The evolution of democracy

Transcript (more or less) from The evolution of democracy: Explaining Trump, Brexit and the Colombia peace deal, a keynote at Inteligencia Colectiva para la Democracia’ in Madrid, 2016.

My name is Heather Marsh. I am a writer and a programmer and I have been studying and experimenting with both local activism and methods of mass communication and collaboration for many years now. From 2010 to 2012 I was the administrator and editor in chief of the Wikileaks news site Wikileaks Central where I experimented with creating knowledge repositories, tying that information to things that were happening in the news and creating action based on that information. News without action is just voyeurism and action without information creates a very easily manipulated public, so I was trying to bring the two together in one place. In 2012 I concentrated more social media collaboration and I wrote a first book called Binding Chaos about all the problems I had seen while working with Wikileaks, Occupy, Anonymous, M15 and many other mass movements in recent years. We all seemed to be coming up against the same issues with hierarchy, direct democracy, consensus and collaboration. As I kept working on various projects it became apparent that we as societies had been butting heads for millenia on these same issues which really come down to trying to create a balance between autonomy, diversity and society, which is the title of my next book. And along the way I have been thinking of what tools we would require to help us achieve this balance, and the primary one I have been working on is a universal database and trust network called Getgee.

So today what I would like to talk about are some ideas from Binding Chaos and a little bit from Autonomy, Diversity, Society which will hopefully help when we are thinking about creating products for mass communication and mass collaboration. The focus is on creating a balance between personal autonomy of those doing the work, diversity of ideas and solutions and allowing the participation of the whole society.

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How many people here have heard of a technological singularity? A technological singularity is something IT people and science fiction writers have liked to talk about for years. The idea is that we will reach a point, or have already reached a point, where technology is beyond the scope of human understanding and artificial intelligence will be programming itself, in a Skynet sort of world. It’s funny, people have been talking about this for years, but not many have noticed or acknowledged that we have instead reached a completely different type of singularity which is a societal singularity. We have reached a point where no one can understand every aspect of society which affects them. If you go back in history, crafts people could know everything there is to know about their jobs and people could know everything that went on in their villages but this is just not true any more. And even our villages and neighbourhoods are not autonomous, they are all connected now at some level with all the other communities in the whole world, even uncontacted tribes.

We need to collaborate with others not only to develop tools but even just to understand the news. We have to put our faith in other people and believe in what they tell us or trust in their skill to create their components if we are building a product. As programmers we have been used to working as an ecosystem like this for years, we always have to incorporate other people’s work and their bugs into our own, but this has spread to almost every aspect of public life. And this is one of the biggest challenges in creating tools for democracy. We can’t have real direct democracy or self governance any more because none of us can understand every aspect of everything. We need to rely on collaboration instead and this is going to require a completely different set of rules than we have used in the past. We need more than simple referendums and voting to govern ourselves this way. We need to somehow create nuanced and detailed information we can trust and we need to coordinate goals with people we will never speak to.

There are two main areas to talk about which are idea based collaboration and action based collaboration. The challenge in a societal singularity is how to allow all people to participate and communicate but still be able to filter signal from noise and how to allow people democratic choice but still retain worker autonomy.

First of all, let’s look at mass action based collaboration.

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For action based tasks, the model that has become almost ubiquitous is the competitive hierarchical model. Most of us are all too familiar with this model. The typical response to a situation which requires an action is to create a noun, in the form of an organization, government body, or an official person and the focus is always on the organization and the personalities involved instead of the action. The hierarchy creates what I call personality based systems, as opposed to idea or action based systems. A new idea in a personality based system remains completely bound to the owner until it is legally transferred to another owner. All contributors work for the owner, not the idea, and you have to wait on one specific person for approval or direction at each level so there are bottle necks everywhere.

Most workers do not enjoy hierarchical systems as they lose autonomy, mastery and creative control over their own work, they just become an instrument under somebody else’s direction. The orders come from the top down and so there is very little diversity of ideas and we lose all the talent and ideas downstream. Because it is a closed system, collaboration between people does not happen unless they are hired by the same project. Competition is the opposite of mass collaboration. It’s really people working against each other, not together. So there is no autonomy, no diversity and no society.

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The alternative to competition has traditionally been cooperation. Cooperative groups try to replace the top down hierarchy with a group consensus driven system which allows diversity of opinion at the top.

This is most effective only in groups of two to eight people. For groups larger than 25, cooperation is extremely slow. It is still a personality based system. An idea in a cooperative must be approved by the entire group, both on initiation and at each stage of development. The majority of energy and resources are spent on communication, persuasion, and personality management, and a power struggle can derail the whole project.

It can be dominated by extroverted personalities who make decisions to control the work of others and are very justly resented by those doing the actual work. Cooperatives frequently use consensus or votes to make decisions for the entire group. These methods may not produce the best results, particularly in large groups, as many people may not understand the work if they are not actually doing it and they may demand things they would never be willing to do themselves. The feeling of the workers at the bottom is no different whether there is a horizontal or a hierarchical structure making the decisions, the workers still have no personal autonomy.

Both competitive and cooperative 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. Both focus on the authority of personalities to approve a decision instead of focusing on the idea or action itself. So we have a society, at least within the group, but not without, but we still have no autonomy and because of the need to reach consensus there is also no diversity of product.

This isn’t in any way to say that cooperative and consensus driven systems are bad. They are actually the most comfortable way of working in small groups who know each other and have similar styles and share a goal, but they are very difficult to scale. As soon as you have a very large group of people with opposing viewpoints and personalities that don’t mesh, it is very difficult to get anything done.

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I use stigmergy to describe a method of action based collaboration that is suitable for mass movements. I didn’t make up this awful word by the way, it is lifted from biology where it describes indirect communication and collaboration among ants and termites and various other creatures. In human movements, it allows diversity of methods and autonomy for workers while still putting the ultimate authority of choice with the whole society, to try to achieve that balance we talked of earlier. It is neither competitive nor cooperative. It is action based collaboration instead of personality based.

A system is stigmergic if

– it follows one goal

– it is completely transparent

– it is open to everyone to participate, at least within the user group

– the output is free for anyone to use and improve on

Stigmergy gives people autonomy over their own work. With stigmergy, an initial idea is freely given, and the project is driven by the idea, not by a personality or group of personalities. So no one needs permission, like they would in a competitive system, or consensus like they would in a cooperative, to 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 and the interest attracted will be from people willing to contribute so those with more involvement in the idea will automatically have greater influence through their contributions.

There are no official authorities but the power of the user group still exists in the ability to accept or reject the work.

Workers are free to create regardless of acceptance or rejection. Drastically innovative ideas almost never receive instant mainstream acceptance so leaving control of work to group consensus only cripples innovation. When we allow anyone to contribute we also have a great diversity of talent and people can step up to further the goal in ways the originator never imagined.

So here we have full autonomy and diversity but the entire society still has the ultimate choice.

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Where is stigmergy? We have always had stigmergy in our social lives and it has been behind most mass movements that have had any success. You can see it wherever groups of diverse people who do not belong to any formal organization or have any formal communication with each other are all working together to carry out a goal.

If you look at something like the civil rights movement in the United States, that is a multi-generational movement of so many people and so many different methods and everyone who has contributed, whether they are groups or individuals, has decided for themselves how they can be most effective. If this stigmergy chart was for that movement, that big group can be the Million Man March, the square is Malcolm X and his followers, the heart can be MLK, and between them all by themselves is Ruby Bridges or Rosa Parks, none of them had to communicate or come to consensus but they are all trying for the same goal and are more or less aware of each other’s activity. The US still hasn’t reached that goal so they go through periods of great upheaval followed by periods of more calm working, depending on whether an event sparks more action or something blocks progress for a while.

A stigmergic movement will continue as long as the goal is not reached and people still share it, even if it dies down or goes dormant for a bit. That is the advantage to an idea based system over a personality based one, you can’t kill an idea.

