Monthly Archives: July 2008

National Initiative and Law 2.0: Empower the people to make laws

I am very supportive of Mike Gravel‘s National Initiative, but I cannot be very certain that it will really happen given the huge obstacle it is facing (just look at Mike Gravel’s presidential campaign, we know what kind of difficulty lays ahead of us). But if we extend National Initiative to a bigger picture, which maybe we can call Law 2.0, I am very sure it will happen.

With my very limited knowledge in this area, currently most efforts to apply web2.0 to law focus on making lawyers or legal services more accessible, or making laws easier to understand. But as Mike Gravel said that the political power is the power to make laws, we can think about how web2.0 can be applied to empowering people to make laws. What we need is just to extend the concept and structure of National Initiative, and think in a larger scale about how web can empower the people to make laws. So for our discussion, we can pretty much follow the outline of National Initiative, and just make it a little more general.

So the power of making laws is two parts. One part is the right to propose bills. The other part is the right to approve bills. In addition to the two houses of congress and the president, we should add another channel for people to propose laws. And any laws proposed by one party (House, Senate, the president, or the People) will have to be approved by all parties. This way the people will have a way to propose change, and oversight the other law making branches.

What we need is to figure out how to make the two processes (people proposing bills and people approving/disapproving bills) open, fair and transparent. This sounds very interesting.

I think most of the structure and work are already in National Initiative. But making it more general as law 2.0 might be a way to bring a much larger group of people together, and bring in a lot of innovation and efforts to make this really into a movement. As a movement, there will be many people trying different ways.  National Initiative as the early starter will certainly draw the most people to develop it in the open source way.

I guess there might be already some efforts like this out there. http://www.opencongress.org/ is intended to make bills in the congress easy to understand. But there can also be efforts to allow average citizens to write laws together. We know law-writing is a very formal process, and can be difficult for average citizens. But at least the average citizens can participate in writing the law. They can express their concerns and what kind of law they expect to write. Professional lawyers can make a framework. Average citizens can add to part of the framework and build up a draft. Then the draft can be touched upon by the professional lawyers. And the edited version can still be monitored by the average citizens. In a summary, there should be many ways for the average citizens to be part of the law-writing process. In a recent event of Grassroots Web, during a conversation with some friends, we touched on the possibility of using MixedInk as a potential tool for people to cooperate on writing laws. Some other wiki tools can also be used as cooperation tools for writing laws.

Thus I am more hopeful that the vision of Mike Gravel will become a reality soon.

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I am large, I contain multitudes

I thought this would be a good line for Stewie from Family Guy.

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Comments on Blessed Unrest

Just finished the book Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken. I will comment briefly here.

First, the book promoted me to think about what the social change would have been in the past for different cultures if it was carried out in peace.

To help you understand what I mean, let me elaborate a little. With technology breakthrough, the whole planet is becoming smaller and thus different cultures come closer to each other. A lot of collision happened when different cultures “discovered” each other. In reality, it had been a very bloody history. In the past, you won if you were better at killing people. The history of mankind was mostly driven by this force. Because this destructive force was so dominant, other peaceful forces (for example the force of knowledge or skills) cannot be fully functioning. That is why we don’t need any war, and we should live by peace.  Thus I try to imagine how the history would have been if people had dealt with each other peacefully when different cultures came closer to each other.

In peace time, history is driven by the real essential human needs. And it is from grassroots level, instead of being dictated by a few people (who get the power by being better at killing people). Imagine how different cultures (the Native Americans, the Africans, the east, the west) might have communicated and learned from each other if all the changes are happening during peace time. (The Native Americans’ agriculture society don’t have t be totally destroyed.)  It is too bad that we went through a very bloody period when different cultures encountered each other.  I believe it is possible for different cultures to learn from each other and adapt for its own interest if people are empowered (instead of letting the direction of the history being dictated by a few people who are just better at killing other people).

In this sense, Internet and web are helping making the peaceful force more powerful.

How this implies for China’s current social change? China is now going through a process of modernization. This process, for a large part, is also a process of westernization. Although you can say the process is mostly happening under peace (for example, there is no war), in reality non-peaceful force is still dominant in the society, thus preventing  real  peaceful forces from  functioning.  For example, let individuals decide what is best for themselves, what they want to learn. In this sense, it is not about eastern or western. It is about how to live better as a human being.

Other than these thoughts this book provoked,  here are some  good things I noted down about the book when I was reading along.

The book takes a more holistic view, treating the whole planet as an organism. This is very right. And I regard this as a self-reflection of the western culture.

The book uses biology as its major inspiration and draws a lot of analogies between human society and biology. This certainly should be appreciated. When I was studying biology, I was always fascinated by the wonder of nature and its implication for human being’s social life. For example, there are many kinds of cells in the body. What kind of cell a cell becomes is totally dependent on the environment it is in and all the stress and stretch that is applied to the cell.

