By: Edwin-Francisco Herrera-Paz
In the book (in spanish language) I wrote with José María, called THINKING OUT OF THE BOX, I published an article where I propose a new type of political system called democratic noocracy. Apparently the idea has been misunderstood. Therefore, and because still no journalist has interviewed me to clarify doubts about the democratic noocracy, I took pen and paper, and tape recorder in hand I decided to interview "myself". I transcribe the text of that interview.
"ME: What is Democratic Noocracy?
MYSELF: It is a new political system based on the natural evolution of technology in modern human society, taken as a fraction of the much wider universe of evolution of biological systems. Its name derives from two words: 1) Noocracy, which is basically a political system, proposed by the Greek philosopher Socrates and etymologically means noos = intellect and Kratos = power. That is, the power in the hands of the intellect. And 2) Democracy, derived from the Greek words demos = people and Kratos. For Plato, noocracy is the aristocracy of scholars led by a philosopher king who would lead the world in the right direction. For Socrates, noocracy should replace democracy, so both terms appear to be opposite and contradictory in principle. However, modern applications of the term noocracy include various sceneries, from the wisdom of the community to a noosphere, and finally Mikhail Epstein redefines noocracy as the power in the hands of collective intelligence. The fact is that today, quality education has become so highly available to the masses that the term applied to a noocratic wise regent no longer makes sense. The leaders all over the world can hold graduate degrees, or at least could be advised by a small group of intellectuals, experts in the various branches of knowledge.
ME: But then there are already many existing countries that could be defined as noocracies, while democracies at the same time, as they are led by highly educated presidents elected by the people. Isn’t it?
MYSELF: Actually, the current political systems are neither one nor the other, which I will intend to explain below. The noocracy in the old sense has proved insufficient for the current complexity of social systems. A ruler with a group of advisers and ministers has become incapable of knowing and understanding all the variables that act within a complex social system, consisting of various organizations and communities that change in real time, with properties emerging every day thanks to the rapid convergence of technologies. In our modern societies change is the norm, and what was yesterday, tomorrow will be gone. In rapidly changing systems it’s impossible to make sound decisions based on self-knowledge and personal experience, no matter how well educated a ruler is. Therefore, a system that "censes" changes in real time becomes necessary, or as Joshua Cooper Ramo says in his bestseller "The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It ", the social system must be treated in real time, using measures similar to those seen in the human’s immune systems. Thus, different solutions to social problems could arise also in real time, something impossible for a handful of men. On the other hand the present political systems that claim to be democracies are not so in the broad sense applied by the ancient Greeks. In a true democracy every citizen has the opportunity to participate in the affairs of state, every day and in real time. In the modern so-called democracies, citizens choose a few individuals to represent them for a few years in the making of decisions and for the administration of the state, but generally turns out that many of those representatives are not agents of the voters but of powerful groups that finance their political campaigns. Anyone who thinks that most existing structures of political power ruling many countries around the world are democracies, is either a dreamer, or is more lost than Suraj Sharma in "The Life of Pi".
ME: And how do you think a real democratic noocracy would be like?
MYSELF: Well, let's start with democracy. Modern research has shown that, when assessing an issue, the community of individuals is much more accurate than a single individual. For example, if you ask a group of students in a classroom to make rough guess of the room’s temperature, it is highly probable that they may all be wrong. That's because it is very difficult for a person to assess the environmental temperature, and that is why we use those devices in which the height of a column of mercury represents the temperature, which are called thermometers. The interesting thing about this is that although all students will make mistakes in their personal estimate, it is likely that the average of all measurements would be very close to the correct value. This, apparently, is an emergent property of the community which has been called "collective intelligence".
Collective intelligence is not the only emergent property of a community. It has been shown that in nature, coupling of rhythms is the rule, i.e. synchronization. Whenever we find various objects of the same kind the trend is moving toward synchrony. Biological organisms are synchronized in various ways in order to perform coordinated action for the good of the community. Notable examples are the coordinated movement of shoals, flocks and herds, synchrony in the actions of many predator species when hunting, and the so-called quorum census in bacteria.
Collective intelligence is then coupled with the timing that makes a society of biological organisms behave as a superorganism, where they all lead to the same end for the good of everyone, but results in something with an entirely new quality. Then, in a human society is the free participation of everyone in the group's decisions at every moment, in real time, what is called real democracy.
Now let's look at noocracy. According to the Socratic point of view noocracy is the best system of government because it relies on the wisdom of a man. However, as pointed out earlier, a group of organisms or human beings behave, on average, in a wiser way than the wisest of those agents. This has already been written many years ago by a man considered by many to be the wisest among the wise. King Solomon says in Proverbs 11:14: "For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers." Now, if we somehow could make the wisest individuals on a subject or discipline in a particular country or city, that is, with the greatest mastery within an area of knowledge, to participate in analyzing and making decisions on society on that particular field, then we are using the enormous power of collective intelligence for the benefit of that society: a true noocracy. If in addition, the participation of these experts is voluntary, free, and without any personal interests mediating, then we are really talking about a democratic noocracy. The apparent contradiction has been solved in an elegant synthesis.
ME: It seems that what you intend is to split the power of decision in all matters of state among all citizens of a country. But is it not what communism pretends?
MYSELF: The answer is a resounding NO. The reality is that, traditionally, when we talk about communism, socialism or capitalism, we are really talking about economic systems but not about structures of power. In pure capitalism is the free market what dictates the prices of goods and services and determines the distribution of capital among citizens. At the top, on top of power will always be those who accumulate the most capital. A small group of individuals who end up dictating the guidelines to follow; these are the owners of capital, mainly bankers and lenders and other species of bourgeoisie. In communism or socialism, economic rules, as the distribution of goods and services and salaries of citizens, are managed by a small group of government agencies, closely interrelated with the owners of capital, mainly lenders and bankers and other species of bourgeoisie.
We are then talking about two sides of the same coin. The fact that it seems to us that a particular political system is a true democracy, or maybe a dictatorship controlled by a single individual, is irrelevant. The citizens are never really in control. In the democratic noocracy this changes. This is a truly different political system in which power is no longer attained only by an exclusive elite group, but also by every single citizen of the community. A radically new concept that not only approaches to the true concept of democracy, as in ancient Greece, but a wiser kind of democracy that channels the enormous potential of the intellectual resources for the good of society. In this system, participation in decisions regarding public affairs is what is shared and equally distributed, not capital. Indeed, in a democratic noocracy the issue of the best suited economic system will fall into a second place of importance, as the community will choose, in real time, the best economic model, the one that on balance will benefit a larger fraction of society with the minimum damage.
ME: Isn’t that something like the Marxist utopia?
MYSELF: Not at all. I do not mean to dismiss the state as Marx did. Almost all systems function better when there is a head, so the state or central government should not disappear. What I pretend is that the rest of the body works in harmony with that head for the good of the whole organism. In the system of checks and balances determined by the three branches of government, a fourth branch should be established. That is, the power should be distributed into four parts and each branch must remain independent of others. But is the fourth power in the hands of the collective intelligence and wisdom that will provide the thrust necessary for humanity to enter into a new level of technological and social growth, to the global superorganism and to transhumanism.
I recognize that a system where the political power is alternated, the so-called democracies, can accommodate democratic noocracy in a more natural way than autocracies, since in the latter power should be divided equally with the collective intelligence, a remote possibility in a dictatorship. However, once the democratic noocracy is implemented the prior ruling political system will become irrelevant. It will again be the power of the community that will determine the best solutions to every aspect of social systems and paths towards general welfare.
ME: Don’t you think there might be strong opposition to the implementation of that system from groups of economic power that rule the world? Will they accept sharing a big slice of the political power with common people? Would a change of this magnitude require a war or revolution also of great magnitude?
MYSELF: That's not a question but three. Of course, no change on that scale is easy! Look at the French Revolution. It took a social cataclysm of enormous proportions to obtain a more uniform distribution of power that resulted in a social order more just and equitable, and thus, the way was paved to naturally accommodate new forms of production brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Of course this time I have cheated a little. The democratic noocracy is not my idea, but of nature. It is a system that will be instituting in any way, either gradually, imperceptibly, consciously and planned, either by hook or by crook. The interesting thing is that the structures of global power already know that, and will try to counteract this tendency at all costs.
Currently, there are two different visions of the future economic scheme of the world embodied in the so-called globalization. On the one hand there are the elite power groups who already have a structured plan for the coming decades. Globalization will make things easier for everyone because it is based on the natural features of biological systems such as evolutionary specialization in production and interdependence; in the case of globalization, between states, countries or cities, which results in a maximization of resources and energy savings in production. I want to clarify that globalization is inevitable because it is a natural tendency. What changes is the approach the process of globalization shall follow.
For the elite at the pinnacle of power, the power structures are set to become gradually more vertical, with them to rule in the top and a mass composition of the bulk of the population including the middle and lower classes in the base. This scheme has been defined since the second half of last century, as evidenced by a progressive increase in the gap between higher economic strata and all others in most large economies, but also in developing countries as Latin America’s. For the case, in the United States in the postwar period ranging from 1947 to 1979, annual household income grew about the same in the five socioeconomic strata. But from 1979 to the current date there is a clear difference in growth between the five groups. In fact, the income of the group with the lowest incomes has actually decreased by 7%, while revenue growth in the higher income group was 73%, increasing the gap between the rich and the poor. And there are indications that the growth of this gap will increase in the coming years. Furthermore, economic downturns, which are becoming common, will increase the gap. Finally, the beneficiaries are always the big holders of global capital, an elite minority, while the great majority always pays.
OK, this is the big picture designed by the great elite in power worldwide. A globalized world divided in two: they, who have the power, and everyone else; and everything very well disguised as democracies! However there is a second scheme that began to appear as an emergent property of the vast global network, the Internet. It's been about two years I wrote "The Democratic Noocracy" and "TheProsperity of Garífunas of the Heights," proposing this new political system. Since then, the Internet has demonstrated its tremendous power. The network has established itself as the new world super nervous system. The results of the emergence of a nervous system have surprised many, but for connoisseurs of the phylogenetic evolution of nervous systems and brains in biological organisms, this is a natural result of the development of communications (see Universal Superorganism).
The emergence of superorganisms at levels of increasing complexity is a feature inherent to life as we know it. Many events of historic significance attributed to the emerging network have been verified only in recent years. The emergence of a newspaper website (Wikileaks) in which citizens contribute secretly sending cables with information containing secret documents that are subsequently released for publication in major newspapers around the world, uncover the pot of political corruption in the Kenyan elections in 2007, made it possible for the public to know about the killing of defenseless civilians by the U.S. military in the Iraq war, and revealed many of the internals in the embassies of the country. What was the result? A trap and a prosecution against Julian Assange, the director of Wikileaks, threats to the website that nested Wikileaks and cut strategies for voluntary financial contributions to the page. The old patterns of power do not allow disclosure, as part of their strategy is secrecy, a vital factor in their plans and actions.
In the last decade, the network allowed dramatic changes in world politics. It made possible the overthrow of several Middle Eastern dictatorships, such as the ones in Egypt and Libya. It is a fact that without the real-time communications that the network provides through social networks like Twitter, the changes would not have been possible. The rapid dissemination of information through social networks and blogs has allowed citizens to know the possible causes of any social or political event very quickly, allowing rapid responses. For example, the intricate skein that hides the underlying causes of recent economic downturns have been unraveled by the contingent of experts in economics and the general public as the information was provided in real time, and this is how these recessions point to the banking system as the main culprit, despite which it was benefited by the United States government with a large injection of capital, needless to say, that came from taxpayer funds. This led to the outrage of citizens who organized themselves into riots such as "Occupy Wall Street." Videos posted on YouTube show the bankers laughing and cheering on their "good fortune" while protestants in the streets are beaten and repressed by a police force serving the system; and this information was available warm and fresh for everyone .This type of rapid change in the appreciation of the people towards governments and powerful groups makes it increasingly more difficult to hide the actions. It requires transparency.
