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Fluid Democracy

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Credit: Bannosuke

Even in the first month of my governorship of this fine state, I began to have problems with the legislature, which belonged to the "other" political party. I had campaigned on the plan to transform the state capital, Columbville, into a Smart City, but my political party and the opposition wanted it to use different operating systems. Another problem was that we disagreed about what should be done with the three abandoned shopping centers, now that all our citizens bought their stuff online. That issue was tangled up with all the road improvements needed to keep the self-driving trucks and taxis from roaming the schoolyards, although that could have been worse if the kids were still attending classes rather than home-schooling online as most of them now did. I sent drafts of laws and budgets to the legislature, and they voted them down. It sent laws and budgets to me, and I vetoed them. Clearly, the state of West Montana was spiraling into chaos!

Desperate one day, I was frantically trying to think of a plan to defeat my despicable opponents, and decided to enter "delegitimate" into Wikipedia in search of ideas, but made some typo and got "delegative democracy" instead. It was hard to read the page, because some Wikipedia editors seemed to be battling over whether the text should begin "Delegative democracy, also known as liquid democracy ..." or use "fluid" or "flüssig" instead of "liquid," apparently one of the instabilities caused by the merger of the English and German Wikipedias the previous week. I tried entering "fluid" into Google Translate, and discovered that produced "flüssig" in German. Translating "flüssig" into English did not return "fluid," but gave "liquid." Chuckling over the joke that this kind of democracy must be "all wet," I suddenly had a clever idea.

Why not drown my opponents in the Internet-based version of an election every day? Wikipedia told me that one version of the fluid democracy fantasy would give each voter a daily vote. They could cast it themselves, or delegate it to somebody else, such as a professional politician, a member of their family, or even the captain of the neighborhood baseball team. Whoever cast the vote could use it to decide whether something under consideration by the legislature would go up or down, that very day. VoterBooth seemed the best name for this out-of-sight site.

Brilliant political strategist that I am, I secretly formed a corporation to run this supposedly high-security VoterBooth where citizens could vote every day for the modest payment of $10. By "secretly," I mean that I added one unit to the chain of non-profits and for-profits I ran, including block-chain money laundering services that assured that the federal regulators could never discover that this virtual shopping center belonged to me.

Each day, a citizen could log into VoterBooth and see what issue needed to be decided. For example, "Should Grassy Plains School be converted into a shopping center, an apartment house for unemployed people living off welfare, or a 3D printing workshop for local manufacture of lawn ornaments?" The citizen could vote directly by selecting (1) shopping center, (2) apartment house, (3) 3D printing workshop, (4) keep the school, or (5) abstain. The voter also has the choice not to vote in the referendum, but rather to assign his or her vote to somebody else, even the voter's school teacher because the system had no age requirements for voting, or a locally admired teenage computer game leaderboard master. Citizens who received votes from others could pass them along, so the result could be a decision tree functioning like an incoherent web of political parties

My main post-truth IT specialist thought VoterBooth was a great idea, and he quickly astroturfed the echo chambers my opponents operated in Chinbook and Scalpbook, with the idea that fluid democracy would wash away their hated governor, namely me. So VoterBooth became public as their idea, not mine, although I had already set it up so the profits would secretly come to me.

One of my InfilTraitor bots learned that my opponents in the legislature were convinced I would veto any bill they sent me, so they did not bother to analyze the consequences if I failed to veto it. So, I showed them! I signed it!

Because we had used the example of Grassy Plains School in our false flag fake news campaign, my opponents posted that as the first referendum question. By a close margin, the winning plan was the lawn ornaments 3D printing workshop. Essentially all the voters made their own selections, rather than delegating. I guessed they knew something had to be done with this recently abandoned building, and wanted to avoid the right-wing and left-wing options this early in the development of Columbville's new political system.

Over the following weeks, Grassy Plains Ornaments made apparent progress. There already was some antiquated computer-operated manufacturing machinery in the building, left over from the occupational training facility when it ran out of raw materials. By "raw materials," of course I mean students. Local hobbyists enthusiastically repaired the existing equipment and donated a good deal of their own. Their neighbors began placing orders for wooden swans and Hobbits. However, the early results were not as expected; for example, white-winged Hobbits and swans with big feet. It proved very difficult for an uncoordinated group of individualists to assemble essentially obsolete technology into a reliably functioning system. Interest faded, and people began proposing other uses for Grassy Plains.

Meanwhile, people were becoming accustomed to visiting VoterBooth every morning, during an advertisement on the local virtual news program, and paying their $10 to buck whatever trend the news was promoting. A feature in the system allowed them to propose new legislation, and many of their ideas concerned iconic Grassy Plains. A new proposition emerged: (1) keep the ornament workshop but invest tax money to improve it, (2) convert it into a museum of old computers donated by citizens, (3) tear the building down and decide later what to put in its place. By this point, most of the voters were delegating their votes, and they wound up giving them to the three citizens who had proposed the three plans. You might guess that one represented my political party, the second represented my opponents, and the third was a wimpy independent, but no, all three were apolitical! And the selection was to destroy Grassy Plains.

One version of the fluid democracy fantasy would give each voter a daily vote to cast themselves, or to delegate to someone else.

I don't know if all this was a plot, either by my opponents, by a malicious foreign power, or just the citizens, but as soon as the demolition team had assembled their crusher vehicles to begin their grim job, a new vote changed everything! A real-time referendum, fluctuating from minute to minute, would steer the demolition fleet to some other building, and rip it suddenly from its roots.

At this very moment, I am watching the local news on my wall-size monitor, as the demolition fleet passes Grassy Plains and heads toward... Yea! It is approaching the legislature building! In one corner of my screen I see the votes streaming in, increasingly aiming at the legislature as its doom nears. But wait! The votes to destroy the legislature are decreasing. The demolition parade turns, and I run to the front door, not having any windows left to look out in this age of virtual reality caves. Oh, no! The voters have decided to demolish my Governor's Mansion!

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William Sims Bainbridge (; is a sociologist who taught classes on crime and deviant behavior at respectable universities before morphing into a computer scientist, editing an encyclopedia of human-computer interaction, writing many books on things computational, from neural nets to virtual worlds to personality capture, then repenting and writing harmless fiction.

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