The sortition challenge

It is always encouraging and useful to find people making arguments against sortition. It is encouraging because when people make an argument against sortition rather than dismiss it reflexively out of hand, it means that sortition is being taken seriously enough to merit refutation. It is useful because the arguments being presented reflect ways in which the prevalent ideology rationalizes the electoral mechanism. Understanding this ideology better enables sortition advocates to be more effective in dislodging this entrenched convention.

The following was posted on Reddit by a user going under the label ‘cpacker’.

The sortition challenge

Some energetic arguments hereabouts have been launched in favor of sortition, which is the selection of representatives by lottery. The justification for it is that — to oversimplify a bit — voters are stupid. But this is directly contrary to the idea of the social contract, which depends on the electorate believing that they have a proprietary stake in the system. The less stupid the electorate, therefore, the less likely they are to want to leave their choice of representatives to chance. Therefore the ultimate success of a system based on sortition depends on keeping voters permanently stupid.

It should be remembered that the internal dynamics of legislative assemblies themselves are not purely democratic. The U.S. congress, for example, is actually run more like a conglomeration of fraternal societies, with committee chairmanships allocated by seniority, etc. Negotiating this kind of system requires specialized expertise of a political kind. Voters should be able to size up the likelihood of their representatives being able to wield this kind of expertise.

2 Responses

  1. Two fundamental misunderstandings here. The concern is not that people (voters) are too stupid to select their representatives. Voters get a narrow choice of potential representatives who share many of the same mix of desirable and very undesirable characteristics. With one vote out of thousands or millions, no reasonable person will devote the time needed to assess the choices based on research and facts, and will instead likely be manipulated by emotional tribal appeals. It is only rational to devote intense attention to public policy if one has been selected to be o0ne of a much smaller number or representatives. Stupidity is not a factor. Rational ignorance and inattention and manipulative limited available choices are why elections are the worst way to select representatives.

    The second point about voters sizing up the ability of potential representatives to handle the complexity of internal chamber negotiations is only relevant if the chamber functions in the elitist manner that elected chambers typically do. Good democratic process can eliminate that partisan game, and replace it with problem-solving and deliberation. But this can be done only if the incentives and imperatives of seeking to remain in power with preparing for the next election is removed from the mix.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Terry,

    > Voters get a narrow choice of potential representatives who share many of the same mix of desirable and very undesirable characteristics.

    Yes – this is the root of the problem with electoralism, and it is this point we must emphasize.

    > With one vote out of thousands or millions, no reasonable person will devote the time needed to assess the choices based on research and facts […]

    But here, immediately in the following sentence, you are already presenting a completely different argument, and one which does claim the voters are making poor choices. Yes, you are saying those poor choices are not due to stupidity but due to economizing their cognitive effort, but nevertheless this does imply that voters do not know what’s good for themselves.

    Like

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