Achieving True Democracy: Safeguarded Information and Decision Processes

Safeguarded Information and Democratic Processes

This is part 7 of my “Achieving True Democracy: A New Breed of Party as Realistic Next Step” articles.

Here you can find part 1, the introduction for the article series, and part2, a short description of the idea of the Proxy Party, and part 3, a description of how a party program should look like, and part 4 about finding, prioritizing, and voting on topics, and part 5 about going beyond ‘simple’ direct democracy, and part 6 about efficiency and effectiveness.

A democracy without deliberation (based on well-balanced facts) is a weak democracy.

Focusing on political differences while demonizing the other side makes a democracy very vulnerable to a divide and conquer strategy. It misses out chances to agree on common goals and put forward measures that a great majority of citizens would vote for.

“The point with democracy isn’t that the majority is always right. The point is that there is a process of free and sufficiently systemized truth-seeking and dialogue going on for small groups to be able to prove the rest of us wrong, again and again, so that values, opinions and laws can evolve and adapt.”

Hanzi Freinacht, Nordic Ideology

Bringing in Facts and Checking Them

The focus on well-balanced information as input for the deliberation and decision process will be one of the main challenges of the new party (see the chapter about media):

  • When is a fact a fact and worthy to be included in the discussion? Definition of the gold standard e.g. original data gathered, tested and peer-reviewed facts. Who paid for the evaluation (and thus sets the tone)?
  • How does the party deal with factual input and check its validity? How does it value the input of a lobby organization? Effort to check versus proven validity of the facts.

A wise strategy would be to attract retired experts who are interested in politics and no longer need a job to support them. They have a lot of knowledge in their field and are able to speak freely. After all, they don’t have to fear to ruin their career or losing their job for speaking up.  

Facilitation Process

The facilitation process should not be rushed. There should be set time minimums as rushed decisions have a higher risk to end up as bad decisions. A good process involves ‘slow thinking’ and deliberation as much as possible as ‘fast thinking’ is too vulnerable to external influence misleading the understanding and the decision. It takes time to ..

.. gather facts and check them
.. understand the context and the interdependencies
.. go in the deliberation process

The facilitators have to be well trained. They have to be as neutral as possible to the decision itself. They must be only interested in adhering to the process to enable a truly educated decision of the participants. They should also be trained to evaluate the process itself and propose improvements to it.

An interesting facilitation idea might be to pass around a ‘talking stick’ and institutionalize a first task to describe the position of the previous speaker. This would lead to a higher focus to understand the other participant and should result in a better deliberation process.

An idea to measure the effectiveness of the deliberation process would be to have an in-poll and an out-poll. The difference and shifts in political opinions would indicate how effective the deliberation process was in changing minds. Another idea would be to measure the increase of the ability of the party’s members to discourse over time, an important precondition for a good deliberation process. 

Decision Paper

The decision paper is sent out to all members with the request to post their votes. It is not meant to be a full replacement of taking part in the deliberation process but at least delivers its essence to the members who had no time to take part in the process itself. I propose to have two pages for a description of the problem, two pages for pro and contra argumentation, one page for a system chart with interdependencies and one page as conclusion.

I am aware that the limitation to six pages will not work for every topic. However, an extension should only be made if it is absolutely necessary, because it will also reduce the number of members who read the paper in the first place.  

This decision paper is not to be mixed up with the preparatory text for legislative proposals. This is often (a) far too long, (b) not understandable enough, (c) not well balanced, (d) not descriptive in its resulting consequences, and (e) not embedded in the larger context. Posting only this as a decision basis would result in frustration and many votes based on the well-sounding wording of the initiative instead of its content.    

One fact to bear in mind is that a decision paper or a discussion will never be able to describe the problem in its full complexity and fully evaluate the potential solutions and their estimated outcomes: getting closer to a 100% description of the complex challenge versus length of the decision paper and time to be invested to create and read it.

