Archive for April, 2013

A solution idea for the use of civic credit points for the control of power

In the Fog Island Tavern:

Hey Vodçek — what’s all the excitement over there about?

Hi Bog-Hubert. Some good news from Rigatopia — why don’t you go over to find out? Here’s your coffee.

Thanks. You can’t provide a quick summary? I’ll have to catch the ferry in a few minutes…

Okay. It looks like they have developed a new solution for the problem of power and accountability. You remember Abbé Boulah’s campaign for argument evaluation in policy-making?

Applying the ideas of our architect friend — to evaluate design and planning arguments — to more general policy discussions and decisions? Isn’t he developing some kind of game to get people used to the concept?

Yes. The game is a good starting point. So you know how people get points for any contributions they make to the discussion — but they get modified by everybody’s assessment of the plausibility and importance of those contributions, and by the overall quality (plausibility) of the solution they collectively work out.

I remember. So how does this get used to control power in real life?

It’s actually quite simple. People who participate in public discussions build up a credit points account based on the quality of their contributions. The participation in public discourse is of course free and open to all: the possibility to earn credits is an incentive to participate.

Yes — we have talked about how that might be used to actually get decisions made. There were some questions about how the plausibility assessments could be used to guide decisions. And about some kinds of public decisions that have to be made quickly so there’s no time to have a long discussion about them…

Right. So some people have to be appointed to positions where they are responsible for making such decisions. One part of the idea — the solution they are trying out on Rigatopia — is that a person’s credit account will play a significant part in the appointment to such positions: you have to show a certain level of creditable participation in public discourse to qualify for positions where you have the power to make decisions.

So how does that solve the problems with power in those positions? We don’t have to go through the entire litany of power addiction, temptations for corruption, etc?

No. The solution is that each decision must be ‘paid for’ — up-front — with a credit point ‘ante’. Which is lost if the decision is no good; but can be seen as an ‘investment’ to earn new points if the decision is successful. But eventually, the points are ‘used up’.

Makes sense: we often talked about how power — as ’empowerment’ to pursue your happiness — should be ‘paid for’ just like you have to pay for your food and clothes and car.

Yes — but not with the same currency. And here, the currency is credit points — something anybody can earn, but which must be earned, and which can be lost by making stupid decisions.

That finally gives some substance to the notion of ‘accountability’. I agree. What about public decisions for which there is — and should be — some thorough discussion before decisions are made?

You are asking about how we can realize the expectation that such decisions should be made on the basis of the merit of arguments, of the contributions people make to the discourse. And how to add this element of accountability to the basic idea of using some overall group measure of proposal plausibility as a guide to the collective decision.

Right. The argument evaluation approach has been worked out reasonably well to produce an individual judgment of overall proposal plausibility (as a function of argument plausibility and argument weight — that was described in the paper in the ‘Informal Logic’ journal). But we all had some reservations about how to fashion a group decision from those individual judgments, and whether traditional decision methods such as (majority) voting could easily be replaced.

Okay: here’s the answer to that. Whatever decision method is being used — say voting — will have to be assessed in relation to some such measure of collective proposal plausibility — the plausibility assessments of all the people who have contributed to the discourse and assessments. But somebody has to take some responsibility for the decision. And that must involve accountability — which brings us back to the civic credit accounts. If you wish to actually have some actual ‘say’ in such a decision, you have to commit some of your credit points — perhaps your traditional ‘vote’ or polling opinion is ‘weighted’ by the credit points you are willing to put up as ‘ante’ — and lose if your decision is flawed. Of course, if it’s a good decision, it will earn you point points back, with ‘interest’ depending on how good it is.

Makes sense. It sounds a bit complicated, but with all the new information technology we have, it shouldn’t be too difficult to implement. I assume that such decisions — if they are to apply (e.g. as ‘law’) to the entire community, city, state, or whatever entity — must be ‘announced’ in a format ‘validated’ by the credit points that are backing them up. I like the aspect that the currency for influencing decisions and making decision-makers ‘accountable’ has been shifted away from money to civic credits. But tell me: won’t there be decisions that are so important and consequential — and require vast resources such that no individual decision-maker alone can reasonably be accountable for them?