The book pointed out the PLAYING is what this is about. (page 187). “Play is infinite game. Competition is finite game.” It is a weird way to put it, and really not very logical. But anyway.

It also points out LOVE too, saying this should be what human life is about.

I think he should add BEAUTY too. Playing, love, and beauty are the kind of forces that I referred above as the peaceful forces.

In general, I don’t feel this book is deep enough. It is kind of a mess in its logic. There are a lot of numbers, but not much making sense of the numbers. However, it would be useful to get to know some events that happened in each movement and some names of the people. The book is more like a summary of thoughts and ideas instead of  providing something new, a coherent view or framework. I had expected more.

For people who work in the same field, this book should provide a lot of info that you can look into to help build a complete picture. There are a lot of useful information in this book, and this book shouldnot be overlooked.

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Comments on the Success Of Open Source

Just finished the book the Success Of Open Source by Steven Weber.

I am glad that people start to summarize our experiences in open source and try to understand its general implication for human society. It is about time. And this book tapped into the open source stories and tried to provide some understanding of it. In my opinion, in many ways this book does point out the direction we are heading. So I would highly recommend this book for reading, as it is very informative and give you an idea where we are going.

I am not going to list all the specifics of why this book is good. I am just going to tell what I wish this book has and what I think will provide a better understanding of open source and its implication for mankind.

The book is still based on the conventional capitalism assumption that people are basically bad. And based on that assumption, it tries to explain how the basically bad people will come together to produce something so wonderful like open source. Thus this book runs into a lot of difficulty because of its assumption. Actually people are basically good. Only a few people try to control, restrict other people and block the majority of the people from access to the playground. And if it is easy for them to do so, they will do it. But with Internet, it becomes more open. And people are empowered. Thus we see the basic goodness of human nature is able to be manifested in this new age. With this assumption, it is very easy to understand open source and the direction we are heading now. This assumption (that people are basically good), is actually not very much an assumption. It is deeply based on experience and insight into human nature.

The assumption of capitalism is needed because at that time abuse of power is hard to be visible and thus given a chance it will definitely happen and will happen on a large scale. And the minority already in power will come up with all kinds of schemes such as compulsory schooling and corporate controlled press to dump people down so they don’t easily see the abuse of power. So the assumption that people is basically bad is practical at that time. But in our time, openness makes abuse of power difficult. Thus the real power (based on professional merits) is more at functioning. So at our time, we should be happy that the basic goodness of human nature can finally emerge and be dominant.

You may think I am too optimistic. But I am optimistic only because I know people are driven by love, fun and beauty and I know what kind potential an individual can have and believe individuals can be trusted to pursue the wellbeing of their own or others if given enough space.

Nonviolence movement could work because of the basic goodness of people. Otherwise, it won’t work.

The book mentioned collective action and tried to understand open source through collective action. Yes, collective action is the key to understand the direction of human history. Economics alone doesn’t explain human history. Unfortunately, in the past, people tend to use economics alone to explain the human society. We have to look at the major forces of history.

So let me do a little analysis of the collective action here. In the past, a minority of people is able to dictate the majority of people with the raw force because people are not connected. Software, especially web, as an extension of human consciousness, by connecting people’s consciousness together, empower individuals to accomplish themselves. And thus collectively, a larger percentage of people are able to break the barrier and make themselves. When survival is not the dominant struggle anymore, to have fun and have a fulfilling life become more important to individuals. Thus money doesn’t have a strong grip on people’s ability and creativity any more. And a larger percentage of people are willing to play and create despite probably not making much money. This is the basic goodness of people. We are here to live, after all. And to live, is to grow, have fun, and create. This is the living force that is emerging in our time. This is why this a totally new beginning for mankind.

The book could have used Nature of Order as the base of his thinking. All the problems the book is trying to address can be better understood in that framework. For example, the center of life and forming of patterns of life.

What is also lacking is understanding of the essence of software. Software is an extension of human consciousness. It is a tool to work with human consciousness. As a digitalized form of human consciousness, it allows human consciousness to finally be connected and be programmed!

I wish this book could have offered more knowledge of human organization (a historic overview of all kinds of human organizations in history will be very helpful) and how the way people organize will undergo fundamental changes in the near future.

We are ushering a brand new page in human history. A better understanding of where we are headed and less confusion will help make sure we can get there.

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MLK’s nonviolence and self-defense

I found this speech by MLK about nonviolence. Check out the section of The Question of Self-Defense.

It is very well put. This is the true spirit of nonviolence. You can use this as a yardstick to measure the current politicians’ rhetoric about the Iraq war and see if they really can claim a legacy to MLK. They talk about peace without really understanding it. Not to mention whether America, the strongest country, really needs a self-defense, or just look at the numbers to see who has killed more people.

All the problems of the world arise from violence. Thus, using violence, even for self-defense, has a huge stake. No war is necessary. This world doesn’t need any war. The world doesn’t need any military. The force of violence can never be overcome by the force of violence. It can only be dissolved by the force of peace.

