Sunday, June 05, 2005

NationStates and Democracy

Consider the word democracy. Demos. Kratos. People. Rule. Given the myriad ways of gauging the ever referred to 'public opinion' of the members of different regions, can we be sure that the people really do rule in any region? Do those who are the most active not rule whether sanctioned by formal laws or not? Is it a good thing that less experienced nations have a vote, not just a voice? Is the oft-repeated cry of tyrants "let the masses vote with their feet if they disapprove" satisfactory?

Some of the articles I hope to have published here will delve into the philosophies around NationStates. This particular issue is something that Sixguns of the USSR and I constantly haggle about. This argument began with UPS Rail. Sixguns argued (publically, in the USSR embassy on the ASE forum) that UPS Rail was the legitimate delegate of the North Pacific; he was endorsed by the most natives and he was elected in the way the traditions of the North Pacific prescribed - simple endorsement swapping.

At the time, there was no constitution in TNP that prescribed anything about citizenship and voting on the offsite forum for delegate etc. The argument intensified when Great Bight was put in power by UPS Rail. The argument, that I dubbed the 'natural selection' argument, was that UPS Rail acceded to the supreme position of power in The North Pacific and from then on, his decision constituted a valid law - his 'appointment' of Great Bight by ejecting himself and everyone in between him and GB in endorsements was valid and from then on the word of GB became law, because Great Bight was a legitimate delegate. Anyone who didn't like it could leave. The Moderators had ruled ages ago that the feeders and sinks had no such thing as natives - they were game created regions.

I have never seen a better one line destruction of that argument than what Danitoria said when the ASE was passing Decree 21, pledging support to any democratic movement in The North Pacific against the tyranny of Pixiedance (who was at the time Borogravia-Moldavi of New Sparrow) and his cohorts, RedCommunist of USSR, Tygaland and Schizoids of New Sparrow and Insane Power of the old TNP government. 'NationStates is the community.' I believe therein lies the key to an evaluation of democratic government in NS terms.

Endorsements are simply the mechanics of the game. The community is the lifeblood. Active members are like gold dust. I think there are something like 130,000 nations currently in existence. About two hundred of those form the NS elite - the active players who play on the global stage for high stakes. Another few thousand are active but are either full time role players, bound to the jolt forums or simply uninterested in what happens outside the social group of their region or group of regions. That in total makes about 3,200 players - add in thirty thousand for non-UN multies and subtract from the total. You end up with some 100,000 nations which are just plain inactive. About 40,000 of these exist in the feeders and sinks. Many of them are UN and endorse just about anyone who endorses them. It's like dark matter. It effects everything around it by sheer mass but doesn't actively carry out any process. Elections using endorsement races are not democratic. Dark matter is not the equivalent of the active members who put their time and energy in to building a community, a forum, foreign policy, domestic laws, friendships, enmities and so on.

Thucydides, the great Athenian historian of the Peloponnesian War of 431 to 404 BC, wrote about stasis. This was internal strife, within the city states of Greece, caused by the manoeuverings of the superpowers (Athens and Sparta) and their allies, for dominance, both during the drift to war 478 - 431 and during the actual war. Problems in regions like The North Pacific are of much the same design. Influenced by outside forces, each member of a given region reacts not in the way he or she thinks is best for his or her region, but in a way that will give their opinion dominance. One might say this is a failing of democratic government in NS. It allows regions to be pulled apart, without something to stabilise them, such as a powerful executive leadership.

The larger the body, the more disastrous democratic failure can be. In multi-regional alliances, the same stasis can be seen writ large.

Each region usually has one representative, the collective vote is taken and communal decisions are abided by. Seems fairly democratic? Not necessarily. Let me hark back to our original thesis. NationStates is the community. We are people and people are never swayed purely by laws. The personal prestige of other players has a large role. Gerrymandering the number of votes your faction has always helps as well (and anyone who doesn't know who that comment is directed at needs to retake ADN History 1o1). Who you can call on for favours and what positions you can get them into is the biggest mockery of all democratic procedures, undermining the entire basis of a community in favour of factionalising.

The worst thing about it is, when one group starts to do it, all groups start to follow because lacking the organisation of the first group, they feel pressured. They unite behind a leader and it boils down to cults of personality, who has what position and interminable struggles over the letter of the law. It looks like I have a full-proof argument for tyranny, hmm? I know the flaws of democratic government better than anyone. Keeping the direct democracy of the ASE stable was definitely difficult when different opinions pulled people powerfully in opposing directions. The ADN was a fight for all nine months of the ASE membership there. I witnessed the change in The Pacific, the North Pacific twice and have several times seen the triumph of oligarchic faction-government in regions such as Ireland. The invaders whom I and my friends tirelessly fight are a case study in personality cults, backstabbing, treachery and general undermining of any sort of equality.

Yet for all this, the most democratic organisations are the strongest. The RLA, with its centralised citizenship body and relaxed attitude to which region has most citizens and thereby most votes, is without question the singular most open and democratic multi-regional organisation in existence, with no exceptions. As a defender organisation, it is nearly the equal of the ADN - even though the ADN has forty something regions to the 13 of the RLA. It has become greater than just a political agenda writ large. Currently I have 36 contacts from the RLA on my messenger list, ranging from the old timers such as Blackbird to the new soldiers of socialism such as Josh04 and La Tropicana.

We argue constantly. The role of the RLAF, elections and what policies are right for which candidate, the role of the RLAI, priorities in defence missions, diplomatic objectives with the 'other' left wing organisation, the RKKA and with other groups around the world, controversies about which regions can join; these are just a handful of the things about which all members of the RLA argue about. But yet we don't stop working together to bring in more regions to our fold, we don't stop training our soldiery in defender tactics and we don't open ourselves to exploitation by outside organisations.

Executive power doesn't carry much weight in the RLA because if members seriously dislike decisions, they have a range of options going from electoral challenge to impeachment to simply bogging everything down in bureaucracy. This is a complete reversal of the supreme executive power touted by the (illegitimate) delegates of the North Pacific, though even the proponents of such power do not usually consider their arguments to be valid outside the game created regions - which in my opinion are no different from the non-feeders because differences or not, both feeders and non-feeders only have governments because they have communities - social relations between all those people who contribute something to the life of the region, whether it is welcoming new members to the forum or drawing up far-reaching treaties of alliance.

Those people are the ultimate sovereign. They have the right to select and de-select executive officers. They have the right to decide anything and everything and denying them that right is simply is a route to Departments of Homeland Security and USA PATRIOT Acts, however one applies such concepts to the realm of NationStates. Community doesn't necessarily involve direct democracy - but it involves more contact between the high and low than simple constitutions and charters and laws can prescribe for.

On this note I will conclude. I will not convince the opposition that democracy is best - and some of the opposition have a vested interest in making sure democracy isn't the order of the day, except in twisted and tame ways, the operation of which give the lie to the word democratic. Danitoria and I have decided between us that from now on, our campaigns at the very least (and hopefully all those fought within or by the ASE) will be social in nature, as well as political.

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