2012-02-21 A proposal for governance: Concentric User Groups and Epistemic Communities

This article is a continuation of the ideas begun in A proposal for governance in the post 2011 world

ImageWhile revolutions around the world are in the streets for democracy, we need to look at that very poorly defined and all encompassing word by specifics, to review what we are asking for and why. The above proposal already began to express the need for individual rights and sovereignty in any democratic rule and will explore that in greater detail later; this article will look at the decision making processes in a democracy. There are two options commonly held to be our democratic choices; direct or representative democracy.

Direct democracy

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

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.

Aristotle warned of a mob rule form of democracy … in which, not the law, but the multitude, have the supreme power, and supersede the law by their decrees. This is a state of affairs brought about by the demagogues. For in democracies which are subject to the law the best citizens hold the first place, and there are no demagogues; but where the laws are not supreme, there demagogues spring up. For the people becomes a monarch … At all events this sort of democracy, which is now a monarch, and no longer under the control of law, seeks to exercise monarchical sway, and grows into a despot; … The decrees of the demos correspond to the edicts of the tyrant; and the demagogue is to the one what the flatterer is to the other. Both have great power; the flatterer with the tyrant, the demagogue with democracies of the kind which we are describing. The demagogues make the decrees of the people override the laws, by referring all things to the popular assembly. And therefore they grow great, because the people have an things in their hands, and they hold in their hands the votes of the people, who are too ready to listen to them. Further, those who have any complaint to bring against the magistrates say, ‘Let the people be judges’; the people are too happy to accept the invitation; and so the authority of every office is undermined. Such a democracy is fairly open to the objection that it is not a constitution at all; for where the laws have no authority, there is no constitution. … So that if democracy be a real form of government, the sort of system in which all things are regulated by decrees is clearly not even a democracy in the true sense of the word, for decrees relate only to particulars.

There is a case to be made that governance by decree is governance by whim, and not just governance under most definitions of the word. And following, there is a case to be made for a constitution and a body of laws. If an individual is to enter a binding social contract in a free society, it is just that they see the constitution of the society they are contracting with.

Representative democracy

The two fundamental pillars of representative democracy, the principles that groups can represent individuals and individuals can represent groups, are impossible in practice. 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.

In the iron law of oligarchy, Robert Michels holds that any political system eventually evolves into an oligarchy. Representative 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. If oligarchy is necessary, as it seems it must be, it needs to be openly and transparently defined by all and guidelines established to ensure the most widespread participation by all and knowledge for all.

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.

Problems in representative democracy have been more thoroughly covered in
A proposal for governance: Groups and individuals.

Concentric User Groups and Epistemic Communities

It has become evident that we need to look past the above methods of decision making if we are to protect individual rights, allow input from all and reach decisions using the greatest expertise we have available. This proposal has discussed stigmergy as an efficient form of mass organization for task completion. There is still a need for some form of organization in smaller systems and in decision making to prevent involuntary and unrecognized oligarchy and provide the most efficient and transparent use of expertise.

Governments up till now have acted as the final authority on all topics for an entire region for an arbitrarily specified length of time or until they are overthrown by another group. What these authorities govern is a series of systems, controlled by the state or corporations, and run as dictatorships where workers’ individual rights are exchanged for the basic necessities of life. These systems have profit for the top of the hierarchy as their objective; they are not set up to provide an efficient or superior service or product to the users.

If these systems were organized as autonomous, transparent, porous, concentric user groups, they would be far better governed by themselves. The current political structure does not recognize that every system is not of concern or interest to everyone in the region, or that some users have far greater knowledge and expertise in specific areas than others. We need a system where responsibility and control rests with the entire user group and expertise is acknowledged and put to best use.

Autonomous: each user group should consist of all people affected by the system and no people not affected by the system.

Systems should be organized by user groups, not by nations or treaties. International systems would include things such as the internet, telecommunications and knowledge, local systems would include things such as transit, food production and social services, and in any situation where only one family or an individual is affected, the responsibility would lie with only them. Each local user group or individual would have access to outside user groups for trade, shared knowledge, disaster relief, etc., autonomous but networked.

Transparent: all information related to the system must be fully transparent in order for users to participate in tasks or auditing.

Communication should not be the full responsibility of the experts in the centre, but should be carried over expertise bridges by full transparency and user participation; it is the responsibility of each user in an open system to educate themselves to their own level of comfort using the data and user population at each ring to inform themselves. Their input and decision making impact would then be commensurate with the expertise they acquire. The epistemic community in the centre should not need to protect themselves from attacks from completely uninformed users, the circles of expertise which promoted them to the centre should also verify and explain their findings to the outer circles.

Current systems primarily use a supposedly representative sample of the user group to provide periodic feedback. This feedback is delivered as percentages of the population which, as is usual in the current system, ignores the importance of the individual. From an individual perspective, the chance of, for instance, dying of a side effect from a pharmaceutical is either 0% or 100%, group statistics have no effect on individual experience. Transparent user groups allow feedback and ideas from the entire user group, an automatic testing and validation system in place continually throughout development and operation.

Experts are peer promoted based on reputation instead of certification by an external authority. Each user of a system can review the work of the active members both directly and through the expert review of the active member’s peers instead of placing their faith in a third party certification. Additionally, experts can be created by the system itself as users develop knowledge, expertise and reputation and move towards the centre. Third party authorities such as universities are no longer necessary.