Or another stigmergic idea is freedom of information. This has everyone from the free software movement, creative commons and similar open copyright groups, Sci-Hub which liberates scientific papers, other filesharing sites, Wikipedia, even the Internet itself in its original inception might be considered a node in that stigmergic movement.

What keeps these movements from burning out, like so many do in the massive assemblies, is the fact that they are not spending all their energy communicating except in small groups and they are following one clear idea.

It is not often you find one organization or group that is purely stigmergic, but Anonymous is one. This is why they say they are not an organization or group. They usually say they are an idea, but they aren’t really one idea either, they are a method of mass collaboration and the method is stigmergy. That method allows everyone to follow whatever ideas they choose, in groups or individually with perfect autonomy. Anonymous never tries to reach consensus. Anonymous is not unanimous. And there is no organization you can order to do something, Anonymous is also not your personal army. You have to just put an idea out and see who follows it.

It may seem difficult to figure out how stigmergy can be used in a corporate setting where everything is set up around organizations and official people, but it helps if we remember that each of those organizations, no matter how they are organized internally, can be a node under a stigmergic idea. I am often asked if Wikipedia is a good example of stigmergy and no, it is not. Wikipedia is a cooperative. You may contribute work without asking anyone but your work can be thrown out and you can be locked out of contributing, or the topic locked, and there is a definite personality based hierarchy and a need to reach consensus around one final product. There is no diversity of product tolerated and there isn’t any real autonomy either.

But Wikipedia is still one of many nodes under the idea of Freedom of information because what they produce is completely free for anyone else to use or modify. I said earlier that Anonymous was stigmergic but Anonymous very frequently works with other people like news or human rights organizations or other hacking collectives such as Redhack who are themselves internally communist. It doesn’t matter what the internal organization of each node is as long as they are all following the same idea and their work is available for everyone else to use.

So the same methods can be used for corporate work. The key is for corporate style organizations to recognize what stigmergic ecosystem they are a part of and follow the guidelines to make their work contribute smoothly to that idea. One place where stigmergic development has really taken off is in the IT industry because free software has meant that the output is available for everyone to use and improve or modify. If we look at one stigmergic idea: We need better web development tools. If we had left this to Google, and Google had been acting like their competitive corporate selves, we would have just had the Angular framework, and progress would be Angular 2.0. And we do have Angular 2.0, but we also have Facebook’s React, Ember and many others. As long as the user group has not reached consensus over what tools we want for full stack development we have many contributors creating different frameworks for us.

When we start to reach wide consensus in some area, like yes, we don’t want any more black and purple websites with green sparkles and the vast majority of us are going to create websites that are very uniform, we start to see more and more conformity around standards like Twitter’s bootstrap styles but as soon as someone has a very divergent idea that people find interesting again, like Google’s material design, many people will start hacking on it and trying to create different solutions again. The same periodic upheavals of innovation and change are apparent here as in the social movements driven by stigmergy. In this case HTML5 and ES6 stimulated a rush in web development tools in general.

Of course this example of corporate stigmergy has some major issues., first in who is getting paid and who is not. Google employees are and free software programmers frequently are not. And even with free software, when you have players like Facebook and Google and Twitter it is going to be a bit hard for anyone without their development team budget and user groups to compete so it is not a level playing field for all to participate, but as long as the code is commons property we can have consensus without monopoly which is a huge improvement. It is starting to approach stigmergic organization, just from the addition of this one change, of software that is free for anyone to use or modify. You can see this especially as you move away from the big corporations to the later development add ons, in all the diverse people writing packages and tools for React and Angular and the other frameworks.

This is better than academia and science manage. They are supposed to be stigmergic as well, the idea in science and academia is that everyone is supposed to publish and build off each others findings, but because they do not have open source and permissive copyright or even access, their work is frequently corporate IP property, and they don’t allow or reward outside contributions, they are very far from stigmergic and their progress is not nearly what it could be. If we look back at the principles of stigmergic organization, the last three of four points do not apply to science and academia so they both need to change if they are going to truly act as epistemic communities for us all. Which brings us to my next point which is about idea based collaboration.

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We have stigmergy for action based collaboration which follows an idea, but what if we want to collaborate on ideas themselves, to build knowledge and find some most reliable facts? If we look at the 2010-2011 movements, like M15 and later Occupy and all the rest, they were fine with action based collaboration, especially when they used stigmergy, but they really struggled when it came to idea based collaboration, like setting goals. This is kind of important since without the ideas, you don’t have the action. Stigmergy follows ideas and information, so management of the ideas and information here is as important as management of personalities is in competitive or cooperative systems. If you think of this in a governance context, we won’t be electing personalities, we will be electing ideas.

To see what happens when an idea loses its clarity, or its idea has been co-opted, look at feminism. The civil rights movement in the US retained its clarity because it has set specific goals in each cycle whether that is to end slavery, end segregation, or end police violence. When feminism meant fighting for the vote and legal personhood it had a clear goal and was a stigmergic mass movement but second wave feminism allowed itself to become a noun instead of an action, its goals became very loose and because there wasn’t a clear goal it was used to advertise corporate product and promote prominent personalities, primarily from the United States, who felt they could speak for every woman in the world on every topic. A noun is not a stigmergic goal, a noun is an organization, so when feminism became a noun it stopped being a stigmergic movement and became a competitive, personality driven, organization which became completely divided, as is typical, these types of organizations do not scale.

The single biggest factor I’ve found for whether or not someone will participate in a stigmergic action is whether they are sure of the idea behind it. Not whether it affects them, or if its simple to grasp or easy or even safe to do. I have created many actions where the audience was completely removed from the people affected or where the action was dangerous or very difficult to understand or even initially believe. None of this mattered. All that mattered in whether the action was a success was whether people could be sure the goal is sound. And the easiest way for someone to prevent action is to sow doubt in the goal. That initial kernel that makes up the idea looks simple but it is everything. But finding the information we need for conviction in our goals is not easy.

If we think of a large population creating a knowledge repository stigmergicly, we have a picture of a bunch of ants sifting and sorting information and putting the best in a pile. And that’s probably how we thought we were going too do things on Twitter. But that’s not how expert knowledge, like the kind we have in a singularity, works and it’s why a bunch of people in a horizontal group can’t just do that. Especially a personality dominated horizontal group like Occupy or any direct democracy that starts from the premise of all voices and opinions being equal. This goes back to the idea behind a societal singularity, we can’t all be experts at everything and we don’t want to be either. We don’t have the time and we may not have the interest. We can’t keep berating voters for not spending all of their time studying everything that affects them, it’s impossible and it’s not fun either. We need to find a better solution.

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I love this chart because it illustrates exactly why we need concentric circles in a democracy. This space between innovation and acceptance is where demagogues and gate keepers lie in wait to control information before it reaches the public. Like little trolls under the bridge. This is why we need knowledge bridges to replace the gatekeepers because most ideas can’t make it across this chasm on their own.

If you think of recent examples of elite working groups whose ideas were rejected by the wider society, like Brexit in the UK or the peace deal in Colombia, it was because of a failure of the working group to establish effective knowledge bridges between them and the public. The public did not see their viewpoints being heard and responded to and they did not see or understand or trust the decision making process, which gave demagogues on the outside of the process the ability to derail the acceptance of their recommendations. The people had information that was too difficult to audit themselves, and they had no faith in the people offering solutions. People in the UK said repeatedly they were sick of being lied to by the media and experts.

