital practical mechanism for deciding, in a variety of situations
- not just criminal or civil trials - whether the executive's application
of the policies are in line with the Democratic intent and wishes of
Juries, not Judges, should decide, for example, whether elected representatives
are justified in maintaining secrecy on a particular issue; whether
otherwise illicit surveillance of a citizen is justified; whether covert
military action against potential terrorists was justified, etc etc.
The specific Jury will, of course, be sworn to secrecy, but it will
have the complete authority to make the decisions - and to demand evidence
that their decision has been correctly implemented. Their deliberations,
though secret, would be recorded and protected in a secure
audit trail. If they have reason to believe that their decisions
are being ignored, they also have the power to bring the matter into
the open for full Democratic discussion.
There is no reason why Jury oversight should not be exercised over
every branch of the executive and any organisations run by the community
on our behalf. Juries should be the ultimate authority in control, for
example, of the Prison system. The prisoner's final appeal should not
be to a politician. If the prisoner is dissatisfied with the politician's
ruling, then they should have the right of final appeal to to a Jury
of his peers.
So too with Schools, Hospitals, Police Departments, The Intelligence
service, The Military.
Of course it isn't a Jury that decides whether we go to war or not.
That should require a full referendum with, hopefully, a high majority
requirement. But there is no reason, for example, why a Jury can't make
decisions on security matters, such as whether certain information should
be released to the public or not. If the experts persuade them that
there is good cause for secrecy, the Jury can record their decisions,
securely, for later review. They can stipulate the period of time for
which the information can remain secret. The experts might demand 20
years. The Jury might allow 10, or a compromise - that the facts should
be reviewed in 10 years time by a different Jury and that they should
decide then whether secrecy was still in the public interest.
Can we imagine circumstances in which it would be acceptable for a Jury
to approve secrecy?
Skip the military examples. They are obvious and short term; rarely
required after the victory has been won - unless intelligence assets
remain in the field. But suppose a genetic researcher at Porton Down
discovers a relatively easy way to graft on the nastier bits of Ebola
to something as robustly infectious as the common cold. The Ministry
of Defence requests that the Jury authorise secrecy. Experts - including
Jury nominated experts if they so wish - all agree that if this information
gets into the hands of terrorists, Millions could die. It would be surprising,
in such circumstances, if a Jury disagreed with the expert advice that
disclosure of such information is against the public interest.
In short, with periodic elections of delegates, recall on demand, referenda
to decide major policy issues and juries overseeing day to day management,
there is no good reason why democracy cannot be implemented in modern
western, and, eventually, all other societies.
Remember, the point of democracy is that on basic behavioural questions,
(which, up to now, have been called "moral" issues) nobody has
- nor, without telepathy, can they have - any greater insight than anyone
else into what will achieve the greatest degree of "collective
perceived survival advantage". Generally, if you're of sound mind,
Nobody knows better than you what is good for you, your friend, your
neighbour, your enemy. This is because a large element of the decision
must rest on the feelings and opinions (the pain pleasure matrix) of
those affected by the outcome - which can only be measured by some form
of plebiscite. Sure, some of the discussion may be straightforwardly
empirical - effect on life expectancy, number of lives saved or whatever
- and experts and representatives of special interest groups will present
the facts that are known and offer degrees of expert opinion on the
implications of that evidence for We the People - in the form or Juries
or entire Electorates - to decide upon. But the facts aren't the only
things that influence people. We will always need to measure feelings.
