Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Binary Decomposition of Political Distance

Political Networking Proposals

In the old days, everything was done by means of introductions. If you wanted to talk with a particular person, you needed to play a game of six degrees of separation. Obviously things aren’t so formal these days and the system had its faults. The process of conferring trust from one person to the next left many people out of the social loop and also failed to fulfill its primary objective, which was to promote social interaction and filter out the salespeople and con artists.

A process that evolved among the lower classes for similar purposes grew up in the urban America political machines. You trusted your committeeman and did what he told you to do. If you had a problem, he would deal with it through his network connections. There were obviously numerous problems with that process as well, notably massive corruption at the retail level. That’s what we remember, the elitism of the one and the corruption of the other. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there is a need for something similar.

What we have today is the converse of those rough political systems. The social networks joining us to our political leaders have become very sparse and unreliable. The unreliability has been induced by competing powers trying to usurp the networks with their partisan messages. The sparseness is a side effect of the success of American culture. Most of us don’t need to interface with political parties any more. We are too busy making our fortunes and dealing directly with our own problems. The economic system protects us from the worst of the political system. The nuclear family is paramount, the political world an afterthought, the concerned citizen a rarity, but we know that neglecting the political system can be risky.

Many people don’t participate in the political process because they don’t understand it. They don’t vote because they don’t know anything about the candidates. A lot of voters take the list of recommendations from the local paper, or the union, or the party regulars. Personally, aside from Bush vs. Kerry, I never have had any problem deciding. Unless I have strong opinions, I always vote against the incumbent or the expected winner, just to make it a little closer. My theory is that there is somebody out there who knows the score. If there is a closer balance, then those knowledgeable people will have more of a chance to make a difference.

But wouldn’t it be better if I could find those people who know the score, and just ask them how to vote. There are two ways I can do this, top down or bottom up. The top down method might involve reading columnists or blogs to find someone I tend to agree with. If I find someone I like, I’ll just take their recommendations. Well it turns out that some of these people might be getting paid to present a certain viewpoint, or they might be disguising their true position for personal or strategic reasons, or they might not know the particulars of my region.

Here’s my proposal for cultivating appropriate political recon specialists. Set it up like a dating service. Let some non-partisan group, like the League of Women Voters, solicit a corps of volunteer political mavens from, say, every congressional district in the USA (they could be bloggers even). Screen them for sanity, and the usual issues, then let them fill out a questionnaire concerning their goals, interests, political aspirations, worldview, etc. (Note that questionnaires can be designed to evaluate responses for honesty.) Members of the public can then respond to a matchmaker questionnaire online in order to decide which of these mavens would be best for them to emulate. The mavens could keep in touch with their fans by means of newsletters or email. The LWV might take it upon themselves to provide additional resources to facilitate interaction and communication.

I’ll talk about more top down ideas and some bottom up approaches in a later post.

6/5/2005 11:51 PM

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At Thursday, March 05, 2009 12:16:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

This is a reposting of something I put on AOL Journals, which is now defunct. I think the title was the most important part.


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