The Blind Break and the Invisible Hand, Part 2: Statistical Representation

The claim that sortition produces a portrait-in-miniature that “stands for” the target population is categorised by Hanna Pitkin (1967) as a form of “descriptive” representation. I prefer the term “statistical representation” as it makes clear that the reference is to the sample as a whole, rather than the individuals that it is comprised of. There is a temptation to think of sortition as just an alternative mechanism for selecting political officers, and that the end result is still “representatives” akin to the (individual) Honourable Members selected by preference election. But the notion of an (individual) “statistical representative” is clearly an oxymoron. An individual selected as part of a aggregatively-representative sample is just a data point, as in a randomised public opinion survey. In a public opinion survey the views of any individual respondent are of no intrinsic interest, the purpose of the survey is to aggregate individual responses as an indication of the prevalence of different viewpoints within the target population. The fact that individual x has a certain view is irrelevant, all that matters is what proportion of the target population shares the same (or broadly similar) views and the same principle would apply to a representative group constituted by sortition. “Statistical representatives” (to describe the component units of a aggregatively-representative body) is an example of the rare group of terms that only exists in plural form. This places serious constraints on the actions of a body selected by sortition, as statistical representativity only applies at the collective (aggregate) level; indeed it is hard to see what representatives can do other than to register their preferences/beliefs via voting (all votes carrying exactly the same weight), as the differences in the “illocutionary force” of the speech acts of individual members of such assemblies will destroy its aggregative representativity.

Illocutionary force is a linguistic term introduced by the philosopher John L. Austin (1975) that refers to the speaker’s intentions in producing a performative utterance. The illocutionary power of the speech act in persuading others will depend on the speaker’s knowledge, motivation, rhetorical skills and perceived social status. One of the reasons that elected representatives frequently have a background in the legal profession is on account of the rhetorical skills associated with courtroom advocacy. Electors will naturally privilege representatives whose performative utterances are persuasive, on account of the need to establish a parliamentary/congressional majority in favour of their chosen political goals. However, individual members of an assembly chosen by lot are private persons, not representatives, and the speech acts of individual persons will vary widely in their persuasive power. Indeed many randomly-selected persons will lack the confidence and/or motivation to say anything at all. In part 1 of this post I explained how the lot might work as an “invisible hand”, as the law of large numbers will ensure that all factors that might be relevant to political decision making will be represented in the microcosm in proportion to their prevalence in the target population. The larger the sample the more fine-grained the representativity, but the upper limit is constrained by Downs’s principle of rational ignorance — if the sample is too large then individual members will not be motivated to pay attention to the debate as their vote will of be little causal value. But the lack of fine-grained representativity of a sample of (say) 300 pales into insignificance compared to the variation introduced by the speech acts of individual members, hence the need to restrict the remit of the assembly to listening to balanced information/advocacy and then voting in secret. This being the case the arguments set out below do not apply to sortition-based assemblies with a full proposing and deliberative mandate as advocated (for example) by Burnheim (2006), Callenbach and Phillips (2008) and Yoram Gat (frequent posts on this blog).

I have outlined the argument against an active role for a representative body selected by sortition, but we still need to make the case for the judgment of a sample selected by lot as a surrogate for the informed judgment of the target population. It requires nothing more than a simple thought experiment:

