The Era of Signals and Changing Power Dynamics. By Dana Edwards. Posted on Steemit. October 8, 2018.
The world we live in is rapidly changing. For instance the #MeToo era has arrived. This new era shows us that any individual in any position in society can be brought down. It proves a point that many in the blockchain community may have known instinctively which is that any individual source of authority and or power can and may be removed from that position. Some people actively choose to seek to be in these positions of power for their own reasons and then some of these people abuse their positions of power. People who seek power for the wrong reasons and then abuse it are in my opinion a risk which positions of authority bring (which blockchain technology may help reduce).
What are signals and what is signalling theory?
Social desirability bias is a popular topic in academic circles. To explain:
In social science research, social desirability bias is a type of response bias that is the tendency of survey respondents to answer questions in a manner that will be viewed favorably by others. It can take the form of over-reporting "good behavior" or under-reporting "bad," or undesirable behavior. The tendency poses a serious problem with conducting research with self-reports, especially questionnaires. This bias interferes with the interpretation of average tendencies as well as individual differences.
People tend to want to be liked/loved. People when asked questions on a survey may feel pressured to answer the survey in a way which they think they will be viewed more favorably by others. In other words rather than answering in a manner which they truly think or feel they will assess how others might judge their response and then answer in a way which they think they will be judged more favorably.
A full video on this topic is below:
Social desirability bias is exactly why voting on platforms such as Steem will not work. When voting is public then most of the research seems to show that people will feel pressured to answer the question not in the way which they really believe or prefer but in the way which they think the whales want them to vote or prefer. In other words because on Steem the whales can reward (or punish) anyone who votes in ways which go against "political sensibilities" it is likely that social desirability bias applies particularly on DPOS style consensus platforms. If there are votes and the votes are not encrypted (secret) then we have no way to determine which votes are legitimate and which votes are the result of signalling (such as virtue signals).
For example when it was Trump vs Hillary the polls suggested Hillary would win. This is because there likely was social desirability bias which made it socially undesirable for anyone to admit they voted for Trump. As a result people who voted for Trump or who planned to vote for Trump may have said in public that they intended to vote for Hillary. Because the votes in the election are secret the people who may have seemed like loud Hillary supporters could have been secret Trump supporters in disguise.
In some of my previous posts I discuss signalling theory a bit more:
In these posts I have identified that behavior of individuals is shaped by how individuals think other individuals will think of their behaviors. This would apply to social desirability optimization which I'll label as adopting behaviors which provide the expected payoff of being rewarded with improved social desirability.
To provide clarity the definition of social desirability:
Social desirability is the tendency for research participants to attempt to act in ways that make them seem desirable to other people.
In other words people want to be liked. Likeability is a word I can use to simplify the concept of social desirability for readers. In the example with the 2016 election it is clear that supporters of Trump would risk a social stigma with severe social consequences if they came out in public support. This high cost of public support is why some believed that there were secret Trump supporters who were simply afraid of "losing face". In the most simple terms a person can talk red or talk blue depending on where the social stigma is.
One of the stunning conclusions I reached in my own research on this topic is that the increasing transparency leads to "preference falsification". That is a person who is talking blue while thinking red. If all speech is public (like it is on Steem) then there is the possibility that preference falsification is taking place.
Here is a video on the topic of preference falsification:
Why is this a major problem in the blockchain community? The evolutionary trajectory of a platform relies entirely on market preferences. If censorship exists and conformist pressures hinder true preference aggregation then the developers (and the community itself) will have no way of knowing which improvements to make or which changes would best satisfy the community.
What is leadership and what is the era of signals?
Before I attempt to discuss leadership I will first explain what I think leadership means and what it is. In my opinion the community must always come first. A person who is put into a leadership position is in my opinion in what I'll term "the seat of responsibility". This is in my opinion not an enviable position to be in but someone has to be in this position. For example a person who receives a security clearance is now in a position of heavy responsibility. The information which they protect is not their secrets but the nations secrets.
Leadership in my understanding is not about "being in power" but is about serving a community. To be in a "big seat" is to be in a position of responsibility to make decisions on behalf of a community which the chosen person must represent. In other words being in positions of responsibility is entirely about service and not about power. A representative in congress is not in a position of power but in a position to serve their constituents who put them in that position to represent their interests.