Voting on Topics

Another important problem to tackle is to ensure that behind each member is a real human and that each human only has one registration as a member (and just one vote). This is easier when you meet the new member in person and take a look at her Identity Card and note down the ID-number. A member registration via digital registration with an e-mail must be supplemented by further details and checks.  

The party will have to decide about its voting procedures. There are multiple options:

Does it adhere to the normal policy of ‘one person – one vote’ or does it give experts more weight than regular members? After all, you shouldn’t ask the regular guy how to build a save bridge, but an engineer specialized in building bridges. But how does a member prove its expertise in a field? Can this expertise be earned while taking part in the grassroots democratic process of the Proxy Party? Should the Proxy Party give its members a certain amount of voting points each month which they can freely spend on the topics that really interest them? Should these points count 1:1 or should they count as proposed in the ‘quadratic voting’ approach (1 vote = 1 point, 2 votes = 4 points, 3 votes = 9 points, etc.)? So, if you want to give your full 50 points to one decision that really speaks to you, these will just count for seven votes. Or should voting points decay over time so that a vocal minority would have less power?

This quadratic voting allows the strength of the voter’s point of view to be expressed and it is very costly to dominate a vote. People committed to a topic are generally also more interested in it; they are better informed about it. So, this voting procedure should also lead to better results in purely factual terms.

Another alternative is the Australian Flux Party’s issue-based direct democracy system. This is based on a market model for votes and aims to determine the best policy decentrally.[1]

It would be wise to only vote on something that you truly understand. So, it would be wise to delegate your vote on topics you don’t understand to someone you trust with this topic. But how do you know whom to trust in this field when you haven’t got the slightest idea what they are talking about? And: Of cause, those people that really should delegate their votes wouldn’t even recognize they should (Dunning-Kruger effect).

Celebrities within the party might amass many votes and thus influence the party’s decision unduly. In case you opted for the ‘quadratic voting’ approach described above, even if 2,500 members give a celebrity 1 vote each, the vote of the celebrity with her delegated votes would only count as 50 votes.

Media

A general problem within democratic societies is that the population can easily be influenced by the media. If this provides a distorted view of the actual situation and its meaning, the decisions of the influence can be highly distorted.

It is therefore very important that a direct-democratic party succeeds in shedding light on this darkness of ‘opinion-making’ through the systematic and always comprehensible provision of trustworthy bases for decision-making.

It should be borne in mind that even if the party succeeds in aggregating all the relevant data, reviewing it and producing a balanced decision paper, most members will still decide mainly on the basis of the media input they consume.

THE IDEAL OF POLITICAL MEDIA

Concerning the political realm press/media is the fourth political power and can be described as a kind of ‘early warning system and security net of democracy.’ If the controls and security systems of the political system itself fail, the media can expose the deficits and alert the public.

The media should critically scrutinize the policies of parliament and the government to uncover issues that policymakers would like to keep secret, especially when they act questionably or try to circumvent democratic processes altogether. The media should show backgrounds and embed the latest news in them. Facts and opinions are clearly to be separated. Media should enable citizens to form their own picture and make informed decisions.

The job of a political journalist is not that of the stenographer. His job is rather to inform the public about what influential people and institutions do with their money and on their behalf.

Of cause, it is easier to act as a stenographer and write along with government narratives. It is easier as you don’t have to think much about it and as a bonus get more interviews or perhaps even an exclusive once in a while.

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed.
Everything else is public relations.”

George Orwell

THE DANGEROUS REALITY

The reality in many countries, however, is different and the media is far too close to the government. Some of the media are even controlled directly by parties. Most important media outlets are in the hands of a few wealthy individuals.

This leaves power in the hands of a few to manipulate the rest of us. These individuals don’t have to make money from their ownership of the media; they can simply see it as ‘a cost center like a PR department’ to drive their agenda and make up the invested money somewhere else.

A different approach with publicly financed broadcasting institutions seems to have mostly failed mainly because of a lack of critical oversight. Their very reason to exist as a state-funded entity is to provide well-balanced high-quality information to help citizens in forming their political will contributing to a functioning democracy.

