From academic to pragmatic

Reading coverage of the UK’s Extinction Rebellion movement this week – which is beginning a campaign of civil disobedience in an attempt to pressure the British government into far more radical action to combat greenhouse gas emissions – I was intrigued to come across this:

The group also calls for the creation of a national Citizens’ Assembly to oversee “the changes necessary for creating a democracy fit for purpose”.

I can tell this will be a fun one for Equality by Lotters to contemplate.

For my own part, I got belted on the arms and peppered sprayed by Danish police in Copenhagen in 2009 in an attempt to chronicle what it felt like to take part in a civil disobedience action linked to global climate change negotiations. I did it deliberately to better understand the experience of civil disobedience – an approach inspired by the late, legendary US writer George Plimpton.

He called it participatory journalism. I experienced it as pretty stressful.

I recounted the experience in the Introduction to Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies. (You can read a free pdf version here, download a free copy here or buy one via your favourite book vendor, such as this one in the UK.)

I think civil disobedience is an appropriate response to near-invisible governmental action to combat climate change since pretty much the mid 1960s. Its use, and the responses of power, looms ever larger across a range of inter-connected political issues that are ill-tackled by our governments, elected or otherwise.

It feels a little like a “moment” is coming for we humans.

So – what place for sortition in all this?

How soon?

How much?

How to get there?

What happens if we don’t?

35 Responses

  1. Patrick:> I think civil disobedience is an appropriate response

    You’re entitled to your view, but is this the right forum to debate it, especially in the light of the Rosenfeld affair?


  2. Google defines civil disobedience as “the refusal to comply with certain laws or to pay taxes and fines, as a peaceful form of political protest.”

    What Rosenfeld did was not “peaceful” by any stretch…even the threat of violence is non-peaceful. So I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two.


  3. Fair point, but the goal of this forum is to reform, not subvert, the democratic process. This is a structural matter, so there’s a danger in associating it with any substantive agenda (climate change or whatever) irrespective of how virtuous one may feel that to be. It’s perfectly possible that a sortition democracy would take a Trumpist line on global warming.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Keith

    I don’t know anything about the “Rosenfeld affair” so feel free to enlighten me about it – though I do worry that won’t help me gauge your thinking about any of the questions I raised.

    Your question of whether this a legitimate question for this forum – of course my answer to that is yes – I wouldn’t have written the post otherwise.

    Just to be clear, also, the points I’m trying to raise for consideration have nothing to do with virtue but rather with political reality.

    It was the same thinking that had me explore civil disobedience in 2009 – grist to the question of what happens when political mechanisms fail to serve their societies?

    The following are recent articles respectively on climate change, biodiversity loss and the state of the banking and financial sector 10 years on from the financial crash of 2008.




    All three, for me, demonstrate the dramatic consequences of systemic political failure to respond in any way adequately to crisis. They are all related.

    Then we have the question of increasingly flagrant subversion of electoral processes around the world by major monied interests (all “right” leaning) at the expense of anything even the most enthusiastic defender of electoral democracy could justify as a functional model.

    My undergraduate training was in engineering – I was taught that when something isn’t working, you take it apart to find out why so as to be able to then fix it or design a better version.

    That’s the case with electoral democracy, for me, with sortition a promising possibility for radical improvement of the status quo – in various combinations, depending on circumstance, of course.

    If discussions about sortition, the ones on EBL included, don’t take place with an eye trained permanently on questions of how to make versions of it real rather remaining as some academic navel gaze, I see little point in them.

    Without that attention, the danger is always that we’ll end up with some sort of academic love in taking place, a pointless jousting of intellects unattached to anything politically real or useful to humankind.

    I’m not going to be online for a while so please don’t worry about my lack of responses to what I’m sure will be your answers. I have stuff going on.

    I’d love to hear some answers to the original questions though Keith rather than have us indulge in another merry-go-round exchange about what EBL should be about. I’m not interested in the latter so will just withdraw if it’s the direction we’re headed.

