(Draft section 2 of "A medium of assent for the support of large scale
communicative action".) http://zelea.com/project/votorola/d/theory.xht


COMMUNICATIVE ACTION is a type of social action that is coordinated
by discussion aimed at mutual understanding or agreement.^[3]  This
section is an overview of the structural means by which large scale
communicative *assent* may be put into practice, thus fulfilling it as
communicative *action*.  In other words, after people agree to
something, it actually gets done.

A combination of three structural components is required.  The first
two are pre-existing in all representative democracies.  No structural
changes to these two are assumed.  They are: (1) the administrative
institutions of state and local government, and (2) the media of mass
assent (mass electoral systems) that are constitutionally bound to

 1. Administrative institutions of state and local government

 2. Media of mass assent (mass electoral systems)

 3. Medium of communicative assent

The proposed change is to introduce a new structural component: (3) a
medium of communicative assent.  It would be introduced into the
communicative part of society known as the "lifeworld".^[TCA2] It
would be anchored there by tying the formal identities of online users
to the actual identities of people.  Thus anchored as an institution
of the lifeworld, the medium would provide the necessary supports to
build consensus by way of open discussions in the public sphere.
People could use it to reach large scale agreements.  For example,
consider this scenario:

    A group of young people wish to make improvements to their
    neighbourhood park.  They come up with a plan and begin to promote
    it locally.  Some of them are in disagreement and propose
    alternative plans.  They all share access to a medium of
    communicative assent.  They use it to highlight their differences
    and to resolve them one by one.  Eventually the whole
    neighbourhood agrees on a consensus plan.  The City sends a safety
    inspector to the site, and trucks in some sand.  With a little
    help, the young people complete the improvements to the park.

The improvements might be as simple as adding a new sandbox for
children, or as complex as renovating the athletic facilities.  The
number of participants might be a hundred for a small neighbourhood,
or ten thousand for a large one.  The basic argument is that, once
they reached a rough consensus, government would act.  In technical
terms, the communicative assent of the public sphere would find action
in the non-communicative part of society known as the "system".^[TCA2]
The overall effect would be communicative action by society as a

    FIGURE 5.  Relations between lifeworld and system from the
    perspective of the system.  Shows a transformation of the
    citizenship interchange relation (2a to 2a') in response to large
    scale communicative assent.  [Modified from Habermas.^TCA2.320]


>From the perspective of the system, the institution of communicative
action would transform the citizenship interchange relation that
exists between the public sphere and government.  The transformation
is shown in figure 5.  Instead of receiving what Habermas
characterizes as "mass loyalty" from the public sphere, government
would receive communicative assent.  Instead of responding with
political decisions, it would respond with action.

The reason why government would respond in this way can be explained
by looking at one particular aspect of the citizenship interchange:
the electoral relations between citizens and government.  In the
remainder of this section, I will examine the probable effects of
communicative assent on these relations, in particular on the election
of public officers.  Then I will examine the possibility of its more
general effects, first on societal power structures (section 3), then
on norms (4).  Understanding the electoral effects is the key to
understanding the others.

    FIGURE 6.  Electoral relations between the public sphere and the
    administrative system.  Detailing the transformed citizenship
    interchange (2a' from figure 5) as it functions in the act of
    granting public offices.  The only structural difference from the
    original interchange (2a) is a medium of communicative assent
    (green) that is added to the public sphere.


Adding a new medium to the public sphere cannot change the overall
electoral relation, but it can change who is elected.  Ordinarilly a
candidate of an organized political party is elected.  The steps are
shown in figure 6.  The candidate is first chosen by party members in
a primary election (1), then wins mass assent from the wider
electorate (2), and then finally enters office (3).

A medium of communicative assent is not a political party.  It has no
leader, no staff and no members.  It has no name, serves no particular
interests, and has no recognized status.  Nevertheless it can serve
the same functions as a party.  A voter who did not wish to support a
party candidate might use the medium to nominate her own candidate.
She could do this simply by casting a vote.  Other participants might
join her, casting their own votes, and possibly nominating their own
candidates.  If the medium were generally used in this way, then it
would come to occupy exactly the same political "niche" as the
parties, without itself *being* a party.  It would therefore be
competitive with the party system as a whole.

To compete effectively, however, it must meet two requirements: 1)
sufficient voter turnout in the medium; and 2) faithful carriage of
votes from the medium to the principal polls.  First of all, its voter
turnout must be high enough to indicate solid electoral support for
the leading candidates.  It need not equal the levels of principal
turnout, nor perhaps even primary turnout, but it ought to be high
enough that the candidates could extrapolate the results, and
accurately gauge their support among the wider electorate.  Otherwise
they might not bother to register for the principal election (step 1
in figure 6).