  1. A small group, for example a private club, might be called on to make a decision on a particular matter. After discussing the matter and (if necessary) calling on exogenous information and advocacy, deliberations would end and the matter would be put to the vote (generally by a show of hands). Given that it is not a representative body (all members can attend) the strictures on speech acts given above do not apply. The votes would be counted, the ayes or the nays would have it, and a decision would be made that would indicate the informed preferences of the whole group. Given the majoritarian principle (and the assumption of corporate “personhood”) the decision would be binding on the whole group, irrespective of the personal preferences of each individual.
  2. Scale up the decision process to a polis (a town, city, district, province or a whole nation) and require all members to attend the debate. Notwithstanding this demanding requirement, the rational ignorance principle would suggest that most members would snooze off, play games on their mobile phones, or chat with their neighbours, in the full knowledge that their individual vote would make little difference. But, say, if in addition to voting all members were required to sit an examination (“failure” leading to the death penalty) to test whether they had attended to the debate and checks were made to see if their vote aligned with their interpretation of the information presented, then the vote tally would be a reliable indication of the informed preferences of the whole group (subject to the majoritarian provisos outlined above).
  3. If, however, the polis had to defend its borders, monitor its power stations, look after its children and water its crops while the deliberation was going on, it might well choose to draw lots and select (say) 10% of its members to perform these essential tasks, thereby excusing them from political jury duty. Those excused by the process could safely assume that the law of large numbers would ensure that their informed preferences would still be represented by the remaining 90% in proportion to their prevalence throughout the whole population. In other words their personal presence or absence would make no difference to the outcome.
  4. If the polis were at a low level of technological development, it may well be that (say) 50% of members were required to perform the tasks essential for the maintenance of the state and would need to be excused. Although the level of descriptive accuracy would be slightly reduced, there is no good reason to believe that this would make any significant difference to the outcome, assuming the randomisation principle was sound and no exceptions were made (those of a “political” disposition could not claim exclusion from non-jury duties [watering the crops, securing the borders etc]). A large sample would still be approximately 50/50 on a male-female distribution and there is no reason to believe that the factors that affect political decision-making are not distributed in a similar manner. Note that our interest here is the positive principal of numerical proportionality — i.e. if conservatives outnumbered liberals (say) 3 to 1 in the whole polis then we would anticipate that a large sample would reflect this proportionately (this is the assumption of opinion polls on political issues), so it is a case of the invisible hand, not the blind break. In this sense the lot is highly partial — if it did not select 3 conservatives for every 1 liberal then there would be something wrong with the sampling process (or the size of the sample). Although the blind break ensures impartiality as to which conservatives-minded individuals are selected, we would still anticipate them to outnumber their political opponents at the ratio 3:1.
  5. Given liberal norms (and practical opportunity costs) modern societies (with the possible exception of Australia) might well baulk at the prospect of compulsory political participation and draconian sanctions on all those who failed to pay attention. Given that the law of large numbers would still apply to a smaller sample, modern liberal societies might use sortition to select a sample that was just large enough to be statistically representative (albeit at a coarser-grained level) but small enough so that those citizens selected by lot would be motivated to stay awake during the debates as their vote would make a real difference; indeed they might even be able to place the casting vote (it’s no coincidence that Athenian political juries comprised between 501 and 5001 members). Sanctions for non-participation would need to be replaced by personal incentives, including compensation for loss of earnings, along with a public decorum that might well include the modern equivalent of the Heliastic Oath along with a republican culture that held up political jury service as a privilege — an essential and honourable civic duty.
  6. If steps 1-4 in this thought experiment are true, then informed decisions of this microcosm must be held to represent the considered judgment of the whole polis; indeed this hypothesis could easily be tested by drawing multiple concurrent samples from the same target population and seeing if they all came to the same verdict. If so, then this would be an indication of representativity. If they didn’t then the size would need to be increased and/or steps taken to ensure greater consistency of discursive input between groups. No doubt this would further diminish the free and equal exchange of reasons by all participants valued by deliberative democrats, but statistical representativity comes at a cost.

But does this equate to revealing the “will of the people”? The above scenario could only claim to demonstrate the informed judgment of the people (the “disposing” function). The popular will (vox populi, vox dei) also presupposes that policy initiation should be in the hands of the people. The above arguments would suggest that this latter “proposing” function is not amenable to sortition and in this sense I am in agreement with Peter Stone. Because proposing and disposing are fused in most systems of preference election, this has led many to believe that the same would be the case with sortition-based systems. Given the ongoing need for legislative proposals, sortition could only ever be part of a mixed constitutional system and the mixture would need to be based on a separation of functions, as opposed to (say) the hybrid proposals of Callenbach and Philips (2008) and O’Leary (2006), where two congressional houses, one appointed by sortition and one by preference election perform parallel functions.

