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Issues with and Alternatives to Democracy and Majority Votes

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Introduction

The general concept of democracy in its widest use of the term isn’t infallible. Not a perfect system. It stands and falls with the people. While it’s not perfect, it’s the best I’ve experienced implemented in reality. Not just in state politics.

To my knowledge, on the state governmental level, in my opinion we never really had a “real democracy” anywhere in the world. Speaking about medium/average sized and medium/average populated countries here. (Mostly speaking about Germany, US, Europe here, that’s what I follow most.) Applying the lose definition of “government does what the majority of the people wants”.

The problem with representative democracies is, that politicians are not legally bound to what they promised during electoral campaign. I am not aware of any usable mechanism of recalling politicians from the office. Well, there are a few such as revolutions, but those require major violations, require major effort in organization, happen seldom and are thereby hardly a usual mechanism annulling previous votes in case of blatantly broken promised in previous electoral campaigns.

While Switzerland currently has the most sophisticated implementation of direct democracy, and while it looks great on the surface, there are many issues if you scratch below the surface. A lot can be learned from Switzerland, but copying their system one to one would not be advisable.

I also don’t consider it a real democracy, because the vast majority of people I am talking to do not feel being represented or being taken seriously by politicians. Most fell into apathy and have completely given up hope. My impression of disenchantment with politics also matches results of public polls. The best way to make this point is asking, “Can citizen initiate a national initiative, end up with a legally binding national referendum and decide on the big questions such as preventing/ending a war?” Or do they only have toothless tiger tools such as petition‘s the most times don’t have any effect?

Obviously we ought to not impose “democracy” from the outside by using military force. That has always ended in disaster. It’s up to the people of foreign states to decide in what kind of system they like to live. Also I find it hypocrite to even consider to export the western far, far from perfect implementation of democracy. Needless to say I still rather live in a less fake democracy than in more fake democracy.

Majority vote is just a continuation of the right of the stronger. I consider minority rights more important than majority rights. As I said, democracy is not a perfect system. It stands and falls with the people. Requires a certain amount of intellectual maturity of the people. For our current implementations of democracies that rely on majority votes could not prevent ridiculous decisions. Examples for such ridiculous decisions would be “we the majority forbid your free speech on a topic because we are fed up with and and you’re wrong” or “we the majority of ethnic group x have ruled that the ethnic minority of group y are slaves”. Human rights we ought to honor.

I am also advocating these topics in public speeches. Although only in German language until now. So if you speak German and are interested, see this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nbt__S4HkDI

Issues with Majority Vote

Now let’s imagine for the sake of argument only we created a political party. We managed to gather 100 members. As first decision, we add “we want to introduce an unconditional basic income” to the party manifesto by using majority vote. 10 members find that decision so unbearable, that they leave the party. Then we do a few other majority votes of that kind. At the end we end up with 10 remaining members and abolish the whole matter. That shows that majority vote alone won’t do much good. Fortunately, there are alternative concepts.

Alternatives to Democracy and Majority Votes

Disclaimer

Now when I talk about alternatives to democracy and majority votes, and you perhaps skipped the introduction and think

I am a maniac rationalizing dictatorship, please go back to the introduction.

Voluntarism

Voluntarism is a concept that is very easily understood wrong. One of their main argument as I understand it goes as follows. The premise is, that a world in which as many people are as unhappy as possible is the wost possible world that we ought to prevent.

In times of dictatorship, decisions were made that were unacceptable for almost everyone. Now, there was an improvement called democracy, majority vote. Their argument is, that things got better for the majority, but that those who dislike a certain decision, it does not make any difference from any decisions a dictator may have made. I agree with that.

Instead they propose that we should agree on a minimal set of rules such as the Golden Rule and therefore for the vast majority of situations rely on voluntaristic approaches.

While I am generally careful when it comes to any kinds of -ism’s, and while I am not convinced that a 100% voluntaristic system would be the ideal, I find many of their ideas and concepts valuable the may be useful aspects for a better system.

If you want so, Libre Software is similar to voluntarism.