In reality, true independence was rarely achieved by any of these broadcasting mediums. Instead of being a critical observer and commentator, they far too often ended up as cheerleaders for government politics.

For alternative and social media, governments make sure that disseminating so-called ‘fake news’ can lead to severe punishment. In Hungary, a journalist can be sentenced for up to five years in prison.[i] Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, and Belarus go in the same direction and some European governments have moved to restrict media access to ‘authorized’ COVID-related information.[2]

“The best way to combat disinformation is to let independent media do their job and to guarantee journalists’ access to decision-makers and information related to the crisis. Instead, governments across central and eastern Europe are hindering the press’s ability to inform the public about the virus and are equipping themselves with laws that can be used to quash scrutiny.”[3]

Scott Griffen, IPI Deputy Director

IS IT REALLY SO EASY TO MANIPULATE US?

We are continually bombarded with millions of impressions. Only a few can be consciously processed by our brains. Our brain chooses shortcuts as it doesn’t want to be unnecessarily burdened. These shortcuts are controlled by stereotypes or ‘pictures’ that help us to make fast ‘standard decisions.’

In our complex world, we develop images of people and things we have never encountered personally in life. These are largely taken from the media. By consuming the same media, these images are consolidated through repetition and form the basis of our decisions and actions. Media does not solely describe reality but (at least partly) creates it.

NO SUCH THING AS ABSOLUTE OBJECTIVITY

On the other side, there is no such thing as absolute objective journalism. Journalists always have to pick the parts they want to feature and thus select.

SYSTEM CRITICISM OF THE MEDIA

According to Professor Rainer Mausfeld, the entire media system “is structured economically and organizationally in such a way that it does not require any targeted personal control. Its conformity to the prevailing ideology already results from filter mechanisms that are a direct consequence of the structural economic power relations in which the media are embedded.”[4]  

David Goeßmann also doesn’t see a conscious manipulation as the core problem: “In principle, journalists from media companies and broadcasters report what they have in front of their eyes, quite professionally and objectively. They do not do this in a vacuum, but within a very narrow ideological framework. As stated before, the media have an institutional side. This list works like a set of filters through which information and opinions pass. And these filters are designed so that not all information, opinions, backgrounds and voices have the same chance to pass. They don’t receive the same attention – even if their relevance is essential for understanding events.”[5]

Noam Chomsky describes a process of socialization for journalists that are only allowed to write what they want, as they have proven long ago that nobody has to tell them what to write.

The results of the other side of the medal, when young journalists don’t follow this line, are expressed in the resignation letter of the journalist Bari Weiss to the New York Times:[6]

“Rule One: Speak your mind at your own peril. Rule Two: Never risk commissioning a story that goes against the narrative. Rule Three: Never believe an editor or publisher who urges you to go against the grain. Eventually, the publisher will cave to the mob, the editor will get fired or reassigned, and you’ll be hung out to dry.”

SOME GENERAL THOUGHTS ON THE INFLUENCE OF THE MEDIA

A larger part of the media doesn’t inform people objectively so that they can form their own view. Instead, most media try to form the opinion by spreading their ‘pictures.’ The rules of journalism geared towards neutrality are increasingly being abandoned in favor of a journalism with an educational mission. Basic journalistic standards are put on the back burner in order to be on the ‘right side’.

“Truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.”

Bari Weiss, US Journalist

Complex topics are unilaterally defined by the framing set by the media reports and predefined terms and pictures. A judgmental ethic attempts to limit the field of discussion and prevent discussions about facts and opinions that go beyond the defined field. Urgently necessary discussions are prevented.

INSTRUMENTS OF MEDIA

Repetition. As marketing teaches us: the key is repetition. “Experimental studies show that an assertion made by the experimenters increases in the perceived truth of the observers the more frequently they are presented. This is even true if the experimenter explicitly declared them false before the experiment. We are unable to fight it. Even if you clarify the phenomenon beforehand with the test subject, it does not change the effect: the more often you hear an opinion, the more the perceived truth increases.”[7]

Fast thinking and emotions instead of slow thinking and facts. According to Noam Chomsky, the propagandist does not want to convince, but to influence the emotions and behavior of people. He wants to frighten them, make them angry. He gives promises to them. Propaganda tries to replace self-sovereign thinking with the gut feeling of ‘being right’ with the accepted opinion.