I had intended to cover the problem of consent as well, but that will require a third post.


John L. Austin (1975), How To Do Things With Words (Oxford University Press).

John Burnheim (2006 [1985]), Is Democracy Possible (University of Sydney Press).

Ernest Callenbach and Michael Phillips (2008), A Citizen Legislature (Imprint Academic).

Kevin O’Leary (2006), Saving Democracy (Stanford University Press).

Hanna Pitkin (1967), The Concept of Representation (University of California Press)

17 Responses

  1. Keith, I was wondering if you’ve looked at any of the (extensive) philosophical literature on the problem of collective responsibility–i.e., when is it reasonable to attribute an action to a group? You might find it interesting. I don’t know it well, although I did once write a paper dealing with some of Jon Elster’s views on the subject (“The Impossibility of Rational Politics?” Politics, Philosophy and Economics 2, no. 2 (June 2003): 239-263.).


  2. If we assume, as the post above demands at the outset, that even under the best of circumstances people are no more than puppets whose limbs are controlled by verbal manipulation (“illocutionary force”) then the rest of the discussion is meaningless. Under this assumption, people always make their judgement based on manipulation rather than based on information or consideration, and therefore notions such as “informed preferences” or “considered judgement” are oxymoronic.


  3. Thanks Peter, I’ll read your paper and come back to you. In the interim my answer to your question is the common-sense democratic one — a decision can be attributed to a group when determined by the votes of a simple majority of its members. The Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England holds its monthly meetings on monetary policy, deliberates and then takes a vote. If a simple majority votes to hold interest rates at their present level then this decision becomes the collective responsibility of the MPC. In other committees (for example the UK cabinet) this is formulated as the doctrine of collective responsibility that binds all cabinet ministers (even those who have voted against the policy in question).

    As I’m not a philosopher (merely a political theorist) this is good enough for me, but I’ll certainly attempt to wrestle with whatever philosophical objections might be levelled against this simple definition. The intention of my next post (on the relationship between statistical representation and democratic consent) discusses the conditions under which a target population can be said to “authorise” the decisions of a statistically-representative microcosm of itself. This strikes me as a tougher challenge than considering when a group can be held responsible for its OWN decisions.


    That’s quite a feat — building a deterministic straw man from my modest observations. I never suggested that people were controlled by verbal manipulation — if that were true, as you rightly say, then the notion of deliberation within would be meaningless. But the acceptance of human beings as intelligent and discriminating creatures doesn’t mean that people are completely free to make up their own minds in a Cartesian vacuum — isolated from illocutionary imbalance by the collective equivalent of the pineal gland. Everyone will be influenced by one-sided information and advocacy and there is no particular reason to believe that human agents are motivated to self-inform in a well-rounded manner. If that were true then subscribers to the Daily Mail would be just as happy to read the Guardian (and vice versa). And we should always bear in mind that the “masses” (ie those who are disenfranchised by the allotment process) will have no opportunity to express a preference for the information and advocacy associated with either publication. This is why the proposal/information/advocacy function cannot be endogenous without sacrificing the statistical representativity of the microcosm.

    If you would explain to us what meaning of the word “representation” is immune to this form of distortion then we might be able to stop building straw men and talking past each other.


  4. Agreed, ‘statistically representative’ is superior to ‘descriptively representative’. The former is within common parlance, not requiring explication.

    >>And we should always bear in mind that the “masses” (ie those who are disenfranchised by the allotment process) will have no opportunity to express a preference for the information and advocacy associated with either publication. This is why the proposal/information/advocacy function cannot be endogenous without sacrificing the statistical representativity of the microcosm.

