The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that Issuegroups should be a part of Issuepedia rather than being a separate wiki. What is needed is some way to have Issuegroups as a portal to Issuepedia; this should be doable, but I haven't yet figured out a good way to do it. For now, the re-integration of the Issuegroups content is on hold, and I'm not putting any work into the Issuegroups site – this despite the fact that I believe it to be of critical importance. I just have too many projects at the moment. --Woozle 18:13, 9 March 2007 (EST)
Philosophy (by Woozle)
a little story
Some years ago (pre-web), I found myself thinking along the following lines:
Because our society often acts in ways that we find abhorrent, we often feel like a group of aliens (either the another-country type or the another-planet type) in our own country (or planet). Thinking of the various people I would consider to be friends (or at least potential friend-material), I find myself largely in agreement with most of those people on a large number of issues – and yet largely at odds with the prevailing views on quite a few of those issues.
"So", I then found myself thinking, "what if we (myself and an arbitrary group of friends) were to think of ourselves as really being like a bunch of transplants from some other culture? What if we thought of our own views as representing the values of our society, while still (of necessity) obeying the laws of the external society? What if, instead of legally working as individuals (or even with various special-interest groups) towards change in the external society, we worked together as a group with common values but no specific, pre-agreed positions, to effect those changes through whatever legal and ethical means are available?"
documenting the sanity of small groups
I've watched the ways in which small groups of sane, reasonable people discuss issues, work out which parts are important, and arrive at reasonable decisions... and it stands in stark contrast to the way our society works. It seems clear to me, at least, that smaller groups of people1 do a much better job of working out sane positions than does the vast, unwieldy mechanism of our society.
In fact, probably most of the real opinion formed within our society comes from individuals talking with each other – no doubt based in large part on much of what is said in the various public disputation arenas, but not entirely trusting that more widespread discourse as authoritative. What we currently lack, however, is any significant documentation of what those opinions are and how they were reached – in other words, inter-group transparency.
Wiki technology is excellent for documenting complex interrelationships. Perhaps it will one day be superceded by something better, or perhaps there is already something better, but wiki is a technology I am familiar with and it is available now. (Investigation of additional tools is certainly a valid area of discussion for IssueGroups.)
In theory, various special interest groups should be able to negotiate with each other to reach good compromises that benefit everyone as much as possible. In practice, this happens either not at all or else behind closed doors, where only a few actually benefit and everyone else is left wondering what the hell happened.
When each group's decision-making process is largely available for public scrutiny, and where the details of any inter-group discussion are also available for viewing and further discussion, and where everyone involved knows for certain that they have the power to make changes if anything doesn't make sense, the situation should be a lot different.
In summary: "small groups getting together to decide what they like" isn't the end of the story; the next step is to make common cause with other openness-based groups whose opinions may differ with ours on a lot of issues but who are bound to agree with us wholeheartedly on a few key items – starting, perhaps, with unemploying some corrupt politicians, installing some new rules for accountability, and getting rid of a lot of old junk legislation that nobody wanted anyway except a few lobbyists.
They may be willing, furthermore, to trade [their votes on issues they don't care about especially] for [our votes on issues we don't care about especially]. Many such deals are possible, and as long as we tell everyone what we are doing, and why, and allow time for discussion, we run the best chance of not making any dumb mistakes and accidentally working against our basic ideals. (See also The Megacommunity Manifesto for another idea about how issue groups might work together and within the community.)
What goes on in an issuegroup would go something like this:
- users suggest changes to the way things are currently run (these will be called "Suggestions")
- other users comment on those suggestions, perhaps coming up with alternatives
- at some point, each suggestion becomes refined to the point where people will want to stand behind it, to say "this is how things should be", and (effectively) sign it like a petition. These will be called "Resolutions".
As signatures begin to accumulate on Resolutions, the group will need to start looking at ways to actually effect the proposed changes.
another little story
In the 1970s, I was a space nut. I joined The National Space Institute and The L5 Society, which later merged with each other and became The National Space Society. I avidly read each issue of the Society's magazine (the real reason I subscribed), looking for hopeful news of our gradually increasing presence in space.
At some point, however, I started to notice that most of the discussion – most of the real effort put in by the paid L5/NSI/NSS staff – seemed to be about lobbying the government to increase NASA's budget. (There was maybe a little talk about reducing some of the red tape so that private entrepreneurs could more easily gain access to orbit, but nobody was really taking that idea very seriously back then anyway.) And here we are 25 or so years later, two space stations down (Mir and Skylab), one new station (ISS) and one Big Telescope (Hubble) up, and the usual cluster of unmanned orbital and deep-space missions, but basically no real change. (Don't get me started.)
The lesson I got from this: lobbying doesn't work unless you have Lots Of Money. Like, more money than the umpty-ump thousand2 members of the NSS have been able to contribute, often in chunks of $5000 and over.
This is obviously wrong; decisions about national policy shouldn't be made by whoever spends the most. The obvious counter-argument, of course, is "well, maybe spending more money on space really isn't that great an idea". If that's true (and it's certainly arguable), then certain things should have happened by now:
- I (and all the other space nuts) should at least have a good understanding of why most people think the current space budget (and plan) is a reasonable compromise (not to mention a better understanding of why they prefer to spend the money the way it is actually being spent, etc.)
- I (et al.) should also feel reasonably certain that those other people understand why we think they are wrong (if we have not, in fact, been swayed by their arguments and found ourselves in agreement)
Neither of these things have happened. This is but the most obvious sign of a deep inadequacy in the way we, as a society, reach decisions.
It seems to me that there must be about a zillion other ways to effect change, many of them better3; some serious brainstorming is needed, which can certainly be done in more depth later.
Further discussion of alternatives (both ideas and working examples) is now on the cooperative action page.
I'm planning to set up a wiki for the overall discussion group Soon. I haven't decided on the domain; I may just start with groups.issuepedia.org or something similar, or if I can find a good suggestive .org then I may go ahead and register it. Suggestions are welcome. I'd also appreciate hearing from anyone who'd like to be notified when it's online. Alternatively, you can register as an Issuepedia user, verify your email address, set your user preferences to "E-mail me on page changes", and set a "watch" on this page – the wiki software will send you a notification whenever it is updated, and I will post here when the project is online. --Woozle 22:27, 19 August 2006 (EDT)
- Typically in quantities of 3 to 10 people, but any given set of active disputantes often represent a much larger crowd of onlookers who each feel represented by one or more of the expressed points of view. In any case, wiki and other technologies do help significantly to keep discussions on a sane level while ensuring that all points of view are at least represented.
- I can't seem to find any numbers for this online, and all my old issues are buried in boxes somewhere if not completely lost...
- Many of them would have been doable before the coming of the internet (or at least understandable without invoking the idea of an "electronic network" or even "computers"); they're just a lot easier and cheaper now.