Subtitled: A Loophole In Representative Democracy

I'm going to write this up using the chain of ideas that got me to it because, though it will not be quite so short and simple, I think the it will make for a more memorable and entertaining read:

The Borg is a character/race from the Star Trek universe composed of many sentient beings tied together as a hive mind by lots of cyborg technology. They pull out eyeballs to plug scanners into the optic nerve, never take baths, and have built in needles that inject nanotech devices into your blood stream that will wire your brain into their hive mind in thirty second flat. They are constantly spout monotone slogans like "Resistance is futile," and "We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own." Have you noticed the problem? Literally billions of minds worth of intelligence and they are reduced to slogans?! And none of those billions has ever possessed the "technology" of fashion? And even if they did have some sort of aversion to colors, surely they would agree that more bits of information are transmitted with vocal inflection than monotone speech.

What gives!? The borg should be glorious. Joining the borg should feel wonderful, you get smarter, stronger, more perceptive, and have more intimate connections with more people. Your memories and patterns of mind would be "backed up" in minds and computers across the galaxy, effectively producing a sort of immortality. Or so I thought when I first heard about them...

I tried to design a new system of government inspired by what I thought the borg should be like which I named borgocracy. Everyone on the planet teleconferences with four other people, and elects a representative to teleconference with four other representatives, and so on until the planet's business was resolved in a final committee of five people. Such a government grows exponentially with each layer so while only 125 people are represented after three layers, 15,625 are represented after six, 1,953,125 are represented after 9, and 244,140,625 people can be governed with only 12 layers. I said to myself, "Hurray! This is a personal, direct, easy to understand system. I can't wait to tell people about this wonderful new idea."

But there was a huge problem. What if a small group of people got sneaky and tried to legally hijack the government. The most dramtic way to explain this involves a simple diagram:

    |            |            |             |             |
    Y            Y            Y             N             N
____|____    ____|____    ____|____     ____|____     ____|____
| | | | |    | | | | |    | | | | |     | | | | |     | | | | |
Y Y Y N N    Y Y Y N N    Y Y Y N N     N N N N N     N N N N N

It is pretty clear here that nine well placed people are outvoting 16 other people (count the bottom row of the diagram). This trick works on larger groups as well; if a conspiracy controls the top three committees and three of their sub-committees and three of their subcommittees... It turns out that in a group of 5^n people, a conspiracy of 3^n well-placed people can control it. So in that 12 layer borgocracy, the 244 million participants could get hoodwinked by a conspiracy of (3^12=) half a million other people (about 0.2% of the total). Imagine that the borg in Star Trek "only" has a thousand planets with 2 billion component drones on each planet. With committees of 5, the 2 trillion or so drones could be governed by a 22 layer structure ruled by only (3^22=) 31 billion of the drones, or about 0.001% of the total.

To answer the question posed in the node title: Q. Why does the borg have terrible fashion sense? A. Because none of the drones you ever see are in the right place in whatever decision tree the borg uses; all the drones you see in are dupes with no actual ability to influence the outcome of borg-wide decisions like "we should take a bath".

When you stop and think about this phenomenon more generally several things seem almost scary:

  • The US has two houses of Congress whose members belong to various subcommittees and come from small regions of the country... These people are elected only by those who vote for them who are a subset of those who vote who are a subset of those who could vote... And the politicians are first run through a "primary election" where an even smaller subset of people vote for their party representative in the "real election"... And the party is run as a system of committees... What are all these committees for?!?!

  • Everybody always brings up the tyranny of the majority when you mention direct democracy... it seems to me that the tyranny of the well placed minority is a lot more realistic and serious a problem. Why do you never hear about it?

  • I hear so much about how pigheaded "politicians" are and most of the people I know actually like their particular representative... in a borgocracy being dominated by a well placed minority, the dupes win almost all of their local elections but somehow never get what they want.

    Lockheart - Granted, there are other models for the Borg, but my two basic contentions still hold. (1) The borg are mostly efficient at being repellent to 20th centruy television audiences, not at assimilating new cultures (their stated goal) with the least effort, which would involve some kind of good PR. (2) The hierarchical committee structure I describe as being initially inspired by those good qualities I think a consistant Borg would actually possess does have the potential for abuse I describe... I wrote this before the presidential election thing, but still you can see how the "Florida sized committee" and the "Supreme Court sized comittee" had all the true influence and the dupes in California (which it is fair to say include me) had almost none.