Make America A Democracy
August 11, 2019 4:59 PM   Subscribe

"In that vein, citizen oversight juries could also be powerful tools for improving election regulations at the state level, reining in the excesses of gerrymandering and helping to prevent situations like the debacle in Georgia last November, when a gubernatorial candidate was tasked with overseeing his own election. Especially now that federal courts are forbidden from doing so, citizen oversight juries should wield veto power over districting decisions. More generally, they should review election policy and scrutinize interactions between lobbyists and legislators—precisely the sort of tasks that officials elected under the current system are unlikely to perform." Give Political Power to Ordinary People (Dissent)
posted by The Whelk (68 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Love the idea. Now all we (apologies for the USA-centric we) have to do is to get the entrenched interests to give it a shot. So do we start with changing municipal codes? Is this an issue that could be boiled down for a State-wide referendum, for those states that allow such things? How should we go about realizing this as a policy?
posted by Ignorantsavage at 6:06 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


Onion article : "Screw it, we're doing sortition!" where it will be real in 5 years time like the "five blades" one.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:20 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


I have nothing especially enlightening to say or think after reading this except "hey, I like this idea" but anyway, hey, I like this idea. it seems like, among many other things, a really nice way to directly counter the philosophy many neoliberal/centrist people I know in particular have about politics, which is that it helps no one and means nothing except in the abstract or if it directly harms you as some marginalized class or another.

my dad's a lawyer and has said that for as cynical as he can be about a lot of things, the noble aims of the jury system and the "an impartial selection of your peers" premise is to him still really meaningful and powerful, the sort of thing that allows people to take part in the systems that dictate their lives in a way they rarely otherwise can.
posted by Kybard at 6:34 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


Meh. Citizens' councils can be effective on some stuff — they're pretty great for redistricting. But one big impediment to actually using them is that the laws that already govern things like mergers are incredibly complex, and essentially running jury trials for each would mean committing huge sums of money and hours to examining them. Like, even the way that the current jury system works for criminal cases is pretty badly broken, and given that we'd need to gut a huge amount of current American law and precedent to make these feasible, why not try any number of other approaches?

Further, it's frustrating to see a fundamental mistake on how regulatory capture and lobbying work crop up here again. Similar to the good-in-theory idea of term limits, which this piece implicitly aligns with by decrying the corrupting influence of tenure in positions, the most frequent way for lobbyists to win is for them to be better educated on an issue and care more about it. I'm not sure I'd want things like, say, immigration laws or climate change decided by what's popular, and if we're going back to "well, you'd have the general court infrastructure of judges etc. to keep the juries informed," then there's no reason to think that the laws governing what's admissible to these citizen juries wouldn't also be subject to the same corruption.

As for the hand-waving about precedent, there's a big reason why this used to be practiced but isn't really anymore: it doesn't scale well. It works OK when there are relatively few decisions to be made and the people making them are seen as legitimizing them in the community. As the number of decisions that have to be made go up, you both lose the local connection that's part of the trust justification, and you need a ton of time commitments from the public. Corporate mergers take years to get approved. You want someone sequestered for five years to decide whether Sprint and T-Mobile should be able to merge?

I agree that America needs to think of ways to improve public confidence in government decisions. But the easiest virtue large-scale sortition has is that as it's incredibly unlikely to be implemented, it's easy for proponents to make vague arguments about why it's superior and cast current government functionaries as corrupt.
posted by klangklangston at 6:34 PM on August 11 [19 favorites]


TRIAL BY STONE! TRIAL BY STONE!
posted by Pastor of Muppets at 6:37 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


You want someone sequestered for five years to decide whether Sprint and T-Mobile should be able to merge?

Yeah, this proposal is pretty much a quick way to seeing jurors either paid huge sums, or else every case ends in nullification. You try to make me serve for a year plus, you're gonna be paying me my full wage plus an additional sum for the lost opportunity (being a year behind means reduced earning potential over the next year or two so pay me for that as well). Try to make me serve on an extended jury for $1/day, well, guess what every law is going to be ignored in the interest of getting back to work.
posted by aramaic at 7:32 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


