Subject: [NYCGA-IWG] Re: Social voting vs. administrative decision
From: Michael Allan
Date: Fri, 18 Nov 2011 00:04:22 -0500
To: occupy-dev@lists.takethesquare.net, Internet Working Group <internet_working_group@googlegroups.com>, OWS Solutions <ows_solutions@freenetworkfoundation.org>

David and Paul,

Thanks very much for replying.  I wish to clarify that my suggestion
is to keep voting (a people process) separate from decision making (an
administrative process).  I also want to elaborate on my reasons, and
to mention briefly how these relate to the concept of primary
legislative and electoral systems.

David Stodolsky wrote:
Vote: a formal indication of a choice between two or more candidates
or courses of action, expressed typically through a ballot or a show
of hands or by voice.

I agree, but I think my point still stands.  Even by this definition,
the GA employs voting.  Technically, so does ConsensusVoIP.
ConsensusVoIP allows a statement to be blocked or not.  Such a block
is a "formal indication of a choice between two... courses of action",
which is the definition of a vote.

In any case, and just for sake of the argument, please substitute the
definition (formal indication of choice, etc.) wherever I use the word
"vote" below.

My claim is that direct deliberation among all participants can
scale up to cover whatever jurisdictional size is required. Further,
I argue that it is theoretically tractable and therefore more
resistant to manipulation or unpredictable behavior than ad-hoc
multi-level/locus solutions.

Yes, and I partly agree with you.  I gave a second example of how to
accomplish the same thing using a different voting system.  Like your
system, it employs votes to structure a discussion that is aimed at
consensus and mutual understanding.  But unlike your system (and
unlike the GA), it excludes any kind of decision mechanism.  I was
pointing to this difference and I claimed it to be a benefit.

Maybe it will help to explain my reasons.  Much of it comes down to
being "resistant to manipulation", as you say.  On one hand, society
is full of administrative mechanisms like assemblies in which
decisions are layed down as facts (what *is* to be) and subsequently
backed by power.  On the other hand, it lacks any kind of guiding
norms (what *ought* to be) for those decisions.  But a decision is
only legitimate if the norms that inform it originate with the
ordinary, unorganized people whose lives are affected by it.

Congress and Parliament (like the GA) are supposed to serve this
purpose.  Public discussion of the norms (what ought to be) is
co-joined with a decision of the facts (what is to be).  These two
processes are housed together as a single system in which the
normative agreement of the discussion is *supposed* to determine the
administrative fact of the decision.  Unfortunately, that is not how
it actually works in practice.  In practice, the public discussion is
reduced to an empty formality (the way politicians talk), while the
actual content of both discussion and decisions is manipulated and
determined largely by money and power.  Congress and Parliament are
reduced to pure decision systems that happen to operate without any
normative guidance.

To give such assemblies (and even the GA) the necessary guidance, we
would have to enable people to discuss and agree amongst themselves on
the guiding norms, e.g. in the form of consensus texts to be floored
in the assemblies.  Such discussion can only be structured on the
basis of agreement and disagreement (formal choices), and therefore
voting is central to it.  The last thing we want to do, however, is to
encumber that discussion with any kind of administrative decision
mechanism, even one that is based on consensus.  Our aim is not to
decide what *is* to be, but only what *ought* to be; and there is a
world of difference in these two aims.

Paul Bame wrote:
So far I've seen lots of good thought put into well-engineered
tallying of consent through vote counting, and less on the social &
information communications involved in reaching mutual understanding
-- becoming informed.

But where general agreement is the goal, I claim that voting alone can
structure those communications.

That said, the system of voting must be properly designed.  I admit
that none of the traditional systems meet this requirement; all are
deeply flawed.

Sometimes a GA is my first exposure to an issue.  When that issue is
of any complexity, I feel frustrated by the pace (I benefit from
some time to think things over), and (lessor) amount of information
I can get from the GA gathering, because it's not enough for me to
give informed consent, not really.  I think some #occupations try to
alleviate this by having educational gatherings, materials, and even
educational GAs, prior to the consent discussion, and I think
anything of scale larger than an #occupation's GA will need maybe
some formal work on this.  Maybe consensus journals are an answer,
but I admit I didn't read that proposal due to being overwhelmed
right now.

