Why am I writing this article? The answer is simply because I have a lot of thoughts and sometimes I’m compelled to write them down, most of the time I throw them away but sometimes, writing them down isn’t enough and I still feel the need to push it out to the black hole of the internet simply to help me codify my own thinking and stop going over the same ground in my head. I’m under no delusions about my own insignificance or the insignificance of this article, but sometimes you just need to write something for yourself.
History of Democracy
I am not a historian and can’t talk authoritatively about the evolution of democracy, nor would it be inside the scope of this article if I could. Saying that, to my mind it’s important to understand 3 critical points along the evolution of democracy as a basis for what is to follow because in going back to those original intents we can gain insight into the ideal instead of the reality and perhaps create a new reality, closer to the ideal by revisiting assumptions of the time.
Something interesting I learned from Yanis Varoufakis about the origins of democracy is that the original democrats preferred sortition. It was the aristocrats who wanted elections. It says a lot about history, that my spell checker flags the word sortition as an error. It would arguably be more accurate to refer to a democracy, as we understand it, as an aristocracy.
Declaration of Arbroath & Magna Carta
This section is primarily relevant to Constitutional Monarchies, it’s debatable how important it is since in most places this form of government has been replaced by the current cutting edge of political technology, the 350 year old trias politica. I happen to live in the UK so it’s important to me and so I say it’s important.
You will often hear constitutional monarchies referred to as democratic and it’s important to debunk that claim because it’s the loose thread that has allowed our most powerful republics to unravel. By asserting that the UK is a democracy and therefore not incumbent on the American and French Republics to work towards liberating it’s people, the door was opened to assert that more and more authoritarian regimes were legitimate until we come to the the current preposterous claim that the Russian Federation is a Republic.
The UK is asserted to be a democracy because of two reasons, the first is that it has a sovereign parliament and the second is that it has a constitution. On the face of it these do seem like reasonable answers but they collapse under scrutiny. If you ask any American, they will be able to recite their constitutional rights verbatim, because they are written down and also because they are taught them. In the UK if you ask someone their constitutional rights, they will either tell you they are unwritten or that they are in either the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Arbroath. The truth is there is no constitution. The Magna Carta simply describes the rights of lords, not citizens and the declaration of Arbroath simply acknowledges that the king answers to the people, this is far from a constitution. When parliament needs to resolve a constitutional matter, they refer to a class of lawyers who gaze into history and try and find patterns of behaviour, not codified by law and declare that constitutional, this process is understandably and deliberately partisan and inscrutable.
In answer to this obviously corrupt process Charles Montesquieu came up with a new system of government, one recognisable as a modern republic, the trias politica. It has proven a very powerful tool in resisting oppression and stands as the state of the art of how to administer democratic government. I won’t go into detail here, you can read about it elsewhere but it can loosely be described as this. Law making is the preserve of two houses of elected officials, one larger group of people elected to represent the will of the people and another smaller group of people elected to represent the needs of the people. The former should be representative of the population and the latter should be governmental experts. Once passed these laws are understood and implemented by the independent judiciary, ostensibly, legal experts. The third branch of government is the executive branch, this branch must conform to the laws passed by the other two and the constitution. It is responsible for taking direct action, the leader of this group is the elected head of state.
In order to convince people that a new form of democracy is needed, you first need to establish the basis for democracy itself. There are actually very strong reasons for why democracy exists. It might be surprising to know that there is actually a mathematical, scientific basis for it in fact. This is something that should be known to every person on earth because education is the foundation of a strong democracy, especially education about democracy.
The idea of compound intelligence is very old but the scientific basis for proving it is in the Jelly Bean experiment, this has been replicated and verified in many other scenarios. The Jelly Bean experiment is a simple experiment where people are asked to decide how many jelly beans there are in container, the experiment proves that the compound estimate is more correct than even the best guess of any individual in the group. This idea of compound intelligence is the basis for democracy but it’s important to understand how it works in order to use it, it turns out to be very easy to destroy or subvert the effect if you don’t. This process works primarily because the nature of the question allows for unbiased self elimination, i.e. fringe elements unwilling to participate or intent on subversion will self eliminate from impacting the result, because they’re just as likely to aim low as to aim high and cancel themselves out with other poor guesses. The signal is able to rise from the noise.
A New Democracy
In understanding the wisdom of the crowd and how easy it is to subvert, you begin to see that modern republics have been designed deliberately to dampen the signal as much as possible, through quantisation. In compound intelligence, quantisation is never to be trusted, ideally only analogue signals are to be trusted, as close to the undoctored individual intent as possible. When you have a binary or multiple choice, that’s quantisation, gerrymandering people into discrete regions, that’s quantisation. It follows from this then that in order to preserve the compound intelligence, when you go to the electorate you must be very careful in how you solicit their vote, at the very least it must be an analogue decision and it must not be regionalised and composed. In fact any kind of composition other than analogue constructive interference will diminish the signal.
