Tag: democracy

Real democracy.

This news really brightened my day!

Or, perhaps I should have written that sub-heading, “Adding a gloss to what are mostly bright days!”.

What on earth am I rabbeting on about?

From time to time on Learning from Dogs I have touched on the topic of democracy.  The most recent post of any relevance was on the 27th January this year in a post called Unconditional love.  In essence that blog post was recording an email exchange between Martin Lack, Chris Snuggs and Patrice Ayme. Let me reproduce a part of that ‘discussion’:

Paul: Chris/Martin, To my way of thinking, there is a more fundamental issue at work. That is the corrupting effect of power. I’m certain you know the famous saying. Thus whatever fine motives propel a person to enter politics, that person seems unable to avoid the call of power and its corrupting effect. The only hope is that key countries, and none so key as the USA, evolve a better, more representative, political process. Otherwise, I fear for the coming years.

Patrice: I agree with Paul 100%. I saw the call of power. Unimaginable. People just get insane. There are also filtering systems to insure they get that way (it starts right away with one week retreats in extremely posh resorts; does not matter if you are capitalist, socialist, blueist, reddist, ecologist, independentist, etc.).

Chris: Agreed. It has been clear time and time again throughout history. Well, so much is obvious, but WHAT TO DO about it?

A) We must end the practice of having career politicians: you serve a maximum of TEN years, at the end of which you go.

B) Inherited wealth allowing the building up of immensely powerful family dynasties over generations must be ended. It is simply untenable. The rich-poor gap is getting obscene everywhere, and money is of course power. My “Abolish inheritance” idea will be wildly unpopular because we are naturally acquisitive and “greedy” and of course would hit those with most to lose who also therefore have the most power.

Patrice:  With all due respect, Chris and Martin sound rather naïve… Huge wealth and power is where it’s at. And it attracts to politics first, foremost, and soon uniquely, those it attracts most, namely the basest sort.

Without in any way of knowing in a reliable manner, as in statistically reliable, the attitudes of folk, nonetheless there is no question that a huge number of the ordinary folk that live around us here in Merlin, Joesephine County, Oregon and others that one meets in the course of being ‘out and about’ are worried; frequently deeply worried.

Worried about the “Huge wealth and power ..” and the gross inequalities that flow from that.

So with that in mind, consider the pleasant surprise offered me when I read the day’s roundup from the Permaculture Research Institute email distribution and it included:

The Missing Part of the Internet – Collaborative Decision-Making Made Easy with Loomio

The world needs a better way to make decisions together

“The new era of digital democracy is one source of hope. New formats for web-based participation, like Loomio, and enablers of grassroots engagement… are flourishing.” —The Huffington Post

Democracy isn’t just about politics — it’s people getting together and deciding how things should be. It’s a skill we can practice with people wherever we are: in our workplaces, our schools, and our communities.

Loomio is a user-friendly tool for collaborative decision-making: not majority-rules polling, but actually coming up with solutions that work for everyone. We’re a small team in New Zealand, and we’ve built a prototype that people are already doing great things with. Now we’re crowdfunding so we can build the real thing: a new tool for truly inclusive decision-making.

It was but a hop and a skip to go to the Loomio website and read:

The world needs a better way to make decisions together.

Help us build it.

Loomio is free and open software for anyone, anywhere, to participate in decisions that affect them

and then with a further mouse-click on the Crowdfunding link to read:


Democracy isn’t just about politics – it’s people getting together and deciding how things should be. It’s a skill we can practice with people wherever we are: in our workplaces, our schools, and our communities.

Loomio is a user-friendly tool for collaborative decision-making: not majority-rules polling, but actually coming up with solutions that work for everyone. We’re a small team in New Zealand, and we’ve built a prototype that people are already doing great things with. Now we’re crowdfunding so we can build the real thing: a new tool for truly inclusive decision-making.

At this point, I should declare an involvement.  Jean and I decided to donate a modest amount.  Thus it is not from an impartial position that I close today’s post with the following video.  Bet you will be impressed!

