[ExI] democracy sucks (Anders Sandberg)

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sat Feb 26 14:10:55 UTC 2011

Keith Henson wrote:
> On Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 5:00 AM,  Anders Sandberg <anders at aleph.se> wrote:
>> Basically, I think there is no way you can avoid a complex, remote
>> government if you want to have a complex big society.
> It's a marvel that government works as well as it does when you
> consider our evolutionary history.

Yes, it is surprising. A bit like how we can learn to become so good at 
reading/writing or math, which are also non-evolved abilities yet we can 
make use of our evolved brain systems to do them fairly well, with 
amazing consequences. The fact that we can construct arbitrary and very 
complex social structures is quite impressive - and many of them do 
work, as long as they do not break our evolved social affordances too much.

> "Complex, remote government" combined with the drift into an oligarchy
> is a formula for disaster.

Sure. But complex remote governments have also been very successful in 
improving quality of life, at the very least by allowing large-scale 
societies that can efficiently reduce homicide rates (see Pinker's 
essays on the subject, very interesting). Slides towards oligarchy are 
not irreversible, as evidenced by the fact that once upon a time all 
governments were oligarchies or autarchies, and now we have moved to a 
situation where the real power does get quite distributed.

Given my research I have come to the conclusion that most people, even 
libertarians, underestimate the threat of governments (surveillance; 
powerlaw distributed wars and democides; singletons). The solution seems 
to me to find better ways of keeping governments in check.

> http://voices.washingtonpost.com/blog-post/2011/02/stephen_colbert_explains_anony.html
> At this point Anonymous seems to be the most competent group on the
> planet.  I wonder if this concept could eventually evolve into a world
> government?

Imagine a military run by Anonymous. Or a power grid. Or a hospital.

I think there is something here: voluntary, self-organized and 
decentralized groups clearly can do amazing things - IETF, Wikipedia, 
Linux, various social movements etc. Not to mention the free market. But 
we do not yet have a good theory for when they work and when they don't 
work, with maybe the exception of the free market (which we still do not 
understand that well). Some hints can be found in considering their 
incentive structures and past successful examples. I am looking forward 
to read Jane McGonigal's "Reality is Broken" to see what lessons we can 
get from the game community.

The deep problem is to create spontaneous orders that do what we want 
and evolve to become better at it.

Yes, this is basically the friendly AI problem too. And about as easy. 
But we have some good examples, we have some theory, and even a modestly 
functional case can be practically very useful. We can hardly do worse 
than previous thinkers, since we have information they did not have 
(complexity theory, lots of new science and data, information about past 
failures and successes ), new tools (Internet, distributed 
communications, lots of clever software) and new ways of testing out 
ideas (simulations, online games, economic experiments).

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University 

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