Porous: contribution at all levels of each user group must be open to all users with acceptance by peer review.

A side effect of these user groups is that they provide workers with the three motivators whicharguably provide the greatest job satisfaction, autonomy, mastery and purpose. People can work on anything they like, they are not required to submit resumes, acquire accreditation, seniority, or approval from an individual authority. If their work is good enough it will be accepted by the user group. Everyone can work on the system that interests them, doing the jobs at the level they are capable of, with as much or as little involvement as they choose.

Concentric: user groups should be formed in concentric circles representing levels of expertise.

For example, users: audit and provide feedback, contributors: interested users who periodically present work for acceptance by the members, members: have acquired expertise and been accepted as full contributing members by the user group, and an epistemic core group: recognized by the group as having the necessary level of expertise to provide direction for the system.

Ideas can never be furthered if discussion is always at the level of the novice and the ideas of an expert can only be tested by other experts with equal understanding of the topic; in a concentric user group, the receptive field is stronger near the centre, so informed opinions will be heard more clearly by experts in the centre, but full transparency will allow anyone from any part of the system to be as informed as they wish to be by any other part.

In representative democracy we have learned that people in general prefer to place their faith in leaders who are like them instead of leaders who are so expert they do not understand them. In order to avail ourselves of the greatest expertise on each topic, we must place our most knowledgeable experts in a position of transparent authority while also providing a 30 IQ point bridge leading from their ideas to the casually interested observer. According to Leta Hollingworth’s research, to be a leader of their contemporaries a child must be more intelligent but not too much more intelligent than them. A discrepancy of more than about 30 points of IQ does not allow for leadership, or even respect or effective communication.

Hollingworth notes: A lesson which many gifted persons never learn as long as they live is that human beings in general are inherently very different from themselves in thought, in action, in general intention, and in interests. Many a reformer has died at the hands of a mob which he was trying to improve in the belief that other human beings can and should enjoy what he enjoys. This is one of the most painful and difficult lessons that each gifted child must learn, if personal development is to proceed successfully. It is more necessary that this be learned than that any school subject be mastered. Failure to learn how to tolerate in a reasonable fashion the foolishness of others leads to bitterness, disillusionment, and misanthropy [3, p. 259].

This loss of expertise is a tragedy for both the experts and society. There needs to be a method of organization that will use all expertise at the level it will be most effective and yet avoid an authoritarian hierarchy. Epistemic communities need to be placed at the centre of all systems so their expertise is available to all working within the system. The systems however, must be completely transparent to allow full auditing of information provided by the core group by any interested users and passers by.

Concentric circles bypass the divide between what people say and what they are willing to do, as acceptance is based on performance not accreditation, resumes and interviews. Titles are replaced by jobs and voices are amplified according to the peer group acceptance earned. As in stigmergy, votes are frequently replaced by actions, putting authority in the hands of those doing the work. The jobs discussed in The financial system which offer no benefit to the user group would be eliminated instead of put in a position of authority.

 

The keys to preventing a concentric user group from becoming a tyrannical oligarchy are fulltransparency, peer promotion and porous acceptance of work by peer review at all levels. When combined with stigmergy it can be hoped that the work produced in these systems will finally be of the highest standard we can attain and the work environments will be enjoyable and fulfilling for all.

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2012-01-26 A proposal for governance: Groups and individuals

This article is a continuation of the ideas begun in A proposal for governance in the post 2011 world

ImageThere are two underlying concepts which must be universally accepted for the current system to function. These two concepts are that groups may act as individuals and individuals may act as groups; two ideas which are fundamentally unsound. While these contradictions were required in earlier attempts at representative governance, the idea was always flawed in a democratic system 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 concepts.

Groups acting as individuals

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, 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. A 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.

In a system where groups representing individuals is the norm, as in the current democratic 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.

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.

When a group announces (or more accurately, when an individual speaking for an entire group announces) its endorsement of anything, the result is similar to a group of friends attending a party. The object is to ensure they already know everyone and their friends have promised to take their side in whatever circumstances arise. They do not have to worry about meeting new people, much less new ideas, they are bringing their current ones with them. 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. When they do think for themselves, 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 actually 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.

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.

Individuals acting as groups

The first question to be asked whenever this occurs, is why? Why can these individuals not speak with their individual voices? Is there a flaw in the system that is preventing them from being heard? Because the solution then is to fix the flaw, 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, 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.

Who will have the right to represent a 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.

if liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost. – Aristotle

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 names, 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.

2012-01-24 A proposal for governance: Privacy and Transparency

This article is a continuation of the ideas begun in A proposal for governance in the post 2011 world

Image

It was agreed by most of the world in the past that privacy was a basic individual right. All individuals are private individuals, only their actions which affect public life are of public interest. It is essential to democratic government, that organizations which affect the public must be transparent to the public; without full information, the public is incapable of making the decisions required to participate in their own governance. In the past, any secrets by public organizations, short of war secrets, were grounds for a scandal. A free media and freedom of speech were essential in a democracy so that transparency of public matters could be ensured.

Our world has now changed so far that the public has to prove why it needs to know any information about its government and go through an expensive and labour intensive process to acquire information that will arrive, if it arrives at all, after great delay and in a very censored form. Information on corporations is simply unattainable except by illegal methods as corporations, which include prison, intelligence, military, pharmaceutical, agricultural, and even police agencies, are considered private. These private corporations now own rights to global commons such as our oceans, space and electromagnetic field, as well as the individual environments of each of us.

A huge industry has built up around filtering, hoarding, spinning and occasionally doling out to the public in innocuous bits without context all information about organizations and actions which effect the public. The true information that reaches the public is more than drowned out by the equally huge industry of misinformation being produced and distributed by the same public organizations. Our media exists to inform us that our right to information is actually a right to know whether an arbitrarily selected private citizen has had a haircut instead of a right to the information we need in order to govern ourselves.

Another massive industry exists to gather, store, analyze and distribute every conceivable detail of private information on private citizens. Private corporations gather and store information on every aspect of individual lives and make it available to any organization with the finances or skill to retrieve it. There is no discrimination in what is gathered as organizations have decided that any private information is an unknown unknown, they may just not know if they need it or not, so they need it all.

Legal changes and popular propaganda have created such oxymoronic beasts as public individuals and private corporations to cause confusion over these very clear violations of the two basic principles.

There is no such thing as a private organization, outside of purely social groups. There is no such thing as a public person, only public actions by private individuals.

Radical privacy and radical transparency

Under the current system, even when people become convinced of the soundness of the principles of privacy for individuals and transparency for organizations and actions which effect the public, they advocate a modified version of this rule as reasonable, the result of compromise and good sense, and not radical like a whole hearted embrace of the principles would be. They point to many situations where the principles in pure form simply would not work. Principles however, if they are sound at all, must work in all cases. If they do not, there is a fault either with the principle, or the case. The answer in our current society has been to reject the principles as nice ideas which we will keep in our legal foundations but ignore in reality as they are simply not practical. A more accurate answer may be found by looking at the cases where these two principles appear to produce poor results.

The release of the US state cables was widely condemned because of the release of the names of private individuals who were providing information to public organizations. The exposure of any private individual to harm must be regarded as an ill. But if harm had been caused, it would have been caused not by the action which abided by the principles but by the earlier actions in violation of the principles. The individuals in question had a right to privacy. Why were their names recorded and placed in an extremely public and easy to access database? Why were their names recorded at all? Why did those individuals need to make secret reports about public organizations or actions to other public organizations? If the principle regarding public organizations and actions was followed, there would be no need for informants. If the principle regarding privacy for individuals was followed, the names would never have been recorded.

Another case frequently brought forward is the harm to individuals by drug cartels in South America if the cartels knew about individuals who are reporting them. Under the current system, they already know, as do the state cable informant’s enemies. Once information about an individual is stored, the principle of individual privacy which ought to protect that individual has been ignored, leaving the individual completely exposed. Again, that individual ought also to be protected by the principle of transparency for public organizations. If the entire country was working together in a structure that allowed them to expose all actions of the drug cartels, the individuals would not need to be put at risk. If we apply the two principles from the beginning, they work in every hazardous situation I have heard of so far.

Law enforcement and military around the world have claimed the right to operate in complete secret as that is the only way to catch ‘the bad guys’. Transparency would enable the public to catch the bad guys on both sides. A public that was involved in helping to enforce laws could accomplish far more than a police force could by itself, as has been proven many times. Instead of blocking the entire internet under the pretense of blocking child porn sites, the police could just ask for the public to police the internet. If child porn or terrorist plotting sites can be found by anyone, they can be found by everyone, what is required is not secrecy and censorship but a proper structure for policing which involves the public as well. The only time this would not work is when the law is not one the pubic agrees with, which is a great method of providing feedback that the law needs to be modified to represent the people more accurately.

Diplomats and others in positions of power have complained that transparency makes it difficult for them to do their jobs. Where that is the case, the fault must be found with their jobs. The current system is a massive, tangled tortuous mess of intelligence, media, spokespeople, communication departments, freedom of information laws and lobbies, actions and counteractions attempting to maintain balance in a system which preaches democracy and practices fascism. The dichotomy and confusion is caused by the current system, not the proposed one. Entire industries would be made redundant by adherence to the principle of transparency for public organizations. Transparency in its literal sense, not selected pieces of isolated information wrapped up and presented by an official, but full transparency, of the kind that would allow any passerby to see exactly what an organization was up to. As the current powers have been asking private individuals for decades, what do they have to hide?

The kind of radical transparency that private individuals have been exposed to needs to be turned on all organizations and actions which have any impact on the public. Individuals have a right to privacy as part of the rights they brought from a state of nature and did not voluntarily relinquish under our democratic social contract. Organizations and actions which affect the public are not protected by any such rights.

All individuals have a right to privacy. All organizations and actions which affect the public must be completely transparent to the public. These principles do not work in isolation; the fault is not with the principles, but the isolation.

2012-01-09 A proposal for governance: Stigmergy, beyond competition and collaboration

This article is a continuation of the ideas begun in A proposal for governance in the post 2011 world<

ImageStigmergy is a mechanism of indirect coordination between agents or actions. The principle is that the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a next action, by the same or a different agent. In that way, subsequent actions tend to reinforce and build on each other, leading to the spontaneous emergence of coherent, apparently systematic activity. Stigmergy is a form of self-organization. It produces complex, seemingly intelligent structures, without need for any planning, control, or even direct communication between the agents. – Wikipedia

Competition, collaboration and stigmergy

The internet has, in a few short years, become celebrated for the incredible success of its mass collaborative efforts, most of which were actually not produced by collaboration but by stigmergy. Stigmergy, a far more effective means of handling large group efforts, is also the best hope for success in a new governing system. This proposal has already suggested that new governance be based on systems, not land mass, and that governance be by user groups, not elected officials. Stigmergy is the most effective way for those user groups to govern systems.

