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Sender: "Bruce Schuman"
Subject: The bottom-up definition and construction of political groups
Date: Tue, Apr 15, 2014
Msg: 100926

It's interesting and perhaps synchronistic that over the last several days, I had been looking at this same definition of "Transpartisan", as found here:

I was looking for books and lectures by Mark Gerzon and John Steiner, listened carefully to a YouTube lecture on leadership, found a lot of wonderful material, and saw in all of this a very broad basis for agreement, at least for myself. This is a rich and growing field, and there is much to learn or acknowledge in these materials. Perhaps more of this background should be explicitly included here.

In this message, in a spirit of co-creativity, and acknowledging this rich background, I want to offer a few thoughts that are emerging for me.


I have been thinking for some time that a politics based on the "explicit bottom-up construction of agreements" (i.e., based on specific points shared among specific people) might be very liberating. A couple of days ago, I wrote a longish article on this subject, entitled "What is a political group?", citing this below definition of Transpartisan, and reviewing definitions of terms like "alliance" and "coalition" and "party". This morning, I want to try again, from a slightly different angle and a sharper focus. Instead of asking the broad question "What is a political group?", I want to concentrate on the more specific issue of constructing (or defining) political groups "from the bottom up", in terms of specific agreements on specific points by specific people. This angle, I think, might open the way to a truly scientific approach to a new transpartisan politics - that I believe can help us avoid innumerable semantic issues that emerge when definitions are less clear. Starting from this foundation, we can then introduce some new possibilities for a new political technology that the growth of the computer world is making feasible for the first time.

This approach might also help clarify the somewhat confusing and fractious tension between "the individual" (libertarianism) and "the community" (communitarianism) - the primary theme of EJ Dionne's 2012 book "Our Divided Political Heart". Seeing a political or social group in this way enables us to say in simple terms what seems obvious: communities and groups are built out of individuals. It is our careless or poorly-defined use of these terms, I think, that lead to a lot of confusing and perhaps unnecessary disagreement. Let's emphasize individual freedom and autonomy as the building block, and construct the community, and all sense of shared responsibility and cohesion among individuals based on clear agreements among free individuals. The right approach is not "individual versus community" - it's "individuality within community in a balanced way", perhaps as per Amatai Etzioni. This might be an ideal flag for a transpartisan to wave.

"Etzioni's main idea is that individual rights and aspirations should be protected but that they should be inserted into a sense of the community (hence the name of the movement he created-Communitarianism). He argues that communitarian thinking developed in reaction to the "me-first" attitude of the 1980s. He has urged the movement to attempt to establish common ground between liberals and conservatives, thus bridging the continual division. In his book Radical Middle, author Mark Satin identifies Etzioni as a radical centrist communitarian."


If Transpartisan politics is revolutionary - and I would say it absolutely is - I would want to include in that revolution a specific acknowledgement of Einstein's famous quote - "Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them." This quote is perhaps a little vague - what does it really mean? - but my definition might include an awareness of specific themes in "group process" that I believe are not part of the present "political meme", and which, in my opinion, absolutely should and must be precisely clarified. It seems evident to me, given our premises and assumptions and traditional ways of understanding the process of democracy, that our current way of thinking about political issues and groups is riddled with semantic traps and vulnerabilities that are generally unavoidable. We have to fix these problems or risk failure.

From my point of view, though highly desirable, Transpartisan initiatives are generally failing today - leading to the frustrated burn-out of the best visionaries who come into this work, and a common cynicism and doubt that goes with that failure. I believe that taking a new approach, based on a strict semantic construction that can be defined with precision in the language of mathematical semantics and computer science, might be a critical step towards the real success and empowerment of this very idealistic movement. Let us introduce some new and perhaps much more precise and clarifying ways to think about these things.

So, with that said, a brief review of some insights and possibilities from the world of technical analysis.


