I probably started working on this project as a child. I’ve always been fascinated by technology and how it works, and spent many hours taking broken things apart, trying to understand how they work, fixing them, and then putting them back together. From a very early age it was also clear to me that politics and government were broken, the Vietnam War and the Cold War being two major influences on me, since both reached their peaks when I was in elementary school.
But these problems always seemed intractable to me and so I never made any effort to do anything about any of them. I suppose I was keeping a mental inventory of “bugs” and design flaws in the system, however, as this is just an occupational hazard of being a software engineer (which is the career I eventually settled on, near the end of my undergraduate education). And my list was probably more specific than most people’s because so many of my family members were psychologists and much of my undergraduate training was in psychology which provided me an appreciation for the great many flaws in human cognition (although my undergraduate degree ended up being in Math/CIS, I eventually went back to school and graduated with a PhD in Cognitive (Experimental) Psychology, University of Colorado at Boulder).
If anyone had told me 30 years ago that my eventual career goal would end up being political philosopher or even revolutionary activist, I would have told them they were crazy. And I would have been in a position to be pretty sure about that because my undergraduate degree was from the University of California at Santa Cruz: I had a lot of contact with people who were so inclined and knew that I was about as different from most of them as I could possibly be.
But then many years later I happened to buy a condo in a complex that, unbeknownst to me at the time, was in deep financial and organizational trouble. Since figuring how things were broken and doing what I can to fix them is just in my nature, I set out on that path again. What I discovered was pretty horrifying: Not only had the complex been mismanaged for its entire 40 year existence and had millions of dollars in accumulated deferred maintenance, but the Board was stuffed with people who were not only incompetent, but seemed to take an almost perverse pride in the fact that they were the ultimate authorities: Right or wrong, their opinions and decisions were the ones that mattered. They also apparently had no qualms about committing irrational or even unethical acts including the willful hiding and misrepresentation of information to protect their authority, which is how my pre-purchase due diligence failed to discover these problems.
And no sooner had I managed to “persuade” many of these people to resign and let somebody new take a crack at it, but a whole new crop of the same sorts of people stepped up to take their place. They seemed almost pathologically resistant to accepting ideas that conflicted with their existing prejudices, and when I was eventually elected to serve on the Board on a platform of “and now for something completely different”, they took it as their first task to vote to remove me. Although during this process I eventually did stumble into a design for a system that would allow the other Owners, most of whom were as frustrated by this situation as I was, to wrest control from the Board and run the place a little more rationally, I quickly discovered that there was no technological support for actually implementing it.
About two years after that Association went pear shaped I eventually realized that it was a lost cause and so took action to extract myself from that situation. Afterwards, having a little time to reflect, I started reading (or rereading) the important works in politics and economics in an attempt to gain some perspective on these issues. As part of that research I happened upon Bob Altemeyer’s book The Authoritarians and as I was reading it had a “Well, there’s your trouble” epiphany: The research on authoritarianism held the keys to understanding not just how our representative-based political systems led to the failure of that HOA, but to many or most of the failings of our governments in general. Within a few weeks of reading his book, I became aware that the description that I’d heard from many authors of how they came to write their books was based on fact: Somehow this document had formed inside of me and I really had no choice but to write it all down.