Systems are currently primarily run by competitive organizations. Competition creates redundancy, is slow and wastes resources on idea protection, advertisement, and more. Competition also requires secrecy which blocks progress and causes lost opportunities and ideas. Patents and copyrights further limit speed and the potential for mass input of ideas. Collaboration between the people with the greatest expertise does not happen unless they are hired by the same project.

The alternative to competition has traditionally been collaboration. This is most effective only in groups of two to eight people. For groups larger than 25, collaboration is agonizingly slow, an exercise in personality management which quickly degenerates into endless discussion and soothing of ruffled feathers, is extremely vulnerable to agent provocateurs, and very seldom accomplishes anything of value. Collaboration traditionally operates on the democratic principle that all voices are equal, so it does not allow for leaders, or users with greater expertise, energy or understanding to have greater influence than those on the periphery.

Stigmergy is neither competitive nor traditionally collaborative.

In a competitive environment, a new idea is jealously guarded, legally protected and shrouded in secrecy. Great effort is expended in finding supporters for the idea while also ensuring that the idea remains covered by legal protections such as non-disclosure agreements. The idea remains inextricably bound to the creator until it is legally transferred to another owner and all contributors work for the owner, not the idea. Contributors must then be rewarded by the owner which further limits the potential for development and wastes more resources in legal agreements, lawsuits, etc. Contributors have no interest in whether the project succeeds or fails and no motivation to contribute more than they are rewarded for.

If the idea is instead developed collaboratively, it must first be pitched by the originator, who will attempt to persuade a group to adopt the idea. The group must be in agreement with the idea itself and with every stage of its development. The majority of energy and resources are spent on communication, persuasion, and personality management, and the working environment is fraught with arguments and power struggles. Because the project is driven by a group, albeit a collaborative one, the group is still competitive with other similar outside projects, and still wastes resources and energy on secrecy, competitive evangelizing, etc. Both competitive and collaborative projects will die if the group that runs the project leaves and both will attract or repel contributors based on the personalities of the existing group. Both are hierarchical systems where individuals need to seek permission to contribute.

With stigmergy, an initial idea is freely given, and the project is driven by the idea, not by a personality or group of personalities. No individual needs permission (competitive) or consensus (collaborative) to propose an idea or initiate a project. There is no need to discuss or vote on the idea, if an idea is exciting or necessary it will attract interest. The interest attracted will be from people actively involved in the system and willing to put effort into carrying the project further, not empty votes from people with little interest or involvement. Since the project is supported or rejected based on contributed effort, not empty votes, input from people with more commitment to the idea will have greater weight. Stigmergy also puts individuals in control over their own work, they do not need group permission to tell them what system to work on or what part to contribute.

The person with the initial idea may or may not carry the task further. Evangelizing the idea is voluntary, by a group that is excited by the idea; they may or may not be the ones to carry it out. It is unnecessary to seek start up funding and supporters; if an idea is good it will receive the support required. (In practise, that is not true yet, as few people have the free time to put into volunteer projects because most are tied to compulsory work under the existing financial system.) Secrecy and competition is unnecessary because once an idea is given, it and all new development belongs to anyone who chooses to work on it. Anyone can submit work for approval, the idea cannot die or be put on hold by personalities; acceptance or rejection is for the work contributed, not the person contributing it. All ideas are accepted or rejected based on the needs of the system.

Responsibility and rights for the system rest with the entire user group, not just the creators. There is no need for people to leave the system based on personality conflicts as there is no need for communication outside of task completion and there are usually plenty of jobs with complete autonomy. As no one owns the system, there is no need for a competing group to be started to change ownership to a different group.

Stigmergy provides little scope for agent provocateurs as only the needs of the system are considered and anyone working against the system’s functionality is much easier to see and prevent than someone blocking progress with endless discussion and creation of personality conflicts. Because the system is owned by all, there is no one personality to target.

Splintering

As work progresses and core team and members grow, more interested and dedicated personalities emerge which begin to steer direction. Specialties are formed around the core team’s interests as the core team produces the most work and the work most valued by the rest of the user group. Systems beyond a certain level of complexity begin to lack coherence as the group’s energy and focus moves from broad to narrow, following the interests of the core team and the availability of resources; parts of the original system will be left undone.

As more members are added, more will experience frustration at limited usefulness or autonomy. Some of these members will have an interest in the work left undone and they will create a new node of like minded members and new people to take care of the undone work. Alternatively, casual users and observers of the system, who lack the desire or expertise to be a more active part of the original system, will see the need created and create a new node. Rather than the traditional corporate model of endless acquisition and expansion, stigmergy encourages splintering into different nodes. Because each individual is responsible only for their own work, and no one can direct a group of workers, expansion means more work for the individual, a self limiting prospect. As a system grows, the additional work requires either additional resources or splintering; as communication is easier and there is more autonomy in smaller groups, splintering is the more likely outcome of growth.

Communication between nodes of a system is on an as needed basis. Transparency allows information to travel freely between the various nodes, but a formal relationship or communication method is neither necessary nor desirable. Information sharing is driven by the information, not personal relationships. If data is relevant to several nodes it will be immediately transmitted to all, no formal meetings between official personalities are necessary.