The emergence of this configuration, of this new global nervous system, is of no convenience for the powerful elite. It naturally removes the old vertical system and distributes power more equitably among all citizens with access to the network. Behind a computer, whether you might be a billionaire or a poor man, your input and participation would be of equal strength. The new configuration is horizontal, more distributed, with real-time response, similar to the "immune system" proposed by Joshua Cooper Ramo, who sees no alternative but to ask the United States Government a shift towards a new more decent foreign policy. What we see is a progressive tension, and the network, the nervous system, is tried to be controlled by different means, spying it, putting it in jeopardy and ultimately weakening it.
Disingenuous proposals disguised as laws apparently intended to protect the authors against the broad "violation" of copyrights emerge. Laws such as SOPA (Stop Line on Piracy Act) among many others are designed to placate the power of the toddler superbrain. But there is no clearer evidence that the existence of this super-charged form of collective intelligence has already established in our planet, than its response to SOPA. In an unprecedented move, the network defended itself as an animal that is being attacked, and the proponents of the law were defeated and forced to kneel down, withdrawing the proposal. Well, the democratic noocracy is nothing more than to institutionalize this gigantic power of the network and make it serve the people.
ME: So you are against banks and big corporations?
MYSELF: No, no, me, please do not misunderstand me. Large corporations and banks have contributed to the progress and prosperity that we now enjoy, at least a good part of humanity. Without them, developing the technology necessary for the emergence of the global superorganism would have not been possible, but now the powerful have gained so much economic power that they use it to control political power and media power. For example, representatives of the people in the United States legislate based primarily on what is good for large corporations that lobby, even if the law goes against the interests of most Americans. Something similar is seen in many countries, including my third world home country Honduras. Candidates for public office conduct expensive campaigns subsidized by various groups demanding their share once the elections are over, and this is how, for example, many officers are forced to legislate in favor of economic interests of these particular groups. This creates a vicious cycle of enrichment, control of political power and media, more enrichment, etc.
What I think is that the struggle has emerged between the two types of systems (vertical vs. horizontally distributed), but the solution do not rely on fighting a fraction of powerful businessmen, bankers and statesmen, in the same way as the monarchy was removed during the French Revolution. It's about finding a system that provides the greatest benefits to everyone, and that in turn decrease the gap between those above and those below, to prepare mankind for the inevitable times of transhumanism in which we might take charge of our own evolution; for that time when we will be increasingly closer to the concept of physical immortality, and we will adventure into space in search of new habitats where we could thrive. These new changes will accelerate in a system where all the "oxen push the cart" in the same direction, exploiting the potential of collective intelligence. We have to convince the powerful groups that they need this system too, so that the change shall take place peacefully and orderly, with no losers.
The progress of mankind to a new level of complexity should not be an equation of sum zero. It should be a matter in which we all win. This is not just a matter of distributing a large fraction of the political power to the masses, but an investment in mid and long terms that will result in tremendous benefits for our children. It is not if it will happen or not. If we don’t first self-destruct it will happen, believe me! What matters is how it will happen; how orderly, planned and with the consensus of all. We don’t need cruel revolutions any more.
ME: Do you have any real evidence of the effectiveness of this system you propose?
MYSELF: Well, oddly enough, yes there is a case today that closely approximates the concept of democratic noocracy. It is an amazing and inspiring story that comes from a Scandinavian country with a tiny population but extremely rich, whose inhabitants are of the happiest on earth.
Iceland is a Nordic country of contrasts. Located at a latitude near the North Pole is extremely cold, yet its volcanic soil makes it rich in hot springs of high temperatures, so it will be worth the title of "subpolar oven ". I had information of this paradise of ice and fire through various scientific articles, as it’s small, isolated populations with high inbreeding, is highly qualified for the study of various genetic disorders. Iceland is the country with the highest rates of divorce, birth and women working outside home in Europe. Although this seems at first glance a formula for the failure of a country (lots of abandoned children) the truth is otherwise. This small nation with about 320,000 inhabitants has one of the happiest populations on the planet, or at least it was for much of the past decade. In fact, according to a study reported by The Guardian, in 2006 Iceland topped the list of happiest countries on earth, according to various indicators (the same study revealed that Russia had at the time the less happy people). The secret of Iceland? A high GDP, a large public education (state education system is used by workers and millionaires alike) and the highest average of books read by person, and one of the highest scores for the Human Development Index according to the Human Development Program of the United Nations, and more importantly, one of the lowest levels of inequality in the world. It really makes you want to move to Iceland, Isn’t it? If not for the harsh environment ... ! But many say is that same atmosphere that forged, over many generations, the ingenious and indomitable spirit of the inhabitants of that land.
