“The fundamental issue with our existing representational approach appears to be that effective trust relationship management does not extend well towards the many-to-one, infrequently group-selected, not so accountable, politically twisted by money, single representative,” writes Peter Lindener, otherwise known as the “Sax man” on White Plaza, in a draft that he distributed at the Occupy Stanford movement.
Lindener certainly knows his audience; for all utilitarian purposes, Lindener’s arguments sound like something that Occupy would support. However, Peter Lindener, like many who initially found inspiration in the movement, has become disenchanted with his perception of its capabilities.
For many, this disenchantment arises as a consequence of Occupy’s lack of coherence and unified action. Yet Lindener’s disenchantment runs deeper: for seven years, Lindener has been working to develop a theory of democratic representation which he calls the theory of *moderated differential pairwise tallying (MDPT).*It is mostly a mathematical model, but with serious implications for modern democracy. There are a few problems in the current voting scheme that Lindener’s voting system addresses. For example, suppose that, under the current system, you support Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, think Barack Obama is an awful president, and only slightly dislike Mitt Romney. You are now faced with a choice: you can either vote for your preferred candidate, and in so doing cause Obama to be re-elected, or vote for a candidate you dislike.
Or in another vein: suppose that you’re one of those people who love everything that Ron Paul has to say, except on foreign policy. Because of this dilemma, you end up having to compromise some aspect of your beliefs by voting for the lesser of two evils.
Peter Lindener’s system would eliminate these two problems, as well as a few other issues in the current voting system. Lindener proposes in his MDPT a system of voting that is orchestrated in a manner similar to social networking sites, in which people rank their preferred candidates on various issues, but in so doing immediately delegate power to a proxy representative who shares their views, and with whom they can then have immediate virtual contact. These proxy representatives will make voting decisions for the people that select them, and any person can alter the proxy representative whenever he or she sees fit.
This would also eliminate the problems associated with term-lengths, and the inability to hold politicians accountable to their promises and campaign-convictions. Rather, the power of a politician would be dependent on a rapidly shifting structure of coalitions built around the immediate actualization of voter preferences.
Lindener and his colleagues have been working out the mathematical algorithms behind this voting system for nearly a decade now. However, no serious academic would deign to review Lindener’s papers or listen to his theories, as he does not have a college education. That is why he was so excited about the Occupy movement, and its potential as a forum in which he could present his ideas to young, passionate revolutionaries.
Yet he was disappointed. He quickly found that the Occupy movement had very little interest in mathematical algorithms and voting theory. At first Lindener was tolerated in the movement, and was patiently listened to, but as time went by he began to feel ignored. He quickly discovered that they preferred his introductory rhetoric about holding politicians accountable, rather than the substance of the plan that he was proposing to achieve that end. His dream of the movement assembling “as computer science literate activists” fell apart.
The story doesn’t end there. Perhaps we can, in the spirit of inquiry, delve deeper into the mysteries of Peter Lindener’s case.
In fact, most readers are probably better acquainted with Peter than they think. Most on campus know him by a different name, and will recognize him as the long-haired, bearded man who plays the saxophone in white plaza and spends hours arguing with radical evangelicals (as if anyone cares what either party has to say in that format).
And do you care about what Peter has to say? Well, I did, so I went to talk to him about it.
A few months ago, I went to the Occupy movement to talk to Peter about his theories. The issue I was facing is that a system of government is despotic, no matter how it is organized, so long as it does not derive its power from the consent of the governed. But to me that means more than merely consenting to the leader; it means consenting to the structure of the government itself. I argued to Peter that if government is not in the best interest of the people, the people have the right to remove it; in other words, the people have the right, if they choose, to abolish the government, and to take power into their own hands. Any democracy that does not allow *no government *as a choice is properly despotic.
Peter disagreed, and attempted to justify himself mathematically, in terms of Von Neumann’s game theory probabilities and other mathematical models, and eventually the arguments became philosophical. However, Peter was not cooperative with the spirit of debate, and in out of frustration, called the police, and had me thrown out.
This event is not important because of the irony of an Occupier calling the police to remove somebody who wanted to have a discussion. The true importance of this event lies in the clear distinction that it draws between Peter and your typical Occupier. The typical Occupier concentrates on the problems; Peter concentrates on solutions – solutions, we might add that he wants to see implemented.
Peter has a vision of a society where one can influence the political decisions of society without leaving the comfort of home. In other words, the voter can impose his or her will and desires on people whom he or she never meets, without ever needing to have a face-to-face discussion. I agree that this will strengthen the power of our democracy– but the real question is: do we want to strengthen democracy in this way? Where does the strengthening of democracy thus tend, and what are its limits? What rights does the individual have against the rule of the majority?
Those are the types of problems that I already have with existing democracies, and in my mind, Peter’s system only aggravates these problems, which to me are of the highest importance. I wanted to discuss these things with Peter, to see if he could show me why I was wrong, or if he could strengthen my own convictions by giving me a reasonable opportunity to defend them. But it seems that Peter would have preferred a world where he and I would never have had to meet to have a discussion; where he could, if he wanted, surround himself only with people who agreed with him, and use his computerized democratic system to silence opinions like mine.
Peter told me that anybody my age who is not a liberal is heartless. This seems to be the general sentiment of the Occupy movement; I would daresay that most in that movement would consent to a world in which I am subject to the whims and desire of other people, and in which my individuality is obliterated. In other words, a truly democratic system. I guess it’s a good thing, then, that unlike Peter, the majority of the movement isn’t really serious about implementing any real change, or acting in any significant way.