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What Is Law?
> On Authority
> Another Solution
The Tree of Authority
So, suppose everyone has described their views. What then? The basic idea is that each description would be a vote, and that the majority of votes on each issue would directly determine law or policy for that issue.
We wouldn't want to use a simple majority, though, because it would be awkward to have policy shift back and forth if an issue got balanced right on the line. So, instead, we'd use some other threshold—declare that we don't have consensus until, say, 60% of the votes agree. And, until we had consensus, we'd maintain the status quo. That would create a nice hysteresis effect.
We'd probably also want to add some delay into the system. If an issue was polling at 59%, and there weren't any delays, then a small concerted effort, or even just a random fluctuation, might push the issue over the line and change the policy. Then, even if people wanted to react against the change, it would be too late—the issue would need to go all the way down to 40% to restore the old situation. In other words, change wouldn't require a solid consensus, only a temporary one. To prevent such things, we ought to declare that policy doesn't change unless an issue remains over the threshold for, say, a week.
I'm tempted to say that the changes should also be synchronized, so that, much as in the first solution, each Tuesday you could pick up the political news and read about both proposed changes that had just crossed the threshold temporarily and actual changes that had remained above the threshold for the past week. I think that would be convenient, for reasons similar to the ones in New Content.
On the other hand, I may just be old-fashioned—you could equally well have a continuous news feed carry the same information. The fact that it's a little awkward to keep track of which items you've read is really just a limitation of present-day browsers.
Now that you've got the basic idea, let's make things more complicated. We want our authority to be narrow, so let's organize voters into cells to form a tree of authority, as I described in The Problem. Specifically, let's organize voters into cells geographically, with some maximum width, and attach authority to the resulting tree at the city, county, state, and national levels.
For example, suppose we have a county that contains two cities, one with 100,000 voters, the other with 10,000, along with another 10,000 voters in unincorporated areas; and suppose we set the maximum width to 100. The smaller city could be organized into a “standard” tree of depth 2 and width 100; the larger, into a tree of depth 3 containing ten standard trees. The county, then, would contain the two cities, and would also act as the root of another standard tree representing the unincorporated areas. (That gives it width 102, I know, but you get the idea.)
Then, at each cell, or node, of the tree, the votes would be aggregated according to the rules above. Each cell would have its own status quo, requiring solid consensus to change, that would serve as the vote of the cell to its parent.
Now, there are several points I'd like to make about this arrangement.
I'd also like to say a bit more about the idea of attaching authority to the tree at different levels.
@ May (2002)