Notes on Sortition Terminology

I have three concerns about terminology used by those working on sortition.

1. Stop using pejorative terms to refer to people selected by lot. This undermines the very idea of equality that is the foundation of sortition and reproduces the dominant supremacist logic of elite/ordinary people

The people selected by lot are frequently referred to as “ordinary people,” “common people,” “everyday people,” etc. All these adjectives have pejorative meanings. Even if the pejorative meaning isn’t the author’s intent, the pejorative meaning and logic remains. Sortition recognizes inherent human equality and seeks to overcome a deeply ingrained system of social differentiation of people into superiors and inferiors. It’s important to break out of this supremacist logic of elite/ordinary people, superiors/inferiors, etc., and not reproduce this vocabulary.

You wouldn’t like it if someone described you as “ordinary, common, everyday, average.” Don’t describe others that way.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) definitions of “ordinary” include: “4. Chiefly of a person: not distinguished by rank or position; of low social position; relating to, or characteristic of, the common people; common, vulgar; unrefined, low, coarse. In later use derogatory.” And: “5. a. Of the usual kind; such as is usually experienced; not singular or exceptional. Often in depreciatory use: not above, or somewhat below, the usual level of quality; commonplace, mundane; (of a person) undistinguished in appearance, plain.”

OED definitions of “common” include: “12. a. Of persons: Undistinguished by rank or position; belonging to the commonalty; of low degree; esp. in the common people, the masses, populace. (Sometimes contemptuous.).” And: “14. In depreciatory use: b. Of persons and their qualities: Low-class, vulgar, unrefined.”
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