Any node can disappear without affecting the network, and the remaining necessary functionality of that node can be taken up by other nodes. Nodes which find they are performing the same tasks will likely join, or one will be rendered obsolete by lack of use. New nodes are only created to fulfill a new need or provide greater functionality; it is inefficient to have the same task performed twice, and that only occurs if a second group discovers an alternative method that the first group is unwilling to adopt. In that case, the best system will win the most support from the user group, the other will die or remain as a valued alternative. Any user can contribute to the node which best matches their interests and abilities, or contribute to multiple nodes.

In practice: the Wikileaks system

Stigmergy is already a working system in many parts of the internet. For an example close to home, we can look at Wikileaks, from the point it began splintering. When Wikileaks reached critical mass, when it was releasing a huge volume of data and its resources were stretched far too thinly to cope with all of the extra tasks, other groups began to pick up pieces of the original group’s mandate.

First were the bloggers, tweeters (and occasionally journalists) who took over the media relations for the organization. These were almost entirely individuals, and the task quickly became one of countering misinformation. Direct communication was unnecessary, information flowed through the Twitter hashtag #Wikileaks and was occasionally filtered by the official Wikileaks Twitter account. When the Swedish newspaper Expressen announced the legal case against Assange, the Swedish forum Flashback began an investigative thread within 25 minutes of the first tweet from Expressen. That thread was responsible for almost all of the initial investigation into the case, and was mined for updates by journalists worldwide. English speakers were kept updated by RixstepNews which provided instant Twitter and blog updates to any new developments on the forum.

When it became apparent that a more organized setting was going to be necessary for disseminating facts and dispelling fiction, three people had the idea for a website, a number which quickly morphed to ten people from five continents. The website WL Central was created in 72 hours. Of the initial three, one left within days as their original site was more in line with the contributions they wished to make, and another left within weeks due to other life commitments. Of the original ten, extremely few contributed much or for long to WL Central, but most remain supporters of both WL Central and Wikileaks and most have contributed a great deal since in individual efforts and continue to evangelize for both WL Central and Wikileaks. Many early members who wandered out have occasionally wandered back in again as there is no official commitment to be kept.

As the website grew and became more specialized, a great deal of the functionality was taken up by other sites. WL Press took over the collation of media coverage, SwedenVsAssangeprovided detailed coverage of the case against Julian Assange, CablegateSearch andCableDrummer discovered new projects that were helpful to all. Other supporters set up aFacebook page, a forum, and many other projects, while WL Central became the place for related news, in depth cable investigation, and revolution coverage. Many bloggers provided additional perspective from their blogs. Anonymous provided broad support of many other kinds, and organizations such as EFFACLUAmnesty, and other human rights, and anti censorship organizations, while not part of the Wikileaks system, were still nodes that were connected by many shared values.

Besides the sites that supported Wikileaks, many sites sprang up which offered the same functionality but in a specialized area, either by region or by topic. Sites such as the extremely successful BalkanLeaks could bring focus to a certain region and combine their leaks with analysis of Wikileaks releases and in depth journalism to get attention to local issues. The least successful of these sites attempted to replicate Wikileaks, changing only the ownership. The most significant and most successful was a simple little site called Tunileaks.

Tunileaks became a node in the Wikileaks system when it created a site to pull all cables related to Tunisia and publicize them in Tunisia, where they had been censored. Because of the Wikileaks and censorship connections, the site was evangelized on WL Central and on Twitter by WLC writers. Anonymous were also early followers, giving assistance in mirroring the site and evangelizing on Twitter. On December 17, 2010, when a fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest the injustice of the Ben Ali regime, his death was ignored for a month and a half by the mainstream media, but not by the Wikileaks system. Because there was already an active hashtag for Tunisia, followed by a global audience, because WL Central, Anonymous and others had been made aware of the situation in Tunisia, and because censorship everywhere had received much greater coverage than was usual, Bouazizi’s immolation and subsequent death on January 4th did not fall into a vacuum. The outpouring of support from all nodes of the system was enough to cause the Tunisian uprising to be named both the Twitter Revolution and the Wikileaks Revolution and the support helped encourage people around the world to follow in Tunisia’s footsteps.

None of the sites in this system are competitive, but neither are they particularly collaborative. While communication is possible at any time, each is aware of anything important happening in another node, and some people contribute to more than one node, there are no official communication lines. There is no time and no resources wasted on unnecessary communication, but if a node needs support it is possible for support to be instantly given by every node in the system. The establishment of wlfriends.org will hopefully give rise to many other nodes, each performing a different support function or one tailored to a new region.

The future

A new system of governance that does not follow a competitive hierarchical model will need to employ stigmergy in most of its working systems. It is neither reasonable nor desirable for individual thought and action to be subjugated to group consensus in matters which do not affect the group, and it is frankly impossible to accomplish complex tasks if every decision must be presented for approval; that is in fact the biggest weakness of the hierarchical model. The incredible success of so many internet projects are the result of stigmergy, not collaboration, and it is stigmergy that will help us build quickly, efficiently and produce results far better than any of us can foresee at the outset.

