Napkin scratchings from the tavern.

Democracy is Dead. Let’s Try This Instead . . .

global optimization landscape of sustainable societies

Creating happier societies using design contests, voting & the scientific method.

Better political systems are like aliens. I don’t know what they look like, but they’re out there. Here’s how we can find them.

Strategic voting: A pragmatic choice that brings out strange emotions — and proof that our democracy is less sincere than a high school popularity contest.

When there’s no option to vote for what we want, we join the mob and vote against what we fear.

I guess I voted?

A younger me might have carved a giant anarchy Ⓐ into the ballot, but I ticked the box that would hit Harper hardest — more choice than most people get.

We’re privileged to live in Canada, but is voting genuine choice or participation? This is where we’re trained to slap ourselves and say “Shut up about your First World problems. You, little brat, are lucky to have any vote at all.”

First World Problems = Everyone’s Problems

We export our pollution, bombs and politics to the developing world. We’re chilly in our big house in the suburbs, so we buy oil to heat it, conveniently priced in dollars.

Elsewhere in the world, the price of that oil is dead children.

We’re dicking around anyway, so why not use our First World recklessness to test out radically new ideas? Ideas that could actually help other civilizations live on the planet we’ve been raping.


Better systems are out there, waiting to be found

What systems? Well, it’s like aliens. I don’t know what they look like, but they’re out there. And I have an idea of how to find them.

With no party representing my special snowflake views on experimental politics, my vote was insincere. Purely strategic. Tunnel-vision, PC Bro Solidarity!

We — the mob — ticked the party most likely to kill Bill C-51 and defeat war mongering Harperism in our riding. But what I hoped to see on the ballot is this…

Dear Sheep:

Our system is broken, but we assumed you were too stupid to notice. We’ve had amazing advances in science and technology, but we’re using a political system that’s thousands of years old.

To boot, we’ve corrupted every cranny of it.

Democracy was supposed to be tyranny by majority, at the very least. Yet we have power concentrated in the hands of a minority who have no accountability.

We’ve created an empire with centralized power, an irresistible tool that’s leveraged by corrupt politicians, banksters and big oil executives.

And we have cobwebs of complex, arbitrary laws. The complexity and inefficiency of our statist bureaucracy is a monument to bad design.

We’re not progressing in the ways we organize society, so let’s use the war budget to experiment with new ideas for decentralized, local or regionally organized societies.

Do you have an idea for a prototype society we can test?

Brain boner. If that was on the ballot, I’d feel my vote is helping society move forward, not just preventing us from falling backward into the Valley of Death.

Just humour me for a minute. I’m going to say some shit that may sound crazy, but let’s get our creative juices flowing…

We could entertain the Cascadia experiment in BC.

Better yet, we could try 10 society prototypes at the same time.

Let’s hold a society design contest

The greatest (and dumbest) minds will submit blueprints for new societies.

People will vote on them… but here’s the catch: Voting means you agree to move to that concept society and live there, as a pioneer, for at least 3 years.

If you don’t want to participate in the experiment, you don’t get to vote. No skin in the game, no vote.

The top 10 designs are awarded a city-sized piece of remote land for their supporters to live out the experiment

Can we vote not to have a government? – Dr. Jelly Van Groose

Yes, Dr. Jelly. A piece of land could be an autonomous zone experiment like Rojava (Western Kurdistan), where non-coercive philosophies like Mutualism and Anarcho-Syndicalism could actually be tested without state intervention.

Traditional tribal societies could be tested. Even radical ideas from fantasy books could be tested — if they have enough pioneers willing to take the plunge (Tolkien-style Elvin society, anyone?).

Raw Undeveloped Land Foothills

We measure sustainable well-being

Over 20 years the experimental cities live and evolve as needed, and we poll them using the Happy Function.

The Happy Function can be any measure of sustainable well-being. For starts, we could use a modified version of the HPI (Happy Planet Index).

The original Happy Planet Index is based on well-being, life expectancy and ecological footprint. I propose a modified HPI that would include personal freedom in the equation. Without personal freedom, the minority free thinkers in society are at the mercy of the mob or the system.

Cob House at OUR Ecovillage, Sustainable Community on Vancouver Island

Fernwood Victoria Spring Ridge Common

If a city collapses during the 20 year trial… brilliant! This is rapid society prototyping, so the quicker we fail, the quicker we learn and adapt.

We invoke “Survival of the Happiest”

The most successful cities will be awarded additional crown land so they can continue the experiment at larger scale (intercity, regional), up to a point.

Then, the next time a country in crisis has a revolution and needs to choose a new way to live, they have several NEW, tested options they can choose from instead of repeating mistakes from the past.

Continue experimenting, and over time we will find options much better than anything we see on earth today.