I am not a great advocate of voluntarism. The first one who succeeded in explaining voluntarism to me so I didn’t discard it “probably not useful as far I understand” was Manuel Maggio in German language in this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMsz9MUr-PY

In English language, I am not aware of any good follow up resources at the moment. So best I can do is linking to wikipedia and trust you’ll figure out:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voluntaryism

Consensus

Consensus is much different from a compromise. Before we even think about voting what to do, we should do something simple. Talk. Try to understand everyone’s view. Find out where we misunderstand each other. See where our agreements and disagreements are. Not try to win a debate. The goal is the stay open minded, being open to alternative solutions. The idea is to regard the own idea as just another equal idea and to construct an even better idea together with everyone else. If one person objects, there is no consensus. The goal must be to make a solution that is acceptable for everyone.

By experience this is something that definitively does not happen in politics. Also in other groups it’s not that widespread. Requires a change of mindset. It’s something we can learn and get used to.

See also:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consensus_decision-making

Lazy Consensus

This probably wouldn’t work in politics, but it does work for Libre Software projects such as Whonix. Like most concepts it stands and falls with the people. If resistance for any kind of change is expected, and one has to consider this responsibly, then the change should be discussed beforehand. Now, if after a fair amount of time for everyone to speak up, no one feels competent to comment, objects or cares, the proposer can call for lazy consensus. If still no one speaks up, the change can be made.

For example since no one replied to the planned change to Whonix stable apt repository upgrades policy it would be fair to call for lazy consensus.

Here is a more verbose explanation:

https://rave.apache.org/docs/governance/lazyConsensus.html

Systemic Consensus Principle

A real consensus should be the foremost goal. When a consensus failed extensive attempts and discussion, there is an alternative. The Systemic Consensus Principle. It’s an alternative to majority votes.

While majority vote obviously counts positive votes, the Systemic Consensus Principle is different and counts resistance. Initially a list different proposals is being made. Anyone can add any reasonable amount of proposals. One proposal that should always be on the list is the “zero option” proposal, which means “we’ll leave everything as is”. Then add to the list all the people who are eligible to vote. Each voter may rate every proposal with a number between zero and ten. Zero means here, “no resistance” and ten means “maximum resistance”. Numbers in between can be used to express graduations. Such as two means “low resistance” and 7 means “higher resistance”.

Resistance for each proposal is then summed up. The proposal with the least resistance should then be chosen.

Read more:

http://www.ic.org/wiki/systemic-consensus-principle/

http://systemicconsensus.blogspot.de/

Or watch this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wR5YXYECOE

Do-ocracy

Unfortunately, a democracy in a sense were users vote for what the developers of a Libre Software (such as Whonix) should do, appears impractical to me. There are simply to many great suggestions and too little time and man power to implement them all. Developers need to be motivated. And since they are not getting paid – all Libre Software projects I know – naturally use concepts of voluntarism and do-ocracy. Even though they may not be calling it that way.

Do-ocracy in a nutshell means, that those who do the work, get to decide what to work on and how the details are being implemented rather than being told what to do by votes. Obviously, the do-ocrats should have an open ear for user suggestions and reports. Listen to feedback and eventually run polls on controversial issues. Because otherwise users vote with their feet and without users, a Libre Software project isn’t worth a lot.

Read more:

http://www.communitywiki.org/en/DoOcracy

Vetos vs Objections

What I find very important is to distinguish between vetos and objections. One can object to one or another change. But the question is, how strong is the objection? A weak one or a strong one? Or would one leave the project if that change was being implemented? The latter case could be called veto and ideally should not be abused and used seldom.

Apache Voting Process

The Apache Software Foundation that develops the popular apache web server software formalized some of the above concepts into a document. Interesting read, parts of it perhaps useful for import into the Whonix Project, see:

http://www.apache.org/foundation/voting.html

See Also

Social and Political Infrastructure (producingoss book) (Â https://www.whonix.org/blog/producing-open-source ) that discusses leadership, decision finding, participation, voting rights, voting systems, polls, consensus and more.