In my opinion to be a good leader is to be a great listener. The leader must listen to the community to find out what the community wants and or needs. The leader must listen to the community to determine what the community thinks is right or wrong. The leader then must offer solutions or proposals or policies which satisfies the requirements of the community. What matters more than who is in the seat is the seat itself. This means the Presidency itself matters more than who is in office. The positions themselves matter more than who is in them. Long after whomever is in these positions are gone there will be these positions to be filled. Any leader in any position is replaceable by someone else if they show failure to lead (whether it be a CEO, or a President of a country, or a lead developer, or any other kind of community leader).
In my understanding it is like chess where all pieces on the board can be in various positions. We know in chess that the pawn can become any piece on the board. The point with this analogy is that individuals in my opinion are not likely to remain the source of power in society. The source of power in society is increasingly becoming the community for better or for worse. According to me, to lead is to serve and to lead effectively is to serve effectively.
To accept a responsibility to serve (to lead) it is required to seek feedback from all whom the community servant represents. This does not require voting specifically but it does require under any circumstance a mechanism by which the community can give brutally honest feedback to the system itself. When I say the system itself I do not mean the feedback must go direction to those who serve the system but that the system must have a means of collecting data, analyzing data, and then informing those who can improve the system on which changes best would satisfy the needs of the community.
In my opinion this is a very data driven process. I do not think leaders can for example process big data using their brain power. This will require that they harness the power of machines (machine intelligence). There is also risk if all the processing is done by one company (such as Google) just as there is risk if all people rely on Facebook for the news and opinions. We can see that Facebook has the ability right or wrong to shape elections by deforming the news feed or by allowing certain fake profiles to interact on the site. We see that Facebook can ban crypto ads at will for example to enforce certain policies without taking any kind of poll from the community or the users for instance. We simply do not see any poll data from the users which indicated that the users were tired of seeing crypto ads.
Summary of thoughts on leadership:
Augmenting the wisdom of the community as a means of better governance
In a world where the community must decide what to do we have a situation where responsibility is increasingly diffuse. This means while it is true that the signature may come from the face of the community (if it is a human face) it is still the community which has to be capable of wisdom. The problem is most communities in the world do not become wiser as more join the community. A bigger community doesn't produce better policies by merely voting together. The problem is while most people have opinions it does not mean opinions are well informed or scientific or wise. The lack of wisdom in a community results in horrible (harmful) policies, over reactions, systemic bias, and more.
The conclusion I have reached so far is that in order to have better governance in an era where the community is the government it is a requirement that the community be wise. It's not enough to simply give the community unlimited power to shape the future without providing any capacity for the community to be wise or to do research or to solve problems. Voting in the sense we see in elections does not involve informed voters. Information supplied to voters is almost always sub par and voters are expected to trust "opinion leaders" and "opinion shapers" who tell them how to vote and why. Often disinformation shapes elections more than scientific evidence, facts, math, or reason.
As we build blockchain technology I think it is critical that we put great emphasis on data analytics. Data analytics will allow our leaders to make better decisions on our behalf. Blockchain technology will have to rely on data analytics to figure out potential wants and needs of it's participants, users, e-citizens, etc. At the same time private communication will be a necessity even if just to conduct surveys. The reason is people will not necessarily provide their real opinion in a survey which is completely transparent. The only solution I could find to the problem of preference falsification is privacy.
Most important of all is those who are put into positions of leadership are in trusted positions. This includes people who are moderators at forums, people who are lead developers, people who run exchanges. People who are in these positions have the responsibility to serve the blockchain community to the best of their ability. The abuse of these positions for personal power or personal gain is a violation of this trust and in these instances the community can and should select someone else for that position.
Bulbulia, J., & Sosis, R. (2011). Signalling theory and the evolution of religious cooperation. Religion, 41(3), 363-388.
Davis, W. L. (2004). Preference falsification in the economics profession. Econ Journal Watch, 1(2), 359.
Frank, R. H. (1996). The Political Economy of Preference Falsification: Timur Kuran's Private Truths, Public Lies. Journal of Economic Literature, 34(1), 115-123.
Grimm, P. (2010). Social desirability bias. Wiley international encyclopedia of marketing.
