Dikastic Thorubos

All the other powers are naturally in a man’s own control, but the power of speaking is blocked if there is opposition from the audience. Hear him as a scoundrel, bribe-taker, and as one who will say absolutely nothing true. (Dem. 19-340)

Cited in V. Bers, ‘Dikastic Thorubos’ in Crux: Essays Presented to G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, ed. P.A. Cartledge and F.D. Harvey (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 1985)

Recent outbursts of mud-slinging on this forum have implications for the design of sortition-based assemblies, especially if isegoria (equal speech) is the norm. This is the guiding principle of deliberative democracy, as it was in the Athenian democracy (unlike Sparta). However in both the ancient and modern cases only a tiny number of participants exercised the ho boulomenos (anyone who wishes) principle. It took some cojones to address the Athenian assembly and unpopular speakers were shouted down by the other participants (as we saw in the quote from Demosthenes). Whilst such prophylactics can work in direct democracies, large modern states resort to the exchange of insults between political parties, each one hoping to increase its share of the vote in elections. Jaw-jaw is certainly better than war-war, hence the fact that the illocutionary factions in the House of Commons are separated by two swords’ lengths.

The mud-slinging on this forum appears to be primarily between two “camps” — in the one corner Alex Kovner and Keith Sutherland and in the other Yoram Gat and Liam Jones. As Alex recently commented, the two groups appear to be “on different planets”, impervious to the (Habermasian) exchange of reasons.

There is no good reason to believe that a sortition-based assembly would be any different — especially if participation is voluntary, as this would attract those who like the sound of their own voice, which may or may not map to the voices of those in the target population that the randomly-selected group is intended to “describe”. This would suggest that ho boulomenos can do little to support the isegoria rights of the vast majority of citizens who fail to be included in the sortition.

The obvious solution would be for the warring parties to be granted speech rights in proportion to the prevalence of their views in the target population, an approach Alex has christened the Superminority Principle. Each party would adopt the deliberative rhetoric (including sarcasm and other speech acts) that was most persuasive and benefit from the confirmation bias. This approach would find support from the argumentative turn in cognitive science along with the shift of focus from deliberation to debate by Bernard Manin and some of the other founders of the deliberative democracy movement. The role of the randomly-selected jury would be to keep shtum before judging the outcome of the adversarial joust — the ability to evaluate the arguments of others being the other pole of the Argumentative Theory of Reason.

According to this theory, individual reasoning works best when used to [a] produce and [b] evaluate arguments during a public deliberation. It predicts that when diverse opinions are discussed, group reasoning will outperform individual reasoning.

(Mercier & Landemore, 2012, p. 243)

12 Responses

  1. Keith, I can certainly see your respect for accurate statistical sampling, with this extremely strong claim deriving from a sample size of one.

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  2. Liam:> sample size of one

    I received this message recently from James Fishkin:

    I share your views entirely about small sortition assemblies with tiny response rates and so a worry about their unrepresentativeness. I made some of these points in Democracy When the People Are Thinking. It has only gotten worse. With modern social science we can do better.

    Jim is currently collating the results from a 1,000-strong Deliberative Poll (DP) on climate change, which makes the “wee pretendy” assemblies favoured by XR and other activist groups look entirely undemocratic — especially in the light of the outrageous statistics on the Austrian climate change council reported by Hubertus yesterday. I used to think Jim’s trademarking of the DP was for commercial reasons, but can now see that he is only trying to protect his methodology from abuse by others using sortition in order to achieve their own partisan political goals.

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  3. As usual, Sutherland, you are show an impressive capacity to pack a large number of unsubstantiated claims as well as outright lies into a short texts. As usual, there is little to no sense in trying to engage with your points because they are simply regurgitated talking points that have been refuted over and over.

    I will make however point, regarding the “two camps”. Those two camps can be characterized along two axes. The first is substantive: authoritarianism vs. democracy. The “Sutherland-Kovner camp” is committed to authoritarianism (the political agenda is set by the elites, the masses are to shut up and choose among the options offered by factions of the elite). The “Jones-Gat” camp is committed to democracy – equality of political power. At least intellectually (if not morally), there is nothing wrong with having disputes along this axis. Advancing substantive arguments for authoritarianism is traditional in Western thought and it is completely legitimate intellectually as long as it is done in a rigorous way and in good-faith.

    The second axis, however, is meta-substantive, or proceduralistic. The “Sutherland-Kovner camp”, and here the focus is clearly on Sutherland personally (although Kovner does dabble in this as well and certainly does not distance himself from the behavior of his collaborator/acolyte), is simply not engaging in a rational discussion but in demagoguery. There is absolutely no commitment to intellectual honesty and to rational argumentation by that camp. Endless repetition of slogans, formulas and marketing terms (e.g., “Superminority”) is used as a substitute for intellectual engagement with arguments. (In fact, Sutherland has repeatedly explicitly rejected commitment to truth and to rational argumentation.) This stance makes engagement with Sutherland a completely futile waste of time and makes any attempt at drawing symmetries between the “two camps” meaningless. (It is somewhat of a disappointment to me that such attempts persist on this forum by writers outside the “Sutherland-Kovner camp” and that in general such a behavior is largely tolerated.)

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  4. It’s interesting that our perspective on democratic agenda setting is still dismissed as “authoritarian”, even though Alex and I have explained over and over and over again that a) proposers will be selected according to the degree that their policy proposals map onto the raw beliefs and preferences of the target population and b) successful proposers will be obliged to anticipate the choice of the allotted jury. But, as Alex said, we seem to be on different planets. Paul Cartledge has forwarded the link for this thread to the author of the original paper, so will be interesting to see if he has any comment to make.

