"Perfecting Democracy's Tools"

Hazel Henderson
from Building A Win-Win World (Chapter 11)

Within this century human beings must make a quantum leap to enable us to manage our now accelerating global affairs. The human family will soon comprise six billion families -- a condition beyond the experience of leaders, academics, and indeed anyone alive today. Humans now gobble up an unprecedented 40 percent of the primary production of all other species. Ninety-eight percent of the planet's other species are green plants that humans and all other mammals and insects use for food and depend on for survival. Millions of refugees now flee collapsing societies and depleted ecosystems.

In Paradigms in Progress (1991, 1995), I viewed the history of the twentieth century as a series of ghastly experiments in managing larger and larger numbers of people in cities, states, and mega-states, while dealing with the cruel legacy of nineteenth-century colonial organizations. Most of these tragic experiments cost millions of lives -- from Hitler's Third Reich, to Mussolini's and Franco's fascism in Italy and Spain, to Lenin's and Stalin's USSR, to Mao Zedong's China. The Cold War aftermath of World War II subtly changed the nature of these experiments in organizing human affairs, with a shift toward the idea of industrial "progress" that included technocratic visions of material plenty espoused by economic theories from left to right. Karl Marx and Adam Smith were in fundamental agreement about such goals; they differed only on the means to achieve them.

The transitions and restructurings at the seven levels discussed in Chapter 1 have involved shifting patterns of governance, power, and decision making. The vectors have been the six great globalizations, and the transmission belt of these changes has often been money flows. In the 1980s, nations began breaking into smaller states, with their former power migrating upward in global treaties and corporations as well as regional alliances and trade blocs, and downward to rebellious provinces, grassroots communities, and growing cities. In the United States, Canada, and Britain devolution was the rage -- often the goal was to shuffle the funding of social and budgetary responsibilities, or to redesign, shift, or repeal regulations or enforcement. In Britain, by 1995, half the population lived in households receiving a means-tested welfare check -- twice as many as in 1979.1 The last gasps of domestic microeconomic management sank into budget and bookkeeping battles and empty debates as to whether governments should inflate, reflate, deflate, deregulate, reregulate, privatize, or nationalize their economies. None of the transitional experiments were stable or working very well. No one knew what an optimum size might be for a nation: where a trade-off between economies of scale in delivering public services and security to citizens could be balanced with population diversity -- although two ambitious economists tried in "The Number and Size of Nations.2

China, the emerging superpower, was an interesting case. During the 1980s Deng Xiao Ping had triggered new dynamism and markets, allowing Guangdong Province and Shanghai's commercial power to challenge the political power of Beijing's "mandate of heaven." Shanghainese Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji became president and vice premier, respectively. The slogan of the often-Moscow-trained Beijing bureaucrats was, "China will save Socialism." By the 1990s, as China emerged with the world's third largest GNP/PPP (purchasing power parity) ranking, its leaders, jockeying for Deng Xiao Ping's succession, were further challenged by the Confucian dictum: "If you can rule your whole country, who dares insult you." Beijing's demands for respect in the world were well founded, not only in its booming economy but in its increasing influence in Asia.

Meanwhile, Japan's miracle was eclipsed despite second-place GNP ranking. Its bubble economy of the 1980s precipitated bank crises, recession, and the end of the sedate political control of the ruling Liberal Democrat Party with its many campaign finance and other scandals. The United States, ranked number one, with plenty of internal troubles of its own, took on both Japan and China in trade disputes and inept political maneuvers based on old paradigms and bilateral statistics.


Everywhere money and politics were tightly entwined as economic restructuring broke up old parties and coalition governments. Small, breakaway nations proliferated, including Slovenia, the Baltic States, Moldova, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Armenia, and the tragic state of Bosnia. Another "failed state," Sudan joined in the fate of Somalia, Rwanda, and Yugoslavia, sinking into savagery.3 Breakaway movements also multiplied, from Canada's Parti Quebecois, to the enclaves on Russia's Caucasian and southern borders, to Norway's rejection of membership in the European Union. France's statist market "mixture" failed its young, 25 percent of whom were unemployed.4 Retiring French President Francois Mitterand, when asked what was the most important quality for a politician, replied, "I would like to say it was sincerity. It is in fact, indifference."5 Italy's revolving door governments led, in 1993, to a full-blown mediocracy with the election of media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, whose rule was based on TV ownership and media manipulation. Mexico provided the world a short course on all the tangled issues of money and power in the global fast lane. Prospering cities challenged national governments, while those in decline demanded bailouts. Rural provinces and communities, labor unions, and the poor often rebelled in their backwaters, depleted by national policies favoring urban elites and large corporations. From Chiapas, Mexico, to Central America, Peru, the Philippines, and the antifederal militias in the United States, people were rising up and demanding participation in new forms of governance.

