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Thursday, December 15th, 2022

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Bruce Schneier hosts "Reimagining Democracy" in a two day workshop (schneier.com)

Bruce Schneier is, in my opinion, one of the biggest names when it comes to security analysis online. He apparently held a two-day event to imagine creating a new country:

The idea is to start from scratch, to pretend we’re forming a new country and don’t have any precedent to deal with. And that we don’t have any unique interests to perturb our thinking. The modern representative democracy was the best form of government mid-eighteenth century politicians technology could invent. The twenty-first century is a very different place technically, scientifically, and philosophically. What could democracy look like if it were reinvented today? Would it even be democracy—what comes after democracy?

I've had a very similar idea for years, though I came at it from the game design angle, thinking of finding a system or evolution of current structures where game designers aim to align incentives for people and government despite different political and philosophical positions.

Schneier published a very long set of notes out of the event on the linked page. Here are a few notable excerpts as I read through them.

On the failure of languages in modern society as a barrier to modern democratic systems:

Zoe Hitzig: Experts corrupt the language we use to describe our social goals.

Josh Fairfield: Law is the sharpened end of the language we use to talk about the world we want to live in together…. Language evolves between us when we are speaking to another human as a function of context. we’re not developing language in the way we have been

Nils Gilman: Even if fungus cannot speak, we still need ways to include their voice—we need experts who are equipped, like the Lorax, to speak for the trees. Not necessarily scientific experts, could be indigenous—pluralize idea of expertise.

In regards to the waning fundamental discursive and epistemic boundaries:

What does modern governance mean if “we have never been modern”?

I really like this question. Many view today's government as modern, despite it being a stone's throw (if that far) from what was designed 250 years ago.

They then move into the area which more closely mirrors my thinking for setting up a group like this:

Any system can be gamed and hacked; how can we bring both anticipatory and retrospective/historical thinking to designing robust and resilient governance systems?

  • Bruce Schneier on hacking: A hack is something a system permits that’s unintended by the designers. Subversions of rules that change the system. What happens when AI starts doing that kind of thing? Idea that AIs can become a creative force to find loopholes and exploit them.
  • Lessons of history (Ada Palmer—We should always ask, what will happen when this system inevitably becomes encrusted with corruption, polarization, demagoguery, and threats from the outside?)
  • Lessons of science fiction (Jo Walton walked us through several democratic imaginaries from science fiction of the past seventy-five years).
  • Judith Donath: Lots of technologies were invented to deceive people. What kind of a society do we want to have? What is our relationship with truth and honesty?
  • Disinformation is not a technology problem (though obviously made worse by it) but actually the default state of humanity. How do we build systems with the knowledge that the production of facts is fragile and rare?

Next, money.

Resisting financialization and the deleterious effects of optimizing for economics

  • Let’s not pretend we live in a world that has arisen from a rational pursuit of relevant facts. Money and power pervade everything. Many “governing”/state systems are actually about protecting property.
  • Sorcha Brophy: Our economic system shapes what’s possible. Students have trouble imagining beyond the perverse incentives of capitalism.

100% on this. It is hard to imagine things and systems different from our capitalist/consumerist reality for many folks.

Ethan Zuckerman: These [business] models are only fifteen years old. We’re pretty new in the surveillance hypercapitalism sphere. Governance feels locked in stone because these platforms are huge. We are thirty years into Thatcher and Reaganism. If we could get back to public investment, we could see change very quickly.

I would like to think Ethan is correct. Maybe we'll get to find out one day.

The notes are hard to follow, definitely missing context.

Later on in a section about the implementation of governance, though this next note feels relatively unrelated:

Ada: I spend a lot of time convincing my students that things used to be worse. Despair is how we lose.

And that was all day 1 stuff, next we move to day 2.

Feasibility vs. what the future calls for (where are we vs. where we want to be); CAN we directly seek abolition of (national) borders, (epistemic) boundaries, and (surveillance) business models? How does the conversation change if we are necessarily adapting from current conditions?

  • Eli: Let’s imagine in 2050, we have flourishing multicultural multipolar democracies—“I can’t tell a story of how we get there with incremental small reforms.”
  • On the one hand, we have valuing nonhuman intelligence, considering the lens of the future, learning from history, planning for future generations’ enjoyment and thriving.
  • On another hand, we have toxic individualism and commitment to economic and property-based conceptions of what government is for.
  • The above might be a false binary, but the point that we’ve jumped in seems past the point where you ask a basic question about what society is for, or at least what government is for.

Later on in a section labeled "Participation vs. Expertise":

Claudia: We’re not talking about direct democracy, we’re talking about a different form of representative democracy. Not getting rid of expertise, but creating the right epistemic conditions to be able to make forward progress.

And in the final note of the first segment of notes is this reference to the late Aaron Swartz and how he represented a different mentality for Silicon Valley:

Henry: Aaron Swartz as a linkage between Rob and Tim[’s debate about Silicon Valley style optimization]—a different path that could have been taken by Silicon Valley—piecemeal democratic engineering—no grand plans, but figure stuff out on the fly, iterate iterate iterate. Would love to see coming out of this, a project of piecemeal democratic engineering.


The notes continue quite a bit further. I haven't finished reviewing them. Definitely some interesting insights from this group, but it also had a fair bit of philosophizing and, it feels like, circular conversations. But yeah, glad to see these sort of things happening and curious to see more.

12/15/2022 12:19 am | |
Tags: politics, philosophy

NatGeo's 22 discoveries of 2022 (nationalgeographic.com)

From archaeological discoveries to history and biology, lots of interesting moments from the year. There are a few which I'm like 'eh' for including and they just felt the need to hit the '22' number, but also some really cool things to be reminded about and also to learn about for the first time.

12/15/2022 11:08 am | |
Tags: science, history

"The Appalachians are older than bones"

12/15/2022 11:15 am | |
Tags: geology, geography

Proton is rad

I have discovered Proton and Steam for playing games in Linux. Proton is a new piece of software that enables me to play Windows games on Linux.

I just played some Marvel Snap and am installing Stardew Valley now, an old time favorite.

I don't plan to go too crazy. But given that I just began my winter holiday, a few more distractions on my laptop seems fun.

12/15/2022 4:29 pm | |
Tags: gaming, linux

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