The subject of "algebraic semantics" emerged for me in my undergraduate days, and over the years I grew with the idea that a precise semantics might be critically important to collaboratively developing "a world that works for everyone". I have continued to explore this theme, and last summer, I got involved with a listserv for computer professionals that deals with issues of semantic and conceptual construction called "Ontolog" - for "ontology". I discovered this mailing list by contacting the author of a 1984 technical book by Dr. John Sowa entitled "Conceptual Structures". Dr. Sowa is a retired MIT professor and IBM researcher, generally credited with inventing the field of "semantic networks", and he is active on the Ontolog mailing list. I have found this listserv to be very instructive, in many ways, and I think it makes a lot of sense to apply basic principles of "semantic ontology" to the construction or understanding of basic political concepts. When I do a Google search for "semantic network", this is the second citation I find, -- right after Wikipedia: This is a big and technical subject, and perhaps foreign to most political thinkers, but it might be critically important in the creation of a workable new politics.


The essential point is that scientific concepts can generally be distinguished from concepts in the liberal arts, because they generally have a strict and "grounded" definition. As concepts ascend in levels of abstraction (e.g., as per the taxonomic hierarchy "my German Shepherd dog Charlie", "all Germans Shepherds", "all dogs", "all mammals", "all animals", "everything that is alive"), they become increasingly subject to interpretation - and possibly multiple alternative interpretations. It is those "multiple alternative interpretations of the same word (or broad concept)" that can lead to significant disagreements, even among the best-intended ("if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, is it a duck?"). One issue that a transpartisan politics must address is creation of some method that "people can understand each other better" - often through traditional dialogue methods such as "respectful listening" and "asking questions" and "co-creativity". Looking for a solution to this problem, I have explored the concept of "resonant semantics" - following the idea of resonance among members of a group, when resonance involves the emergence of trust, cocreativity and real listening.


The fundamental issue revolves around the concept of a "private dictionary". If we are really listening to each other, I should do my best to understand the words you use in terms of your intended meaning, as best I can grasp it - instead of "projecting" a meaning into your words based on my own private dictionary, and perhaps seeing moral/ethical errors in your statements which arise when I plug in my own interpretation. Following some kind of resonant semantics is critical to the success of any discussion where issues might be heated and concepts defined in broad abstractions. A speaker should be guided in the same way, framing their ideas in the clearest and least-ambiguous way possible, to help avoid misinterpretation.


With all that said, I'm interested in exploring how it might be possible to build a political movement based on precise explicit agreement - at a large-scale level, perhaps involving millions of people. Perhaps we could begin to understand more clearly the meaning a few critical terms like "alliance" or "agreement" or "shared understanding" or "political party" or "transpartisan" if these terms were defined with explicit and strictly grounded definitions - instead of the traditional way of the "liberal arts" which tend to leave us without strict definition, hoping we can find some way to agree - and generally finding the issue confusing and fuzzy and very difficult.

From my point of view, this new kind of strict definition might be an essential part of a new "political science of transpartisanship" - that I am inclined to believe is essential if this movement is to succeed. Without such precision, we will be falling into an old trap, and continuing with a failed "meme" that does not address Einstein's quote. In this case, the "level of awareness that created the problem" arises from the assumption that we don't need strict definitions, that such definitions are impossible anyway, and that, therefore, our only hope is to encourage something like resonance ("Kumbaya and the Rodney King solution") in the broad high-tension effort to understand one another at large scale (millions of very diverse people). It looks to me like the amazing power of contemporary computer networking can fully address this problem - and that we are silly and somewhat myopic (or "old paradigm") if we don't seriously explore how this might be true.

What is a political group? What is an alliance, or coalition, or political party? Are these things more or less the same thing, but at varying levels of breadth? Generally, the case can be made that all of these concepts involve some sort of membership within a group based on degrees of agreement. An alliance or coalition is formed when people or groups share some common points of agreement - maybe one point of agreement (though we are different in many other ways, we all advocate a specific legislative initiative), or maybe many (we share multiple points of agreement and ideology -for example, the Christian Coalition originally created by Pat Robertson, or the Liberty Coalition, as created by Michael Ostrolenk). A political group or coalition can be exactly defined by the positions held by its members. This does not have to be confusing.

What is a Transpartisan political group? If we need to define this term in a precise clear way, once we have a crisp logical definition of a political group, we can then offer specific descriptive attributes of this particular type of political group.


