When I look around at the world I see a daunting host of massive and terrifying problems.
Government inefficiency and corruption. Almost no government is truly representative and democratic, many are outright authoritarian, and basically all have serious problems with waste, sluggishness, and graft.
Police unaccountability and systemic injustice. Crime and punishment in almost all societies is an expression of class power structures rather than the democratic will to defend everyone's rights.
Economic inequality, consumerism, corporatism. Our economies are dominated by massive corporations, who instead of creating prosperity gain power by finding and exploiting vulnerabilities, such as those in political institutions, human psychology, or market dynamics. Using the leverage of cumulative advantage these companies slowly form oligopolies and control an ever increasing share of technology and resources.
Climate change, environmental destruction. Erratic and severe weather patterns are already beginning to disrupt communities and create increased resource uncertainty. We routinely destroy natural resources that both underpin our planet's economic value and are irreplaceably beautiful.
Misinformation, disinformation, surveillance capitalism. It is now trivially easy for any group with spare resources to pollute our shared information ecosystem with misunderstandings or outright lies. The structure of attention capitalism rewards these kinds of behaviors and increasingly addicts us all to a world of shallow entertainment and consumerist indulgence.
Resurgence of fascism and authoritarianism. The success of various social justice movements around the world and increased economic instability have empowered a new wave of reactive fascist movements, and many governments have eagerly adopted technological methods of surveillance and control. Violent and irrational forms of market and social fundamentalism have been deeply inculcated into many populations.
These are serious problems! Each of them individually would be incredibly dangerous and destructive, but they all overlap. Each reinforces and exacerbates the others, tying the whole collection into a paralyzing Gordian knot. Together they threaten to permanently undermine our collective aspirations of prosperity, dignity, and freedom. Many assume these problems are unavoidable realities, and can only be resisted or mitigated.
I was in this position a few years ago when I encountered Aaron Hamlin discussing Approval Voting and how it could dramatically improve our democracy, and Glen Weyl discussing Quadratic Voting/Funding and other ideas espoused by the RadicalXChange foundation. Both these activists proposed solutions to societal problems I simply thought were unsolvable. I commonly hear people "democracy is broken" or "democracy is inefficient", and I used to frustratedly but instinctively agree. But the above interviews helped me realize "democracy" isn't a single thing that can be broken or inefficient, but many possible ways of organizing people, some of which can be more or less efficient than others. We can improve democracy by improving things like our voting methods.
I now believe we can solve these problems by reforming our basic societal structures. Our basic structures determine how we make group decisions, what rights we have, how we protect those rights, who is given how much authority and for how long, and how our shared resources are used. If we can improve these basic structures, it's reasonable to expect every other related aspect of our society to also improve.
So after years of learning as much as I could about structural theories and proposed reforms, I've decided to share a group of ideas I think could make a huge difference:
People can't peacefully coexist if they can't agree on a basic definition of human rights. They don't have to agree on almost anything else, and can even have dramatically incompatible total views on ethics, faith, and culture. But if they can't agree on a very basic floor of ethics and rights then they won't be able to share a society. It seems this is one of our most fundamental problems, our partisan factions can't find agreement on even a basic definition of rights.
I don't believe this has to be the case. I think most people in society could agree on a basic floor of rights, but no one has done the difficult work to find the crucial clarifying insights that could convince many different sides. I believe I've had some of those insights, and I intend to attempt to logically prove them.
Very importantly, I recognize it's impossible to prove a system of ethics is "correct" or "true", and to try to do so would be extremely arrogant and potentially dangerous. I instead want to use a tool from computer science and economics, and find a theory of rights that is merely optimal given an unknowable universe.
Voting must be the foundation of any free society. It is the tool we use, directly or indirectly, to make all our coordinated decisions, so improving how we vote improves the quality of every other decision we make. Voting is the most important expression of our fundamental rights.
Persistent Democracy restructures elections and other collective decisions to be fluid and continuous instead of being discrete events with an arbitrary start and finish. This deceptively simple paradigm shift unlocks a shocking number of other structural improvements. It makes it possible for true Direct Democracy to be fair and efficient, allows society to gracefully recover from surprises and misunderstandings, and unravels many stubborn problems in voting theory.
Political debates often devolve into standoffs between those who believe a societal problem should be solved by private companies operating in search of monetary profits, and those who believe it should be solved by government agencies acting in the democratically decided public interest.
I've recently become aware of a third type of institution, member cooperatives, and am extremely excited about their potential to solve problems that aren't neatly solved by either for-profit companies or government agencies. When combined with the mechanisms of Persistent Democracy, member cooperatives could finally live up to their massive potential and make our economy much more just, fair, and sustainable.
Software has increasingly become entangled with every aspect of our lives. It runs our financial institutions, mediates countless economic interactions, diagnoses diseases, and even matches us with romantic partners. It is also extremely error prone and easy to hack, causing immense economic and social harm every day.
There is a solution to this problem. The fairly recent invention of automated proof assistants has made it possible for computer scientists and engineers to prove with logical certainty a computer program is completely correct. It is possible for us to entirely stop the damage caused by faulty software, and then confidently use the full power of software to improve many more aspects of our lives.
Whenever I speak with idealistic people about the world, I almost always find them in a state of despair. Many have thrown up their hands and given up trying to fix our broken world. I can't help but sympathize. The obstacles ahead are overwhelming, and most aren't our fault.
But here's the thing: we don't have any choice. If we don't solve these problems, they will steadily dismantle our society, and possibly even destroy us entirely.
We have the obligation of hope. If we don't, perhaps arrogantly, assume we can figure it out, that we can overcome all these challenges and make a better world, then our failure is a foregone conclusion. We have to stare these hard realities in the face, and do the difficult work to find real solutions.
My name is Blaine Hansen. I'm a working software engineer from Salt Lake City. Being a software engineer, I'm also somewhat of a type-theoretical logician, and I've recently begun using some of the automated proof assistants I referred to earlier. I intend to use proof assistants to validate all the ideas in this book, which makes me an aspiring philosopher, political theorist, and economist.
However it's important to highlight the aspiring. I know I'm not an expert in these topics, and I can't design and rigorously defend such a broad array of systems on my own. Still, these ideas are burning a hole in my mind, and I feel a pointed sense of urgency to share them in the hope they might evolve into something real.
So knowing my limits, I've done what any software practitioner would do when given a big idea that defies their ambition: open it up to the world and work on it iteratively. It will require immense effort to rigorously refine these ideas into a definitive book, and I simply don't have time to do it myself. This is certainly a book, but it's one that can evolve in the same way any open source software project can. Suggestions, feedback, and pull requests are welcome.
You're reading the very first draft of this book. The purpose of this first draft is mostly to get feedback, especially from experts and scholars in related fields, so I've only described ideas I feel are novel. I don't describe existing ideas I'm merely integrating with my own, so some of these chapters might be confusing without outside reading. Over time I intend to expand and improve the book to be more approachable and intuitive for everyone.
Thank you for your time and understanding. I hope we can make a better world together.