Quantum Civics: An Overview
Politics and philosophy have always been closely related. Going back to the origins of Greek philosophy, the first major (by major I mean really long, not necessarily the most important) work of Plato was called The Republic and spent hundreds of pages talking about organizing city states without coming to any real conclusions. The most important work by Aristotle was the Nicomachean Ethics which is still the gold standard of ethical philosophy and was written for politicians.
The connection between philosophy and politics is especially pertinent when we’re working with an applied philosophy, a term I use to describe philosophies that we use for real applications in our daily lives and not as an excuse to sit around and think all day without doing anything that matters. The value of a good philosophy includes building a functioning society and extends to creating a role for ourselves in that society as an autonomous individual. To that end I wanted to create a separate branch of The Agency Mandate designed specifically to address practical applications to civics and politics.
I selected the term “Quantum Civics” because I think it sounds cool. But it works because it represents both relativity and dimensionality, which are two of the three main ideas of the Agency Mandate. The third is balance. “Quantum” doesn’t really cover balance, but two out of three is pretty good. For the overview I’ll introduce balance, relativity and dimensionality as the three key applications since I’m introducing these ideas as they apply to Quantum Civics.
The three concepts unique to Quantum Civics that I would like to introduce are the concepts of panpartisanship, coalition politics, and bilateral accountability. There are many ideas unique to Quantum Civics, but these three concepts are the most pertinent to today’s civic environment. Once I’ve introduced the three main concepts, I’ll introduce three techniques that embody how Quantum Civics can put to good practical use in our daily lives. Becoming more involved in civics increases our representation and helps us create meaningful and fulfilling roles in our community.
Balance, dimensionality, and relativity are three of the main ideas in The Agency Mandate which you can read about here. The Agency Mandate applies to many aspects of our lives but tends to focus on our personal philosophy, how we define ourselves as an individual and what we want for ourselves. Our attitudes towards civics are shaped more by how we define our society and what we want for our community.
Balance gives us a better understanding of our political identity. It’s not just a matter of where stand on the issues, it’s a projection of how far we’re willing to run with them. Being an idealist is fine, but the problem with being too idealistic is that you have too many hills to die on. That never ends well. It’s healthy to have core principles but I recommend limiting yourself to two or three hills. Know what they are and know where you stand. For everything else, know your limits and strike a balance in prioritizing your secondary and tertiary values.
Balance applies to our personal civics because people with power will pull at us in all directions to get us to conform to their intentions. Even our allies, who want the best for us and have respect for us, will keep pulling at us if we never say “when.” Striking a balance in your personal politics is essential to keeping your individuality, to keep your agency. It’s not enough to find a balance, you have to find your balance.
The sidekick to balance, flexibility, stresses the importance of the ability to change. Ideals are necessary but it’s important to establish a hierarchy for your political ideals. If all your principles are core ideals they suffer from inflation and lose meaning. Even core ideals need room to grow over time and adapt to the turning of the world.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “no group is a monolith” or something to that effect. I hear it mostly in reference to demographics, but it applies to political parties and movements as well. Treating groups as monolithic belies the dimensionality and complexity of our various communities. No matter what commonalities bind groups of people together, all groups are made up of unique individuals. Recognizing dimensionality is essential to better representation.
Dimensionality starts with the self. If you want people to recognize you as a complex individual, it’s important to recognize yourself as a complex individual. Quantum Civics is how we apply this to our relationship with society. Understanding our differences and variances makes us unique. Identifying those differences is important to being respected as unique, and its an important step to celebrating and resecting those variances in others.
Relativity has two different applications in Quantum Civics. One of them is to better understand yourself, and the other is to understand other people better. It’s important to remember that different people have different values. Whether or not their values can be or should be “right” or “wrong” is a debate we’ll set aside for now. No matter how badly we want other people to have the exact same values as we do, the fact is that they don’t.
Hypocrisy is frustrating but we tend to overuse the term. Hypocrisy only applies if a person is ‘wrong’ relative to their own values, which are hard to know. It’s important to judge a person’s integrity by how they act according to their own values rather than their propensity to conform to yours. This does not mean that you have to sympathize with people who are malicious or hostile. Empathy is a virtue, sympathy is not.
Understanding the relativity of values helps us regard others with an open mind, but it also helps us keep an open mind when we reflect on our own character. Relativity helps each of us take ownership and accountability of our own values. If we don’t take ownership of our values, we tend to be easily manipulated and lose our agency.
The Agency Mandate covers many concepts. The ideas I referred to above as “applications” regard how we apply some of the concepts of The Agency Mandate to civics. There are many new concepts (more like “certified pre-owned” concepts, I’m not going to pretend that there’s anything new under the sun) unique to Quantum Civics, but there are three that stand out as being more significant. They are panpartisanship, coalition politics, and bilateral accountability.
Partisanship has reached historically contentious levels. It’s natural to react with calls for more bipartisanship. However, I feel that bipartisanship is a half measure where a full measure is needed. Bipartisanship is beneficial in the sense that it challenges us to consider both sides of each issue with fair judgment. But its dangerous in the sense that it reinforces the idea of their being two sides. Bipartisanship doesn’t break down the “us vs. them” mentality, and may unintentionally serve to amplify it, whereas panpartisanship serves to move beyond the trend of binary thinking that got us into this mess in the first place.
I like “pan” as a prefix because it evokes meaning of covering a large area and of advocating for a union across a multifaceted divide. Accounting for only “two sides” emphasizes conformity to mainstream politics which excludes unconventional and progressive ideas. Panpartisanship allows political ideas to be represented by more than two factions of thought and encourages factions to be heterogenous coalition of diverse sub-factions rather than a dogmatic monolith. Panpartisanship empowers original and unconventional thinking within groups as well as fostering coalitions between them. It encourages the formation and consideration of new ideas and progressive concepts. Panpartisanship is paramount to democracy because it is an essential concept for maximizing representation.
