"The flaws that kill our democracy" by Klaas Mensaert – Book Review by Zjef

"The flaws that kill our democracy" by Klaas Mensaert – Book Review by Zjef
Short video review in dutch with English subs – by the grace of VideoMe

Intro

“The flaws that kill our democracy” really impressed me. 

Klaas distilled 4 years of passionate research and thorough thinking into 109 pages with only the most important technical and historical information. You will need all of your focus and attention to completely comprehend what he’s saying – but it’s all worth it because this book has the potential to become a milestone in history by fundamentally improving politics and democracy.

For this review – I will discuss four things that I believe are the essence of this book!

  1. Article 42 of the Belgian constitution: So simple yet so difficult!
  2. The flaws that kill our democracy: Exclusivity and centralisation.
  3. An upgraded parliament: How can our democracy work better by being more inclusive and decentralised
  4. An upgraded book: Some ideas for the next versions!

(1) Article 42 of the Belgian Constitution

I’m pretty sure every decent democratic country has this in its constitution in one way or another. It is a simple describing how democracy should be:

Article 42: “The members of both chambers represent the nation and not only their own electors”.

This seems so obvious! Yet if you look at most international democratic politics, it’s hard to imagine that there are a lot of politicians upholding these values. There is an increasing polarisation and the bubble effect is more true than ever. The below graph is a beautiful proof of this. It’s the evolution of the level of agreement in the US congress from 1949 to 2011.

The Rise of Partisanship and Super-Cooperators in the U.S. House of Representatives – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Division-of-Democrat-and-Republican-Party-members-over-time-Each-member-of-the-US_fig3_276170170
[accessed 17 Mar, 2020]

It seems obvious that when people get elected, it is their job to make good decisions for all the people. For this a high level of agreement and connection is required. However, The current evolutions of polarisation show the opposite. Which simply means that there is something undermining our democracy.

Klaas Mensaert – wisely – chose not to attack the integrity of politicians. He went to look for the fundamental driving forces behind this concerning evolution. He shows in a very clear way that the best players of a certain game are the product of the rules of that game. Just like you will never have a healthy democratic government in Monopoly, as long as the rules of monopoly reward having a monopoly. Some of the rules of our current democracies are rewarding behaviours (like polarisation) that directly undermine democracy itself.

(2) The flaws that kill our democracy: Exclusivity and Centralisation

Klaas Mensaert builds a firm case around the flaws in his first two chapters. He does this by referring to other researchers and thinkers. The main ones being Nassim Taleb (author of “Antifragile”) and Moisey Yakovlevich Ostrogorsky (a politician far ahead of his time in 1902). Via all these references, Klaas thoroughly describes what the problems are, and distills them to Exclusivity and Centralisation.

Centralisation

Centralisation is the process by which the activities of an organisation become concentrated within a particular geographical location group. This moves the important decision-making and planning powers within the center of the organisation.” (Wikipedia of course).

Centralisation is not good or bad. It has its pro’s and con’s. It is just very important to know that – just like a computer – a centralised parliament has a maximum processing capacity. The bigger the organisation or country, the more information and activities there are to process. And the harder it becomes to take everything into account and make the right decisions. 

A parliament is like a computer, it has a maximum processing capability
(Source: EuronestScola)

In our increasingly globalised and connected world, there is an enormous amount of information. And democracy has not yet learned how to deal with this. It is lagging behind.

This centralisation-problem is amplified because of the second flaw in our democracy: Politicians waste precious information-processing power on polarisation caused by exclusivity.

Exclusivity

What if you’d have to choose one shop every 4 years, and you could only shop at that store for the next 4 years? This would put an enormous amount of pressure on the chooser, and even more it would put an enormous amount of pressure on the shop, because that store has to provide everything.

In politics we can also only vote for one party, and that puts an enormous amount of pressure on the parties. Each party has to have an answer to everything. Each party has to be as good as the whole government itself.

You’d think this is good, but it’s not. You want a government to be amazing, but you don’t need its parts to be good at everything. Just like a rocket engineer doesn’t need to be amazing at business. The most successful rocket companies put their brilliant rocket engineers together with business people, marketeers, sales, software engineers,… and so on.

The basic idea: We need more specialised solutions in order to run a country, not less! With political exclusivity our democracy loses a lot of specialised knowledge, ideas and insights. 

And it gets even worse if you combine exclusivity and centralisation. 

While there are probably more than a 1000 issues in a country. Elections are being won over only a handful of those issues. This is extremely fragile and can get us into extremely dangerous situations. Like Klaas Mensaert says it in his book: It’s quite troubling that we still have more or less the same political system with which the NAZI’s rose to power.

