Racism is the reason why Polis hasn’t spread faster

Experiencing Polis for the first time

Polis was introduced to me a few years ago by a very experienced tech expert. As a politics nerd, the capability of Polis dumfounded me. Boy, this is what democracies – the world over – have been crying out for, was what I thought then and what I still think, now.

As a Brit, I watched our Brexit referendum – and the fallout from the Brexit win – tear friends and families apart. Six years on from the Brexit referendum, families are still divided, and friendships frayed. Why? Because, Brits took to social media to vent their spleen about their Brexit viewpoints. It is still happening. Oftentimes, no prisoners are taken.

Polis – particularly when used anonymously, as we use it at the Crowd Wisdom Project – cures the ills of hostile, horrible and counter-productive online political discussions. Polis really ought to be used in every business, in every organisation, in each village, town, city and country. But it isn’t. Why hasn’t use of Polis proliferated, when the best tech usually spreads exponentially?

Polis in Taiwan

My role as founder of the Crowd Wisdom Project has been to promote the widespread use of Polis. Businesses, campaigning groups and environmental groups have used it, together with the awesome Harrogate District Consensus, to massive impact. I have therefore had more experience than most people in promoting this ground-breaking, altruistic technology.

When “pitching” Polis democracy technology I have – understandably and logically – pointed to the example of Polis in Taiwan, used by VTaiwan.

Essentially, after a revolution in Taiwan in 2014, known as the “Sunflower Revolution”, the Government of Taiwan introduced Polis technology. Polis, coupled with deliberative democracy tools and led by the phenomenal Audrey Tang, allowed the Taiwanese to speak to each other more intelligently and compassionately. In so doing, the messiest and most controversial issues in Taiwan, including whether Uber ought to be licensed, was solved.

The BBC produced a fabulous video about Polis in Taiwan here.

(Incidentally, the same BBC team, which filmed this mini documentary, also came to Harrogate in July 2022 to interview me about our work with Polis. The BBC did their research in granular detail. The BBC World Service team, who were recording for their People Fixing The World series, focused primarily on the Polis conversation of Pinewoods V Harrogate Spring Water.)

Well done, Polis. Bravo. But, why, after such a stunning success in Taiwan, why has Polis failed to spread?

Did Western Racism Imperil the Growth of Polis?

I wish that I didn’t think this, but I am of the opinion that, in the Western world, in particular, people look negatively upon Taiwan and Taiwanese people. Growing up, “Taiwan” was a byword for shoddy tech products.

With my experience of talking about Polis for the last two years, to people from all sorts of backgrounds, my view – which I wish I did not have – is that many Westerners view Taiwanese people as vastly different. And, therefore, any suggestion that a political tech tool like Polis has been a stunning success in Taiwan should automatically disbar Westerners from countenancing its use.

My educated estimation is that many Westerners think, in a racist way, that the Taiwanese are more likely to follow rules, work very hard and, frankly, succumb to authoritarianism. Furthermore, I believe many Westerners think, that Taiwan couldn’t possibly have been a “proper” democracy – just look at China – is their flawed logic.

But Taiwanese democracy (and their response to Covid) have so much to offer the world. Although Polis has been used all around the world – New Zealand, Slovakia, Austria, Holland and others countries – the prominence of Polis in Taiwan has, sadly, impeded its take-up in Western societies. Had, for example, the Government of Estonia – famed for its tech startups such as Skype – used Polis in the way that it was used in Taiwan, then my view is that far more Western countries would have followed suit.

My Polis Mission

The mission which I have taken upon myself is to spread the usage of Polis across the planet. Experiencing complicated arguments – as Polis does so very well – has no downsides. Only net positives. Promoting nuance, finding the best ideas, and discovering that there are so many areas where people agree, is precisely what the world needs. Social media thrives by pouring fuel on fire. Calm, intelligent, sensible, rational Polis cures many of these ills.

Desperately, the world needs Polis. Give it a go!

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