Well, this country of descendants of Vikings, prosperous and happy, made a slip. Until 2003 Iceland prospered thanks to a neoliberal governance model, but it was then when the excesses of banks began. Banks became privatized this year, and in an effort to attract foreign investment, designed a type of low maintenance online accounts that could be opened by foreign private clients. The market for this type of account with a great return in interest due to its low maintenance, was comprised of individuals and small and medium businesses in other European countries, especially English, Dutch and German. But the mismanagement of funds by bankers, rising oil prices and overall inflation led to excessive borrowing. By 2003 the Icelandic foreign debt was 200% the GDP, but by 2007 had reached 900% the GDP. For 2008, the global financial crisis gave the coup de grace to the economy of Iceland. The three largest banks went back into state hands after pleading unable to pay the debt to foreign customers. And as is common and "natural" in these cases, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union began pushing to take control of debt, arguing that only in this way Iceland would be able to pay the debt to the governments of Netherlands and Great Britain, who had promised to reimburse its citizens. The protests forced the resignation of the Icelandic government.
In April 2009 elections were held. However, despite the condemnation of the new government to the neoliberal model, it agreed to pay three and a half million Euros plus interest at 5.5%. This required the payment of 100 Euros per month by all citizens for a period of fifteen years. They were required to pay the public debt incurred by private actors! So here is the same old story. Citizens worldwide pay the mistakes of bankers, while they continue to amass their fortunes and secure the future of their generations, and governments keep dancing around them. Despite the blatant injustice that this represents, throughout the world this approach is taken as natural and inevitable. But not for the impetuous people of Iceland!
The head of State refused to ratify a law requiring citizens to pay for the debt of banks. The response of the international banking system was immediate, and threatened Iceland to make it Europe's Cuba through an economic blockade if the country would not accept the conditions. But the brave Icelanders took their own course and decided it was better to be a second Cuba, than a second Haiti. What happened next is truly remarkable and shows in all the glory the effectiveness of democratic noocracy and its enormous capacity to solve problems. Olaf Ragnar Grimson, the president, called a referendum, and in March 2010 93% of citizens voted against a debt refinancing, and certainly, rapid communications played a central role in the results. The IMF immediately froze funds to Iceland, but Icelanders did not give up. The government launched an investigation against the direct culprits for the crisis. Interpol issued an international arrest warrant against the bankers involved.
But the subject did not end here. With the general consensus of the citizens the government decided to replace its old constitution by a modern one. The procedure was as follows: The citizens chose a total of 522 adult candidates for drafting the constitution. In order to be a candidate, it was required to belong to no political party and not to be involved in politics. Finally, 25 people were chosen to be responsible for drafting the document. The full document was posted online, on the Internet. The assemblies were transmitted in real time by this system to citizens, who were empowered to send the recommendations that each considered relevant. Every citizen could see the way in which the document took shape in real time. The new constitution was drafted by each and every Icelander. The expectation is that the participation of all in the drafting will increase a sense of belonging, and more importantly, the sense of commitment, that same sense of commitment that one day led to the victory of the Greeks over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon, which ended the First Greco-Persian War. That sense of commitment can only be given in a true democracy.
Today, Icelanders lost their privileged first place in the index of happiness and went to the still significant number 20. It is likely that the crisis has had much to do, but if not for the determination and joint efforts of all citizens, perhaps they would occupy the last places along with Sierra Leone. Nevertheless, their economic recovery has been remarkable. Iceland used a reverse approach, guided by the collective intelligence, with surprising results. You might think that the media spread around the world the news of this story of success; that the powerful U.S. and European news channels jumped on Icelandic political leaders trying to get interviews about their unprecedented achievement. Well, no. Apparently, for some reason, the owners of media corporations did not wanted to spread the news. But now you know the truth thanks to the internet.