Despite all these difficulties, there are also seed of hope in our technologies -- hardware, i.e., electronic communications, aviation, and space faring -- have shrunk our world to a global village. We must now develop software, i.e., the rules of interaction, knowledge, values, ethics, and morals that can allow us to organize for survival and further development. Democracy has emerged as a necessary process to manage the complexities of reorganizing human societies for this next quantum leap. Warren Bennis and Philip Slater pointed out in the 1960s that complex human organizations, whether corporations or countries, require democratization of their decision making, i.e., democracy is inevitable.6

To steer today's complex societies, democracy now requires systemic, cybernetic models, self-regulated by thousands of feedback loops at all levels. As systems theorists know, the more complex a system, the more feedback loops are required. Living systems, such as cities, corporations, nations, and the United Nations, are the most complex of all. Thus it has been a triumph of common sense that so many politicians, regardless of ideology and tradition, have begun moving toward democratization and markets, amplified by freeing mass media to help guide inevitable restructurings.

A new danger is in simply equating democracy with other forms of decentralization, privatization, and markets. There is also widening confusion between the two key individual signals from people to their decision makers in government and business -- votes and prices -- as feedbacks to guide and correct decisions. These two vital forms of feedback are failing to deliver enough timely information on the effects of policies and multiple restructurings to adequately guide and correct decisions. Votes every two or four years are too slow and cannot refine voters' feedbacks on multiple issues, while prices cannot guide markets without incorporating the fuller social and environmental costs of products and services.

In the United States, democracy has atrophied. Over two hundred years of experience with both votes and prices has not advanced the model of democratic, privately driven, self-organizing processes. In Creating Alternative Futures (1978, 1996), I noted that the two hundredth birthday of the United States in 1976 was a good time for us to examine the state of our lives, our beliefs, and our values, so as to illuminate which were deep -- even eternal -- and which were transient or merely fashionable. What might be "excess baggage" and what would we continue to cherish and carry with us into our third century? Could we clarify the cultural confusion over rights and responsibilities, preserving individual freedom in relationship to family values, our desire for community, and a broader national identity?

At the time of the U.S. bicentennial, expectations were high that all these problems could be addressed through the institutions inherited since the country's founding. In 1976 most U.S. citizens saw their country continuing to grow richer -- with each generation aspiring to achieve better living standards that those of their forebears. The American Dream, however, sparked similar dreams via movies, TV, and radio all over the world. In the mid-1990s, the United States also encountered the hurricane change unleashed by the great globalization forces. There were increasing disagreements over priorities in budgeting and even over constitutional rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" under the rapidly changing conditions. Yet as I described in 1970 in "Computers: Hardware of Democracy," technologies to help perfect U.S. democracy -- high-speed data processing, electronic communications, call-in radio, TV, electronic town meetings, polling -- had all been available, even then, for over two decades.7 Well-grounded fears of misuses of such instantaneous forms of democracy had stifled the debate on how to design these potential tools of democratic participation so as to avoid abuse and new forms of totalitarianism.

How can we humans shape hardware technologies that have shrunk our world by consciously designing the needed software and social innovations now vital for our survival and cultural evolution? This developmental lag in social software and architecture can be seen in the twentieth century's triumphant political model: democracy. Nation after nation has come to acknowledge democracy as a necessary component for managing complex, modern social and political structures. South Africa, now an emerging powerhouse of leadership on that continent, has made a historic transition to democracy. Mechanistic models of eighteenth-century representative democracy, however, can no longer solve our ever-more-complex web of social, cultural, political, and economic problems.

First, we must accept that electronic hardware (largely developed for commercial markets and research about and their habits) will continue to be used and abused. We cannot repeal these technologies. We can redesign and adapt them from elitist to populist purposes (1) to help people understand more about their societies and the new threats and opportunities in today's global village; and (2) to collect and steer feedback and informed consent or opposition back to all decision-making levels: community groups; school boards; local, state, and national governments; and international bodies.

The challenge, as usual, is in designing the software to manage these potential feedback technologies. We must restructure their manipulative, top-down, "big brother" aspects, which currently reinforce hierarchical institutions in both public and private sectors, as well as today's mindless mediocracy politics. The design principles we need to follow to gear the technologies to encourage the evolution of democracy include prevention (foresight); cooperation (finding consensus and balancing markets' emphases on competition); acceptance of diversity (a basic principle of living systems); and clarification of underlying assumptions (beliefs, goals, values) as the first step in the search for unifying global concerns and ethics. Emerging global ethics include respect for life, fairness and equity, aspirations for future generations, openness and freedom of information, and a love of one's homeland as part of the Earth (rather than mere allegiance to nations, leaders, or flags).

Genuine democracy must close the gap between elitism and populism and embrace a commitment to the proposition that people can govern themselves. Deeply held views about human nature color politics: whether humans are viewed as basically untrustworthy and morally flawed or whether they are deemed intrinsically good. This kind of deeply rooted either/or polarization plays out as either conservative, authoritarian, benevolent, or dictatorial elitism, or visionary idealism, populism, democracy, or anarchy. The wretched "Law of the Excluded Middle" (i.e., A cannot equal Not-A) that Western societies inherited from the Greeks still underlies our language and polarized, gridlocked politics.

My view is that human nature has equally positive and negative aspects. Thus the good-natured, life-affirming tendencies and the bad-tempered, selfish, greedy ones are reinforced (for better or worse) by feedbacks from family and community relationships, economic rules, and social and cultural life as well as the politics of nations. As Western societies have become more technologically complex and interdependent, the simple either/or, conservative/liberal polarity and its familiar two-party politics, such as in the United States, cannot channel the multiplicity of issues and multidimensional debates that are necessary. I theorized in Creating Alternative Futures and The Politics of the Solar Age (1981, 1988) why the protest movements of the 1960s could not find expression in U.S. politics via the traditional transmission belts of the two parties. I diagrammed U.S. political movements of that time, not on a polarized single axis from "left to right," but as a spectrum. The movements of the sixties and the seventies encompassed multidimensional issues, crosscut by concerns about centralization and devolution, globalism and localism. On this political spectrum, grassroots anarchists were comfortably akin to conservative libertarians. This spectrum, in a reality a hologram, persists today. (See Fig. 18. Changing Political Configurations.)

Either/or, two-party politics are beloved by industrial era political theorists. Their simple mechanical models are reminiscent of Isaac Newton's clockwork universe. But as the complexities and interdependencies of post-industrial societies in the twentieth century have grown, inevitably, two-party politics has not been able to reflect the range of new issues. As mediocracies developed in the 1980s and 1990s, political parties were simply bypassed by mass media and shrank in number and significance. Both parties are about money. In the United States, for example, Republican and Democratic politicians in these "pork and bacon" parties became the "political entrepreneurs" we are familiar with today: wheeling, dealing, fund raising with interest groups and lobbyists for their own accounts and to advance their individual careers.

This view of politicians reflects the conservative viewpoint taught in law and economics departments at the University of Chicago and elsewhere, but also captures and reinforces today's cynicism. One result of this type thinking has been the polarization of politics and issues in ever more simplistic ways, which politicians see as their only recourse. The have resorted to sloganeering, sound bytes, and flowery rhetoric -- casting complex issues in terms of fundamental principles and values. This has only served to polarize media editors and talk-show hosts in the "Crossfire"-type formats that copycat the popular "left/right" programs on CNN. Mainstream media were shocked by the new angry populism and its some six hundred radio outlets in 1995.8

All this further polarizes voters, who become even more angry and cynical -- leading to the widespread alienation discussed in Chapter 5. This, in turn, opens up possibilities for a third party to organize the 35 percent of the disgusted U.S. electorate that call themselves "Independents." These are the voters who deposed George Bush in 1992 by casting almost 20 percent of the swing votes for Ross Perot, and in 1994 turned their wrath on Bill Clinton. By contrast, in coalition governments with multiparty systems such as are common in Europe (particularly the Nordic countries and the Netherlands), issues are always in dynamic play and can be triangulated, shaped, and reshaped to achieve multiparty coalition governments and much wider consensus. Citizen movements and pressure groups have much less difficulty in achieving parliamentary representation for their views, as occurred with the rise of the Greens in Germany leading to Europe's now flourishing green parties.9 Lack of proportional representation in Britain and the obsolete electoral college in the United States crippled budding green parties, which are still condemned by the U.S. political structure and its money-dominated politics to remain a movement.

As all countries restructure under globalization pressures, two-party politics will increasingly give way to coalitions and new parties as the old centers cannot hold. All three political parties in Britain, combined, have fewer members than the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Britain's Citizen's Charter, created to woo voter and hear complaints, was judged in 1995 MORI poll, which found that less than 25 percent of petitioners even received apologies for deficient public services.10 Governments began calling in management gurus as they experimented with reorganization -- but soon learned that politics and government are very different in nature and goals from business.


The abortive 1992 U.S. presidential candidacy of Ross Perot was a dress rehearsal for raising all the right questions about democracy's future. Yet in the millions of words written on the Perot phenomenon, few examined historical experience with electronic town meetings (ETMs) and public opinion polling, or efforts already underway to prevent abuses and perfect such new feedback channels provided by technology. Much has already been learned from ETM experiments in New Zealand in 1980 to clarify that country's goals and values as well as a similar electronic referenda conducted in Hawaii by political scientist Theodore Becker. Many such experiments in anticipatory democracy have been documented by Alvin Toffler in The Third Wave (1980), David Loye in The Healing of a Nation (1971), Thomas E. Cronin in Direct Democracy (1989), Clement Bezold in Anticipatory Democracy (1978), Christa Daryl Slaton in Televote (1992), and my own Creating Alternative Futures (1978).

