Open Source Party 2.0: Liberty, Democracy, Transparency!

As Egypt undergoes its revolution, I find myself thinking about a strategy, a pathway to political agency; to real power; to liberty, transparency and democratic inclusion for the multitudes in America (and, ultimately, everywhere).

In November 2007, I presented a proposal to start a political organization I called the Open Source Party on the 10 Zen Monkeys website. The idea was to bring open source principles into the political realm.

It was around the time when the media started barraging us with presidential politics, and so I framed the proposal around the oncoming 2008 elections. Here’s a bit of it:

The duopoly will have its way again in this year’s election. 

Ralph Nader and whoever the Libertarians and Greens nominate as their candidates will drag their asses around the country, sometimes saying interesting and important things, sometimes not. Many of us will wish, once again, that there could be a dynamic discourse about the many real issues and problems that get ignored; and then we will vote (or not) for the one who has at least a fingernail grip on sanity, or for one of the sad and hopeless alterna-candidates.”

Links were provided to a (now defunct) Ning network, and to The Point – a site that allows you to set a fundraising goal, and then forwards you the money if you reach it. We (other Zen Monkeys and myself) promised that we would do the legal paperwork, and officially establish the Open Source Party as a political organization, if we received $5,000 in donations.

As is often the case with these sorts of things on the internet, the proposal was met with a barrage of excited claims of support and loose chatter (and, of course, criticism), followed by pretty much zero commitment and zero donations. Still, some of the discourse was pretty interesting.

Jon Lebkowsky provided these:

Principles of Open Source Politics:


Many of us who are tech-focused have come to understand the power of open approaches and open architectures. Even technologies that aren’t strictly “Open Source” benefit from Open APIs and exposure of operating code (kind of inherent with scripting languages like Perl and PHP). When we know how something works, we know how to work with it. And we know how to transform it to meet our needs.

Government should be as open and transparent as possible. There may be some rationales for closed doors, but few — for the most part, citizens should be able to clearly see how decisions are made. That’s a key component of our political platform: we want to see the actual “source code” for the decisions that affect our lives.


Open Source projects are often highly collaborative and can involve many stakeholders, not just manager and coders. The Open Source Party sees this as a great way to do government. (I’m partial to charrette methodology, personally.)

Emergent Leadership

Effective action and decison-making requires leadership. In an Open Source form of politics, leaders emerge through merit -— by providing real leadership and direction, not by appointment, assignment, or election. Nobody made Linus Torvalds the lead for Linux, or Matt Mullenweg the lead for WordPress. They saw a need, created a project, and found an effective following who acknowledged their vision, expertise, and ability to manage and lead. Emergent leaders aren’t handed authority. They earn it, and if they cease to be engaged or effective, they pass the baton to other leaders who emerge from within the group.

Extensible and Adaptable

Open Source projects and structures are agile and malleable. They can be adapted and extended as requirements changed. Governance should have this kind of flexibility, and our system of governance in the U.S. was actually built that way. We should ensure that bureaucracies and obsolete rule sets don’t undermine that flexibility.


Lovely, right? But without any real substantive support, I concluded that the time wasn’t right… and I let it slide.

Is the time right now?

A few months ago, a college student in Wisconsin asked me if I was interested in reviving the Open Source Party concept. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

6 things that have happened since 2007 that make me think it may be time for Open Source Party:

1: Economy Nearly Collapses

With the crash of 2008, we had our noses rubbed in the plutocratic — and even kleptocratic — nature of the US and global economy (“too big to fail”). As explored in the film, Inside Job and elsewhere, major players in the finance, corporate and political worlds have consciously and systematically ripped everybody off and they’ve gotten away with it. We need some power to the people.

2: Technologically Enhanced Revolution in the Middle East

The revolution will be tweeted. There’s a contagion for increased democracy, liberty and transparency. It could catch on here.

3: Wikileaks

The first intervention of radical transparency onto the global stage. It’s a force that ultimately can’t be stopped.

4: Pirate Parties in Europe

European hacker culture has created vital minority parties – “Pirate Parties” — largely based on open source cultural principles like liberalizing copyright laws and greater state transparency.

5: Netroots Elects a President (but gets the Same Old Shit)

Young “netroots” progressives put Barack Obama into the presidency by giving him an edge over Hillary Clinton in the primary. Once in office, Obama went into a huddle with the usual Democratic Party technocrats. The same old power centers — the giant corporations, the finance industry, the national security/drug war establishment ad infinitum — remain fully in charge, and in fact, they grow stronger. The Obama Administration represents the last gasp of “progressive” centrism — the strategy of trying to gently nudge these power centers toward being the engines of social responsibility. Now we have to learn how to do it ourselves.