ME: How do you pretend citizens will integrate voluntarily without any payment to such system?
MYSELF: One of the most serious problems in many countries is the assumption that the purpose of working in a government office is for the high payment offered, or to enrich ourselves. In my opinion this is one of the worst aspects of Pericles’ Athenian democracy we have inherited to our days.
There is ample evidence that the most creative and altruistic activities of human beings are not made for a fee. Several studies have shown that the quality of a completed task is inversely related to the amount of money paid. Moreover, we all participate in politics. Most people vote and we engaged in extensive discussions regarding politics and our party preferences. Citizens participate in a system, not because they are paid, but because it is a very human tendency to participate in the social and political issues of our communities. In addition, many of us connect to the network through Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc. at least occasionally. Not because we are remunerated for doing so but because we like it.
Many problems in science can be solved by a contingent of people online. Human Proteome Folding is a project in which you can donate part of your computer time to the difficult and demanding task of determining the folding of proteins in three dimensions (which ultimately determines their functions) given a primary amino acid sequence, and the interaction between proteins. But lately the task of protein folding has also been given to people as a game, and players have been very good at it. In fact, the best protein folder in the world is a British citizen. There are proposals to design solutions for social problems in the form of games that would be distributed on the Internet. These games have a similar design to those found nested in Facebook, like Farmville or Cityville. If the collective intelligence can be used to solve social or scientific problems, it can also be used in policy and state decisions.
ME: How do you think you could implement this new political system?
MYSELF: First, we would need appropriate legislation to define the limitations and procedures of this new kind of power. Second, we need the appropriate software and an Internet portal. You can take the social networking model modified to suit the public discussions. As to where you could implement it, a small population would be more appropriate. An ordinary town with less than one million inhabitants would be excellent for experimentation. Charter Cities as recently proposed in Honduras could be well suited for this purpose. As the system was debugged and improved, it could be implemented in states or countries. An interesting thing that will be seen in this system is this: At first, everyone will want to participate in all matters and decisions. However, eventually the system would tend to specialize (a natural feature of biological systems and their derivatives, social systems). Physicians and other health-related people would prefer to intervene in matters of public health; engineers and architects would prefer topics such as urban planning; scientists and academics would be involved in matters of science; teachers in all matters related to education, etc. As far as the system specializes, the democratic noocracy will operate better each time. It is also likely that in times of calm and good administration, when everything goes well, the participation of the community will be minimal, but increase rapidly as soon as a crisis arises, or in the discussion of vital issues, giving the system the desirable biological characteristics of feedback and quick response.
But what will happen when the collective intelligence made a mistake? Because the system, however good it is, is not invulnerable. The important thing is that the same community will make the corrections quickly and in REAL TIME. A human being, an oak, an anemone or a bacterial culture are not indestructible and perfect, but are organisms with adaptive traits that allow them to respond to environmental changes, reproduce and perpetuate. Note that we initially talked of a local implementation of democratic noocracy. When I refer to a global superorganism is because the regional superorganisms will organize over time to form an overall super-brain. The network is just beginning. The global superorganism has advanced as much as a rudimentary nervous system, like that of the first animals that populated the earth. Over time these early neurons in nervous systems were gradually organizing and building specialized structures. The union of all these structures (cerebellum, basal ganglia, cerebral cortex, etc.) makes the great brains of higher mammals today. Finally, it is the relationship between these structures that drives the nervous system toward emergent properties like intelligence, personality, and consciousness. So, humans and the web resemble a nervous system destined to become a super-brain whose emergent properties are impossible to predict. It is our job to protect the network; to protect the future of the super-brain as well as our immune system protects our own body from external (infections) and internal (cancer) threats, however, in a manner in which personal human rights and integrity may not result compromised. The survival of life as we know it and the passage of humanity to the next level of complexity depend on it."