Monday, December 20, 2021

New Democracy?


There will be situations when people simply cannot agree and there are no compromises everyone can live with. There is put bluntly no consensus. What happens in these situations, depending on the situation is either A) The suggestion is blocked or B) The group does nothing faced with a situation.

The idea is that if one has not reached a consensus it would be “majority tyranny” to implement a decision over the heads of the disagreeing minority. However, you will see that on the contrary, it is minority tyranny when a minority can block an initiative that is wanted by most of the group. The same is true for the hybrid vote that thinks it is unacceptable for 51% of a group to “dictate” what 49% should do. Therefore the majority must be 2/3 or in some cases even 3/4. Is it democratic for a little bit over 1/3 or 1/4 to be able to block the desired change?

If one uses consensus, anyone who is against a decision can decide to block an initiative. With super-majorities a small minority can put itself in the way of decisions that most of the group want. Put bluntly both make possible minority rule.

It’s not even egalitarian. consensus is a strictly verbal process. This means that the well-articulated will be put ahead of the less articulated. Anyone who has spent a certain amount of time in a group utilizing consensus will have noticed that the same people usually talk the most. In contrast with voting, you have no way of knowing what is on everybody’s mind unless you employ a session where everybody gets to speak. It could very well mean “talking until we’re sick of it”, with a large amount of uncertainty regarding what was actually decided.

Decision making is done through consensus is vulnerable to informal hierarchies. If the first five to speak about a theme are all for an initiative that you’re against, how easy is it to raise your hand and object? If the meeting has dragged out and you know putting your hand up and voicing your concern will start a long discussion ould you make yourself heard! How do you see that a member is not raising his or her hand for fear of too many others disagreeing? How do you see that a member will not speak because of fatigue after a long and fruitless meeting? How do you perceive that someone is silent because they are not comfortable with their own abilities of articulation?

The loose form of the organization makes implementing formal checks and balances difficult. The loose organization does not rid a group of hierarchy but masks it. Without mapping out and delineating the process with rules, it’s hard to find the kinks and reflect on the consequences of your organizational structure.

In small groups where everybody knows each other, a newcomer to a group will experience how disorienting the decisions are made without formal rules. The more people there are at a meeting utilizing consensus, the more unmanageable, confusing, and time-consuming the meeting tends to be. It takes a very short time to understand a formalized direct democratic decision-making process employing voting. There were simple rules to follow; they were written down, and one could easily observe if everybody followed them. If one wants to engage new people and grow the structure must be formalized and transparent. A group of activists can’t operate as a clique of friends and expect to attract others.

A group votes over what decisions they want to be implemented. This has the advantage that one quickly knows where everybody is on the issue, either they’re for and vote yes, or against and vote no, or don’t care and refrain from voting. There is no requirement for articulation or much else for that matter. If a decision wins by a very slight majority and is very important, like changing the platform or rules, for example, there can be a formalized rule that in such cases one must open for new discussion before having another, final vote. Anyone can read the rules and participate, and voting takes little time even when there are many presents.

The power structure of capitalism – in which those who control its most important asset, capital, are the ones who control the rest of us – is inherently exploitative and oppressive. But that is not the same as saying that power in itself is inherently bad. Power should be understood as a neutral phenomenon, which exists in any society, whether we like it or not. Democratic power is fundamentally different from state power because the latter is based on the decision-making powers of a minority. Socialists far from removing the problem of power from their field of vision, address the problem of how to give power a concrete institutional emancipatory form.

Recent events certainly demonstrate the usefulness of social media. Protesters are able to make and take their case beyond their borders and tell their story in their own words without having it subject to governmental or media spin. This is something new and very useful that gives activists communicative powers on a level that has never been possible before. But the importance of tools like Facebook and Twitter has been overstated. Social media, by providing a loose network of links that can quickly spread information from friends to friends of friends, and eventually to total strangers, does not supplant or replace many of the most essential elements of any successful social movement. Successful social movements require a well-organised structure and camaraderie based on face-to-face contact and shared experience. Social media is simply a new tool that can spread ideas. Social media can spread information faster and more efficiently than anything that has previously existed and is thus very useful for rapidly spreading the news of injustice or quickly mobilizing large groups of people. What social media does not change, however, is the best way to utilise these mobilized individuals. The relatively weak personal ties established on the Internet simply cannot provide the sense of solidarity of a party.

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