Flags for sortitionism

Every movement needs symbols, and the sortition movement is notably short on them. I’ve taken the liberty of putting together a couple! The design is a stylised version of the kleroterion – a 6×7 grid of 42 horizontal bars (because sortition is the answer!) The bars are 2×8 units, separated by gaps of 2 units from each other; the top and bottom borders are 9 units high, and the right and left borders are 12 units across, giving the flag as a whole a 2:1 aspect ratio.

As well as representing the kleroterion, the flag also resembles a swarm of ‘=’ signs. The mass of bars – more than can be counted in a casual glance – suggests the mass of people sortition is meant to empower and the mass of centres between which it aims to separate powers. Aesthetically, it turns the design into a texture, unique to the sortitionist flags.

I’ve done two colour variants – a red-and-black one for left-sortitionism, and a blue-and-white one for centrist/right-sortitionism. As I see it, the dividing line between the two is that left-sortitionism sees the conflict between power elites and the public as extending into the economic sphere, and believes sortitional-democratic mechanisms are the best or only way to achieve lasting victory for the latter, while centre- and right-sortitionism are concerned more narrowly with political power within a capitalist market economy. Where we agree is on the importance and legitimacy of sortitional-democratic mechanisms in government. By having multiple flags riffing on the same theme, we provide a template for a symbolic shorthand for sortitionism that can be used by other people – green sortitionists, anarcho-syndicalist sortitionists, and so on – thereby helping spread familiarity with the idea.

You can see an animated version of the left-sortitionist flag here.

23 Responses

  1. Good idea! I’d like it even more if each of the bars were in a different color, representing the diversity that is contained within a sortition-based panel (although I recognize that makes it harder to replicate). But doing that would at least put the idea into people’s heads. I also especially like the idea of presenting examples of different versions/colorations of the flag and inviting different groups/people to use their own version(s), an approach which represents the variety of purposes and sub-cultures for which sortition can be useful and appropriate and the varieties of sortition methodology that can be used. Diversity-in-unity is a fundamental principle underlying sortition. – Tom

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  2. Surely a truer representation would have many many more bars but there would be only one or two golden nuggets. Otherwise the symbolism would much better reflect electoral democracy, in which each vote has equal value.

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  3. I really like it!

    Maybe there can also be a flag gif, where random slots among the 42 briefly light up and then darken again as other slots take their place.

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  4. Keith,
    If it were to represent electoral ‘democracy’, the bars would have to be joined into pyramids, with the bars at the top levels being larger and more richly coloured! As for the number of bars, I initially tried an 11×11 grid, but it was too much – it didn’t look good. I think this size is about as big as it can reasonably get, and it’s big enough to suggest a mass rather than a particular number.

    Tom,
    You’re not the first to suggest multi-coloured bars – it’s a great idea, especially for a pan-sortitionist flag! I just haven’t been able to come up with a colour combination that looks good yet.

    In any case, the symbolism of any flag is largely arbitrary – think of the various things that stars and stripes in various combinations represent on different flags.

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  5. Well done, Oliver. I like that the flag symbolises equality on two levels.

    Two flags however create inequality, not to mention that we’d be acknowledging the silliness of the party system’s left/right tribalism.

    (As an aside, a future sortition democracy will have progressives and conservatives of a new type, on each specific topic those who either want some new proposal implemented vs. those who want to keep the status quo.)

    As a consequence, we may need to avoid red/blue altogether. In fact, I was always leaning to “white”, as a the colour of neutrality and to signal our openness to negotiate and deliberate.

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  6. Rather than focusing on a FLAG, wouldn’t it be more useful to imagine a logo that could appear on websites, stationery, etc.? How often will a flag actually be useful and seen? This flag design could work as a logo, but might require too much space for many applications. Simpler with fewer elements is often better. I am drawn to the idea of a large multi-colored circle representing all of society, with a small inner circle that matches colors representing a sample of that whole.

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  7. Yes, it’s the principle (statistical sampling) that we want to illustrate, not some stone-age machine.

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  8. These comments are perfect examples of why there really is a divide between left- and centre-sortitionism! I came up with flags on the very left-sortitionist assumption that the only way sortitional democracy is likely to be instituted is through social conflict and crisis – the sort of crisis that produces a constitutional moment in which sortitional institutions can be set up. The purpose of a flag is to be waved on the streets and in the squares, to signal the aspirations of a group within the crowd and coordinate their movement through it, and to be a banner that might inspire people to fight for the sortitional-democratic cause. A logo is a completely different kind of symbol, for use in very different circumstances – conferences, press releases, lobbying, the issuing of reports, and so on in a much more technocratic mode. That’s a style of politics much more in line with centrist and conservative tastes. But (with the exception of Conall) we’re in the business of stripping power from its present holders! We can’t expect their cooperation in that enterprise, and we can’t expect the modes of political activity appropriate to the gentle guidance of a basically cooperative political system to work for us. That’s why I opted for flags rather than logos.

