There’s more to democracy than voting

Suppose that the UK held another referendum on the subject of Brexit. Suppose that the numerical result was essentially the same as before: around 52% voting for the UK to leave the EU, and around 48% voting for the UK to remain.

In that case, would that referendum prove to have been a massive waste of time and money?

My answer: not necessarily. Such a vote could actually lead to the healing of the nation, rather than to continued divisiveness and chaos.

politics chaos or healing

It all depends, not on the numerical result, but on the calibre of the arguments raised during that referendum.

If supporters of Leave came forward, during the campaign, with arguments that were less contestable and more compelling than before, this could lead to a healing of the nation. People who voted for the other option in the referendum might still feel disappointed. But they could accept that there were sound arguments in favour of the side that won. And, unlike the case of the first Brexit referendum, they could move forward, reconciled to the outcome. They could tell themselves they had lost a fair battle.

A similar conclusion could apply if, in a variant potential future scenario, it were Remain that won the second referendum, even if just by a narrow margin. Again, there’s no inherent reason why that conclusion would lead to ongoing bitterness. Again, it depends, not on the numerical result, but on the calibre of the arguments raised during the campaigns.

Not just a re-run

Various critics of the idea of a second referendum are doubtful that anything positive could arise from a new round of campaigning. It would just be a re-run of the previous campaign, they say, perhaps with a few people changing their minds. Nothing essentially new could arise. Forget healing. We would just get more chaos.

But I give a much more positive assessment to the idea of a second, better, referendum.

For one reason, people have learned a great deal in the intervening 30 months. Opinions which could be seen as plausible two years ago, have long since been shown up as deeply wrong. As an example, consider the now thoroughly discredited claim that it would be “the easiest deal ever” to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU (witness “EU trade deal ‘easiest in human history'” and “All the times David Davis said that Brexit was simple”.) On such matters, we’re all wiser now.

But more fundamentally, it’s now widely recognised that it’s in everyone’s interest to cool down the debate, rather than letting matters be inflamed further.

The falsification principle

As a step away from ideology to objectivity, participants in the debate should start by reflecting long and hard about which circumstances would cause them to change their minds. This is in line with the falsification principle of science: people aspiring to scientific methods should set out in advance which experimental findings would cause them to seriously rethink their currently favoured theories.

Therefore, people favouring Remain should describe the circumstances that would cause them to consider switching to Leave instead. In this way, they would identify the potentially strongest arguments in favour of Leave. For example, to my mind, the strongest argument in favour of Leave would be if the structural weakness of the eurozone were shown to be likely to lead to huge financial chaos, of a sort that the UK could best hope to escape by being outside of the EU altogether.

Likewise, people favouring Leave should describe the circumstances that would cause them to consider switching to Remain instead. For example, they might be prepared to alter their vote if they gained confidence in the flexibility and genuineness of EU reform proposals.

Debate participants unable to set out such a “falsifying circumstance” would have to acknowledge they are driven by ideology, rather being open to new findings.

Preparing to build bridges

In parallel, participants in both sides of the debate need to set out proposals for how the UK could unwind from any state of internal hostility after the campaign was concluded.

To this end, supporters of Remain need to acknowledge that many on the Leave side are profoundly ill at ease with what they see as the direction of social development. More than that, Remain supporters need to be ready to commit to a credible programme to address key causes of this alienation, including the bitter perception many people have of being “left behind”.

Similarly, supporters of Leave need to acknowledge that many on the Remain side are profoundly ill at ease with the potential unravelling of processes of multilateral decisions, in a post-Brexit race-to-the bottom world of increasing deregulation.

Towards superdemocracy

That’s the vision – the vision of a better politics being expressed in a better referendum.

It’s a vision that goes beyond democracy-as-counting-votes. It’s a vision of emerging superdemocracy (to use a term that has featured in the last two Transpolitica books – Transcending Politics and Sustainable Superabundance).