    Why, Keith, do you discount the ability of one of the ‘masses’ (a petitioner who was not chosen in the lot) to approach one of the sortitioned representatives — who is ‘just like the petitioner’ — to ‘lobby’ for a proposal? Doesn’t the distinction of exogenous or endogenous disappear with statistical representativity?


  5. David,

    I don’t have any problem with lobbying or any other form of advocacy (even if I did have a problem, there would be nothing that I could do to prevent it!). Lobbying, in my view, is part of the proposing function and, so long as it is separate from the disposing function, then let a thousand flowers bloom. The crucial thing is to prevent the two functions from corrupting each other, so you can lobby until you are blue in the face if a) randomly-selected disposers do not have the right to put something on the agenda and b) the secret vote prevents lobbyists from buying the support of any of the disposers.

    So long as the two functions (proposing and disposing) are not allocated to the same “body of men” I’m agnostic as to the best method of proposing (elections, e-petitions, agenda councils etc). But in a large state the principle of ho boulomenos does not suggest single persons (from the “masses” or elsewhere) buttonholing individual “sortitioned representatives” to propose a new law. That may have worked in the small polis (via the boule), where the rotation principle also applied, but would be entirely undemocratic in a large extended state. This is why I’m still uneasy about Terry’s agenda council, my clear preference is for a public votation to winnow down the proposals to a manageable number. As the Blind Breakers rightly point out, sortition only protects the appointment process ex-ante, once members of the boule are selected then they are wide open to corruption by lobbyists.

    >Doesn’t the distinction of exogenous or endogenous disappear with statistical representativity?

    I don’t understand how that would be possible at the level of single concrete individuals (“a petitioner”; “a sortitioned representative”). My preference for the term statistical representation is because it rules out such logical fallacies as “a sortitioned representative”. This mythical creature is the result of the sort of linguistic confusion described by Gilbert Ryle as a category mistake. A group of people selected by lot may be statistically representative but the individuals that make it up are only private persons, they are not representatives (as the mandate only applies at the collective level). If I manage to achieve one thing only through the hours and hours spent on the blog, eliminating this linguistic error would be my top priority.


  6. PS David

    Are you perhaps suggesting that because the petitioner was drawn from “the masses” as opposed to representing some elite interest, and approached a “sortitioned representative” drawn from the same pool that this would somehow make her lobbying legitimate? I confess that I don’t understand this argument (short of buying into Machiavellian/Marxist political sociology in which all members of the popolo (99%) share a common interest opposed to those of the grandi (1%)). But if so then why bother with the pretence of democratic decision making? There would certainly be no need to employ the word “statistical” as there would be nothing to aggregate (all members of the masses, ex hypothesi, sharing the same interests). Of course if this is the case then it would, indeed, make no difference as to whether or not proposals were developed endogenously or exogenously. It would also make no difference if the representatives were possessed of Yoram’s god’s-eye perspective, free, like Robespierre, from the corrupting influence of words and other distorting factors and inducements.


  7. Unfortunately there are issues which could divide a population evenly enough that any decisions by a statistical representative cross section would be opposed by a significant fraction of the people affected. I’m thinking here of the abortion issue in particular which in many places is almost evenly split pro and con. Furthermore, rational debate is difficult to come by on this issue as feelings run high and are grounded in fundamental beliefs that are not amenable to reason.

    Nor is abortion the only one. Right now in Quebec we are very divided over the issue of public employees wearing overt religious symbols while conducting their duties and cannot even come to a consensus of what exactly “overt” in this context means. I have no doubt that five different randomly selected groups of whatever size impaneled to come up with guidelines would come to five different conclusions, and none would make the majority happy.

    To me this speaks to the need for a strong constitutional framework to be in place and well established before considering handing decisions to allotted bodies.


  8. Robert

    I agree with the need for sortition to have only a well-defined role within a constitutional framework. I think it’s also the case that increasing the power of ad hoc bodies like allotted juries would require an equivalent strengthening of government ministries. I’m thinking in particular of the need for fiscal balancing — ad hoc bodies will make decisions on the merits of individual issues but each will have a cost and the role of the exchequer will be to achieve overall fiscal balance. This will impose severe constraints on the options available.