The concept of coalition politics is a byproduct of eliminating (or at least mitigating) our reliance on binary thinking. This involves more than just recognizing alternative political parties. It involves deconstructing major parties into representative factions. This helps us increase representation for people who do affiliate loosely with one of the major parties but would like to enjoy a political identity more complex than simply “liberal” or “conservative.” This approach empowers coalitions over institutions and prioritizes people over money.
A coalition approach to politics is essential for anyone who values Democracy. “Democracy” in its simplest form means a majority rule. In a two-party system a single ruling party would have to represent over 50% of the population to rule democratically (at least 55% for a stable majority and 60% for a popular mandate). In a system with more than two parties a major party could require a coalition with other parties to cover 50% representation and achieve democratic rule. Most parliaments operate in this fashion. As individuals, taking a coalition approach to politics helps us balance our ideals with our alliances and enables us to establish factions and sub-factions, as discussed later.
Bilateral accountability is a fancy term for not being a hypocrite. Don’t judge others in ways you wouldn’t judge yourself. People can take this to mean “don’t be too critical of others” but the inverse applies as well. Bilateral accountability encourages you to hold yourself to a higher standard. The more you challenge yourself the more you can challenge other people without being hypocritical. Being self critical is essential to self improvement, which is a form of empowerment and edification. If you can master that as a form of self-respect you can be critical of others in a respectful fashion, showing earnest consideration for their improvement and edification.
This applies to our political biases as well. We all want our “side” to win, whether it’s left/right or democrat/republican. One trend I notice is that many people are harshly critical of the opposition and far too lenient of their own team. If criticism is used properly it’s a tool that helps us improve the ideas and platforms that we support. People are also going to criticize the things they oppose, and that’s okay. Bilateral accountability challenges us to be similarly critical of what we support, which in turn is good practice for being more constructive with our criticism
In keeping with the tenet of pragmatism in The Agency Mandate, Quantum Civics shares the attitude that all the thinking in the world doesn’t add any value to our lives unless we put it into practice. These ideas are all fine and good, but what do they look like as real applications to our daily life?
The short answer is that how you apply these ideas is up to you. These are tools to helps us build. What you build and how you build it is up to you. I’d like to focus on three practices in particular: maintaining a strong political identity, engaging in civil discourse, and joining (or forming) sub-factional civics groups. I would like to serve as a facilitator as well as a writer. If you are interested in joining up with others reach out to me via email or social media (see below) and I’ll do best to bring people with similar minds together.
Your political identity may be more conceptual than practical. But the act of defining and maintaining one’s political identity is a practice. The first steps are like those mentioned in the Agency Mandate overview: start within defining your primary values (3 minimum, 5 max) then list your secondary values (go tertiary for extra credit). For your political identity, think about your primary and secondary political values. If someone in an elevator asked you, in earnest, what your political views and principles were, would you be able to give a good response before you reached your floor? We know our own beliefs and values pretty well (because we’re, you know, ourselves) but if we take the time to put them into words we form a deeper understanding of them.
A healthy political identity requires critical thinking and critical reading skills. I’ll have a lot to say about that beyond the overview but the best thing you can do for both is to establish a balanced media diet. That means no “junk food” in your media diet. If you want to read partisan journals for entertainment purposes that’s your business and I won’t judge. It’s important for you to find your own blend, but it’s more important to make sure you’re challenging yourself and keeping an open mind.
Civil discourse sounds self-explanatory but cannot be understated. There’s so much uncivil discourse in the world that it’s hard to see past it. But civil discourse is very possible and very effective. You just need to create the right space for it and find the right people. Be selective with your discussion partners to specifically exclude anyone who acts in poor faith or insists on debating rather than discourse. Having a set of guidelines established before engaging in a discussion also goes a long a way. I’ve written what I feel is a simple and effective set of guidelines. In the spirit of agency I encourage you to come up with guidelines that work best for you.
Discourse is a tool we use to share ideas and increase our understanding. Like any tool, if it is used properly and used for the right purpose it can be constructive. Discourse is not meant for persuasion. Argumentation and debate should be excluded. I understand the urge to want everyone else to think like you do, but you have to let people think their own thoughts. I also believe that discourse is a better tool for persuasion than argumentation, so it works better either way. Using civil discourse to explore new ideas is the best way for people to understand each other.
The biggest dilemma of civics is balancing the efficacy of organization against compromising to consolidate influence. Larger organizations and movements have more clout but need to generalize their ideals (which often means watering them down) to represent all its members. Smaller organizations and movements can focus their ideals for more specific representation, but they are smaller and less effective. Politics seems to be a constant game of measuring compromise against influence.
The coalition approach to politics lets us have it both ways. (To a point. It’s no silver bullet.) The idea is that smaller groups represent your personal ideals more directly and allow for targeted civic action whereas larger groups have more resources and people behind then and provide more clout for more generalized civic actions and larger political platforms. Layering your loyalties allows you to devote yourself primarily to the small factions that represent your core ideals while devoting yourself conditionally to larger coalitions to gain means to your ends and achieve larger common objectives. Taking a layered approach to factions provides more flexibility and greater representation.
One of the things I mention in the Agency Mandate overview is that I want this to be more of a discussion than a doctrine. If I’m ever going to get a book out of this, I’ll need your help. If you’d like to participate, subscribe the email list to join the conversation or send me a message on Facebook to suggest questions, ideas, and topics for future posts. I’ll be writing more posts on philosophy, civics, ethics, and politics, and I take requests.