6: Tea Party Populism

However wrongheaded and inchoate, the Tea Party is largely a populist uprising made up of people who don’t want to be ruled by elites. More importantly for our purposes here, they’ve liberated the word “Party”! Hopefully, people will no longer automatically assume that an Open Source Party is another hopeless attempt at a “third party”, organizing to run candidates in elections. Open Source Partiers could be a pressure group that operates outside the electoral process and/or operates as factions within extant political parties, depending upon the political leanings of the individuals or chapters.

What Is To Be Done?

To those of you interested in forming an Open Source Party, I suggest you (we) ditch my original script and start over from scratch. We should form a Wiki and create a new statement of purpose, charter, and plans.

I believe something like the Open Source Party is inevitable. Voluntary and open collaboration may well be the emergent socio-economics of the future and political activists will inevitably reflect that tendency. Eric S. Raymond’s seminal essay, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” may point the way forward. As Trevor Tomesh pointed out to me in an email, Raymond spoke about two contrasting models of software development:

The Cathedral model, in which source code is available with each software release, but code developed between releases is restricted to an exclusive group of software developers.

The Bazaar model, in which the code is developed over the Internet in view of the public.

Tomesh writes: “Let’s just replace a few words here:

The democratic republic model, in which policy is enforced with each bill passed, but policy development is restricted to an exclusive group of individuals (congress).

The direct-democracy model, in which policy is developed by the public in view of the public.

If we accept the latter rather than the former as the ideal way to go about democracy, we can reread Raymond’s essay not only in terms of an optimal software development model, but as an optimal societal and governmental development model. Let us create a new model of democracy, using the bazaar as an example.”

On the other hand, as Lebkowsky — who co-edited the book Extreme Democracy and has wrestled with questions about direct democracy for years — points out, the Cathedral and the Bazaar co-exist, and perhaps some mix of direct and representative democracy is the best way to go. Lebkowsky writes: “I used to say that we don’t replace representative democracy, we swarm it.”

Anyway, all this is open for discussion. And we’re wide open to your views and visions as well. If you want to help form an Open Source Party, please contact Trevor Tomesh at

Thanks to Jon Lebkowsky and Trevor Tomesh for contributing to this article.

Image courtesy of Political Realities


  1. I was excited, interested, and very keen to find out more when I first came across the concept of the Open Source Political Party, which is something I’ve always believed in. Now, I find myself having a very strong drive to contribute something and to serve this group. I’m not sure how or what I can contribute but I thought I would start by initiating some dialogue. Over to you.

    Kindest Regards.
    Saddah Aziz

  2. Just as face book and twitter have shown that individuals are not unduly concerned about privacy, the lessons can be applied to the work force and government – to show that no one (except those relying upon secrecy) needs to be concerned about being shown doing their jobs – if they are actually doing it. Applying that principle to government would go far to insure that citizens are getting the government they are paying for, and voting for. Government monitoring should be the first place citizens look for good government. Cameras in “our senate offices” and “our legislatures” are the first place to look for responsible government.

  3. Thanks to everyone for all of the comments, questions and concerns. I’ve started a fresh wiki that I hope can serve as home-base for much of this discussion:


  4. I have been reading this article again, and also the two previous articles The Open Source Party Proposal and The QuestionAuthority Proposal.

    As in my previous comment, the events of the last 3 years show that the time may be right to seriously thinking about giving power back to the people, to whom it belongs. The open source and free software movements, the Pirate Parties, Wikileaks, Anonymous, Bitcoin and the possible renaissance of the cypherpunk movement are steps in the right directions.

    In the original Open Source Party proposal I like very much the Liberal/Libertarian characterization of this emerging approach to politics. Of course (look at the comments in the original article) both fundamentalist Libertarians and fundamentalist Liberals reject it with outrage, which makes me think that we are moving in the right direction: fundamentalism means abandoning reason in favor of a prepackaged one-line world-view which fits on a t-shirt. Instead, like for many other issues, the only solution is that there is no solution. The conflict between pure Libertarianism and pure Liberalism is here to stay and become worse, and we should stay away from both extremes and look for pragmatic, workable, ad-hoc midway local solutions.

    Liberals want to protect citizens and the government from evil big corporations, and Libertarians want to protect citizens and corporations from evil big governments. I want to protect citizens from both evil big governments and evil big corporations, and I think the Open Source Party proposal represents a good initiative in the right direction.