Set and hide topics. If the mainstream media only reports on allowed topics, other topics are not public. Only a few politically interested individuals obtain additional information via alternative media.

Set terms and their interpretation. The race for the mind of the public is already won at an early stage by setting the frame and asking questions. If you accept the question, you are already in the construct of the person posing the questions. Topics can be very unilaterally defined by deliberately chosen one-sided terms spread via media. If you are able to define the terms, you have already gained half of the authority to interpret the topic. The choice of words directs the thoughts that arise when the word is pronounced:

  • anti-corona protest vs. pro constitutional rights protests
  • warn vs. threaten
  • freedom fighter vs. terrorist
  • resistance vs. terror
  • peace mission vs. war
  • military strike vs. war of aggression

Selective reporting. Selective reporting skips listing important facts that are relevant for assessing the situation. It only selects the facts that match its own agenda.

  • Reporting on the Ukraine conflict and the image of the ‘evil Russian’. Facts left out: the expansion of NATO as a threat to Russia, Crimea as former part of Russia given as a present to Ukraine, heavy investment of US in regime change, the background of the seizure of power in Ukraine and shots on police and civilians on the Maidan.
  • Today’s coverage of Venezuela is also very one-sided and international opinion much less unanimous than reported by the main media outlets.[8]
  • The reports on the current corona epidemic are anything but balanced. The limitation to very few experts and the suppression of a broader scientific discussion has mainly led to an increase in the anxiety of the population. A fact-based weighing of the response of governments has failed to materialize.

The media do not lie – they shorten, hide, distort and tamper. But this is not a conscious act. It rather is a mix of their own perception of an increasingly complex reality and official political positions. “In order to avoid contradictions, they resort to the means of shortening – not least because they believe that this shortening facilitates the understanding of the public.”[9]

Stephen Hebel adds: “They do not invent the ‘good might stories’ but they pass them on. The inventors are located elsewhere: in business associations, in the policy and PR departments of political parties, in foundations … or in more or less covert propaganda departments …”[10]

Selection of experts. A positive selection for government conform experts helps a lot to receive favorable expert advice supporting your point of view.

Discrediting Persons. A particularly perfidious way of combating other opinions is to socially stigmatize, exclude and defame opponents. They are given names like ‘conspiracy nut or ‘Nazi’ or ‘unpatriotic’. In extreme cases, this can take on a totalitarian character and end up in a career- and even life-threatening character assassination. Anyone who talks to these excluded people or even admits having read an article of them is then at least suspect, if not partly guilty (‘guilt by association’).

Hate Speech. The ‘Hate Speech Laws’ of many countries are dangerous to democracy itself. While true democracy lives from free speech and an open exchange of ideas, ‘hate speech’ allows for a rather arbitrary suppression of unwanted publicly expressed opinions. A vague definition of ‘hate speech’ not actually caring for facts but for the ‘feeling of hate’ is an excellent weapon for authoritarian governments.  

“Once the premise is accepted that the state must censor public debate through the coercive criminal law, there is no logical stopping point, and the state will become empowered to prohibit the expression of an idea simply because the state, or society, finds that idea offensive or insulting. If real progress in human rights is to be made, such a future must be averted. As the Colombian delegate warned the General Assembly of the United Nations nearly half a century ago, ‘to penalize ideas, whatever their nature, is to pave the way for tyranny.”[11]

Something built to stop ‘hate speech’ will stop political dissidents next.

Opinion Polls. Opinion polls have the nimbus of taking the pulse of the street. But they can be easily manipulated (see: ‘Statistics’).