An opportunity for enlightenment

Here’s how the landscape of society types waiting to be explored might look:

Happy sustainable societies in optimization landscape

Higher land represents happier, more sustainable societies — but our system today only lets us explore the hill we’re currently on.

How many more decades do we want to spend shuffling around on this little dune bordering the Valley of Death?

We can efficiently search for “higher land” all over the map by designing and testing radically new societies.

In theory, if we have enough test cities, we can climb multiple hills simultaneously!

Imagine 10 different prototype cities, all over the map. Some will be on lower land, some on higher. We can test them simultaneously and use iterative design (explained below) to improve the happiest prototypes, and learn what doesn’t work from the unhappy ones.

The “Happy Optimization” design flow

How dare I try to quantify happiness!? Shhh. I’ll hire an army of robots to quantify happiness all day if it gets results…

To efficiently find higher land we need feedback on happiness and sustainability. Obviously, happiness is subjective and we’ll never have a perfect metric. And a happy society does not mean every human is a happy puppy.

But this doesn’t mean science can’t help in the realm of well-being. Look at the improvements we’ve made to infant mortality…

Does less babies dying correlate with happiness? What about less war? More freedom? Or more pickles? We can measure that.

So why not apply the scientific method of experimentation and validation to politics?

There is a method behind my madness, called evolutionary optimization.

While I was showering, it popped to mind that we could design better societies by combining open design competitions, voting and artificial evolution (a way to optimize the design using iterations, loosely based on natural selection). If you’re interested, I explore this a bit deeper on Page 2, but first let’s visualize it.



How is this iterative design approach better than basic democracy?

Higher quality voting

At the heart of democracy is group think and mob dynamics. Many people vote without doing research and deep, rational consideration.

I expect a pioneer committing to live in a new society will put much more thought into that vote than a citizen who’s born into a society. The pioneer is not just doing her “civic duty”. She’s taking a calculated risk and leaping into the unknown.

Higher quality society designs

Pioneers only vote for designs that compel them into pioneership. The society designers who compel voters will likely be people with smart ideas.

Open design competitions let us explore the brilliant ideas that exist in the minds of our geniuses, but fall outside our rigid democratic framework.

Try before we buy (or die)

Small scale testing lets us try radical ideas without forcing our unwilling population into the experiment.

Consider Bill C-51, which violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and has been condemned by Human Rights Watch. It’s a dangerous experiment in mass surveillance that targets and further alienates minority groups.

The majority of Canadians strongly oppose Bill C-51, but our government has ignored us. They’re now violating our Charter Rights.

They’re spying on us, against our will, while forcing us to foot the bill!

Faster evolution toward sustainable well-being

Unlike our back and forth democracy, the prototype societies can only expand if they evolve in a happy direction. Otherwise, they fail based on “Survival of the Happiest”, and their pioneers are encouraged (but not forced) to return to normal society.

And there’s more… This framework lets us test many options in parallel to speed up the search (called parallel optimization). In theory, it could help us discover the secrets of sustainable well-being way faster than our civilization would do naturally.

But shorter term, I think the creative magic would be in the combination of design competitions plus voting-by-pioneership. This is how we can create new prototype towns, fast!

Ecocity design by Richard Register

Ecocity Berkeley by ecological city designer Richard Register – Ecocity Builders

Crisis application — regional and global

Having new, validated society prototypes would be useful in times of crisis, when an opportunity comes to restructure or rebuild.

If a country or region in crisis has a revolution and needs to choose a new way to live, they could choose to rebuild based on one of these NEW model societies, instead of adopting the Western way.

Or after a global systemic collapse, rather than having to scramble on our feet to whip up new societal frameworks, we could have a variety of pre-tested options.

Each community / region could vote on the organizational structure that works best for them — transitioning from a world of large empires to a patchwork of potentially happier, more sustainable, regional and local societies.

The framework is not a box, but a compass to guide us in our creative design of tomorrow’s societies

This society design process gives us much more creative freedom than democracy, where we don’t get to submit our own designs.

The prototype societies themselves would be designed and shaped by people from all walks of life.

The “Happy Optimization” framework exists solely to work with people to nudge us forward. The framework is used for feedback, course-correction and idea-generation assistance (see the “Mating and Mutation” part of the diagram).

This would not be a robot meddling with peoples daily lives.

Rather than trying to reprogram people, the prototype societies must adapt to the people — through design contests, being populated by pioneers, and the “Survival of the Happiest” policy that only rewards societies where people are happy.

People would not be like Santa’s elves, trapped inside an assembly line machine with productivity probes up their bums — they would be pioneers, forging a new society on the edge of discovery.

sustainable village farm land

Where on Earth could we do this?


But in the meantime, Canada and Russia are good test grounds because we have so much land that we recklessly waste on lesser things.

