17 February 2015

A rational reconstruction of democratic thinking

How can we use technology to make democracy better?
  • Can we make quicker and better decisions?
    • The choices are those that we would come to make if we all thought long and deeply and did a lot of research; but they'd happen quicker than they do today.
  • Can we make taking part in democracy a good experience?
    • It should be educative, empowering, and fun for participants.


For any topic, there is a relatively small number of people who think deeply about the topic, discuss it, and vote in a way that represents what would happen if the whole population engaged in the same exercise of deep thinking and discussion.

Concept: democracy by entrusting thinkers

People can entrust others to think and act on their behalf on specific topics. If you entrust someone on a topic, they are empowered to tag issues with the topic, and if you do not vote on the tagged issue, they can vote on your behalf. If you entrust several people on a topic, your vote is split equally between them.


  • There are issues that people discuss. Things like immigration policy, when the bins should be picked up, how to spend local council money, what language to write some bit of open-source software in, etc.
  • Issues can be tagged with topics of expertise needed to make a decision on the issue.
  • People can vote on issues.
  • People can delegate to each other on topics.

Important Questions

  • How are topics selected? Should people propose topics they can be delegated to?
  • Tagging lead time? Should there be a time delay after someone you entrust tags a topic before they can cast a vote on your behalf (giving you a chance to see what they tag first)? It could be user and issue configurable.
  • Timing issues? Should there be a time delay for a delegated vote so that you can see how someone is voting on your behalf and change your mind? It could be user and issue configurable.
  • Entrustment timing? Should we allow people to change trust at any time?
  • Basis for entrusting others? Should entrusting to someone enable you to see what they do on your behalf? Can we make a good platform for expressing and summarising people's arguments?
  • Anonymity? Should anonymity of voting be preserved unless they the voter has specified that they can be entrusted to?
  • Verifiability? Should it be possible to verify your vote was counted correctly?
  • What happens if I change who I trust after a vote? If a vote has happened, and someone has acted on your behalf for that vote, you cannot change it after the votes have been cast.
  • Instead of equal split of trust between people, it could be weighted, or stack-ranked.
  • One can do clever things with tags: e.g. I trust you on your tag X (e.g. software engineering), with my tag Y (computer science).
  • How will the system try to be gamed? How to defend against it? Analysis of the effectiveness of gaming is needed.
  • How can views between tags - networking topics - be done consistently and in a way that helps people navigate the topics? What is the impact of incorrect tagging?
  • How can the process be analysed by social scientists live for fairness, social influence etc (eg see http://news.sciencemag.org/2012/06/who-controls-social-networks)
    • Would such a system change the way people act in a bad way and in particular, would it be worse than political corruption today?
    • Observation: the proposed system is much more transparent, and allows anyone to be involved, so we would expect less corruption.
    • What impact will reputation system have on participants? Will they be incentivised to have people entrust them? Will this be a good or a bad thing?


  • New political parties that will act according to fluid trust (e.g. something like http://democracyos.org).
  • Participatory budgeting allocation (do we need to build modern decentralized tools to monitor and build reports?).
  • Businesses and other organizations (co-ops, ngos, companies, etc) internal organization structure.
  • Consultative processes in existing democracies.

25 October 2014


I didn't mean to take this photo; it was one of
those, "oops I took a photo of the floor" ones.
The Abstract

To not accept something is to want to change it. A view of acceptance is realizing that we have done all that we can towards what we want. But why stop at all you can do? Could you stop much earlier too, and would it still be OK... or even preferable?

The Story

Have you ever been told to just accept a situation, but being told this left you feeling frustrated? It can seem like being told to relax, to love, to be happier, or to just not be hungry: the act of being told to feel differently than we do does not feel helpful in itself; it tends to result in feeling misunderstood.

For example, imagine being told to accept the end of a relationship. It's easy to imagine feeling angry and frustrated by the loss, and to feel that the people telling you to just accept it are not respecting the pain and longing you feel for that relationship. We don't want to suffer, but being told to not feel the pain, and to instead accept the way things are is incongruous. And there is a deeper problem in being told to accept what we feel are bad things: it can double as telling us to want something different than we want, and implicitly cast a shadow of shame on who we are.

So what can be said that is better than 'accept it'? After all, when we tell people to accept something, it is usually because we feel that nothing can be done to make the situation better than it is. Here perhaps is the clue... can we interpret acceptance in way that we are not left with a feeling of disrespecting our pain and loss?

An analogy with drawing: when drawing there is a point at which any other line added to the picture makes the picture worse; a point when nothing can be added to make the picture better. When the artist realizes nothing more can be added, this is a kind of acceptance of the artwork. It's not always a perfect picture; but short of throwing it away, it's what it is.