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  5. I’m puzzled as to why Yoram reserves the “authoritarian” epithet for political systems that incorporate preference election. He has (idiosyncratically) defined democracy as any political system that functions in the interests/reflects the beliefs and preferences of the masses and it has been pointed out to him, by Terry and others, that China, Russia and sundry theocracies might well meet this criterion, even though they would be deemed authoritarian by mainstream political science. The CCP is a major user of public opinion polls as a way of tracking the preferences of the masses, whereas Alex and I incorporate elections to achieve a similar goal. The difference is that, in the former case, the Chinese people have no obvious procedure to remove the CCP government, yet Alex and I are the ones accused of authoritarianism. This is all deeply puzzling — while we may well all inhabit the same planet, we appear to be using words in very different ways.

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  6. Yoram:> “I will make however point, regarding the “two camps”. Those two camps can be characterized along two axes. The first is substantive: authoritarianism…”

    Why stop there? I think Nazism and child sex trafficking are even stronger. Perhaps I favor five proposals as an homage to the pentagram alter I use for human sacrifices in my basement.

    Let’s stop pretending these are criticisms in good faith. Yoram (and I presume Liam, thought I’m not as familiar with him) have transposed Marxist class struggle onto sortition. Politics is struggle; any suggestion that politics might suffer from simple structural flaws threatens the ego-driven need for heroic revolution.

    For anyone reading these comments from an intellectually honest perspective, Keith’s and my project is to use sortition as a tool for making better collective decisions, recognizing that any such mechanism is going to include an “elite” component, where elite simply refers to people who are professionals in crafting policy. By all means view our proposals with skepticism, but every form of politics has an elite, including (or perhaps especially) revolutionary politics.

    When Jones & Gat overthrow the kulaks, Keith and I will be the first ones to go. Until then, I suggest that you two invest in Kalashnikovs and move to the jungle. Your brand of “democracy” requires firepower more than anything else.

    Yoram:> “This stance makes engagement with Sutherland a completely futile”

    And yet you seem to enjoy it so much…

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  7. >Yoram (and I presume Liam, thought I’m not as familiar with him) have transposed Marxist class struggle onto sortition

    The original Dikastic Thorubos essay appeared in a festschrift for the Marxist historian G.E.M. de Ste Croix, author of The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World. I published the festschrift (in 1985) and was amused when Geoffrey abjured the normal right of reply in favour of a spoof anonymous review of his own book from which I quote:

    Hag-ridden by his instinctive aversion to every form of profit making and even to the ownership of property, Croicks tries to show that our Saviour himself shared his abominable opinions. Greek democracy was destroyed by the propertied class, who were never reconciled to it, and were the better able, when it was extinct, to oppress and exploit the humble. The ‘Decline and Fall’, of course, was above all due to the ruthless exploitation of the vast majority by the privileged few, whom Croicks likens, in one of his telling passages, to ‘vampire bats’. [preempting Rolling Stone’s description of Goldman Sachs as a ‘vampire squid’ by a quarter of a century]

    Whilst our latter day Croicks (Yoram and Liam) add to the hilarity of the group, I worry that the mud-slinging only serves to deter people from participating in the exchange of reasons on this blog and, thereby, undermines the whole sortition process.

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  8. Alex,

    > Marxist class struggle … revolution … kulaks, Keith and I will be the first ones to go … Kalashnikovs

    Heh. This McCarthyist drivel reminds me of another aspect of the authoritarian mindset you seem to share with Sutherland – the constant attempts to impose limits on what ideas may be expressed in this forum.

    >Yoram:> “This stance makes engagement with Sutherland a completely futile”

    > And yet you seem to enjoy it so much…

    Nah. Sometimes it is amusing. But mostly you two are utterly boring.

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  9. I think it’s clear now why posting this blog was a bad idea. The comments have immediately degenerated into bitterness and accusations.

    As participants in the original collapse of proper debate, none of us are qualified to comment on it as an objective phenomenon. Certainly none of us should be posting blogs about it.

    Keith, if you are genuinely worried about people being deterred because they see sortitionists squabbling, then you are undermining your own goal by posting this and continuing to throw around insults in the comments. Your energy might be better spent commenting on Fishkin’s new poll, which sounds like it will be of general interest to the sortition movement.

    The possibility of constructive or destructive discussion is an important one. I might wrote about it at some point. But not in reference to a comment spat, and not until the white-hot fires of ego and pride have had time to cool a bit. For now, the best thing any of us can do is let this graceless squabble die.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yes, but humour is wonderfully cathartic (on that I agree with Yoram).

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  11. Liam:> For now, the best thing any of us can do is let this graceless squabble die.

    For once I am in complete agreement.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Liam,

    > The comments have immediately degenerated into bitterness and accusations.

    > As participants in the original collapse of proper debate, none of us are qualified to comment on it as an objective phenomenon. Certainly none of us should be posting blogs about it.

    Here I must disagree. I see this comment as another attempt to draw a symmetry between the two “camps”. As I wrote, such symmetry does not exist (due to the differences on the second axis I mentioned above).

    In particular, There was no bitterness on my part. I have long been disabused of any illusions I ever had about the “Sutherland-Kovner camp”, so there are really no emotions involved in this exchange on my side. I made assertions that are plainly factual. I have substantiated them with evidence, and I am willing to provide more evidence if someone (outside the “Sutherland-Kovner camp”) is doubtful about the accuracy of my statements and is interested enough to try to dig deeper.

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