Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

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Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

Post by Guillaume Mistwalker »

For those who were at our previous, agenda-setting meeting of the RA, I mentioned that one of my goals for this term is to raise consciousness and spur discussion on what may seem to be a "radical" proposal, but which I think is sensible. I am talking about my proposal for replacing our representative democracy with a direct democracy.

Please forgive me in advance because I much prefer the discursive, colloquial space of talking in world. To this end, I hope to organise a few meetings over the next few months to talk about this proposal, whether in chat or in voice. For now I know many of you are expecting a fleshed out proposal from me—I think that premature and, frankly, unbefitting a democracy. I am no nomothete.

I have mentioned this idea before, a few terms ago. It is fairly simple: instead of having a group of five elected representatives (or, more realistically, volunteers), a direct democratic body would be made up of the citizens who take part in the individual meetings. As I mentioned after the RA meeting, this does not mean that we would have to get rid of the LRA, the LRA pro tempore, the archivist, or necessarily even the five elected/volunteered seats on the dais. A direct democratic assembly would still require leadership and officers, and the composition of the RA as it is now would still be appropriate to be a steering committee or prytaneis.

Realistically, this means a minor change: instead of having only five people empowered to vote on motions and proposals, all citizens could vote. Effectively, I would say, the structure would largely remain unchanged. But this minor change means that all citizens have a direct vote on all matters that affect our laws, our political decisions, our plans, etc.

We would still have our legitimate procedures. For all changes, like the recent change the RA voted on today to the general covenant, we would still need a period of public input. We would still need to wait to vote on substantial changes in policy and in law. Citizens, not just RA members, could have the potential for a "seven-day vote" in their absence.

We would still need elections. We would still need referenda. I do not imagine that all citizens will come to meetings of the assembly, nor would they be able to! But with only eight citizens at today's RA meeting I do not think we need to worry that we will be swamped and, even if a problem like overcrowding would arise there are other outlets to remedy whatever technological constraints we might have: citizens can express themselves here on the forums and, as I said, they could still request a seven-day vote—or perhaps this will become standard practice, to give all citizens seven days to vote.

What about the historical excesses of direct democracy? (Thank you, Aristotle and Polybius.) It is fair to point out that even with a representative democracy or with a direct democracy we do not live in a "democracy" alone. We have a division of powers: we are a republic. This fact does not change whether we have a representative or a direct democratic assembly. The procedures that are already part of our political culture with the RA, too, already put brakes on the kind of excesses one might think of.

But why change our constitution "so radically" at this point? For one, turnout and citizen activity is low. Does it not make sense to encourage participation one way or another? How many more "elections" will we have to have where we cannot even elect citizens who may be hardly "representative"? As a member of the RA, and who has been a member of the RA on-and-off for years now, do we really presume that the RA can claim to be "representative" any more? How is our "representative" democracy at this point any more defensible than direct democracy?

We are a small community. We can make this reasonable change, thanks to our size. When you interrogate what this proposal really means, it means making a slight change to our constitution (giving all citizens suffrage in our assembly) and recognising in our laws the constitutional inheritance of a democratic assembly from the representative assembly. We do not need RL, macronational spectres in our virtual micronation.
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Re: Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

Post by Sudane Erato »

A most interesting idea!

I will note that as of recently we now have an ability we never before had. Each morning our list of citizens is recalculated according to the current rules of citizenship. That list is available by touching the old book placed in several gathering places in the estate. And that list could form the basis which qualified each individual at a meeting which Gauis envisages.


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Re: Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

Post by Tanoujin Milestone »

I am trying hard to finish reading “Towards an Inclusive Democracy” by Takis Fotopoulos but at the moment there are other books I am more attached to. The book can be found under a GNU license in the net - maybe you find time to check it out? It could serve as a theoretical basis to introduce new direct elements into our system...
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Re: Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

Post by Rosie Gray »

It's an interesting proposal that I think is worth exploring, but would be a big change for the CDS. I can see the reasoning when, for at least the last 4 sessions (and more scattered before that), the RA members have been acclaimed rather than elected. The same is true of the Chancellor position; from 2013 to 2020 (19th term to the current 33rd term) out of the 16 Chancellors, 9 have been acclaimed terms.

I can think of a problem off the top. If whomever turns up can vote, it might make it even less attractive for some to stand for the 5 positions now occupied, and if nobody does that then we could end up with an even more reduced number of participant people who actually want to address issues, if they think they can vote 'anyway'. Would we end up with people only coming to vote against something they don't like, instead of making plans and addressing non-sexy issues?
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Re: Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

Post by Em Warden »

I find direct democracy very attractive as an idea, an ideology even. However, I stand with Rosie in this issue.

I do not know how big a portion of us citizens are here to enjoy the democracy. But history tells us that very few are willing to participate in upholding it, like Rosie pointed out. As both Gaius and Rosie stated, more often than not we have only had the exact number of candidates needed, and sometimes Lilith has had to send out reminders and appeals to even accomplish that much...

