Glyphs & Graphs is a writing experiment by Naveen Srivatsav - an attempt at hypertext wordplay, intentionally amorphous thought experiments non-committal to any specific genre or topic. Enjoy, and feel free to reach out via social media.

Caveats to democracy as we know it

Here's my deal.

Democracy is as the joke goes, the least worst option. I'm cynical not because democracy is inherently flawed but because it represents a kind of cognitive outsourcing of long-term large-scale planning to the hands of the many. However, like any good decision-maker must be, this requires *all* citizens to be well-informed, not just of the *fact* that certain issues exist but also have reasonably in-depth information on how to evaluate and comment on policy proposals to tackle those issues while also remaining true to the constitution. There is serious work required to have an opinion, and honestly we are *not* seeing that at this moment.

That's fine, never mind direct democracy, let's try representative democracy. The dictum on being well-informed still stands but now there is a stronger possibility of corruption because it's easier to turn one representative than trick one thousand voters (though both can be done). Representative democracy also adds additional rules that become quite arcane over time, and clearly these are the rules being abused/misused to hold on to power (see gerrymandering, filibuster etc). The problem with having arcane rules (see white collar crime) is it doesn't feel serious and so the uninitiated cannot articulate why certain actions are actually unacceptable, heinously so.

Moreover, democracy is supposed to be inherently optimising for compromise. Not everyone can get what they want all the time. Sometimes for something good to happen to someone else, you or I might have to experience inconvenience or loss. In practice, everyone wants everything forever and will vote out anyone who even briefly poses a threat. Representatives who run, even those with good intentions, know this and thus start playing to the crowd. Stupid feedback loops. Going forward, I don't want to hear yet another person talk about rights and freedoms of citizens, until we also start talking about duties and responsibilities. That’s a package deal. I don't want to hear yet another group talk about what they want unless there is good faith reciprocity on what they're willing to give up. That’s what shows commitment towards the common good.

Then there is policy and there is politics. I feel this viscerally because I'm trained in policy analysis and most days what I hear on the news is circus. (When E. Warren speaks, music to my ears!) Policy is dry and boring but there is no benefit whatsoever to summarising complex issues into hot takes and unrepresentative binaries. Doesn't matter, let's discuss the ethics, science and long-term impact of abortion in tweets and celebrity quotes.

In the technical arena, I don't expect a democratically voted surgeon to operate on me. I wouldn't trust a professor who has been democratically voted into tenure by people who haven't even read the academic papers. Technical ability and capability requires training, patience, rigor, education, humility... I don't expect mind-blowing insights from "infant care medical experts" who can tell me the harms of vaccines from 15 minutes of googling. No that doesn't mean you're living your truth, it just means you had an internet connection. I find it laughable that we asked the public opinion on climate change for close to 2 decades; would you ask public opinion on how to treat cancer?

I am *for* participative democracy which works at local scale. I trust people who show up and do the work and have the patience/experience to solve real social problems (which may include technical solutions). I must highlight here that this system cannot arise or exist in a vacuum, but necessarily require supporting policies and societal configurations (like basic income, commons law etc) to incentivise and reward collective local behaviour. One possible method is highlighted in our white paper on crowdsourcing complexity engineering at urban scale here:

But other than that, I feel the modern backbone of democracy which began as far back as the 17th century, depending on how you define core characteristics, is vastly ill-equipped to handle the demands placed on it right now. For reference, at the beginning of the 20th century, there were over 1.5 billion people on the planet, now we’re closer to 7.5 billion. National issues were still geographically contained and technologically constrained back then; today, a single transaction at the supermarket in one country touches the lives of hundreds in complex value chains across dozens of countries. Making decisions for a million people would have been hard enough, but making decisions for billions while global conditions shift at record pace is humanly impossible to get right 100% of the time.

Yes, I have lost faith that millions can objectively elect a small group of thousands to make long-term decisions for the millions in the long-term which may include some bitter pills for some. Hasn't happened in my lifetime, should I keep hoping?

On the design of social interventions under complexity