Professors Becker and Slaton, based at Auburn University in Alabama, reported in 1995 in "Teledemocracy Action News + Network" that little progress had been made in 1995 in this area in the United States. Nothing had advanced citizen empowerment even though some attention had been given to creating "pressure valves" to relieve citizen frustration. An example was the U.S. version of University of Texas Professor James Fishkin's 1994 and 1995 series of TV programs on Britain's Channel 4, a process he called "Deliberative Polling." Fishkin teamed up with the U.S. Public Broadcasting System, which convened a similar representative sample of six hundred U.S. citizens who were exposed to presentations of two or three issues by experts -- with polls taken before and afterward. These formats are a pale imitation of what is technologically possible, and the results are highly sensitive to the way the issues are framed. The Kettering and Public Agenda Foundations suffer similar problems from rigid "containment" of the issues. Indeed, they trivialized the process by fragmenting the debate into such rigid Cartesian boxes as health care, environment, and so on, rather than choosing a holistic crosscut, such as the Federal Budget, which would allow participants to set priorities across the entire range of issues.

The opportunity to set priorities is what a majority of U.S. citizens want, as the consensus locator survey method of the Americans Talk Issues Foundation (ATIF) determined. When ATIF asked if citizens would like to have sent to them, along with their income tax forms, a questionnaire on how they would like government to spend their tax dollars (i.e. a de facto nonbinding referendum on overall priorities), 79 percent approved.11 The Clinton administration considered experimenting with a small sample of tax returns -- they opted out because "the administration might lose control of the budget process."12 This, of course, was the idea.

Professor Becker reported an advance in Canada, where the Reform Party captured 16 percent of the 295 seats in the Parliament after the 1993 rout of Mulroney's conservatives. The Reform Party, in 1994 via an ETM, had sampled districts in Calgary on the issue of physician-assisted suicide, which the party opposed. They promised to abide by an electronic referendum where voters with PIN numbers called in massively in favor. The party changed its position and supported physician-assisted suicide. In Nova Scotia and British Columbia, some parties elect their leaders by phone. Similar projects have been conducted in Finland, while Oregonians vote by mail.

Another useful form of anticipatory democracy is the "futures search" conference, pioneered by Eric Trist and Fred Emery and described by practitioners Marvin R. Weisbord and Sandra Janoff in Future Search (1995). Search conferences were originally used by organizations, but their application to cities, counties, and states was fostered by the Washington-based Institute for Alternative Futures, and many local efforts have been documented by its founder Clement Bezold. Another approach is that of the Idaho Centennial Conference and Survey Visualizing the Future: Idaho's Second Century, which surveyed voters' quality-of-life preferences on a broad range of issues in 1990.13

Building on his research in designing communication systems, mathematician/entrepreneur Alan F. Kay has also broken new ground in public-opinion surveying on policy issues. Kay's Americans Talk Issues Foundation (ATIF), founded in 1987, discovered that scientifically random telephone polls sampling a national statistical cross section of one thousand Americans can often identify a genuine "wisdom of the people" on many complex issues. Often the public chooses farsighted, globally aware policy alternatives not offered by either political party or any mainstream political figures, experts, or pundits. ATIF's method is in fact a social innovation, far less expensive than ETMs, and can be used to prevent abuses in town-meetings and call-in programs. The opinion surveys are nonpartisan, designed to broaden the range of policy alternatives offered, and provide essential, unbiased information on each policy issues, prepared by many experts on all sides. Questions often range well beyond the current debate.

A 1991 survey broke ground on issues of globalization. One of its fifty questions was, "Would you support a proposal for the UN to monitor and tax international arms sales with the money going to famine relief and humanitarian aid?" Even after hearing arguments against as well as for the proposal (another ATIF method), and average of almost 70 percent remained unshakably in favor of this proposal in a series of seven polls from 1991 through 1995, where this question was included. I have cited results from ATIF surveys on a broad range of national and domestic issues throughout this book since I serve on its board and consider ATIF the best available source of public- opinion date in the United States.

Many rules emerge from experiments in gathering such data, including the vital need to randomize all feedback, whether in opinion polls, via studio audiences, or on electronic town-hall-type programs. Similarly, such randomized feedback can balance incoming phone calls to call-in radio and television shows (which are always biased) by comparing the calls registering crude yes or no votes with a scientific, random sampling of all Americans. Indeed, this randomizing feedback rule is one of the reasons why we should trust the general public more than leaders, politicians, and elites. The U.S. Congress is gridlocked by special interests, political action committees (PACs), and other campaign donors, and by limited information from biased lobbyists. ATIF random-sampling feedback from all Americans can "damp out" such distortions and often identify common-ground solutions.