Is this vision credible? Or are we doomed to a politics dominated by feelings of vengeance and obliteration?

That is, is a second referendum likely to lead to even greater chaos, or to healing?

Personal leadership

To an extent, the answer will be influenced by the personal qualities of the people leading each side of the debate. Do these people have high personal integrity? Are they open to learning? Are they able to build bridges? Do they have high emotional intelligence? Or are they, instead, obsessive and self-serving?

The answer (chaos or healing) will also depend on how the media conducts itself. Is the media looking for high drama? Will it seek out and amplify the most inflammatory soundbites? Or will it show restraint and care?

To my mind, everyone who cares about the future of the UK has to get behind the processes of healing, rather than the processes of chaos.

That means a commitment to debating honestly – to considering the merits and demerits of different arguments fairly, rather than with a partisan spirit.

This also means a commitment to building bridges – to discovering shared common values, even with people who express views very differently to our own.

It won’t be easy. But the cost of failure would be enormous.

Image source: “Big Ben at Sunset” – Photo by M N on Unsplash

Superdemocracy: issues and opportunities

Reader feedback on the book Sustainable Superabundance has highlighted the topic of superdemocracy as having both issues and opportunities.

One issue raised is that it’s reckless to submit decisions on the future of transhumanist projects to the collective decision of the populace. The populace as a whole is unlikely to have sufficient sympathy with transhumanist objectives, and will lack an appropriate degree of understanding.

Instead of seeking collective approval for such projects, it will be better, in this line of thinking, to find ways in which these projects can take place autonomously.

To quote from one early reader, Samantha Atkins, from a discussion thread on Facebook:

The book pins its hopes on a “superdemocracy” with no clear limits on the areas that democracy has power over. It posits saner, much wiser people as necessary to make it work when we have no means to produce this miracle. It believes too much in the collective and imho will produce a wold of stagnation waiting for the collective to decide or give permission…

I believe that much less government and more real freedom of the people to innovate and find the solutions is the key to fastest progress to our joint dreams. I think government, with the ability to force decisions on people, should be severely limited in the areas it can touch…

We transhumanists are a small minority. Even in our own circles a proposition as simple as ending aging being a good thing can only garner perhaps 70% support. I have actually seen this vote taken in transhumanist groups with such results. So how can we really expect to sway entire countries and more in a superdemocracy toward our values across majorities? I think the more realistic hope and plan is for the freedom to act without waiting for the majority to agree.

These (along with many other thoughtful comments in the same thread) raise valid concerns. So let me offer some responses.

The four ‘supers’

A good starting point is with the idea of adding a social dimension to the set of areas of human life that concern transhumanists.

The four supers

This addition was discussed at the TransVision 2017 conference in Brussels, in a session that reviewed the Technoprogressive Declaration which had been agreed three years earlier at TransVision 2014 in Paris.

Here’s an extract from the official agreement from the 2017 conference:

Alongside the well-known transhumanist intentions for superlongevity, superintelligence, and super wellbeing, we additionally emphasise the importance of “super society” – by which term is implied improvements in resilience, solidarity, and democracy, whilst upholding diversity and liberty.

The agreement went on to emphasise how the practice of democracy needs to be transformed and renewed:

We envision a renewal of democracy in which, rather than the loudest and richest voices prevailing, the best insights of the community are elevated and actioned.

A vital function of democracy is for political representatives to be periodically held to account, thus ensuring they keep in mind the wellbeing of all citizens rather than just the desires of an elite; also of great importance is that democracy involves peaceful transitions of power.

A healthy democracy requires a free press and independent judiciary, and will be assisted by the wise application of technological innovation.

In the few months after TransVision 2017, I put the finishing touches on my book Transcending Politics (which published in February 2018). In the process, I opted to give more prominence to the word “super-democracy” than to “super-society”. I gave this definition in the first chapter of that book:

super-democracy: the active involvement of the entire population, both in decision-making, and in the full benefits of transhumanism.