When people lose faith in those who are supposed to be their experts, like politicians, or those who are supposed to be their knowledge bridges like the media, they lose faith in any stigmergic goal these people present and they will block it, as I said earlier. The information from the opposition in both cases was certainly no better, nobody was offering a fully developed and audited plan for an alternative peace deal or a detailed plan to exit the EU, but even very poorly supported information and hyperbole is sufficient to overturn an idea that the public doesn’t trust. We can see this also in most elections, there are just demagogues and hyperbole on both sides, there is no process of reconciling any issues with the public or providing information people can rely on. In fact, the goal seems to be to deliberately confuse and immobilize the public and then just give them a binary vote in the hope they vote against the establishment which has lost so much trust. This is why both sides seem to only be interested in painting the other as the most corrupt establishment.

[On May 8 2017, former US Director of National intelligence James Clapper suggested the solution to the misinformation of the US 2016 election was to further fund USAID and spread more misinformation against US enemies. Those are exactly the actions that caused people to lose faith in information emanating from the US in the first place.]

You may have seen a lot of people blaming this current state of low information on social media and they are partially right but corporate media certainly doesn’t get a free pass either. Most of the tools we have to communicate simulate direct democracy and look for popular ideas, the most retweets and the most readers, but not only is popular not innovative or expert, the two are mutually exclusive. Popular ideas are riding the peak of the wave of socially acceptable opinion. They already appeal to the widest audience. They are not new ideas, by definition, and they aren’t at a level of elite expertise that is difficult for all but a few to understand also by definition. This is why we now elect politicians on the basis of their tweets and this is the secret for politicians like Donald Trump who speaks at a grade 3 level. The more easily understood and the less challenging your message, the wider your appeal will be so an age that amplifies the most popular information, as we do now, will be an age of demagogues.

It is counter intuitive to think popular ideas are what we need to give us the best information. If we need some specialized level of knowledge to explain something like Brexit or a peace deal or the issues in an election, or if we want those making the decisions to hear the voices that are seldom heard, that may expand their Overton windows and give us some fresh perspective, or represent a rare case that will cause their solution to break, amplifying the most popular ideas or people is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing. And really this is what direct democracy, representative and liquid democracy do, so of course it is also what the tools for democracy have been doing.

We have tools that are very useful to find out what a population thinks and tools that are great for discussing things and coming to consensus, but we need to also go to where their opinions are formed. Opinions are based on information. We need to be able to find expertise and accurate and diverse information that we can trust before we form our opinions and long before we measure them.

Ideas need to be audited and promoted by those users qualified to understand them to allow diversity of ideas and prevent the process from being dominated by celebrities without the expertise required. But if we have an elite discussion group with only elite experts or ideas in it, we are at great risk of having an elite oligarchy based on control of information. This is what we have now. We don’t maintain the necessary balance between autonomy, diversity and society unless this quiet place to talk remains a fully associated part of the wider group. So to avoid a hierarchy and leave control with the entire user group, I use a structure I call concentric circles.

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Concentric circles relate to sound amplification. In a concentric circle, people or ideas promoted to the center by their peer group receive greatest amplification and their findings will be audited, amplified and explained to the general public by outer circles. They are not hierarchical as they have no direct control over the actions of anyone. An epistemic community is a knowledge resource only, authority remains with the entire user group which provides a good incentive for the epistemic community to ensure transparency and knowledge bridges so their ideas are accepted. As in stigmergy, votes in a concentric group are frequently replaced by actions. If this little drop receives no amplification, it is just an idea that goes nowhere.

With knowledge bridges, you don’t have to have personal expertise on every aspect of society. All you have to do is have a transparent concentric circle that you can look at, you can see the activity, you can get feedback if necessary, and you can say yes, there are a lot of people auditing, there is a lot of discussion, I trust some of the people in these circles, I trust that they know what they are doing. Everyone can review the work of the experts both directly and through the review by their peers. Experts can also be created by the system itself as users develop knowledge and reputation and move towards the centre and you will find this happens increasingly if users lose trust, they will realize they need to start auditing this circle.

Communication should not be the full responsibility of the experts in the centre, which is where government initiatives like Brexit and the Colombia peace deal have failed. Ideas should be carried over expertise bridges by full transparency and user participation. The epistemic community in the centre should not need to protect themselves from demands or attacks from completely uninformed users or demagogues. The circles of expertise which promoted them to the centre should also verify and explain their findings to the outer circles. And, concerns and arguments from the user group should be carried back to the epistemic community if the user group finds the points valid. So the epistemic community can work without noise but still receive ongoing feedback from the users and acceptance is a process, not just a binary vote after the fact.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because this is exactly what happens in open source communities.

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In open source software, the code for each project is available for all to see. Even if the end user cannot understand the code, they can go to discussion groups or listen to programmers who have read and audited the code, they can read the bug reports. Any urgent bugs will be broadcast to the general population and amplified by media as we have seen many times. The people with the greater knowledge of the system will provide knowledge bridges for people at a more novice level and increasingly, that’s how people are learning to code. Good ideas from forum discussions can be read, possibly implemented by the developers as well. Transparency goes both ways.

Open source software with forums open to all are a perfect working example of fully transparent and audited systems of elite knowledge. While the decisions are made by the developers, review and acceptance or rejection of the software is the right of the user group. If the developers refuse to listen to the user group and another development team is willing to work on the project, the original code can be forked and modified to meet the user requirements. Which means you can only be attacked by another fully developed, open and transparent epistemic community which also must be audited by knowledge bridges. You can’t be attacked just by a demagogue and rhetoric, you can only be opposed by another working solution so the user group has a choice between two or more working solutions instead of simply rejection or acceptance. Which means we need the final most important point for concentric circles – the information is free for anyone to use or modify.

Imagine if HTML and Javascript were corporate products that were not available to the public to use, like Bill Gates wanted programming languages to be back in the day. We would not be talking about web development frameworks as a stigmergic system. They would be just one proprietary product delivered by one corporation, probably Microsoft. The fact that we won this fight against Bill Gates and those like him is the single biggest reason that programming and IT have progressed so incredibly far and quickly and the reason IT is the best place to look for corporate examples of stigmergy. Just imagine if we had this same freedom to use the end products of other industries, like pharmaceuticals for instance which Bill Gates is currently pushing oppressive IP laws for.

Intellectual property in a stigmergic system is like an ant that finds food but doesn’t leave any pheromones to tell the other ants. Or worse, actually blocks the other ants and that idea is so ridiculous I can’t even think of a stigmergic example of it. Ownership of ideas is in complete opposition to stigmergy which is to say it is in complete opposition to rapid progress, finding the best solutions and democracy.

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So what we have been looking for here are methods of collaboration that bring us a balance between autonomy, diversity and society. We want to allow the maximum amount of autonomy to those doing the work so we can include all of their ideas and abilities. We want to allow as many diverse solutions as people are inspired to try for each problem. And then we want to allow the entire user group to easily make an informed choice of which solution is best for them as is their right in a democracy. So our methods are stigmergy, which we use for mass action and concentric circles which we use to audit, teach and amplify information.

The best part of stigmergic work and transparent concentric circles for knowledge is our work doesn’t get wasted. When you come to an event like this with a specific project, it is easy to feel as though you are in a competition where you are only associated with one project and your success or failure is tied to that one project and the group around it. But even if you organize your own team in a completely different form, if you follow these principles you will still be contributing to progress as a node in a stigmergic idea. For this two weeks the idea is: Let’s develop better tools for democracy. If you follow these principles, if other people are free to contribute to your project and you to theirs, if you add what you learn to the epistemic community of ideas and act as a knowledge bridge to those learning and most of all if your code is open and free, you will still be part of the community around this idea contributing to the goal we are all working towards. You will be part of the ecosystem.

Q and A not translated.

More information: http://www.getgee.xyz/

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The Intelligentsia

People think that our sole object is to amass gold. No one believes what we say. Like insolvent tradesmen we are without credit. – Pope Pius II, 1460i

The very justified resentment against science as a classist system of control and manipulation is being used as propaganda by the same corporations and politicians who used science as a tool of oppression. With the necessary public examination of science and academia has come an anti-elitist backlash where people are encouraged to trust no one: not science, governments, media, politicians or any authority. While misleading information will encourage people to act against their own interests, no information will immobilize them or encourage them to follow demagogues. This rejection of expertise has been used repeatedly in recent democratic votes to encourage the rise of uninformed or dishonest demagogues globally. The rise in misinformation and demagogues has in turn encouraged calls for even tighter control over information and official channels.