    Have a lovely evening.



    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m cross-posting this from the two Rosenfeld threads, where I’ve just commented.

    Rosenfeld’s longer article (but not for long—it’s scheduled for deletion) is at

    When I read it, I get the impression that what drove Rosenfeld’s urgency was a concern about climate change—he mentions it a couple of times, not pure-sortitionist radicalism. He conceded in comments on his March 2015 post that a mixed system was acceptable to him. One such comment was dated 3/25/15, 1:39 PM, toward the end; another was dated 3/28/15, 1:52 PM.

    @Patrick Chalmers: Paul Rosenfield’s article, The extinction of politics,” here is at

    An article on his arrest is at

    Liked by 2 people

  6. PatrickChalmers: >”If discussions about sortition, the ones on EBL included, don’t take place with an eye trained permanently on questions of how to make versions of it real rather remaining as some academic navel gaze,”

    Stay tuned, I have lots of practical suggestions to promote citocracy in mind, though it may take me a month to make even one of them presentable. (My first one, last month, was titled, “SORTINISTA EXPERTS: BE A GUEST ON TALK RADIO,” at

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Sutherland – as usual, you can stuff your disgusting attempts to suppress speech on this site. This is not one of your beloved elite mass-media outlets where speech is policed by the powers-that-be and whatever they find unpleasant is marginalized.

    Why don’t you employ yourself instead more gainfully by sharing with us a few more of your anti-Corbyn rants?


  8. Patrick:> sortition a promising possibility for radical improvement of the status quo

    Yes, but “improvement” is in the eye of the beholder. What you characterise as “right wing”, others might call conservative and there’s no reason (in principal) to believe that a sortition democracy would be any less conservative than an electoral one.

    Yoram:> whatever they find unpleasant is marginalized.

    My concern is relevance to the topic of this forum. If I have been guilty of comment on substantive policy issues in the past I can only apologise.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi @Roger Knights and thanks for those helpful and engaged comments and promise of more – I’ll check them all out – just what I was looking for.

    Hi @Keith Sutherland – yes, I’m guilty, I used an outrageous shorthand in “right” of course, in search of brevity. I shouldn’t have done, I suppose, no short cuts allowed on this blog.

    So, to spell it out, I personally think left/right labels in politics are worse than useless, they’re positively damaging and divisive, in fact. Elite minorities tend to benefit from those divisions too, interestingly enough.

    I know you know that the left/right concept in politics dates from French revolutionary times, which is to say pretty recently for those visiting a site that relates to questions going back more than 10 times further back.

    Far more interesting for us are Aristotle’s designations of good/bad government by the one/few/many – ones that give a far better sense of who’s in charge and on whose behalf or benefit.

    I would be interested to have you break down modern governance practices as they relate to climate change, biodiversity loss, financial markets/banks and their mis/non regulation – using Aristotle’s metrics as your tools.

    By my reckoning, we’re talking oligarchy bordering on tyranny, which is what, as you know also, the same Aristotle and others reckoned as being the inevitable result of elections.

    This has all been said before on this blog, I know, I know.

    So it’s not so much a right/left thing there but more one of the three “bad” forms of government, according to Aristotle, democracy, oligarchy or tyranny.

    For today’s politics, who rules, to whose benefit and with what consequences for those who are excluded?

    It would be great to have you answer to questions posed rather than have you cavil about points that have been aired I don’t know how many times on this blog.

    Of course a perfectly designed citizens’ jury, deliberating to perfection as any one of us would hope in our wildest sortiionista dreams, might decide things that some of us would disagree with.

    So be it – I’d love to see it at least take place.

    I don’t personally think such a jury would condemn humanity and the rest of the biosphere to toast, as it happens.

    One of the reasons I am so attracted to sortition – not unquestioningly – is that I believe in the capacity of all humans to deliberate with their fellow humans with wisdom.

    That prospect is so, so far better than the gathering train wreck of our existing political systems that I dare to ask this blog how we get from here to there – hence this post.

    If that’s not a question that interests you then I wonder why you bother spending so much time on this blog.

    Equally, if it’s not a question that interests you – don’t bother posting a comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Patrick:> I would be interested to have you break down modern governance practices as they relate to climate change, biodiversity loss, financial markets/banks and their mis/non regulation – using Aristotle’s metrics as your tools.

    I’m not a historian, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe Aristotle used his taxonomy to judge individual policies. I think it would be entirely wrong for us even to attempt to do that, as the very notion that there are “right” answers to political decisions is epistocracy — one of the disfigurations of democracy, according to the political theorist Nadia Urbinati.

    >I believe in the capacity of all humans to deliberate with their fellow humans with wisdom. . . If that’s not a question that interests you then I wonder why you bother spending so much time on this blog.

    That’s because I want to reclaim sortition for liberal democracy from the clutches of deliberative and discursive theorists. This is because ‘deliberative democracy, when properly conceived, is the rightful heir of the early Frankfurt School [of cultural Marxism]’ (Scheuerman, 2006, pp. 86). According to liberal democrats, one man’s wisdom is another man’s load of old cobblers.


    Scheuerman, W. E. (2006). Critical Theory Beyond Habermas. In B. Honig, J. S., Dryzek & A. Phillips (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory (pp. 84-105). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Urbinati, N. (2014). Democracy Disfigured: Opinion, truth and the people. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Never mind Keith – two ships passing in the night.


  12. Yes, that’s right, but if you would acknowledge that your principal concern (collective wisdom) is orthogonal to the notion of democracy in both the ancient and modern sense of the word, then we would be less likely to talk past each other. It should be mentioned, of course, that this is the principal reason that deliberative and discursive “democrats” have little interest in sortition, and this goes back to Habermas’s contemptuous dismissal of Dahl’s original proposal.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Do you talk like that in real life Keith?

    I think that’s why we spend so much time talking past each other – you answer all questions with new ones, and with references – it’s exhausting.

    Now for something completely different:

    Liked by 1 person

  14. >: Do you talk like that in real life Keith?

    No I don’t, my day job is as a printer and my hobbies are rowing and music, so I use the appropriate language in each case. But on a forum devoted to constitutional reform everyone needs to make their theoretical assumptions crystal clear and use language in a precise manner. There is a huge literature on this topic and you really do need to engage with it, as pragmatism is no use at all if you don’t know what you are trying to achieve.

    PS I’m at work, and there are no loudspeakers on my computer, but I know the Life of Brian pretty well and the differences between us are a lot more than picking nits.

    PPS regarding the appropriate use of language, the main criticism of my PhD thesis was that it was written in a light-hearted style.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. “I dare to ask this blog how we get from here to there – hence this post” Hi, Patrick: I am also interested in finding a safe and appropriate way to inject the idea of sortition into the collective conscious, get people talking and thinking about it…even if they don’t like the idea, fine; but in a way that they can’t ignore it :-)

    Here’s my idea…though perhaps others have suggested something similar in the past (in which case: there are no new ideas and I apologize for calling it “mine”):

    What about the creation of a third political party (here in the states, where I live) with no candidates? In essence, anyone who throws their name into the ring would be saying: “I don’t desire such power/responsibility and would never seek it out…but if deemed competent, capable, and/or qualified for any given opportunity (whether a set amount of time in public office or to simply participate in a public assembly) then I would be honored to represent the concerns and voices of my community.”

    In order to get the ball rolling, someone would need to declare themselves a non-candidate…be the first to throw their name into the metaphorical hat, in order to establish said hat…and then invite others to do the same. Do we think that someone like Bernie Sanders might consider an idea like this, and that he might encourage some of his young followers/fans to consider doing so, in order to get as many of them as possible involved in the process of participation?

    While I may disagree with Keith from time to time, I do appreciate his concern and reservation when it comes to pulling the trigger on an idea like this, which has the potential for significant Change…and Backlash. Because let’s be blunt: once you throw this idea into the public arena (and assuming it makes a big enough splash in the realm of social media) it could (and given human nature, probably would) snowball and spiral out of control rather quickly. Because…

    Who would be in charge of such a venture, held accountable? How would it be organized, and where would those resources come from? And most importantly, as far as I am concerned when it comes to any form of lottery: how do we assure those who are considering the notion that our lottery is going to be genuinely random?

    This is a concern which I have yet to see answered with any satisfaction: verifying and authenticating a truly random lottery. Because if we can’t trust the lottery itself, then this whole venture of sortition is a moot point and we all need to move on…


  16. King Mob:> someone would need to declare themselves a non-candidate…be the first to throw their name into the metaphorical hat, in order to establish said hat…and then invite others to do the same.

    The problem, if volunteering was required, is it would not be a representative sample of the target population. You don’t volunteer to do jury service, you just get the (random) summons.


  17. I agree with you, in the long-run…it should ultimately be like jury duty. But!! Realistically – in order to get the ball rolling – it will have to be voluntary at first…and I don’t suspect that diverse representation will be an issue.

    Think about it: this idea would be pitched to everyone who is currently cynical, jaded, and burnt out by the levels of corruption that we have all but come to accept as being inevitable and unavoidable…red, blue, purple, green, and especially those who – up until now – have refused to pick a color, perhaps because they have not found one which aligns with their perspective/worldview. We welcome ALL of them, and encourage them to tell a friend :-)

    I think the idea would be especially attractive to individuals from minority communities which, historically, have had little-to-no representation. I’ve grown up being told that “my vote is my voice” but we all know that is BS. Being selected would give you a voice, give your community a voice. True representation…how many other parties can say the same?

    I believe (whether it is idealistic and/or naive to do so) that this idea has the potential to reach an unprecedented number of disenfranchised voters and would be overwhelmingly representative, like nothing we’ve ever seen. Maybe that is wishful thinking…so be it.

    Something has to change, and I respect your caution…Keith, I share it. But I also share Patrick’s desire to get the word out, get people thinking and talking, contemplating and debating. A lot of people won’t like it, and that’s fine…they don’t have to. But I believe more people than not will resonate with the idea, it will fill them with hope…just like it has for all of us. But they have to know about it first, before that can happen.


  18. Hi King Mob – I think it’s great that you’re thinking about this question, which is a difficult but important one.

    If I were an academic studying how to do this, which I’m not, I would look at all the places that have had some sort of random selection and deliberation process, setting the necessary criteria for what qualifies, and search back from the most interesting ones – the number chosen being determined by your time/resources – to look for how they even got that far.

    From my limited knowledge – and what I know for sure is that it IS limited – there are a couple that stand out.

    One is Ireland – where the work of a group of political scientists post financial crisis of 2008/2009 began a movement to have citizen juries using different forms of random selection and deliberation to be considered a political option in Ireland.

    They got philanthropist money to trial several juries in different parts of the country.

    The result persuaded the politicians of the day at least to sanction a second, hybrid event, mixing elected politicians with citizens to consider a whole series of political questions facing Ireland.

    That did not badly.

    The third was the Citizens’ Assembly from 2016 to 2018 – a citizens-only body that considered several questions and whose work was then passed to an all-parliamentary, then to government and then to all Irish adults in a referendum to change the constitution.

    The Irish prime minister has recently promised another iteration of the citizens’ jury to consider questions related to the equality of women in society.

    So the Irish model, to get this far, involved political scientists kite flying a demonstration project, then an official, hybrid jury project and then a citizens’ juries that has become well known to the Irish public and which tackled a real, live political issue through towards conclusion.

    Among the questions the Irish story begs:

    How could something like that happen in other countries?

    What were the peculiarities that might limit even that level of jury use to Ireland or places like it?

    Plenty more, of course.

    Another approach is the one that newDemocracy has pursued in Australia – running a whole series of local, state-level and federal level randomly selected juries over years and establishing more or less successful buy in from the different governments/authorities concerned to then implement the results.

    They’ve been going 10 years plus now and are looking to extend beyond Australia.

    A declaration of interest here – newDemocracy gave me a €10,000 grant to make a film about Ireland’s citizens’ jury – so I have a professional interest in both cases. This is the film ( and this is an EBL post ( that showed people on this blog’s responses to it.

    Neither Ireland nor Australia has perfect systems but they’ve started a process and they’ve enormously raised the profile of this approach. There are, obviously, plenty of others going on or past, as the pages of this blog make only too clear.

    I’d personally like things to move much faster, with more places experimenting with random selection and deliberation to establish reliable ways of working, to find out what does and doesn’t work and to establish the notion in people’s minds that there can be more to modern government than occasional elections that disenfranchise huge chunks of humankind.

    My own work is to do journalism work on a few of them to investigate whether the claims made for juries stand up to scrutiny.

    For your suggestion, I’m not a big fan of anything that comes with the two words political and party joined together. I wonder, though, whether parties of some sort may be the only way in. I don’t know.

    The barriers to entry for any new party are enormous – there have been various examples over my adult life in my native UK. It’s been messy and not very productive measured in terms of socially progressive politics, not least because of the UK’s spectacularly bad version of government by election.

    That would make me doubtful about what it is that you propose.

    Perhaps in the US the attempted entry could be by working to expand the Healthy Democracy Oregon model – aiming at a first instance at state ballot measures and using juries to establish citizen perspectives in contrast to advertising driven coverage.

    There are shortcomings in all these three approaches – the tension on this blog usually being between those who favour wide-scale experimentation on real-world policies, including a push to have that happen, versus those who worry about the approach becoming discredited by one or more failures to deliver and so forever discredited.

    It’s a tricky balance to strike but then our current systems are hardly too great either.


  19. King Mob:> I think the idea would be especially attractive to individuals from minority communities . . . this idea has the potential to reach an unprecedented number of disenfranchised voters and would be overwhelmingly representative.

    You only need to take a look at recent work on the sociology of populism to realise that the two aspects of your [concatenated] sentence contradict each other. Populism is a reaction against elite domination of the political process, but elites come in all shapes and sizes, and one should not underestimate the influence of cultural elites. The New Left shifted its emphasis from the plight of the indigenous working class when it realized that the workers would rather go shopping than take to the barricades and refocused on minority interests (ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation etc). It may still be the case in that the average US politician is a rich, white, male lawyer but in the UK MPs are more likely to have a degree in PPE, with all its focus on “59 varietes of luck egalitarianism”, as Jeremy Waldron put it.The emphasis on equality for minorities has seriously pissed off the poor, uneducated indigenous majority. As testimonial to the power of culture, just remember that the overwhelming majority of white conservative evangelicals (especially women) voted for Trump.

    It’s no coincidence that the majority of Patrick’s pet sortition projects lean to the left (especially now Sanders has been invoked), so an appeal for sortition volunteers (which would appeal to activists) would lead to an even stronger populist backlash than Trump, Farage, Le Pen (who now had majority support in polls for the next election) put together. If sortition is to be (statistically) representative then it has to be quasi-mandatory.


  20. Patrick:> not very productive measured in terms of socially progressive politics

    It’s the association of this sort of remark with sortition that bothers me. Of course to someone of your political persuasion “socially progressive politics” is necessarily (and tautologically) A Good Thing, but we should remember that populism is largely a backlash against this viewpoint. This forum should be neutral with regard to any substantive political issue.


  21. Hi Keith – I find it perplexing that our exchanges are so unproductive and that we be at such odds with one another.

    I notice that I am not the only one who struggles to engage with you on this blog.

    I’m sure you’re a great person, I truly mean that, but it feels quasi impossible to have any sort of constructive dialogue with you.

    I’m busy looking at how I express things and what I express, and will continue to do so, but I can’t yet see why what I write is should be so provocative to you.

    I don’t remember mentioning Bernie Sanders in any of my comments above and yet you attribute that to me. I wonder why.

    The poor quality of our dialogue brings to mind this post by Perry Walker suggesting ways for people with different view points to talk about difficult political issues together – in this case Brexit (

    He talks about “joining points” – those issues on which two parties DO agree – something that they can then constructively explore.

    I don’t know if we have any such points based on the way you’ve engaged with this post, as you do with so many others.

    It’s a shame – I can tell you have a lot of valuable knowledge to share on sortition but I just ain’t getting it myself. More’s the pity.

    So our exchange feels like a monumental waste of time, probably also for you, which is also a shame.

    I’m not attached to any specific outcome from sortition though my gut suggests its outcomes will generally be more socially progressive than the status quo – by which I mean more prone to produce or maintain societal harmony and fairness within the community being represented by the jury.

    I’m most certainly prepared to be proved wrong on that and would welcome any examples you could suggest.

    I am aware, for example, of the South Korean sortition process that led to the approval of a nuclear power project. I don’t know the details as I haven’t looked into it at this moment, so I can’t comment on the quality or execution of the process per se.

    I don’t personally agree with nuclear power being a viable long-term solution to humanity’s energy requirements. That is my personal position, and it’s complicated (

    I do accept that the jury process in South Korea came to a different conclusion to mine. It’s their choice, even if an element of it affects all humanity.

    So that’s me done with this.

    Have a lovely afternoon and all my very good wishes for your travels in sortition land.

    I’ll be hesitant in engaging in future exchanges with you because they are so confusing for me and also so inconclusive and unsatisfying.

    I’d prefer to do many other things with the precious things that are our short lives. I’m sure you would too.


    Hasta luego amigo.


  22. Patrick,

    Sorry, the Sanders reference was from King Mob:

    Do we think that someone like Bernie Sanders might consider an idea like this, and that he might encourage some of his young followers/fans to consider doing so, in order to get as many of them as possible involved in the process of participation?

    I think our disagreement is because people on the left (including those that abjure that particular label) assume that socially progressive outcomes are self-evidently the goal of the democratic process. However the populist revolt would suggest that not everybody shares this perspective, so I think a forum devoted to democratic (rather than normative) theory shouldn’t address these issues. It doesn’t surprise me that this puts me in a minority position in this forum, in the light of the Scheuerman quote that the deliberative democracy that you advocate is the rightful heir of the Frankfurt School of cultural Marxism. John Dryzek has argued that deliberative democracy adopts a ‘critical approach
    to the liberal state and its political economy [capitalism]’. As a card-carrying liberal I’m anxious that sortition should not become associated with such an overtly political agenda.

    **I don’t imagine anyone on this forum would post a similar paragraph to the above with “Trump” replacing “Sanders”.


  23. Keith, I think you’re trapped in a mental prison by this left/right obsession of yours, to the major detriment of your apparent desire to engage in discussion with others – and you insist on foisting this obsession on others.

    Lest you be in any doubt, I reject outright your labeling of me, it is an inaccurate description of who I am, my sense of self, my lived experience.

    If you think you know better then I wonder who it is that you take yourself for – God perhaps?

    Feel free to label me that way, if you wish, but know that you are in profound error as to how I experience the political world.

    I, for my part, wouldn’t pretend to categorise you as left/right – I’ve no idea of the parts that would make up your whole, I’ve no need to or to desire to either.

    You, like me, are a complex human being, one of 7.5 billion plus on the planet, and counting.

    Proceed as you wish, of course, but you are profoundly wrong in this.

    No person is wholly left or wholly right – everyone’s positions change on the myriad possibilities of politics, from moment to moment, depending on the subject addressed and their own circumstances at that time.

    Binary right/left labels do nothing but artificially divide humanity into camps – they are useless in helping us understand the mechanics of political systems.

    This is a graphic I use in teaching that illustrates the complexity –

    I find myself represented on both sides of it, as do my students.

    The EBL exchanges ARE useful from the point of view of learning to talk with people who’s approaches and perspectives we may not share – the core challenge of day-to-day politics itself.

    It is a learnable skill – one I wish we were all taught from birth.


  24. Patrick

    Whilst “left” and “right” are clearly ideal types (opposite ends of the political spectrum), most commentators would view “socially progressive” as synonymous with the New Left — in that it has switched its focus from the economy to socio-cultural issues (this is an uncontroversial issue from a political science perspective). US politics is generally viewed in terms of the culture wars — social progressives vs conservatives, so this isn’t really a “mental prison” of my own making, and there is no particular reason to believe that sortition would (or should) lead to socially progressive policy outcomes.


  25. Hi Keith – you’ll be unsurprised to learn that I completely disagree – “left” and “right” are not ideal types, they’re not types at all, and in fact their use is itself a hugely problematic linguistic and intellectual trap into which we allow ourselves to be led by the nose like herd animals.

    That’s why I try not to use them – even if that choice then spawns exhausting side discussions.

    For me – “socially progressive” doesn’t mean a “new” anything, left or right. It relates to what we could fairly easily arrive at, and agree upon even, as being measures of progress in any particular society.

    The late Hans Rosling, a Swedish demographer with a passion for presenting, did a pretty good job at opening this up – as per here –

    I don’t agree with all that he said but he enlightened me a lot – I’m grateful to him for his work.

    The UNDP – with caveats about the source and soundness of some countries’ data – does the same with its HDI –

    How many dead kids, how many women dying in childbirth, how many children working from an early age rather than going to school, how many in a society are at risk of violent death or suffer substantially sub median mortality rates – none of these measures is a left/right thing.

    They’re all potential measures of global social progress or the lack of it.

    To what extent are our societies threatening the capacity of the planet to support human life and how is any one of our societies, or the whole of humanity, mitigating that risk? That is also, I’d say, a measure of social progress, neither right nor left.

    You seem to have a Pavlovian response to anything you deem to be “left” – it’s disturbing to witness and must be exhausting for you.

    Surely that’s not Keith Sutherland the human being – the father, the son, the brother, partner or whatever are your human relationships?

    I, for one, don’t believe it is – it’s almost as if you’re acting the self-assigned pantomime villain for fun.

    Look out, Bernie’s behind you! Oh no he isn’t! Etc. etc.

    For me, the issue is pretty simple – social progress means, err, let me think, social progress.

    Now, pass me a copy of Das Kapital.


  26. Patrick,

    Epistemic democrats do agree on certain minimum categories of outcomes that all could agree upon (avoidance of famine etc), but it’s pretty meagre fair. David Estlund, one of the leading theorists in this field, has written on the epistemic merits of sortition, and can’t make any stronger claims than outcomes that are better than random, whereas strong democratic theorists (Urbinati etc) would claim that even this is an indication to the epistemic disfiguration of democracy. So I’m afraid you’re going out on a bit of a limb here. I guess one of the problems is that “progressive” is a hurrah word (unlike “reactionary”). Suggest you take a look at Anthony O’Hear and John Gray’s argument that “progress” is just a secularised version of Christian millenarianism.

    Estlund, D. (2008). Democratic Authority: A Philosophical Framework. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


  27. Are you parodying yourself Keith?

    The vast majority of the world – where the vast majority of politics takes place – doesn’t deal in academic texts or its high falutin and exclusive modes of expression.

    If academic work loses its link and relevance to society/the world it becomes a game for self-referential intellectuals – not interesting at all.

    You might read this – – it’s written by a PhD holder and talks of the lobotomising effects of an advanced academic education, effects that worsen with seniority/time served.


  28. Patrick,

    In any other domain, spending a lifetime studying a topic in depth would be seen as a virtue, rather than something to be disparaged. It would be a shame if this forum were to take an anti-intellectual stance. I’m all for pragmatism but it needs to be based on a clear understanding of what words like democracy and representation mean — both in theory and in practice. If this isn’t done in a rigorous manner then we end up talking past each other.

    PS I’m not an academic (although I have a PhD in political theory — my subject being the study of sortition), I earn my living running printing presses and interacting with ordinary mortals. At the most I go to the university for 2 hours a week.


  29. I don’t mean to disparage academic work per se but I am trying to say academic work can often be a barrier to understanding lived reality in the world – that reference I gave you above is to a valuable book that begs engagement.

    We are all ordinary mortals – my personal communications goal is to be able to speak to, to listen to, to understand and to be understood by, my fellow human beings – as many as possible.

    Academic speak can be very exclusive, in plenty enough cases deliberately so, to the detriment of true human-to-human understanding or communication.

    I know that, having had to read many academic texts myself throughout my life and knowing friends who’ve lived, and live, in the academic world. Clarity and precision of expression is one thing, wearing the faux-intellectual coat of academic expression as a weapon against rival arguments is quite another. It’s very dull, in fact.

    If I were you, which I’m not, of course, I’d practice talking sortition with some of the “mere mortals” you come across in your printing presses work. You don’t need endless references to texts that you’ve read but they haven’t – you do have to reformulate your thoughts to be understood. This is not dumbing down – it’s a necessary guard against elitism and exclusion, deliberate or unconscious.

    Do what you like though, of course.

    I think the gathering of sortition considerers that is EBL is a fine place to have those academic discussions – bring them on.

    It is also a fine place to engage experts in sortition on the bigger picture questions related to sortition. It would be absurd not to – to whom better could you pose those questions than those who know the subject intricately – and in non academic language.

    What’s your big problem with that?


  30. Patrick:> If I were you, which I’m not, of course, I’d practice talking sortition with some of the “mere mortals” you come across in your printing presses work.

    I started my work on sortition as a result of a drunken conversation at a friend’s party and wrote my first two books as an “independent scholar”. I then went back to university to do the work properly and found the challenging of my simplistic notions and prejudices (by my supervisor and peers) and the sharpening of my grasp of the concepts involved invaluable. I agree about the danger of academy-speak and I’m about to engage in the challenge of rewriting my thesis on sortition for a general audience.

    >I think the gathering of sortition considerers that is EBL is a fine place to have those academic discussions.

    Unfortunately none of the growing number of academics working on sortition contribute regularly to this forum, partly on account of the disparagement of their profession by commentators like Yoram and yourself and partly on account of the simplistic prejudices expressed. We really are shooting ourselves in the foot.


  31. I try very hard not to disparage – maybe I fail.

    I’m not sure how hard you try to engage – if I may be so bold – and I think you do a fair line in disparagement yourself.

    Once more we differ – it’s a shame but no one’s dead.

    Have a good evening.


  32. And you Patrick


  33. King Mob,
    Your idea is faulty, in my opinion. I agree with Keith that if these self-selected volunteers were to gain office they would be VERY unrepresentative (people who are willing to volunteer will tend to be overly self-confident men). But equally problematic is how you imagine them getting into office. I get the idea that your lottery party would pool volunteers… But would they be randomly selected to be put on an traditional election ballot? This would be quite problematic, because the election filter at its very essence is founded on the principle of distinction, and the traditional party candidates would be public relations experts. Randomly selected candidates (one at a time, rather than as a statistically accurate mini-public) will tend NOT to stand out as BETTER than the other public relations expert candidates in a traditional election format.

    The key is to NOT seek to ease into sortition one representative at a time. We need one entire representative mini-public at a time (probably on one issue at a time), as a way of evolving into sortition.


  34. Thanks Terry.

    Do you think “one entire representative mini-public at a time (probably on one issue at a time)” is the only way of evolving into sortition?

    I personally agree – right now – but I’m curious as to whether there are other models of change that could be feasible.


  35. […] in the year, sortition was on the agenda of two mass-action movements: UK’s Extinction Rebellion and France’s Gilets […]


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