I am inclined to the view that the "fundamental indissoluble integral unit of any political group" (the fundamental building block from which the group is formed) is an individual human being. This has been my approach in database development, and it seems very defensible and intuitive (rather than saying, for example, that the fundamental unit is a policy or position or set of positions - which is another way to define the group). In this context, it would seem to make sense to create a way that every individual human being who wants to participate in an active and engaged form of citizenship should be in a position to fully define themselves, as an individual, insofar as possible in their own terms, and in any detail they choose. "I am a citizen, here is who I am, here is what I am interested in, here are the issues that concern me, and here are my positions on those issues." The individual might want to add "Yes, I am listening to you, I am influenced by you, I want to work together with you to resolve differences, and create solutions that work for both (or all) of us."

This process of self-definition, in crisp detail, perhaps subject to unifying standards (perhaps in the way that Twitter subjects all posts to a 140-character length), could become the fundamental element in a broad process of coalition and party development. Define yourself in detail, as you wish, within a shared framework - and in a politically neutral way, this system, perhaps interconnecting millions of people, all of whom are entirely independent free-thinking individuals subject to no inherent grouping or assumptions whatsoever ("all people in X group are like this") - all participants would be automatically compiled into groups through a simple "Venn diagram" kind of mathematical logic.

Put simply, "everybody who checks button X is a member of X coalition." If there are hundreds of issues in play, a system like this would clarify them all, in precise detail, all at the same time, in a fully holistic and integral way. Political coalitions and groups would have an exact and accurate definition, with no blurring or overly broad assumptions regarding "what the group thinks." Instead of cognitive overload, and the immediate blur of emotion that often follows, a system like this could contain and manage huge variability in a stable and trustworthy way, opening the door to entirely new vistas in democratic self-governance.

This approach is very basic and very simple. It's very natural and intuitive, and it's very do-able. Find a way to move that idea Into the world at large scale, and a new kind of political movement would be born. Instantly, we would have a very broad and very accurate and detailed statement of agreement and disagreement on what might be hundreds of critical and vexed issues. Points of agreement and disagreement would become clear and explicit - something that is inherently impossible in the muddy and fragmented (non-holistic, non-integral, overloaded) way we do things today. In the context of this understanding, we might then undertake clear (and resonant) negotiation on points of disagreement, looking for ideal solutions that benefit individuals and the whole in a balanced way.

Though their focus is global rather than national, see The Widening Circle for a political vision based on something like this approach, or their article "Imagine all the People" ine_All_the_People.pdf


In his their commentary on The Commons, in a video recently published by Kosmos Journal entitled "What's Next for the Global Commons", James Quilligan and David Bollier introduce a theme I believe may point towards the most powerful and feasible way forward for any emerging new transpartisan movement. They speak of a "new center of gravity" - emerging somewhat like a political party or third force - but not based on the assumptions and traditional framework of a political party.

This new center of gravity could emerge as a directly influential and powerful political movement not by building all the traditional elements of a political "base" - nominating candidates, trying to get on the ballot, raising huge amounts of money, trying to win elections - but simply as a coalescence of millions of people across the internet, who see clear ways to come together simply through clicking options on a keyboard that they can believe in, connected through something like a Venn-diagram logic, and who by sheer power of numbers could become a seriously influential force within the context of the existing Congressional and Party system. If we are following something like the Widening Circle vision, perhaps all these people would coalesce into groups that take the form of interconnected circles, perhaps parsed by criteria like particular issues or geographical regions.

These people might be thinking "We don't really need the party apparatus and all the mechanism of existing politics. Because of the emerging new power of the internet, we can now connect in powerful direct ways on our own, and we don't need this sick and dying and corrupt framework in its present form. Let's come together in this new way - and as we grow, we can then revitalize and influence the existing system. We don't need to reject Congress, or the Constitution, or the electoral process. Instead, taking this new approach, we can embrace them all, and breath a new and vitalizing energy and influence into them." That, to me, seems like a far more viable strategy than hoping to compete with the massively funded (and, as millions of people think, corrupt) political structure controlling our lives today. This new approach would absolutely be a genuine and exactly accurate "voice of the people" - and could emerge not as a political party, but as a kind of universal people's lobby, dealing with every issue in the USA in an integral/holistic way, and influencing (and guiding) the existing system by sheer force of reason and numbers.