Expert opinion and probing interrogation on all sides of any debate
is an essential prerequisite for rational decision making. The intelligent
rational democrat will be hugely influenced by such opinion if s/he
is new to the issue. But, over and above any objectively measured empirical
evidence, many such issues will still be determined by individual
perceptions of their own pain/pleasure matrix and no one else can get
inside your head to decide what effect a particular issue has either
on your existing pain/pleasure levels or on how you anticipate a particular
proposal will affect your wellbeing or your perception of wider social
Hence, if we want to get a fully accurate assessment of the net effect
on perceived survival costs or benefits, every individual has to
make clear their own perceptions. Anything less is guesswork. And
that is the fundamental case for "democracy". It is the necessary
attempt to gather empirical data on that crucial aspect of Survival
estimation - people's perception of the potential effects of a given
proposal on their own pain/pleasure matrix; which we more normally call
their "opinions". In a democracy we really do want and need
to know what people think. Not in the involuntary "Big Brother"
sense in which the extreme authoritarian would love to know what you
think. As democrats we desperately need you to express your opinion
- in secret if you prefer - but express it you must, if you want to
live in a democracy. The result may still represent the kind of mix
of best guesses, prejudice, ignorance, random indifference, naked self-interest
or, occasionally, well thought out positions which we see in political
decisions made today, on our behalf, by the elected dictators. The difference
with democracy is that the decision will include everybody's best guesses,
prejudices, ignorance, indifference, self-interest and well thought
out conclusions. Is that necessarily going to be produce a "better"
society? Not at all, just one which commands more democratic support
than any rival systems. Will it be "fairer"? Only in the sense
that everybody's self interested decision will have equal weight. But
it is still conceivable, for example, that a largely white society could
vote for policies which discriminate against their black fellow citizens
and thus produce the same kind of unfairness we already have. Democracy
isn't a cure for all evils.
Democracy, though - even in the restricted sense of "Majority
Rule" - is a whole lot better than what we live with at
the start of the 21st century.. "Tyranny of the Majority"
is clearly more defensible than the "Tyranny of the Minority"
we all live under today. Nevertheless, mere Majority Rule is far from
perfect and should not be our longer term aim. The fullest and most
rewarding form of democracy (remember it means, simply, "People
Power", not "Majority Rule") is Consensus and
this is the true target for a civilised decision making process. The
risk of Majority Rule is precisely that "Tyranny Of The Majority"
some fear. If the majority really do implement policies which a substantial
minority view us unfair and unjust, then the mere fact that a majority
support that unfairness doesn't render it fair and doesn't do anything
to reduce the likelihood of resistance in any form from simple "refusal
to comply" right up to terrorism or even civil war. To reduce that
risk requires, as near as damn it, finding a set of policies which achieve
Efficiency. Not a term normally applied to political arrangements,
it is, nevertheless an excellent summary of the problem. The idea is
that if you can't make everyone happy - at the very least,
don't make anyone less happy!
It means finding the policy or compromise which produces both maximum
support and minimum opposition. How, for example, could we deal with
the currently burning issue in the UK (though noone in the rest of the
world understands why!) of Hunting With Dogs - which the Government
has just (Nov 2004) banned.
Democratically they're probably on safe ground. Polls consistently
show at least a 2 to 1 majority in favour of such a ban. But is that
really good enough? Do we really want to alienate a couple of million
of our citizens? Do we really want them to feel that - to that extent
at least - they no longer belong in our communities? That they should
be looked upon as common criminals. Worse than some. Do we really want
to turn the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible into social pariahs?
They're part of the furniture dammit! Of course their sport is barbaric.
But they're part of the culture. Let it die out in its own good time.
We don't need to stomp on them with jackboots. The Royal Family is part
of the culture. Some have expressed surprise that anarchists can defend
the continued indulgence of a Royal Family. It really isn't an issue.
They're a living museum and any sensible analysis of the finances show
that they are a damn good earner for UK plc. As long as they continue
to hold no real powers and continue to pay for themselves, there is
no good reason to remove them - even once we become a real democracy.
They'll still be damn good for tourism!
That's called compromise that is. Pragmatism. We need more of it.
The Fox Hunting crowd are incredibly wound up over this issue. Even
if one is opposed to their behaviour, one ought to be asking the question,
does the behaviour I disapprove of offend me so much that I would wish
to imprison those who do it against my wishes? If you really can answer
that question with a yes, then continue to support the oppression of
your fellow citizens. And if we were talking about paedophilia, there
would be a clear consensus that, Yes, we would like to lock them up
if they can't control their sexual urges in relation to children; but
few of us are quite so upset about fox hunting. We'd prefer to see a
No new hunts. All the packs that exist today are all there ever will
be (subject to a major change in the consensus, naturally). No "advertising"
or "recruitment". No public "glorification". In
other words, we - the non hunting opponents of your behaviour - will
tolerate it providing you keep it low profile and do nothing to try
to expand its participation. We'll take the long term view that withdrawing
"the oxygen of publicity" will eventually reduce participation
to the extent that the practice dies out naturally.
