Quantified Relationships Will Fix Our Politics

We all realize our political system in America is ridiculous, and we’re all unhappy with it. Our congress has single digit approval ratings, and yet re-election rates hover at close to 95%. Many   will say the problem is money in politics.  Rather than focus on the problems,  In this essay, I will advocate a system which I believe will fix our political system and provide a number of benefits to all people – especially the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised.  Reasonable, kind people will find themselves with much larger audiences.

This system is based entirely on voluntary interaction, requiring no laws, no use of force, and asking nothing of us other than the most difficult thing for us to do, which is to be honest with the ones we love, even when it hurts.   If you cannot be honest with the ones you love about how you feel towards them, can you reasonably expect the same from a stranger who doesn’t know you? If we want politicians to be honest with us, we need to be honest with each other.

I believe we will see tremendous benefits from the use of quantified relationships among people of all sorts – where each of us states, in a discrete  fashion, how we feel towards each other.   I believe this sort of information about relationships –  stated publicly – will dramatically improve the quality of our civic life. The system I describe in this essay is called a “Respect Matrix.”    A mathematical description is available on github ; this essay serves as a prosaic argument in favor   of such a system.

I have already implemented a bot which reads tweets, allowing people to make use of the system already, and I will start that running bot soon. I wanted to write this essay first, to explain to people how big of a deal this is, because it would be easy to understate the power of such a system. If you see flaws or problems in the system I have outlined, I am fully aware of them. I originally started with a more complex, powerful way for people to speak about one another, but this proved extremely difficult to explain. The respect matrix came out of a short story I was writing, and my imagination was searching for a “simpler version” that would have the properties I wanted.  I knew this system was flawed, but it has the advantage of  being easier to explain to people in ways that they can understand its utility. If you agree that the  respect matrix is a good first step, but it is too weak and inflexible, then I think dewDrop is what you want, but we’ll have to  wait a while until the world is ready for that, since most people have trouble unpacking the concept of “formal languages on social networks.”

Not All Men Are Created Equal

The scientific method has done amazing things for our world – and it works because we have numbers which measure the properties of the physical world.  That use of data – empirical measurements – enacted a profound transformation on the world when the scientific method first started taking off, 300 years or so ago.

At the same that the scientific method entered the world, a social transformation was happening: the decline of the nobility.  If someone is a Baron or Duchess today, that is merely a quaint piece of information. But a few hundred years ago, before this transition, it meant you were beneath them.  We Americans say we believe “All Men Are Created Equal” – and this is a direct challenge to the notion of the nobility, where some were definitely greater than others.

The system of nobility perpetuated itself for a long time, based upon the evidence that it was valid. The nobility were calm, polite, and dignified, while those beneath them were boorish and uncouth –  but it’s a lot easier to stay calm when you’re standing on someone else’s neck.  This self-perpetuating evidence meant the nobility had more access to the limited social institutions of the time, and it meant that they had the right to trample over those beneath them.   The nobility ran most of the world, and their reach kept going really until about 100 years ago. Did you know that at the start of  the first world war, the leaders of England, Germany and Russia were all cousins?

Most people at the time saw the way the nobility behaved as a stark contrast to everyone else, and believed it was only reasonable for one side of the human family tree to trample over the other. Children who grew up in  stable, healthy, reasonable environments could have a far greater chance to go on to be stable, healthy adults.  So of course the few people with an education were more polite and well spoken than everyone else – they had more experience because they had more money.

The nobility were not unified, however. Pretty much the only thing they agreed on was the fact that they were better than those filthy commoners.  Amongst each other, they were always jockeying for status – and the status was often vague. A king is above a prince, sure, but reality is messier than the nobles liked to pretend. Then as now, people had afairs, and died,   and  relationsihps strained. There were often ambiguous cases where a second-cousin would dispute a younger brother for some position, perhaps with the second cousin claiming the son was illegitimate.

In the end, it was money that brought down the nobility.

Money Doesn’t Care About Your Title

Today, many people feel money is unfair because it perpetuates inequality and leaves many people in scarcity. I think this is like  being upset at the fire department because they often show up before buildings get knocked down.  Money is a mechanism which actually alleviates the problem of scarcity – but it also depends upon the assumption that scarcity exists and is the dominating factor in our lives.  When scarcity was the dominant factor affecting most people’s lives, and driving most of the decisions of the world, this made more sense.

