From Metagovernment - Government of, by, and for all the people
Currently being expanded and updated...
Following are some frequently asked questions about the Metagovernment project. Feel free to ask additional questions on the FAQ Talk page.
What problems is Metagovernment trying to address?
Probems with representation
In today's representative democracies, political power is consolidated in the hands of well-educated elites who are seen to be best placed to take decisions in the common interest. This implies that people cannot be trusted to solve their own problems: leaders must take control and act on their behalf. At the Metagovernment project, we do not agree that the political world should be structured as a top-down hierarchy. Rather, we assert that people hold political power, and should exert their influence through effective organisation. The government is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Citizens are part of the collaborative decision-making processes, and they grow and struggle together in the process of personal transformation as they develop a collective sense of the ideals towards which they wish to aspire.
See this page for more on the specific problems associated with representative democracy
The greatest challenges currently faced by humanity are of a global nature. However, global decision-making is still conducted by politicians who are under pressure to represent the economic interests of their individual nations. This situation prevents the whole of society from achieving its most important goals. Metagovernment has the long-term aim of allowing all the world's citizens to align their interests and decision-making processes in order to work towards these goals together.
Who is in charge?
There are no empowered leaders in an open source government. There can be people who are recognized as leaders, but they have no actual authority over other people, only the power of their reputation. There may be some basic administrative bodies to handle accounting and administration of the computers, but these institutions also are governed by open websites. All people may participate in every such website. In the initial formation of the open source governments, there may be nonprofit institutions which exist to facilitate the implementation of the governments. These institutions are transient and goal-oriented. At such time as the community participating in the website wishes to dispense with these institutions, they are required by their bylaws to disband.
Isn't this basically anarchy? Or mob rule?
Not at all. The community structure and the scoring system change the nature of how participation works. There are so many communities that need governance, there is no chance that anyone can effectively participate in all of them. For example, there may be a governing body of a geographic region, of a park system in that region, of a single park within that system, of a golf course inside that park, and of a tournament played on that golf course. Each of those governing bodies would be a separate community. One person may participate to different degrees within any of those governments. People will naturally self-select toward the communities that matter to them the most.
Additionally, if a scoring system is applied to users, then there is an additional layer of sophistication to moderate participation. With a user scoring system, anyone may contribute to any community, but their contributions are weighted by the score given them by other people (generally, and specifically within that community). Additionally, scores are recursively weighted, meaning that a score is more significant when given by someone whose own score is very high. This system can be summed up as: "The more one is respected by respected people, the more say one has in governance. And the more one positively contributes to a particular topic, the more say one has in laws in that topic area."
Given the general political apathy, won't this system play into the hands of extremists?
It is true that, the smaller the number of people participating in the resolution of any one particular issue, the easier it would be for a particular group which does not represent the views of the majority to 'hijack' this issue by organising a high rate of participation amongst themselves. However, in order for such a strategy to be effecive, the group would have to not only reach but also maintain the necessary level of consensus. This means that a larger group of voters who have been caught out by their own inactivity would easily be able to subsequently overturn a decision reached by a small group, even if they only started participating once the initial consensus had been reached.
The fact that all issues are permanently open for debate and for resolution by consensus all the time is an important distinction to direct democracy via referenda, where the way the question is stated, the timing of the question and the media climate might result in a decision being reached which does not accurately reflect the views of the community and is difficult to subsequently reverse.
What about people who don't have access to the internet?
First, it is expected to take some time before the Metagovernment is fully functional, and even more time until current governments begin ceding power to open source governments. Already one in five people have access to the internet. By the time open source governments become mainstream, this ratio is expected to be much, much higher. Additionally, this project supports and advocates projects such as the XO-1 laptop which seek to expand internet access to the least likely parts of the world. And finally, an important function of this implementation of open source government is to have regular, public meetings for every government at every level. While the meetings will not themselves decide policy, they will provide personal discussion of issues and access to and training on internet-connected computers where anyone may contribute to the government.
Is this Democracy?
