Getgee: Tools for self-governance Part 1

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The Getgee project

G is a universal database and trust network which can be used for the most popular software applications today.

Technology corporations have lately become incredibly wealthy and powerful by controlling and exploiting access to the information we all create. These corporations abuse the control they exercise over all of our data, our work and our networks, because they can and because it is profitable for them to do so. From monitoring our shopping and browsing habits to manipulating what mood we are in or whether we vote, these corporations are replacing our traditional governance and media structures with corporate dictatorships that have no social interest and exist to provide maximum profit for shareholders. Their users tolerate this abusive relationship because they don’t want to lose all the years worth of data or the networks of contacts they have created.

In past years, a great deal of money, time and code have been spent in trying to address the problems with the existing platforms by replacing them with duplicate alternatives but the problems outlined in this document are not the fault of any particular software. They are a fault in the way the web was designed. The web was never designed for mass collaboration. It was created to mirror academia, to have isolated pages of information citing isolated pages of information. The Internet now is primarily databases, not pages of information, so the result is an Internet constructed as a series of pages controlling access to sealed wells of information. Even if we have access to every page on the Internet, we never have full access to the sealed wells, collaboration across them is difficult to impossible, and the data in them is controlled by corporations and used in ways we did not consent to. To add insult to injury, we created all the information in those sealed wells.

There is no point in creating another Twitter, another Facebook, another Google, another thought bubble with its own sealed well that doesn’t address any of the root problems that allowed these platforms to disregard the wishes of their users. The corporate control of user information is what created the fertile ground for corruption in the first place.

Control corrupts. Absolute control corrupts absolutely.*

A universal database and trust network will return control of our data to the users who created it while still allowing for mass collaboration. If any application software starts antagonizing its users, they can just get rid of it and use something else without losing all the work and networks they have spent years building up. They can also choose the functionality they want. The structure is an ecosystem, anything can be replaced without destroying the whole.

This project needs both funding and more expertise to help provide resilient hosting and ongoing development. Contact me at HeatherMarsh@riseup.net.

Sealed wells of user created information

In every case, the hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate value represented by the logos below comes from a page that seals a well of user created information. The only service these platforms provide is web hosting. They have written a lot of front end software and many of them have released a lot of great software to the open source community but that is not where the value is. If it was, we wouldn’t be getting it for free. The value in all cases is the user generated data they control access to.

G decouples the databases and trust networks so a person could replace the functionality of any of applications below and still retain all of their data and contacts under a different front end. This reduces the value of nearly all the unicorn corporations in existence right now to just a piece of application software that provides some functionality on top of the user controlled data. G reduces the corporate control to control over only their own software product, not user data. It also allows collaboration at the data level so collaborators do not have to agree on a single piece of application software and that can be left to individual choice.

We have free software. We are working on free networks. We need free databases.

logos

Problems with existing online and social media

Political manipulation

The current role of propaganda, particularly online, in social manipulation is discussed in more detail here.

Examples of this type of coercion have been seen recently in the automated twelve hour Twitter trend of an English hashtag in support of the Brazil coup and a massive (and also English) astroturf campaign in support of a 2014 attempted coup in Venezuela. The purpose of these campaigns is to give the appearance of widespread grassroots support for coups which subvert democracy and skew outside perception. Foreign governments can then quickly accept the new corporate friendly presidents as was seen in the Paraguay coup of 2012, accepted by both Canada (Rio Tinto et al) and the U.S. (Monsanto et al) within hours.

Another example of online manipulation to influence election outcomes in Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Venezuela is described by current Colombian prisoner Andrés Sepúlveda in a recent article in Bloomberg. The techniques described in the article are very familiar to online activists and are used by states and corporations globally. In an election as long as the US, even 4chan has the opportunity to manipulate and increase sectarianism to their heart’s content. Election manipulation goes beyond influencing opinion and also tracks and predicts individual voting preferences, a far more dangerous subversion of democracy.

Corporate manipulation

Every form of open and hidden advertising designed to manipulate the public is practiced by these platforms, including hiding information which corporations want hidden and gathering personal data for advertisers.

Astroturfing

Astroturfing is propaganda designed to simulate grass roots movements and drown out all information the states and corporations who pay for it don’t want seen. Astroturfing can be intimidating or frightening as some of it is very aggressive and threatening. It is frustrating, as you never know if you are talking to a real person or wasting your time with a bot. It contributes a great deal to all the noise we have to wade through looking for information, and it is very chilling to online conversation. It has made social media, especially Twitter, almost unusable for dialogue.

Celebrity ponzi schemes

We are governed by ponzi schemes of celebrity, wealth and power and in order to benefit from these ponzi schemes, we need to enable and support them. No one has ever become wealthy by being of assistance to someone trying to survive in the streets. No one has ever become a millionaire by raising a baby. If you want to acquire wealth, you need to be of service to the wealthy so they can distribute that wealth down to you. In order to gain influence, you need to promote and amplify those with greater influence so they can raise you up.

Crypto-currencies did nothing to change the algorithm that brought us ponzi schemes of wealth and social media did nothing to change the algorithm that brought us ponzi schemes of celebrity. All either of them did is reproduce the same algorithm with all of the physical barriers lifted, so now the results are instant, we have overnight crypto currency millionaires and instant social media celebrities. We need algorithms which reward us for amplifying and being of service to those who need it most and we have algorithms that reward us for amplifying and being of service to those who need it least.