2012-01-05 A proposal for governance: The financial system

This article is a continuation of the ideas begun in A proposal for governance in the post 2011 world

It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world. – Mary Wollstonecraft

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An overriding concern of most people participating in the 2011 revolution has been the financial system. From the September 17 protests against the financial institutions and the symbolism of Occupy Wall Street to the widespread discussion of alternative currencies, money has received more air time than even human rights and war. Indeed, the current human rights atrocities and endless wars did not cause the revolution – it was the unfairness of the economic systems (starting with the fining of a fruitseller in Tunisia) which have been the driving force behind the 2011 protests.

With all of this attention, it would be easy to assume that financial systems are a very important part of any future society. But are they? Before we discuss alternative systems or how to repair our current system, we need to look at why we need a financial system at all. If we define the function of our financial systems, form should follow easily, be it community currency, barter, p2p digital, resource based or other.

The current system

The current financial system functions as a means to tie the work that is done for corporations to basic essentials such as food and housing in an entirely artificial relationship. Despite an abundance of basic essentials, individuals or entire countries can be deprived of them based on the labour or rights they are providing to corporations. A system where banks, governments, and many other valueless institutions also stand between individuals and basic needs and demand payment completes the creation of true wage slavery where no worker can survive outside the system. By providing a complete disconnect between work required to produce basic essentials and ownership or access to them, this system also assures gross overabundance of resources for people who do no work of value at all.

Wages are commonly described as a motivator to work, we are told that no one would work if they were not paid. This is belied by the amount of people raising their children, cleaning their homes, tending their gardens, volunteering for fire departments and writing open source software and it is belied by cultures in myriad times and places which survived happily without a financial system. Indeed it seems more as if all of the work that benefits society is or could easily be unpaid, while pay is only required for work that is harmful to society. Valuation of work rests with corporations and governments which ensure that workers will engage in pointlessly dangerous and immoral work that they would never do otherwise. Wages were created not to motivate us to work, but to control our work.

The jobs that corporations and governments have chosen to value are almost entirely busywork, pointless jobs that would not exist in another system, jobs including but not limited to everything in sales, finance, management, politics, and more. The end result of corporate work is far too much product and products and services that are detrimental to society and the environment, and poorly distributed. Any attempts to stop this work are met with the cry that to do so would cause job loss, which is promoted as a great evil as under this system jobs equal basic essentials. Jobs are always touted as being in short supply, valuable, and difficult to obtain, especially the ‘good’ jobs that pay the most money. Jobs are, of course, not remotely scarce, any child can find hundreds of valuable things to do at any time, but these valuable jobs have not had an artificial monetary value associated with them.

Any for profit system is not going to have social or environmental goals as its mandate (even if it says it does) and a wage paying system is a for profit system. If profit were removed, all decisions would be made for social goals, prison systems would be trying to rehabilitate prisoners or study to find why they were in violation of the law instead of just warehousing as many as possible, medical research would be trying to improve health instead of selling pharmaceuticals, and agriculture would be devoted to producing the most nutritious food in the most environmentally responsible way. Removing profit would also remove a great deal of the reason for competitiveness, secrecy and spying within organizations, along with a great deal of the redundancy of competing companies providing identical goods and services. Removing wages attached to a specific system would give every individual the freedom to leave any system they did not agree with or that began to malfunction due to core team problems, a better alternative system or other.

On an international level, the financial system serves to artificially control which countries are wealthy and which are not, by manipulating prices for a running shoe so that it is worth extremely little at the point of manufacture in China but people are killing each other for it in the US. At a national level it allows banks, who have no need of housing, to hoard millions of houses while the children that used to live in them sleep in the streets. At an individual level, the equating of life’s essentials with the financial system can control life or death, fulfillment or wasted potential, contentment or misery. All of society’s problems which could be solved by money, were caused by money.

Social Impact

Paid work creates poverty, where anyone not enabling the corporations and doing their work lives in fear of the legal and societal persecution that comes with poverty. Poverty is the hardest work of any available today. It is a very expensive lifestyle, entailing endless fines, charges and fees levied by the corporate and government world. It leaves no time to achieve any fulfillment, is a life threatening health risk, and is extremely damaging to all personal relationships. It is naturally almost universally dreaded.

Poverty is also regarded as a moral failure, as society needs to blame the victim to avoid blaming themselves for the situation the poor find themselves in. In this way, courage, duty, industry, thrift, kindness, loyalty – all of the traditional virtues may be replaced simply by wealth, the ultimate virtue respected in society today. The very word ‘unemployed’ states idleness, when anyone who has been poor knows how much work is involved, while wealth is used synonymously with success and achievement. Paid work also artificially values one job above another (and subsequently the person doing that job above the other) regardless of individual preference. While menial work might be considered more enjoyable than executive work by most people, providing exercise, social interaction and purpose, the assigned values teach us to value pointless executive work instead.

Paid work occupies all of our time, and when we are outside the financial system poverty is a full time job. This acts to cripple all volunteer work such as community gardens and open source projects that would otherwise be done for free and may undermine the system of wage control over individuals. For those that volunteer anyway, the financial system ensures that their work, such as child rearing or innovative thought, is kept from ever resulting in any kind of independence and encourages those volunteers to collaborate with the corporate system to obtain security. Volunteer work is also subject to the same moral scrutiny as poverty, especially in recent years when a requirement of being poor is frequently the oxymoronic compulsory volunteer work associated with receiving basic essentials. Previously the domain of the rich and idle, therefore commendable, volunteer work has now become tainted with the stench of poverty, further limiting willing participants.