We are only beginning to understand the potential of the internet to transform politics. Groups like "Tech President" -- -- have been looking at this question for five years or more, and every political initiative in the USA today has some kind of internet presence. The Obama campaign of 2008 was described as "the best organized in history", and much of that power and organization flowed through the "My Barack Obama" ("MyBo") interface, that brought together 19 million Obama supporters.

In the 2012 election, the group Americans Elect - -- though they withdrew from the race and were seen as a failure by some - actually did manage to sign up 20 million American voters, who went through their very elegant and interesting sign-up process, and entered 25,000 questions and issues into their database. The leadership of Americans Elect - though they had a powerful internet system that attracted a lot of attention and participation, was still very much an "inside the box" (of the old prevailing political assumptions), and did not begin to utilize the organizing "people power" they had successfully brought together. Perhaps a new version of Americans Elect, aimed at the broad swath of "concerned citizens everywhere" could begin to utilize the tremendous and highly-detailed (and historically unprecedented) organizing power of the internet - to convene a new "third force" - concerned Americans regardless of "party" - who have stepped into a new form of political thinking, that fully engages the voices of American citizens in a detailed and precisely authentic way, that establishes common ground in a natural way, and all without making any confusing or overly-broad assumptions about what people want or what they believe. We have the capacity today to absolutely know what people want and believe - and it looks to me like this kind of politics is becoming fully feasible.


Bruce Schuman




(805) 966-9515, PO Box 23346, Santa Barbara CA 93101

From: List for transpartisan leaders and innovators [mailto:TRANSPARTISAN@LISTS.THATAWAY.ORG] On Behalf Of Mark Gerzon Sent: Wednesday, April 09, 2014 1:12 PM To: TRANSPARTISAN@LISTS.THATAWAY.ORG Subject: [TRANSPARTISAN] TRANSPARTISAN DEFINITION 1.0: Proposed April Conversation

Dear Transpartisan listServ Colleagues,

Thank everyone who has contributed so far to the Transpartisan dialogue on this listServ. We are heartened by both the number of people who have joined in less than a month (approximately 200) and the vitality of the conversation. We strongly encourage the ongoing spontaneous conversation that has proved to be so rich.

Shortly after starting this listServ, we suggested potential monthly conversation topics that might focus our thinking about this emerging field. In March, we invited those who joined to introduce themselves and share something about their interest in transpartisan work. (Please continue this process, if you wish to introduce yourself.) We now propose that in April we directly address what "tranpartisan" means to us.

Specifically, we wrote:

What does "transpartisan" mean to you? Are there other words or phrases that describe this "field" better, or touch your heart and mind more deeply? What kind of work do you do that is part of this emerging field? How would you define the borders of the "Transpartisan field"? Why does the field becoming aware of and connected to itself matter?

In addition to the continuing organic conversation, we welcome comments on these questions. TO catalyze the conversation, we share below our Transpartisan Definition 1.0. Please take a look at it and either endorse it, modify it - or take us in a new direction altogether!

All the best,

Mark Gerzon with the Mediators Foundation Team


A Working Definition

Partisan (adj.): adopting and defending a particular political party's position on all or a substantial set of public policy issues

Bipartisan (adj.): inclined or undertaking to seek consensus or agreement between two major political parties (e.g., in the USA, the Democratic and Republican Parties)

Transpartisan (adj.): working to strengthen the relationship between political parties while seeking innovative solutions to policy issues that respect but transcend specific party positions

While each of these three definitions simplifies a more complex reality, they are nevertheless useful. Each of these three political dispositions has civic consequences. While honorable people can (and often do) migrate among all three of these positions, the three still can be distinguished from one another.

A partisan tends to be interested in victory for their party. Since partisans equate best outcome or success with their particular party's position, being "partisan" is to them typically preferable to being "bipartisan" or "transpartisan." To the extent that partisanship equates to best outcome, party loyalty may suppress open-minded inquiry. "Collaboration" or "bridge-building" may be considered distractions, or even wrong. If one's party is seen as having a lock on truth and virtue, then the end (victory) can rationalize the means. However, partisans also often believe in the value of incremental progress toward their partisan goals, and so may recognize the virtue in and necessity for compromise. See bipartisan.