Now science itself, like journalism, is struggling to be heard over the demagogues and struggling even more for the trust of the classes below them. The trust and faith of the jaded and confused public is the most fought over resource today, with billions or trillions spent annually to procure it. Scientists and journalists understand even more than most that the very existence of humanity is in the balance. The corporate demagogues are (correctly) depicting intellectualism as bourgeoisii and (incorrectly) telling the public that ignoring experts is the same as overthrowing the elite and refusing to be manipulated. This blocks even the prior filtered access to knowledge the public used to receive and leaves people at the mercy of personality based governance and demagogues. Even ideas are conflated with ideology and people are discouraged from thinking about ideas because of previous massacres in the name of ideologies.

“Ironically, while this work should serve to improve the quality of scientific medicine, it is being used by some cranks to attack the scientific basis of medicine.” – Dr. Steven Novella, Are Most Medical Studies Wrong?

When a force which should be productive is under attack by a force which is certainly destructive, it is a natural feeling to delay criticism which may be used by the forces of destruction and to insist that now is not the time to suggest improvement. In the case of science and academia, immediate critique is not only necessary, it is crucial and urgent, but critique alone is not enough. Every time scientists and academics have taken a stand against power, they are threatened, expelled, imprisoned or executed. It is almost impossible for scientists and academics to reach the public directly without media and politically vulnerable appointments. Science can be undermined by demagogues because demagogues control communication between science and the public. We have to establish direct communication between epistemic communities and the wider public in order to remove power from demagogues. We have to build a protective network for knowledge preservation, auditing and dissemination. A time when knowledge is already under assault is the best time to establish this network.

In this era of no traditions, science in particular and information in general control our actions. Our true governance is through information. We will destroy humanity or save it based on information. Governance by the people requires knowledge as a societal right and a global commons. It should be the duty of all members of a self governing society to audit and share knowledge and promote and support its development. The ponzi schemes of academia and science shun anyone not in the citation circle and block access entirely to ideas and critique from outside of their class. Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook and Google all serve as propaganda control for states and corporations. Our collective knowledge should not be directed by corporations or exclusively available to a tightly guarded class, either for access or for contribution. We live under a supranational empire. We do not need secrecy over borders to protect knowledge from our enemies. The classes on top are the enemies of those below and they are maintaining their positions by the secrecy and idea ownership we allow them.

The solutions being recommended to the lethal ignorance of the public are headed in the wrong direction, towards more corporate control and a more accredited expert class. Journalists are wanting the internet reconstructed to give themselves credit and funding for each piece of information posted while they still grant neither to their subjects or sources. Scientists are encouraging even more secrecy and delayed publishing and less communication with media, much less the public.

The scientific class encourages those admitted into it to listen to their peers ahead of their patients and listen to local and unsanctioned knowledge only to steal credit. Science encourages binary division and branding of people and nature as mad / sane, dangerous / harmless or normal / abnormal according to the needs of industry and the powerful and to the detriment of the public. Science, academia and the media together encourage a cult-like devotion to pronouncements of one truth at a time instead of reflecting the nuance and uncertainty inherent in most research. Science views everything through a lens of corporate interest. Elite knowledge is still a product of wealth, leisure and access.

While the world has now amassed a vast quantity of knowledge and progression of that knowledge has grown exponentially since science and academia began, there is no reason to believe the creation of a scientific class brought the growth instead of the slope of progression we were already on. If instead of a closed class of scientists we had created open, permeable, epistemic communities, it is hard to not believe we would have made far less mistakes and far more progress in directions more beneficial to all of humanity. If the epistemic communities were open to the people, our information would not be so easy for demagogues and corporate interest to intercept and manipulate. Canada teaches mining to children as a ‘sustainable resource’ and bans scientific research as ‘anti-oil’ opinions. This and other Lysenkoism and educational propaganda is only possible if we do not all have direct access to all expert information through transparency and knowledge bridges.

Oral history taught us that people can accumulate knowledge in the collective mesh network of their brains and retain it with detailed accuracy for thousands of years. Guilds attempted to hoard that knowledge away from other stratas for their own enrichment and power. The new intelligentsia has often tried to be open and evolve but failed miserably because of a hierarchical classist structure that blocks input or access from the lower classes and puts knowledge in service to a tyrannical corporate empire. From the first age we can learn that if people have information they own, they will happily spread it, preserve it and use it in their daily lives. The second age guilds taught us that knowledge is power and if it is not shared, it is a recipe for tyranny. The third age has taught us that the public has no trust in information outside of their own class strata and they are justified in that lack of trust.

Whenever knowledge has helped secure an economic advantage it has been a source of conflict. Even old family recipes or other skill that might improve marriage possibilities have been guarded as tightly as guild secrets. Methods of preserving food, fishing spots and the ability to sew and maintain mukluks have in other times and places been as valuable to their possessors as silk, ermine or tulips. These secrets are no longer necessary for the survival of any person, just corporations.

Artists and all creative or knowledge based professions have fought to criminalize their audiences since copyright was invented. All recording technology since the player piano has had to fight artists who insisted their professions would be ruined by it. Rap deejays were the first to force mainstream acceptance of using other artists’ music in a mashup, opening up a huge pool of creativity that is still fighting for legal acceptance. As soon as people in both the free software movement and social media, started freely sharing their knowledge, industry found itself too dependent on the open source commons material to maintain their exclusive control. In all cases, the removal of exclusivity and knowledge gates brought an explosion of work and far greater diversity and expertise. Instead of responding to the obvious societal good in removing copyrights and patents, as the reasonable time for either has shortened, the time of ownership has been lengthened under international law.[cite]

There have been many suggestions for science to follow the lead of open source communities.iii In 2009, The Tropical Disease Initiative and several others attempted to encourage unpatented, open source drug discovery. Some initiatives such as Sci-Hub, an open access library of scientific papers established by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, have had better success by just ignoring the intellectual copyright laws and allowing the public access.1 Lately, the Open Science movement has been gaining traction, especially in the European Union with projects such as Facilitate Open Science Training for European Research (FOSTER) and various other initiatives and calls to action. The problem with all of these movements is they only involve publishing scientific data. Knowledge is not accessible unless the public can understand it. Epistemic communities require knowledge bridges to communicate with the public.

Science and journalism must evolve into systems for producing open, transparent, verified knowledge, free of powerful influence. Academia and journalism must become fully open, transparent methods of transmitting verified knowledge.

Our industrialized society has given us a backwards world where ideas are owned and personal data is not. While societal knowledge is held away from the public by gatekeeping laws and institutions, the personal details of the public is a product being examined and manipulated for politicians and the trade economy. The current goals of knowledge based capitalism continue the progression of supranational empire. The billionaires of silicon valley, like the financial and commodity industries, exist to create a new corporate ruling class overseeing a new age of corporate empire. What they produce is in service of empire, not greater society. The financial and commodity industries were set up to rob resources and enslave the rightful owners. The technology industries have created a global governance system designed around control and manipulation of information.

Academia is the primary institution where people are sorted and taught to sort each other, where the class systems are created and perpetuated. Those that decry the anti-intellectual tendencies of those on the bottom refuse to acknowledge the class system behind the hostility. It isn’t knowledge these people disdain, it is the class of people who refuse to allow them input or entry into the halls of debate. Knowledge and certification are hoarded behind a series of obstacles, only accessible after years of hazing to determine whether the recipients are suitable for entry into a homogenized class. Academia, like science, is a knowledge dictatorship. The wider public are barred from seeing the source of knowledge and expected to accept the filtered and packaged versions as truth. They are expected to acknowledge the superiority of the keepers of knowledge, when that superiority was granted by an external authority with no mandate from the people to create a superior class. This is not the same as an epistemic community that the people promoted themselves.

