The pursuance system is the world's first comprehensive framework for process democracy. That is, it allows individuals with no prior relationship to self-organize into robust, agile entities governed via a "proceduralism of agreement." These entities, called pursuances, in turn engage and collaborate among themselves to whatever extent they choose, leading ultimately to a vast and formidable ecosystem of opposition to institutionalized injustice.
This system will be populated on an invitation basis, beginning towards the end of 2017. For consideration as a participant, and to receive further information as it becomes public, subscribe below.
For the first time in history, any individual may now collaborate with any other individual. One may get a sense of the implications of this by considering how different human history would have been had early man possessed some psychic ability to find and communicate with anyone else across the world. We now have something very similar, and in some ways more powerful.
It's easy to underestimate the significance of this in part because it's also easy to overestimate it and, worse, to romanticize it. The advent of the internet was immediately followed by triumphalist manifestos setting out the great and positive changes that were now afoot. That much of what was predicted didn't immediately come to pass has led some to challenge the entire premise of the internet as a potentially revolutionary force for good.
Certainly the utopian predictions of the early ‘90s were off the mark; indeed the clearest picture we have today contains seeds of actual dystopia. Meanwhile, the trivial uses to which the internet is commonly put can make it difficult to take seriously as a transcendental factor in our civilization. But then gunpowder was originally used to make fireworks. And a technology that may be used to oppress may also be used to liberate. Again, gunpowder comes to mind.
The way in which events have proceeded in our society since the advent of the internet tells us less about the internet than it does about our society. There are a few lessons we can glean, though. In the large, we know that mass connectivity does not automatically lead to mass enlightenment. We know that states will sometimes seek to use the internet to further their control over information, and that they will sometimes be successful in this. We know many things of this sort. But none of this tells us what the internet will ultimately mean for human civilization. That will be determined on the ground, in the years to follow.
For now, the most important fact of the 21st century is that any individual may now collaborate with any other individual on the planet. Our most crucial institutions evolved in a fundamentally different landscape, one that has transformed with a suddenness never before seen in history. As the implications of this are better understood, an era of unprecedented tumult will ensue as our multipolar world defined largely by a few dozen competing nation-states continues the chaotic transition into a largely hyperpolar one defined increasingly by the activities of non-state actors.
This would be a dangerous process even in the best of times, as it would threaten a global array of interrelated institutions with the means to challenge the process, and nation-states fulfill sufficient emotional needs in a large enough portion of humanity that they will retain backers even among those with no advantage to be gained from their continued existence. And many of those with a head start in leveraging the peculiarities of the information age in order to obtain power, such as Steve Bannon, have already proven to be enemies of the open society. How the next few decades unfold will depend on who takes best advantage of this unlimited power to recruit and organize. This is now sufficiently apparent that large numbers of reasonable and capable people, given a viable opportunity, may be convinced to enter the arena.
I will here introduce the concept of process democracy, which differs from institutional democracy insomuch as that every aspect of the latter is evolved in a piecemeal fashion that entails the perpetual consent of all participants without necessarily entailing majority votes for decision-making (it could just as accurately be described as anarcho-feudalism, using the actual definition of feudalism as consisting of a series of agreed-upon relationships existing outside of institutional strictures, as opposed to the popular understanding of the term).
The specific variety of process democracy we will be setting in motion is known as Pursuance. This is a server-based ecosystem of collaboration and self-governance in which all participants will have equal opportunity to create and join pursuances: structured entities best thought of as evolvable organizational charts, with a wide range of customization available, as well as the ability for individual pursuances to link up in various ways; indeed, the ultimate goal of this process, which will provide a superior means by which to organize collaborative activism, is to eventually give rise to a sort of technocratic super-organism capable of confronting criminalized institutions and ultimately rolling them back.
Figure 1: Here, Participant Albert has created a pursuance, which appears as a cube linked to his icon. In this case Albert wants to work for prison reform and already has an idea as to how to go about it (one may also create a pursuance without yet having a particular approach in mind, or with more general goals). Albert writes a brief charter explaining his intent; this will appear to anyone who views the pursuance cube, and may be updated later.
