Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Consensus Government and SCIENCE

I am pretty politically radical. I won't be talking very much about specific political issues on this blog – mostly because I find the news so totally banal and filled with so many lies that it makes me a combination of bored and angry – but I'll occasionally cave in.

What I am is a consensualist. I think that democracy is a fairly primitive form of government, given our current level of technological advance – and certainly for the technologies that will be available to us in the not-too-distant future. It is fairly clear to just about everyone that the will of the majority can screw a lot of people.

However, one of the problems that a lot of people will have with consensus is the notion that it is impossible to get a lot of people from all over to agree with anything at all. So I've been trying to look out for forms of consensus decision making that can be used as examples.

Of course, politically, there have been communes that have tried various forms of consensualism, and some will point to Christiania in Copenhagen, Denmark, as a form of consensualism. But, well, most of the consensualist communes have failed, and Christiania is both small and in part supported by Denmark.

What is needed, then, in a good, solid example is something that has lasted over a great length of time, includes a great number of diverse people, and is indisputably successful. It must also be, of course, consensualist.

Enter science. Science isn't democratic. There is no vote on what is right or wrong. Scientists do science, publish their findings, they are discussed by other scientists who then accept or reject those findings – usually by building on them in a number of ways. Over time, a consensus grows amongst scientists about how to handle science.

There are several million scientists in the world, so it easily fits the requisite size requirements. There are scientists in every country in the world, of all religions, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, etc., that contribute to science. No one doubts the success of science, either – even its worse detractors are, in daily life, almost entirely dependent on science and it's findings.

Additionally, science is wildly more flexible than politics. Take climate change. If scientists were in charge, no one would doubt that we would be very far advanced of our current policies. Save for those few scientists that are on the rolls of energy companies, scientists of climate would be taking far more radical steps to solve our climate problems – ranging from cars that were more efficient to solar panels in space beaming down power, to moving towards a hydrogen based economy. They know what to do to avert climate disaster! But politicians, even those elected democratically, stall and hem and haw about things – moving with dreadful slowness, even when they agree, in principle, with scientists' predictions. Far from being monolithic, scientific consensualism is brisk compared to politics – in large measure because of the autonomy of scientists. So, consensus can build to action faster than democracy.

So, I'm thinking that the world will, ere long, owe something more than science. Not only has science provided us with all the material advantages we enjoy from health care to computers to a diet stunning in its variety and quality, but it is also providing a model for how consensus can work. To me, that's quite exciting.

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Larro said...

A technocracy...

Sounds good to me. But what drives a democracy? A consensus poll of the public at large. The public? How do they figure into this equation?

The simple fact of consensus view. No way around that. Our society is malleable by the powers that be. The same powers that let the public be "informed" by whatever ideological agenda "du jour".

How I wish such a dream were to come to fruition, yet somehow it seems that such a dream may be a pipe-dream (at least here in the U.S.).

Someday we may be seeking refuge in Europe.

April 18, 2007 5:52 PM  
divabeq said...

I think that one of the things that will have to be done away with (I almost said rehabilitated,but I don't think it can be rehabilitated) is public relations and advertising... y'know, before this can happen. Doing so will help our society in so many other ways, as well, but I think certainly it is important to having a consensualist government.

Which is to say that we need to recognize and do away with the propaganda that causes the ideological agenda du jour, and allows the establishment to control the thinking of the populace.

April 18, 2007 6:38 PM  
Chris Bradley said...


I wasn't considering it to be a technocracy, but a system of consensus that was modeled on the creation of scientific consensus. EVERYONE would be involved.

There would be certain things that needed to happen, but they're all not only technologically possible but well on the way to happening, at least in the industrialized world. What a person would need to create this consensus is access to concise and accurate information whenever they needed it. Like the sorts of self-organizing, consensus-based information transmission systems like Wikipedia, but explicitly for news (which is something Wikipedia is working on, but it proceeds somewhat clumsily) but also sites like or what-have-you. Indeed, blogging will likely be a pretty valuable way of getting information, too, because it is largely consensus based -- a story is told, and if it is liked, it tends to spread.

I'm actually optimistic we'll see something like this in the not too distant future in the US. But I admit I am a philosophical optimist. I can see how it could go the other way, but I have trouble imagining why it would. ;)

April 18, 2007 8:01 PM  
Chris Bradley said...


Yeah, you'd probably have to trash advertising as we understand it. I think that this is already in the works. Advertising has become so invasive that it is disrupting people on so many levels I think it's inevitable that we start to reject it. I hear people talking all the time about doing precisely that, they just don't quite know how, yet. ;)

April 18, 2007 8:02 PM  
L>T said...

Nice post! I think science is a great model for consensus. :)

I'm not that good at getting abstract ideas across, so bear with me, OK?:

I see science as something concrete & honest that mankind has built from the bottom up & like you said No one doubts the success of science, either – even its worse detractors are, in daily life, almost entirely dependent on science and it's findings.

You know I'm studying the Greeks, right? Well an interesting theroy for the Greeks working up to their style of democracy was that they had to save themselves from their tendecies to close off into groups, tribes or clans. They had to work at a Government that would bring them together & one everyone could participate in & feel represented in. Enter democracy

I think that democracy is a fairly primitive form of government...It is fairly clear to just about everyone that the will of the majority can screw a lot of people. Yes, apparently democracy can be tainted,(Look how some people are always trying to insinuate religion into it) it's fallible.

We must always be striving for something better. Like you I'm optomistic & excited about what humans are capable of.

BTW, I am reading the screen play. It's just taking me a while. Instead of reading it like a book where i do my own visualizing. I have to build the scenes in my mind. This is even much different then reading a play like Death of a Salesman or one of those, because it's easier to place the characters on a stage set in your mind, then put then in a "real" setting.

April 20, 2007 12:08 AM  
Chris Bradley said...


Yeah, I know you're studying the Greeks. I'm a touch of a Hellenophile, so I have some knowledge about that, myself, and a LOT of government has been trying to figure out how to overcome simple tribalism. It is my opinion that's the root cause behind imperialism. For a fairly long time -- literally thousands of years -- it was the received wisdom that the only way to stop tribal violence was centralized authority. Such as . . . the Persians conquer a bunch of people and the Persians stop the homocidal violence in the Persian Empire, or the Romans conquer a bunch of people and force a Pax Romana. Recently, you can see this with the Soviet Empire in the Balkans. When the Russians were functionally in charge of Yugoslavia, there was peace. When they weren't, the old conflicts rose up, again.

Which is not me praising imperialism. It merely unifies the racist, exploitative violence in the hands of one group, but it, too, is a way of trying to deal with the tendency of people to factionalize.

I also don't try to judge people in the past too hard. Democracy is fallible, of course. But it is less fallible than, say, monarchy.

I have increasingly thought about politics as being essentially technological. It is a body of knowledge whose techniques improve over time as we grow in knowledge, and come to possess new tools, not too differently than, say, agriculture. So I feel that condemning people in the past for having a lousy government is akin to blaming them for being rotten farmers compared to today's farmers. They did the best they could with the tools (physical and mental) and resources at their disposal.

And about Charles Dexter Ward, take your time. ;)

April 20, 2007 10:32 AM  

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