Academia is not a member of the communities it dictates to by virtue of the class floor built between them. Academia is used to bar people from the organizations which profess to speak for them. Human Rights Watch and many other organizations protecting the rights of those on the bottom demand a PhD for applicants seeking employment with them, barring entry to most of the people they are speaking for. Academic standing is used not just to bar people from economic classes and knowledge. Most borders are also open or closed depending on academic credentials and the laws dictating that were created by political and legal academics. Academia provides the majority of the visas to the supranational classes and so acts as the bureaucracy for a global eugenics program. While massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been an amazing development in bringing knowledge to the wider public and creating concentric circles of expertise and knowledge bridges around epistemic communities, the accreditation is still withheld by institutions and accessible only to those with money and time.

Not only does academia categorize students, it also spends far more time on assigning ideas and actions to categories or Great Men than it does in initiating or evaluating either. Students are rarely given ideas to audit and test and translate to action. They are instead given ideas to attribute by Great Man and categorize by ideology. They debate with sources and quotes instead of opposing ideas and actions, encouraging a public which follows personalities and ideologies instead of testing ideas and creating action. They are taught to worship solitary geniuses instead of being taught mass collaborative processes and how to use them. Academia is conducted like religious study, focused on what the great men said and meant instead of whether or not they were correct. The printing press created a rigor mortis for debate which the Internet should have cured, but academia slogs on in its old path with the same methods.

We no longer live in a world dominated by resource capitalism or industry. We live in a world dominated by information capitalism and information control. Industry had a direct source of conflict between workers and owners. Information simply has manipulation at the top and those at the bottom are largely unwitting and passive consumers. The intelligentsia is depicted as a meritocracy, a victimless elite as opposed to the industrialists victimizing factory workers.

Science hoards knowledge and uses it against the people and for the profit of corporations. Academia acts as gatekeepers to allow filtered streams of knowledge to a selected few. Journalism acts as a marketing agent for information which benefits the powerful. Academia sorts the people for future valuation by the trade economy and the law punishes those they deem without value. None of these institutions are by and for the people as they are all imposed by an outside class. None have a right to the confidence of the people and they receive none.

A people with no confidence in either their epistemic communities from the scientific class or their knowledge bridges from the academic and journalist classes is a people with no belief in ideas. With no ideas to follow in confidence, people will become cults following personalities which will become demagogues.

Societies do not transcend classes. If all knowledge is removed to a higher class, the lower classes will neither trust nor follow it. Without reliable knowledge, action will follow class demagogues.

1 Go to sci-hub.cc if you have difficulty finding any scientific papers cited in the endnotes of this book. Also consider supporting Elbakyan and the site in any way you can, she does not receive nearly the support or recognition deserved for her brave and extremely important work.

 

Excerpted from Autonomy, Diversity, Society. Citations will be transferred when I get a minute.

 

People are means of destruction

If we compare the natural duties of a Father with those of a King, we find them to be all one, with no difference at all except in their latitude or extent. As the Father over one family, so the King, as Father over many families, extends his care to preserve, feed, clothe, instruct and defend the whole commonwealth. – Robert Filmer, Patriarcha[cite]

For any society to exist, there must be creators and protectors working for the society. All adults were usually needed in both roles, providing shelter and food and creating the physical assets of a home such as tools, clothing, blankets and art and building the social structure of the society. In most times and places, there have also been highly gendered roles. The women gave birth and did the majority of the early child care and men assumed more of the protector roles, both in defending the tribe and their assets in conflicts and in representing the tribe in outside negotiations with possibly unfriendly neighbours. In these societies, strength, bravery and generosity to the tribe were the most admired attributes of any man. The power of social approval was strong enough in most tribes that people, especially men, would face certain death for a favourable place in their tribe’s history.

As societies grew, many turned into patriarchal clans. In these societies, men were not just members of the tribe, sharing duties and receiving benefits as equals. The common protective role assumed by men became the role of a disciplinarian parent. The father-ruler in these clans was the embodiment of law and order. They made all the decisions for the clan and were to be obeyed without question. They meted out punishments to any who disobeyed and resolved conflicts with more punishments. The love and gratitude a tribe felt for their warriors became awe and fear for these patriarchs.

A structured class difference was created with patriarchs above the clan and men above their own families. As with all class barriers, people became isolated from each other by power and fear. Men in these societies felt the love they once earned replaced by respect at best, fear at worst. Communal sharing of responsibility was replaced by complete authority where the patriarchs were expected to have all answers for everything that occurred in their domain. The subjection of women infantilized women but it also made parents of men and placed formerly shared responsibility on the shoulders of only men. The shame men once felt for personal failure was now shame for the failure of anyone in their clan. With greater responsibility came greater tyranny and deeper class divide between men and the source of their approval.

Lately it has become common to equate patriarchy with oppression of women by men. Patriarchy is simply oppression, of women and men, by a class structure that infantilizes those at the bottom and burdens those at the top. It was not women who overthrew the patriarchy in Europe, it was men. While women fought alongside men, it was men who designed the future structure of society, summed up in the cry for Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité! The cry for liberty was a cry for freedom of men, both freedom from subjection by a patriarchal ruler and freedom from responsibility for all of society. The responsibility and isolation of men in a patriarchal society was frequently empty and unrewarding. The call for fraternity was a call for brotherhood, for a society of equals who would meet without demanding anything of each other. Since that call, libertarian men have fought for their independence from responsibility to society and insisted that the principle of equality means all are equally able to care for themselves. Most industrialized communities are no longer patriarchal. They are nearly all fraternal. The fraternity denies responsibility to society and in return receives no approval from society. Approval from others is the life force for humanity, our single greatest motivator. Life without approval is an empty shell.

For those men that remained committed to service to their communities and maintained their old roles as caregivers and protectors, they found their communities deeply changed. While the trade economy was teaching women that they were parasites and lucky to be enslaved, it was teaching men that they could only buy acceptance, love and society. As societies became more dissociated, generosity to the entire village or clan was replaced by a man building the personal wealth of his own immediate family. Jobs went from being of service to your village in exchange for approval from your village to being of service to corporate industrialists or militias in exchange for currency. The former great men who protected and served the villages became industrialists who exploited and attacked the other villagers.

The social motivation was the exact same. The men still craved the approval of their societies but approval which had been gratitude for service became approval of wealth. Currency became a dissociated form of approval that you could keep in the bank and spend at will. A rich man could walk down the streets of a village and receive attention and gifts just as a hero could earlier. These men still crave the same things their earlier forebears did: celebrity, political leadership, high social ranking, a place in history, and most of all, approval.

The difference is not in the men but in the social structure they are now acting in. Instead of being in service to society, these men are in service to industry which is usually in direct opposition to the best interests of their society. The role of a great man has been perverted to mean its opposite. Those once celebrated as being society’s great protectors and creators are now given a monetary simulation of approval for being society’s great destroyers. Their labour which would once have brought them approval from all members of their society and attention from their love interests, now brings them media celebrity and flattery from the hurricane of vampires and sycophants orbiting the ponzi schemes of wealth and celebrity. The men who gain wealth to marry a beautiful, young woman and then complain that she married them for their wealth know what they are missing but not how to attain it.

The dissociation of modern families means that not only does a man no longer include his extended family or village in the society he seeks to benefit, he frequently does not include his wife either or sometimes even his children. Many billionaires still crave approval and a spot in history as great men but work all of their lives with only one goal, to amass as much wealth as possible. It is hard to imagine what makes these men so obsessed with collecting more and more of this dissociated approval with no real approval behind it except a very deep confusion as to what they are craving and where to find it.