I believe we are now at ‘Peak Money’, and that although money will still have impact in our lives for the next few centuries – just as the nobility cased  the first world war, and  their inability to resolve a family dispute got millions of people killed –  money is on the way out, the way nobility were at the end of the 17th century.  It will still play a role for a long time, but that role will be subservient to the status system now on the ascent – respect.

So what happened back then?

The King can say “hey guys, go fight!” – but he knows that won’t be enough for his side to win the war. They need armor, equipment, food, horses, clothes, and medicine.   They need animals to carry the gear to war, and people to feed and clean up after the animals. Money coordinates the activities of all the people involved in the production, distribution and maintenance of all the things necessary to fight a war.   You need money to fight a war – because although you can’t eat a coin, you can’t eat bread that doesn’t exist, either. Not all of the Noble houses had money; those who were born without land, or gambled it away, or had it taken in wars would often marry a daughter off to a wealthy merchant. The merchant gets to enter the noble class, and the noble family now has money.  But having a wealthy merchant to marry isn’t possible if your entire kingdom is poor.  So the Kings needed to make sure there was wealth in their kingdoms, and stealing it from other people only got you so far.

The Magna Carta was signed by a poor King who was pushed into it by wealthy barons. It is also the basis of our constitution, and the gradually expanded system of rights and freedoms which has done so much to lift the world from suffering.

It became obvious to the Kings that you needed a strong economy to win a war, and this trend has continued even further today: every country wants to have a strong economy.  What is now becoming apparent in our world economy is that you can’t have a strong economy when everyone is uneducated and unhappy – unhappy people make mistakes and drive away customers.   All of the riots we are seeing in  America today, for example – those have a huge economic cost.  Happy people are less likely to riot.

You Can’t Buy Respect

So If everyone is in agreement that you need your economy to be strong, and a strong economy requires educated people, and we all know riots cost a bunch of money, and happy people don’t riot – what’s stopping us from selecting sensible leaders?

I claim it’s a problem of a fuzzy language and shortage of social computation.

Politicians like to speak in platitudes that lend themselves to many different interpretations. That’s the fuzzy language. People pick and choose facts that appeal to their beliefs, while discarding facts that make them feel threatened.  People are quick to forget or overlook transitions by people they respect, and are quicker to find faults in people they don’t agree with. Those heuristics – those guesses at other people’s mental states – are really just poor approximations. They are computations, done poorly.  How much is 372 plus 541? Well, it’s approximately 800. For most people throughout history, that was close enough. It was only in recency – just the past few hundred years – that every day people actually needed to make distinctions like that.

We are far more likely to extend our cognitive effort at understanding – that is, to allocate more computation to the modeling of another person’s consciousness – when we know they are friends with a friend of ours. Most of us reading this can point to people in our lives who we think are examples of the way people should  behave. The proposal I have here is extremely simple – that we make an effort to identify people we know, people we’ve worked with or interact with, who we think did good job of treating us right.  If we state, publicly, these are the people i respect – then we can see who those people respect, and who they respect, and so on.  The numbers help us evaluate people we don’t actually know, using all of our  friends, and their friends, and their friends, as the basis of our opinion.

You’d trust a recommendation from a good friend much more than you’d trust a recommendation from someone you kind of know, and are on decent terms with.  The respect matrix merely formalizes that intuition and makes it  explicit.

Suppose your best friend were running for president. Would you really vote for anyone else? Social proximity is the strongest indicator we use in so many areas. It only makes sense that it would be a powerful force in politics.  Most of us aren’t friends with presidential candidate – but we are all connected on the social graph, and so there is, definitively, one candidate who is closer to you on the graph than the others.

It’s impossible to imagine a civilization hopping among the stars, building settlements and exploring the galaxy, while choosing their leaders in the most ridiculous way we do. I can easily imagine people in that kind of civilization using a simple, transparent consensual system like the one I’ve laid out.   Once I get the interface online, with a bot listening to people’s  tweets and storing the statements they make,  I hope you’ll consider using this system, to share who you respect and who you don’t. Other  login systems will come soon; a twitter bot was the easiest thing to start with.

I’ll still respect you, either way, for reading all the way to the end of this essay, though. Thanks.

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