    As for the abortion and religious symbols examples, a) the exception proves the rule and b) these are equally problematic from the perspective of any system that aims to implement the popular will. My proposal, as you know, is not to come up with guidelines, but to decide between different guidelines developed exogenously and this would suggest a greater probability of consistent outcomes on any issue that didn’t divide public opinion 50/50. If the options and advocates were the same in every instance, then there is good chance of a consistent verdict; consistency being paramount if the vast majority of people disenfranchised by the sortition process are going to accept the verdict of the allotted jury.


  9. Keith,

    I am not (yet, at least) convinced about an essential difference you declare a priori between a small group in which all members may participate and a statistically representative sub-group.

    You state above (point 1) that for the small group
    ” Given that it is not a representative body (all members can attend) the strictures on speech acts given above do not apply.”
    But these members also have varying rhetorical skill and status. You accept the bias and imbalance in the all-inclusive group as inevitable yet still democratic, but reject the identical bias and imbalance in a representative group. Are you unfairly discounting the significance of randomness even within this small group?

    Perhaps the most influential member got food poisoning at lunch and missed the key discussion before the vote. If he had been there and spoken, the majority would have voted YES, but instead the majority went for NO. Was this still a democratic decision, even though if it had been repeated by the same democratic community, the outcome would be the reverse? I say it would be democratic, whether that member spoke or not.

    There are uncountable possible events, and factors that might have reversed the outcome. ALL human decision-making processes have HUGE elements of random influence that go un-noticed (the fact that it was a sunny day, put some members in a good mood, so they felt more magnanimous towards some suffering minority, and voted for proposal A instead of against it). This is sort of related to that airline food choice example someone offered on this Blog a couple of months ago. There is not just ONE democratic answer to most questions…a small group that allows ALL to participate can make different decisions…so why not a statistically representative group? Your concern about repeatability might better be put in the negative…if a representative group made a decision that no other representative group from that community, or the entire community would make…THEN it was not democratic representation…but variation among reasonable outcomes does not falsify democratic representation.


  10. Based on Terry’s observations then would it be better to demand that these representative bodies deliver a consensus on whatever issue was placed before them rather than an outcome based on a majority opinion? While this might occasionally result in a hung jury even that would not necessarily be fatal to the process if this automatically precipitated a dissolution of the panel to be reconstituted immediately with fresh members.


  11. Peter,

    >I did once write a paper dealing with some of Jon Elster’s views on [collective responsibility] (“The Impossibility of Rational Politics?” Politics, Philosophy and Economics 2, no. 2 (June 2003): 239-263.).

    This is an interesting paper that illuminates some of the problems of collectivities constituted by preference election, especially in the case of political bodies that combine the preference, information and executive functions (p.241), as is the case in parliamentary democracies (that do not implement the separation of powers). Collective agency in such cases may well fall foul of the criticisms that Elster makes, and would support his “thin” conception of democracy as a decision system that “allows people to select one [policy option] without bloodshed and in a predictable way”. By contrast Elster claims that democracy as the instantiation of the “popular will” is “incoherent” (p.251), a perspective that you also adopt in your University of London workshop paper.

    But whilst this may be the case with political collectivities created by election, why do you think it applies to the form of statistical representation advocated in my post? First of all, I am not seeking to to implement the “popular will”, merely the popular judgment (Solomonic or otherwise), disposing rather than proposing. The popular will presupposes policy options developed by some other democratic mechanism and I have consistently excluded this from the remit of sortition. In the post I clearly state my agnosticism regarding the optimal method for policy generation — election, direct-democratic initiative, agenda councils or whatever.