It is possible that the too-little-too-late groups of philanthropist billionaires are a glimmer of recognition in these men, particularly the ones who realize they don’t even like their own wives and children enough to create an empire for them. The patronizing, ineffective and frequently outright sociopathic projects they undertake in the name of philanthropy show either a complete lack of understanding of society and social needs or reinforces the fact that they are irreclaimably sociopathic and still associate control and power with approval. Even where their projects may be of some actual benefit to society, when presented on top of their years of internationally destructive activity, it is little more than very insufficient war reparations.

This is the role men have been forced into since the beginnings of the trade economy. Men were shunned out of their families and into industry or military far more often than women and were not welcomed back into their families without currency. In many cases they had to give up their entire family life and just send back the currency while they lived far from home. The social approval a woman once received for being a good mother was given to men if they were a good provider. After the trade economy took control of all social relationships, a good provider was the one who spent the least time with his family or village and was most successful in exploiting his society. Industry pretended that industrialists provided jobs and money, neither of which are needed by any community, and successfully perverted the word providers to be applied to the community destroyers. Social acceptance was granted to those who would formerly have been attacked.

Because men were much more successful as wage earners and because men migrate with far greater ease than women and have far less social obligations keeping them at home, women became the backbone of resistance to industrialists or military repression. From environmentalists to mothers of the disappeared, women have been filling the streets of peasant revolt for millennia.[cite] From industrialists to militias, men have made up the overwhelming majority of those they are fighting. The old social kernel, with the weak and the caregivers at the center and able adults, mostly men, as a protective shell, has changed to a society at war with itself.

Once children would be taught to be of service not just to their parents but to all elders and smaller children to gain the approval of their society. Now children are taught to be of service only to themselves and to exploit all others. Communities which once shared skills and knowledge with each other have now commodified teaching and restricted it to only their own children or those who can pay. Once children were taught that their tribe was the best and there was no other tribe as wonderful as theirs to strengthen group affiliation and an ingroup narcissism that shunned those outside. Now children are taught individual narcissism that shuns everyone outside themselves. A class war was created within families. Now caregivers serve children and those in the trade economy, those in trade purchase caregivers and children, and children are created as product to serve corporations. Even this most basic social network of dependencies has been turned into a siphon for the benefit of corporations.

The group narcissism that has throughout history allowed societies to ruthlessly exploit each other has become distilled into individual narcissism on a massive scale as each person looks out for their own society of one. In countries as dissociated as the United States, where people have been taught since birth that the potential loss of one American life is worth unlimited destruction of the rest of the world, the extreme group narcissism sets the scale for the extreme individual narcissism. This individual narcissism combined with the sectarianism of the United States looks like every person is a society at war with every other. It is hard to imagine such a country coming together enough to even conduct a civil war.

In the middle of this sits a disaffected group of men who are currently populating the part of the Internet called The Manosphere. This is the group of men who would previously have been receiving the greatest success under the trade economy and the greatest empty approval from their purchased caregivers and children. They have been taught to do nothing without personal benefit which they can exchange for specific approval. The specific approval from women and children is no longer forthcoming as both are much harder to purchase in industrialized societies than in the past, both because of their own independence and their own growing narcissism. The explosion of the PUA (pick up artist) industry is a movement where these men are trying to forcibly take the empty approval they feel entitled to, with or without an exchange. The fact that they spend most of their energy debating how to receive the most while giving the least, and the reliance on market deception, reflects their view of female approval as a commodity they ought to be able to purchase.

It is no surprise that these men have created such a powerfully bonded community any more than it is any surprise when they join violent cults and gangs. The new communities are providing them with the approval they crave. It is no surprise that they are so angry, or that opposing factions of women are equally angry. Narcissistic rage towards the designated source of approval is an invariable reaction to a withdrawal of approval. This is a principle recognized by MGTOW (the name of a group who call themselves Men Going Their Own Way but in fact spend all of their time online discussing women). The goal of MGTOW is to make women feel the narcissistic pain of rejection that they are feeling by withholding themselves from women.

The dissociation of industrialized societies has changed national narcissism into an explosion of individual narcissism. The amount of approval now demanded by individual members of industrialized societies is unlimited and of course, unsustainable. The monetization of this approval still requires a social aspect. As it takes more and more money to buy the envy and obsequiousness of others, the ruthlessness in obtaining wealth and the dissatisfaction it brings will continue.

The solutions to this narcissistic emptiness will not be found in gender parity in a trade economy. The answer is not that women should benefit from trade, it’s that men should not. All money in a trade economy comes from the powerful and we need to build a society that benefits the powerless. If service to society becomes the measure of worth, women will have parity overnight and all people will receive direct approval for their contributions. If we reject the economy based on trade to the powerful, neither men nor women will have to, or be able to, buy their acceptance into their own families or the approval of their communities.

The social acceptance we once received for being of service to our communities we now receive for competing with and exploiting them. This acceptance is not the social approval we all crave as humans. It is envy and fear and it leaves us empty.

 

Excerpted from Autonomy, Diversity, Society. Citations will be transferred when I get a minute.

Transcript from talk about Getgee

Donate

The short version of this talk is that we don’t need to rewrite any of the existing social media applications that are out  there like Twitter, or Facebook, or Google or any of the rest of them. The reason I’d like you all to remember that one thing is because it seems like every week for the last many years, I receive an invitation to the beta site of the next social media platform that is going to replace the existing big platforms, or a new search engine. So much money and time and code. And I know a lot of you probably use alternative social media, but none of these alternatives have come within hailing distance of Twitter or Facebook or any of the existing platforms. And they are never going to. And the reason they are never going to is because none of them address the reasons why all of the big platforms are in service to the highest bidder instead of us, why they were tempted to become evil and what gave them the ability to become evil.

So what I’d like to do today is go over what I feel are the main problems preventing us from having productive collaborative tools on the Internet and reliable knowledge repositories and then I’d like to suggest how we can resolve those problems once and for all.

The biggest problems I can see to collaboration on the Internet can all come under one of three headings which are noise, thought bubbles and truth dictatorships. So noise …

heatherklout-2

This is not the most illustrative slide I could have used, I chose this of course so I can show you all that for all the years Klout had this Top Influencers feature, I was either the second or third influencer to the man who is currently the Prime Minister of Canada. Right behind Justin Beiber. I can guarantee you if I had any real influence over this man, many of his policies would be very different. And I’m pretty sure Justin Beiber doesn’t have much influence over him either.

But on social media as it is today, this picture, this perception of influence, can translate into real influence. To the point that the former Prime Minister of Canada actually had a very hyped photo op with Justin Beiber because the perception is that Justin Beiber’s influence is so great that he can amplify the Prime Minister of Canada.

The reason for that is 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. And in order to gain influence, you need to promote and agree with and amplify those with greater influence so they can raise you up. And just as crypto-currencies did nothing to change this algorithm online, social media did nothing to change the ponzi scheme of celebrity. All either of them did is reproduce the same algorithm with all of the physical barriers lifted, so we have the same ponzi schemes but now the results are instant, we have overnight crypto currency millionaires and instant social media celebrities. We need algorithms which reward us for being of service to those who need it most and we have algorithms that reward us for being of service to those who need it least.

The reason these ponzi schemes are preventing us from having useful collaboration is because not only is celebrity not real influence, the two are mutually exclusive.

What celebrity means is you are riding the peak of the wave of socially acceptable opinion. You already appeal to the widest audience. It means you have no thoughts in opposition to acceptable mainstream opinion, celebrities reflect the opinions we all already know and agree with. You are not a voice that is seldom heard, by definition, and you definitely don’t speak at a level of elite expertise that is difficult for all but a few to understand. Celebrity is Donald Trump. Someone who speaks at a grade 3 level. The more easily understood and the less challenging your message, the wider your appeal will be. Celebrities are the status quo so amplifying celebrities is just creating more noise for the status quo, and making it harder to find anything innovative or understand anything challenging.