Luckily, In his last chapter Klaas describes how we can evolve into a more healthy and antifragile democracy.

There’s also a breaking point for antifragility not show on this graph, still it gains a lot more first (Image: Bilgrin Ibryam )

(3) An upgraded parliament

So how do we build an antifragile political system that is more inclusive and more decentralised? Or simply said: How do we upgrade our parliaments to act as a well oiled team that has a much higher processing power?

Klaas Mensaert describes how this can be done with only two changes: Two types of representatives, two different ways of electing them.

To improve democracy we should have two types of representatives: party-representatives and people’s representatives.

Party-representatives are the ones we already know. They have a specific ideology, a specific goal or a specific speciality. Because we want inclusivity of more specialised knowledge and insights, we want a wide variety of parties that are specialised in a wide variety of subjects. This has a couple of very interesting side effects:

  1. Politics becomes more transparent. Organisations that are now influencing politics behind the scenes via lobbying are now incentivised to publicly join the political debate. Lobbying people’s representatives behind the scenes can also be criminalised.
  2. Ideological and utopian thinking becomes less dominant. Voters can vote for as many parties as they want. In this way you can be for a free market, but also want social and ecological justice. Everyone can vote on what’s important for them.
Voting ballot for parties in an inclusive election system. From The flaws that Kill our democracy by Klaas Mensaert
Voting ballot for parties
(Source: Klaas’s Book)

You might think: “Even more parties? This is going to be mayhem!”. But nothing is further from the truth because parties will not have decision power. The decisions are made by the people’s representatives.

The people’s representatives are not tied to any party and are inherently obliged to listen to all the ideas of the representatives of the elected parties. Their job is to pick the best ideas and to make the best decisions for the good of all (Article 42). 

What makes the people’s representatives truly an interesting upgrade for democracy, is the fact that next to voting for them, you can also vote against them.

The “voting against” is something I have seen with Christian Felber’s economy of the common good. It causes decision-making to be much more equal, stable and just. I can therefore only applaud the fact that Klaas incorporates a similar way in his proposal for an upgraded democracy

Voting ballot for people's representatives for an inclusive election system. From The flaws that Kill our democracy by Klaas Mensaert
Voting ballot for people’s representatives
(Source: Klaas’s Book)

Next to being more equal and just, “Voting against” has a very important benefit: The connecting politicians get more power, the polarising ones get less.

As examples: Trump would never have gotten elected because there’s too many US citizens “against” him. The same is probably true for Bernie Sanders. In Europe – the extreme right that’s on the rise everywhere, would never get the amount of power they have now. Simply because at least half of the population does not want to be represented by an extreme ideology like this. 

This does not mean that these voices should not be present and listened to. Many different ideologies have to be present to compete with each other. It will improve each party and therefore the whole government. Still – the ultimate decisions should be made by the people that link all voters and ideologies as much as possible.

When you get the specialised party representatives and the connecting people’s representatives into one government, that government will become more decentralised and more inclusive. This government has a higher processing power and will be more capable, better connected and, of course, more democratic.

(4) An upgraded book

What good is a book review if you don’t have at least some constructive feedback to help improve it for the next print. Here’s two points I have for improving the book.

Frame the solution by using the solution

One big improvement I immediately saw was the framing of the third chapter. Framing the solution, by using the solution would give an extra layer to the book. 

Klaas should frame the third chapter as a political proposal by one party, which then would be criticised and improved with the help of the other parties (more ideas and more insights). In the end he could describe how this proposal has to be voted upon by the people’s representatives.

It would give this book an even higher level of genius, while actually making it easier for us (the readers) to grasp the idea.

A possible way forward

What Klaas also doesn’t mention in his book, is a way forward. What steps could be taken to get to this upgraded democracy? 

I shall propose an idea here just because I like to think about this stuff. This idea would definitely work in Belgium (which has more than 10 parties in its federal parliament).

A simple way forward is to start a new party that walks the talk. A new party that specializes like a party, and acts as people’s representatives. 

The specialisation is to make the political system more inclusive and decentralised. And its elected representatives would act as the connecting people’s representatives. This party Listens to all the insights of the current parties and their opinions, deciding which solutions are the most useful for specific problems. Basically – if there’s more than one party that you like, you just vote for this new party.

This could work in many other democratic countries, other countries will need other ways forward.