Conclusion

I hope I could introduce you into a lot useful decision finding concepts and that you might even like them. As a first step, let’s discuss these concepts. And later then perhaps we can construct a proposal that eventually includes a few of these concepts to make a fair and awesome decision making process for the Whonix project.

Please comment on how you like these concepts and proposal.

Forum Discussion

https://www.whonix.org/forum/index.php/topic,681

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Good paper and good approach. I do share it.

But it opens a way to kilometers of comments, so once in a while,I will take some time to put my shoulder to the wheel.

For the time being, I believe it’s needless to say that I am believing in and practising doocracy (nothing religious about that :slight_smile: ), not only in the Libre Software community. In my view, this attitude goes far beyond the Whonix project (or any single project).

Since I started contributing, it looks like Whonix progress has been based on a consensus, even if it has been on the lazy side. I do not see any problem with continuing that way for some time. But I do agree that, based on your post, nothing prevents us to develop those concepts, and, why not, formalize some guide lines in a document.

+1

Very well thought out and does not fall into the pit of semantics. Looks at things from a practical hands on angle . I really want to say more but I don’t know where to start.

Its awesome to see someone passionate about social change heading a project like this. I’m sure this is one of your strongest motivations to work on it.

One way I can see in encouraging systemic consensus as opposed to lazy, is to try and notify the entire userbase about major decisions through Whonix News and write things in a more laymens words to reach people who are not familiar with the jargon

Also the news snippet should link to some kind of poll on the topic?

These are my thoughts for now.

Very excited to see what kind of community decision-making process your ideas will shape.

Yes.

One way I can see in encouraging systemic consensus as opposed to lazy, is to try and notify the entire userbase about major decisions through Whonix News and write things in a more laymens words to reach people who are not familiar with the jargon

Idea behind this…

Whonix team:
Got vote rights. Can do votes if consensus failed. If we continue as is, this will seldom happen anyhow. Perhaps more often when even more people join.

Whonix users:
Can do polls. (Initiated by Whonix team and I wouldn’t mind if users suggest polls either.)
(And yes, they’d need to be in laymens terms. I also consider the “future direction of Whonix thread” (https://www.whonix.org/forum/index.php/topic,215.0.html) a kind of poll. Even if no vote, more like a questionnaire and apparently even more useful for that topic.)

I think systemic consensus principle is too unpopular and difficult to apply to for big scale user polls. We’d need to explain the system beforehand. And I don’t know if there are any online tools we could use for that. What makes this more difficult to apply to Whonix users is that most of them are anonymous. (Electoral fraud.)

On the other hand, the Whonix team is very manageable. Possible to make sure everyone really understood the systemic consensus principle. And we could do public (non-secret) pseudonymous votes.

I found it useful to describe these methods in public for two other reasons. 1) Transparency of Whonix project 2) Those are ideas worth spreading. Perhaps others are going to use it in their friends, associations, etc. Thereby making it more popular. And who knows, in 50 years maybe it will be also used in politics.

Also the news snippet should link to some kind of poll on the topic?
Advertising non-binding polls for users we should certainly do. Latest whonixcheck however does not support clickable links in whonixcheck. Html is stripped beforehand. Otherwise malicious html could screw up the content of that whole window. Perhaps we should discuss this in a separate thread.

As a related sensitive issue. Who got vote rights.

The producingoss page on that topic makes good suggestions:
http://producingoss.com/en/consensus-democracy.html#electorate

Applied to Whonix, here is my hopefully sensible proposal:

  • Whonix team gets initial vote rights. (Current members are listed on the https://www.whonix.org/wiki/Authorship. [That page needs to be made more pretty, perhaps split.])
  • We create a private mailing list which every Whonix team member can use to suggest new team members.
  • We try to suggest only obvious candidates. Do-ocrats.
  • Using that list, we secretly try to find to find consensus on the proposal?
  • Maybe if the Whonix team was bigger, and consensus on adding new people is no longer possible, we could do a 65% [or X %] rule. Plus eventually let vetos stop it? This is sensitive. Rules need to be adjusted to the current state of things. And there is no infallible solution that survives any hypothetic cases we can think off. I guess normal discussion would suffice for current state of things.
  • If the answer is yes, we ask the proposed person [in private or in public?].
  • If the answer is no, we keep it secret to avoid offending the proposed person.
  • That private mailing list does not need to be a mailman list for now. Adding the involved people to a huge CC mail exchange would suffice?
  • Others interested to join the Whonix team that got no invitation could still [privately] point out “hey, I am doing lots of stuff over a long periods, I am interested to join the Whonix team”. Ideally we’re proactive for that not to happen.

