Monday, May 21, 2012

The Misnomer of "Single Issue"

The Pirate Party is often called a single-issue party, or criticised for not having an official point of view on every topic under the sun. I think it's more that we are focused on bringing light to the neglected, though extremely important issues surrounding the erosion of civil liberties, yet I can understand people's concerns.

Quite often, the arguments that take place in parliaments around the world are of the form of slightly more than one half of the parliament arguing vehemently for a plan, and slightly less than one half arguing just as adamantly against it. It's only ever one plan, with people yelling yes or no. They never seem to follow basic consensus building processes, like putting a few options on a whiteboard and evaluating the pros and cons of each. Governments and oppositions are usually arguing for pretty much the same thing ("stimulate the economy"), but they have different ways of achieving their goals ("by taxing and spending" or "by lowering taxes").

If a Pirate member had to vote on one of these proposals, the worry that people have is that the Pirate would vote the "wrong" way. Quite often, how a third party votes doesn't really matter. That might sound ridiculous on first reading, but consider the situation when half a parliament is voting yes and the other half is voting no. If one of those is a bad option, then what the hell is that half of the parliament doing in the first place? You could hardly blame the extra vote for causing all the trouble.

Both approaches in the above example, if that whiteboard-analysis were done, would probably show that they're about as good as each other. All the arguing in parliament is just to look effective, and because Iain Macleod once said that the opposition's job is to oppose.

Now I am certainly not saying that the options put forward in parliament are necessarily good just because they have support from lots of politicians. What I am saying is that in the worst case where a Pirate just doesn't care about a vote that has the rest of the parliament bitterly and evenly split, that the Pirate won't make it worse by just casting a vote randomly.

That's the worst case, however. I am confident that as Pirates start gaining more traction in parliaments around the world, as has been happening in Germany lately, that we'll start seeing some more creative, less partisan approaches to solving real, practical problems.

For example, let's do a mock analysis of how Pirate Party policies could potentially be expanded into the area of education, where Pirate Parties are usually taken to have no position:


  1. Education is expensive
  2. Education can be exclusive
  3. Education can be ineffective


  1. Stop spending money on censorship and monitoring and instead subsidise internet access and technical apprenticeships/internships. Why can't theoretical knowledge be gained in a workplace, or in an unstructured way at home?
  2. Use a swarming algorithm (like BitTorrent) to copy knowledge efficiently: E.g. 6 teachers (seeders) each teach just one different topic to their own group of 5 kids (leachers). They teach it really well, until all 6 groups of 5 kids understand the topic properly. At that point, the teachers go home, and the 30 kids alternate their groups of 5 until they've all picked up all the parts. With good online resources, the teachers just need to set direction once in a while and the kids can take it from there. That's got to be better than one group of 30, where the kids aren't paying attention and the teacher is overrun.
  3. Set standards for prescription of text book use in schools so that in slow-changing (or unchanging) areas, a certain revision of a book is used for several years - This would stop the constant small revisions (sometimes just to formatting, in order to shift page numbers) that are made to force people to always buy the new one.
  4. The government could fund open-source textbooks. Just a couple of textbooks that can be had for free, in electronic format, is saving enough money to buy the ebook reader on which they can be used. Of course, if copyrights didn't last for such a ridiculously long time, that would help.
None of this brainstorming of mine says anything about teachers' pay, or classroom construction or special-needs students. There are already lots of qualified people who take an interest in that stuff (I hope). But you can see that there might be some new takes on old approaches implied in existing Pirate policies of maintaining an open internet, embracing technology (only) for good and reforming intellectual property laws.

Back to the reason that I think it is ok not to have a position on everything. There's the saying "jack of all trades, master of none." That pretty much describes most major political parties. How else can you have portfolio reshuffles? Mark Arbib's background took him from Sizzler to being a beach inspector before climbing up into prominence in the union movement. What on earth would anyone expect him to know about being the Minister for Sports? And then to make him Assistant Treasurer, among other positions? Surely nobody was buying that he had any qualification in that area...

So, Pirates, like Arbib (who is merely some data by which to make a point (he's not even if parliament anymore)), can also rely on people who are qualified in areas outside of our own expertise. But we do have expertise. And it's in areas where few, if any, "normal" politicians do. Our expertise is in understanding the implications of technology on society, the benefits of its use and the impact of its abuse. And that expertise is something which can be applied broadly, to the benefit of all, if given a chance.

In summary, Pirates are about doing freedom really well, and having a good go at shaking up politics for the better. It's a no-brainer for me that this is preferable to the current system of layman-driven politics for politics' sake.

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