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A Meta-layer for Restoring Democracy and Open Society: Part Three, the IVCS

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Joseph M. Firestone and Henk Hadders

This is the concluding post in a three-part series. The first post highlighted the problem of lack of representativeness in modern societies, characterized human societies, economic, and political systems as special kinds of Complex Adaptive Systems (CASs) called Promethean CASs, and then argued that such systems needed continuous self-organization to maintain democracy and open society in the face of tendencies toward oligarchy endemic in PCASs, and that e-participation platforms might enable continuous self-organization, if such platforms were designed appropriately. In Part Two, we spelled out the general and IT requirements needed for an e-participation platform that could provide a meta-layer for democracy enabling continuous self-organization. In this post we'll conclude with a case study.

The IVCS platform: A Case Study

All systems using IT and human agents relating people to one another, including political parties, and formal organizations generally, are PCASs, and in their formative stages after the introduction of the IT component to users will involve some additional degree of self-organization, network effects, and emerging collective behavior patterns, beyond that existing before introducing the technology. But, some IT platforms/tool sets will do a better job of enabling self-organization initially, and maintaining it continuously, than others. That means that some applications will serve democracy better than others in that continuous enabling of new self-organization outside any formal organizational structure within their IT application environments will more effectively prevent formation of entrenched oligarchies than will other applications ostensibly directed at similar problems.

How well IT platforms trying to heal modern democratic political systems such as the United States, will perform in enabling self-organization depends in great part on the power of their central symbols, or "tags" to attract self-organizing activity with a propensity to generate higher-level collectives such as voting blocs and electoral coalitions out of the self-organization.

The IVCS is a platform and set of tools being developed that is expected to fulfill all the e-platform requirements given above. It has policy options as its key tags, the central symbols around which people will self-organize to create voting blocs and electoral coalitions. In addition, when using IVCS, people prioritize their policy options and create policy agendas based on their options and priorities. Policy options, priorities, and policy agendas are the most effective tags for political self-organization because 1) people can locate others based on similarities in these matters, and 2) they can also engage in developing voting blocs and electoral coalitions by first finding people whose agendas are similar to their own, and then negotiating out differences among them by collaborating on how policy agendas may be changed, consensus created and differences resolved.

And because of these tags and other features that enable and encourage participation in the process of building voting blocs and electoral coalitions by negotiating and re-negotiating policy options, priorities, and policy agendas, IVCS is the platform that can best maintain continuous self-organization, continuous refreshing of "bottom-up", democratic participation, in building and re-building voting blocs and electoral coalitions. The most important thing is that CASs are always poised at "the edge of chaos," between the disorder of chaotic dynamics and the orderly dynamics of lifeless mechanical equilibrium.

They remain in this state, because their continuous self-organization allows them to cope with environmental challenges through problem solving. Their continued existence as PCASs, therefore, depends on this continuous self-organization. If that fails or is undermined by the institutionalization of oligarchies that can protect themselves from replacement, then the adaptive capabilities of the PCAS will fail and it will change its state.

The IVCS enables the U.S. electorate to bypass the current system and circumvent institutions that have corrupted it. It does this by enabling voters of all persuasions to build voter-controlled on-line voting blocs and electoral coalitions that can get control of all vital processes that determine what the nation's legislative priorities are, who runs for office, who gets elected, what laws are enacted, and which office holders will be made accountable for breaking their commitments made to voters prior to their elections.

These blocs and coalitions can work together outside the system, prior to elections, to democratize political parties so that their supporters control them rather than special interests. The blocs and coalitions can form alliances with democratically-run parties while supplanting all parties as the driving forces of U.S. politics (see figure 1).

ivcs as a PCAS

Figure 1: IVCS as a PCAS with self-organizing emergent collectives

IVCS's agenda-setting, political organizing and consensus-building tools enable voters to set their legislative agendas and build voting blocs and electoral coalitions to elect representatives who will enact their legislative priorities, not special interest priorities, into law. The tools empower voters to change the whole political system by creating self-organizing voting blocs and electoral coalitions that can perform all functions political parties perform to get their candidates elected, and their legislative agendas passed. This includes raising money for their candidates from individual donors throughout the country, rather than special interests.

In addition to doing the same things that parties do to run winning candidates, the voting blocs and coalitions that voters build, using IVCS tools, can do two things absolutely essential to democracy that traditional political parties have failed to do. First, they can overcome the parties' failure to allow voters to collectively set and vote on party platforms and legislative agendas, And second, the IVCS and its consensus-building tools, especially the voting utility, collaboration, and problem solving tools, and knowledge bases containing both claims and meta-claims, enable voters to resolve conflicts. Space limitations prevent our dealing with IVCS in more detail; more information can be found on the prototype website.


Aristotle pointed out that monarchies were subject to transformation to tyrannies, aristocracies to oligarchies, and constitutional governments to democracies (mob rule). He had no way of knowing that such transformations may have something to do with whether the processes of self-organization decay to such a degree that lack of adaptive success in each of these systems drives their transformation to their perverted forms.

He also had no way of envisioning the need for modern constitutional liberal democracies to continuously renew themselves with new distributed ‘wicked’ problem-solving capabilities and accountability mechanisms that can only be produced through openness and self-organization supported through modern IT web-based e-participation platforms. These platforms can provide a meta-layer of new knowledge, cultural norms, and self-organization, for democratic political systems, unconstrained by and not open to, manipulation by emergent globalizing elites.

Without these new e-participation platforms, and the continuous self-organization they will bring, the iron law of oligarchy will continue to dominate representative democracies, and they will travel further along the real road to serfdom. IVCS can create the meta-layer necessary to strengthen self-organization into voting blocs, electoral coalitions, and web-based social networks in such a way, that new policy solutions can be continuously introduced, along with new mechanisms of accountability. That meta-layer can ensure that policy elites either become representative, or are quickly replaced by new officeholders who won't rely on the financial and organizational resources now co-opting self-organizing movements, the heart and soul modern democracies. It can repeal the Iron Law!

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