And from the same chapter, here’s the explanation about “The four ‘supers'”:

As in the short video “An Introduction to Transhumanism” – which, with approaching a quarter of a million views, is probably the most widely watched video on the subject – transhumanism is sometimes expressed in terms of the so-called “three supers”:

  • Super longevity: significantly improved physical health, including much longer lifespans – overcoming human tendencies towards physical decay and decrepitude
  • Super intelligence: significantly improved thinking capability – overcoming human tendencies towards mental blind spots and collective stupidity
  • Super wellbeing: significantly improved states of consciousness – overcoming human tendencies towards depression, alienation, vicious emotions, and needless suffering.

The technoprogressive variant of transhumanism in effect adds one more “super” to the three already mentioned:

  • Super democracy: significantly improved social inclusion and resilience, whilst upholding diversity and liberty – overcoming human tendencies towards tribalism, divisiveness, deception, and the abuse of power

Beyond present-day politics

It’s one thing to say that transhumanism should seek the positive transformation of social power dynamics. It’s another thing to seek collective decision-making.

After all, collective decision-making has a bad track record – especially in recent times.

Indeed, incompetent government action has often slowed down or prevented good progress with the humanitarian initiatives championed by transhumanists and other futurists. Governments have imposed all kinds of unhelpful regulatory schemes.

But the vision I champion in my books isn’t for larger government. It’s for appropriate government. It’s for better government – keeping out of areas that don’t concern it, but getting involved when market forces are unable to find the best long-term solution by themselves. In other words, regulations and incentives only when necessary.

To quote from the section “Beyond present-day politics” in Chapter 3 of Sustainable Superabundance:

Alas, politics has often been a hindrance to positive technological progress. Politicians, wittingly and unwittingly, have imposed cumbersome legal restrictions on breakthrough innovations. They have elevated doctrinaire ideologues over evidence-minded pragmatists. They have re-routed funds from deserving causes to self-serving gravy train projects…

[But] when done well, politics involves wise, well-informed collective decisions about which new technologies and other social innovations should be restricted or steered, and which should be incentivised or encouraged. When done well, politics also ensures that such decisions are followed up, and are revised in a timely manner whenever necessary.

And from the agreement from TransVision 2017:

Systems for regulation of technology need to be adaptive and agile, rather than heavyweight and anachronistic.

Support for autonomous projects

A vital part of the above-mentioned agility is that subgroups of society should, indeed, be able to carry out projects of their own choice, without needing the explicit approval from an overall government.

I address the question of tolerating and enabling diversity at several points inside Chapter 4 of Sustainable Superabundance:

[The above core] principles, as stated, leave many questions unanswered. They define a broad envelope that can accommodate a multiplicity of different viewpoints. That diversity is, itself, something to cherish. Hence a seventh core principle: nurture and tolerate diverse opinions within the overall transhumanist framework

Groups of people who share particular enhanced skills and modes of practice will, understandably, seek some autonomy over decisions within their groups, freed from requirements for democratic approval by people in the wider community that have little understanding or interest in these modes of practice. This is similar to the principle of technocratic decision-making: there are domains of specialist knowledge (for example, medicine) in which decisions are best taken by the relevant experts rather than by a vote that includes non-experts.

But the chapter goes on to point out limits of any such autonomy:

Nevertheless, domains often interact with each other. Where the activities of one group of people, with one set of enhancements, interact with the activities of other groups of people, a broader democratic agreement needs to be reached.

The design of the overall transhumanist society therefore needs to enable the prosperous coexistence of subgroups with significantly divergent skills and practices.

I make no claims that the design of such a society will be easy. But I encourage transhumanists and futurists of all shades and stripes to engage in the discussion of the issues and opportunities arising.

A change in the public mood

Despite everything written above, the question still remains as to how transhumanists will be able to obtain agreement from the electorate as a whole to accelerate projects such as genetic modifications, radical brain enhancements, Drexler-style nanofactories, and whole-body rejuvenation therapies.