    As far as the implementation of the proposal is concerned, I would not recommend starting new political movements and parties. Rather, I would recommend joining forces with the Pirate Party, which the Party of the Free Internet and the only really novel and innovative political force to emerge in this century. The Pirate Party and its local national instances have achieved a certain success by linking theoretical open source politics with practical initiatives in defense of the citizens.

    At this moment the Pirate Party is only focused on IT technologies, but I see its stance in favor of individual empowerment and against current IP and copyright laws as a much more general platform which, in the future, could include bio-hacking, neuro-hacking and support morphological freedom. Therefore, I think transhumanists should support the Pirate Party.


    Let’s get this party started.

    Also it may be that Smari McCarthy’s work on the Shadow Parliament Project (blog post “shadow city”) is useful to think about.

    • Turns out that wikispaces is the wrong tool. It has two bottlenecks: the wikispaces structure itself, and me as an ‘admin’… Folks have to be added as ‘members’ to create new content, etc.

      Nix the above wiki url.
      Better tools?

  6. A couple scattered comments 😉 …

    First: Bryan’s nice list of open-source transhumanist projects seems to have left out OpenCog, the open-source Artificial General Intelligence project (, as well as the associated OpenBiomind project aimed at application of AI to bioinformatics.

    Second: To respond to Adrian … of course an open-source-style political movement would need to evolve new modes of decision-making, and it’s hard to foresee precisely what they would be; but I don’t see why pessimism is called for. Before the open-source software movement was started, the common wisdom would have been that such a way of producing software could never work — but in many cases it actually does. Similarly there were many reasonable-sounding reasons why Wikipedia would never work — but, in spite of some flaws, it actually does. Etc. etc. Self-organization can be surprisingly powerful (surprising to our minds which are educated, dare I say programmed, to think otherwise).

    — Ben Goertzel

  7. R.U.
    This is an excellent piece and concept. I was looking to kickstart a much less fully formed similar notion in Ireland via what I was calling ‘The Irish Participatory Political Party’ (bit of a mouthfull)

    I would love to assist and agree that some.of these.ideas are nearly inevitable from.younger generations.
    The wonder.of the.blogosphere is the final proof.that minus power chasing politicians the people, who feared and.fought each other in categories throughout the.centuries, people want to rear their kids explore their.potentials, laugh and experience; and only a tiny.tiny percentage are – in fact – a danger to others

  8. I would be interested to know how the Open Source Party plans to get around the problem of negotiating compromises, which is the basis for how politics gets done.

    To wit: in a republic, a certain set of people elect a representative, and then other representatives can negotiate with that one person. The result, at least typically, does not contain all of what either side wanted.

    The OSP model seems to be about the rejection of this. The negotiation happens directly between outside parties and the constituents – which is practically impossible, especially for two representatives following this (the constituents on one side would have to negotiate with the constituents on the other).

    (If you’ve ever seen mass meetings like this, it always comes down to one person or a small group of people articulating one side’s view. That person or group is then what gets addressed – even if many of those they represent might disagree with certain aspects. Even U.S. Congressional representatives who have town hall meetings, have to have multiple meetings to address interested people from different parts of their district, and hear different things from each block of people.)

    It therefore seems like any elected candidate adhering to this Open Source Party model would quickly be bypassed and ignored by all the other elected candidates, out of sheer inability to negotiate anything – or, more likely, would soon abandon the OSP’s principles once in office in order to get any work done. This seems like it would not be productive.

    • I would be more interested in your participation and suggestions than in pretending to know all the answers… but yes, oh my, there are problems implementing this idea. It’s going to take time and go in unexpected directions, I would guess.


    • Adrian,
      although RU, Jon and I may have differing stances on how this will operate, I personally advocate the abolishment of the Democratic-Republic in favor of direct democracy. This is, after all, how open-source projects work… everyone involved has a say.

      “Representative” government does not work for the people. And, as a very wise man once said, “Government of the people, for the people, by the people shall not perish from this earth.” I strongly believe this to be true.

      The fact of the matter is, individuals cannot be expected to look out for the interests of anyone aside from themselves. However, when every member of this open-source project we call “democracy” has a say, no one personal interest can carry more weight than the interest of the public as a whole.

      Anyhow, these are just some ideological musings that needed to be considered before we can decide as a group what we stand for.