Celebrity ponzi schemes are particularly harmful because not only is celebrity not real influence, the two are mutually exclusive. Celebrities are those riding the peak of the wave of mainstream opinion. They have no thoughts in opposition to acceptable mainstream opinion. They are not voices that are seldom heard, by definition. They definitely don’t speak at a level of elite expertise. Celebrities are people like Donald Trump, someone who speaks at a grade 3 level. The more people who can understand and agree with their message, the wider their appeal will be. It is counter intuitive to think celebrities can influence us to move in a new direction. If we want to hear the voices that are seldom heard, that expand our Overton windows and give us some fresh perspective, or require some elite level of knowledge to explain some breakthrough of the kind we require to solve the problems in front of us today, or challenge our current opinions by presenting opposing thought, amplifying celebrities is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing. Celebrity amplification is creating noise which drowns out the thoughts we need to hear and keeps us stuck in the same place.

Thought bubbles

Once online forums reach a certain size and age and the members have reached some consensus around many topics, they start to create their own culture and develop their own ideas of what are acceptable viewpoints and what ideas are taboo, like all cultures do. At that point, any opposing viewpoints are pushed out and shunned till they go off and create their own little thought bubbles of people who agree with them. Just as they weren’t allowed to participate in the main forums, the smaller thought bubbles also typically push out everyone who disagrees with them and collect resources that support only their ideas. When Facebook and Google see what each group are interested in, they feed them even more information in support of their existing views so each side begins to live in purified thought bubbles where only their thoughts exist.

While affinity groups are very beneficial, and small thought bubbles can be useful for formulating viewpoints in opposition to those held by wider society, without transparency, communication and reconciliation between thought bubbles these online forums are contributing increasingly to intolerance and sectarianism within our societies. This division is also being helped along by the same people who brought us astroturfing, some people profit greatly from our division and are fostering it online.

Truth dictatorships

Truth dictatorships are co-operative groups which all have to come to consensus over ‘the truth’ or ‘facts’. First they all fight about which truth is the most truthy, then they rank them all in order of importance, then they present the result as authoritative fact. Truth dictatorships are great at promoting the status quo and celebrity ponzi schemes, they are themselves thought bubbles, and they have a special added feature I call photoshopping. Photoshopping is where those writing history erase everything that doesn’t suit their world view by saying it’s not the most relevant part of the story. Wikipedia is a great example of this. You can spend weeks clicking Wikipedia links and never find anyone that is not a caucasian man as Wikipedia editors have decided that caucasian men are the only relevant parts of every story.

 getgeeG replaces the traditional stand alone app structure with an ecosystem of five layers. The database and the trust networks are the base layer, data analysts create category trees for the relationships in different applications, researchers and journalists map relationships between data objects in constellations, and users search, join and filter those constellations into read only galaxies. The final layer is the application software that provides some collaborative tool or other functionality.

ecosystem

With G, we filter out astroturfing and spam using trust networks. We don’t have celebrity ponzi schemes because the structure promotes the people contributing work instead. We can isolate ourselves but we can’t create community thought bubbles because everyone has control of their own information filters. We have diversity of opinion and we allow for different realities. We let our own trust networks decide what is important to show us instead of leaving it up to Facebook and Google.

G is accessed through a two button app that does everything we ever do with databases. We can search, or we can log in and create, update and delete. The places we can create are Universe, Constellations, Galaxies and Metaverse. G allows users to add plug in applications to provide any functionality they like at the User, Constellation or Galaxy levels and it allows users to add other users, Constellations or Galaxies to their trust networks.

Everything can be created with a fiction toggle and fiction can be filtered out of search results. Search results can also be filtered within specified degrees of a trust network and editors can be added explicitly or within degrees of trust.

gsearch

Universe

Universe is a global commons database containing the base units we can all link to in all of our work. There are five entity types that will allow us to do everything we do in any of the applications shown previously: person, organization, event, thing and idea. There are also media entities that can be linked as the sources for each object or relationship in Constellations (like hypertext but in a graph database).

Almost any attribute of these universal objects is subjectively important and changeable, so they have very few attributes associated with them in Universe. Since even the bare minimum attributes we include are still subjective and changeable, each data object is a hypernode that can contain multiple linked realities. It does not matter which reality is used, all will appear associated with the same data object. Reality types are temporal (Bradley Manning and Chelsea Manning are two temporal realities of the same person), perceptive (Islas Malvinas and The Falklands are two perceptive realities of the same islands) and linguistic.

The reason we have three different reality types and five entity types is because they have slightly different attributes so we can do things like attach geotags to events and organizations and map them or string temporal realities in a timeline.

Category trees / Metaverse

Within Universe we have a global commons of data which we can all use, but these objects are not very useful or meaningful on their own. In order to create any meaning from a data object, we usually have to relate them to another data object. For example, a person contributed to an organization, had a relationship to another person, or participated in an event.