Conclusions

Klaas Mensaert thoroughly did his research and thinking. He wrote this book in such a way that it could be referred to by many people in many different democratic systems. After reading this book you will understand that exclusivity and centralisation have had their time, and that Inclusivity and decentralisation are the way to go for a healthy democratic country.

Yes, this book has the potential to start a wave that will shift the foundations of our democracies.

Are you interested in politics or are you a fan of democracy, then this book is a MUST READ for you.

Muchos Love

Zjef

ps: Find the book via bookfinder, amazon, via Fnac or just do a google search for your nearest book shop

What are the 12 steps to become an Urban or Vertical Farmer?

Originally posted on www.academy.vertical-farming.net

For many years, a lot of people from all around the world have been asking the Association for Vertical Farming (AVF) the same question:

“How do I start a vertical farm?”

As I was responsible for answering the AVF inbound messages for 2 years, I’ve tried to help a ton of people with that question. Most of them were hoping for an easy answer – a one stop shop solution – but I knew from meeting a lot of different farmers and experts from all around the world, that starting an urban or vertical farm is NOT that easy. There are just too many variables involved.

Of course, that didn’t keep me from trying to find answers to the questions of the many aspiring farmers. In that quest, two important things happened:

(1) It got me highly involved with starting up the education division of the AVF (and thus Vertical Farming Academy) &

(2) I ended up contacting the many experts and urban and vertical farmers from all around the world. The pioneers that were already doing what so many other people want to do. The adventurers that explored places and did things that no farmer had done before.

So after many emails, meetings, questions, and eventually video-interviews, the “12 steps to become an Urban or Vertical farmer” saw the light. And it became something that is much more valuable than a blueprint to copy an existing urban or vertical farm. The 12 steps are inspirational guidelines with detailed information on how to start your farm.

I’ll repeat that again:

The 12 steps are inspirational guidelines with detailed information on how to start your farm.

NEw_12_steps_pic

So if you want to start an Urban or Vertical Farm because you are passionate about it and because you truly want to have a positive impact. If you want to start an urban and vertical farm with all the good intentions in the world, then the 12 steps is perfect for you.

Find more info about the 12 steps via this link. And don’t forget:

Keep on growing

Zjef

Kikvors banner

The enjoyable life of a presenting animal

The enjoyable life of a presenting animal

You ever had this feeling?

You’re sitting down in a group of people where everybody’s doing their own thing. But you, you’re super self aware. You’re self aware because you know what’s going to happen 30 seconds from now.

You’re sitting down and you feel your heart rate going up, you feel your blood flowing faster and you sense a kind of adrenaline rush filling every corner of your body, from your toes till the top of your head.

The moment has come, you stand up, walk to the front of the room and look into the eyes of the big dark monster that is the crowd. And that big monster is looking back at you with its hundreds of eyes, full of expectation.

You

You stand there with only yourself and your thoughts.

Then and there, in that moment of truth, there are only 3 choices: (1) you numb out and make it the most boring experience ever, (2) you think that that adrenaline running through you veins is stress and you let it traumatise you for the rest of your life, or (3) you embrace the rush of epinephrine as excitement and start enjoying the rest of the ride, whatever the outcome.

Of course option 3 is the best choice, but it is by far the most difficult one to make. I still struggle between option 2 and 3, but more and more I’m able to keep it at three.

And that’s why I love presenting so much!

In this post you’ll find an overview of me enjoying the ride in the form of some cool video’s where I’m presenting. You’ll find:

  1. New videos featuring Zjef at the 2016 AVF-summit
  2. A video of me presenting in India while staying at home in Belgium
  3. Zjef at the Aquafarm fair in Pordenone (Italia)
  4. A marketing video, yes a marketing video

New videos featuring Zjef at the 2016 AVF-summit

It’s already 10 months ago, but recently 2 extra video’s got uploaded where you can see yours truly on stage at AVF-summit 2016 in Amsterdam.

In the first video you can find me giving the introduction to Kasper Moreaux (Mycelia) who talked about the role of Mushroom production in Vertical Farming (one of my favorite subjects).

The Second video (and even more awesome video) is of a panel about my all time favorite subject: The Circular Economy Vertical Farming concept by AVFami.

This AVFami concept looks at the biological processes in nature and tries to combine 4 different food producing industries to design a completely sustainable Vertical Farm. AMI = Aquaponics Mushrooms & Insects (and for those who wonder how I get to 4 different industries: Aquaponics is Aquaculture and Hydroponics combined).

Ow yeah: I was the moderator of this panel of superstars –  so cool!

Presenting in India while staying at home in Belgium

I love going to India, but I cannot always do it. Moreover, I do feel guilty to travel by plane, it is still unsustainably using lots of fossil fuels.