    This would suggest immunity from the social choice theory-derived objections presented in your paper, including the misreporting of information (opportunism) and the lack of finite bounds on the relevant facts about the world (p.242), the impossibility of satisfying many different bundles of properties (p.243) and the problem of cyclical majorities (p.250). All the jury is being asked to do is to make an up/down choice on a specific policy issue (yea or nay). Given the acceptance of simple majoritarian principles, in what sense would this not reflect the “collective preferences” of the jury? It is true, as Elster argues, that these are not the preferences of the group, but those of the individuals composing it; all I have sought to do in this post is to argue that the distribution of preferences within the allotted microcosm is likely to reflect the distribution of preferences within the target population. So I don’t see why the literature on the problem of collective responsibility undermines the argument presented in this post, the prime purpose of which is to establish the representativity of the microcosm wrt the target population. In fact I take comfort from Elster’s belief that “if collective preferences were possible, they would have to result from some sort of aggregation procedure of the type considered by social choice theory” (p.255).


  12. It’s great that you allow people a certain level of self determination, but that doesn’t address the inconsistency of your position. To whatever extent people are manipulated (totally or partly), their decisions are not theirs, but those of the manipulators (totally or partly). You propose having people manipulated by official professional advocates rather than by fellow allottees. Why is that any better? Either way, the decisions are merely the product of manipulation, not of informed, considered judgement.

    And, of course, while you are not gaining anything from disempowering the allotted chamber, you are losing the representativity of their (partially) independent judgment.

    The bottom line then is that you are proposing an arrangement which diminishes representativity and privileges the policies preferred by an elite. But that is the entire point, I presume.


  13. Terry,

    I did agonise quite a lot regarding the rhetorical, knowledge and status inequality within the small group and whether this means that the resulting decision is undemocratic. I think the answer is yes and no. “Yes” on account of the natural and automatic emergence of “aristocratic” distinctions within any group of people (Harrington’s argument) and because the vote may well also reflect the sort of randomness that you point out in the food poisoning and sunny day scenarios. “No” because all votes count equally, irrespective of the perceived status of the voter. In this respect I’m in agreement with Peter regarding the numerical equality that is at the heart of democracy.

    So why doesn’t the same argument apply to the larger indirect-democratic group? I suppose this is because the numerical equality referenced above would only pertain to the allotted members, and our primary concern surely has to be the overwhelming majority who are disenfranchised by the allotment process. They would only remain equal if each and every sample returns the same verdict and this presupposes equal advocacy. Small directly-democratic groups are subject to the randomness that you point out, but every agent will still act on the basis of her own beliefs, blissfully ignorant of the fact that her decision was largely caused by the absence of the influential food-poisoned member or because the sun was shining. But do you think the huge mass of disenfranchised people would accept that as a legitimate form of democratic politics? It seems to me that perceived legitimacy depends on repeatability — so that it can be demonstrated that each individual citizen’s presence/absence makes absolutely no difference. This must rule out any source of randomness which, leaving aside variations in the weather, would be mostly the product of speech acts. The requirements of indirect democracy are far more demanding than the direct variant — in the latter case people only have themselves to blame if they were suckered by some punk with a silver tongue.

    The suggestion to invert the process (excluding decisions that no other representative group would make) is an interesting one, but how would it cash out in practice? How can you prove a negative? What criteria would enable you to operationalise “no other representative group from that community, or the entire community would make a certain decision”? Given that this would still presuppose a multiplicity of groups beavering away in the legislation factory, would you accept all the outputs? (apart from the excluded group). If so that would make for an awful lot of new laws, most of which would contradict each other. Much better to use the repeatability criterion to restrict rather than enhance the legislative output.

    Robert’s suggestion to replace majoritarianism with unanimity sounds attractive, but would probably be unworkable — although it might lead to a welcome reduction in new laws (Washington gridlock would be nothing by comparison). But the biggest problem is all the research evidence indicating that the pressure to consensus is incompatible with the wisdom of crowds and Condorcet conditions. The track record of existing consensus-based legislation is not a good one, so repeatability might be a better standard to aim for.

