Evolving Collective Intelligence by Tom Atlee

Exploring how to generate the collective wisdom we need

Exploring how to generate the collective wisdom we need

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April 28, 2005

Brad Blanton's Campaign and the Transformation of Democracy

I just got another letter from Brad Blanton. This author of Radical Honesty is running for Congress in Virginia. In 2004 he got 24 percent of the vote with $4000 and some grassroots help. With two million dollars (including selling his home) he figures he can replace the incumbent Bush ally -- Rep. Eric Cantor -- with a different kind of politician. If years as a Radical Honesty workshop leader aren't enough to convince people he's for real, he's planning on wiring himself for sound so that everything he says and does is recorded 24/7 and broadcast on his website (with searchable transcripts soon after). A radically honest politician. Interesting idea. Perhaps its time has come. And Brad goes further...

He's proposing "local and national democracy teams" "to discuss specific issues, provide options and make recommendations." These teams will be made up of ordinary citizens -- a cross section of the community (or country). Brad believes that if they "are given a way to deeply listen to each other, [they will be] able to come up with more brilliant solutions to problems than any of them could have alone... [and] make better public policy than backroom dealmakers addicted to secrecy and control."

I'm not sure he's thinking of citizen deliberative councils (as discussed in my book, The Tao of Democracy, which he's read), but he's definitely in that ballpark. Which makes me intrigued with what he'll actually do. He is one of two politicians who have signed the Co-Intelligence Institute's Politicians Pledge to Hear the People's Common Sense (Hawaii state senator Les Ihara is the other one), so at least he's got that as a touchstone.

Given all this, it is a bit unsettling to find myself ambivalent. On the one hand, his planned campaign is unquestionably a remarkable and courageous initiative. On the other, I don't know if it is the best strategic investment.

Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on the 2004 U.S. presidential election, much of it on TV advertising. I wonder if a majority of Americans really felt that Bush and Kerry were the best people for the job. Where might we be now if that money had been spent actually changing the political system so that we had better choices, more dependable voting systems, and candidates who were not beholden to special interests -- to say nothing of truly empowering the wisdom of the people (as is done in citizen deliberative councils). My own work is very underfunded, as are many other good political initiatives (see my outdated but still remarkable list of innovations in democracy), and I can see dozens of R&D projects that would move us ahead, if there were money for them.

So Brad wants $2,000,000 for a run for Congress. He's promising a remarkable campaign and a remarkable term in Congress if he's elected (I wonder if any of those not-so-honest-and-open people in Congress would talk with him, knowing he's wired for sound!!). And if he loses, will the movement for a collectively intelligent and wise democracy be $2 million ahead? Or will it be short $2 million it could have used for more strategically productive activities? On the other hand, would the kind of people who contribute to a political campaign be interested in financing transformational efforts that are not campaign related? I don't know. I wish I did.

Of course the Co-Intelligence Institute, itself, can't spend a lot of resources advocating for or against any candidate -- partly because it is a non-political nonprofit organization and partly because it advocates innovations that take us beyond partisanship. But I as an individual could more energetically speak out for or against Brad's approach.

In general, I think we should be focusing on transforming the system that gives us such lousy choices, such corruption, and such dangerous policies. Most campaigns offer little help, while draining oceans of money and energy. Brad's is different. But is it the best strategic choice? What do you think?


posted by Tom Atlee on Thursday April 28 2005
updated on Saturday September 24 2005

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Readers' Comments

Thanks for your comments on my campaign, Tom. I want to point out
that what sounds like an either/or choice, give money to Brad's campaign
or give money to reform the system, is not really that clear. My effort is the
very process of reforming the system, on the ground, in the world--not just
in terms of theory but of practice. I am running as an Independent Green
Party candidate for congress in a gerrymandered heavily Republican district
where no Democrat will take him on, so we can establish a third party,
introduce some truly innovative ideas (some of them yours!)that Republican
lite Democrats might have trouble introducing, and we are definitely
educating the public about what democracy could be. So my answer to the
question posed is "Why not give financial support to both at the same time?"

I would split my two million in half, and give half to Tom for putting out
the invitation clearly and constantly to recreate how we live together and
half to Brad, where we have a chance of actually trying to undo the old
system and create the new one.

Thanks! Brad

Posted by: Brad Blanton on May 6, 2005 04:29 AM


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