the thomas pynchon theses on how to do a democracy,1 or, the structure of my preferred counterfactual, or, better living through etat roulette:
  1. if our country has borders, everyone within the borders is automatically considered a citizen whenever they are within those borders.
  2. officeholders for all necessary offices are assigned by lot from the pool of citizens, through public practices involving random selection processes that are extremely large, extremely visible, and easily inspected. the processes must be large enough, visible enough, and transparent enough that any attempt at skullduggery would be immediately recognized and thwarted.
  3. this last point is important: in our current bourgeois-electoral system, votes are understood as being extremely small marks made in private on extremely small writing substrates — holes punched in punchcards, arrows connected on pieces of paper, evanescent patterns of 0s and 1s stored in flash memory. in the democratic-sortition system, random selections are made using gigantic aleatoric devices — picture a colossal clear tumbler full of gargantuan dice, with any citizen being free to inspect the tumbler and the dice at any time they desire.
  4. to put it another way: votes as we currently understand them are private and "closed source," and therefore easy to tamper with. our random selection processes must be public and "open source," and therefore harder to subvert.
  5. there are a vast number public offices, of various scales and various levels of responsibility. most citizens can expect to many, many public offices over the course of their lives. jurors are officeholders. judges are officeholders. peace officers are officeholders. municipal planners are officeholders. city, county, state and so forth budgets are set by officeholders. decisions on the allocation of public research funds are set by officeholders. decisions on military funding are made by officeholders. decisions on when and whether to wage warfare of whatever sort are made by officeholders. decisions on outlays of funds for artistic and cultural production are made by officeholders. decisions on school curricula are made by officeholders. again, it is crucial that absolutely all officeholders are selected through sortition.
  6. people tend to think of their "jobs" as things to do to pass time between being assigned to public office rather than a defining feature of their lives. citizens think of private enterprise like how we think of jury duty; an unwelcome interruption in their lives rather than the essence of their lives.
  7. officeholders are generously compensated, with compensation based on the scale of the job carried out. how much are you thinking? more than that. think of how much wealth the billionaires cream off of us every day. okay, that much is distributed to the officeholders selected through sortition.
  8. if your name comes up for oversight over a ten-year merger between a pharmaceutical company and another pharmaceutical company, you are set for life. hell, your kids are set for life too...
  9. ... or at least, they would be if it weren't for that pesky 100% inheritance tax.
  10. okay, here's the innovation that sets our scheme apart from most modern sortition schemes: just as we revive the classical athenian practice of selecting officeholders by lot, we also revive the classical athenian practice of ostracism. in athens, once a year a ritual was held wherein all citizens could inscribe the name of another citizen on an ostrakon, or shard of pottery. the ostraka were collected and whoever's name appeared the most was banished from athens for a period of not less than ten years. in our version, we pick the top n votegetters, for a value of n appropriate for the size of the polity, and in whatever way exclude them from political life for a period of not less than ten years. in modern terms, banishment would consist of exclusion from officeholding (of course), and from publishing texts of whatever sort, and in general exclusion from all active participation in media (including social media).
  11. ostracized citizens who attempt to gain political or cultural influence despite their status would face old-fashioned banishment.
  12. what does this accomplish? as klangklangston observes upthread, citizen government by officeholders (either in inherently democratic sortition systems or in inherently oligarchic electoral systems) is continually under threat of becoming de facto subordinate to a group of professional bureaucrats — in klangklangston's example, lobbyists — who understand how the system works better than the officeholders do. the practice of ostracism allows the democracy to expel members of the anti-democratic bureaucratic layer should they become too influential.
  13. if the soviets had ostracism, stalin would have been ostracized by 1927 at the latest. if weimar germany had ostracism, hitler and his whole gang would have been ostracized in the early 1930s. ernst thälmann, otto wels, and paul von hindenburg would have been ostracized as well, but none of those guys would be any great loss.
  14. if we had ostracism today, donald trump would be ostracized. elon musk would be ostracized. aoc would be ostracized, but if we had a democracy aoc types would be much less rare. jay-z and beyoncé might be ostracized too, but maybe losing these talented artists for a decade would free up more space for a democratic art scene to grow, and maybe the example set by ostracized artists would encourage other artists to devote their lives to cultivating mentees rather than achieving fame.
  15. the combination of sortition and ostracism works to enforce a more virtuous version of jante law, which despite its bad reputation is itself already pretty virtuous.
  16. sortition serves as a way to push everyone up; anyone at any time can become a major decision-maker, and therefore everyone at all times is understood as worthy of the respect that should be accorded to all people.
  17. ostracism is a way to keep any one person or group of people from being pushed up too far; if you try to make a tall poppy of yourself or your caucus or your faction or your party, if you try to claim more respect or responsibility than any one person should hold, the practice of ostracism will cut you right back down.
  18. because of ostracism, if one wanted to claim outsized power over the direction of society would have to make damned sure that they did it without anyone finding out. the requirement of anonymity removes most of the potential for abuse of power.
  19. this system cultivates lamedvavniks and outlaws celebrities.
  20. when we rise we all rise together.
1: note of course that doing a democracy is impossible. there is nothing pure and good in this fallen world we live in, except maybe speed racer (2008, directed by lana and lilly wachowski).
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 7:32 PM on August 11 [24 favorites]


unrelatedly, does anyone want to play a game of nomic? we could set it up as a mefi project or something right? the last time i managed to get a group together was back in the 90s and as you can clearly see i'm jonesing hard for it.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 7:33 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


It's really important whether or not Sprint and T-Mobile should be able to merge. Why is it ridiculous to pay a citizen council millions of dollars to become independent experts on this, if it helps make a good decision? You can bet those companies are spending much more money on their own corporate lawyers to hammer out the merger in a way they prefer.
posted by value of information at 7:33 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


RNTP, it seems to me that there is clearly a human psychological demand for celebrities. On the Internet celebrities are made constantly out of people who didn't ask to be celebrities, or want to be celebrities. What will stop those people from being randomly ostracized under your regime?

If, by magic, God snapped his fingers and implemented your plan start to finish, and people then found your post, you would be ostracized. Isn't that ridiculous?
posted by value of information at 7:40 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Why is it ridiculous to pay a citizen council millions of dollars to become independent experts on this, if it helps make a good decision?
posted by value of information


Eponysterical
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 7:41 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Important parts: make sure the selection is unbiased - this may mean not making it “random”, as a truly random selection could select, say, nothing but Qanon devotees. Or nothing but queer enbies, it could swing both ways.

Also important: make sure being on one of these juries pays very well. Well enough that it’s worth taking time off from your three shitty jobs you’re working to survive, even if they all fire you for being away and you take a couple months to find more.

Also important: terrible things should happen to anyone who tries to bribe/influence a jury member to decide in their favor. Including paying a massive financial penalty that goes right to the jury.
posted by egypturnash at 7:44 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Why is it ridiculous to pay a citizen council millions of dollars to become independent experts on this

I’ve occasionally thought that jurors should be paid $1000/day, but that’s utterly impossible in the US. