Adventures in Microdemocracy (possibly Nanodemocracy)

Can I take a daily step toward a participatory democracy?

Ranjit Bhatnagar challenged Taylor and I to tackle the concept of “microdemocracy” in the latest episode of the Opposable Thumbs podcast. Ranjit creates many great things. One of his projects is called “Instrument-a-Day” where he makes a new instrument for every day of February. He’s been doing this 10 YEARS (10… YEARS!!!). So I thought I’d take Ranjit’s “_____-a-day” model and apply it to his “microdemocracy” challenge.

“Microdemocracy” seems to have many definitions and interpretations. I read quite a few things. It seems like many people have hit upon some similar ideas triggered by similar wants… wanting to feel more engaged with the world and the world more engaged with them. The massive size of modern representative democracies seems to inevitably come up as part of the problem. So….

Maybe if we had a smaller version of the group decision making process (democracy) it would feel more palpable… and as a result more effective. Micro + democracy.

I’ve been enjoying The Right Question Institute’s proposed use of “microdemocracy” a lot. l like their focus on the public and publicly-funded “outposts of democracy” such as public schools, welfare offices, job training programs, Medicaid-funded health care services, and public housing. I also really like their question-friendly approach.

“As people learn to focus on decisions and ask their own questions, they begin to participate more effectively in decisions, partner with public servants and also hold decision-makers accountable.”

This question-friendly approach feels really important to me. By asking questions you are engaging power without feeling like you need to be an expert. Asking a question says “I see you and I want to know more.” and sometimes it says “I want to know more about this thing that doesn’t feel right to me.” This would work in civil society as well.

There is another word: micro-democracy. This is the word the author Malka Older uses to describe a countermeasure against gerrymandering.

“So I came up with an idea: every geographic unit of 100,000 people (roughly) gets to chose the government it wants out of any of the options, anywhere in the world. Because population would be the operative number, not geographic size, immigration becomes a positive; at the same time, fewer people need to immigrate, because they can vote for what they want without moving to a place where it’s available. Micro-democracy, as I called it, lets more people get closer to their preferred system, and encourages innovation and competition as a wider range of governments compete for votes.”

I just started reading her novel Infomancy where she uses her micro-democracy concept to shape the near-future state of the Earth. The book gets exciting quickly and so far I’m quite liking it. There’s a couple of themes I’m noticing right away. These aren’t spoilers. I’m only like 1/4 of the way through.

The posts below are my attempts at looking more closely at situations in my life (some probably really boring). I hope I’ll figure out how to act on those situations in a way that feels more engaged. I’ll see if I can extract a question that lies embedded within those experiences and title each post with that question. Hopefully this turns out good!