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  • Foto del escritorKaren Ness

Jonathan Rauch's The Constitution of Knowledge from the Civic Dictionary's point of view

Actualizado: 1 jul 2021

I've been reading Persuasion's article by Jonathan with the same title. I find two ideas stimulating. One is the idea of the "error-seeking social network" and the other is the comparison with the United States Constitution. One point I would make, from a sociological point of view, is that all social networks share the attributes of a team, of a tribe even, and that can present some problems for the truth.

Second, if it was the constitution of any of most of the world's countries that was the basis for Jonathan's ideas for this social "error-seeking" network, I would say his ideas were really in trouble. Fortunately for them, they are not and they are salvageable (forgive my apparent arrogance, but I do see myself as part of this theoretical error seeking network, even if the rest of the tribe does not.)

Any social network will acquire tribe like attributes; that is in its very nature. That is the genius of the United States constitution and, to a lesser degree, most other Anglo-Saxon or Western constitutions; most of them have a bigger error-seeking social network that can stop the use of public force on dissenters than do the rest of the world's constitutions. In Western or Anglo-Saxon constitutions, that error seeking network is not constituted of judges, as most other constitutional error-seeking networks are. Judges are a part of it, a salutary part of it, but not even the bulk of it. They exercise a lot of control over the error seeking, some of it not so healthy, and they are slowly reducing the size of the error-seeking network, down to about two percent of error-seeking decisions, but I will refer to what the United States constitution originally intended to happen.

The bulk of error seeking in the judicial decisions, the decisions to use public force against a dissenter or violator of the established rules, in the United States constitution is given to juries. This widens the network's error-seeking nodes from individuals inside the government network, which is the way most constitutions in the world constitute their judicial error-seeking networks, to the population at large that experiences the consequences of those decisions. The small sample of nodes chosen to make a judicial decision in one particular case, which when chosen at random from the entire social network, is going to be more representative of the entire social network.

The unanimity requirement for a jury means that if the sample of nodes in the network is not sure beyond a reasonable doubt that it is justifiable to use force against the accused to silence or stop him or her, the case remains inconclusive, the truth was simply not established. If it is unanimously in favor of the accused, it may be presumed that he, she, it, or they, are innocent of the error imputed. If it is unanimously against the accused, it is presumed that it is correct to use public force against him, her, it, or them, which of course, we know is not always the case, but it is the best we can do considering that judicial error-seeking among humans in a social endeavor will always be based on values that are by nature subjective and circumstantial.

The smaller the error-seeking network, the more likely it is to be biased or just plain wrong. The smaller the sample of nodes chosen to detect the error, and not a random sample at that, means that the chances of getting accurate results go down.

If we accept the statement that politics is a competition for power and that in any social network there will be individuals seeking to influence or even impose a particular decision regarding what is truth or what is correct regarding a fact or a rule, it is not hard to understand that truth or the best rule could be distorted by politics, especially when the use of force becomes connected by way of government where politics is at its most intense. There is no stronger deterrent to truth or rules than the threat of force, with deceit right up there, which in the end relies on force as well.


Illustration: Edward Charles Close (1790-1866) -, Public Domain,

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