So on the 14th of January 2017 I did not go to the “India national seminar on smart farming technologies” in the Ramnarain Ruis college (Mumbai). Instead I made a presentation at home in my couch and send the video to Vijay Yelmalle from CRAFT. He, as the main organiser, made sure the people visiting the seminar learned all about Vertical Farming and international collaboration.

The funny thing is that instead of going far away abroad, I went back to the town where I grew up and gave a presentation there.

Zjef at the Aquafarm fair in Pordenone (Italia)

There’s many reasons to love Italy yet there’s one for me that sticks out above all.

Because of my extremely low self-esteem while growing up, I’m very bad at….seducing. It’s hard for me to overcome my fears in most settings (especially my fear of rejection). YET, in Italy seduction seems a part of the daily life, and because of that, the timidity disappears and the seduction beast in me just gets unleashed.

And I love that seduction beast.

When I was in Pordenone for the Aquafarm fair in January of 2017, that’s exactly what happened. I was there to moderate the morning session for the Vertical Farming conference, and I had a presentation on my own. As a moderator I could introduce awesome people like Dickson Despommier, Bill Barber and Diane Esvan! As the presenter I talked about Circular Vertical Farming and international collaboration.

Watch the presentation below, especially the cool thing I did in the beginning.

Second video is about yours truly giving a small interview talking about the Association for Vertical Farming and the fact that the Aquafarm fair is awesome.

(I was wondering: would it be coincidence that there are so many beautiful women in this short video? 😉 )

Introduction to the 12 steps to become an Urban or vertical farmer

So since the summer of 2016 the KIKVORS team has been doing interviews for an educational video-series called “the 12 steps to become an Urban or Vertical Farmer”.

We’ve released the first product at the end of March 2017, but we quickly had to pivot when things went wrong. Now we’re working hard on a different format to release the series (so watch out for more on this later).

In any way, we still made this awesome marketing video to show off.

#FuckingProudOfThis

So yes, I’ve been busy, I’ve been very busy presenting, getting a lot better at story telling and enjoying the rushes of adrenaline flowing through my body. And hopefully soon, I’ll be able to show you some more video’s with even better stories and presenting skills.

When I know where I’m going but I don’t really know where I’ll end up, that’s when I’m truly enjoying my walk.

 

Vertical Farming with Norm & Zjef

One year ago, Norm, a cool guy from the other side of the world (Alberta, Canada) contacted the AVF. He wanted to do an interview for his new youtube channel about a broad range of topics and one of those topics was: Vertical Farming

As I’m answering 99% of AVF’s inbound messages and because I make some youtube videos myself, I answered Norm with enthusiasm. I proposed to do something more fun than just a video-interview. I proposed to video-message each other, and every time respond to the others message.

During the process I got more and more into it and my video-responses became more and more fun with more interaction and guest speakers.

However, Norm disappeared in the summer of 2016, I thought the videos were never going to see the Youtube-light. BUT, yesterday (11th of January 2017), Norm came back to me after a holiday in South America. He had put the first three video Q&A’s online.

Enjoy the video – it’s fun and interesting!

Special thanks to BIGH (for the office and the projector), Vijay Yelmalle & Seppe Salari!

How Zjef will bring peace to Israel and Palestine – Chapter IV – NYC16

How Zjef will bring peace to Israel and Palestine – Chapter IV – NYC16

Click here for Chapter I & II
Click here for Chapter III

I want to bring harmony to Israel and Palestine, I want to end the war in the middle East and I want to end the corruption in Africa. As a matter of fact, I truly believe that I can do it and this series of blog-posts will tell you the story on how I discover the super-powers that can and will initiate world-peace.

Chapter 4 – New York City 2016

A couple of months ago I  visited New York City for the NYC Agtech week 2016. It was AMAZING, just check out the video below.

Yet this is not what this chapter is about – it’s about NYC, the people living there and my reaction towards them all.

On the 16th of September 2016, after sleeping of my long flight all the way from Belgium, my first full day in the big apple ended like a lot of Friday nights: By going out!

Adam De Martino, friend and Smallhold business partner of Andrew Carter (who was my host), took me on a tour through Brooklyn, the hipster-capital of the world. We went to many places to do some drinking, some dining, some more drinking and to meet a lot of cool and very interesting people. Eventually, the night ended at North Brooklyn Farms, just next to the Williamsburg bridge. There was a full moon party going on.

And it was truly a full moon, just check the amazing picture (yes yes, taken via a telescope).