Wouldn’t it be better, people might ask, to create some kind of independent transhumanist state, adopting so-called transhumanist separatism?

My answer is that transhumanist projects should, in due course, go much faster (and more effectively) if they can tap into the wider resources of society as a whole, rather than being restricted to people in an isolated community.

I say this despite the opposition and (more often) apathy presently expressed by the majority of society towards transhumanism.

I say this because I foresee large changes in the public mood as the 2020s proceed.

Due in part to transhumanists speaking up in more engaging ways, the 2020s can become the decade of transhumanism: the decade in which more and more people become aware of the potential for human nature to be significantly improved by the application of technology – and see that potential as deeply desirable.

As I say in the first chapter of Sustainable Superabundance, “the few can become many”.

I realise this prediction will strike many observers as far-fetched. Let me finish this article with some words in defence of that prediction.

First, changes in the public mood are by no means unknown in history. If a compelling set of ideas gains momentum, transformation in public expectations can take place increasingly quickly these days:

Second, people are generally more capable than we first think. When we have a bad encounter with someone who has a different opinion from us – for example, someone who rejects (or supports) the idea of anthropogenic climate change, or someone who rejects (or supports) the idea of the UK remaining within the European Union – we all too often decide that they are resolute idiots, beyond the reach of reason. However, in a friendlier, more supportive environment, surprising degrees of mutual understanding and agreement can become possible. Greater emotional intelligence can make all the difference.

People fearful of submitting a decision to a democratic process tend to be anxious about the degree of change that it is possible for members of the electorate to navigate. Can resolute opponents really turn into friendly supporters?

My answer is “yes”. With my transhumanist vision, I believe that we can all do better than the sorry norms of recent history. And we can get there step by step. Starting from today.

New complete book awaiting reader reviews

The dawn of 2019 marks four years since the original launch of Transpolitica (January 2015).

The dawn of 2019 also marks the first full availability of the book “Sustainable Superabundance: A universal transhumanist manifesto for the 2020s and beyond“.

All twelve chapters of this Manifesto are now awaiting reader review and feedback, ideally over the next 1-2 weeks. I’ll welcome any comments, on any parts of the Manifesto that catch your attention. You can make comments via this shared Google doc.

Depending on the feedback, the Manifesto is expected to be officially published around mid January – first as an ebook, and shortly afterwards in physical and audio formats.

For people inspired by any of the ideas in the Manifesto, the final chapter sets out “options to engage”.

TAM Graphic 12

For the opening chapter and links to all the other chapters, see here.

TAM Graphic 1

I’ve actually rewritten parts of every chapter over the last couple of months, as the overall flow of the message has become clearer to me. Even if you’ve read individual chapters before, you may find new inspiration from looking at the latest versions:

  1. Advance!
  2. Superabundance ahead
  3. Beyond technology
  4. Principles and priorities
  5. Towards abundant energy
  6. Towards abundant food
  7. Towards abundant materials
  8. Towards abundant health
  9. Towards abundant intelligence
  10. Towards abundant creativity
  11. Towards abundant democracy
  12. Options to engage

For comparison, Sustainable Superabundance has 54 thousand words, in the latest draft, whereas the previous Transpolitica book, Transcending Politics, has 142 thousand words. The new book is intended to be much more accessible.

On a personal note: 2019 will see, from me, a greater focus than before on activism rather than analysis. Of course, both are needed. But whereas before my energy was divided roughly 30% activist and 70% analyst, it will now be the other way round.

Similarly, I will put less focus on being a futurist and more focus on being a transhumanist.

I’m keeping an open mind as to the best organisational structures to assist these projects. I may shortly reboot or even shut down some organisations where I’ve previously invested my time. I may wind down my links with some communities and ramp up new links with others.

For the time being, I’m directing people to use the Transpolitica mailing list discussion group, https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/transpolitica.