If you enjoyed that video then do watch the following TED Talk.

Published on Aug 4, 2013

Ben Knight is part of a cooperative social enterprise building Loomio, an online tool for collaborative decision-making being used by thousands of people in more than 20 countries. Ben will be picking through ideas around how technology can enable everyday democracy.

This could be a most interesting development!

More on that democratic deficit.

Improving democracy through deliberation.

Yesterday, I introduced the essay by George Monbiot, Why Politics Fails.  He opened his essay with the sub-heading: Nothing will change until we confront the real sources of power.

His last paragraph read:

So I don’t blame people for giving up on politics. I haven’t given up yet, but I find it ever harder to explain why. When a state-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and made a mockery of the voting process, when an unreformed political funding system ensures that parties can be bought and sold, when politicians of the three main parties stand and watch as public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of this system that inspires us to participate?

And who would disagree with those closing sentiments!

Then just four days ago there was an item on Permaculture News that continued where Mr. Monbiot left off.  It was an interview by Marcia Gerwin of Professor Lyn Carson that sets out a positive approach to correcting the widely-acknowledged issue so well articulated by George Monbiot.

Professor Lyn Carson, is a Professor at the University of Sydney.  As Professor Carson’s website Active Democracy explains:

Hi, I’m Lyn Carson, welcome to my website. I hope to provide easy access to information which individuals, groups or organisations can use to enhance citizens’ involvement in the activities of local, state or federal government.

I’m currently a professor with the Business Programs Unit at the University of Sydney, Australia. I’m researching in the fascinating area of community engagement and deliberative democracy. I’m teaching ‘critical thinking’ which will have resonance for those familiar with public deliberation.

Democracy, for me, is active, interactive, deliberative and genuinely representative of the wider population. It’s as valid to speak of a democratic personality (Gould, 1988) as it is to speak of a democratic workplace or a democratic society. We can enact in microcosm what we imagine for the level of nation state. We need not restrict our thinking to systems of government—we can do democracy at any time, any place.

Like C. Douglas Lummis, I see democracy as the antithesis of centralised power:

…democracy is one of those beautiful, absolute clear principles… that poses a maddening, tantalizing puzzle to humankind and launches us on the historic project of seeking to realize it in our collective life (Lummis, 1982).

I note the words of Frances Moore Lappé (2006): “To save the democracy we thought we had, we must take it to where it’s never been.” One way of saving democracy—or causing a democratic breakout (Blaug, 1999)—is to involve citizens in political decision making.

I’ve written numerous articles on public participation in decision making—from setting up citizens’ juries to improving community consultation in your local council. Go to Publications if you’d like to download some of my written works. Your feedback is warmly encouraged after you have roamed around this site.

Here is that article that was published on Permaculture News.

Marcin Gerwin: There are many people who are disappointed in the way the democratic system works. They see politicians arguing and making decision in the interest of their political parties rather than the common good. What is wrong with modern democracy?

Lyn Carson: The difficulties that relate to modern democracy probably start with the use of that term. We have begun to believe that the system of

Professor Lyn Carson
Professor Lyn Carson

representative government that is pervasive in both the West and increasingly in other locations is actually a democracy. I think we do well to reflect on the origins of democracy, and how democracy was first conceived. We know it was a very different system. We also know that representative government was designed during periods of the French, the American and the English revolutions to perpetuate elites. It was certainly designed to ensure that those who had money, who had property — usually men in the early days — would have their power maintained. I think what we have are the remnants of that.

Democracy is a beautiful ideal in its true sense of people power or the ability for people to make decisions about their own destinies, about things that affect them. In locations where we’ve been able to replicate at least of some of the qualities of ancient Athens, which was the cradle of democracy, then I think we can say that democracy can take root and can actually deliver its promise. It may serve us better not to use the word, I would suggest, to describe what it is that we have, which is far from the notion of genuine democracy. If we call it representative government or even an oligarchy we might start to realise what it is that we have.

MG: I think politicians will not be happy to hear that. They like to present themselves as democrats and some of them don’t acknowledge that there is a problem with a political system.

LC: Scholars are increasingly using the term “democratic deficit” to describe what is happening in the world. There is a widening gap between the governed and those who are doing the governing. There is a crisis of trust, and a growing mistrust because of what is called short-termism — political parties, because of the system, have an eye on the next election and not on the long-term needs of either humans or the even bigger picture, the environment and planetary survival. What we try to create in deliberative democracy are circumstances where all of the voices are in the room, where we can create what we call a “miniature population” or “mini-public” that resembles the entire population so it can achieve what we call a descriptive representation.

At the moment we have representation in parliaments, but it’s not descriptive of the wider population. In Australian parliament there is an inordinate number of lawyers, policy advisers, unionists — usually male — and they don’t resemble the entire population. As deliberative democrats what we are trying to do is to tune into the wider population. We can’t ask the entire population constantly. We can certainly ask what their opinions are but we actually want their judgment, which can only be arrived through a process of very deep deliberation, through a lot of education, through a lot of sharing of information, experience and stories. We want to achieve a very different democratic space than anything that we see in parliaments.

MG: Do you think that mini-publics could be used for actual decision-making instead of public consultations only?

LC: In deliberative democracy we talk about three ideals. That’s the notion of inclusion, or representativeness — that’s the principle of the miniature population. The second ideal is deliberation — you need people to be able to really wrestle with the complexity of an issue, to be fully informed, to argue it out, to use reason, to use storytelling, including emotion. The third ideal is the notion of influence. It is incredibly important that it is attached to decision-making. The NewDemocracy Foundation, that I’m a director of, deals only with projects that have influence. We have continually proved that we can achieve representativeness and deliberation, but the most difficult to achieve is influence. And that’s because elected representatives don’t want to give up power. They believe that they have a mandate to govern and they are disinclined to do so.

But there have been some fantastic examples where elected representatives have done just that. We’ve had a premier of a state in Western Australia who promised to act on the decisions of mini-publics. As Minister for Planning and Infrastructure she stood by citizens’ recommendations. We’ve had a participatory budget in New South Wales with Canada Bay Council. The local government agreed to abide by its decisions. It was the only reason we agreed to be involved. So it is happening. It’s not happening enough, but it’s certainly possible. I would suggest that none of us should proceed with mini-publics anymore unless it has the imprimatur of the decision-maker. It’s a little wearisome to keep proving that we can do these robust processes and then have the decision-makers ignoring the recommendations.

MG: What does the participatory budgeting work like in Australia?

LC: In the case of Canada Bay people were randomly selected, we had a group of 40 who came together face to face over five weekends. They deliberated on the entire budget of the council, they listened to expert speakers, they spent many hours having discussions. They split into small working parties to consider different aspects of the budget and they worked hard to deliver their recommendations to council and it was considered in a council meeting.

MG: Five weekends is a lot of time. Did the citizens receive a compensation for being involved in participatory budgeting?

LC: They received compensation, but it was a very small amount, something like 50 dollars a day or a weekend. It’s not huge and people don’t actually need a lot of money. They don’t want the equivalent of their salary. It’s an honorarium, a way to say “we value your participation”.

MG: If it was possible to change the law, would you like to have the decisions made by mini-public binding just like those made in referendums?

LC: That’s certainly my dream and there’s no reason why it can’t be so. A couple of examples exist. In Denmark there was a Danish Board of Technology which routinely convened mini-publics and fed those recommendations into the parliament. The parliament had to say why it wasn’t going to abide by those recommendations. That’s in a way the closest we’ve come to it. There’s a law in Tuscany in Italy, it’s called the Tuscan Law 69 which had a trigger mechanism which said that if there was a controversial issue it had to go to a deliberative process and again the regional government had to say why it would not act on those recommendations.

If I had a dream it would be to say that we would routinely convene policy juries to consider issues like education, health, transport and so on. You wouldn’t want to do it for everything. The whole point is to use these processes when and where appropriate, otherwise you would be bogging down the decision-making process which is often working quite well just through the current mechanisms that we have. It’s only when controversy emerges or long-term decisions have to be made, or when politicians are reluctant to act.