I suggest "primary legislative system" and "primary electoral system"
as technical terms for such facilities.  These are actually the voting
based discussion facilities I was referring to above.  They are
separate from decision systems such as assemblies and state-run
elections because their purpose is normative guidance *prior* to the
flooring of issues in the assembly (as you suggest), or prior to the
elections.

Consider an interesting fact: all primary systems at the state and
federal levels are run by the political parties.  That could easily be
the only reason why they hold all political power and write all the
laws.  Why don't we (ordinary, unorganized people) run our own primary
legislative and electoral systems?

-- Michael Allan Toronto, +1 416-699-9528 http://zelea.com/ David Stodolsky wrote:
On 16 Nov 2011, at 10:55 AM, Michael Allan wrote:

Dear Beth, David and Planetary,

Progress here appears to require more clarification of the concepts, particularly 'decision' and 'vote.'


It might help to look at voting and decision as logically distinct
processes.  Technically speaking, signals of agreement or disagreement
in the GA are votes.  

People showing approval of a speaker are not normally considered to be voting, nor are those that are blocking. 

The fact that you can total agreement/disagreement signals does mean that simple vote counting techniques can play  a role. However, calling every process that counts up signals 'voting' can confuse the issue.


The GA also incorporates a mechanism to detect
consensus and to promulgate decisions.  So it combines both voting and
decision processes in a single system.  Not *all* decision processes
require voting, but all that are based on agreement do.

With ConsensusVoIP, acceptance of a statement requires universal agreement, but this doesn't require voting. That is, any statement can be 'blocked' and the blocks have to be heard and processed to reach agreement about the statement. 

So, the key distinction is between inputs that guide the process vs. inputs that finalize a substantive decision. The key feature of consensus decision making is that we try to reach agreement without voting. This conforms to common usage (from my dictionary):

Decision: a conclusion or resolution reached after consideration

Vote: a formal indication of a choice between two or more candidates or courses of action, expressed typically through a ballot or a show of hands or by voice. 



My claim is that direct deliberation among all participants can scale up to cover whatever jurisdictional size is required. Further, I argue that it is theoretically tractable and therefore more resistant to manipulation or unpredictable behavior than ad-hoc multi-level/locus solutions. 


dss


By the same token, not all voting systems are necessarily tied to a
decision mechanism.  An opinion poll is an example of a voting system
that's not directly connected to any decision mechanism.  It just
collects and reports the votes.  Another example is the voting system
we work with in my own project.  It may be of interest here, because
it was designed to support large scale discussion, consensus and
mutual understanding.  Here's a snapshot of the structure:


                      (0)  (0)  (0)
                        \ 1 | 1 /
                         \  |  / 1    (0)   (0)
                (0)  (0)  \ | /        | 1  /
       (0)        \ 1 |    \|/         |   / 1
         \ 1       \  | 1  (3)         |  /
          \         \ |     |          | /  (0)  (0)
           \         \|     | 4        |/    | 1 /
        1   \        (2)    |         (2)    |  / 1
    (0)-----(2)        \ 3  |          |     | /
              \ 3       \   |          | 3   |/
               \         \  |          |    (3)-----(0)
                \         \ |    (0)   |    /     1
     1       2   \         \|      \ 1 |   /
 (0)-----(1)-----(5)       (7)      \  |  / 4
                   \ 6     /         \ | /
                    \     / 8         \|/
                     \   /            (8)
                      \ /
                      (14)


 Each line is a vote by one person (voter) for another (candidate).
 Votes are transitive, so the result is a tree structure.  The trees
 are actually be much bushier in reality, with roughly 5-20 branches
 per candidate node. A fancier version of this diagram is shown on
 our home page: http://zelea.com/project/votorola/home.xht


Crucially each candidate node defines a relatively small discussion
cell (up to 21 members) that overlaps slightly with its uptree and
downtree neighbours.  The topic of discussion is how to reach
consensus, and why it hasn't happened yet.

