Sortition on Reddit

Reddit user subheight640 is a sortition advocate. He (or she) has been posting about sortition on multiple Reddit forums. His posts – such as this one – have garnered approvals from hundreds of users and has engaged a great number of people in discussions on this topic. This seems like a fairly effective way to get sortition more widely known and considered.

20 Responses

  1. I see that I have linked before to subheight640’s posts on Reddit. Great to see that he is keeping up the good fight.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. His name is John Huang (demlotteries.substack.com).

    It is a pity that he doesn’t understand the concept of rational ignorance: “To alleviate the problem of rational ignorance, chosen members could be trained by experts or even given an entire elite university education before service”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. >“To alleviate the problem of rational ignorance, chosen members could be trained by experts or even given an entire elite university education before service”.

    It’s hard to imagine a more explicitly anti-democratic perspective, and it’s alarming that it is coming from a sortition advocate.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Arturo,

    I am not sure what you mean by “doesn’t understand the concept of rational ignorance”. I presume that Huang is concerned that typically the allotted start their service without having ever before put much thought into public matters at least at the grand scale.

    Thus, the idea of pre-service training is quite sensible. The question is regarding what that training would look like. To me it seems that the important principle is that the training course would be designed by the allotted themselves, rather than dictated by an elite group. The idea of offering university courses to those who think they may be useful for them is not implausible, although it may very well have its down sides as well.

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  5. Yoram,
    The Wikipedia entry linked by Huang himself explains surprisingly well what rational ignorance is all about: probabilities. In too-large a decision body, the highly educated are subject to rational ignorance just like anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I was perusing the recommended bibliography at the end of his latest post and I found this:

    Voter ignorance is instrumentally motivated: given the minuscule probability that one’s vote will be decisive, the costs of gathering information outweigh the expected benefits of more informed voting. But the views of legislators will matter a great deal, giving them every incentive to invest in acquiring the relevant knowledge and competence.

    Arash Abizadeh. Representation, Bicameralism, Political Equality, and Sortition: Reconstituting the Second Chamber as a Randomly Selected Assembly, Perspective On Politics, 2020.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t see a conflict between this definition and Huang’s proposal. As they enter their role, the allotted need to overcome their ignorance that is due to their pre-allotment rational disinterest in politics. Now that they are motivated to learn, learning opportunities of various kinds could be useful.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yoram,
    It’s simply a misuse of the economist-coined term “rational ignorance.” It is not rational for anybody, regardless of whether they are well-educated or not, to waste time studying an issue if thy only have one vote out of millions in making a decision on it. It is RATIONAL to remain ignorant on that topic and spend your time more usefully. Of course it is also a fine idea to have members of a mini-public go through some “learning phase” about a topic…. but their “rational ignorance” is automatically overcome simply by being chosen to be one of a few hundred making a decision, instead of one of millions. It is now RATIONAL to learn about the issue (whether that happens or not is a different matter).

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  9. *** Bouricius says “It is not rational for anybody, regardless of whether they are well-educated or not, to waste time studying an issue if thy only have one vote out of millions in making a decision on it”.
    *** With this line of reasoning, we must say that the millions of French people who waste time voting for presidential elections (the one elections which look significant here) and often waste time hearing the candidates on tv before, are wholly irrational. I do not agree. They follow a Kantian principle: I must vote because if everybody with “good ideas’, as me, abstain, the worst may occur.
    *** The problem with general votes, except about some rare and salient issues, is the number of issues which may have a significant weight on the future of a modern society. It is not “irrational” to study thoroughly all of them, it is impossible.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. >“To alleviate the problem of rational ignorance, chosen members could be trained by experts or even given an entire elite university education before service”.

    Specifically:

    Who chooses which members to be trained (and on what criteria) and which experts to train them?

    Given the antipathy to elites on this forum, why would the new aleatory elite differ from any other? There is a common perception that university professors are markedly left/liberal/woke etc compared to Ornery Joe, so the result would be even more (culturally) elitist than at present (the only difference being Ornery Joe no longer has the opportunity to evict them). Or is the claim that only economic criteria are relevant?

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  11. > It is now RATIONAL to learn about the issue

    Of course. Once selected, it is no longer rational to stay ignorant. But this does not in any automatic or immediate way negate the existing “rational ignorance” of the allotted, which is the fruit of their presumed lifelong rational disinterest in politics. Thus learning opportunities for the allotted are indeed, just as Huang states, a way to “alleviate the problem of rational ignorance”.

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  12. Andre,

    > It is not “irrational” to study thoroughly all of them, it is impossible.

    It is not only impossible, it would be useless even if it were possible.

    Even if somehow all citizens were well informed on all relevant political topics, this would not allow them to set policy as they see fit. The political agenda (the issues being considered and the policy alternatives being considered) being set by the political elite puts policy beyond the control of the citizens, whether ignorant or well-informed.

    Thus the issue of voter ignorance – whether rational or not – is a secondary issue, whereas the primary issue is elite control of the political agenda.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. André,

    I don’t disagree with the logic of voting as an act of solidarity with others “like me,” as an implied compact to each do “our part.” Nor am I asserting that voters necessarily behave rationally. Voting is often more of an expressive act to confirm one’s perception of one’s self (“I am a good responsible citizen”). Thus in single-seat elections where one party is overwhelmingly dominant and is certain to win, lots of people vote anyway, even though they know their vote will make no difference at all in the outcome (whether they support the dominant or sure-to-lose party). People may get pleasure, a feeling of being responsible, of solidarity, or some other psychological benefit… but on a strictly cost-benefit rational analysis of time spent, the economists concept of “free-riding” means it is not RATIONAL to spend time investigating the record of the incumbent, the details of the platforms of the competitors, etc., etc. since that time spent will in no way affect the outcome. Of course, some people ENJOY learning about politics, and that learning and forming of a personal opinion is pleasant for them. Yet, most voters cast their votes deep in ignorance, with at best a media or family and friends-based pseudo-understanding of what the candidates would actually do in office.