We also need more democratic access to TV, radio, and print media, now dangerously concentrated in commercial, and increasingly global, corporate ownership. The hope that cable would open up TV channels died in a plethora of old movies and sitcom reruns. Public Access TV, hard won by activists in the 1960s, has been frittered away by cities and communities unaware of its political potential. The Perot movement, United We Stand America (UWSA), is about taming Washington's arrogance; "restoring the United States to its rightful owners: the people"; access to media; and fuller participation in politics.14 Perot demonstrated the possibilities in the new communications technologies for end-running the political parties and short-circuiting the old electoral process. Yet Perot, too, became manipulative. His March 1993 "electronic town meeting" turned out to be a half-hour infomercial (i.e., a paid political or commercial program). It starred Perot asking seventeen simple yes/no questions and urging people to call in or write to him at UWSA. As mentioned in Chapter 5, rebels in many countries learned that coups were best accomplished by capturing radio and television stations rather than legislative or governmental buildings. In another example, frustrated voters in the United States have bought stock and swarmed to annual meetings to engage in proxy fights over companies doing business in apartheid South Africa and Myanmar, pollution, animal rights, and unfair labor practices. When democracies fail to channel voters' feedback, new channels and forums are politicized, as I pointed out in 1971 in "Toward Managing Social Conflict."15

Citizen movements have grown by learning to feed news media and capture TV time even as they found out how unresponsive traditional politics was to their new issues. "Politics-by-other-means" has become the watchword of the sixties generation as U.S. citizens have politicized shopping, investing, banking, corporations, education, talk shows, music, movies, sports, and lifestyles with politically correct campaigns or boycotts. By the 1970s people had learned to recruit rock stars for fund-raisers and create their own media-reportable events such as Earth Day, Live Aid, Food Aid, and Farm Aid concerts. One of the most imaginative was the 1976 People's Bicentennial, which produced books and public service spots on U.S. history that shamed the crass commercialism of the official American Bicentennial Committee. (See Fig. 19. America's 200th Birthday?)

Today's frustrated efforts to redesign and expand democracy must now be channeled by every means possible at all levels, so that viable third parties and broader coalitions can emerge to break the stranglehold of special interests on the majority parties. In 1995, the University of California at Berkeley's Center for Community Economic Research introduced a new computer simulation game on its Internet Web page: Balance the Federal Budget. The game allows users to play a congress member's role and prioritize, cut, add, or otherwise balance the U.S. budget. Twelve hundred users logged on, including one from the White House.16 A radical reform proposed by Ernest Callenbach and Michael Phillips in A Citizen Legislature (1985) would overcome special interests by random selection of congressional members in the same way that juries are selected. In all the restructuring between levels of governance, the overarching principle for the new democracies is that articulated in the European Union (EU): subsidiarity, i.e., policy making as close to the people as feasible. Feedback from the grassroots is, at last, reclaiming issues and problem solving from distant, indifferent, or uninformed elites, as feisty, intelligent Danes demonstrated in refusing to ratify the EU's Treaty of Maastricht.

Another democratic principle: transparency underlies efforts to redesign the too- highly averaged statistics of macroeconomics, which has allowed political issues and vital clarification of values to be obscured by cost- and risk-benefit analyses, i.e., portrayed as technical or economic matters on which the public was deemed "unqualified" to comment. Broader, quality-of-life indicators for health care, literacy, air and water quality, cultural amenities, democratic participation, and human rights are becoming essential tools of democracy, as well as better predictors of truly human development.

The nature of computer and communications systems makes them ideally suited to collecting, analyzing, and delivering the "feedback" of voters' viewpoints to the political system. As the voter becomes more dissatisfied with outmoded hand tools for political expression -- the ballot, the pen, and the periodic election of representatives -- we are seeing evidence of the short-circuiting of these traditional methods by the use of highly simplistic, partisan polls to take the voters pulse on current issues. Yet as The Economist has editorialized, "the opinion poll is, in a sense, a prototype for interactive politics."17 An ATIF poll on "Improving Democracy in America," April 3, 1993, found U.S. citizens favored by 70 percent the following statement: "Require Congress to fund an independent office, set up to conduct scientific, nonpartisan, large-sample surveys of public opinion on all important national issues AND to promptly release the results to the media so that Congress and the public will know what most Americans want for legislation." This survey was part of the reason Congressman Ron Klink introduced a bill that would set up such a Congressional Office of Public Opinion Research and Assessment (COPORA).

The instant electronic referendum is already technically possible and the hardware, the television set as the citizen's information-receiving device and the telephone as the political-input unit, is already in place in almost every home. ATIF Survey #24, "Steps for Democracy: The Many Versus the Few," March 25, 1994, found 70 percent of U.S. citizens favored national referenda binding on Congress -- while only 59 percent favored nonbinding referenda. As The Economist rightly notes, referenda may be a better way to deal with lobbying and special interests -- since the people rather than politicians must be lobbied.18 Yet the referenda process is often corrupted by money, special interests, and media campaigns such as those of the tobacco lobby and the interests that defeated the 1990 California environmental referendum: Big Green.19

Before we are overwhelmed by fears of the tyranny of the majority, let us clarify two U.S. beliefs: (1) citizens should participate in social decision making in a democratic society; and (2) voters must communicate their views to one another, to the organizations in which they are involved, and to elected government officials. The rationale lies deep in U.S. history in the ever-more-liberally interpreted premise of its great social experiment: wisdom, creativity, and common sense are qualities distributed quite randomly throughout our population. Biology has not found us mistaken in this belief. This central premise, that an informed citizenry is capable of self-government, is not to say that the citizen will have all, or even some, of the answers to often complex, technical issues. But nonspecialized viewpoints can discipline technocrats by raising broad, humanistic questions, thereby helping experts structure problems, justify their projects, and think through long-range consequences more carefully.

