Saturday, October 18, 2008

Opens Source government.

I just posted the following on a /. thread about the idea of an Open Source model of government.

In response to:
Open source is a much closer model for no government - or, in other words, anarchy. The last few years have been pretty clear to me that democracy doesn't produce government that works in the people's best interest. A linux model for government would allow people to choose how to organize themselves on a voluntary basis. Government, even the democratic version, rests on the application of force. So the two ideals really are mutually exclusive.
I replied:
Quite right.

Government, logically, is force. The government is that entity in a society which has a practical monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Insomuch as there are others able to ignore the dictates of the government or to use force to their own ends (think corruption/organized crime), the government is not sovereign.

In this sense the Open Source approach is not suited to government. The actions of government apply to everyone and are supported by the application of force (i.e if you disobey you will be arrested, if you resist arrest you will be shot) while an Open Source project is defined by voluntary action and a pluralistic, meritocratic, approach to system design. The two are inherently contradictory.

I think that to apply Open Source principles to government would require a Minimalist, Libertarian, style government. The Government Proper, the entity with the monopoly on force, would be restricted to ensuring that the various open development units don't attempt to use force against each other. Other than that policy would be left up to non-government units.

For instance, rather than having a monolithic federal welfare system, we could have a plurality of nonprofit organizations for the reduction and alleviation of poverty. If you have resources or skills and are concerned about poverty, you could join one of the existing organizations (the one which takes the approach that you find most appropriate) and contribute your time or money to helping them. Or, if you don't really identify with the approach of any of the existing organizations, you could get together with a group of like minded people and start an organization of your own.

Rather than taking a single ad hoc approach to solving civic problems we could have a diversity of parallel approaches being undertaken. Those that prove most effective will draw more and more contributors and donors, and, if they become too big and crufty, concerned members can fork off, or fledgling organizations can step in to break new paths and undercut the giants.

Under such a system, enlightened people would ask each other what organizations they work with, rather than what party they support. Instead of flaming each other in bars about which set of leaders should rule us, we could argue about which social projects take the best approach. Instead of sitting around reading the news and getting pissed, we could be designing new tactics and strategies for our favorite organizations. In other words, we could have real participatory "government" (as opposed to submitting a laughable, 0 = Democrat, 1 = Republican, every two years).

I think that this has been the major failing of the Libertarian movement. They've failed to paint a picture of a compassionate Libertarian world. Eliminating federal programs to assist the needy (poor, unhealthy, undereducated) does not mean that we'd all selfishly go around ignoring impoverished people begging on our doorsteps any more than legalizing drugs would mean that we'd all be out shooting heroin the next day. It just means that, instead of passing off our problems as a people to some faceless bureaucracy, we'd take responsibility for them ourselves.

Individualism isn't about greed. It's about standing on your own two feet and taking care of the world yourself, like an adult, rather than handing all of your problems over to our paternalistic government and then wallowing in childish self-pity when the world goes to shit.

I'd like to develop this sort of thing further. I definitely think that this sort of 'fleshing out the alternative' is a fruitful avenue for more writing. I think political discussion tends to be so frequently futile because we have such strong emotional associations around a lot of our ideas. If you associate your opponents ideas with images of bleakness, desolation, and misery and your own, with images of hope, enlightenment, and progress (and vise versa), then obviously there is virtually zero chance of either of you convincing the other of anything (because how could you possibly be convinced that bleakness is better than hope).

Unless we engage people at this deeper level of meaning, feeling, and association, (with images of how you feel the world could be) people will probably continue to talk past each other.

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