  9. Re: Patri Friedman

    I don’t understand the basis for the cult following. Would his seasteads have room for prisons, homeless shelters, drug rehab facilities, psychiatric hospitals, facilities for taking care of the retarded, nursing homes for elderly poor people like my recently deceased grandmother, etc?

    I rather doubt it. Organic societies tend to become socialistic from what I call the “zookeeping” burden: About a third of the adult population needs some level of zookeeping because these people have trouble taking care of themselves properly.

    Seasteads would just leave these problem people on land, and they would probably ship their other residents back to land when they become similarly in need of zookeeping. (The sharpest Ayn-Randian arbitrageur can always suffer from brain trauma and become disabled, after all.) Seasteads would just continue the trend in capitalism towards privatizing profits while socializing losses and costs.

    • Mark, make your own damn seastead.

    • (more politely but less succinctly put than kanzure’s reply)

      Mark, your comment suggests you’ve missed the goal of seasteading. Namely, allowing multiple simultaneous experiments in real-world government models.

      You raise a straw man argument that one-third of the adult population requires “zookeeping” and that population fraction would get abandoned by seasteads. Granting your claim for the argument’s sake, it doesn’t follow that such an unsympathetic seastead would exist–regardless of how easy it might be to imagine such a thing. I find equally easy to imagine seasteads with religious motives, esp. since so many historical analogs exist. Such places might have a very charitable aspect to their character.

      Seasteads might exist, and they might expand the range of political possibilities. If you had your own seastead, you could make your zookeeping claim a testable proposition or even a counterexample to your assertion that “Seasteads would just continue the trend in capitalism towards privatizing profits while socializing losses and costs.”

      DISCLAIMER: I AM a libertarian, and I give a substantial fraction of my income to charity. (The exact numbers are private.) I like helping others; I loathe being forced to do so.

    • Mark, I don’t think Seastead conditions would create prisoners or psychiatric patients, or even result in deformed/retarded births by the sheer positiivity of the concept. Even AGING could be athing of the past.

      You really have been affected by the negative place you live in and even the belief in afflicted DNA or inability to repair DNA fast enough, which is what most cities, in their current form really are and really cause. The hive mind has already formed in MANY areas, but they mostly fail to understand privacy and lack ethics or respect individuals.

      Once this hurdle is passed, then will humanity truly grow into something greater. A hive is just a hive, individuals are however what makes society valuable and stronger by force of dissent and thus necessity of innovation alone.

      Otherwise we’d all end up ancient decaaying sprawling cultures spreading for millenia until we are consumed or consume by all other or similar cultures, much like the borg and from the moment hive culture takes over, innovation ends and decay sets in.

      Am amazed that Star Trek for all it’s dull low budget anthropomorphic simian-form aliens, portrayed this so accurately. Social studies are the biggest farce though and politically the ‘hive’ form has stolen up upon most societies, governments and religions as it were.

      Intolerance of differences, and oppression of minorities, as well as imposition of wills on all and sundry even to the extent of psychological murder and emotional murder, to homogenise or worse, forcibly assimilate instead or attenuate individuality or grow their own individuality or intelligence alongside sharing of resources, giving of space and equitable distribution of wealth instead of sequestration of wealth, lack of ethics, nepotism, oligarchy, is the greatest hurdle facing the ‘hive’ as of now.

      Do not evolve into workers, and identify the cancers of political dynasties, cancers of plutocrats (the wealth and lands of the world belong to all, stop making life difficult for everyone and be a value added/ing individual not one who takes and never gives back) and cancers of SPIRITUAL oligarchs (very difficult to dislodge, they are embedded within the hives of political and social structures as I had found out and are as violent SPIRITUALLY as the next PHYSICAL dictator) so that YOUR own development and eventual apotheosis can be achieved, rather than stolen or impacted by the spiritual autocrats in the form of your monks and clergy – ESPECIALLY those materialistic ones entrenched in society using tantra to hoodwink or block awareness of others for their own benefit.

      We will not suffer the presence or a hierarchy of natural psychics or lame genetically inferior neurotech users, hive or individual form. Spiritual Tyranny is still tyranny and MUST be torn down towards liberty and the right to develop into something greater as is the right of any person.

      Do not poison with GMO mosquito vaccines like the b@stards at Bentong, those quakes will now be inevitable simply by your attempt to stop them via release of GMOs. Try killing the entire world, your fates are now sealed, any who have dared touched upon the worthy will have equitable losses underway with interest. Relinquish and repent, or pay the price, every action shall be extracted in full.