Statistics. “Never trust a statistic you didn’t forge yourself.” They can be manipulated by (a) the selection of the participants, (b) the questions and their wording including misleading usage of words and changes of definition over time, (c) the data representation with graphics and many more tricks. You should be very careful to trust your first impression. Definitely take a look at the entity funding the data collection or the work of the statisticians: Might this entity be interested in a certain outcome with a certain message?

Citing experts and research. Ask two experts and you will get three opinions. Why not only cite those that agree with your point of view? And surely you will have an easier time finding those when the research itself is dependent on third party financing. As the saying goes: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

Talk Shows. Even if a real expert from the ‘other side’ is invited, he is only a single participant in the round for the opposing view. Often, he can only give his intro statement, has a few minutes in the middle, and his closing statement. The topic of discussion is rarely embedded in a larger context. The underlying mechanisms are only touched upon and solutions are only described superficially. 
In short: the talk show only pretends to present and discuss a topic. The scope of the discussion, however, is set so that the topic must stay on the surface. What remains is a confused citizen who only knows that the subject is complicated and tedious. This suggests that he would be better off to leave this topic to the professionals, the politicians.

Psychology Behind the shrinking Diversity of Opinions Through Political Correctness. “…They are not simply offered information. Rather, the information is linked to certain opinions that one should have about certain information. And these opinions now are linked to moral evaluations. So that if they do not represent certain opinions themselves, they automatically stand in the corner of evil…And that’s exactly how the attitude journalism is formed, which scandalizes any dissenting opinion, and which also makes clear to everyone the price one has to pay if one wants to be non-conformist, if one wants to express a dissenting opinion. This price is getting higher and higher.”[12]

The US-lawyer and Vice President of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Joseph P. Overton, designed the following scale (Overton Window):

  • current policy
  • popular view
  • reasonable
  • acceptable
  • radical
  • unthinkable

“The formal freedom to say what you think does not mean much if you no longer dare to think what you are not allowed to say. Since in the long run it’s too exhausting to think differently than you talk, most people think politically correct or at least a lot of people do. What does that actually mean? We are not actually afraid of having a wrong opinion, but we are afraid of standing alone with our opinion. That is what social psychologists call fear of isolation. And this fear of isolation governs our world. But those who fear the anger of others easily agree with the opinion of the clear majority, even if they actually know better. You silence yourself. That is the censorship that really counts…You silence yourself in order not to jeopardize your good reputation.”[13]

“You repeat what you say. And what you say is not the opinion of the majority, but the opinion of well-articulated minorities. This is the starting point for a dynamic, which Elisabeth Nölle-Neumann analyzed many decades ago and which she gave the name ‘spiral of silence’. And exactly this spiral of silence is used today by political correctness. … Because minorities are often well articulated, and because they find resonance in the echo of the mass media, individuals believe that they are themselves in the minority and the others are the majority. And that is why they remain silent. So, they fall silent because they believe themselves to be in the minority, perhaps even as a radical minority. They think that the others are in the majority. But those are simply well articulated and have the loudspeakers of the mass media on their side. In the end this mechanism leads to minority rule; democracy is not the rule of the majorities, but the rule of well-articulated minorities.”[14]

Prof. Bolz criticizes the so-called intellectuals: “Their power-protected, sentimental, moralizing discourse of political correctness uses ethics as a means of justification and puts any dissident in the media pillory. The realm of the mind today falls apart into the self-righteous and the intimidated.”[15]

The tools:

  • Moralism (moralization makes discussion impossible and splits into good and evil)
  • Language hygiene (politically correct language)
  • Lazaret poetry (show pictures of crying, suffering children; only monsters have a different opinion)

Prof. Bolz considers the use of the mechanisms mentioned above to be very dangerous: “The greatest danger for democracy is not the hatred of the radical losers, but the silence of the many who feel patronized by the paternalism of the media elite.”[16]

Social Media – The Echo Chamber. The algorithms of social media platforms serve their users’ personalized information. They aim to keep them on their platform and earn more money from advertisers.