Sîrbu, A., Loreto, V., Servedio, V. D., & Tria, F. (2017). Opinion dynamics: models, extensions and external effects. In Participatory Sensing, Opinions and Collective Awareness (pp. 363-401). Springer, Cham.
Consensus Morality and Tauchain | Consensus Gentium. By Dana Edwards. Posted on Steemit. September 15, 2018.
An ancient criterion of truth, the consensus gentium (Latin for agreement of the people), states "that which is universal among men carries the weight of truth" (Ferm, 64). A number of consensus theories of truth are based on variations of this principle. In some criteria the notion of universal consent is taken strictly, while others qualify the terms of consensus in various ways. There are versions of consensus theory in which the specific population weighing in on a given question, the proportion of the population required for consent, and the period of time needed to declare consensus vary from the classical norm.
In the past I made a controversial statement that the law is amoral. This statement I made is based on a simple understanding of legal positivism. Take note that I am not a legal scholar or legal philosopher. My background is in ethical philosophy and political philosophy. That being said if we look at the ideas behind legal positivism it leads to the conclusion that law and morality have nothing to do with each other. In this post I will try to clarify some of my thoughts on this topic and also address a question I was asked about whether Democracy is moral or immoral. I will also discuss the concept of consensus morality and the implications it could have on Tauchain which by design will be permitted to have law(s). Will the law(s) in Tauchain be moral or immoral? Is it possible to align a moral framework with the creation of all laws in Tauchain? Which moral framework and will it be reached by consensus?
In order to understand a lot of my post we first have to consider the question of what is consensus morality? So in order to discuss this topic I will divide morality up into; private morality, public morality. This also introduces the question of whether public morality is authentic or coerced as it depends on how it emerges.
Private morality is what you internally think or feel is right or wrong. This could be because you did some sophisticated calculation as a consequentialist or it could merely be that you feel a certain kind of way about it. In your opinion it is considered wrong. For example you could say: "eating meat is wrong" and this would be your personal opinion. This is an expression on how you feel about eating meat. Now if you say "eating meat is wrong because it promotes animal suffering" this is also an expression of your opinion but you now have a goal attached which is to avoid promoting animal suffering. The goal of not promoting animal suffering suggests that you value minimization of animal suffering as a kind of optimization strategy.
If you still you follow, private morality can also be based on your religious convictions where because the bible says it is wrong or because you were taught the golden rule that it is in your opinion wrong to do behaviors which violate these teachings. The golden rule is an example of a heuristic rule. There are many such rules which people follow including the example from Kant (categorical imperative) but it is still just an opinion based on adherence to a heuristic rule. We can also consider the non agression principle an example of a heuristic rule (a heuristic rule is a mental shortcut which people take because they believe it leads to good results most of the time).
Public morality on the other hand is a different kind of morality entirely. A private individual has a private morality because that individual is only responsible for themselves in their decisions. A public individual is in a position where other people have a stake in what they are doing. For example a CEO of a company cannot simply do what they think is right because the other shareholders have funds at stake. The CEO has a fiduciary duty which outweighs their personal opinions on what is right and wrong. This fiduciary duty is to the shareholders of the company and is both a legal and ethical obligation. In the case of a public company the rightness or wrongness of a decision if the company weighs consequences is based on data. For example a company might rely on focus groups to determine what a customer might want. A company would have to rely on spiritual advisers, ethical focus groups and determine what the shareholders (and customers) would perceive as right. This is because if the CEO does not do what is in the best interest of the shareholders and customers then the CEO will simply be replaced by another CEO who will.
Public morality is reached by some process which results in a moral consensus. The moral consensus of 2018 is not going to be the same as the moral consensus of 1969. This is to say that moral attitudes change over time. A company which seeks to exist and remain profitable for decades must remain in good moral standards for these decades. The only way a company can remain aligned with current moral trends is through a tactic of data analysis. In other words data science is how "right" and "wrong' are determined. For example public sentiment is tracked and from that the marketing team knows where the line in the sand is and what line not to cross in their marketing campaign. The phrase "we went too far" is common in business because going too far simply means to push the boundaries on what is acceptable (or unacceptable). This also can become problematic because if a company bets on a moral consensus in the 1800s (slavery is right) then that company might find after the Civil War (slavery is wrong) and now have to change their opinion. In other words the moral consensus is always changing and is in essence producing moral populism.