Yes! This implementation of open source governance does not operate on the traditional democratic principle of "one person, one vote." However, it is supremely democratic in that every single person — regardless of age, social status, ethnicity, religion, or any other conditions — is allowed to contribute as much as they please. The closest traditional term is direct democracy. However, in addition to this democratic foundation, this scoring system may incorporates a form of reputocracy and/or meritocracy (itself formed by democratic participation) where every person may rate every other person. Instead of every person having one vote to cast or withhold, modern social technologies enable us to have a much more sophisticated form of participation in government, where people can specialize in certain topics, but participate in everything. Or nothing, or whatever level of participation they choose. Recently, as people have been discovering the new possibilities of governance through social networking, they are starting to attempt to define new terms which would encompas this form of government. The term e-democracy is sometimes used to generally speak of incorporating internet technologies into the democratic process. However the relatively new term open source governance seems to best describe the nature of this project.
Can absolutely anyone participate? Children? Convicts?
Yes, every single person may contribute to any open source government. There are two simple mechanisms for mediating the effects of having normally-excluded people participate in government. The primary mechanism is the scoring system. The average ten year old child will not be able to garner a high score; however a ten year old with genuinely good contributions still has an opportunity to have his or her voice heard. The second mechanism is the time deprecation mechanism, which makes one's scores fade over time. As a child grows older, their low scores from their youth will be superceded by more recent scores. Convicts and anyone else may also participate. The scoring system will allow individuals to negatively score anyone if they choose to do so. This essentially means that a community will be able to decide how much participation they want to allow from a convict in their community.
Can people participate anonymously?
There is an ongoing debate in the Metagovernment community over the place of anonymous participation. Please refer to the page Anonymous interactions within the metagovernment.
How could we be sure that the system is safe from hackers?
In accordance with the principal of radical transparency, the code of the software that allows an open governance system to work will be open for anyone to see. One solution which has been proposed in order to prevent tampering with the software is as follows:
A single application and database run in several different, independent instances (on different computers, clouds or clusters, for example), and each instance is controlled by a different person or entity.
Whenever a change is made to one instance, it then propagates that to other running instances. Each time a propagation occurs (or at some sort of interval), instances would checksum each other to ensure that they are running the same software, that they have the same data integrity, and that the new data being propagated is a legitimate product of the software.
If a hacker or a rogue administrator messes with the data or compile on one instance, the other instances stop trusting it and it essentially drops from the community of interworking instances (which is why there must be more than 3, and preferably many more than 3, for proper continuity).
(A necessary shortcoming of this system is that all of the instances are somewhat out of sync with each other, but that is a matter of efficiency and can be kept low with good design. It also makes it difficult to upgrade the software, but again this is just a technical problem.)
It is still essential that the software have code that can be read and compiled by anyone, but there is a much stronger security controller: you don't have to trust one person's compile, because there are many different compiles all checking each other.
Who will have the power to make sure that decisions are implemented in the real world?
There are two kinds of power at work here: legislative power (making the laws) and executive power (enforcing the laws). Since everyone can contribute equally to the making of the rules, everyone holds legislative power. If the community wishes to grant any executive power to any person or organisation, for instance a police force, it would have to come to a consensus on the laws which determine this power.
What is the political ideology of this project?
This project does not adhere to or espouse any traditional political ideology. People who consider themselves conservatives, liberals, authoritarians, libertarians, or anything else are all fully invited to participate. The only ideology which is explicitly held up is that absolutely everyone must be allowed to participate and that all governance must be open. The only ideology which is explicitly rejected is that which claims that individual rulers are needed for the orderly governance of society. New technologies enable new ways for people to interact. This project believes that we now have the ability to evolve beyond animalistic, leadership-based models of governance. Instead of having a few individuals make all the decisions for the rest of us, we now have the ability to have full public participation in governance without subjecting ourselves to mob rule and without overly burdening citizens with mandatory public service. This project also believes that many traditional political divides can be overcome by encouraging synthesis. Often both sides of a political dispute have the same basic aim, but they differ on how to achieve that aim. By encouraging synthesis, we hope to better enable society to achieve these fundamental goals instead of bickering over the details.
- Metagovernment Start Archives: http://metagovernment.org/pipermail/start_metagovernment.org/
- Common Cause - a report by the WWF: http://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/common_cause_report.pdf