Opening up existing and new channels of communication in commercial and noncommercial mass media is the key to assuring that citizens are sufficiently enlightened to vote wisely. Already U.S. citizens and those of other OECD countries are the most broadly educated populations in world history -- and mass communications can raise this level even further. More continuous public affairs programming, such as on Britain's BBC and C-SPAN in the United States, is essential. Free, equitably apportioned time for political candidates and public and private officials is also vital and available in many OECD countries. By contrast in the United States, this free and equal time provision as well as the Fairness Doctrine were repealed, as mentioned, by pressure from commercial broadcast lobbies. While speaking on a platform with him, I asked New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley about reinstating these former provisions of the Federal Communications Commission. Bradley ducked this issue and said that he favors a constitutional amendment to limit campaign donations.

Higher education could be available to all via the airwaves, as in Britain's Open University. Education no longer needs buildings, only the voluntary communion of the minds of our greatest teachers and of all who thirst fir knowledge and understanding.20 Indeed, in the past two decades highly educated citizen groups, with their academic advisors in tow, forced onto national agendas: (1) energy efficiency standards, conservation, and renewable energy sources (solar, wind power, etc.); (2) recognition of biodiversity as a fundamental natural resource; (3) self-determination for the world's indigenous peoples; (4) human rights; (5) equitable, resource-efficient, sustainable forms of development mindful of future generations; (6) restructuring of the World Bank and the IMF; and (7) overhauling of the gross national product (GNP) to deduct social and environmental costs.

Collecting and analyzing individual viewpoints is already common practice in the commercial world; it's done by market sampling of consumer preferences and by use of data banks containing credit information or medical histories. We see it too in the statistical studies so prevalent in the behavioral sciences, and of course in the increasing use that politicians make of opinion polls. Yet the private use of information- gathering on credit or medical record has itself become a threat -- with individuals' rights to challenge or correct erroneous data now protected by law. In the United States, commercial Neilsen ratings of audience size have been disastrous for quality television. Such methods tend to screen out of consideration new or random ideas, which are a vital component of an innovative society -- just as money corrupts politics.


To illustrate all these issues I end my 1970 article, "Computers: Hardware of Democracy," with this scenario:

It is an early February evening the year 2023, and John and Jane Doe are relaxing before the TV wall in their home communications center. The newly-elected President of the United States is having his first "fireside chat" with his fellow citizens. He maps out the main issues the voters have presented to his administration, together with the widest range of options suggested by citizens from all walks of life. These options have been winnowed and tabulated by computers as to priorities. Priority number six has been flagged for resolution now to meet long-range planning goals. Priorities one through five, while of global importance, need further information input and analysis. "Priority number six," the President continues, "concern future development plans for U.S. Region Three, which as formerly known as Appalachia; and five major options have been developed from both random voter feedback and scientific and specialist feedback. The options will now be summarized and simulated on your home screen.

The first option is displayed in a series of colorful simulated maps and diagrams. It would designate the whole region as a national park, and the chief recreational playground for the two great adjacent megalopolitan regions: to the east, BOSWASH (formerly known as the northeastern seaboard from Boston to Washington), and to the west, CHIPITTS (formerly the great industrial region of the Ohio river between Chicago and Pittsburgh). The plan entails six new cities of 250,000 people each, to serve as spas and cultural meccas. Their chief industries would be leisure and tourism, health and beauty maintenance, and the Performing arts. Now charts appear showing that the economy of the region would grow at 10 percent per year for the first five years, and would require capital expenditures of half of one percent of current gross national product. Then, expected influxes of construction engineering and planning personnel are shown for the first five years of building; and, thereafter, the needs for increasing numbers of recreational managers and workers, doctors, beauticians, physical education personnel, and, of course, performing artists of all kinds.

"And now to Option Two," the President says. The second option would designate the area primarily as a natural resource bank, with a secondary use as wilderness recreation. The plan calls for filling the old mines with plastics, iron, copper, rubber and other materials salvaged from the nation's waste disposal plants; these items would be stored until needed for recycling into production. A network of small towns would be necessary; their economies would be based largely on caretaker and inventory control functions, while also providing for campers and hikers using wilderness areas. As each of the additional combinations of alternatives was presented, a new computer's simulation would appear on the Does' screen. The President reappears and makes his formal declaration that the referendum on these development plans for U.S. Region Three would be made at 7 P.M., one week hence. He adds, "Each voter can, of course, receive plans from the U.S. Government Printout Office by dialing 555-4707 on his computer phone terminal."