Sure. The provision for this is also quite simple: If there is such a momentous decision, requiring so much money or other resources that the responsibility for it must be shared by the community — or at least by the supporters in the community, — this can be achieved by people backing the decision transferring credit points from their own accounts to that of the ‘official’ in charge of actually ‘signing’ for the decision. If it’s a bad one, they all, including the official, will be ‘accountable’ by losing their points. If it’s successful and ‘earning’ new credits, the points will have to be paid back to the supporters — with ‘points interest’ according to the size of their respective investment.

Sounds interesting, even like a breakthrough, almost. Thanks for the summary; I guess they are still discussing quite a few of the details that must be worked out. Looking forward to hear more about it when I get back, gotta run.

Remember, you heard it here first, Bog-Hubert. Have a safe trip!

Some speculations regarding the possibility of a moral code without religion.

On a Linked-In forum, the question was raised whether a moral code without religion could be developed. My effort to look into ways to achieve better decisions for planning, design, policy-making issues suggests that it is indeed possible to develop at least a partial system of agreements — for which ‘moral code’ would be an unnecessarily pretentious term — but which has some of the same features. For problems, conflicts of interest or proposed actions or projects that require the consent and cooperation of more than one individual, (this does not cover all situations in which moral codes apply), as soon as parties realize that ‘resolutions’ based on coercion of any kind either will not really improve the situation or are fraught with unacceptable risks (the other guy might have a bigger club… or even one’s own nuclear weapon would be so damaging to even one’s own side that its use would be counterproductive) the basic situation becomes one of negotiation or, as I call it, ‘planning discourse’. Such situations can be sustained and brought to success only on the basis of the expectation that parties will accept and behave according to some agreements. The set of such agreements can be seen as (part of) an ethical or moral code. For the planning discourse, a rough sketch of first underlying ‘agreements’ or code elements are the following:

**1 Instead of attempting to resolve the problem by coercion — imposing one side’s preferred solution over those of other parties — let us talk, discuss the situation.

**2 The discussion will consist of each side describing that side’s preferred outcome, and attempting to convince the other side (other parties) of the advantages –or disadvantages — of the proposal.

**3 All sides will have the opportunity to do this, and all sides implicitly promise to listen to the other’s description and arguments before making a decision.

**4 The decision will (should) be based on the arguments brought forward in the discussion.

*4.1 The description of proposals should be truthful and avoid deception — all its relevant features should be described, none hidden; no pertinent aspects omitted.

*4.2 The arguments should equally truthful, avoiding deception and exaggeration, and be open to scrutiny and challenge, which means that participants should be willing to answer questions for further support of the claims made in the descriptions and arguments.

Simplified ‘planning arguments’ consist of three types of claims:
a) the factual-instrumental claim
‘proposal A will bring about Result B, given conditions C’
b) the factual claim ‘
‘Conditions C are (or will be) given’;
c) the ‘deontic’ or ‘ought-claim’
‘Consequence B of the proposal ought to be pursued’;
and also
d) the ‘pattern’ or inference rule of the argument (that is, the specific constellation of assertions, negation of claims and relations between A and B) is ‘plausible’.
While such arguments (just like the ‘inductive’ reasoning that plays such a significant role in science) are not ‘valid’ from a formal logic point of view, they are nevertheless used and considered all the time, their plausibility deranging from their particular constellation of claims, and the ‘fit’ to the specific situation.
The plan proposal A is itself a ‘deontic’ (ought-) claim.

*4.3 The support for claims of type (a) and (b) takes the form of ‘evidence’ provided and bolstered by what we might loosely call the ‘scientific’ perspective and method.