So 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, amplifying celebrities is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing.

The other noise the Internet has brought us is astroturfing.

bots

A few years ago if you said something was astroturfing, people would look at you like you needed a tinfoil hat, but now this has become so mainstream most states brag about their cyber warfare and their cyber armies. This is all that is. It is propaganda designed to drown out all information the states and corporations who pay for it don’t want you to see. For those of you who don’t spend a lot of time on social media, this is what it looks like. Every time this man was in the news, for years, the Internet would be hit on all forums, on article comments and on social media by these bot armies. These ones have avatars of horses and dogs, sometimes they have eggs or the canadian flag, but they all do the same thing which is fill all the forums with aggressive and unintelligible comments that just serve to tie this person to certain keywords, in this case terrorism.

Astroturfing is really annoying. It can be intimidating or frightening, some of it is really aggressive. It contributes a great deal to all the noise we have to wade through looking for signal. It is frustrating, you never know if you are talking to a real person or wasting your time with a bot, and it is very chilling to online conversation. It has made Twitter especially almost unusable for rational conversation.

The next problem is probably the most disappointing to those of us who were around when the Internet became a thing.

Thought bubbles

The most exciting thing for most of us I think in the early days of the Internet or even bbs’s, the most exciting thing was being able to connect with people who you never dreamed you would ever be able to connect to. And I don’t just mean people across the world, we have google translate so now we can understand them, but people with perspectives that you would never dream you would be able to have a conversation with, much less find empathy and common ground, but if you talked to them long enough you began to find that you do have common ground and you begin to understand their viewpoint a little more even if you don’t agree with it. You can begin to make some accommodations and sometimes we even change each others opinions online.

But it turns out this only happens until a forum reaches a certain size. Once a forum has reached a certain size and the people there have spent enough years with each other and discussed enough topics and reached some consensus around many topics, what happens is they start to create their own culture and develop their own ideas of what are acceptable viewpoints, and their own ideas that it is taboo to hold just like all cultures do. And then what happens when an opposing viewpoint comes into these forums is they are pushed out and shunned till they go off and create their own little thought bubbles of people who agree with them. And just as they weren’t allowed to participate in the main forums, they push out everyone who disagrees with them. And they bring all the supporting documentation that supports only their ideas. Then Facebook and Google see what they are interested in and feed them even more information in support of their views. So they begin to see only one viewpoint ever and they live in this little purified thought bubble where only their thoughts exist, just like the main larger forum is also now living in a purified thought bubble, but this thought bubble is created in opposition to the thought in the main bubble. So it is like a little cancer there. It is like an auto-immune disease that the wider society is usually not even aware it has or it doesn’t take them seriously until you get someone like an Elliot Rodger who comes out and kills a bunch of people they have been taught to hate.

Then when that does happen, the wider society does not typically come out and say, Oh, we have alienated all of these people, how did that happen and what can we do to re-establish communication and reach some common ground? What usually happens is the smaller group is vilified even more and shunned even harder so they become even more alienated and it creates an even deeper divide.

We have always had sectarianism, of course, sectarianism has been with the world for a very long time, but it used to be something that happened more between you and people ‘over there’, people you never saw or communicated with. Now thanks to the Internet we can never communicate with people we live right next door to and the sectarianism is more and more within our own societies. And yes, a lot of it was always there as classism, sexism, racism and other bigotry that was just painted over and the thought bubbles are useful to be able to be heard and explore things you can’t in wider society, but there reaches a point where the divergent viewpoints need to come together and seek resolution and that is where we are failing.

Also this is not all happening organically, definitely it is also something that is being helped along by the same type of people who brought us astroturfing, there are people on the internet who are there to promote division, and profiting from it. But whether it is organic or manufactured it is a problem we need to address.

This next slide I always feel should be Wikipedia’s landing page.

One truth

These are what I call truth dictatorships. This is where you have group of people and they all have to come to consensus, they all have to agree, and what they are looking for is the truth. So they all have to fight about which is the truthiest truth, and once they have lined up all their truthy truths they have to rank them all in order of importance. These truth dictatorships are of course great at promoting the status quo, and celebrity ponzi schemes, they create thought bubbles, but they have a special added feature I call photoshopping. Photoshopping is where you take every story and you just erase everything that doesn’t suit your world view by saying it’s not the most relevant part of the story. Wikipedia is great at this, you can spend weeks clicking through that site and never find anyone that is not a caucasian man. I used to say women didn’t need anonymity, we all come with built in proxy routing, everything we say is routed through the nearest man. But actually there are many parts of society that could say that.

But here is an unusual example.

jillsteingoogle

Here is a person who is running for president of the United States, for the second time. But there is nothing on her Google blurb to indicate that. That wouldn’t be at all unusual if she was from anywhere else in the world, but if there is one group of people at the pinnacle of the celebrity ponzi scheme it is the US. Their never ending spectacle of an election is impossible to escape on any media but especially on Google.

marcorubio.PNG

Here is what Google shows for every candidate from the two main parties, and this is his first run and he did not even get the nomination of his party. But there is a huge amount of information on all of his policies on every topic, it is really obvious that he is running for the presidency. This is what you get for the candidates from either of the two main parties but not any third party candidates.

But Google is just a search engine. It is obvious they got their blurb from Wikipedia, they probably got the policy information from another third party site, so this isn’t really fair. Google can’t help what it finds on the Internet. So let’s just ask them.

Google, who is running for president of the United States?

google

And they flat out lie. We can’t blame this on anyone else, this is Google’s answer and they flat out lie. We didn’t ask who are the candidates from the two main parties, we asked who is running, end of, and they photoshopped out everyone else.

And if you like we can click that article below from the New York Times with the same heading to see how mainstream media does

nyt

And we get the same thing. Photoshopped again.

So this is where social media would really shine. When you can’t trust the big corporations like Google and NYT, we can rely on each other to keep ourselves informed, that’s why social media was so exciting.

So let’s look at this same candidate on Twitter.

jillsteintwitter

Those of you who don’t follow a lot of people from the US on Twitter probably don’t see what’s strange about this, but Twitter has this thing called blue checks. What Twitter says a blue check means is it means that you are really important. It means you are a real person, and you are an extremely important person. What it actually means is you are from the US and you are probably a caucasian man. For years, no African heads of state had blue checks and most don’t even now. Outside of the US it is very difficult to get a blue check. But within the US, the most tenuous connection to politics, to tech, to journalism, to Twitter’s frat boy parties … the most random people have blue checks.

So you can see how this would be really confusing if you lived in the US and you wanted to know who you can vote for in your federal election. This person says she’s a third party candidate, but she can’t be a very serious candidate because she doesn’t even have a blue check and even the neighbour boy down the street has one.

And that’s what photoshopping is. If she doesn’t exist, you can’t vote for her.

So, noise, thought bubbles and truth dictatorships.

The problem here is not with the software, it is the way the web was designed. Just like crypto-currency did not change the algorithm that creates ponzi schemes of wealth and social media did not change the algorithm that brought us ponzi schemes of celebrity, the web did not change the ponzi schemes of information and it was not designed to. The web was created to mirror academia. Isolated pages of information citing other isolated pages of information. It was never designed for mass collaboration. We hear so much about walled gardens, but the Internet is a series of sealed wells. Even if we have access to everything on the surface, we do not have access to the information in the wells that is feeding all the life on the surface. And to add insult to injury, we created everything in those wells.

logos

Look at these logos for a minute. And think about the amount of money each of these logos represents. The last I checked, alibaba was worth 65 billion. Uber is worth 60 billion. Airbnb is over 25 billion. And what do these corporations do? In every case, these corporations are a page that seals a well of user created information. The only service they provide is web hosting. Yes, I know 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 and that’s great, but that is not where the value is. If it was we wouldn’t be getting it for free. The value is in what the users created, our data.