The book Blessed Unrest points out that MLK before his education in nonviolence surrounded himself with armed bodyguard feeling he needs self-defense. Rustin, however, “was adamant that a nonviolent movement could not tolerate the presence of gun-toting guards, and that the firearms inside the King household had to be removed. King was displeased and confused; he then understood nonviolence as meaning only not initiating violence. He felt that he and other blacks had the right to defend themselves.”

What do you think?

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News of China

People talked about polluted environment and so on in China. I didn’t want to response because if I responded people just thought it affirmed their assumption that I would defend my country. Besides, they are just bored. It is not like they really care about this issue. If they have sense, they will come to the sense themselves. But here on this blog, I will make some comments on this. And I will first tell you it is not for the purpose of defending China, it is for the purpose of clearing your ignorance.

They do read news. And what they talk about are all the things they read on the news about China. So here maybe you would like to hear something that you usually don’t read on the news.

The first point, the current China now (the pollution, the child labor…) is just like the early stage of American industrialization or British industrialization.

The second point, let me connect the dots for you here. It just means that China is very far away from becoming the next super power as some media try to depict. China has too many problems it needs to solve itself. China is still in the stage of reaching a modern society while the west is already talking post-modernism for a long time.

The third point, economic development at the expense of the nature is not Chinese invention. It was imported (or better put, it was forced upon us). Chinese tradition is strongly emphasizing the harmony between human being and nature.

The fourth point, yes, China is communism, but that is only because we were so disappointed with western capitalism and at that time people felt that they had to save China first (thus had no time to educate the mass).

The fifth point, yes, China is run by dictatorship and the Chinese people have far less freedom than Americans. But if a single 911 can push America to pass the Patriot Act and take away freedom of its own citizens, imagine what China had been through during its about 150 years’ modern history with everyday of it like 911.

The sixth point, what have been reported by the news here are just a tip of iceberg. The real situations in China are far worse, probably beyond your imagination. The question is: faced with these huge problems, how can we make the situations better?

The seventh point, I recently just realized that people here in America have totally no idea how hard the life in the developing countries can be. Many of Americans think it is just a little worse there. It is actually beyond what most people here can imagine. No wonder they get shocked by a little report of situations in China. The democracy here is actually very luxury. Just look at all the ramp access built for the disabled people, or the sign language translators provided for the deaf people. It takes a lot of money to provide that kind of service. Although the democratic system might contribute to the prosperity of this country (also don’t forget America is the most resourceful country in the world),  for this luxury democracy to be possible probably a large part of it should be attributed to the robbery and exploitation of the people in other countries in the past and now. That is nothing to be proud of.

The eighth point, I am very glad that people are talking more about China. When I first came here 8 years ago, I barely read any news of China in the newspaper here. I just wish they can know more of China. I seriously think the world peace depends on American people have more knowledge of what is going on in “the rest of the world”. This culture engagement is mutual beneficial to both countries and very crucial for both countries to get out the box of their own cultures. So I only want to encourage more cultural communication. Not just communication, we need more engagement.

The ninth point, I can understand better that why American born Chinese here don’t want to say they are Chinese and got angered if people assume they are Chinese. Please don’t be bothered by other people’s stupidity. You have to grow bigger.

The tenth point, this is a little far off. But in a larger picture, this reveals the failure of the current education system (press is supposed to be part of education system, fulfilling the role of educating the citizen to be well-informed and independent thinking). Mankind’s future is a highly sophisticated society (according to Noam Chomsky). “Sophisticated” might not be a right word. I think it will be like looking at a beautiful garden with many different kinds of plants and flowers. It is rich and beautiful. The mind of those people should be more beautiful. Such a society can only be achieved by empowering individuals to pursue their own arts. The change in education (e.g. the way we learn) has to the path to there.

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The elephant of self

In an IDP discussion, someone brought up the anger caused by disagreeing with other people. As a response, I mentioned that whenever anyone makes a statement, he makes the statement because he experienced something and thus there must be some truth in his statement. So it is important to find that experience of truth and experience it. Sometimes the statement is overstated, or overgeneralized because the person was too caught up. Anyhow, there is a truth in it and it is important to recognize it and experience it yourself.

Here I want to elaborate more on this. We know the Indian parable that six blind men try to figure out what an elephant looks like. Each one of them experienced part of the truth, made statement based on that part of the truth and disagree with others’ statements. None of them is able to put all the truth together and find out what an elephant really is like.

In Buddhism practice, we are trying to figure out the elephant of self, which is very elusive. Some people strongly experience the self as an individual unique self and thus they insist it to be so. Some people experience the self as part of the whole and they deny its unique individuality. How should we see the elephant of self? Experience all the experiences and hold them altogether in your hand. I like how Whitman put it: I contain multitudes.

In the grassroots movement (which is becoming more global and massive), a lot of focus is on altruism, as many people believe it so. But really, it is not about altruism.

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