Obstacles

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Following are some obstacles an collaborative governance system must overcome. If the list seems daunting, it should be noted that the obstacles in a closed system are even more difficult, perhaps even insurmountable.

Most of the obstacles to achieving any governance system are social and amount to a failure of trust. Once the damage has been done, it can be hard for individuals to change their habits, and for groups harder. It's not enough simply to criticize the problem or deficiency (as many a family member knows), for one cannot ultimately exclude or reject the other. One must deliberate and seek (or offer) a compelling alternative. A supportive environment that fosters and provides tools for collaboration is essential. Metagovernment seeks to develop tools for active discussions, expressing dissent in an organized and fair fashion until an ability to synthesize disparate views into a cohesive whole is available.

This document seeks to raise the level of awareness of the obstacles so that they can be addressed directly and honestly.

Social

  • Trust thy neighbor? Problem: While average people like the idea of sharing power in the abstract, most balk at sharing power with people like themselves. The basic civic toolkits (how to play nice with others) of the average citizen are not adequate for collaborative civics.
  • Extremist problem: Also can be described as the "missing middle" in a collaborative environment extreme views will drive out moderate views, leaving a "donut hole" in the range of opinions - consensus becomes impossible. Tends toward rule by the loudest or most violent.
  • Pinpoint activism: Similar to extremist problem but different in that people become invested in a single issue/position and ignore all of the connections and consequences of that issue/position. (e.g. Animal Rights activists)
  • Sideliners: Those who wait on the sidelines letting others do the difficult work, then swooping in afterwards to own it.
  • Superstars and Power singularities: Any situation where ultimate control is vested in a group rather than a single individual is likely to spawn coup attempts, which claim any number of pretexts usually grounded in egotistical bias. The more power accumulated by an individual, the easier it is to achieve more power. Any mass-democracy approach is likely to be swamped by tendencies to flock around a celebrity.
  • Expert/amateur vocabulary problem: specific to the practice of law (for lawmaking) and general to policy development on any issues, the experts all have their elaborate jargon which creates a barrier between the experts and the amateurs. Typical result, the experts and amateurs only talk amongst themselves and the experts eject the amateurs from the formal process.
  • Wordsmithing: Appealing slogans and bylines which conceal (deliberately or not) the underlying intent, exploiting the unavailability of people's time or general ignorance of the issues to balance the truth. In its benign form, can simply be a by-product of ambition and zeal.
  • Nuts and therapy cases: inevitably (and sooner than you think) you have to manage situations where the desire to have a participatory session runs up against individuals who want to participate (and should have a right to) but can't help but disrupt, derail, and confound the process.
  • Enemies of "opt in" democracy: particularly from the left come heated arguments against opt-in approaches, in favor of "everyone must be included" approaches, despite the fact that "include everyone" is logistically impossible.
  • Gratuitous contrarians: those who oppose merely for attention, having nothing constructive to offer. Leaves a burden of proving the claim false to the actual participant(s).
  • Trolls: those who insert hot, unresolved issues merely for the effect or (worse) to distract, leaving important issues in neglect. Cf. mass media, local television. See also Amusing Ourselves to Death.
  • Fake Democracy: Owing to the fact that the world has gotten aware and critical of autocratic dictatorships, the installation of systems that give the appearance of democracy without the actual spirit of democratic intent (ex. Russia, Iran). See Deterring Fake Public Participation

Personal

  • Cynics and Critics: It may be easier to criticize than to contribute, but it is obviously not a long-term solution.
  • Ignorance: To this: Belief affects outcome. If people believe that others are bad, as an example, they will inevitably contribute to a world which reflects that view. Convincing others otherwise requires inspiration.

Technical

  • User validation: It will be very difficult to enforce "one person one vote" in online environments.
  • Sock puppets: aka astroturfing on the web. How do we verify that an individual is representing their own interests rather than being paid to represent someone else's.
  • Gaming the system: A reputation tracking system is vulnerable to being "gamed"--user's techniquing their way to the top rather than relying on their own merits. Nevertheless it will be almost impossible to have crowd-sourced democracy without one. Fostering a feeling of mutual ownership and shared fate is essential.
  • Denial of Democracy attacks: any IT based system is vulnerable to being hacked or at least immobilized. Even if the security problems are manageable, the greatest effect of such an attack is to prevent trust in IT based methods of democracy.
  • Net neutrality compromises: ISPs could affect who accesses sites at critical moments.
Personal tools