The user wanders in a self-created and algorithm created filter bubble, which deepens his own views and hides other ideas and world views. The algorithms of the platforms appeal to our human instincts. It will feed “…us a constant stream of increasingly more extreme and inflammatory content.”[17] The platforms strengthen the bond with your tribe by sharing narrative confirmation.  “The most snappily worded and convincingly argued receive the biggest rewards when they’re shared, which then incentivizes others to share them too.”[18] Anybody interested in the psychology of political tribes should read the detailed article “Political Disney World” by waitbutwhy.com.

If the user stumbles upon other ideas, they seem even more incomprehensible or even threatening. One of the reactions is ‘hate speech.’ The use of classic social media reinforces the further polarization of society.[19] Individuals are rather oriented along with identity politics, build their own tribes, focus on differences and miss to align along with common interests.

In the future, the situation is more likely to worsen. ‘Deep Fakes’ can be used to simulate realities that never existed.[20] Imagine what a deceptively genuine, but fake video of a politician could cause. Slander and manipulation become easier. It will also become easier to deny statements actually made as ‘deep fake.’[21]  A phenomenon that law professors Robert Chesney and Danielle Citron described as ‘liar’s dividend.’


[1] http://xk.io/2017/05/27/ibdd-and-poppers-criterion/
[2] https://wbj.pl/hungary-first-arrests-for-spreading-fake-news/post/127074
[3] https://ipi.media/european-media-freedom-suffers-covid-19-response/
[4] Translated from German: Jens Wernicke, Lügen die Medien? Propaganda, Rudeljournalismus und der Kampf um die öffentliche Meinung, p. 139, Rainer Mausfeld
[5] Translated from German: Jens Wernicke, p. 32, David Goeßmann
[6] https://www.bariweiss.com/resignation-letter
[7] Translated from German: Rainer Mausfeld, Warum schweigen die Lämmer?: Wie Elitendemokratie und Neoliberalismus unsere Gesellschaft und unsere Lebensgrundlagen bedrohen, Position 519
[8] https://youtu.be/ii5MlQgGXyk, Empire Files Episode 79 – An Ocean of Lies on Venezuela: Abby Martin & UN Rapporteur Expose Coup
[9] Translated from German: Jens Wernicke, p. 70, Ulrich Tilgner
[10] Translated from German: Jens Wernicke, p. 80, Stephan Hebel
[11] Censored, Paul Coleman, Pos. 1773
[12] Translated from German: https://youtu.be/W2WkPolNDtI?t=1283, Wissensmanufaktur, Prof. Norbert Bolz: Der Journalist als Oberlehrer
[13] Translated from German: https://youtu.be/W2WkPolNDtI?t=2081, see above Wissensmanufaktur
[14] Translated from German: https://youtu.be/W2WkPolNDtI?t=2280, see above Wissensmanufaktur
[15] Translated from German: https://youtu.be/W2WkPolNDtI?t=2760, see above Wissensmanufaktur
[16] Translated from German: https://youtu.be/W2WkPolNDtI?t=2990, see above Wissensmanufaktur
[17] http://humanetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/CHT-Undivided-Attention-Podcast-Ep.4-Down-the-Rabbit-Hole.pdf, p. 6
[18] https://waitbutwhy.com/2019/12/political-disney-world.html
[19] https://samharris.org/podcasts/152-trouble-facebook/
[20] https://www.forbes.com/sites/robtoews/2020/05/25/deepfakes-are-going-to-wreak-havoc-on-society-we-are-not-prepared/ and https://www.digitaltrends.com/features/audio-deepfakes-recording-industry/
[21] https://medium.com/thewashingtonpost/top-ai-researchers-race-to-detect-deepfake-videos-we-are-outgunned-ce4c057b0625 and https://twimlai.com/twiml-talk-260-fighting-fake-news-and-deep-fakes-with-machine-learning-w-delip-rao/ starting from min. 30:29

This is an excerpt from my book “Achieving True Democracy: A New Breed of Party as Realistic Next Step” which can be bought at Amazon or Smashwords or directly from me via PayHip.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *