A short sortition debate

A short online discussion of sortition yields familiar arguments:

[S]ortition is a form of government based upon the drawing of officials by lottery. It was used in Ancient Greece and is rarely used now. To me, it seems a lot less corruptible than a regular democracy, it seems to me that it represents the people better, by literally selecting by random, rather than certain people picking certain people because he looks cool or “my dad met him”.

If you do it with a large enough pool of people it should represent the larger public well. It works with polling science I dont see why it wouldnt work there.

Most people are incompetent at their chosen profession. Why should we assume that if they are selected randomly they will behave anymore rationally than they do in other areas of their life?

What does one’s profession have to do with the sense of one’s political vision? I’m a horrible baseball player, but that’s no indicator of my singing voice. The great thing about society is that its functions are reducible to extremely simple concepts which the vast majority can understand with little strain. A little research and a team of advisers would do the trick, I think.

Sounds crappy honestly. Putting the leadership of the country in the hands of fate isn’t smart. I admit the current system can be improved, but this isn’t the way.

Probably because it’s a dumb idea. Why would you put the future of a country in the hands of chance.

[M]ost people are incompetent when it comes to critical thinking abilities. They are ill-informed, prone to emotional influences on logic, and do not consider long-term implications. Your average person off the street is in no way capable of governing a nation. The fact they were thrown into the position does not make them incorruptible or beyond the influences that have damaged our current system. You suggest a team of advisers, but tell me, who picks the advisers? History is littered with advisers ruling through weak or incompetent figureheads. There is no reason to believe that the typical individual has the capacity to be anything but.

As it has been stated already, picking a officials randomly will not make the government anymore effectively simply because it is more representative of the population in demographic aspects. In fact, it may make the government worse. The average citizen is frighteningly ignorant.

I expect even less would get done. Sometimes we might strike gold.

The big things with this are the details. Who chooses randomly? Who runs that system? Are all government and civil service workers chosen in this way? How long do terms last? What level of power is granted? Is it citizens only?

So if you really believe that too many people are ignorant and unqualified for voting, does that mean that disenfranchisement is a good idea?

I will admit, there is a part of me that wants some limitations should be placed on who votes (tell me that you have never met a complete idiot and rued the fact that they can vote, and be honest). However, I cannot think of a way to do so fairly and in a way that would be consistent with our republican political principles. So, no, I cannot say I support new limitations on suffrage.

However, that does not mean that placing random people into positions of authority will work. The simple truth is that most people are unqualified.

I’ve never stressed over the vote much because collectively, voting outcomes are determined by financial input into campaigns. 94% of political campaigns are won by the candidate who receives the most money. It is a world shattering conclusion to find out modern democracy is an expensive magic trick, and I understand that, but its better than burying our head in the sand.

The people elected will do what their financiers tell them do, thus individual qualifications don’t matter.

This would result in

A) A bunch of idiots (Think Honey Boo Boo’s mom being minister of health)

B) A bunch of smart people but in limited areas (Think 10 people being picked and you get 4 teachers 4 doctors, a bus driver and a footballer)

9 Responses

  1. What is this? Is this a new post or is this a comment on an existing post?


  2. This is a post about a debate that took place on a different site.


  3. This is one of the reasons why I think it’s important to emphasize the use of sortition as a proposal-judging tool. Juries are highly esteemed. Everyone understands statistical polling in principle, even if the math is over their heads. The idea that a cross between a jury and a statistical poll would make for a more effective second house than would a redundant political echo chamber is an easy sell. It’s something that is instantly appealing if explained well. Selling the idea that a group of people selected at random should hold the keys to the kingdom, regardless of the actual merits of such a thing, is much harder. Constitution designers are a deeply cautious bunch, and rightly so. A minor oversight can prove catastrophic.

    If we want change we should push something we can actually sell.


  4. I agree an evolutionary approach is the correct one and the place to get started is by inserting sortition into the current elected system. In Canada we have an anachronistic institution called the Senate that everyone agrees must be changed. The evolutionary approach would be to choose future Senators by random selection. I have outlined in a previous comment (Demarchy 101) that the Senate would act as a check and balance on the elected house with ultimate power remaining with the elected house for now. This blog has helped refine my thinking. I originally envisioned the randomly selected Senators debating the issues. From this blog and other readings I have learned that debate can be influenced in negative ways. I now prefer the idea of Senators educating themselves on all the facts of the issue and then deciding in isolation from their fellow Senators with majority rule. Decisions in the elected system are heavily influenced by beliefs (religion, ideology, voodoo) and not evidence. It would be like injecting the scientific method into politics! Of course each individual Senator will have their own personal beliefs but at least they will have to contend with ALL the evidence before deciding. That does not happen today as facts are being soundly drowned out by beliefs. Just watch 15 minutes of Fox news for a dramatic example of the single most influential media organization in today’s powerful empire that is completely allergic to facts. Then watch the Daily Show, Colbert Report and lately Russell Brand shred Fox’s voodoo with evidence. It has been observed by many that electing reps is just a variation on aristocracy. Interesting that today it is once again the jester who is telling truth to power.


  5. Kejamo

    What do you mean by “ultimate power remaining with the elected house”? The way you describe it the elected house would have the power of initiative but then the senators would listen to the evidence and “decide”. Doesn’t that mean the randomly-selected senate would have the ultimate power, as elected politicians would be well advised to introduce proposals that would be likely to be approved by the senate (as opposed to pursuing a partisan project)? This would require that the senate had the effective power of veto.

    If so then that is a proposal that I would be delighted with (ditto Naomi, judging by her earlier comment). The irony of this is terminological — the senate has traditionally been the aristocratic house, whereas in an allotted system it would be the democratic chamber (and the elected House of Commons would be aristocratic). But that’s just a problem with words, rather than facts. P.S. If I have understood you correctly this is a updated version of the constitution proposed by James Harrington in The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656). Harrington got the terms right — the elected (proposing) house was the Senate and the allotted (disposing) house the Prerogative Tribe.


  6. “I now prefer the idea of Senators educating themselves on all the facts of the issue and then deciding in isolation from their fellow Senators with majority rule.”

    I do believe that self-education has some merit, if only for issues of practicality. In a large country it might not be advisable to force everyone to assemble in the capital. Bringing someone in from rural Alaska for an urgent vote would be a logistical nightmare. The idea of hand-delivering a few hundred paper ballots (with the legal force of a court summons) only to pick them up a week later is very appealing to me. The obvious downside is the lack of a courtroom-quality debate. An upside is that a poorly chosen advocacy team does not lead to harmful results.


  7. Keith, I am referring solely to Canada’s parliament in my example: an elected House of Commons with an appointed Senate. Despite its bi-cameral beginnings, in practice since Confederation the House has wielded the power. Ironically the Senate was to be stacked with politicians from the elite who would paternalistically keep the “commoners” in the “commons” from damaging the country. Back in 1867 they were literally afraid the new elected House would curtail their privileges and thus envisioned the Senate as “a chamber of sober second thought” and gave it the power to delay, revise and stop legislation. I believe if enough Canadians wanted it, a future Prime Minister could quickly and easily begin to appoint Senators from randomly selected lists USING CURRENT LEGISLATION with maybe some tweaks. I believe Canadians would see this body as being democratic and having the authority to actually use its EXISTING powers. Randomly selected Senators would be required to use evidence based decision making. Armed with evidence I am certain they would give legislation serious “sober second thought!”

    Naomi, I am still formulating how a randomly selected Senate would work. As mentioned above, some tweaks to current legislation would be needed. For example the Senate is also supposed to represent Regions. Any changes to representation will require the approval of the Provinces. So I have not worked out exactly how many total Senators but it would have to be more than the current 105 for certain. It would not more than a 1,000 I would think. I don’t see them “meeting in the capital” as you mentioned. In fact I am now convinced they should not “meet” at all. Their job is not to “debate” but rather provide “sober second thought” on legislation that has already been debated. Using today’s technology they could review proposed legislation on-line. They could also listen to experts via video conference and ask their questions of the experts. I quite like the idea of setting up “knowledge centres” for them at their closest post-secondary education/training institution. They could have an “office” there, access local expertise or use on-line and video conference to access expertise worldwide. At the appointed time, they would provide their decision on-line and it would be from the following choices: 1) Approve, 2) Disapprove, 3) Could approve if following changes were made and list those changes. Approval would require a simple majority and Disapproval would need 60% of Senators.

    I am very excited to see sortition articles breaking out into the main stream media. Again it would be great if a high profile individual would step forward to champion the cause.


  8. As the Canadian constitution was based on British political experience you might like to take a look at Anthony Barnett’s very similar proposal for a House of Lords selected by lot: http://www.amazon.com/Athenian-Option-Radical-Reform-Sortition/dp/1845401395/

    >it would be great if a high profile individual would step forward to champion the cause.

    There’s an irony in that suggestion!


  9. Hi Keith, I will purchase the book forthwith. And ha, ha, yes I see the irony in that statement.


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