This, of course, is a less than perfect solution. But, short of holodecks,
no perfect solution is yet possible, so we have to implement the best
we can. We have to satisfy not just "the democratic majority"
but as many of the minority as possible as well. Otherwise we are deliberately
dividing our society into various hostile groups. Hostile groups who,
seeing that democracy cannot work for them, feel justified and even
compelled to take increasing extreme measures to defend or impose their
views against a hostile society. This is the prime reason we need consensus
- for our own long term security.
Globally of course, MIFT are the most dramatic example
of the need for consensus. Small numbers of hostile dedicated opponents
can inflict considerable death and damage. Technology is going to provide
weapons and means of delivery which make such hostiles' attacks easier
to launch and more difficult to defend against. Consensus has two roles
to play in the Third World War. First it reduces political hostility
- if we can reach stable compromises then the political conditions which
give rise to Terrorism - or any form of hostility - will be massively
reduced. Second, the remaining irreconcileable elements who insist on
attacking the rest of us still need to be defended against. As you can
read in the article on Identity, Security and Trusted Surveillance,
the measures we need to implement in our defense will only work with
overwhelming consensus in favour of their implementation (and equal
rates of adoption).
The problem with Consensus - in its purest sense - is that it is a
much more difficult objective than mere Majority. It is only genuinely
reached when there are no further objections to a given proposal. Clearly,
if you can get it, any policy which commands that degree of support
from the People, is likely to be a lot easier to implement and police
than one which barely commands the support of a simple majority - let
alone those which don't even attract majority support or have never
been tested. As you can read in the Swiss
link, their form of democracy has had the side effect of making
a (less than pure, but still obviously effective) form of Consensus
a practical necessity. As a result, it is no accident that Switzerland
retains its long standing reputation as one of, if not the, most peaceful
and law abiding communities in the world, where, despite, for example,
having the highest levels of gun ownership in Europe, they have the
lowest levels of gun crime and crime in general. Majority Rule democracy
is merely either a step in the right direction or a fall back position
when consensus is not possible and a decision MUST be taken. Let's illustrate
why with some examples.
A dozen workers are employed by a small textile firm. They have a small
canteen with microwave, fridge sink, table. and chairs. 7 of them are
vegetarian and revolted by the smell of meat. They demand the exclusion
of meat from the canteen. What is the democratic solution to this problem?
Seven outvote Five. Meat is banned. Vegetarians happy, Meat-eaters
The fairest way?
Provide two canteens. One for vegetarians, one for omnivores. Everybody
happy but costs too much.
The cheapest way?
Withdraw the canteen. Fair, but entire workforce unhappy..
The optimum solution?
Mealtime shift system: vegetarians take the first meal break, before
the meat smells are in the air and the carnivores eat when the vegetarians
are done. Everyone reasonably happy, no significant additional cost. (Assuming
only that the workflow permits half the workforce to be absent for the
duration of two mealbreaks rather than all of it absent for one)
Democracy is a blunt weapon. What we need in a situation like this
is not democracy, it is consensus. We need to try to please everybody.
And with a bit of creative thinking, it is usually possible to please
in excess of 90% of the affected population. (In this scenario, for
instance, the ones you could never please are the vegetarians who have
a moral objection to anyone else being allowed to eat meat
under any circumstances. This is similar to religious fundamentalist
objections to personal autonomy.)
Consensus is always the rational target. The aim is to maximise the numbers
who can support the eventual outcome and leave the smallest possible residue
of hostility and dissent.
Is it possible to make a decision in the absence of consensus? Yes,
that is when simple majority rule comes into play. But the first question
all democrats should ask - in the obvious absence of consensus - is
does any decision HAVE to be made? Where a sufficient democratic majority
answers yes to that question, then yes, they may have the power, collectively,
to insist that the decision IS made. But they may have to face considerable
levels of dissent and hostility if the decision does not represent a
consensus. Democratic cannibals come to mind.
