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The Problem


The ideas, confused and fragmented, had been growing for a long time; what finally made them cohere was a packet from my car insurance company. Because of the way the company was organized, all policyholders were also shareholders, so in order for a proposed reorganization to take effect, it was apparently necessary for us to vote. That was the first I'd heard of it, but it was all nicely spelled out in a twelve-page glossy brochure. Of course, the brochure had been written by the company, by the very people proposing the reorganization, so I had no way of knowing if there were any reasons not to reorganize, and no way of contacting other voters to find out. Still, if I wanted more information, I was free to refer to the other item in the packet: a brochure, on thin 8Ĺ ◊ 11 paper, containing two hundred and eight pages of fine print. All in all, taking into account the fact that the reorganization was hardly even going to affect me, I had never seen anything more absurd and meaningless in my life.

The same thought applies to public elections. I appreciate being able to voteóit does have an effect, and it's infinitely better than not being able to voteóbut in many ways elections are really quite absurd. Starting with my views on how things should be done, I'm supposed to choose whichever one of a bunch of people I never heard of claims to be the closest match? And whichever one is elected is pretty much free to do whatever ve wants for the next however many years?

I often get frustrated seeing all the corruption and stupidity and knowing I'm almost powerless to affect it. That, I imagine, is what the non-voters are feeling when there's a low turnout. (People like to have opinions, right? So what could keep them away except a feeling that their opinions count for nothing?) Somehow, though, every time I hear about the problem of low voter turnout, the problem is presented as one to be deplored rather than solved. It's the non-voters' fault! They ought to vote! It's their civic duty!

I want to solve the problem Ö not just the problem of low voter turnout, but the whole problem of absurdity. I've thought of two possible solutions so far, but before I present them, I'd like to indicate what a general solution ought to look like by pointing out a few different aspects of the problem. Here's a summary.

People should have immediate, granular authority.

That would be the guiding principle, if you like consultant jargon.

Let me start by illustrating the concept of authority. When I see something I disagree with, I don't want to write a letter to the editor, or to my congressman; I don't want to be polled or surveyed; and I don't want to attend meetings, protests, or rallies. I want to act, to lay down the law, to have authority! And, I want other people to have authority exactly equal to mine. A vote has authority, but, as we'll see, that authority is not immediate and granular.

The authority should be immediate. I occasionally hear it lamented that kids these days expect immediate gratification. Well, I may not be a kid, but I expect it too. If somebody's about to screw something up, I don't want to wait four years to even have a chance to correct it, I want to stop it now. A scale of years made sense when messages were carried by horse, but in this day and age there's no reason for the exercise of authority to be so slow, clunky, and expensive.

The authority should also be granular, applicable to every individual grain of an issue. I don't want to compress my views into a single bit of information, Republican or Democrat, I want to describe them in detail, in a mighty flow of authoritative information. Voter initiatives provide granularity, but only on a few particular issues. Right now even Congress doesn't have true granular authority. The members have to vote on bills as a whole, hence all the bundling of stupid unrelated amendments.

As a consequence of being immediate and granular, I think it will also be necessary for the authority to be persistent. I don't want to describe the same views in detail every week (say), I want to describe them once and have them remain in force until I change them.

Sometimes I think the authority should be narrow as well, narrow in the sense of tree width. The tree I'm talking about is the tree of authority. In a presidential election, for example, the national result, which is the root of the tree, is determined by the results in the various states, which are its children. The states, in turn, have their own children, which, I think, can be counties or individual voters, depending on state law. Anyway, the point is, the width of the tree determines the importance of the individual results. My vote, one out of several million, doesn't really seem all that important, but the result in Colorado, one out of only fifty states, is quite significant. If we wanted to make every vote significant, we ought to make the tree narrower, by, say, organizing voters into cells of a hundred people, then organizing those cells into bigger cells, and so on. Imagine thatónot only would your vote be significant, but you could have debates with the people in your cell and produce a tangible political result!



  See Also

  Tree of Authority, The

@ May (2002)