    It’s also the case, I confess, that the purpose of the post was to demonstrate the base case for the representativeness of the microcosm and this is a lot easier for a voting-only assembly. If Peter and his Blind-Breakdancing colleagues are prepared to accept the argument for the representativity of the voting-only assembly then the ball is in your court to extend the argument to the sort of full-mandate assembly that Yoram and yourself are proposing. I don’t know how to do that (and would not wish to try) but it might help your cause if Yoram were to make plain exactly what it is he means by the word “representation”.


  14. Yoram,

    >You propose having people manipulated by official professional advocates rather than by fellow allottees. Why is that any better?

    Granted the use of your word “manipulated” (I prefer “influenced”) it’s better because the manipulation [influence] would be even-handed. The mathematics that I was taught was that equal and opposite influences cancel out:

    (+1) + (-1) = 0

    This is the Hegelian approach to the development of knowledge and it’s the best (only?) way we have of establishing impartiality (hence the policy of media organisations). Of course if you believe that all elite advocates (including media organisations) are cut from the same cloth and share the same interests then this argument won’t work.

    >Either way, the decisions are merely the product of manipulation, not of informed, considered judgement.

    As Terry has just pointed out, no decisions are made in a Cartesian vacuum. There is no unconditioned (god’s-eye) perspective. Take a look at our journal Cybernetics and Human Knowing

    >The bottom line then is that you are proposing an arrangement which diminishes representativity and privileges the policies preferred by an elite. But that is the entire point, I presume.

    Yes and no. I always use the plural form for the word “elites” and argue that elites in a sortive democracy would be obliged to pursue policies that were in the public interest, for good Harringtonian (cybernetic) reasons. So elites would simply channel policies, and they may not even be the ones that they prefer. This is already the case in the age of audience democracy — elites are obliged to present policies which will receive the widest public support, which may or may not coincide with their own preferences. The only change I am suggesting is that the public should indicate their informed preferences and that this should be based on equal advocacy.


  15. […] (Fishkin, 2010) depends on the intermediate notion of sortition as a system of representation. In part 2 of this post I outlined the partial role that sortition might play in this  — partial in […]


  16. > (+1) + (-1) = 0

    Your zero on the right hand side is exactly the “vacuum” that you later (rightly) assert doesn’t exist.

    In the absence of a vacuum, there can be no even-handed manipulation because there is no reference point with respect to which one can be even-handed. You are simply privileging the official views espoused by your advocates by assuming that the “average” between those views is a natural origin (“vacuum”).


  17. Yoram,

    Establishing even-handed “manipulation” [influence] is a non-trivial problem and I admit my proposals here are rather vague (in my book I propose a permanent House of Advocates). The proposing advocates are easily identified as they would be ho boulomenos, but what about the advocates for the opposition? If the proposal selection mechanism were election, then the obvious candidate for opposing advocacy would be the losers. If the proposals originated from the deliberations of a voluntary demarchic committee then opposing advocates would be drawn from the minority elements in the committee. If the proposals were from epetitions or the day-to-day requirements of government departments then I suppose the opposition might well be drawn from the permanent advocacy house. I admit this is all a little vague but I think the principle of truth arising out of dialectical exchange between opposites is better regarded than the Cartesian vision of unsullied deliberation, liberated by some unspecified mechanism from the false consciousness imposed by indoctrination by rich and powerful elites. The resultant balance would not be a vacuum or a god’s eye perspective, it would be a constructed equilibrium, resulting from the trade-off between competing perspectives.

    But as I said in my response to Terry, the goal of this post is to establish the case for the judgment of a representative microcosm. This requires bracketing out the proposal mechanism. Once that case has been accepted by the Blind Breakdancers, by all means seek to extend the argument to include the proposal function. But I deliberately excluded it in order to avoid the confusions regarding the different status of persons and aggregated preferences outlined in part 3 of this post.


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