You, Gaius, are of the opinion that a direct democracy would solve this problem, in that it would engage more people in planning and decision making. It is a beautiful thought, and I wish that I could believe it too. But instead I am the pessimist and think that it will require a huge amount of convincing, nagging and coercing to make more than a handful of citizens take on that responsibility. Referendums on important questions could of course engage a larger group, but that is a very "labour intensive" way of governing.

So, personally I think we would only have a direct democracy written in the law. A "paper tiger" :) Therefore it would be best to have a trial period first, before we decide whether or not to change type of democracy for a future CDS.
Last edited by Em Warden on Thu Jun 25, 2020 2:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

Post by Em Warden »

I find direct democracy very attractive as an idea, an ideology even. However, I stand with Rosie in this issue.

I do not know how big a portion of us citizens are here to enjoy the democracy. But history tells us that very few are willing to participate in upholding it, like Rosie pointed out. As both Gaius and Rosie stated, more often than not we have only had the exact number of candidates needed, and sometimes Lilith has had to send out reminders and appeals to even accomplish that much...

You, Gaius, are of the opinion that a direct democracy would solve this problem, in that it would engage more people in planning and decision making. It is a beautiful thought, and I wish that I could believe it too. But instead I am the pessimist and think that it will require a huge amount of convincing, nagging and coercing to make more than a handful of citizens take on that responsibility. Referendums on important questions could of course engage a larger group, but that is a very "labour intensive" way of governing.

So, personally I think we would only have a direct democracy written in the law. A "paper tiger" :) Therefore it would be best to have a trial period first, before we decide to change type of democracy for a future CDS.
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Re: Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

Post by Tanoujin Milestone »

The first problem that comes to my mind is that a gang of 7-10 would be able to shanghai us. It is unlikely that all representative seats are occupied by moles, but if the game is to have a 5 Dollar parcel and show up every meeting to vote the true, but lazy majority down and maybe change the constitution will take us to very interesting times...
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Re: Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

Post by Lilith Ivory »

Of course the idea of having a direct democracy sounds like a good plan at a first glance. After all we want to be inclusive and in quiet and peaceful times as we have at the moment our main goal should be to encourage more citizens to participate.

But thinking about this plan twice I do not only have to agree with Rosie,EM and Tan (you posted while I was writing this) I would even say direct democracy is very dangerous for CDS.

Since I joined CDS we had at least three groups with different leaders who settled in CDS and tried to - politely said - form our community after their likes. Thanks to our democratic system and the fact enough citizens woke up in time we have always been able to defeat those intruders. In a direct democracy this might not have worked out as it had been easy for those well organized groups to gain the majority during RA meetings.

The "New Guild" is a good example of what I am talking about. We used to have a direct democracy there but one of said groups managed it within a few month to incapacitate the New Guild. Our only way out was to reform it into an exclusive NGO.

In my opinion in small communities like ours the mere right to vote is insignificant compared with other options to participate actively. Come to meetings and use the forum to voice your opinion or concerns. Build a majority through profound arguments and the RA will vote to that effect.
What we really need to bring our political culture back to life is not an additional bunch of yea- or naw-sayer but lively discussions.

And if someone really desperately wants to vote: Pretty please run for a seat in the RA!

I´d also be very interested to see how many of our citizens would like to participate more if we had a direct democracy. So instead of even thinking about tying I´d suggest making a survey first :)
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Re: Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

Post by Em Warden »

Oh yes- the subversive, totalitarian groups... how could I forget?
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Re: Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

Post by Rosie Gray »

I think that Lilith and Em both make excellent points that I agree with. The idea that people would just show up and vote without having spent any time thinking about issues, understanding the procedures and history of how we got here, and having no committment to the community other than perhaps a little fachwerk parcel for a week seems pretty dangerous to me.
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Re: Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

Post by Han Held »

Rosie Gray wrote:
Sun Jun 28, 2020 12:44 pm
I think that Lilith and Em both make excellent points that I agree with. The idea that people would just show up and vote without having spent any time thinking about issues, understanding the procedures and history of how we got here, and having no committment to the community other than perhaps a little fachwerk parcel for a week seems pretty dangerous to me.
I'm always in favor of giving people more of a voice, not less.

That said, I think any kind of direct democracy ought to follow the same procedures for eligibility that we have now; the census. I share your concern about people just coming in and buying a fach for a week just to vote.

We had that kind of shenanigans before -with Cleo. There is a precedent.

The other concern I have with this (as i understand it, no offense meant but the OP post could have been written in much clearer, less arcane language) is that putting every measure to a vote might end up bogging everything down and making things inefficient -it may be that nothing ever gets done.
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Re: Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

Post by Lilith Ivory »

That said, I think any kind of direct democracy ought to follow the same procedures for eligibility that we have now; the census. I share your concern about people just coming in and buying a fach for a week just to vote.
Our current election schedule demands a citizen to own a parcel for 30 days before being allowed o vote and that the citizen has to be in good standing. Who do you think is supposed to check that in front of every RA meeting?
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Re: Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

Post by Guillaume Mistwalker »

I have wanted to give some time before I responded so that others could provide their thoughts.
Lilith Ivory wrote:
Tue Jun 30, 2020 2:37 am
Our current election schedule demands a citizen to own a parcel for 30 days before being allowed o vote and that the citizen has to be in good standing. Who do you think is supposed to check that in front of every RA meeting?
I think this is a good point between Lil and Han, though I do not think that it really is much of a barrier. First, it could be done according to the most recent census, which happen nearly every month. Or, we could write into the constitution that one has to have been a citizen since the previous term to vote in the assembly: there are solutions to this problem, and I do not think it is as large a problem as you are imagining. We already generally have an idea who is a new citizen and who is not and, even if there are errors made, we hardly have votes on motions that are at risk of being ties—meaning that one discredited vote would not likely change results.