The current financial system is therefore necessary to control our work, to control our time, to create poverty, to create division and to force people to do work which is harmful to society.

A modified system

It is possible, and frequently proposed, that the current financial system be modified to make it accessible for all to earn the basic essentials of life easily. This could be done by having far more types of work valued, by providing various forms of charity, by forcing corporations to follow certain workplace standards and many other tweaks and regulations. All are in the end just modifications to the master slave relationship and none recognize the underlying flaws in the system. Who would be the authority valuing the work, administering the charity and enforcing the standards? Who has control of the wages? Whoever maintains authority over the work of others maintains the hierarchical system and prevents workers from having autonomy, mastery and control over their own work. This infantilization of workers, even in a system with worker’s rights, limits innovation, decreases satisfaction, and prevents workers from reaching their full potential.

A currency free system

It is possible to operate a society with no financial system at all. Where surplus exists, it can be given, traded or pooled communally to ensure there is no want of basic essentials. This suggestion is frequently countered with the statement that only primitive societies can operate in such a fashion, our society is too complex, but that statement is never backed by any insurmountable obstacles. Such a system is unlikely to appear soon in its pure form, but could exist to cover at least basic essentials so that a society does not condemn a child to starvation because a parent cannot provide for them. It would then also be possible for people to follow the path that for them provides the greatest satisfaction without being held to corporate slavery.

A great fear associated with abolishing wages or providing anything ‘for free’ is that some people may not work. This fear completely disregards the fact that there have always been people who will not work and under the current system they include the people receiving the highest monetary rewards. Because of the artificial monetary value assigned to some jobs, people who elect to do demanding and valuable work with no associated corporate wage are sneered at as ‘welfare mothers’, etc. and made to believe they are acting as parasites on society while corporate executives who provide no societal value are hailed as great successes. A 2010study showed that executives, managers, supervisors, and financial professionals account for about 60 percent of the top 0.1 percent of income earners in the US in recent years. In a system where all work was directly tied to the product or service produced, there would be far more societal pressure for people to do something of direct value, and the people contributing nothing would be exposed. With a more open system it would also be far easier for people with current difficulties getting work in the corporate environment to produce something of value.

The internet has always had a strong anti-currency bias. The earliest email spam promotions only served to increase the divide between the corporate world which took over the surface and the underground which remained as before, populated by people derisively referred to as parent’s basement dwellers due to the very real truth that their work seldom brought income. The difference between worlds is nowhere more apparent than between Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire Facebook creator and prodigy of the corporate world, and moot, founder of the most wildly influential, popular and completely unprofitable financially, website 4chan. With no financial incentives the internet has managed to create collaborative efforts which have pushed the potential of society far beyond what could have been possible before the internet. In the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard “The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”

While it is doubtful that freeing people to obtain basic essentials outside of corporate bondage would result in more people than usual not working, it is very likely that the increase in art and innovation would be dramatic. It would also change the perception in society of the value of volunteer work if it were open to everyone to participate in it, and the type of work produced would be valued by society, not corporations.

Property Ownership

A system which does not allow property ownership overlooks the fact that property ownership always exists, it has simply transferred ownership, with all of the rights and responsibilities, to a group instead of an individual.

Property ownership causes problems when control of property is held outside of the user group. When a community owns an individual’s home, an individual owns a community’s public space, or a nation state lays claim to an ocean, problems are inevitable. Ownership implies rights and decision making; as with other systems, the rights and decision making for property must lie with the user group of that property to minimize conflict and provide the most effective stewardship. Property ownership will be discussed further in a later article.

It was once considered inconceivable that the world could run without slavery for the exact same reasons people are now putting forward for retaining wages, our modern slavery.

Resources:

Cooperative Economy in the Great Depression http://jonathanrowe.org/money-cooperative-economy-in-the-great-depression

Image credit MauroB

2011-12-24 A proposal for governance in the post 2011 world

Optimism is a political act. In fact, these days, cynicism is obedience. – Alex Steffen
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The world is long overdue for a completely new system of governance. The need for political representation or a paternalistic and opaque authority has been removed by technology. Governance by nation states is now as arbitrary and illogical as city states were earlier found to be. Corporations have the freedom to live in a world without borders or social responsibility, to own property no individual can claim and to control a one world government and legal system, with insupportable consequences for the world’s resources and individual rights. To effect the change we require in 2012, to give individuals control and responsibility, to bring regional systems under regional governance and protect the heritage of future generations, we need a new political model.

Individual Rights

In any system where groups have power, individual rights are always at risk. Both pure democracy and communism have brought human rights horrors every bit as reprehensible as fascist states; in order to guard against genocide, torture, and other persecution of individuals in the name of the greater good, a system must safeguard individual rights above all other authority.

Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifies that individual rights are to be applied equally without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. With the addition of age, this would prevent discrimination against any group. Groups are not individuals and no group is entitled to special and further rights or protections under individual rights.

A recognition of individual rights will include life, liberty, security of person, access to the basic essentials of life including knowledge, privacy and personal autonomy in matters not affecting the rest of society, free development of personality and potential, and a fair legal system which does not promote wishes of the group over rights of the individual.

Autonomous peer to peer user groups for systems

Governments up till now have been run by hierarchical groups, which act as the final authority on all topics for an entire region for an arbitrarily specified length of time or until they are overthrown by another group. What these authorities govern is a series of systems, controlled by the state or corporations, and run as dictatorships where workers’ individual rights are exchanged for the basic necessities of life. These systems have profit for the top of the hierarchy as their objective; they are not set up to provide an efficient or superior service or product to the users.

If these systems were organized as autonomous, transparent, porous, peer to peer user groups, they would be far better governed by themselves. The current political structure does not recognize that every system is not of concern or interest to everyone in the region, or that some users have far greater knowledge and expertise in specific areas than others. We need a system where responsibility and control rests with the entire user group and expertise is acknowledged and put to best use.

Autonomous: each user group should consist of all people affected by the system and no people not affected by the system.

Transparent: all information related to the system must be fully transparent in order for users to participate in tasks or auditing.

Porous: contribution at all levels of each user group must be open to all users with acceptance by peer review.

Peer to peer: each user group should consist of users: audit and provide feedback,contributors: interested users who periodically present work for acceptance by the members,members: have acquired expertise and been accepted as full contributing members by the user group, and a core group: recognized by the group as having the necessary level of expertise to provide direction for the system.

Meritocracy: A side effect of these user groups is that they provide workers with the three motivators which provide the greatest job satisfaction, autonomy, mastery and purpose. People can work on anything they like, they are not required to submit resumes, acquire accreditation, seniority, or approval from an individual authority. If their work is good enough it will be accepted by the user group. Everyone can work on the system that interests them, doing the jobs at the level they are capable of, with as much or as little involvement as they choose.

Systems should be organized by user groups, not by nations or treaties. International systems would include things such as the internet, telecommunications and knowledge, local systems would include things such as transit, food production and social services, and in any situation where only one family or an individual is affected, the responsibility would lie with only them. Each local user group or individual would have access to outside user groups for trade, shared knowledge, disaster relief, etc., autonomous but networked.

Global commons

Anything which is not only of global interest but also does not belong to any one generation cannot be destroyed and cannot be claimed as the property of any individual, group, corporation or government. Global commons would include space, the atmosphere and electromagnetic field, deep sea ocean, land and water masses of sufficient size to have global impact, areas of the biosphere which are rare or important enough to be of global concern, and knowledge. Knowledge includes discoveries, history, creative works, and the information people require in order to govern themselves and excludes personal information regarding individuals. There should be no restriction on the use of ideas, although creativity needs to be compensated and credited.

Anything belonging to the global commons must be held under stewardship of a porous and transparent peer to peer organization set up for the purpose, and the mandate for all global commons must include the protection and preservation of the commons. All systems which affect the commons must work with the commons in their design and implementation.

 

2010 we woke up. 2011 we stood up. 2012 we take over.

 

 

Continuing articles:

The Financial System

Stigmergy

Needed now: A News Commons

Privacy and Transparency

Groups and Individuals

Concentric User Groups and Epistemic Communities

 

Resources:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation – TED Talk

Bettermeans: How does an open enterprise work?

P2P Foundation

Cooperative Economy in the Great Depression

 

Image credit MauroB

2011-12-03 On January 7, demand Justice

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As we take December 10 to remember the human rights and freedoms we are entitled to, it is impossible to not feel how far we have fallen from our ideals of 63 years ago.

The 11th of January 2012 is the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay black hole, a place that has incarcerated 22 children, the centrepiece for the Bush regime’s reinstatement of torture, and an anti-judicial experiment that has culminated this month in a bill before the US senate which proposes that US citizens should be subjected to trial by army and indefinite preventive detainment; in other words, a bill which proposes that the US military be permitted to treat US citizens as it treats the rest of the world.

Thanks to Wikileaks’ release of the US state cables, we have seen the complicity of almost every country in the world in the human rights abuses of which Guantanamo has become a symbol. We have seen Canada refuse its obligation to demand the release of a Canadian child from Bagram and Guantanamo, refuse to demand that his torture and ill treatment end, and even participate in violating his human rights. We have seen Australia refuse to make an inquiry on behalf of an Australian citizen and torture victim. We have seen Ireland allowing secret rendition flights to use its airport, and we have seen Poland, Lithuania and Romania host“black site” CIA prisons. We have seen Yemen imprison truthful journalists on order from Obama, Armenian officials enable sex trafficers, and Bulgarian PM Borisov linked to oil-siphoning scandals, illegal deals involving LUKoil and major traffic in methamphetamines. We have seen known thugs as ruling politicians and citizens imprisoned for political speech. We have seen humanitarian organizations conceal human rights abuses and corporations that kill their workers.

Throughout this momentous year we have seen almost every country in the world expose themselves as military industrial regimes in which freedom of speech and assembly are met with armed violence by security forces employed to provide protection from the people, not to the people. We have seen court systems which assist banks and other corporations to violate our rights and freedoms and do not work to defend individuals. We have seen a global industry of prisons which work on a system of profit and expansion, not justice. We have seen governments which create laws in response to the needs of corporations, not individuals. This week, we have seen the vast industry of spying on individuals by corporations, in violation of our right to privacy. Throughout this year of mass arrests, we have yet to see the arrest of any of the individuals responsible for these attacks on our human rights.

On January 7, 2012, we demand the return of our justice systems to the people. We demand the release of all untried or unjustly tried prisoners and an end to the abuses of our prison systems. We join London Guantánamo Campaign, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, Stop the War Coalition, and CND in calling for an immediate end to the illegal detention of people in Guantánamo. And we demand the arrest and trial of all those responsible for violating our human rights.