The nine out of ten of "us" who vote to eat "you"
can't reasonably expect "you" to concur politely with our
So much for hypothetical examples. What about the real world. What, for
example, if the democratic decision being considered is whether or not
to bomb Iraq?
It was never going to be put to the vote of course. But that's no great
surprise. We've already observed that we don't live in democracies. But
if we did, and if we put such a question to the vote, and if every potential
voter participated in that vote, and the confirmed result (after many
recounts) was, say, 50 million against and 50 million plus one in favour
of going to war - should that majority of one be considered enough to
take us into war? Yes of course...
...if its Civil War you're after.
The obvious absence of consensus should always be a powerful deterrent
against even democratically determined action. And given that few countries
in the world - even in the so called democratic West - practise even
a semblance of truly democratic decision making, it is clear that we
have a long way to go before we reach what Ghandi referred to as "a
good idea" - Western Civilisation.
So what, then, are the implications when more than 2 out of 3 people
are opposed to a war their own government either initiates or supports?
What are "We" supposed to do about that? Just grin and bear
it? Mutter "mustn't grumble" and get on with our lives? Or
is there a spark of recognition out there which indicates that We The
People are ready for real and radical change. Ready, perhaps, to consider
taking on responsibility for running our society the way We want it
run. Ready to take and exercise the Power that has always rightfully
belonged to us.
We hope so. We believe that even if a Prime Minister, a President or
a Parliament is occasionally
capable of making wise and far sighted decisions, they should no longer
be allowed so to do. The role for politicians - if there is to be any
future role for them at all - should be rapidly degraded from decision
maker to advisor, advocate and licensed implementor. They might well
lead the debate and represent the conflicting interests. They may even
implement the decisions once they've been made.
But the time has come to place final responsibility for ALL important
decisions where it belongs, in the hands of We the People. Yes, we can
delegate the handling of day to day matters to committees and bureaucrats,
providing the rules they work under and implement are the rules We
specifically agree, not the rules They specifically impose.
We can even allow them to introduce new laws, providing We retain the
right to reject any of them in referenda and We have the right to introduce
our own new laws through "intitiatives". Much like the already
successful Swiss model in fact. We would add that that any remaining
elected posts should be subject to recall but other than that, the Swiss
seem to have it reasonably well sussed.
So, we appear to have made the case that Survival Based Reasoning provides
a rational basis for Democracy in its purest "People Power"
form. We have argued that mere majority rule is a step in the right
direction but that a truly civilised society needs to consider Consensus
as its true target. The more immediate question, however, is can we
see how a survival based "moral code" can influence the decision
making process. How does one analyse day to day issues in pure survival
terms? The only way we can answer that is with some examples of real
issues. We have deliberately chosen some fairly controversial areas
on the basis that if the method can't deal with such arguments, then
its not much use anyway.
The questions we are going to examine are Abortion, Crime and (Capital)
Punishment, the Morality of War, and The War on Drugs. What we will
present in each case is an outline of the analysis as we imagine it
could be carried out under a Survival Based Constitution. In practice
the analysis in each case would then have to put to the vote after any
practical empirical data had been obtained and presented. Each case
would no doubt contain some appeal to "the facts" and some appeal to
emotion. Protagonists in real debates, would, perhaps challenge the
interpretation of evidence, offer alternative evidence and/or appeal
to different emotions. So society would have three tasks. First it would
need to define the issue and decide who is affected by the outcome.
Second, there may need to be a debate on whether the issue could merely
be decided on the facts (and, if so, how these should be determined);
or whether emotion had a part to play. And third, those affected would
then debate the substantive issue and reach their decision. Hopefully,
if the debate cannot produce Consensus, there would be further discussion
and decision on whether and to what degree the "minority" view could
Finally, we reiterate: There is still no implication, here,
that such decisions will be "correct", "right", "good" or even consistent.
It is entirely conceivable that society, collectively, could make bad
decisions as easily as any dictator. One major advantage to this absolute
direct democracy is that, if and when society does cock things up,
it will be as free to amend its policies as it was originally to establish
them. It should be able to learn by its mistakes far more quickly than
can political systems based on religious or even secular moral
Lets kick off with Abortion.
(Last update Dec 2004)