One thing I like about chatbots is that they let you sort of probe the knowledge and will of the collectivity. Inherent in that, obviously, is being wrong. Having bad facts, reaching bad conclusions, etc. A lot of people complain about ChatGPT and Bingbot for that, but it can be quite constructive if you accept that, yes, these tools are merely reflecting our own imperfect state of knowledge as humans.

I got into it the other night with ChatGPT about the use case where, in a democracy based on consent of the governed, what happens when the people withdraw consent? Here’s an interesting partial from that conversation:

The coercive power of the state is an essential tool for maintaining order and enforcing the laws and regulations that are necessary to ensure the functioning of a democratic society. Without this power, it would be difficult or impossible to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals, to prevent crime and violence, or to enforce the social and economic regulations that are necessary for a functioning society.

While it’s true that excessive or unjustified use of coercive power by the state can be problematic and can lead to abuses of power or violations of individual rights, it’s important to recognize that this power is an essential component of any functioning democratic system. In a well-designed democratic system, the coercive power of the state is balanced against other key principles such as the rule of law, due process, and individual rights and freedoms, to ensure that it is used appropriately and in the public interest.

Overall, while it’s important to be vigilant against abuses of power and to ensure that the state’s coercive power is used in a responsible and ethical manner, it’s also important to recognize that this power is an essential tool for maintaining order and upholding the laws and regulations that are necessary for a functioning democratic society.

Today ChatGPT gave me this clarification when I fed that text back into it:

To clarify, while the coercive power of the state is an essential tool for maintaining order and upholding the laws in a democratic society, it should always be used in a responsible and ethical manner, and balanced against other key principles such as the rule of law, due process, and individual rights and freedoms. The legitimacy of the state’s use of coercive power ultimately depends on the consent of the governed and their trust in the government’s ability to use this power responsibly and in the public interest.

So it seems like the argument is something like, by giving their consent to the state, they consent to be coerced “in the public interest.”

In my case regarding withdrawal of consent by the governed, it also gave me this the other day:

If large numbers of people within a society withdraw their consent to be governed by the state, it may become difficult or impossible for the state to maintain its authority without resorting to increasingly coercive or repressive measures.

I found that to be kind of sketchy myself, but probably instructive of some deep unspoken point in our current political system. I probed it further though, because isn’t there an argument to be made that it is never justified to use coercive power against others? It took me a few tries, but it eventually agreed this argument exists, but ended with argumentum ad populum, insinuating in its way that because it is not popular, it is not a correct view.

The pacifist and anarchist argument against the use of coercive power is based on the belief that all forms of coercion involve a violation of individual autonomy and dignity, and that such violations are inherently unethical. From this perspective, it is never ethical to use force or coercion to compel individuals to act in a certain way, regardless of the public interest or any other considerations.

According to this view, any system that relies on coercion, such as the state or other forms of institutional power, is inherently oppressive and unjust. Instead, individuals and communities should organize themselves through voluntary cooperation and mutual aid, based on principles such as consensus-building, non-hierarchical decision-making, and respect for individual autonomy and diversity.

From a pacifist and anarchist perspective, the use of coercive power is not only unethical, but also ultimately counterproductive, as it perpetuates a cycle of violence and oppression that undermines social stability and individual freedom. Instead, they argue that individuals and communities should seek to build alternative forms of social organization and governance that are based on voluntary cooperation and mutual aid, rather than coercion and force.

While the pacifist and anarchist view is not commonly accepted in mainstream political thought, it is an important critique of the use of coercive power and a reminder of the need to continually question and re-examine the ethical foundations of political authority and governance

There’s a link to tyranny of the majority that I want to come back here to as well… But first some other strands I want to weave in.

Youbot had a decent response to my core question about what is the basis for continued use of coercive power by the state after its subjects have withdrawn consent.

In a liberal democracy, the state is founded on the consent of the governed, meaning that the people have the right to withdraw their consent and refuse to obey the laws of the state. In this situation, the state may continue to exercise its coercive power to restore order, but it must do so within the bounds of the law. This means that the state must abide by the principles of due process and the rule of law, meaning that any exercise of coercive power must be proportional to the situation, and must be carried out in a manner that is consistent with the principles of justice. The state must also take into account the rights of those who are affected by its actions and must demonstrate that it is acting in the interest of the people. Ultimately, the state is responsible for maintaining order and protecting the rights of its citizens, but it must do so in a way that respects the will of the people and upholds the principles of a liberal democracy.

It seems to point here to the notion that the state isn’t merely the manifestation of the will of the people, but also runs itself through the mechanism of laws and repeatabel justifiable procedures. So, if the people withdraw consent, it still operates according to the system put in place…

But that makes it seem like the objective of the state (based on the consent of the governed) is not really being attentive to the will of the people, but to perpetuating its own existence, whether or not consent continues to exist. Youbot responded:

This question raises an important issue about the purpose of the state. On one hand, the state has a responsibility to its citizens and should strive to act in their best interests. On the other hand, the state must also ensure its own perpetuation by protecting its citizens and maintaining order. This means that the state must balance its duty to protect citizens and their rights with its duty to ensure its own stability and security. In doing so, the state must ensure that its actions are guided by the consent of the people and that its coercive power is used proportionally and in accordance with the rule of law. Ultimately, the purpose of the state should be to protect the rights of its citizens and ensure their safety and well-being, while also ensuring its own stability and perpetuation.

I guess one way this all manifests within the bounds of law is by using elections (or recalls, or no confidence votes), where you throw out “the government” but the state and its mechanisms persist. It seems to be the compromise position of not having to completely throw everything out each time with a revolution, and rewrite the rules from scratch.

I’m just wondering though, what if you reached a situation where rewriting the rules from scratch was exactly what was needed? What would happen, for example, if the US convened a new constitutional convention, and started over with the learnings and developments of the last couple hundred years?

I ask these questions partly for fictional reasons, and partly out of sincere intellectual curiosity. The hard AI takeover scenario may not be (quite) upon us yet, but what happens when nation-states weaken further, and corporations (especially AI corporations) continue their ascendancy? From a Guardian article in 2018:

Big data companies (Google, Facebook etc) have already assumed many functions previously associated with the state, from cartography to surveillance. Now they are the primary gatekeepers of social reality: membership of these systems is a new, corporate, de-territorialised form of citizenship, antagonistic at every level to the national kind. And, as the growth of digital currencies shows, new technologies will emerge to replace the other fundamental functions of the nation state. The libertarian dream – whereby antique bureaucracies succumb to pristine hi-tech corporate systems, which then take over the management of all life and resources – is a more likely vision for the future than any fantasy of a return to social democracy.

I’m worried about what happens when that quite possibly inevitable future unfolds; and the future AI corporatocracy is not based on the consent of the governed, but on the ubiquity of the governor.