Usually these types of relationships are part of schemas included in applications developed by programmers. For instance, in Ebay, there is code defining buyers, sellers, products and so on. These relationships do not have to be coded by programmers and in fact they shouldn’t be. Programmers don’t know how users are going to use their data. Users are always doing unexpected things with data and then programmers have to change the schemas and it is usually difficult. We can give users the ability to create category trees to map all possible categories for each of the five entity types and every relationship between them to allow for diverse use cases.

Creating category trees is beyond the ability or the interest of the average user but it is not beyond the ability of a data analyst with knowledge of the sector. This is like blog themes: a blog platform gives you the ability to create blogs but if people create themes for it they provide more versatility and usability for a greater number of use cases. When data analysts create category trees, other users can pull them in to use in their own work.

Constellations

A constellation is an autonomous space where each user can work by themselves or add editors or open editing up within selected degrees of their trust network. Constellations map relationships between data nodes from the Universe data commons using category trees. Media nodes can be linked to nodes and relationships as source references (like hypertext but in a graph database). Currency transaction receipts can be added to currency transfer relationships in the same way.

Constellation graphs can be embedded in other work, shared on social media, exported or added to galaxies. If you tap on any of the nodes used, all constellations associated with that node are displayed, even if they used entirely different category trees. Any front end functionality can be added on top of the constellation data.

Galaxies

Galaxies are a space where constellations can be combined and filtered to create a data collection tailored for a specific purpose. The data in galaxies cannot be modified by galaxy editors, it is updated as the constellations are edited. Galaxy data collections can have front end functionality added just as constellations can.

Galaxies help avoid monopolies. Even if one constellation becomes the dominant site for a particular use case, galaxies can always be created to combine constellations and prevent shutting out smaller sites from greater traffic. Galaxies will probably be more used than large constellations in any case as the filtered data is faster and more useful for any regional or similarly categorized data.

Front end applications

Application software can add any functionality to the data without controlling access to the data. While certain application software may impose its own restrictions, for instance US flight or hotel booking software may exclude Cuba, Cuba data will still be in the database and accessible by any other application software.

Users can choose the functionality they want. They don’t have to go through one app for everything, they can have a little stripped down, read only app on their phone and a giant application on their laptop. They can collaborate on the data level with people using entirely different software.

Use cases

Journalism

The future of journalism is discussed in more detail here.

Instead of repetitive news, cut and pasted across all media outlets, G allows news to be added to a permanent knowledge repository. Transient news streams can be replaced with knowledge that builds over time while still allowing the new additions to be highlighted. It encourages deeper research over trivial updates and recognizes the original sources of a story as there is no need for endless duplicate sources. It also enables more fluid collaboration between journalists while retaining autonomy and individual recognition for contribution.

Galaxies and front end applications can allow news to be displayed with different contexts. For instance instead of mapping conflicts always by state, it is possible to view them mapped over resource corporation activity or any other data to look for other possible relevant links.

Whistleblowers

Data can be easily uploaded into source media nodes and relationships mapped to be used as a resource for all researchers and journalists, not just a selected few. The Panama Papers could have been added to a constellation with editing permissions given to all the journalists involved. Any outside person could create and link different constellations containing other data, such as other corporations a person was involved in, making the process much faster and more productive. We would also then have the data in a permanently usable format, in a global commons for us all to build from instead of unusable wall of text articles everywhere and a private linkurious database for selected journalists.

Uber, Airbnb, Ebay, Alibaba et al

The buyer / seller / product relationships for all commerce sites can be specified in a commerce category tree and documentation for financial exchanges can be linked as a source media node. Rather than relying on easily manipulated site reviews and trust algorithms, we can rely on our own personal trust networks for filtering. Both sides of a transaction are far more likely to behave responsibly if there is a personal trust network linking them. Local or specialized merchants can create constellations to link each other together in a trust network as well, adding another local layer of accountability, local control over industry and the ability to allow regional diversity for local laws or customs.

While anyone can create a global galaxy of all the constellations for a particular industry, similar to Uber, Airbnb, Ebay or Alibaba, the fact that anyone can do it removes exclusive control from the galaxy creators. Without control over the data, galaxies are simply a tool for end users, allowing them to filter and sort data across multiple constellations. The software applications become simply that, applications which input selected data from galaxies or constellations and provide some front end functionality such as paying a taxi driver or buying a product.

Transparent and fluid organization

Organizations can use constellations and galaxies both for transparency and for dynamic reorganization for specific tasks. Political parties are currently organized by region. A party can create constellations for each region and galaxies at national or international levels, leaving the ability to add or remove members from positions at the constellation level but still allowing collaboration at higher levels. A party can also be instantly reorganized by galaxies to allow collaboration across non-regional affinity groups. For instance, a German Pirate Party member in an environmental working group can belong to both a local and an international Pirate Party galaxy and also an international Pirate Environmental group. Better yet, they could belong to regional and international Clean Water and similar galaxies with no party affiliation. The benefit to these galaxies is the responsible person can change at the constellation level and the change will be instantly reflected in all associated galaxies. The data in every galaxy can be used in collaborative apps such as Loomio decision making and other transparent tools which allow the group to work without outside noise but completely transparently to the public.

Direct aid

Instead of donors having to rely on bloated, political and frequently corrupt NGOs, charities and non-profits, they can establish trust networks to deliver aid directly to those who need it. Through trust networks, donors can monitor results directly from those receiving aid so those providing aid can focus on their work on the ground instead of spending their money and time on advertising and photo ops.

Direct trade

Direct trade relationships can be established between communities, bypassing the political and corporate control over trade and encouraging public education and engagement over current trade and duty laws.

Funding platforms

Using a trust network adds a needed dimension to make fundraising easier and provide more references for donors.

Science and research

Instead of a closed circle of academia in which paper citations can be reflections of power and reciprocity instead of knowledge, Idea nodes can be set up around any topic and all contributions heard.

Governance and law

Principles of a society such as constitutions and bills of rights can have every definition and option listed with the historic or potential consequences of each definition and option easily accessible. For instance a principle such as The right to life has little or no meaning without defining the start and end dates of life, whether the right of one includes the duty of all others in the society to ensure it and many other aspects. This clarification makes each point far easier for every member of society to understand and agree on and then ensure that all law in that society flows naturally from the root principles. For instance if the right to life also includes the duty of each member of society to do what they can to ensure the life of another, then homelessness and extreme poverty cannot be tolerated by that society. This is discussed more completely in Binding Chaos, chapters, Natural and negotiated rights and Beyond nation states.

Once these principles are clearly defined, it is possible for every state or other society to accept or reject principles along with their specifications and the results can be easily accessible for all. It could also be possible to then use these accepted principles to choose association, for instance refuse trade with a corporation that refuses to accept certain environmental practices.

Technical specifications

G is written using Meteor 1.3 with a front end in React. It will probably follow the Mantra specification in the future. Most technical documentation will be on Github and Trello.

About me

I was raised in one of the most isolated and impoverished communities in Canada’s north. It was largely self governing with an economy based on social approval, not trade. I have spent most of my life working on anti-poverty, human rights and community developed solutions, from free stores and free education to community gardens and social care in many diverse communities. I am a programmer and have organized online as well for most of my life.

From 2010 to 2012 I was the sole administrator and editor of the Wikileaks news site Wikileaks Central. My objectives were to take the news focus off of men with guns, politicians and NGOs and amplify problems and solutions from the sources on the ground that were not being heard. My slogan for the site was News, Analysis, Action as I also wanted to encourage those reading leaks from Wikileaks, the Palestine Papers, etc. to move past passive news voyeurism and organize solutions. I participated in, promoted or reported on most of the major social movements of 2010-11 from their first initiations. In 2012 I focused on all forms of social media organizing, especially how states and corporations were using social media to manipulate public opinion and action and how to best combat their techniques.

Most of my work can be found on Wikileaks servers, Anonymous videos and etherpad manifestos worldwide. My signed work (book, articles) is linked to the GeorgieBC blog and GeorgieBC social media. Work related to G can be found on Github and on the website Getgee.xyz.

FAQ

Where is this database hosted?

Since this is an extremely complex database that will need a lot of work to optimize, I will set it up initially as a simple server application. After it is optimized and we know it can scale, we can run parallel testing in decentralized solutions to see what works.

What is the organizational structure of G?

It doesn’t have one yet and that will depend in part on who contributes code and funding and where it is based. All aspects of the project must remain free for anyone to use, and without obligation to funders in conflict to the stated aims of a global commons database and trust network. Potential structures are non-profit, co-operative or foundation.

Is this the Global Square?

The Global Square was a project I tried to develop in 2011-12. My links with Wikileaks, Occupy and Anonymous brought a huge amount of international media at the point when I did not even have a fully formulated idea, resulting in a huge amount of attention from people who wanted to use the project for personal fame and fundraising. It brought no one who wanted to contribute code, funding or usable ideas of any kind. Also in 2011-12, no one understood how I wanted to organize or why, so I needed these years to explain and show people why we need this structure (and not just a direct democracy voting app or a forum of regional representatives, for example). So no, this is not the Global Square, it is G.

What does G stand for then?

Whatever you like. I am just claiming this letter of the alphabet before a certain corporation decides to make it their intellectual property.

Everyone else is talking about privacy, you seem to be going the other way?

Private communication is not the biggest issue facing us on the Internet, social manipulation is. An organized public with reliable information can solve the majority of the problems of spying by removing spies from positions of power and creating regulations and laws in support of privacy. An isolated and confused public cannot organize solutions to anything.

There is also no such thing as privacy on the Internet. Anyone with enough money and motivation is perfectly capable of tracking all of your online activity across all platforms and displaying it in one graph. Their job is made much easier if you use the current corporate application software but they can do it in any case. A universal database allows you to choose your own front end software to make it much more difficult to track you and G allows you to use pseudonyms and multiple identities, something that is becoming more and more difficult with existing platforms. Since G leaves it to the user to filter spam using trust networks, we do not need the aggressive verification approaches of other platforms and we do not have any use for personal data either. Even though there is no privacy on the Internet, G is closer than what we have in existing collaborative platforms.

Why isn’t there an entity type for place?

Because place has different definitions. It either means location, which can be attached as geotags to events or organizations (the only times we want to reference that kind of place) or it means an organization, like a state or municipality or a thing like a house.

Definitions

Thought bubble: A forum which is closed to outside thought or opposing opinions.

Sealed well: Databases which have access controlled by web pages.

Ponzi scheme: A pyramid scheme algorithm which requires those at the bottom to support those at the top in order to benefit. This type of scheme never benefits more than a few.

Astroturfing: Propaganda campaigns created to mimic grassroots movements.

Trust networks: A network of people whose knowledge and judgment we rely on to help us filter our data or to grant editing permissions. A filter of zero degrees of trust contains only items we ourselves explicitly trusted, one degree also contains anything trusted by those we trust, and so on. Four or five degrees of trust should bring all results that are not spam or astroturfing.

Photoshopping: Removing aspects of a story which the writer does not deem relevant or agree with and leaving only those which support the writer’s bias.

Truth dictatorships: Platforms which present one view of reality as a complete ‘truth’ or ‘fact’.

To keep in touch:

Mailing list: getgee@lists.riseup.net

Heather Marsh: HeatherMarsh@riseup.net

This project is based in part on the thoughts outlined in the book Binding Chaos and on GeorgieBC’s Blog.

* Yes, of course it is a reference to Lord Acton’s quote about power.

Good-bye Wikipedia, hello something else

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Wikipedia was the first great, high profile success story of Internet mass collaboration and produced a well-loved reference used with obsessive frequency by an entire generation. But it is past time for us to build new forms of knowledge commons.

Wikipedia is a website, controlled by a foundation. It is the work of, theoretically, the entire Internet but it is not a global commons. One tiny group can, and did, blackout the entire site for a period specified by them. Wikipedia has survived so long by being hyper aware of and sensitive to their user community, it is highly doubtful they would ever become evil, but it is nevertheless centralized control of what ought to be a global commons. And centralized power always ends up doing things like this.

As an old node in the idea of free information, Wikipedia has a rigid hierarchy of tradition and established editors. Contributors with different ideas cannot just create what they wish and allow people to use it or not, as they can with blogs, tweets, pearltrees or other tools. Wikipedia does not play nicely with a decentralized Internet of information.

When Wikipedia was created, in 2001, it was a fascinating and liberating tool to work with. Now it is as archaic as a box of punched cards. We have made incredible progress in data mapping and modeling tools and we have software which makes graphically linking relationships intuitive and obvious. We also have tools that are designed for use on mobile phones and tablets, where most of the world is. We need to build to our new capabilities.

We also need new information in the repository. Wikipedia has been criticized often for their over representation of one tiny demographic of the world’s population. They have attempted to address their bias but it is very apparent that this is not working, neither women nor non-western men are very interested in editing Wikipedia.

The reason why is obvious, even if it escapes the Wikimedia Foundation board. The Wikipedia game is rigged against everyone but western men because it is a glorification and amplification of mainstream media. You cannot write a Wikipedia article unless you have mainstream media sources; news from mainstream media is considered the official verified version. Anyone who is not a western man must prove to many western men that they are newsworthy before they are included in Wikipedia. The entire Wikipedia repository is contaminated as a result.

A knowledge repository should rely on primary source material, interviews endorsed by all participants or affidavits. All of these types of material can be linked with no reliance on third party media. If citizen journalism is to replace corporate media it must not rely on corporate media to interpret data.

To be a stigmergic project instead of a cooperative one, each contributor must be free to work according to their own ideas and the power of the user group must be limited to acceptance or rejection of the final project for their own use only. This is simple in a structure like pearltrees where everyone creates their own pearls or pearltrees and others link to them or not as they see fit. It is simple in an RSS or Twitter feed where anyone can create their own list of voices to follow. It is impossible in Wikipedia.

Our right to communicate

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The first right of any person in any society must be the right to communicate. Without communication there is no way to safeguard our other rights or for us to participate fully in a society. When your right to communicate is interrupted by those who would be your voice, your face or your representative, you are being subjected to the governance of another.

Horizontal governance does not mean no one gets a voice, it means everyone does. A person or group who attempts to suppress the voices of others is attempting to seize control. Official group channels are representative governance, regardless of consensus that may or may not lie behind them. A person who interprets another’s voice instead of amplifying it is assuming control over the originator.

People giving a foreign ‘face’ to a cause are standing between us. Media who pretend to write stories about groups whose voices are never heard but write almost universally through the lens of western men instead, are ensuring that all interpretations and solutions come from the same small segment of society. Wars are told from the point of view of arms dealers and politicians, disasters are interpreted by NGO’s, most issues are never covered at all. Official channels decide what will or will not be revealed and media are rewarded for their obedience by access to more official information.

New media in its current form has made this worse instead of better. Journalists write about those powerful in social media to have their stories amplified by the same people. The news – celebrity symbiosis has only escalated as writers vie for page views. We are at risk of having increasingly narrow news coverage as platforms like Twitter move to increase amplification of already powerful accounts and hide the less powerful opinions from view.

Concentric groups, knowledge bridges and epistemic communities outlined the pitfalls of celebrity replacing epistemic communities and the need for peer ranked value of expertise. It also discussed the potential scope of shunning, photoshopping and trolling to prevent all voices from being heard. As information and voice amplification become the new symbols of power, those who would assume control of society have moved to hoard voice amplification and control the message received by the public in new ways.

