Why Tech has failed Politics

About 7 months ago, Ben Rattray, a founder of Change.org, wrote an article about some ideas for how tech could help politics. Unfortunately, they weren’t well developed. They were not solutions.

How Tech Fixed Search

Imagine it was 1990 and there were no good search engines yet. People spout ideas like, “We need more people searching,” “We need better communication,” “We need trustworthy information.” Those thoughts did not create a search engine.

Then someone says, “What if we made information easy to submit and readily available, so people can type in a phrase and get good information back quickly.”

This specifies what people do. People with information post it to the web. Users type. And the system returns good information quickly.

The analysis of what that makes possible is lengthy. But the description is short. And the messages are succinct. To searchers, “Quickly find what you’re looking for.” To people who want to be found, “We’ll find you.”

After this, search engine teams could focus on doing a good job building it.

How tech has failed politics

Politics is a much more involved thing. It’s purpose isn’t to give trusted information or to elect good people or to enable people to compete for office or for parties to compete for power. The purpose of politics isn’t to get more people to vote or be involved. But these are what systems (companies and consultants and web sites and organizations) offer. So these efforts don’t make much of a difference in politics.

Besides working on the wrong things, tech didn’t do what many in tech are good at- identifying and solving problems. Instead, founders like Ben assumed their understanding of politics was sufficient, even though they didn’t have a solution. It’s not Ben’s fault- he’s been like everyone else, doing the best he can. But more is needed.

With the exception of PeopleCount, no one has proposed a viable system. Change.org offers petitions, but they mostly seem to do nothing. “Make your voice heard” isn’t a solution. There are others that have tried, AmericansElect, Brigade, Simpolfy and Countable. But none have thought through to a whole solution.

What’s the purpose of politics?

The purpose of politics is to “enable the members of a society to collectively achieve important human goals they cannot otherwise achieve individually. … politics procures safety, order and general welfare within the state.”

There are all sorts of ways of doing this, but America want one that’s democratic within the bounds allowed by our Constitution, guaranteeing certain rights and liberties.

One solution

One solution, the one proposed by PeopleCount, is a system whereby politicians are accountable to citizens. I’ve written a lot about accountability. And I’ve created a succinct description of what a solution looks like:

Citizens vote on issues to express themselves and be counted. They see the results so they can form expectations of what they want and what’s possible. They request accountability on the issues important to them. Politicians regularly report to them. Citizens grade them and share the grades.

There’s much more to the details, included trusted information and deliberative democracy and crowdsourcing topics, issues, and questions. But this is a robust beginning. Working on this will allow tech to fix politics.

PeopleCount is leading the effort with an entire design of an MVP complete with a growth plan, marketing partners and sustainable financing. But we’re currently 1 guy with a full-time job, so it’s going slowly.

What’s needed is to invest in this area.

Life is Over

I turn 60 today. All I’ve wanted for the last 5 years is to work on PeopleCount full time, with a competent partner. We could have it launched in 6 months.

I’ve tried tons of other things, including working on it alone, paying for offshore people and teams, paying for remote help nearby. They don’t work.

I keep slipping into the depths of depression. Unlike most people, the truth for me is that “reality” is an illusion. So the depression, the hopelessness, the attraction of death are all illusions. They’re not as easy to let go of as switching off a TV, but they’re still illusions.

And of course, I keep hauling my ass into work and plugging my brain into projects that promise to make much, much less difference. I keep paying my bills and doing chores and pretend like my little life and family and possessions and job matter. It’s all illusion…

People tell me to “enjoy a drink”, “take your family out for dinner”. Please stop. I don’t give a rats ass about those things. I want to stay healthy mainly to work on PeopleCount, but also to avoid suffering. Other than that, I don’t care what I eat. I don’t want to sit and chat about trivial crap and pretend that I care about your petty concerns. I easily care about them, but only at the expense of the future.

Compared to the future PeopleCount offers us, the future we’re drifting into is shit.

“I” have all sorts of petty concerns. So many people have made me promises and not kept them. So many people have replied to my letters and requests with silence. Why? For a host of tiny, personal reasons, the echoes of stupid non-thoughts, irresponsible notions that cross their minds and control their actions.