At 7 P.M., one week later, John and Jane Doe- having discussed the plans with neighbors, and at their community town-hall meeting - have made up their minds. The telecast begins and the President says, "Good evening, my fellow citizens. I hope you have all done your homework, and that those of you who are registered voters will now give America the benefit of your informed, collective wisdom in tonight's very important national referendum on the long-range development of U.S. Region Three. To refresh your memories, we will again simulate on your home screens the five alternative plans prepared with guidelines from your previous feedback. Please have your voting cards ready for the optical scanner to verify. At the end of the review of the five plans, please place your voting cards in the scanner and then punch in your choice of options, one through five, on your computer phone digit buttons."

After the voting John and Jane relax while the returns are being tabulated. It has been a grueling week of study for both of them, even though the standard work week has been reduced to two days - a result of machines and other capital instruments largely taking over production of wealth. Apart from the U.S. Region Three plan, they have had to study an important local education proposition involving three options on the "mix" of educational services their growing town will need in the next decade; they also have had to fulfill their voluntary community commitments. The red indicator lights; and the Does return to their home communications center. They learn that Option One of U.S. Region Three has passed.

Next month, their tasks will include determining a 10-year transportation-design mix for their own U.S. Region One, monitoring a new study course given by the University of the Air, and beginning work to establish priorities on national resource allocation for the second phase of the 25-year plan - for the years 2025 through 2050.21

"Utopia or nightmarish Dystopia?" I asked in my article. Was this the way democracy and technology might be headed? As automation produced more unemployment and shorter workweeks, would citizenship itself become more demanding so that for many it would be a full-time job and for others and overwhelming burden? Or will complex societies simply extend what de Tocqueville in 1835 called their "manufacturing aristocracies" worldwide? Are existing decision makers afraid that if citizens have too much undistorted information, and the means of channeling too many informed decisions into all levels of the political process, this will change the system itself? The more legitimate fear, shared by founders of the United States, is just as real: that a truly direct democracy could not sufficiently filter the emotions of voters and might lead to a tyranny of the majority. In computer terms, would too much participation make the social system too sensitive to feedback and produce rapid overcorrections, which could lead to destructive oscillation, loss of equilibrium, and chaos? In short, are humans too irrational to build a rational society?

In Chapter 8 we looked at the human societies and their cultural DNA codes and saw that replication (i.e., tradition) is basic (as it is in the coding of all DNA), while innovation (i.e., mutation) is a much rarer phenomenon. Too much innovation can destabilize a society and too little leads to decay. Failed development models have proved to be overcentralizing, resource-wasting, often poverty- exacerbating, ecologically unsustainable, and finally have led to today's global debate about what we mean by "development." Archeologist Joseph Tainter (1988) identified precursors to the onset of collapse of earlier human civilizations. He noted a flurry of collective activity, often involving construction, just prior to the collapse of both the Roman Empire and the Myan civilization, as if the societies were trying to counter rising stress. Today we see countries using massive public works projects to hype growth and we see growing megacities in construction booms that The Economist noted approvingly attest to their vitality.22 These trends, whether debated as positive or negative, were the focus of the UN Habitat II Conference in Istanbul in 1996. I compare this de-structuring of societies approaching evolutionary "cul-de-sacs" to the phenomenon of "paedomorphosis" in species. (See Chapter 8, pages 190 and 191).

History shows how earlier human attempts to organize growing populations repeatedly derailed. Hierarchies collapsed and leaders toppled because of lack of feedback from the governed, i.e., the feedback lacked the requisite complexity and leaders received too little valid, reality-tested information. This corresponds to my Entropy State: the growing organization reaches a stage where more effort is spent in coordination than in useful, productive output, and the society bogs down in transaction costs. The operational metaphors are "only the system can manage the system" and its corollary, "only the system can model the system." The Economist described this phenomenon in the growth of government bureaucracy and the numbers of lawyers in similar terms.23

De-structuring and devolution are about a key issue: how to flatten or replace old hierarchical structures by substituting lateral, networked, real-time information flows to allow all parts of complex system to coordinate and align their knowledge of changing environments and move their activities toward flexible, adaptive responses. Political scientist Benjamin R. Barber points the way in An Aristocracy of Everyone (1992). Joseph Tainter adds, "Complex, differentiated industrial societies are an anomaly. For over 99 percent of our history as a species, we lived as low density foragers or farmers in egalitarian bands or villages or no more than a dozen persons. ... More complex societies are more costly to maintain than simple ones, and require greater levels of support per capita. ... Moreover, to maintain complexity depends on continuous assessment of energy and other resources. It takes energy both to become complex and to remain so."24

I came to a similar conclusion: that the three-hundred-year industrial era has been a unique one -- based on consuming a large percentage of the fossil fuels that were laid down in the Earth's crust over sixty million years ago. Thus, I saw the march toward increasing social complexity as a sign that industrialism had reached the evolutionary cul-de-sac I termed the Entropy State. This would mandate a shift toward renewable resources that I envisioned in The Politics of the Solar Age, and hopefully a new, wiser Age of Light. This would require relearning the arts and sciences of sustainability and non-material forms of development.

