Voting but not talking

I just wanted to recommend a working paper by Daniela Cammack entitled “Deliberation in Classical Athens: Not Talking, But Thinking (and Voting).” It’s available online here. It’s not directly about sortition, but it deals with a number of themes discussed on this blog. The paper argues that the Athenians maintained a careful distinction between the function of presenting arguments and the function of evaluating those arguments, and assigned the latter, but not the former, to the assembly. This distinction, Cammack argues, is conflated by those who use the term “deliberation” for both functions.

I found this passage particularly relevant to contemporary politics:

In Athens, then, as in modern democracies, an overwhelming majority of non-speaking voters attempted to control a minority of prominent political actors who took primary responsibility for advocating and carrying policies. The key difference between Athenian and modern democracy was not that all or even many Athenians took part in political discussion, but first, that large samples of ordinary citizens had the opportunity to vote on every political decision, and second, that the barriers to becoming politically influential were relatively low, while the risks associated with this position were high. This is the reverse of the situation today, where a high barrier to entry as a politician–largely financial–is combined with a low risk of losing one’s position once established. To be sure, one can fail to be reelected, but this pales in comparison to the mechanisms of accountability available in Athens, such as routine annual audits (euthynai) covering both moral and financial issues. In many modern systems, by contrast, a feedback loop is set up in which corruption becomes endemic, since the high costs of running for election are in large part met by supporters whose opportunity to shape policy then becomes significantly greater than that of ordinary voters, with very little way for those ordinary voters to hold the politician in question to account, either before or after the next election.

Worth a look.

Michael Schulson: How to choose?

A few weeks back, I was interviewed for an article in Aeon Magazine. That article, entitled “How to Choose? When Your Reasons Are Worse than Useless, Sometimes the Most Rational Choice Is a Random Stab in the Dark,” has now appeared online.

Some interesting sources cited in it (and not just my book…).

School Prayer by Random Selection

Here’s a case of random selection that I don’t believe has been discussed before. An American school held prayers at its graduation ceremonies. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State objected to this, claiming that the school was endorsing a religious perspective in doing so. It appears that the school had been permitting the student who opened the ceremony to decide whether or not to open with a prayer, but since this student was selected by majority vote (in a west Texas school district), this always led to a vote for some pro-prayer Christian. (Insert remarks about the tyranny of the majority here.) So now the school district will randomly select the student to open the graduation ceremony. The student can still make a personal decision to open with a prayer if s/he wishes. Presumably, the fact that the student choice is random means that the school district cannot be accused of endorsing the religious perspective of the prayer.

ECISD Removes Official Prayer From Graduation Ceremony After Lawsuit Threat

ODESSA – The Ector County Independent School District confirmed to CBS 7 that the Invocation and Benediction will now say “opening and closing” after concerns from American United for the Separation of Church & State.

The District says that the students who lead the opening and closing ceremony will now be randomly chosen and can choose to lead those ceremonies as they wish, including adding the traditional prayers if they so choose.

“The references to Invocation and Benediction give the impression the school or the school district are endorsing religion, which is not allowed. Those references will be changed and student speakers will be randomly drawn, according to policy FNA (Local) page 3 of 4, to give the Opening and Closing remarks at graduation,” Spokesperson Mike Adkins said in a release.

The senior class will no longer vote on whether or not to have prayer during the ceremony because that vote will not be permissible.

Lotteries in the Atlantic

While I was out of town this weekend (for a conference–some good lottery-related discussion there, BTW), no fewer than 2 friends brought to my attention this recent piece from the Atlantic. It proposes that highly competitive universities deem admissible twice as many students as they have positions to fill, then select randomly from this list. A very sensible idea–from my own experience at competitive universities, I have little doubt that there are at least as many qualified applicants rejected as accepted.

Anyway, here’s the link:

Presidential Selection by Lottery?

The latest on sortition from Italy. Not sure I see the advantage of having the head of state selected by sortition, and equally unsure why it should be so important to exclude anyone from the draw for such a (largely ceremonial and apolitical) post. More consideration of these topics seems appropriate.

Sortition Here?

Is anyone familiar with John Rachel’s An Unlikely Truth? I haven’t read it, but I’m told the author is some sort of sortition fan.

Sortition Coming to Washington State?

I was reading Dan Savage’s blog this morning, and stumbled upon the following posting:

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Posted by Dan Savage on Wed, Apr 9, 2014 at 4:57 PM

We couldn’t do worse than Rodney Tom, right?

That led me to find the ballot initiative itself. It appears to be real, and was only recently filed with the State of Washington. Continue reading

Winning Hearts and Minds for Sortition

Another blog posting from Italy has appeared regarding sortition. This time, the focus is on strategizing how best to spread the word. It advocates focusing upon the limitations of voting. See–

The Latest from Internauta Online

The latest from academics studying sortition in Italy. I must admit, I’m not exactly anxious to associate either plebiscites or Ross Perot with direct democracy.

“An Italian Road to Randomocracy”

The latest on sortition from Italy (this time in English)–

The proposal is rather complex, and perhaps worth discussing here.