People guard their money, their connections, their time as if they’re doing something worthwhile with it. The result is the world you see around you. Enjoy.

At times I want to say: If you give a damn about me, read my blog, put your email address on PeopleCount’s announcement list, add a supportive comment on the Facebook page, and make a donation.

But I don’t care about me. Do those things if you care about your life, the lives of others, the future of the next generations, or if you give a damn about the planet.

You’re welcome to do it for any reason you want. For instance, if you want me not to think you’re a complete idiot. That’s the reality I live in these years. People are stupid and blind, preoccupied with their own survival and their petty concerns.

A few of you are not. Of my 685 “friends” on Facebook and the 1004 connections on LinkedIn, about 6 have donated to PeopleCount and about a dozen seem to supportive.

I’ve written about 370 blog entries. The people who care about me read them. I’ll bet fewer than a dozen people have read more than one. I could put it into more dramatic terms, but fuck that. I’m not interested in entertaining you with drama.

Currently, our political mess is the result of a system of politics where the parties compete for power. PeopleCount is a system that will make politics be a system in which we design our future together. We CAN solve our problems. We CAN reverse climate change and build a prosperous and healthy world. But the chances of accomplishing it without PeopleCount are very, very slim. With PeopleCount, it’s virtually guaranteed.

 

Accomplishments

There have been accomplishments, both wins as well as lots of challenges overcome.
  • I summoned the courage to give up working. Twice.
  • I found ICount as a partner.
  • I developed the biggest list on the internet of government-transformation sites
  • I talked to all of the founders that would take my calls.
  • I built a prototype with very compromised technology
  • I stepped up to “become a visionary”
  • I reached many groups and tor their agreement to send many millions of members to PeopleCount when it launches
  • I spent many, many nights and weekends reaching lots of people and talking with them
  • I actually listened to them
  • I contacted and met with a political author
  • After he gave a talk, I gave billionaire Tom Steyer a 1-minute pitch. He said it sounded promising and gave me his card. No one ever answered his phone or returned any of about a hundred phone messages and emails.
  • I was contacted by the UN and met with a guy- he’s interested once it’s up and running- the UN wants a way to represent people, not just governments.
  • I spent some money on marketing help, got some articles published and learned about marketing consultants.
  • Developed very promising marketing and launch plans
  • Let it go after 8 months and found a job in 2013
  • Continuing to work on it in the background
  • Took it up full time again in 2015
  • Came up with a key improvement, and later, a post-MVP killer feature
  • Found a partner, worked through most of the details,
  • Was heartbroken when he bailed, but didn’t give up,
  • Handled severe, episodic depression since 2016, never gave in to the cynical meaning of the emotions, but accepted that severe failure effects the mind.
  • Committing to work with a business coach for a year
  • Began regular blogging
  • Tried to build MVP (first product) using offshore help
  • Found 2 real partners, one to manage the offshore team
  • Wasn’t stopped when the offshore team proved dishonest
  • Found a team with good references
  • Took over the everything when one partner was in a car accident and the other was consumed by a divorce,
  • Fired team 2 when they proved to be incompetent
  • Tried a third team and fired them quickly for dishonesty.
  • Found a fourth team and worked with them
  • Built and rebuild much of the code myself, including learning 3 new technologies
  • Let team 4 go when they reached their limit and couldn’t deliver what was promised
  • Searched for others who could pick up the work and tried some consultants
  • Found a 5th team- two Americans
  • Let them go when they insisted on changing the tech, but cut huge corners on the functionality
  • Kept successfully handling the depression
  • Gave up when the election became too close to launch
  • Continued to blog (370 articles are published on the blog)
  • Found a new job
  • Continue to work on PeopleCount nights and weekends, without a break
  • Found new people to work with
  • Constantly maturely handle people not keeping their word.
  • Keep reaching out

Best wishes…

PeopleCount has been an Adventure

PeopleCount has failed, so far. But it has been an adventure.

