Swarm is iterating rapidly through a variety of organizational models in experimental fashion. For various reasons, one of the models people get the most enthusiastic about is democracy — so a lot of governmental innovation often is in the direction, “how can we make things more inclusive?”
The failure of democracy
Unfortunately all of the models we have experienced so far have been failures. Efforts to distribute authority have almost all ended up with distributed responsibility. This in turn often turns into a negative incentive against innovation. The more fully democratic, the more fully it is the status quo that rules.
Even worse, decisions to innovate often can only be made in crises. This means that you need some “9/11” moment in order to get any thing done. Of course the first thing that disappears in this “state of crisis” is the democratic principles themselves. It also leads to a perverse incentive to manufacture wars and other types of crises.
How democracy will attempt to kill you
In our own limited experimentation with a constitutional model we were able to see a lot of these dynamics in small scale. These includes these flaws inherent in “egalitarian” democratically organized institutions:
- Increased noise equals increased decision making power and leads to the domination of special interests. (i.e. those providing the lowest quality contributions take the largest slice of the pie)
- Marginalizes area experts and produce groupthink[c.f. Decisions 2.0]
- Almost always focuses on a narrow sense of “group-based” self-interest, ignoring ethics and ecology
- Decisions and commitments can always be re-made weakening trust and commitment or leading to extra-constitutional “shadow leadership”
- Lack of structural incentives to innovate (i.e. shoot the messenger dynamic instead of rewarding innovation)
- Frequently uses threat of violence in order to enforce “in-group” self-interest (i.e. if you aren’t a democracy, we will bomb you)
Dumb and dumber
In short, democracy seems to have been engineered to make people dumb and appears to be making them progressively dumber and more violent. . Even worse, democracy reveals fascist tendencies whenever there is a crisis, often even worse than fascism because it pretends to still be a democracy.
Does that mean that democracy is effectively a technology waiting to be replaced by something better? Not so fast. The raison d’etre of democracy is that democracy protects people from types of abuses found in other systems. Places that have dispensed with democracy have often found themselves with something far worse.
What alternatives do we have?
One interesting evolutionary model comes from Christianity in the United States. Originally fully hierarchical, in the Protestant reformation churches eventually re-organized around a pastoral figure who held the ethos of the organization with accountability to an elected group of elders. This “congregational” model of government was extremely successful in the United States and as Tocqueville eloquently stated, was responsible for many of the positive features of the American political model.
One of the fascinating parts of the congregational model is that it includes both leadership (including a vision-casting charisma) and democratically-enforced accountability.
A blockchain-powered liquid democracy?
Also fascinating is these past examples use a delegative model, perhaps somewhat like what many thought leaders are today calling “liquid democracy.” In short, liquid democracy is the idea that we can have experts elected who represent us, but that this process can be dynamic and transparent rather than static. This potentially allows for visionary leadership, prevents the value capture of special interests, and preserves accountability all at the same time.
Swarm is closely working with people exploring the ideas of liquid democracy around blockchain and other innovative models. Although our area expertise is organizational design, we’ve also closely been collaborating with people building software around these purposes and will probably be co-releaseing some products.
What’s next? We have already witnessed an amazing evolution of consciousness over the past two centuries that increasingly teaches us that we do not need institutional control — that we can create more and do better if we are free to self-organize.
We believe that the logical next evolution of governance is to have fully autonomous individuals that exercise complete individual freedom without a threat of violence.
Whether or not other organizations evolve with us, that’s the direction we are going.
If that inspires you and you’d like to work with us, please fill out this form.