MG: What about the referenda? Are they a good way of making decisions?

LC: I’m not a fan of referenda. The reason is that they lack the deliberative element. We’ve had many referenda in Australia. I think we’ve had 44 and 36 of them was unsuccessful. That’s because the issue tends to become very polarized unless it has bi-partisan support, from the two major parties. They are inevitably rejected by the population because it’s so easy to run a negative campaign. Australian governments provide a lot of information when there is a referendum. But this can be quite confusing and citizens need an opportunity to deliberate on them, as they do in Oregon with the Citizens Initiative Review, or to have serious discussions with other people. A referendum for me without that deliberative component is nothing more than an opinion poll. It’s absolutely destined to failure unless you have all the major parties supporting it.

The citizen-initiated referendum sounds good on the surface because there is a groundswell of support, but what I would like to see is the groundswell of support demanding a deliberative process and then letting that deliberative process make a decision instead of putting it to a referendum.

MG: For some people it may be hard to accept that only those who are chosen by lot are going to make a decision instead of everybody as in referenda.

LC: That’s going to vary from country to country. In Australia we have a great deal of faith in random selection because it’s fair. Everyone has an equal opportunity to be selected. We also have an independent Australian Electoral Commission that has earned public confidence and it could have oversight of such lotteries. As long as you have faith in the process there shouldn’t be a problem. The difficulty is that it is not a routine to do that, although in Australia it is quite a routine to do that through criminal juries — people are randomly selected to sit on those juries. So actually we understand that process and we have faith in it to make very binding decisions about whether or not someone is guilty or not guilty, whether they should go to jail for life. We actually give that power to citizens at the moment. If that process doesn’t exist in a country, then yes, it needs to become a routine in order for trust to develop.


Wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that many, if not all, that read that interview had heads nodding in agreement.

Back on Lyn Carson’s website you can find an interesting selection of her publications.  I, for one, will be browsing through them.

The UK, China & Tibet

A sad story just becomes …. well, sadder.

Only the most discerning of news-followers will have picked up the fact that the British government has recently abandoned a long-held position on Tibet and now fully recognizes China’s direct rule over the country.

Map of Tibet

A recent article in the British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, explains all this far better than I could, but what intrigues me is WHY this has been done now and WHAT concessions have been made by China.

In truth, the Chinese Communist Party is not renowned for making concessions, so one suspects that the Tibetans have simply been sold down the river to gain general political kudos with the Chinese government, even though the former have an extremely good case in their claim for autonomy within China (independence having been abandoned in the cause of realism). Of course, Britain, France, the US and other western states are the world champions of freedom, democracy and the right to self-determination, aren’t they? Well, perhaps not …..

As far as Learning from Dogs is concerned, the main question is that of integrity. Should we simply change our political policies for convenience? Labour government ministers and indeed even Chris Patten, former Conservative Governor of Hong Kong, have referred to the previous view on Tibetan independence as “a quaint eccentricity”. However, I very much doubt whether the Tibetans – who after all live there and form the majority (or at least DID until they were ethnically-swamped by the Han Chinese) – would consider as an eccentricity the overnight and unheralded abandonment of yet one more hope in their fight for justice.

If the previous position was right for nearly 100 years then why is it suddenly wrong? What happened? Were we wrong all that time and have suddenly seen the light? That couldn’t be for reasons of expediency, could it?

Tibetan girl

And what HAVE the British gained? Apparently, there was no attempt to gain anything, since “The Chinese were not pushing for this.” Well, if they weren’t, then why give it? As it happens, the rather pathetic Dalai Lama is engaged in yet more “negotiations” with the CPP. I can just imagine the smirks on the Chinese side. The Tibetans didn’t have many cards to start with; now their only  Ace has been well and truly trumped.

By Chris Snuggs

Son of Gaddhafi …..

Does international politics have to be this obtuse, to put it kindly?