The Adventure Began

In truth, what I’m most proud of is my fortitude. It has been incredibly difficult to change who I am, to step into bigger shoes when no one’s help.

In jobs, when I tackled a bigger project or a bigger responsibility, such as building a needed tool, designing a new feature, or even managing or group, I did it in an organization that defined the role, accepted my new status and was there to support me. They were also there to judge me and give me feedback. It was like stepping up to a new level.

In PeopleCount, there was no one else. I had a few people encouraging me, and once in a while I had someone willing to help with a specific bit of work. But no one else was willing to shoulder any responsibility.

I had to define every new role and declare what the goals needed to be and what was doable and good enough.

I had been an engineer, adding to an established product. And I was an engineer with little or no artistic sense. I left the look of the products to others. I almost never gave a technical talk or designed a presentation- and when I did, it was with others’ feedback and appreciation. I certainly never designed a marketing brochure much less did any sales.

Bigger roles, expanded character

Suddenly, I needed to be a visionary, an entrepreneur, plus a web designer and a marketer. I had to guide article creation and decide “what I wanted”. My strength is analyzing, not deciding. I’m much better at deciding things when I work with others. But there was no one else. I approached lots of friends and acquaintances, but most begged off – they didn’t have the time and certainly not the expertise.

I designed a brochure and tackled several presentations. So far, I’ve given just 3  presentations, but that’s far more than I had ever done before, especially since I was talking to a completely ignorant audience about something they couldn’t even imagine.

Plus, I needed to do sales. Contacting people was very, very difficult. I tried all sorts of ways. When they didn’t answer, should I give up on them, hide in shame, or try again? And if I tried again, should I repeat the email or phone message?  Should it be longer? Or shorter? I’ve tried to contact a couple thousand people and most never reply. For most of them, I grappled with how to try again- should I say more? Should I say much less? Of the dozen ways to approach it, which should I take? Or should I come up with a new way?

Breaking through limits

Another huge step was spending money on it. Quitting my job was scary. I hadn’t been without a job since the downturn at the turn of the millennium. It had ravaged our savings and was a time of endless worry and struggle. How could I voluntarily quit my job?  But I had to- I wasn’t making progress on it while working.

It’s been endless trying and failing and struggling with new things, and learning. I’ve even had deep bouts of depression where what got me through was the commitment to reality instead of believing the mirage given by depression. I’ve learned a ton…

And in two days, I’ll be 60 years old. The adventure continues.

Support Accountability and PeopleCount

This is your chance to say you want members of Congress to be accountable

I’m putting together a confidential list of voters who believe they would use PeopleCount once it’s completed. This list will be shown to a few potential sponsors. Please send me a short letter saying that you plan to use PeopleCount, and optionally a few words about who you are, a short bio. Please start with your name and the city in which you live. If you want to just have your initials show, just list them.  So, something like:

R Strauss, Mountain View, CA, computer software engineer, I would love to use PeopleCount.

Please send your email to Rand@PeopleCount.org

Reminder: What’s PeopleCount?

On PeopleCount, you’ll hold them accountable, with others. You’ll:

  • Vote on issues
  • See how others in your district, state and the country vote (the vote counts)
  • Say on which issues you want short monthly reports from your representatives
  • Grade the reports on how well they’re doing their job representing their voters
  • See their average grades

This will let you, easily and quickly:

  • Get the information you want from your politicians
  • Quickly tell them what you want
  • Know what you can expect from them
  • Let politicians connect to voters at low cost, making money less important in politics
  • Allow good people to run effective campaigns without becoming professional politicians
  • Make Congress accountable to voters

Thanks much,
-Rand

America- We Ignore our Central Problem and Fail

(Note: This article is very obtuse unless you know me and PeopleCount. If you don’t, start with this 2-article piece about the nuts and bolts of PeopleCount, or the site’s How it Works page. For more background, see the piece about how America has been blind to political accountability. A Guide to the Blog is also available.)

Obama failed. The Democrats failed. The Republicans failed. Bush failed. Before that, Clinton failed. Bush Sr failed. They all left us with a more dismal, less workable future. Why?