The pressure for marginalized groups to stay in their marginalized roles increases as does their opportunities to escape. While it was once possible to simply identify people in relation to a more powerful figure, as assistant, wife, staff, servant, serf, slave or other, the Internet provided the opportunity for all to have an equal voice free of relation to others. The backlash to this freedom has been violent.

Depending on the group, individual voices are told their message will receive greater amplification if it comes from another, the danger of speaking openly is so great they must be protected, their individual voices disrupt the harmony of consensus, or they are part of a collective and will be shunned if they dare speak with their own name. Most importantly, the free information beliefs of many groups which threaten power have been twisted to conflate credit theft with free information.

When you are told that the actions and thoughts you know were your own belong to the group or the cause and you will be punished for claiming your own voice or actions, you know you belong to a cult with a cult leader(s). Devoting all of your work to a brand that will be used to create a bloated central figure who will then be able to control the messages of everyone while dining out on ill-gotten celebrity and collecting brand donations is no different than passing all your money to the Unification Church. The cult leaders of the 1970’s demanded money; in the age of the internet they demand fame and information control. In the 1970’s anyone who did not sign all material goods over to a cult leader was called greedy and materialistic. Now anyone who does not assign all credit to the cult leader is called vain and fame-seeking. The irony and hypocrisy is seen in the multimillionaire cult leaders of the 1970’s or the internet and offline famous would-be cult leaders of today.

It is possibly pure coincidence that every movement today that threatens the powerful is taken over by those that seek to suppress individuals and control the messages which are heard. It is undeniable that as soon as those voices come under centralized control they have ceased to say anything that comes close to challenging authority. The lack of recognition for the real source of any work makes it possible for the opportunistic to claim credit and very quickly build a following with too much celebrity and power for anyone to challenge. In the case of an internet entity such as FBI informant Sabu, this can be disastrous for the gullible.

As discussed in Idea and action driven systems, it is frequently necessary or desirable for the origin of ideas or actions to be unknown. It is essential that ideas and actions branded as unknown origin remain that way and no one is ever allowed to assume credit for them either personally or under a group umbrella. It takes only the slightest glance through all past attempts at societal change to see where every group that subsumed individual credit to ‘the cause’ has ended up, from the Communist Party of China to every Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution that became the new tyrant.

To reiterate once more what was said in Idea and action driven systems, credit theft has absolutely nothing to do with free information. Credit for one’s work or ideas is the right of every person, the human dignity of societal recognition and belonging and an inherent part of their identity. There is no need to ever hide the origin of information unless the ultimate goal is to isolate them and suppress or twist their messages or use their work to glorify another.

To allow local governance and solutions, local voices must be the ones which formulate problems and create dialogue. When there is a need of emergency response of the world to local problems, we must have a way to immediately amplify local voices to a global volume. For this we do not need new media or any media at all. People who are currently faceless and voiceless do not need another to be their face and voice. We need a system where urgent local news can be collected and amplified globally when necessary, and where the people of the world decide which news is important, not official news channels or celebrity nodes.

A person who takes your idea and information to use and build upon is your collaborator, tester and colleague. A person who takes your credit or your voice is your enemy, a thief who steals your societal recognition and approval for themselves and would be your tyrant.

The problems with democracy

This article is part of a series: ‘Stigmergy: Systems of Mass Collaboration’.

Around the world, people lamenting the demise of democracy, or fighting for the birth of ‘true’ democracy need to take a closer look. Democracy is a universally failed concept, not because we have not implemented it properly but because the ideas were flawed to begin with. Advocates of democracy as a system of governance usually hold that it will produce the greatest satisfaction among the governed by allowing the voices of all to be heard. If democracy was implemented in the way it is intended by any common definition to be implemented, the resulting society would not allow all voices to be heard and it could not be considered either fair or enlightened. ‘True’ democracy is at best only one step removed from ochlocracy or mob rule; in a society where the majority create the laws, the laws can always be changed to allow for the Salem witch trials, the current Guantanamo military commissions, or many other examples where mass panic allowed the revocation of years of law in order to persecute a minority.

There are two options commonly held to be our democratic choices; direct or representative democracy.

Direct democracy

A pure direct democracy is a pure tyranny of the majority. When a majority rules, there is no need for compromise and a minority will have their needs unrepresented, resulting in governance by the majority, not governance by the people. As in all systems where groups hold the highest power, individual rights are always at risk.

A direct democracy is impossible in actuality as no one can have the time to participate in every decision concerning them, and certainly not to educate themselves to provide meaningful input in every decision. To make the best decisions, expertise is required on each topic. Direct democracy does not always provide the best solutions, it provides the most popular, the most expedient, or even the most advertised solutions, more frequently as the decision becomes more complex.

Direct democracy gives equal weight to all votes, the expert and the novice, the completely dependent and the unaffected. Expert opinion is overshadowed by volume, which negatively impacts the resulting decisions. Allowing votes by people unaffected by the issue at hand results in not just uninformed decisions but also persecution of minorities.

Direct democracy is very susceptible to a hidden oligarchy, as those at the bottom of the social classes have no time available to represent themselves or to study the issues being debated. Secret clubs, and block voting are difficult to combat and also do not lead to decisions of the most benefit to all.

