Friday, March 23, 2012

Vox populi, vox Dei (#CCK12)

The Commission of Election of the Republic of the Philippines has a curious motto, "Vox populi, vox Dei." It seems that they are requiring or even demanding for the populace to respect the results of any conducted elections as the voice of the people and seemingly by an obscure transitive property, the voice of God. In short, the motto is claiming that the power of the crowd is a divine manifestation. Where lies power and authority in this connected world?

This motto is actually an old proverb, the origins of which are contentious. But by the by, it seems that it is taking on newer meaning and even more modern definition. "The voice of the people is the voice of God" If this were true, then the internet, and the myriad of unfettered and uncensored connection worldwide, can really express the voice of the people (which by the proverb, is the voiceof God). My interest in the proverb lies not in discovering what God wants, but what the crowd wants and how the internet is giving a quick and loud voice to the people.

There are people who seems subscribed to the wisdom of the crowd, whereas others are wary of the crowd. In a seeming warning about people who use the word of the people as reference to what God wants (or what is seemingly right), the English scholar and ecclesiastic, Alcuin (798 AD) wrote a in a letter to Charlemagne that "And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness."

Vox Populi, a paper by Sir Francis Galton in Nature, in 1907, using a "one vote, one value" system when estimating a weight of a cattle when it is slaughtered and dressed, came up to a fantastic result. "It appears then, in this particular instance, that the vox populi is correct to within 1 per cent. of the real value..." and that "This result is, I think, more creditable to the trustworthiness of a democratic judgement than might have been expected." 

Sir Francis Galton seems to be amazed at the accurate estimation by the cattle enthusiasts who paid 6 pence to provide an accurate estimate of the results. My first question now lies in who the voters are. In Sir Francis Galton's case, I believe that there is a filtering that happened. Not any unknowing bystander will vote and pay 6 p for the chance to guess. The event happened in a cattle show for God's sake. Only those with a background and interest in cattle will be there to begin with.

In this age of unprecendented connectiveness, when everyone seems to be expressing an opinion about anything and everything, how do we determine which voice is valid? Is it a true "one vote one value" system, or is it more like Sir Francis's vote where only the votes of those educated and interested in the topic matter?

In the current connective state, many things happen in a blink of an eye...the American Idol (or whatever country's version of the Idol is) is decided on sms and infocomm technology; twitter and the millions of followers can disseminate information (whether it is correct or not is another issue; the facebook likes can determine marketing success or failures; and posting in social media can create the Arab Spring. I remember that the second EDSA uprising in the Philippines was disseminated through text messaging. I do not mean voting for the Miss Photogenic in the Miss Universe contest, as everyone has a standard of beauty. But harking back to the biblical times, remember how a crowd of people voted to release Barabbas and condemn Jesus? There are many things in the world where the correct answer is not by popularity contest - justice being one of them. 

In politics of democratic states, one person is one vote; in corporations, one share is one vote...but however it is, the participants are stakeholders (just like Sir Francis' contestants, where all are preselected to interested in cattle, by virtue of the venue-the cattle show). 

But in the internet, in our myriad of connections, should one person's comment/like/sms/etc... be equal to the rest? In  reality many of them do not even care or are not even stakeholders to the decision at hand, why should we trust their votes? People now get to vote on who is the better person to remain in a camp of artificially stranded people. Where will this lead to. 

[In my next blog, I shall be discussing the issue of access and how it can distort the voting process and the democratization of knowledge.]


Galton F. Vox Populi. Nature. 1907. p450. As seen on: on 22 March 2012. 

Wikipedia. Article on Vox Populi. As seen on: on 22 March 2012.

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