Those that don’t follow the British Press closely may have missed the news that Peter Mandelson, the unelected Lord appointed to run Britain’s Trade and Industry Department, was guest at  a shooting party with the son of Muammar Gaddhafi .  Here’s how the Guardian Newspaper ran the start of the article:

Peter MandelsonThe Spectator has reported that Peter Mandelson joined Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s son at a country house shooting party. Photograph: Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty ImagesHe [Mandelson] talked of being “intensely relaxed” about the filthy rich, and no one could say that Lord Mandelson doesn’t like their company. After twice facing criticism for consorting with billionaires in Corfu, it emerged tonight that the business secretary joined Colonel Muammar Gaddafi‘s son at a country house shooting party.

Mandelson and Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi were guests at Lord Rothschild’s Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, the Spectator said. The magazine reported that Cherie Blair was also in attendance, although neither she nor Mandelson are reported to have taken part in the shoot.

Let us be clear about this. The Gaddhafi regime is the antithesis of what the free world believes in, namely a dictatorship that has ruled by iron fist for decades and was indeed part of the axis of evil.

Of course, it suddenly became non-evil overnight, mostly because it gave up (or appeared to give up) trying to develop a nuclear bomb.

Leaving aside the fact that making a bomb does not per se make you evil, (unless we are to consider that the US, France, Britain, Russia, Israel are “evil”, too) the point is that the regime has not changed in its fundamentals since the old black and white days of George Bush.

So once again, the question arises, why are western leaders cosying up to these scum?  This  is a strong word, but do we or do we not agree that dictators are scum? Evil people who deny basic freedoms to their peoples?

Do you know any benevolent dictators? White-bearded philosophers out of the Plato/ Solomon mould? I sure don’t …..

Of course, these scum regimes are all in the UN, even though I had thought that all members had to sign up to the Universal Charter of Human Rights. Apparently not, however, another piece of humungous hypocrisy.

The Gaddhafi regime is the same one that is guilty of numerous terrorist offences, including Lockerbie (though there is distinct murkiness surrounding the whole saga) and in Britain the shooting by a Libyan Embassy staff member of Yvonne Fletcher, a British policewoman, for which nobody has been brought to justice even though the British police are said to know who was responsible.

However, leaving aside the question of how to deal with nasty dictatorships (and is joining shooting parties with the heir apparent really the right way?) I am fascinated by the apparent idiocy of Lord Mandelson in associating with these people.

Exactly which segment of the British population – let alone American – is he going to try to sell this to? America may not interest him overmuch, but one imagines that he wishes to prolong his career in British politics. If so, he has a funny way of going about it.

His image will take an enormous bashing, and Mandelson is, or used to be, totally focused on image, spin, PR and “the message”. What message does the thought of him jollying along with the son of the dictator of an evil regime convey to us? Has the spin guru of the British Labour Party lost his rudder?

Of course, there could be a hidden (or rather obvious) agenda. It could all be to do with sshhhhh ……MONEY. Is he therefore working tirelessly against his conscience (and knowing this will do him great personal damage) in the  financial if not moral interests of the British people (who weren’t of course asked if they want their country cosying up to dictators) or could it be – oh Dear, are we being too cynical? – that he has a more personal interest in mind?

Does he deep down seek to become as rich as the man he helped to sell to the British public, Tony Blair himself, who incidentally is about to be embroiled in a potentially-devastating enquiry into the Iraq war?

And unfortunately, the news broke on the day after we discovered that Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, found guilty of the Lockerbie bombing and released because he was dying, has in fact survived for three months with no apparent end in sight. Yes, only three months ago Gaddhafi bambino was helping to arrange the hero’s welcome that Megrahi received in Libya. As is well-known, Mandelson met Gaddhafi’s son one week before the alleged deal was done for Megrahi’s release, so they are old jet-set mates.

We believe in “freedom” and “democracy”, don’t we? We may have to share the planet with dictatorial scum, but do our representatives really have to grovel and sup with them?

It doesn’t feel good to be honest ….

By Chris Snuggs