At its most pure, direct democracy is mob rule, or governance by decree. This system will allow the mob to override the decisions of constitutions and law, and does not allow for a reliable and consistent social contract for all members of society. In this form it is hard to argue that direct democracy is even a system of governance at all. Governance by decree is governance by whim, and not just or fair governance under most definitions of the words. If an individual is to enter a binding social contract with a society, it is essential that they see and can rely on the constitution of the society they are contracting with.

Direct democracy is very popular currently as an alternative to the more widely attempted and therefore more obviously failed representative democracy. The Pirate Party uses liquid democracy as an idea to tie votes to expertise and incorporate some aspects of direct democracy within a representative system, but this is a recycled idea from historical democracy that was replaced for a reason. Before secret ballots and one vote per person became the norm, people were regularly intimidated out of their votes by tyrannical spouses, employers, or others in a position of power. Liquid democracy is not a new system, it is a return to a previously failed system. It allows both an accepted rule by demagogues and a fertile ground for corruption, vote buying, and intimidation. These are things that were fought and exorcised in earlier times, there is no logical reason to expect a different result from a system that has been tried. Women and minorities fought far too hard to overcome this system to allow it to return.

Representative democracy

Representative democracy evolved as a means to overcome some of the obvious flaws of direct democracy. Representative democracy has become a cripplingly paradoxical system which celebrates nouns over verbs and is far more concerned with representation of every conceivable group than the governing actions being taken, resulting in a system where individual rights are negotiable, bigotry is integral and action is carried forth with no debate. Representative democracy is designed not to care about individual rights but to care about what noun each person can identify with and how strong is the lobby group associated with that noun. Representative democracy is divisive, ineffectual and based on impossible principles.

There are two underlying concepts which must be universally accepted for representative democracy to function: groups may act as individuals and individuals may act as groups. These two ideas are fundamentally unsound. While these contradictions were required in earlier attempts at representative governance, the idea was always flawed and recognized as being flawed. As we have progressed to the point where we can eliminate these weaknesses, we have instead greatly increased their use and stopped questioning their appropriateness. Presently these two concepts contribute to fundamental paradoxes throughout the current system which can only be remedied by rejection of the underlying concepts.

A group is a collection of individuals united for a certain time and space by a specific idea, experience or other common bond. Individuals have the ability to associate, to exchange ideas, to agree, to cooperate, cohabit and in any other way to collaborate, but the group they form does not become an individual. It cannot logically be granted a voice, a vote, or political or legal power. It is only in a system governed by groups and one which does not respect individual rights that such power seems essential.

Any group of affiliated people is an organization dedicated to promoting the interests of its group members. Unlike individuals, who have the power to change their minds and allegiances at will, or to act outside their own best interests, an organization has a mandate to promote a specific idea and represent a specific group. If a group were to fail to promote its mandate and population above all others, the group would be acting contrary to its reason for existence. Systems of ‘checks and balances’ implemented to counteract power of representatives presupposes that none of the representatives are to be trusted and therefore how can they be trusted to check each other? The first goal of nation states is to defend their citizens against the ‘other’, an idea which has led, and will continue to lead, to divisive politics and human rights violations.

In a system where groups representing individuals is the norm, as in the current representative political systems, there is a chronic problem of ensuring representation of all minority groups and hearing their rights alongside other larger groups. The issue is not solved by having more and louder minority groups, in every conceivable combination, making futile attempts to ensure that every group has a seat at every table and designing amplification algorithms for their voices, it is solved by ridding ourselves of all groups speaking as individuals and letting every individual speak for themselves. If individual rights for everyone are put above any group consensus, are a given in every assembly, if they are applied equally without distinction of any kind, there is no need for any group to have further representation. The completely incongruous situation we have found ourselves in under the current system, where groups demand and sometimes obtain special ‘individual’ rights, would be unnecessary. No group can properly represent the diversity of its members, only the individuals can.

People in systems of corporatist groups are proud to identify themselves as members of various groups instead of by their own actions. Anyone proud to self identify as a member of a group is at best a bore, at worst group affiliation allows them to circumvent personal responsibility and demonize ‘outsiders’. A corporatist group has no place in a consensus based system which respects all of its individual participants equally and a group does not have the flexibility to accurately represent individuals. Group representation of individuals contributes to the infantilization of the individuals and allows them to relax and not educate themselves or take part in their own governance. They are frequently less interested in the topic than in the social aspect of being in solidarity with their peers. Groupthink is not only a waste of potentially valuable contributions, it can allow flawed initiatives to pass simply because no one wishes to raise an objection, either the people who wish to maintain their membership in a group or the people who are too intimidated to disagree with the group.

There is no occasion for group endorsements or condemnations of anything when the individuals have their own voices. Both condemnations and endorsements encourage what ought to be assemblies of individuals with equal voices to place undue importance on pleasing the individuals belonging to the opposing or endorsing group. Dissenting voices from the group are not represented, and individual nuance is lost.

Group affiliation behind individual voices allows listeners to reject ideas before hearing them. Labeling an idea as coming from The Left or The Right is enough for many people to refuse to listen to it at all; other equally irrelevant group affiliations result in equally damaging bigotry which prevents communication on any topic. In a system which is built on communication and consensus, such barriers are insupportable.