Consensus morality on Tauchain
Consensus morality is essentially a publicly recognized framework for right and wrong. Consensus morality on Tauchain for example could be arrived at if we simply have the discussions on topics of ethics. Over time our discussions will converge in such a way so as to produce a consensus morality. That is a moral attitude of the day, of the year, etc as it is merely what is currently the popular opinion and sentiment on what is right and what is wrong. So consensus morality is in my opinion likely to be a very important concept going forward and is a concept which Tauchain (and blockchains like Steem) may enable.
Consensus morality and potential problems
So the question I was asked is about democracy. The idea a person put forth to me was that democracy is immoral because it is a form of coercion. I do not personally buy into this idea that democracy is inherently immoral or inherently coercive. I will say that democracy implemented in the wrong way can become coercive. This is why the emphasis on privacy may be a requirement. If there is no privacy then all votes could be coerced. If the idea is to have a network which is truly moral then we would require that every moral opinion be expressible. Moral opinions which are unpopular are censored or discouraged from being expressed in a transparent ecosystem. This means a transparent ecosystem may in fact under certain circumstances produce a coerced consensus morality. That is that the votes which are public and attributable to certain individual may be mere virtue signals rather than honest (authentic) opinions on what is right and wrong.
As a result this transparency may skew the results of any poll about any subject. A private or anonymous poll can capture a result which in theory expresses some true opinion. In addition there is the possibility of futarchy to allow for prediction markets and other mechanisms to allow for true sentiment on moral questions to be discovered. My answer to the question is that whilst democracy is not inherently wrong it is also not inherently right. Democracy is a tool which when used in the right circumstances may be best suited for achieving the ends. If no better tool exists to achieve the ends then democracy may in fact be the choice which leads to the least bad consequences which compared to other potential choices. That being said the ideal of consequentialism is to over time reduce the wrongness and increase the rightness by measuring the consequences of every choice; such as private ballot voting vs transparent voting.
Privacy has both it's risks and its benefits with regard to consequences. The benefits include coercion resistance. The risks on the other hand include increased ability to bribe and thus coerce. So the idea being that while in theory a person with privacy can express an authentic opinion (have genuine speech rights) it is also true that anyone could be anonymously (privately) be selling their opinion and thus their vote. It is going to be a challenge to determine when privacy is the right tool for the job and when transparency is the right tool for the job.
In the positivist view, the "source" of a law is the establishment of that law by some socially recognised legal authority. The "merits" of a law are a separate issue: it may be a "bad law" by some standard, but if it was added to the system by a legitimate authority, it is still a law.
Legal positivism states that the law and morality are not one in the same. Just because something is legal it does not mean it is moral. Just because something is illegal it does not mean it is immoral. From this basis I reached a conclusion that because immoral laws exist (some laws are moral) that the law as a whole is amoral. That is to say that whether a law can be made or unmade does not demend on whether the law produces good consequences or even desirable consequences. We could for example look at the drug laws and war on drugs to see examples of policies which produce mass incarceration but was that the intended consequence? It would seem the drug laws would have to be immoral according to consequentialism unless the intended consequence was mass incarceration. If the intended consequence was harm reduction then the current drug laws are ineffective. What do these laws actually achieve? It doesn't really matter because the law is amoral. To align the law with morality is also problematic because it would only be able to align with public morality which under consequentialism may also often lead to bad or unintended consequences.
A potential solution is to allow participants in the ecosystem to rate the laws over time. Laws which receive a higher rating or lower rating would provide a feedback loop indicating when a law should be replaced. This is something that we don't seem to have in the current legal system or if we do have it then what is actually done if a lot of people express the opinion that a particular law is immoral or perhaps not moral enough? If every law on Tauchain could be rated, reviewed, discussed continuously, and improved indefinitely, then we may actually get somewhere.
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Suggested readings to better understand the Tau ecosystem, Tau Meta Language, Tau-Chain and Agoras, and collaborate in the development of the project.
Lecturas sugeridas para entender mejor el ecosistema Tau, Tau Meta Lenguaje, Tau-Chain y Agoras, y colaborar en el desarrollo del proyecto.