And think about the control these corporations exercises over all of our data, which is our work, our networks. From monitoring our shopping habits to Facebook deciding to what mood we are in or whether we vote.

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 these problems.

This control of user information is what created the fertile ground for corruption in the first place. Control corrupts. Absolute control corrupts absolutely.

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

So if we were to release all these 100s or 1000s of billions of dollars worth of value and put it back into the global commons and return control to the people who created this data, how would we do that? How would we create a universal global commons database that we were all free to use in any way we like?

gsearch

So given that we want to deal with a database, here is a little 2 button app that does everything we ever do with databases. We can search, or we can log in and create, update and delete. And there are five entity types that I think will allow us to do everything we do in any of those applications. 

What these entities are is stripped down atomic objects that we can use to create larger meaning from. If you look at me as an object, any attributes you were to identify are very subjectively important. I used to say my official documentation decided the most important things about me were my name, date of birth and gender and they could just as easily have used my eye colour but now my official documentation does not require gender and it does require an iris scan so I guess someone agreed with me. But almost anything you can say is very subjectively important and changeable, so these are extremely stripped down entities. A person node is only an optional start and end date, usually correlating to date of birth and date of death, and a name. And we can all agree on just a name as a base data node we can all link to, right?

Of course not. 

chelseasearch

How many of you remember what happened on Wikipedia when Chelsea changed her name from Bradley Manning to Chelsea Manning? If you missed this you really should look it up. It is the most perfect illustration of why we can’t have nice things in truth dictatorships. It was amazing, days of war waged over, who is the official authority for Chelsea’s name? Does she get to decide what her name is, or is her government the authority we should listen to? Or maybe we should rely on the journalists who write about her to decide. Was she more relevant when she was called Chelsea or when she was called Bradley, and should we use that to decide what her name should be? This is why we can’t have nice things in co-operative dictatorships.

The answer is really easy, Wikipedia.

bradleychelsea

These are two temporal realities of the same object. This is a hypernode. She was Bradley, now she’s Chelsea. It doesn’t matter which you choose, no one is going to argue with you, and your work will still appear associated with this same object.

These are temporal realities, she was Bradley, now she’s Chelsea, but there are also other kinds of realities.

malvinaspaper

Here is a perceptive reality. Las Malvinas, The Falklands, or if you are the UN and you just don’t want to get into it, they are still the same islands and whichever you choose, your work will still appear. Or if you like, you can call them The Penguin Rocks. Go for it, create a new reality, call them The Penguin Rocks, nobody cares, you don’t have to ask permission and no one is going to stop you, they will still be linked to the same rocks in the middle of the ocean.

But this brings us to a problem. How are people to know that The Penguin Rocks are not a name that serious people call these islands? There are couple of ways we can get around that. First, we can let them say they are joking, put a little fiction toggle on that reality and anyone can choose to filter it out. And the second is we use trust networks. We don’t have likes, we don’t have stars, or hearts or friends or followers, we have trust networks. A trust network is exactly like it sounds, people whose judgement we rely on. If you filter your search results within 2 or 3 degrees of your trust network and these Penguin Rocks don’t show up, it’s a good chance they are spam or astroturfing or trolls. So as long as you keep your trust network clean we are back to a place where we can actually work with the Internet again and we can filter out all those people who have made collaborating on the Internet impossible for all these years.

So we have three reality types, we have temporal, perceptive, and linguistic which is just like it sounds. And we have 5 entity types. And the reason we have these different reality and entity types by the way 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 along in a timeline. So that’s nice. But it’s still not terribly useful or meaningful. There’s still not much we can do with this as an application. We have a global commons of data, we can all pull from it, that’s nice but in order to actually pull any meaning from it, if you look at me again as an object, there is very little you can say about me without relating me to another data object. I did this for this organization, I was this to this person, I did that at that event.

Usually these types of relationships are part of a schema that is part of the application developed by programmers. If this is ebay there is a programmer somewhere saying this is a buyer, this is a seller, this is a product and so on. But these things 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. People are always going off and doing peculiar things with the data and then programmers have to change the schema and it is usually difficult. So we can just allow users to create category trees like this to map all possible categories for each of the 5 entity types and every relationship between them.

tree

This is beyond the ability or the interest of the average user, to create a schema for all these relationships, 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 nice people create themes for it they provide more versatility and usability for a greater number of use cases. So if data analysts create category trees, users can pull them in to use in their own work.

If you remember the little 2 button app I showed you earlier, there were three places you could create. One was the Universe which had all the data nodes in the global commons, but there were also constellations and galaxies. A constellation is your own autonomous space where you can work by yourself or add editors or open it up to however many degrees of your trust network. In a constellation, you can take data nodes out of the data commons, use a category tree that some nice person has made and map all your data.

Here is a database most of you are probably familiar with. It’s called littlesis.org and it’s great.

littlesis

This is really nice, someone has written a little d3 front end and they let you embed this graph in your work or share it on social media or export the data. But it’s still a sealed well. If you want to add any data to it, or add any front end functionality, you have to go through littlesis. Or export the data to your own sealed well and not collaborate with them at all. If this was on G, that little 2 button app we saw earlier, anyone could use the exact same category schema and create data in the exact same format as this. If you tapped on one of these nodes you would see everyone else’s work associated with it, even if they used entirely different category trees or had completely different ideas of what was important. Imagine if this was the Panama Papers data. ICIJ could have just created a constellation and added them all as editors and just mapped the data as they found it for us all to see. Then we could create our same constellations around the same data nodes so they could see oh, that person was also involved in this corporation, we should run a search on everyone else in that corporation as well. And even if they still hoarded all of the data, we could share information from the beginning and it would have been so much faster and more productive. And we would have the data in a usable format. They actually did use linkurious to map it all, we could have had all that in a global commons for us all to build from instead of these unusable wall of text articles everywhere.

And you could add any front end functionality you want.

ecosystem

Usually in an app you just have the programmers and the users. But once we decouple the database and the trust networks we’ve got the core programmers for the database, the data analysts who create the category trees, the researchers and journalists who map everything in constellations, and then the users can take those constellations and add their own meaning and functionality. Suppose you were a taxi driver. You could create a constellation of all your local taxi drivers, and then someone else could gather all the constellations of all the taxi drivers and have a global database of taxi drivers. Novel new idea. We just took 60 billion dollars worth of value from Uber. Or you could filter that database down to just your region and within one degree of trust and you can download that galaxy onto your phone and add a little bit of front end software that adds functionality for you like paying your taxi driver.

Or if you are a politician, suppose you are a pirate politician and you have a blog, but you also belong to the pirate party of Germany and an international galaxy someone has created of all the environmental groups from all the pirate constellations. Now you can add blogs at every level, or loomio decision making software, or schedules or whatever you like.

Because now that we have split out the databases and trust networks, all those unicorn corporations we saw earlier are reduced to their real value which is bits of front end software that provide some collaborative tool or whatever it is they do.

And now users have their choice back. If any of that software starts antagonizing its users, they can just get rid of it and use something else and they will not lose all the work and the networks they have spent years building up. And they can choose the functionality they want. They don’t have to go through facebook for everything whether they are logged in or not, they can have a little stripped down read only app on their phone and a giant application on their laptop because it is not one product now it is an ecosystem, anything can be replaced without destroying the whole. And it doesn’t matter what application you use, you can still collaborate with everyone else because that happens at the data level.

So we have a way to filter out astroturfing and spam. We don’t have celebrity ponzi schemes now because it is all about the people doing the work. We can isolate ourselves but we can’t create community thought bubbles, everyone has control of their own information. We have diversity of opinion and we allow for different realities. And we can let our own trust networks decide what we want to be shown and not leave it up to Facebook and Google.

Right now I’m rewriting this in React and using IPFS. If anyone wants to help, money is welcome, pull requests are welcome.

More information: http://www.getgee.xyz/