Ignore the central problem, it gets worse

They failed because they ignored the most central problem in America. When you ignore the most central problem, it gets worse.

What IS the most central problem in America today? It’s not climate change or pollution. It’s not income disparity. It’s not poverty or education or racial or sexual prejudice. It’s not economic at all.

Our leaders ignore, or skirt it

Google and Facebook and Twitter and Musk are not working on it. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings ignored it, and still do (though Jobs now has an excuse.) Peter Thiel and Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George Soros skirted it. The Pope’s were concerned about it, but none of them tackled it. Nor the Dalai Lama.

The central problem is not lack of knowledge. It’s not nuclear war, or any of our weaponized conflicts.

There’s one solution that is touted as being the most promising for reversing climate change, ending wars, improving prosperity worldwide. It’s taken seriously by world leaders, but isn’t yet valued in many parts of the world. But it also skirts America’s, and humanity’s central problem.

The solution isn’t enlightenment (though it would certainly help). The solution isn’t education, though that’s a side-effect.

Hints

A little over a year ago, Obama pointed in the problem’s general direction. He admitted it had gotten worse and he regretted it. Yet in his entire tenure, he failed to use the considerable power of his office or his persona to bring resources to bear on the problem. Never mind that he had no solution. He, and all of Congress failed to focus on it. Bush, Carson, Christie, Cruz, Fiorina, Gilmore, Graham, Jindal, Kasich, Pataki, Paul, Perry, Rubio, and Walker, and Chafee, Lessig, O’Malley, Sanders, and Webb all failed to focus on it. Many mentioned its edges.

The amazing thing is, most of the people above have the resources to actually FIX the problem, worldwide. But they’re not listening. They’re not aware. Many think it’s too hard. They think it’s part of the fabric of humanity.

Blind to our failure

Do you know what it was like before we knew about bacteria and germs? Most people were positive there were good and bad demons. They thought that sickness could be cured by blessing.

Humanity is walking around believing its mythology. You are going about your everyday life, ignoring our central problem. Yet, it could easily be solved.

Stirrings

There are a few small groups working on it, and one quick and effective solution is available. Larger groups are working on its edges, committed to unworkable approaches. But the media wants to ignore them until after they’re successful.

Gandhi and King and Mandela were on the right track, but their goals were too small. They addressed applied pieces of the problem, not the problem itself. And that was great. We can now stand atop their work.

Pride keeps it hidden

What keeps the problem in place is pride. You actually think that if there were a “most important” problem that you’d know about it. And you actually believe that if you learned about a simple solution, you’d recognize it quickly. You forget that we’re human. We’re really the same beings that thought diseases were caused by spirits.

If you want to learn about a solution, it’ll take about a week of spending time with me, if you’re bright. Building it would take six months and having it change our world for the better would take a year.

So far, people with resources that I’ve reached have not taken the time or effort to understand it, yet wrote it off as unworkable. Others have had their people filter out the contacts. Most simply aren’t reachable. And I am very, very frustrated…

PS: This is by far the most obtuse piece I’ve written (I think). Some are very straightforward.

PeopleCount’s Launch Schedule

PeopleCount at this point, is an idea, plans, a blog, and some unfinished software. There’s no target launch schedule.

I believe a team of 3 could finish the software in 3 months, and complete an alpha and beta in 2-4 more months. We could powerfully begin to transform politics in 2017.

Since I’m the only one working on it, and I have a day job, and don’t have the front-end skills needed, the 9 person-months could take 3-6 years.

It’s depressing to think about. So much potential, wasting away.

I’ll keep looking for possibilities, ways to move forward…

Poignancy, below the surface

I started getting emotional a half hour ago. I can rise above it, but it remains a poignancy, just below the surface. 

Annual retreat?

My wife asked me if I wanted to go to “our” synagogue’s annual retreat. She said they just decided that the topic will be politics. I could feel frustration swelling in the back of my brain, and said, “If they ask me to speak for an hour, I’d be happy to go. But I’m not going to spend money and a whole weekend just to try to interject a few comments or questions and feel frustrated all weekend.” She said “Okay, okay, I got it” and walked away.

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