+1 as well. :slight_smile:

Initial thoughts…

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I would suppose that this decision making framework is largely for the purpose of contributor productivity regarding Whonix OS software maintenance/development and maybe some website related stuff, correct? And NOT about a fundamental framework of governance/control over the Whonix project organization, correct?

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I think getting user input and opinions is important, but not a good basis of formal voting or direct decision making. Because…

  • Electoral fraud (as mentioned)

  • Low percentage participation would be likely, leaving many views procedurally unconsidered

  • Lack of proper understanding of issues or overly selfish motivations for the project

  • Past user decisions may lag behind in adapting to present or future user base changes

So I think Whonix team-based voting is a decent enough compromise.

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Beyond electing team members for voting purposes who contribute functionally to Whonix, it might be useful to also consider users who can demonstrate an ability to make good project decisions, but who don’t necessarily have the time, skills, etc, to contribute functionally. These may be the minority of team elections, but could be useful to stay open to this type of team member for voting rights as well. For example, team members who once actively contributed in functional ways might get too busy to do so but still be able to add value with competent decision making/voting.

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What are the content-based limits of this decision making process?

Can Whonix be voted to become a piece of malware or privacy compromising software?

Can knowingly insecure code be voted or implemented into the Whonix OS, without appeal, if given a certain level of team approval?

Would there be constitutional principles or review procedures that prevent certain types of decisions from being made/implemented?

Would organizational controllers (Patrick?) unilaterally overrule and use technical means of force (website/account control) to prevent obviously bad ideas or bad code from being implemented?

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I like the notion of voluntary contribution, where individual people aren’t always obligated to do things. However, there practically has to be some minimum standards for retaining team membership and/or voting rights. So voluntary on both sides (team participation and team membership), with minimum standards (implicit or explicit). Minimum standards can be generally raised or lowered based on supply and demand of other more willing and able contributors available perform the same/similar roles.

I like the notion of do-ocracy for similar reasons as the voluntary contribution point, since someone might be interested in implementing something, but only if based on a certain approach/objective of their own.

Lack of consensus can still foil a voluntary do-ocracy or probably any other system.

There may be competing team decisions or competing implementers at odds with each other on issues/tasks.

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Also about the website, why not? It’s an essential part. And I am not much afraid about that, because with constructive hand proposed people on the project, we’re mostly going to have consensus anyhow. Not sure about the organizational stuff, but any reasons not to include this?

I think getting user input and opinions is important, but not a good basis of formal voting or direct decision making. Because...
Yes.
Beyond electing team members for voting purposes who contribute functionally to Whonix, it might be useful to also consider users who can demonstrate an ability to make good project decisions, but who don't necessarily have the time, skills, etc, to contribute functionally. These may be the minority of team elections, but could be useful to stay open to this type of team member for voting rights as well. For example, team members who once actively contributed in functional ways might get too busy to do so but still be able to add value with competent decision making/voting.
Yes. No need to restrict it to code contributions. HulaHoop doesn't write code, but maintains kvm and does lots of forum/github discussion/suggestion/research/communication activity.
Can Whonix be voted to become a piece of malware or privacy compromising software?

Can knowingly insecure code be voted or implemented into the Whonix OS, without appeal, if given a certain level of team approval?

Would there be constitutional principles or review procedures that prevent certain types of decisions from being made/implemented?


Like infiltration? Well, in a spoiled group, any kind of ill decision can be implemented. And no amount of rules could possibly prevent that. Best we can do is choosing vote rights wisely and have mechanisms that make ill decisions as hard as possible.

The Debian project managed not to be infiltrated.

