Knowing your arse from your Albo: how political parties might access the ‘blind break’ to get better leaders

Herewith a brief post I wrote for my (mostly Australian) audience sketching out one possible use of sortition within a political party rather than the political system itself. As those reading this blog with any attentiveness will know, this is part of my own approach to sortition as one of a number of ‘hacks’ that can help unpick some of the pathologies of oligarchies of various kinds both specific and systemic.

A lottery is a defensible way of making a decision when, and to the extent that, it is important that bad reasons be kept out of the decision.
Peter Stone

Left of centre parties have been serving up seriously, obviously bad candidates for years now. That happened at the last election in the US and will happen at the next one. It’s happened at the last two elections in Australia and looks like happening at the next one. This nearly happened to the Liberal Government in Australia when they nearly acquired Peter Dutton as leader.

Why?

Though they are structured very differently, in each case, the battle to lead the party favours candidates who are good at gaining and wielding power within their party. And those who acquire the most power within parties are increasingly often, poorly equipped to acquire power for it.

Put in another way, the party is an oligarchy. And the Athenians knew a thing or two about oligarchy. Their democracy was the only one I know that understood itself as existing in the teeth of the ever-present menace of oligarchy. This was an important merit of sortition or selection by lot. Whenever sortition takes place it places a discontinuity – a ‘blind break’ – in the process by which a community gets from recognising a problem to coming up with a solution.

As Peter Stone puts it, the point about selection by lot is its arationality. It makes no sense to ask why someone was selected for a jury, for what reason they were selected. They were selected mechanically. And machines don’t give reasons – they just do what they were programmed to do.

Usually, the blind break is just that – a discontinuity in decision making, not the imposition of a mechanical decision. We don’t determine whether an accused is guilty or not guilty randomly. We determine the group that will determine that randomly. That way there’s no reason-giving, no accountability for who is selected. And it seems that this is a better way of making some kinds of decisions.

So here’s a ‘hack’ – something you can do yourself.

Whenever you’re in a situation in which a standard hierarchical accountability model seems to have downsides, is it possible to somehow randomise the selection of a decision making or deliberative group. The point is, anyone who finds themselves on such a body owes their position to the luck of the draw, not to any promotion, appointment or favour. And this ‘blind break’ can help support those making the decision to make it for the right reasons, rather than to garner favour with the powerful or otherwise respond to incentives in an accountability regime. Thus, I’d argue that ethics committees would function much better if they were constituted in this way.

So here’s one example of how one might solve the problem of parties not knowing their arse from their Albo when they choose their leader. I suggest that some kind of assembly be selected by some randomised process representing three groups equally.

  1. Those in senior positions in the party. One would include members of parliament but I’d be happy to include the executive of the party and senior staffers. These are the party insiders.
  2. All party members who are not senior officeholders.
  3. Members of the public.

I’d charge that group with choosing the leader if they could agree with some super-majority such as two thirds. I think this would serve parties’ interests in selecting their leader better than the mechanisms they have in place now. Some existing mechanisms are similar because they involve at least two ‘streams’ of voting – typically from the parliamentary party and the membership, but these are elections, not selections by lot. Certainly within the parliamentary party they perpetuate power battles between individuals and factions, and arguably within the membership sortition might put more sand in the wheels of entryism.

(And if anyone can tell me in comments how I upload an image to the Equality by Lot WordPress installation, I’d be grateful :)

7 Responses

  1. Hi Nicholas,

    You are set up as a “contributor” to this blog, which unfortunately does not allow you to upload media. You can still link to images that are available online.

    If you do wish to upload images that are not available online, we can do one of two things. First, you can simply send me the images in email and mark the point of insertion in the post. Then I will upload the images and add insert them into the post appropriately.

    Alternatively, I can upgrade you to “author” status which does allow you to upload media. The downside of this is that this changes the publishing flow so that your posts are published without me going over them to verify formatting, typos, etc.

    Like

  2. Thanks Yoram

    I think the simpler thing is the latter, and when I’m finished, I can ‘save draft’ and email you to give it the ‘once-over’ and then post.

    Like

  3. Ok – changed your status to “author”. I believe you should now be able to upload media.

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  4. I think this use of sortition within political parties has huge potential. Leadership is the example here, but it could equally be done within an electorate to select a candidate – simply base the stratification around duration of membership and stacking becomes impossible.

    Importantly, its also easy to run as a trial so the parties can take a managable first step before being asked to make wholesale changes.

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  5. > Herewith a brief post I wrote for my (mostly Australian) audience sketching out one possible use of sortition within a political party rather than the political system itself

    There are also many europeans and people around the world reading this blog. I am going to write a post about the usage of sortition in political party. At “A Nous La Democratie”, We have experimented for 5-6 month weekly meetings on jisti where the moderator was initially randomly chosen (using shared screen and random.org) then changing every 20 min or less (if the person didn’t want to be moderator) following the alphabetical order. There are many interesting experiments of the sort going on in France right now, if you like we can discuss about it over jitsi :)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks Alexandra,

    Happy to chat, but it might also be useful if you could provide some links that can be checked out. To my shame, I am monolingual however :(

    Like

  7. You can check the sortition foundation working here in Europe or G1000 or Demorun. All of which you can search on google also check out the many articles here.

    A moderator/animator becomes necessary -interesting- only when there are at least three people. You can join a discussion anytime on Jitsi (https://meet.jit.si/Sortition) hoping that there will be three or more people, where you can arbitrarily choose a first moderator (either used the first arrived or alphabetical order or use the website random.org).

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