Cybernetics, or self-governance of animal and machine, requires the ability to sense the world and to act on it in an appropriate manner. Likewise, self-governance of a human society requires groups of people to collectively sense and act on their environment. I argue that the evolution of political systems is characterized by a series of innovations that attempt to solve (among others) two ‘scalability’ problems: scaling up a group’s ability to make sense of an increasingly complex world, and to cooperate in increasingly larger groups. I then explore some recent efforts toward using the Internet and social media to provide alternative means for addressing these scalability challenges, under the banners of crowdsourcing and computer-supported argumentation. I present some lessons from those efforts about the limits of technology, and the research directions more likely to bear fruit.