*4.4 Support for claims of type c) will take further arguments of the ‘planning argument’ kind and pattern, containing further factual and deontic claims in support of the desirability of B.
The deontic claims of such further support arguments can refer to previous agreements, accepted laws or treaties that imply acceptance of a disputed claim, claims of desirability or undesirability for any party affected by the proposed plan, even moral rules derived from religious domains.

**5 Individual participants’ (preliminary) decision should be based on that participant’s individual assessment of the plausibility of all the arguments pro and con that have been brought up in the discussion.
That assessment should not be superseded by considerations extraneous to the plan proposal discussion itself — such as party voting discipline — but be a function of the plausibility and weights assigned by the individual to the arguments and their supporting claims.

**6 A collective decision will be based on the overall ‘decisions’ or opinions of individual participants.
(The current predominant ‘majority voting’ methods for reaching decisions do not meet the expectation #4 above of guaranteeing that the decision be based on due consideration of all expressed concerns: here, a new method is sorely needed).

A decision to adopt a plan by the participants (parties affected by the proposed plan) in such a discussion should only be taken (agreed upon) if all participants’ assessment of the plan is positive or at least ‘not worse’ than the existing problem situation that precipitated the discussion.

**7    Discussion should be continued until all parties feel that all relevant concerns have been voiced. Ideally, the discussion would lead to consensus regarding acceptance or rejection of the proposed plan. If this is the case, a decision can be taken and the plan accepted for implementation.
Realistically, there may be differences of opinion: some parties will support, others oppose the plan. The options for this case are either to abandon the process (to do nothing), to attempt to modify the plan to remove specific features that cause opponents’ concerns; or to prepare a different proposal altogether and start a new discussion about it.

**8    Individual parties’ ‘decision’ (e.g. vote) contribution to the common decision should be matching the party’s expressed assessment of the arguments and argument premises.
For example: if a participant agrees with all the ‘pro’ arguments and disagrees with the ‘con’ arguments (or expressed lesser weigh of the ‘con’ arguments) the participant’s overall vote should be positive. Conversely, if the participant’s assessment of arguments is negative, the overall ‘vote’ should be negative. Participants should be expected to offer additional explanations of a discrepancy between argument assessment and overall decision.

**9 A common decision to accept a proposed plan implies obligations (specified in the plan) for all parties to contribute to implementation and adherence to the decision provisions.

**10 The plan may include provisions to ensure adherence and contributions by the parties. Such provisions may include ‘sanctions’, understood as (punitive) measures taken against parties guilty of violating plan agreements.
There undoubtedly might be more agreements needed for a viable planning ‘ethic’. It is clear that some of the above provisions are not easy to ‘live up to’ — but what moral system has ever been? And for some provisions, the necessary tools for their successful application are still not available. For many societal decisions, access to the discussion (to be able to voice concerns) is lacking even in so-called advanced democracies. Some expectations may sound like wishful thinking: The expectation of transparent linkage between argument assessment and overall (individual) decision and even more the linkage between arguments and collective decision are still not available. The approach for systematic and transparent argument assessment (My article in the Dec 2010 issue of “Informal Logic” on ‘The structure and Evaluation of Planning Arguments’) suggests that such a link would be feasible and practical, if somewhat more cumbersome that current voting and opinion polling practices. However, its application would require some changes in the organization of the planning discourse and support system, as well as decision-making methods.

These observations were mainly done in response to the question whether a ‘moral’ not based on religious tenets would be possible (and meaningful?). That question may ultimately be taken to hinge on item # 10 above — the sanction issue. The practical difficulties of specifying and imposing effective sanctions to ensure adherence to moral rules may lead many to the necessity of accepting or postulating sanctions and rewards to be administered by an entity in the hereafter. But it would seem reasonable to continue to explore such agreement systems including sanctions in the ‘here and now’ beyond current practices, since both non-religious and religion-based systems arguably have not been successful enough reducing the level of violations of their rules.