    FIGURE 7.  Translation of assent from a communicative to a mass
    medium.  Each voter first identifies the candidate who holds her
    vote at the end of the cascade (red).  She then re-casts for the
    same candidate in the principal election (bottom).


The second requirement is that the voters must faithfully carry their
votes over to the principal polls on election day (step 2).  They
would have to translate assent from a communicative medium to a mass
medium.  Figure 7 shows what is involved in the translation.  From the
perspective of the voter, she recalls the name of the candidate who
currently holds her vote in the cascade (a name she knows well enough,
or her delegate reminds her) and then she casts a vote for that same
candidate at the principal polling station.

If these requirements are met, then it is possible for a candidate
from the medium of assent to win an election and enter office.  To the
extent that her electoral support at the principal polls (step 2 in
figure 6) were a translation of original assent from the communicative
medium, the granting of office (step 3) would be a communicative act
by society as a whole.  Furthermore, if turnout in the medium were
ever to approach or exceed the principal turnout, then the process
would likely be irreversible.  The election of public officials by
communicative action would be institutionalized.

The ramifications of this would extend beyond the simple act of
election.  The mode of election will affect the behaviour of elected
officials and how they allocate their powers of office.  These changes
will in turn reflect back on the mode of election, re-shaping it.
Furthermore, communicative action on power structures will open up the
possiblity of communicative action on norms, such as laws, plans and
policies.  Before attempting to trace these ramifications in further
detail, it may be helpful to illustrate a few of them in the context
of the park improvement scenario:

    Mae is a community leader in the neighbourhood.  She is the local
    delegate for the Mayor.  When she learns of the plans to improve
    the park she takes an interest.

    Mae speaks to Hal.  Hal is the local delegate for the Public
    Health Officer.  Mae asks Hal to look into the safety issues of
    the proposed plan.  Hal agrees.  He takes the lead in drafting a
    set of safety amendments.  His amendments attract the votes of
    many parents in the neighbourhood.  The votes are numerous enough
    to ensure that safety concerns are going to feature prominently in
    the plan.

    The young planners have a question about the delivery of the sand,
    so they approach Wen.  Wen is a local building contractor, and a
    delegate for the Public Works Office.  He explains that several
    types of sand are available from the City yards.  He says that
    delivery, however, will depend on budgetary approval.  So they add
    "sand" to the budget section of their plan.

    Later, when it appears that a consensus is likely to form at some
    point, Mae requests approval for the plan.  She does not speak
    directly to City Hall, rather she speaks to her delegate - the
    person she is voting for in the Mayoral election.  In reply she
    receives a signed email from the Comptroller of the Parks
    Department, authorizing a preliminary safety inspection of the
    site.  Mae then forwards the authorization to Hal, who arranges
    for the actual inspection.  When the safety inspector arrives, Hal
    guides her to the site...


[TCA1] Jürgen Habermas.  1981.  The Theory of Communicative Action.
       Volume 1.  Reason and Rationalization of Society.  Translated
       by Thomas McCarthy, 1984.  Beacon Hill, Boston.

[TCA2] Jürgen Habermas.  1981.  The Theory of Communicative Action.
       Volume 2.  Lifeworld and System: a Critique of Functionalist
       Reason.  Translated by Thomas McCarthy, 1987.  Beacon Hill,

   [3] The basic types of social action are:^[TCA1.85-86]

       * Teleological action - an actor attempting to reach a goal

           * Strategic action - teleological action in which success
             depends on the decisions of others who do not share the
             same goal

       * Normatively regulated action - an actor fulfilling
         expectations common to the group

       * Dramaturgical action - an actor self-presenting to an

       * Communicative action - two or more actors coordinating by
         discussion aimed at mutual understanding or agreement



  - an object of assent

  - one who receives a vote

communicative action

  - a type of social action that is coordinated by discussion aimed at
    mutual understanding or agreement

communicative assent

  - expression of agreement, particularly of agreement that arises
    from discussion


  - a subject and object of assent

  - one who is both a candidate and a voter, who both receives and
    casts votes

delegate cascade

  - a voting mechanism in which received votes are carried along with
    cast votes

mass assent

  - expression of agreement that arises through mass media


  - a formal unit of assent


  - a subject of assent

  - one who votes for a candidate

Copyright 2008, Michael Allan.  Permission is hereby granted, free of
charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated
documentation files (the "Votorola Software"), to deal in the Votorola
Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights
to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicence, and/or
sell copies of the Votorola Software, and to permit persons to whom
the Votorola Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following
conditions: The preceding copyright notice and this permission notice
shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the
Votorola Software.

Michael Allan

Toronto, 647-436-4521

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