Sunday, February 26, 2017

"Elections are sugar-coated oppression."

"You can't exist today, much less be a dodgy, widely hated world leader, and not assume that your every action is being documented."
Infomocracy, by Malka Older, describes a future world operating on the principles of microdemocracy. Every 10 years, everyone worldwide votes for a government in their centenal, a kind of riding or district of 100,000 people, a representative democracy, where the party that wins the majority of centenals, wins the Supermajority — basically, runs the world. But crossing from one centenal to the next, an individual may be subject to a vastly different set of rules.

There's a push from some factions for electoral reform for nanodemocracy, to bring global government closer to one person, one vote. The technology of the future makes this perfectly feasible.

There's a passage from David Graeber's The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy that has always stuck with me:
Consider the ATM machine. In the last thirty years, I can't remember a single occasion in which I have asked an ATM machine for money and gotten an incorrect amount. Nor have I been able to find anyone I know who can. This is so true that in the wake of the 2000 U.S. presidential elections, when the public was being regaled with statistics on the 2.8 percent degree of error expected from this type of voting machine, or the 1.5 percent expected from that, some had the temerity to point out that in a country that defines itself as the world's greatest democracy, where elections are our very sacrament, we seem to just accept that voting machines will regularly miscount the vote, while every day hundreds of millions of ATM transactions take place with an overall zero percent rate of error. What does this say about what really matters to Americans as a nation?
According to Graeber, it would seem, America values money over democracy. The future of Infomocracy indicates a mature global economy; money and voting as values may be seen as equivalent. Electoral technology is accurate. But it is still susceptible to tampering.

Elections are administered and monitored by an organization, a great bureaucracy, called Information. The future is chockfull of big data, and Information watches it and processes it. It's an always-on Googly-glassbook, instastats, mega-infobubble world.

Given all the election difficulties plaguing our current world, Infomocracy's future system — where nationhood cedes to community-based voting blocks — makes sense on many levels. Until you remember two things: 1. Technology can be hacked. 2. Information is power.
"Information is a public good," one of the older men says with finality. "It may fail for technical reasons, and we may strategize about the best technical approach to get it back up. but we will not withhold Information once it is in our power to make it available. We cannot give ourselves the power to see and leave everyone else blind."
So, all is good, so long as we aspire to be our better selves. But it wouldn't be much of a thriller if that were all there were to it. Remind me someday to tell you about the busride last fall when I realized that maybe people aren't basically good.
"Surely you would prefer for the election system not to exist? We are working to eliminate it, or at the very least make it more realistic..."

The open question breaks the tension, and the sheikh laughs. "Why would we want to change it? There is nothing that suits us more than most of the world believing that their will is being carried out by governments that do exactly as they please."
Infomocracy is definitely a thriller, but who wins the election is not nearly so interesting a problem as the electoral process itself and the mystery of how information is wielded. I'll definitely be looking up the next books in this planned trilogy.

Living in an infomocracy.
Excerpt. (Chapters 1-5 are available online.)

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