20160916_232314

The night was like the photo: very cool!

However, the night did not end like an amazing night should end: While getting into my bed I felt exhausted and a very unsatisfied about myself. I had been in New York after a supercool night, yet why did these stupid feelings have to ruin the whole thing?

What even made it worse is that the self preservation mechanism in my mind went nuts. My mind reacted to the “low-self-esteem” vibe by generating a kind of  arrogant loathing towards NY and most of its inhabitants. I would call it the”I-am-better-than-these-stressed-New-Yorkers” vibe.

In my consequent days in NYC, these 2 feelings came to the surface quite a lot. One moment I would be: “WOOWW New York is amazing.”And other moments I would be: “FUCK New York, what a shitty place.”

i-do-not-heart-new-york

This seriously undermined my joy of being there. However, Zjef would not be Zjef, if he did not investigate these feelings.

So I started investigating!

While being in New York I had to find out what made the New Yorkers into New Yorkers (the investigation of myself could wait for when I got home). During my investigation of the Homo sapiens New Yorkii, I had many many conversations with old New Yorkers, not so old New Yorkers, new New Yorkers and tourist.

There were many different opinions and examples, and the following two encounters really stuck with me:

Henry Gordon Smith, living in New York since 2011, runs a successful business (Blue Planet Consulting), hosts a very important Urban Farming blog (Agritecture) and is vice-chair for the Association for Vertical Farming (AVF). In other words: Henry is making it.

On the third day, after a quick lunch in a very trendy place, during a (fast) stroll through Manhattan, I talked to Henry about my feelings towards New York and New Yorkers.

Henry understood my feelings as he is a world-citizen that has already lived in many different countries. He acknowledged that the  New York life is competitive, hard and that it can be very stressful. Yet on the other hand, he said that it’s also an extremely innovative  environment and that if you’re able to handle the stress and competition, you get a lot of cool things done. And that gives you a lot of satisfaction.

It made sense.

nycagtechweek2016

The conversation with Henry took me back to the first night.

During the group-conversations on the first night, the atmosphere was indeed more competitive than I’m used to. I got carried away in that competition and because I was very far from my usual scene, in a very different culture, I quickly exhausted myself. Or in competition words: I lost.

My mistake was that I was not not a very good loser. Instead of seeing the competition as a fun learning opportunity, I saw losing as a failure of my personality and character. Hence my self-loathing and the “low-self-esteem” vibe.

The opposite one, the “I-am-better-than-these-stressed-New-Yorkers” vibe came into existence because of what bad losers tend to do: They start to hate the competition.

Two destructive vibes alternating, that’s not how world peace is achieved, right?

Luckily for me, there was Andrew Carter. Originally from California, living in NYC since 7 years. As a horticultural expert, he is a superstar within Blue Planet consulting, he has been AVF North America Regional manager, and is now starting up his own and very very interesting urban Mushroom business in NYC (Smallhold).

20160924_164130
Henry (white t-shirt on the left) & Andrew (red shirt on the right) together on a Panel in the Lowline Lab during NYC Agtech week 2016.

Andrew shared his couch and apartment (kitties included) with me for 10 days, so I saw him in action a lot.

And Andrew is very different than most New Yorkers I encountered. He is relaxed, open, smart, fun and confident: A very powerful combination. He showed me that you be calm, while at the same time be very present in a group, and that you can be chill in stressful situations while getting a lot of shit done.

A bossman, that is what Andrew is.

20160924_115820
Andrew, Zjef  and a full American breakfast!

I’ve already read a lot of books on how to use human psychology to find happiness & balance. Yet NYC definitely put me to the test and forced me to apply that theoretical knowledge.

It took me a while to process the whole experience and to come to terms with myself and those two destructive feelings. However, I’m pretty sure I learned a lot from it and next time when I’m in NYC, I’ll be much more myself and I’ll be able to enjoy the experience much more.

Or at least that’s what I hope 😉

Does anyone else have some similar experiences with other cultures and mentalities in general?

ps: here are some extra pics from NYC – fun times:

How Zjef will bring peace to Israel and Palestine: Click here for Chapter I & IIClick here for Chapter III.

Appendix – written on 10th of August 2018

And with the lessons learned I did enjoy the experience much more the year after, during NYC Agtech week 2017 and AVF Summit in Washington DC. I remember that for the first time I really enjoyed my experiences in the USA. I Made a lot of friends, created lots of videos and had a lot of fun. Aaaand I met an amazing young lady (Yeah, just had to put it here because she changed my reality, an important turing point in my life about which I probably will write or talk later – we’ll see)