I understand the concern about voting blocs and factions that may form. In fact, I think that is a reason for having direct democracy, not against it. If you recall, the factions led by people like CLEOPATRA in the past formed with few people. Yes, they manipulated our democracy, but democracy's strength lies in numbers and CLEOPATRA's strength lay in encouraging others to join her cabal to form a small, exclusive group in governing the estate. Perhaps others can recall better than I can how many people she paid to join the CDS and vote for her, but as I do it was a vocal group of no more than a dozen people who ran for elected offices. By increasing the size of the assembly and allowing citizens the possibility of a seven-day-vote, I believe direct democracy makes our government more resilient against such groups by virtue of the fact that more have suffrage in the assembly. Perhaps this may require more vigilance on our part as citizens, but is that vigilance not what we want from citizens in a democracy?

I appreciate Em's pessimism, though even the case she draws is what happened in historic direct democracies. (The Athenian assembly's quorum was 6,000—out of ~50,000 male citizens.) It does not mean that everyone will participate, only that they can. My point was not that I think the masses will come to assembly meetings, only that they could, and even then I suspect it may not happen that many will. Rather, my point was that we could avoid some of the current absurdities of our representative democracy—first, that our RA is "representative" and, second, that it is "democratic." Just because a five people can volunteer to run an assembly for six months does not, I think, legitimately represent a democracy.

τοῖς πολλοῖς παλαιοῖς (to the old-time hoi polloi), the rule of a few (ὀλίγοι) is not democracy—nevermind that we have the constitutional capacity to elect the few! And I understand the self-implication and irony as an RA member. So much for my optimism, Em!
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Re: Amending the Constitution: Get Rid of the "Representative" in RA?

Post by Almut Brunswick »

As a yet relatively fresh CDS citizen which is (in distinction to other "just resident" citizens) eager to play an active role in the community, I don't think that Guillaume's proposal to change the CDS into a more direct democracy will turn the political culture to the better. Both models of democratic participation - representative and direct - have their pro's and con's. Here some thoughts what I regard as the most hindering points for a more vivid democratic system supported by active citizens:
  • Main problem of the CDS is that the number of citizens in total is quite modest. This is not only an issue of the CDS, but a long-time trend in SL. When you consider that a lot of people just want to find a pleasant, nicely created place to live their Second Life, but that they are not really interested in taking any obligation in a community, the number of potentially active citizens is even smaller.
  • The political system of the CDS is not really self-explaining and the communication of its essentials are still under development. Finding your place in the community is not always easy, because newbies and vets have natuarlly different demands. That might hinder new citizens to play a more active role as well.
  • Throughout the years, an impressive number of institutions, commitees and groups has been established with a hardly traceable mingling of dependencies and you see always the same active people in different functions. Like playing the mass scenes in the opera "Aida" with just half a dozen actors in a village theatre.
  • The need to appoint representatives and chancellors instead of elections is an evidence that there is a certain scaling issue of the democratic system: When the active citizenship equals to the available seats in an assembly, something went badly wrong. This is just a makeshift and the democratic legitimation of the RA members and the Chancellor has at least scratches - despite all regulations in the laws which allow such a pragmatic procedure. In other words: The CDS system is actually good and throughtfully created, but it would need much more people to *live* it properly.
  • I'm nonetheless against direct democracy with arbitrary voting results. Taking a seat in the RA - regardless if elected or appointed - should mean to take an obligation and to play an active and reliable role in the CDS. On the other hand, all citizen without a RA mandate like me can always participate on discussions here in the forum or show up to the RA meetings and bring up their concerns. I've learned that this can also influence remarkably how matters evolve.
And just a personal demand to Guillaume: Please have mercy with all non-native English speakers and without a career as Latin and Greek teacher in their biography :) From our point of view today, the Greek democracy was an oligarchy of slave drivers which completely excluded women from political participation. In the CDS, however, the women are the majority of the active citizens. Historicially seen, the Greek Polis was a splendid first implementation of an idea in a time where despotic rulers were much more common, but it is not really suitable as a template for a modern democracy anymore.

So when there is a need to reform the CDS, then I personally would scale it carefully down accodring to the template of a city magistrate with a mayor, his/her departments (treasurer, public works, legal advisor etc.) and an elected city council that controls the executive. Not that it would massively activate more people to participate, but it presumably would ease "living" the political structures by the active part of the citizenship. But that would be indeed a massive change of the CDS.

Almut

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