A bipartisan disposition contemplates the virtue or necessity of compromise with another major political party to achieve shared goals to the extent practicable. It assumes two major parties - which represent the vast majority of one's fellow citizens - to be worthy competitors, each with competing strengths and (usually) vulnerabilities. While people who value bipartisan efforts may still be Democrats or Republicans, they recognize the practical benefit of across-the-aisle agreement. For this reason, they are far more likely than partisans to accept a negotiated compromise, because they believe the resulting policy is more likely to endure and be effective or, often, because it is a current expedient. Note that a given person may be a partisan on some issues and bipartisan on others.

A transpartisan perspective differs from both in that it places a higher value on independence from partisanship, open-mindedness, and inclusion of the range of legitimate policy positions. The third of the U. S. electorate who self-define as "independents" typically find the major parties' positions inadequate to meet the nation's problems and may see even bipartisan approaches to be too narrow. This outlook may indicate a transpartisan attitude, focused on effectiveness and innovation not contemplated by either political party. Whatever (if any) their party label, transpartisans are as interested in the relationship between the partisan adversaries as they are in a victory for their own party.

The two components of "trans-partisan" respect that each person may at times be a "partisan," with strong policy preferences, but also recognize that for the nation to flourish (or even function) we must have "trans"-partisans who believe in a more inclusive civic culture.

To repeat: all three of these descriptions are simpler than the reality that they describe. But the distinctions are useful because a healthy body politic needs all three perspectives to flourish. Partisan-only politics leads to win-lose seesawing, paralysis, or even violence. Bipartisan-only politics leads to a duopoly that may exclude points of view outside the parties' canon. And transpartisan-only politics is impractical because party structures are necessary for organizing and clustering 330 million people's civic activities, at least as currently practiced.

At the moment these three kinds of civic disposition are dangerously out of balance. Partisanship is epidemic; bipartisanship is rare; and transpartisanship is almost invisible. Governed by their marketplace realities, the media accentuate the most partisan voices, neglect bipartisan breakthroughs, and only recently have begun to grasp the emergence of transpartisanship.

The transpartisan movement is designed to provide this vital, missing civic perspective.

There is a process or relationship aspect to transpartisanship, which focuses on the relationship between political adversaries and enhancing their capacity for collaborative problem-solving. This involves providing a safe place for competing voices in our civic culture to engage, challenge, and inspire each other to form a chorus than can break through the partisan din and bring a new mix of pragmatism and idealism into the public square.

There is also an emerging content aspect of transpartisanship, which focuses on developing transpartisan positions on difficult issues. This is primarily about overcoming polarization through policy innovations that go beyond bipartisan compromise and focus on what works best - not based on Left or Right theory, but in actual civic practice.

We welcome your voice to the unfolding definition of our movement. Let's continue to clarify and strengthen our understanding of this vital dimension of civic life.


Written by Mark Gerzon

Edited by Rep. David Skaggs, Steve McIntosh, John Steiner, Gabriel Dayley, and others.

-- Mark Gerzon Mediators Foundation 2525 Arapahoe Avenue E-4 #509 Boulder, Colorado 80302 3038171409

"Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them." - Albert Einstein


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Anger and partisan rage
Attention Economy
Basic principles for a Transpartisan movement
Collaborative problem solving
Common ground
Community conversations
Conscious business
Creating transpartisan consensus
Crisis of democracy
Dynamic Facilitation
Facilitated conversation/dialogue
For transpartisanism to be successful, people must transform their most basic beliefs
Holding the tension of our differences while working together with respect and an open heart
Integral democracy
Integral politics
Integral thinking
Internet support for dialog and action
Out of Many, One - E Pluribus Unum
Partisan bubbles
Partisan disfunction
Political revolution
Psychological overload
Public choice economics
Science and accurate thinking
Stratified Democracy
Teleology and cultural evolution
Transpartisan alliance on specific issue
Uninvolved citizen
Unity and diversity
Unprecedented new approaches
Us versus Them
Voter ignorance
Weave together a movement of many initiatives
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Work together to create an activist vision