To me, this was an unusual but liberating image. Instead of fighting to accept what I actually don't want to - which feels like a disrespect of myself - the image moves me to be curious about what I have done so far, where I am, and to ask if there is an action I can take that is truly helpful? Or maybe there isn't? Have I done what I want already, have I done less or more? Sometimes we need to stop adding actions, drawing lines, pushing, and trying harder to do more stuff because it is counter productive to do so. We can ask have I drawn the last line that I truly wish to? This question makes me feel I have choice; and perhaps provides a path to accepting if indeed I have. Maybe it would be easier to accept a situation if people had told me that they thought all that had been possible to do had already been done. Then acceptance would be my choice again. So maybe the question to ask is: do you think there is more to be done that will help you? This separates the current state of pain, which is whatever it is, form the question of should one act further.

This concept of acceptance, with the wrong squint, may have a ghost of perfectionism lurking in it. And this brings me to a another concept. It is tempting to say the picture is as perfect as it can be. But why stop there? Why not retreat all the way back to a concept 'good enough'? We could stop drawing much earlier, when the picture is good enough; when it is sufficient for what we want it for. And now I feel the landscape is truly laid bare and its freedoms presented: at this point it seems we can walk as far as we like on the field from the best possible to the minimally sufficient; and perhaps this philosophy just comes down to just asking oneself where do we want to go now?

And that's good enough for now, so I will stop writing. Happy weekend.

31 August 2014

Costumes; a cornerstone of benevolant democracy

I like costumes. They are a cornerstone of democracy. The capacity to express oneself pseudonymous enables free-expression; it is a way to protect free-expression and allow people to speak out against corruption for example. As such, I see it as a foundation for benevolent democracy.

So, time to dress up and support benevolent democracy!

10 August 2014

feelings towards, and the object of attention

One of the less inspiring window displays in Chelsea. But it makes me smile to see it!

I've become enamored with a couple of concepts recently... here's the first: "We have feelings towards the object of our attention"

Feelings don't happen to us. They are not a direct result of us, or our environmental: they are the result of the application of attention to something. It's kind of obvious at the extremes: you can't feel much about things that you don't know anything about and never experience. 

The phrasing itself entices one to ask what is the object of my attention that produces this feeling?

Claim: we don't control the way we feel much, but we can control much more easily our attention. But not completely - a loud noise can capture our attention for example. But in many ways we do get to choose the focus of our attention. And what's more, focusing attention is a learnable skill. 

But here's the real punchline: there are 'fixed points' of emotion: there are some feelings that when we make them the object of our attention result in the same feeling! If we make our grumpyness the object of our attention (we think "damn, I feel so grumpy"), it often results in exactly the same feeling of grumpiness ("crap, I'm so grumpy feeling, I hate it!"). It's an attention-feeling fixed point! How cool is that? I noticed this while feeling grumpy one day :)  

Attention itself is a fluid, partially malleable thing. So it begs us to think about what is attention? What flexibility do we have in its focus? 

This also provides a neat model for the impact of breathing meditation. Making breathing the focus of our attention takes our mind and emotions off of other things.  And breathing seems to inspire common feeling among pretty much all people: paying attention to our breathing... feels good. 

Happy breathing. 

10 July 2014

Dragon of Seville

Nostalgic symbol and creature of freedom and power from my childhood, found in perpetual watch of the eater on this plate from 1500 Seville. 

19 March 2014

stealing the courage to shop for shoes

In a cafe, stealing the courage to shop for shoes. Writing on my phone, all thumbs, slow like. So many thoughts the last few days I reflect on in this 10 minute window on dreamlike thinking from yesterday's tiredness.

We have a capacity to a sense of having choices. In stark contrast, an overwhelming feeling of choicelessness can also descend. I recall being in a bar, and wondering about going over and talking to some young women drinking nearby. And I notice 4 things: a fear, insecurity at the imagination of some kind of rejection; an intellectual impasse at in searching for a social reason to start the interaction; an indifference as they don't actually seem that interesting to me; and a desire to be part of their company, to engage with them. All are there at once. And, from the observation, I notice a curious part of myself that observes the others without judgment. Sometimes there is also a judgey part of myself that doesn't accept the fearful feelings I have. But lately curiosity has been taking over and I am flooded with an internal gratitude. 

I put up 2 hooks to hold my wooden aikido sward yesterday, and looking at it I feel the sward is a little too far to the left. But I still like it.

26 January 2014

Dixon's Bike Shop

I'm always strangely happy to find a shop that shares a name with me.