Corporatist groups are fundamental to all centralized and totalitarian government systems, and antithetical to all open and consensual governance. Corporatist groups produce the same effect locally as they do nationally and globally; the cells create the whole and it is a fundamental contradiction to expect corporatist groups to create a consensual system. It is impossible to reconcile corporatist thinking at any level with an open system of communication and governance.

A group may take an action together, may communicate, may assemble, may agree on points, but a group never has one mind, one personality, one set of values. A group is not an individual and must not be used to represent individual thought.

Conversely, there is never a need for an individual to act as a group. We no longer live in a world where one individual has to make a long arduous journey to appear in person to represent their town or region, we need to work to ensure there is no reason why individuals cannot represent themselves in any circumstance. If the members not speaking are not interested then they should not participate instead of lending excess weight to another voice. If they are interested but do not understand, the system needs to be changed to allow for ease of understanding, probably by use of concentric user groups. If individual voices cause too much noise, the system needs to be modified to provide a solution. Individual voices are to be treasured, not lost for expedience.

If an individual represents a group we must ask who will have the right to represent the group? What will they be allowed to say? What will the wording be? If any member of the group disagrees, if any word is not approved, then the person speaking for the group is no longer representing the group. That person is now speaking as an individual with words unfairly weighted by group affiliation and the individuals in the represented group who allowed this are equally guilty of misrepresenting themselves as being part of a voice they failed to approve. An individual speaking for a group is a dishonest mask for an unfairly weighted individual voice in almost every circumstance.

When individuals speak as groups we frequently do not even know who the individuals behind the groups are or what their individual opinions are. In many cases the group is just the voice of one individual, sometimes an individual who speaks, votes, exercises political and legal power and obtains money or other rewards through many different groups. The group names encourage the public to attach undue authority to an individual voice, to think they are donating time, money or effort to a cause for many which benefits only one individual, to fail to question the background or connections of an individual they do not see.

Corporatist groups tend to be very personality driven systems, where a charismatic leader is given authority not commensurate with any expertise or experience. Where the representative falls short in knowledge or experience, they then have the authority to hire the needed expertise; a perfectly fertile ground for corruption and cronyism as well as incompetence. The representatives are assumed to carry all of the attributes and values associated with the group and given trust and blame not earned by themselves. The task of representing others is impossible and perilous in actuality, so the job is rarely taken up by anyone except as an opportunity to further a personal agenda.

It is understood by all that groups and individuals are different entity types with different attributes. The idea that the two may have their attributes exchanged for expedience is no longer expedient. Corporatist groups contribute to an extraordinary degree to the most problematic aspects of the current system, starting with the ones illustrated here and escalating into legal corporate personhood and democratic dictatorships. In order to create a system without the same failings, these two concepts must be rejected as part of the design. Individuals must begin to communicate as ideas and actions, not nouns. Groups must be given only those attributes which are logical to them, such as the ability to assemble.

Voices, votes, legal and political power are natural rights of individuals not groups.

Hidden oligarchies

In the iron law of oligarchy, Robert Michels holds that any political system eventually evolves into an oligarchy and his logic tests well against any system that has been tried so far.

Representative democracy is the most dishonest oligarchy of all as it insists on the falsehood that the voice of its oligarchs are the voice of the people and the subsequent falsehood that their rule is rule by the people. Democracies have not eradicated oligarchy, they have driven it to secrecy, a state of affairs ironically most abhorrent in a democracy. Instead of confronting the problems inherent in an oligarchy, democracy denies it exists while practicing it openly. Oligarchy is not necessary, but it can only be overcome in a completely open and transparent system which allows the most widespread participation by all and knowledge for all and recognizes and accommodates expertise and greater levels of knowledge (see Concentric groups, knowledge bridges and epistemic communities). Communism has failed for the same reasons, by denying and pretending to eradicate elitism instead of acknowledging it and using it to the advantage of society. Many advocates of both democracy and communism hold that their ideas have never been properly tried, but the refusal to recognize and control the causes of oligarchies is the reason the concepts behind both will never be implemented despite widespread attempts. These ideologies fail at the gate because of a fatal flaw; when a round peg does not fit in a square hole despite numerous attempts we do not say it has not been tried, we say it doesn’t work.

Representative democracies do not provide for expertise in governance as representatives are elected by land mass and time span, not system, and are usually elected for charisma, not expertise. Athenian sortition likewise made no attempt at combining expertise with authority. Subjects that the majority is unqualified to speak on are delegated to similarly unqualified political representatives, segregated from other representatives by land mass. These representatives appoint experts who obtain their positions by cronyism with the politician instead of expertise acknowledged by the entire interested population. The politicians and experts in the current system then provide for no meaningful feedback from users of the system, outside of occasional polls; these polls are conducted on test populations which another group have decided shall be considered representative of the population as a whole and used to provide input on only the questions the experts decide. There is no transparency of any meaningful kind that would allow users of the system to audit what the experts were doing.

We can do better than this. We can govern by user groups, respect individual rights and global commons, and collaborate using stigmergy and concentric groups. Where necessary, elite expertise can be contained and used through transparent epistemic communities and knowledge bridges while control remains with the user group.