Trump, Brexit, Turkey; Is collective intelligence failing?

Perhaps to go even further we should be asking ourselves, is democracy failing? The wikipedia definition for collective intelligence is shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration, collective efforts, and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making It seems to me that any time we put two words together such as “collective” & “intelligence” or “crowd” & “funding”, we tend to just focus on one of those words almost at the expense of the other.

Is democracy “intelligent”?

A few years ago, there was a referendum in Ireland on the Lisbon treaty. It was famously rejected with news paper headings suggesting that this would “throw Europe into disarray”. The primary reason it was rejected was that the Irish government was very unpopular at the time and as they wanted a “yes” vote, many voters saw this as a great opportunity to express their feelings of discontent. Collaborative economy BelgiumAnd there was a lot of negative propaganda…. I suspect (in fact I think I know as I asked many people afterwards) that very few people actually understood what they were voting for. There was a lot of “mis information” flying around so in the end, nobody really understood what was at stake. Sound familiar?

Fast forward to Brexit. Again, the process of democracy gives everyone a voice irrespective of whether or not they are “intelligent” or whether or not they have understood the issues. I know I am on dangerous ground here but I am questioning whether simply giving everyone the right to voice their opinion is intelligent? Donald Trump is sufficiently intelligent to know that people can be easily manipulated. People will either make their mind up based on what they read, hear, see and in the case of Trump, that simply means he needs to ensure that what they read, hear and see supports his ideology. Quite easily done when you are one of the richest men in the country with a media empire. Failing that, people decide either based on their gut or through some form of objective analysis. In all cases, I’m not surprised that the outcome is No to Lisbon, No to Europe and Yes to Trump.

1 man, 1 vote?

At the moment, I am in the process of advising and/or setting up three new cooperative companies. As part of that exercise, we need to write the statutes which will explain how we will function and take decisions. It’s a fascinating exercise. As part of that, I have been reading a lot of different statutes already published and one of the key questions is what will entitle the shareholders (cooperators) to be able to vote. In general, all of them have chosen to be cooperatives, as opposed to various forms of “limited responsibility” companies, as they would like to involve the community in the decision making process, not just because it is democratic, but because it is a great way of engaging peoples support. In some cases they want 1 man 1 vote but in others, they would like “proportional representation” where the power of your vote reflects the number of “shares” or “parts sociale” you own. In this case, money talks. The more I invest, the more weight my vote has. This is what generally applies in non-cooperative companies. I haven’t yet found a system which enables you to vote based on your IQ level. In other words, no system seems to use “intelligence” as a criteria.

1 man 1 vote

Keep trying until you get the right answer?

It seems that Scotland will now run a second referendum on whether or not to stay as part of the UK. The first time they were asked, they had understood that if they voted to stay in the UK, that by default they would remain in the EU and of course this is no longer the case. There was a good blog published by the LSE on why voters tend to change their minds the second time around. It happened in Ireland. It happened in Denmark and I suspect it would also happen in the UK and Scotland if we were to ask them again, particularly in light of the fact that Farage and Boris would probably be away on holiday….

Were people stupid the first time around and intelligent the second time or was it the reverse?  My conclusion is that democracy is not a form of collective intelligence and that politics generally isn’t very intelligent.

For collective intelligence to work and perhaps for democracy to modernize, we should:

  • Inform people without influencing or manipulating them. We have become incapable of simply providing information. This blog is an example as I’m not informing, I’m sharing an opinion but at least I’m not trying to influence voters….
  • Distinguish between those who will be significantly impacted by a decision and those who will not. In the case of Brexit, the older people who voted yes will be less impacted by their decision than the young people who voted No. There is a major weakness in the system. If we only asked people under 40 or if we gave them 2 votes rather than 1, the outcome would have been very different. There is a great book called leading from the emerging future which explains why we should take decisions based on what we would like the future to be rather than what has happened in the past.

Recent events in Turkey are yet another example of why democracy needs updating and I suspect we will feel even more strongly about this after the US elections at the end of the year.


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