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  14. *** I do agree with Bouricius than “most voters cast their votes deep in ignorance” ; I agree that the cost-benefit balance helps to push in this direction ; and I agree that it will be less the case in a jury.
    *** I did not agree with the identification of rational behaviour with economist cost-benefit individual analysis. I remember my grand-father explaining me when I was a child that a citizen must not abstain to vote because “if everybody acts like that …”
    *** I was afraid that the cost-benefit idea could lean some people to think that sortition is needed from lack of civic virtue. Even with perfectly virtuous citizens, sufficient knowledge of all the issues is impossible in a modern society.

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  15. Andre:> Even with perfectly virtuous citizens, sufficient knowledge of all the issues is impossible in a modern society.

    If that is true then the author’s aspiration that “chosen members could be trained by experts or even given an entire elite university education” would be of little value. The unique potential of large randomly-selected juries is to allow a representative microcosm of the target population to judge legislative proposals on the basis of their diverse everyday experience. Selecting members for university education would smuggle elites in by the back door, so would corrupt the sortition process. In the light of the evidence showing that Trump and Brexit supporters were primarily not university educated, the proposal to provide an elite education to chosen members is entirely undemocratic. Given Yoram’s visceral antipathy to elites, I’m surprised that he endorses this proposal.

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  16. The Athenians were reasonable on this topic. A trial-like process to help the nomothetai make an informed decision. But no requirement to attend courses at Plato or Aristotle’s school, nor from sophists, before the trial of the proposed law.

    Modern examples like deliberative polls and so on have I think been reasonable on this too.

    Well-designed democracy requires that the people make informed decisions, because informed views are a far better basis for decisions than uninformed and poorly informed ones.

    But of course we need a representative sample of the public. Not what might result after a year or months of courses from university professors, with those professors chosen by some blue ribbon committee or something like that.

    Trial jury procedures are also reasonable on this. No one suggests, so far as I know, that for example those hearing a trial for fraud or murder first receive months of instruction on the relevant laws from law professors and criminologists or something like that.

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  17. Indeed. The mistake is to conflate advocacy and judgment. No training is required for the latter role, sand that’s what juries do

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  18. *** For any kind of task some kind of general knowledge – let’s say “culture” – is very useful. To be a more efficient member of a mini-populus, the specific “culture” would include methods of rational thinking about for instance correlation and causality, some pieces of statistics – if only to understand sortition itself – and training against the rhetorical tricks and the fake news tricks.
    *** But in an (ortho-)democracy the power of the ordinary citizens must not be restricted to policy and legislation choices. Jurors must have the last word in any important judicial matter – because when judges have political sensitivities different from the legislators, the law is distorted. Allotted panels must oversee the executive apparatus – if not, power is given to the bureaucratic elites. Thus the “civic culture” is not needed for some hundreds of legislators, but for the whole civic body.
    *** If legislators have such a life experience as “an entire elite university education”, they will have sensitivities different from the common citizens (it would be a very special kind of aristocracy) and from citizens in judicial juries and overview panels, leading to a chaotic system; and if citizen participation to power is restricted to legislature, the Deep State of judicial and bureaucratic elites will have a good part of power.
    *** The civic culture must not only include the rationalist training I was mentioning, but an idea of the current intellectual debates. Simon Threlkeld writes that in the Athenian democracy there was “no requirement to attend courses at Plato or Aristotle’s school, nor from sophists, before the trial of the proposed law”. Right, but the theater was a school popularizing the intellectual debates. Sophocles and Euripides (and Aristophanes !) gave a high culture to ordinary citizens. Another source was the discourses of the orators, with their intellectual content – and before voting the citizen had to hear the orators, he could not switch the TV. A modern (ortho-)democracy would have to establish its own kind of communautarian intellectual life.

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  19. Keith:> No training is required for the latter role [judgement].

    Agree, although an “orientation” might sometimes or always be good. But I think that is something different from “training.”

    For example, if a civic jury is choosing a public official, an orientation about the responsibilities and powers of the office in question is good.

    I think trial jurors receive an orientation about what their responsibility and powers are, from the judge.

    I think it would be better if that orientation juries, in criminal trials, included telling the jurors that if they believe the law or its application in the current case to be unjust, they have the right not to convict. But judges and courts try to keep this right secret from juries.

    I think that for deliberative polls and such participants get an orientation, but that is I think quite different from “training.”

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  20. Simon:> I think it would be better if that orientation juries, in criminal trials, included telling the jurors that if they believe the law or its application in the current case to be unjust, they have the right not to convict

    Interesting suggestion. Of course the principal task of a legislative jury is to decide whether the proposed law is just, but this makes it very different from a trial jury. In the case of the Heliastic oath, jurors were only charged to go by their own sense of natural justice “if there is no law”:

    “I will cast my vote in consonance with the laws and with the decrees passed by the Assembly and by the Council, but, if there is no law, in consonance with my sense of what is most just, without favour or enmity. I will vote only on the matters raised in the charge, and I will listen impartially to accusers and defenders alike.”

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