Meanwhile, even the European Union (EU), with its past successful cooperation and unification of twelve countries and its 1994 inclusion of Austria, Sweden, and Finland, is in turmoil. The 1992 Maastricht Treaty and the move toward a single European currency were little more than an attempt to make Europe safe for global banks and corporations. Like the Norwegians, who opted not to join the EU at all, the Danes saw few safeguards within the EU for Denmark's distinctive culture, social programs, and environment. Elites, which continue to see their independent sectors as rabble-rousers, know-nothings, or NIMBYs (not-in-back-yarders), will miss the point. If citizens' feedback is not taken seriously by politicians and media and channeled positively, their only recourse will be to simply continue resisting to get attention. Today, there is much new soul-searching by "Eurocrats" in Brussels about how to democratize: how to implement the principle of subsidiarity and share power with the elected European Parliament. Danish diplomat J. Orstrom Moller in The Future European Model (1995) sees simultaneous processes of economic internationalization and cultural decentralization.

National politicians and trade negotiators still believe that the global economy, world trade, and financial anarchy can be tamed by deregulation and by leveling the global playing field via the powerful but narrow commercial pacts of the World Trade Organization (WTO), while they lay off bets by forming new regional trade blocs. Yet these experiments in suboptimization simply widen social and environmental costs and strengthen protest movements and isolationist politicians. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ran into resistance from labor, environmentalists, and social movements including the uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, and so far has cost almost one million lost U.S. jobs, according to the New York Times.25 Meanwhile, five giant corporations dominate citizens' attention in the global mediocracy. A headline concerning Rupert Murdoch's empire simply read, "Man Buys World."26 Only when the UN is reshaped, together with other needed global institutions, can a more limited but effective form of sovereignty be exercised by nations -- in new partnerships with both private and civil sectors.


1 The Economist, 20 May 1995, 55.

2 Alberto Alesini and Enrico Spolaore, "The Number and Size of Nations," Working Paper #5050, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Mass., 1995.

3 "The Orwellian State of Sudan," The Economist, 24 June 1995, 21.

4 "Can Anyone Fix This Country?" Business Week, 8 May 1995, 56.

5 Jacques Attali, Verbatim II, 1986-1988 (Paris: Fayard, 1995).

6 Warren G. Bennis and Philip E. Slater, "Democracy Is Inevitable," Harvard Business Review (April 1964).

7 Hazel Henderson, "Computers: Hardware of Democracy," forum 70 2, no. 2 (February 1970). forum 70 was an early and now defunct computer magazine formerly based in New York.

8 See, for example, Business Week, "Populism: A Diverse Movement Is Shaking America and May Imperil Its Role in the Global Economy," 13 March 1995, 73; and "Who Speaks for America?" 8 May 1995, 90.

9 "Green Swingers," The Economist, 20 May 1995, 49.

10 The Economist, 15 July 1995, 41.

11 Americans Talk Issues Foundation, "Interviews with the Public Guide Us ... on the Road to Consensus" (April 1994). For copies of all surveys write to Americans Talk Issues Foundation, 10 Carrera St., St. Augustine, Florida 32084.

12 Alan F. Kay, "Revealed in ATIF Survey #28: Important Stories Leaders Won't Mention and the Press Ignores." Unpublished paper, Americans Talk Issues Foundation, Washington D.C., 12 September 1995, 6.

13 Conducted by the Survey Research Center, School of Social Sciences and Public Affairs, Boise State University, 1990. Sponsored by and available from the Idaho Centennial Commission, 217 West State Street Boise, Idaho 83702.

14 Ross Perot, United We Stand (New York: Hyperion, 1992) 2-4.

15 Hazel Henderson, "Toward Managing Social Conflict," Harvard Business Review (May-June 1971).

16 "If You're So Smart, You Cut the Deficit," Business Week, 19 June 1995, 6.

17 "Democracy and Technology," The Economist, 17 June 1995, 22.

18 Ibid.

19 See, for example, "Full-Flavored, Unfiltered State House Shenanigans," Business Week, 22 May 1995.

20 Samuel Dunn, "The Challenge of the '90s in Higher Education," Futures Research Quarterly (fall 1994): 34-35.

21 Henderson, "Computers: Hardware of Democracy."

22 "Cities: Many Splendored Things," special section of The Economist, 29 July 1995.

23 "The Papers That Ate America," The Economist 10 October 1992, 21.

24 Joseph Tainter, "Sustainability of Complex Societies," Futures 27, no. 4 (May 1995).

25 "NAFTA's Bubble Bursts," New York Times, 11 September 1995, A11.

26 Business Week, 29 May 1995; and 14 August 1995.