[Speaking mostly about usability here. Some argue the openssl debacle resulted from infiltration. Nevermind. Whether Debian is super secure or not. It’s above threshold of perception by “them”. It’s a PITA for very powerful commercial cooperations and yet they didn’t manage to infiltrate Debian. I assume they loose money because of it and failed to infiltrate Debian, because they have good concepts to prevent that. I.e. Debian is still running for free on servers while powerful commercial vendors not to be named failed to eradicate it.]

Since most Whonix contributors are pseudonymous, and we’re not meeting up in real life, we cannot port their concepts one to one to Whonix, unfortunately.

Would organizational controllers (Patrick?) unilaterally overrule and use technical means of force (website/account control) to prevent obviously bad ideas or bad code from being implemented?
I planned to discuss adding the benevolent dictator (http://producingoss.com/en/social-infrastructure.html#benevolent-dictator) position to myself in a yet to be written concept. I'd like to have a super veto right that enables me to stop ill decision. For example, if everyone but me wanted to go for something that would be a "then-I'd-leave-the-project-veto". Hard to think of cases were this would be necessary. If the decision was "to use the Hakenkreuz as wallpaper for next version to create a publicity stunt", then I'd veto it. This would have to be used very responsibly. The moral reason is obvious and the pragmatic reason is, the code and website, it's all GPLv3+. When acting like an evil dictator, people leave, bad press, forks happen.

Technically those with server/domain access always have the ability to revolt. I was thinking about this a lot but never got to any practical solution how such centralized trust positions could be decentralized.

But this is not a must. I’ve been involved in movements where the one with central power (demonstration registrar) [legally required here, unfortunately] was trusted to and agreed beforehand to pass this position to someone else should the movement overrule his veto.

And for the case that Whonix really grows a lot until a point we wanted to abolish the super veto right [if introduced] or we’d even agree that I do less and someone steps in, we can talk about that then. Difficult to think ahead years into the future.

I like the notion of voluntary contribution, where individual people aren't always obligated to do things. However, there practically has to be some minimum standards for retaining team membership and/or voting rights. So voluntary on both sides (team participation and team membership), with minimum standards (implicit or explicit). Minimum standards can be generally raised or lowered based on supply and demand of other more willing and able contributors available perform the same/similar roles.
Hard questions. I guess implicit would be realistic for now. And I expect for the most time, most do not advocate non-consensual positions. At the moment, most don't even comment on most of discussions going on. That is okay. In case we agreed to add someone new who once was active and cooperative, then turns doing very little, and calling veto for most decisions, then we gotta talk about that.

Applying decision making process to Whonix OS software and website make sense to me.

Core organizational stuff, seems more sensitive to me, but I’m open minded, especially with a common sense super veto in place.

Core organizational stuff like:

  • Management/Administrator Positions
  • Financial
  • Legal
  • Public Relations
  • Other

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[quote=“Patrick, post:7, topic:638”]Like infiltration? Well, in a spoiled group, any kind of ill decision can be implemented. And no amount of rules could possibly prevent that. Best we can do is choosing vote rights wisely and have mechanisms that make ill decisions as hard as possible.

The Debian project managed not to be infiltrated.[/quote]

True. However, it also depends on how “by the book” procedures are followed in the face of infiltration.

But retaining a common sense super veto mechanism with you (Patrick) is a solid protection against this and puts most procedural infiltration concerns to rest.

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I concur with this super veto justification.

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Yes, this is a tough problem.

Like real world governments having monopolies on military/police force, possession of website/account control can be used as a basis of unchecked absolute technical force over a free software project.

Forking being the primary recourse.

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Succession redundancy of administer power is a good idea in general, since a number of things in life could cause a project’s administrators to vanish from active participation.

And can help to prevent hostile succession from domain expiration, etc.

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Yes.

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Yes.

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Deine Worte sind inspirierend und ich würde das Privileg, diese dann auf liberty.me in Englisch für mein Publikum es mag . Ich werde euch ganz natürlich Verweis und Verknüpfung zu dieser Seite auf meinem Posten . Ich freue mich auf die Zusammenarbeit mit Whonix und nach Ihrer inspirierende Arbeit .


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