The scientific term for diversity is entropy and one of it’s most defining attributes is stability. This stability is why a rewilded earth is preferable to one completely controlled by humans or why a company with diverse leadership will statistically outperform other companies, it’s the basis for evolution and how the pseudo science of eugenics was debunked. So to inject diversity into your government is desirable to induce stability, in the UK first past the post (i.e. vote quantisation) has been heralded as stability inducing but this is provably false, it induces a lack of diversity, that seems more stable until it collapses, as we’re currently witnessing.
True stability is borne from diversity so how do we achieve this, my preference is to go back to the insights of the original democrats, sortition. We could just toss a coin or read tea leaves or make decisions based on the background radiation of the universe but that seems a little too chaotic to me. Representative politics is desirable because it brings our acts as a group closer to our will, it keeps us from finding alternative, destructive modes of expression. What better way to get an unbiased representative than through sortition? It’s apparent to anyone that democracy is suffering from an increasingly “experienced” lower house problem. Political power is loathe to give up it’s control of this body and so stubbornly refuses to yield control of this so called representative group. Sortition, to me injects the diversity needed to keep a congress stable AND representative, the current polarisation is obviously not stable and inevitably will collapse.
One of the primary weaknesses of the trias politica system is the judiciary, it’s independence and it’s concentration of power. It’s the first place an authoritarian regime will attack because once captured, an organisation can control how and which laws are enforced or ignored. It is also, by design extremely difficult for other organisations to wrest control from bad actors. It’s clear to me that a modern attempt at improving democratic robustness should involve an attempt to prevent judicial subversion. Under a jury system of law, sortition is used to select random people (“peers”) responsible for finding facts, it’s the jury’s job to establish what actually happened during events under scrutiny. Once the jury has established the facts of a matter, it then becomes the responsibility of a judge to make findings of law. A judge is ostensibly an expert interpreter of laws set by parliament but it goes without saying that in practice, we’ve found that their findings are highly subjective and ritualistic (i.e. each will consistently emphasise laws they prefer and de-emphasise laws they dislike). There also is an inherent and important dialogue between the judiciary and a parliament that must take place to ensure laws don’t undermine the fabric of the democratic system. A functioning judiciary will send back poorly written laws that conflict with higher laws (like a constitution).
Automated Findings of Law
The human expert requirement of a judiciary predates computers, I don’t believe anyone designing these systems today would design a system free of computation. The scales of knowledge required to interpret these laws has ballooned massively, parliaments of today are in session for much longer and are much more reactive than originally conceived. This creates fertile soil for selective interpretation. I assert that a modern republic should have a mechanism for establishing automated finding of law this would remove the need for experts in the process and let democracy into the traditional oligarchic judicial branch. This would also would allow the parliament to check their laws in real time for legal contradictions before they’re made into law, removing the need for the time consuming and wasteful process of the judiciary waiting for laws to be tested in a court before sending them back to parliament. The difficulty of a system like this would be in ensuring it’s security.
There are very many ways a democracy can be subverted, it’s very difficult to know exactly in advance what an ingenious bad actor will discover about a system, we do know the play book for the current system well though. Capture parliament, use it to create popular dissent, use the dissent to corrupt the judiciary, remove education and public polling and create artificial gender and race based stratification to divide the people and ensure they don’t organise together.
Some of these would still be relevant and need to be guarded against in a permanent constitution, outside the reach of any organisation, political or otherwise. The two I believe can be prevented today with computer security is protecting any kind of polling and protecting judicial finding of law, I believe this is possible with cryptographic blockchains.
Every computer scientist knows that there are valid uses of blockchain technology and invalid uses. Unfortunately blockchains have a poor reputation because of their popular use in financial pyramid schemes like crypto currency. It’s less well known that they are also used in a lot of legitimate cases, like video codecs. It is my believe that we could establish a system of law making that uses distributed blockchains to encode laws that can allow us to automate the process of finding law. There are also many experiments in progress exploring secure blockchain based voting. Until these systems have been robustly verified, I believe there is still a good reason to maintain a parallel blockchain and traditional voting system in place. As sortition plays an important role in a future system we will also need a secure source of entropy, easily verifiable by anyone, anywhere in the world, something like cosmic radiation but it would need to give the same data anywhere in the world. As far as I know this is an open question, but an important one. This field is under active development and so the technologies employed would probably have to change as our understanding grows and so would need to be laid out in laws. However, the broad strokes, like public access to the blockchain would need to be encoded in an immutable constitution.
In this article I’ve tried to establish the idea that the trias politica system is the cutting edge system of democratic government. I also hope to establish the idea that it is old and outdated, it’s failings are very apparent in this modern era and that the process of improving democracy is and should be an ongoing one. I also laid out where I see the most prominent weaknesses of the system and my own ideas on how to fix them by wielding my area of expertise and the 21st century technology, computer science.