In Northern Alberta we habitually circumcise pristine land for tar sands and sprawling suburbs separated by highways.

An experimental sustainable city is a great use of Canadian crown land that would otherwise be decimated by our mindless development activities.

Or, prototype towns could be started on 5000 acre ranches in rural Canada.

For tropical climate colonies, Ilha Das Pacas is a 36,000 acre island in Brazil on sale for $10 Million, near the cities of Alcantara and Sao Luis.

If geographic isolation was desired, what about an island in the great lakes, Anticosti Island in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, or Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska?

Prince of Wales Island is 6,674 square km (larger than Prince Edward Island) and resource-abundant, with logging, fishing, mining and tourism industries.

Anticosti Island is 7,900 square km and virtually uninhabited. It’s been used as a biological experiment with several animal species introduced to make it a hunters paradise. Perhaps it could stay that way while hosting a few experimental sustainable colonies.

Raw land (meadow)

The economics of obtaining this land is another story, which I touch on on page 2. Any billionaires or governments have a cool 50,000 acres for 10 prototype towns that most likely won’t generate profit for you? Unlikely. Billionaires have other priorities.

For this to be practical in today’s world, having a source of high value income generation would be key.

Why let individual people try their hand at designing societies?

Because governments, committees and voters are often incompetent decision makers.

Case in point: Electing Harper. Passing Bill C-51. Google “design by committee” for more shitty examples.

Why don’t we just do the [utopian fantasy xyz] project at full scale?

We don’t know how a concept society will fair without testing it.

People love to think they intuitively know the outcome of a complex system without running the experiment.

Nature loves to prove these people wrong.

We’ve been trying to create utopias since the dawn of time, and where are they? Consider how easy it is for a tiny “utopian” community experiment to fail. And problems tend to scale with community size.

Plus, to install a new political system at full scale you would need a revolution and massive public support, or authoritarian control.

Are the world’s citizens ready to give up their possessions, let the Zeitgeist Movement march in and destroy all the cities, rebuild them in Zeitgeist style, centralize all the resource management and install an all-seeing robot to run the world economy?

We want change, but not badly enough to let robots renovate our planet into a theoretical utopia that could easily backfire. Let’s first test at small scale and consider the many practical, safer, more ethical alternatives to a centrally controlled “utopia”.

The intention behind my idea is to build multiple models for societies that work well on a regional level, rather than one world government, which I’m opposed to. Not to totally reject a Zeitgeist style movement (I appreciate the work they’re doing and it’s worth testing at small scale), but I think we need distribution of power, not concentration of it.

Concentration of power is dangerous and creates opportunities for corruption that may not be reversible (*cough* C-51 mass surveillance gets leveraged for peeping Tom robot apocalypse in 2039 led by His Excellency Lord Harper II the Magnificent Masturbation Watchdog *cough*).

Infinite possibilities we can’t even begin to imagine . . .

thinking about lifeIf we test prototype cities over 50 years, I expect we’ll have several new, experimentally validated models for sustainable societies.

Our children could expand on these model societies to create a better world.

As we colonize mars, the experiment could be done on a larger scale. Each new Martian colony could be an experimental society.

If we continued this intentional process over thousands of years, our descendants could have a rich variety of sustainable frameworks to choose from. Not necessarily one ideal system, but many different ones, adapted to different regions and different human preferences.

Earth and Mars could both be healthy, happy worlds filled with quasi-utopias, adapted to each region.

My conviction is that there are infinite ways to govern ourselves, but we’re stuck in a one-size-fits-all box and we’ve hardly scratched the surface.

How should we move forward?

Option 1: We can keep stumbling around thinking inside the box, on our little hill. Endlessly tweaking the State by hacking at the cobwebs of arbitrary laws and calling it “democracy”.

Wishfully thinking that our arbitrary behavior will move us away from the Valley of Death, toward a place of peace, sustainability and enlightenment.

Voting for political demigods based on their sexiness / slogan / party / colour. Or the tiny, tactical changes they’ll make to redecorate the inside of the box we’re trapped in.

Idolizing Scandinavia as a utopia where everyone’s equal and happy because we saw some blog post about how happy Danes claim to be.

Option 2: We can wait and hope aliens will come show us the way. Just like we came to North America to show the indigenous people “the way” (killing most of them in the process).

Option 3: We can embark on a journey of discovery and LOOK for the better options waiting to be found! We can speed up the search using a combination of creative design and intentional experimentation.

Call me crazy, but let’s design some new societies, let pioneers vote on them, test them as prototype cities, and evolve.

We have so much to learn, a sandbox to play in, and infinite ideas at our fingertips!

global optimization hills and valleys


Page 2: More about the Iterative Design Method + Practical Considerations

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