Figure 2: Albert's basic idea is to create an informational package for journalists explaining how they can use Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain the grievance forms inmates fill out to report staff misconduct and due process violations, and how this data can be leveraged to cover the otherwise opaque U.S. prison system. He needs someone detail-oriented to figure out the best way to pursue this - should they e-mail the presentation to every outlet within a hundred miles of a prison, or perhaps work to identify two dozen journalists who seem most likely to participate and try to develop working relationships with each? And so he creates a position, represented here by a spoke running off of his own sphere - running outward, as we term it - and labels it for view by other participants within the universe, all of whom can now see a description of the position. He also picks a method by which applicants can apply - writing a brief message of intent, answering questions, or simply pressing a button to submit a pre-created profile or resume - and then waits for responses. He could also search through a database of existing participants who've set their profiles to be visible to others.
Figure 3: An applicant has been chosen; Participant Beth is now linked to Albert under terms agreed to by both. The default arrangement has the new participant answering directly to the primary, who, by virtue of having sole access to the pursuance box, still retains control over the project. Such an agreement may nonetheless entail that the new participant be granted a degree of agency over how things develop outwardly, “down the line.” The most fundamental of these delegated powers is the ability to bring on additional participants reporting to him, and the ability to grant those additional participants the same ability. Allowing them to do so is nearly always a good idea. The alternatives - not allowing any growth, or requiring that it be approved on a piecemeal basis by the originator or his delegate - will make sense in a few cases, but for the most part a pursuance will be strengthened by delegated growth so long as it occurs on the outer bounds of the structure. As we'll see later, the prospect of exponential growth without a significant drop in average user quality is a key aspect of this system.
Figure 4: The pursuance has grown. Beth, who's managing the details of the project, has brought on Ellen to identify news outlets and journalists who have covered related issues and thus might be interested in receiving the package. Ellen has in turn brought on Frederick to help with all the Googling and whatnot, and Frederick has likewise brought on Geraldo to do the same. Anything Geraldo comes up with is sent straight to Frederick, who submits to Ellen, who submits to Beth, who arranges all of this in final form before providing to Albert. Meanwhile, Beth has also brought on Dunkelzhanto create a database of prisons; as Beth receives the journalist names and contact info, he'll send them along to Dunkelzhan, who will determine which prisons are located near which journalists and then make the database available to Beth, who will check the results and send them along to Albert. Meanwhile, Albert has written the presentation, which he provides, along with the contacts, to Cathy, whom he's brought on to deal directly with the journalists and to answer specific questions they might have.
As we'll see, this very basic pursuance can go in a variety of directions. It could continue to perform its existing function - identifying additional journalists and assisting those who have expressed interest in writing about prisons, perhaps while continually refining the presentation to include further tips. It could add new functions, either by repurposing existing participants or bringing on new ones into additional structures; they could write a newsletter updating subscribers on relevant news accounts, for instance, or create a new mechanism to brief Congressional aides on prison policy, or use FOIA data to identify specific potential stories to suggest to journalists covering the region in question. They may experiment with how their pursuance is organized, rearranging the basic participant structure and adopting a variety of tools and options at every level of operation; they'll be able to browse through an expanding library of structures that others have found useful in particular tasks, and provide copies of their own structures for use by others. Most importantly, they may link up with other pursuances - sometimes on a limited basis, merely to share data or discuss policy, but often more formally, in ways that involve shared obligations and coordinated action on areas of common purpose.
Note that each pursuance can be customized in ways that go well beyond the structural mechanics presented here; as such, two pursuances with the exact same structure may actually operate quite differently from each other due to the particular internal settings adopted by each.
Crucially, users will be able to browse a library of ready-made structures submitted by others who've found them to be effective, and which may be added on to one's own pursuance or used in creating a new one. These can include anything from a simple arrangement of four or five roles connected in an unusual way that makes sense for some particular task to complex, large-scale networks with room for hundreds of users; in either case, these “open-source” structures may or may not include internal settings as devised by the submitter, and at any rate a user is free to make any changes for his own use, and to submit the revised version back into the library for use by others. Entire functioning pursuances, large or small, may also be submitted and browsed. This will allow participants to create and evolve highly- functional pursuances without having to be conversant with the system itself. It will also provide for fast- paced evolution of pursuances across the board as users with an interest in developing structures spend less time reinventing the wheel and more time refining proven structures and inventing new ones, which will in turn be refined and resubmitted, and so forth.
The pursuance library will also provide access to written case studies submitted by users. These may cover a particular structure, pursuance, or settings configuration that the submitter has either developed or used, in which case they'll be visible in the library when one views the item in question in addition to being searchable by other means. Other case studies may cover broader aspects of the pursuance system itself.
Figure 1: Alfonso has created a pursuance and then granted Buford and Catherine a degree of control equal to his own. There are two basic settings by which disagreements may be resolved among the three of them - requiring majority or unanimous votes - and a variety of options as to what each of these co- equals may do without approval from the other two and what requires a vote. For instance, each may be allowed to bring on participants without approval - indeed, this is usually for the best regardless of structure - but may require approval for putting out a public statement or initiating a new project.
Figure 2: Algonquin has created a basic chain structure whereby each new participant is only permitted to bring on one additional participant. Such an arrangement will be rare, but useful in certain specialized circumstances.
Figure 3: A participant may be linked inwards to two or more other participants in addition to whichever outward participants he may be permitted to bring on.
Figure 4: Several pursuances have joined together into a cluster, sharing information and tasks, and coordinating campaigns. The orange lines represent fairly informal connections among participants of different pursuances, who may act as liaisons. The green lines represent formal operational agreements among the pursuances themselves.
Note that the pursuance system isn't intended just for the creation of new entities; existing institutions such as NGOs may easily establish a presence in the universe as a means of organizing large-scale campaigns, getting assistance from specialized pursuances, or collaborating with one another with far greater efficiency than is generally achievable via conventional office-to- office cooperation.
A more extensive explanation of features will be made available at a later date; the most important of these is a robust task management system that operates both within and without the structure itself, as determined by settings (it's via this system that the central work of most pursuances, such as described in the examples above, will largely be carried out). Separate from the task mechanics, the pursuance system handles day-to- day information flow via three categories of documents.
1. "Placed documents" - Documents, more or less permanent, that are accessible to one or more users; these may be set to allow further editing by a subset of those users.
2. "Input Flows" - Documents created by a user to be "pushed through" down the line from user to user, with each given the opportunity to provide input before pushing it to the next user until it reaches the end of the line. At this point, it may either be converted into a placed document or sent back up the line for further input; this process may be repeated as many times as desired by the flow's originator. This may be used for such things as brainstorming and assessing news items and other data. That each user is directly confronted with the document, which remains in his module until being passed, helps to focus participants and encourage contributions (an option may also be set that automatically pushes the document through after some particular amount of time has passed without editing, in which case a notation is appended to that effect).
3. "Submission Flows" - Documents created by a user to be pushed up the line, generally for the purpose of submitting ideas, proposals, and items of information, which each user may either push forward or not as deemed appropriate. This constitutes one of the basic mechanics of the pursuance system as "filter," and indeed was one of its original purposes; a pursuance that starts out with a few high-quality users can grow to include hundreds without any real risk of becoming cluttered with low-quality input coming from the margins, as items must be approved forward by each participant up the line.
As with several other aspects of the system, the flow process is subject to exceptions that may be determined via settings. By default, any participant may send one document to the primary or anyone else up the line at any time, outside of structural channels; if the document turns out to be worthwhile, the recipient may choose to renew the sender's ability to do this. Another setting determines whether a submission flow document, upon being created and sent up the line, also appears randomly at some other point in the pursuance, or at several points, where they may be pushed up the line as usual; this is intended to speed up the proliferation of time-sensitive news items, as well as to better ensure that good input from the margins get more than one chance for acceptance. Another setting allows for documents to automatically proceed to the next position on the line after some variable amount of time has passed without editing or approval/disapproval; this is largely intended to prevent bottlenecking due to temporary absences. Other settings will allow for additional refinement within a pursuance's existing structure.