Hooray for NextDoor!

The NextDoor social media service could be the core of a new democratic society.

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I’ve written before about how important I think science fiction can be for clarifying the present and guessing the future. I write sci-fi novellas. Both the first one and the second one are posted online and free. I’m thinking up a third.

The Problem with Utopia

Almost all American sci-fi is dystopian, because those are the ugly trends we see. Star Trek is the major exception. All the problems on Earth are solved in Star Trek and they have to go running around outer space to find anything to fix. I like that version of the future and I think that some of today’s trends support it. I particularly like the trend toward more and better information. My sci-fi world tends toward the positive.

But what are the details of a utopian world? That’s what I have to confront in my new novel. The setting is “just after the revolution.” In the first novella, Commissioner Joe Torres gets a minor assignment in a backwoods area. In the second one, he gets a larger assignment, but still not one that is critical. I could go on writing those forever — letting Joe solve the little problems of a new society — but I decided to go toward the heart of the matter.

In the third novel, I intend to have the Commissioner get involved in setting up an ongoing government. The horrible emergencies are in a temporary lull. The family of war, want, and pollution have been traced to their Mama — capitalism — and halted. The oceans aren’t receding, but they’re not overflowing the beaches anymore. An ongoing structure for the new world society still needs to be created. I intend to have Joe Torres get drafted to play a small part in that giant project.

That’s where I ran into all the problems. If Joe has a say-so in building a positive structure that would benefit people and the planet long term, how would he go about it? What structure would he want?

Part of the Answer

I’ve been worrying about this for about a month. Yesterday morning, part of the answer hit me: NextDoor! It’s a social media service organized by neighborhoods. Most of the posts are about lost dogs and lawnmowers for sale. But what a potential it has!

If everybody were computer literate and had a good computer, they could join NextDoor. If the service were run by the people, it could be the basic element of a democratic society. Immediate problems in your neighborhood would be solved on-line. Representatives from your neighborhood would be elected to higher bodies who work on problems affecting larger geographic areas. Specialty committees and interests groups could be created and meet, like the core elements, on-line.

There wouldn’t be a Congress. There would just be a NextDoor group of representatives from all over the world. None of the higher bodies would be able to enact legislation. Their job would be to process problems and propose solutions. The solutions would then be voted on by the people affected.

The fundamental right of initiative, referendum, and recall would operate at every level.

It’s Not Exactly a New Idea!

Except for the computer part, this isn’t exactly new. The Cubans and Venezuelans tried to set up “revolutionary circles” that were to be the fundamental element of their governmental structure. The Russians in 1917 tried to govern through grass roots committees. The Russian word for “committee” is “soviet.” I think computers and social media make success for total democracy more likely.

Up until the time I’m creating with Commissioner Joe Torres, a state has always conformed to the ancient definition: “a body of armed men.” That is, whoever controls the army and the police control just about everything. In Joe Torres’ world, the army and the police are already disbanded.

We can surely do better in our future than we’re doing now!

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my shaggy looking personal web site

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