  10. Thanks RU for making this great return to H+ Magazine. This is a great article on very important issues.

    As you say, the events of the last 3 years show that the time may be right to seriously thinking about giving power back to the people, to whom it belongs.

  11. I’ve been thinking about the concept of an Open Source political representative. Their job would be to research policy positions and present constituents with insightful but easy to digest briefings on issues coming up for a vote, and to assist constituents in the proposal of legislation that addresses the priorities that they establish. Constituents would get to debate the issues on a public discussion board and then vote on how they’d like their representative to vote on an issue (in the vein of MoveOn). Likewise, the representative and staff would serve as facilitators of the Wiki authorship of legislation, developing the skeleton and helping translate contributors ideas into legalese. All the representative’s activities (meetings, votes, travel, etc.) and their office’s budget would be documented and published online. All of this would be facilitated by a web platform that scales from city council seats to the Presidency, permitting any community to float a candidate for any seat.

  12. The way I see it, open source paints a larger trend, not one of mere transparency in our current politics, but rather a complete re-envisioning of society entirely.

    This is why we have individuals like Patri Friedman (Seasteading Institute) working on a “startups of governments” framework. Transhumanists have known Patri for some time now. He was recently re-elected to the board of Humanity+ and has presented at these conferences before. His borrowed concept is to make land out on the high seas available to “entrepreneurial governments”. What would an entirely open source seasteading distribution look like? There’s been no doubt that Debian and Ubuntu have been huge forces in the free software world– will Seasteading Institute be as influential in development?

    This is also why we have Marcin Jakubowski (Factor E Farm) working on the global village construction set. He’s creating the Global Village Construction Set, an open source, low-cost, high performance technological platform that allows for the easy, DIY fabrication of the 50 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a sustainable civilization with modern comforts. Holy crap, mount that on Patri’s friggin’ seasteading platform. Marcin presented at H+ Summit 2009 in Irvine, California. His farm out in Missourri has sort of been like a Zeitgeist or Venus Project for people who have an urge to get down to business. He’ll be presenting at TED sometime this year. And he really, really deserves his TED talk.

    This is why we have Adrian Bowyer (University of Bath) working on RepRap, an open-source 3D printer that hopes to one day make all of its own components. It’s not really just Adrian now, but thousands of developers and hundreds of repraps and derivatives, even businesses like Makerbot Industries and MakerGear. This technology has ignited global, open development. Humanity+ (this blog) thinks that open technology development has tremendous acceleration benefits, especially in open manufacturing. I helped organize the Gada Prizes at Humanity+ including the just-recently-announced Grand RepRap Prize.. and there’s $80,000 at stake.

    This is why Robert Freitas (Institute for Molecular Machinery) has provided hundreds of hours of research in his book Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines. For many of the reprappers it (and Advanced Automation for Space Missions) has been a guiding star in both mechanical devices but also nanotech. I flip through these almost daily now.

    Christopher Kelty once published an interesting seed of an idea about recursive republics- societies that continuously use their technologies to update their mandate in a giant feedback loop. At least, that’s the thought he came to after chronicling the historical trends in the free software movement.

    ((On a related note, it’s always amused me how Chris Peterson @ Foresight Institute was more involved in open source back in the late 90s. There’s a few edge cases in the transhumanist communities, but in general, it seems that the futurists missed out on open source. To be fair, open source isn’t easy to make. It’s hard work. But nobody is going to hand-deliver you the future. Biocurious (the open source, DIY biohacking hackerspace) is ran by a few transhumanists, so the future is looking bright for the Bay Area transhumanists.))

    The future of “open source politics” is going to be about technology development. Don’t like your current government? You’ll get to spawn off a spore and take a recent version of technological civilization with you- for yourself, your family and your friends to go with you, if they think your proposed system is worth leaving (just don’t “fork-and-forget”! ah, GitHub’s one weakness). That’s the power of open source. But there seems to be a chasm or disconnect between the events and trends I’ve outlined, and the article’s take on Open Source. Curious trends, for sure.

    BTW: I’ll be in the Bay Area at the end of the month in case anyone wants to hang out or, you know, feed me.

    Edit: Also, there’s a BIL meetup in Long Beach, California on March 3rd-5th. Joseph Jackson has been recruiting lots of DIYbio folks to talk about directed evolution, EEG, open source hardware projects, a mass spectrometer project, etc. etc. (deets)

    – Bryan
    1 512 203 0507 ##hplusroadmap

    • Great review of Open Source projects tied into the transhumanist community. If I were Editor of this magazine, I’d have you turn it into an article -)


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