Consensus itself isn't the only goal.  It may be difficult to achieve
consensus, or it may even be impossible.  Failing consensus, the most
important thing is for people to acknowledge the failure (the fact of
dissensus) and to understand the reasons for it.  As a rule, decision
mechanisms have nothing positive to contribute to this understanding,
and should therefore be kept at a safe distance from the basic voting
system.  I think the design of the GA is unfortunately flawed in this
regard.  If the main purpose is to support "community and social
interaction, expansion and consideration" as Beth implies, then it
should be structured purely by voting.

Or, if the main purpose is to support decision making (as in most
assemblies), then we should be looking elsewhere for the community we
are trying to help.  This in turn might fit with the "step back" that
Planetary calls for.  The goal of consensus is "finding a solution
everyone can live with", so the first step is to include everyone in
the discussion.

-- 
Michael Allan

Toronto, +1 416-699-9528
http://zelea.com/


Paul Bame wrote:
I'm happy to see the questions being raised here because they resonate
with thoughts I've been having.

I've been a (mostly "formal", different from spiritual i.e. Quaker)
consensus process user, facilitator, and occasional trainer, direct
democracy advocate, feminist (meaning in this case, that I have a
critical analysis of power in society and in groups), community group
co-founder, and general process geek, for over a decade.  The two
thoughts I've been having come from that and are:

    1. what is the model for information other than votes?
    2. counting votes is a bit of a red herring
---

1. what is the model for information other than votes?

Even in the presumed US Democracy, there's a phrase I've usually heard
as "informed consent of the voters".  The wikipedia article on Informed
Consent https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Informed_consent
fleshes out the importance of this.  And one area of my work is against
sexual assault, where the informed consent is essential (for example
many policies state that people under the influence cannot legally give
their consent, whether for sex or in legal matters).

So far I've seen lots of good thought put into well-engineered tallying
of consent through vote counting, and less on the social & information
communications involved in reaching mutual understanding -- becoming
informed.

Sometimes a GA is my first exposure to an issue.  When that issue is
of any complexity, I feel frustrated by the pace (I benefit from some
time to think things over), and (lessor) amount of information I can get
from the GA gathering, because it's not enough for me to give informed
consent, not really.  I think some #occupations try to alleviate this
by having educational gatherings, materials, and even educational GAs,
prior to the consent discussion, and I think anything of scale larger
than an #occupation's GA will need maybe some formal work on this.
Maybe consensus journals are an answer, but I admit I didn't read that
proposal due to being overwhelmed right now.

---
2. counting votes is a bit of a red herring

Our society gives us lots of majoritarian training, and the mainstream
media, especially on election night, is fixated on the paper-thin margins,
50.01% and so forth seem pretty common these days and hard-won by the
Parties.  That .01% margin makes it Really Important to COUNT THE VOTE
RIGHT.  As tech geeks we have cryptographic tools to help make that
possible, and the excellent proposals here are a testament to it.

However I think that many of us feel that rule by the 50.01% is only
a shade more desirable than rule by the despicable 1%, and that's why
consensus processes get so much discussion.  A realistic compromise
that I've seen the Philly GA do, is not to go for 100% consensus but
rather some sort of obvious overwhelming majority.

Suppose a GA's principle is a proposal carries if 80% are behind it, and
that people at a GA felt a proposal had sufficient support and passed
it, but without actually counting.  Now suppose the talley, if actually
counted, were only 75%.  I think that's not a travesty, even though it
clearly would be in the majoritarian rulers world where 45.01% is WAY
DIFFERENT than 50.01%.  I'm not saying counting is bad in the GA
process, but that if more than a few people are fixated on the count
itself, it probably means the decision isn't ready to be made.

If "overwhelming majority", like 80%, is the criteria for a
federated/widespread multi-#occupation decision making process, what
that means to me is that we can tolerate a higher degree of inaccuracy
in vote counting, with a process which costs less to produce and
maintain, which means more tech resources could be applied elsewhere.

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