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  9. (While technically the Bronze Age), I agree that since hardly anyone knows what a kleroterion was, it is not a fitting symbol today. As a flag (or logo), it carries no intuitive message – perhaps a heating grate?

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  10. Oliver:> But (with the exception of Conall) we’re in the business of stripping power from its present holders!

    I think you misunderstand Conall, Oliver, Peter etc — they all have leftist provenance but are sceptical about the role of sortition as a form of political representation, they see it as a an aid for the equitable distribution of scarce resources. Speaking for myself, my goal is to improve the existing political process rather than to take to the barricades, waving banners in the street. I’m surprised still to hear this language, given the failure of former attempts to overthrow the system (capitalism, nationalism etc).

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  11. Keith> It’s the principle (statistical sampling) that we want to illustrate, not some stone-age machine.

    Well, the flag does illustrate that perfectly well, doesn’t it?

    And that we’d need to tell the kleroterion story, that’s is a feature not a bug

    Terrry> “a large multi-colored circle”
    Brings me back to my “white argument”.
    1. Multicolour is already taken by LGTBIQ.
    2. White is perfect mix of all colours.

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  12. Hubertus,

    How does the flag illustrate statistical sampling? It’s just a series of undifferentiated slots. And that was certainly not the purpose of the original Athenian lottery machine.

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  13. How do the stars and stripes tell the story of the United States? They don’t, until you’re told what they signify. The same goes for the grid of slots. As Hubertus says, the fact that to explain it you have to briefly explain how democracy originally worked – what the word ‘democracy’ originally meant – is a feature, not a bug. Once you know what it signifies, it provides a reminder of the link between modern sortitional democracy and its history. It doesn’t have to be a working diagram or a perfect representation, it’s a flag.

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  14. Bear in mind that the kleroterion machine did not enable democracy (the rule of the people) it protected it from corruption by factional interests (assuming the existence of the fourth century legislative courts is confirmed). The machine played no role in the selection of the boule or the workings of the ecclesia (the key institution of Athenian democracy). A more apposite image would be a bunch of raised right hands.

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  15. A bunch of raised right hands would not bear any relation to sortition – it would rather suggest direct democracy, or some less institutional notion like solidarity. The kleroterion, on the other hand, exemplifies the long history of random selection to political office, on whatever grounds. As to the efficacy of protest and uprising, the people of Ukraine, Tunisia, the former East Germany, and elsewhere would dispute your defeatist attitude! The failings of the regimes installed after such overthrows might better be attributed to their electoralist nature.

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  16. The kleroterion was used in Athens to select jurors, who sometimes tried political cases.

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  17. > perhaps a heating grate?

    I realise that that we may be subjected to some kind of perception bias since we all know what a kleroterion is while most people doesn’t.

    I would suggest a vertical flag, Japanase style, in dark brown over light brown, possibly with more rows and columns.

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  18. Look, the point isn’t that people look at it and go ‘oh, a kleroterion!’ but that they see the pattern and go ‘oh, that represents sortitionism, which I’ve heard about because I once saw it on Facebook or asked someone at a march what their flag meant’. Like the Communist hammer and sickle represents the alliance of industrial workers (hammer) and peasants (sickle), but who knows that? Only nerds and Communists! It represents Communism to us, not because of what it looks like, but because it’s the flag Communists fly.

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  19. Hammers were used by industrial workers and sickles by pre-modern farm labourers, so the symbols carried some meaning (at the time), unlike a row of identical slots.

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  20. Thanks everyone for the fun and entertaining discussion above which was a pleasure to read.

    I think this is the best suggestion for a flag I’ve seen. Also the only one.

    I’m afraid that though it may look like a kleroterion to us, i have to agree with Terry that to most people it might look like a heating grate.

    Obviously that’s not a good association. It also lends itself to jokes about a political movement’s flag portraying a source of hot air.

    I think Keith has a point about a “stone-age machine” from Iron Age Athens (not literally from the Stone Age), as charming as it might be to some of us, myself included.

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  21. I mean Classical Athens. The Iron Age ended in Athens before the Athenian democracy.

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  22. *** Keith Sutherland said « The kleroterion was used in Athens to select jurors, who sometimes tried political cases. »
    *** Such a sentence minimizes the political role of the jurys in a way which is not historically acceptable.
    *** Even following Canevaro (the Legislators = the assembly in dusguise and not jurors) we know that in the 4th century model the judicial juries could crush Assembly decrees as contrary to laws, and could crush laws as contrary to basic interests or values. They had the last word outside peace and war matters.
    *** In 4th century ostracism fell out of use, and the main political conflicts ended in political trials, which were a major part of the political life, as we can see in the Attic orators.
    *** The Athenian citizen participated in sovereign power through two channels: as ekklêsiastês (assembly) and as dikastes (juries). It is impossible to minimize one.
    *** In mixed systems as the Spartan Republic, the Assembly could have some real power, even if less strong that in Athens; we have no evidence of allotted juries with last word in many political matters outside democracies. Hence the kleroterion is a relevant symbol of democracy.

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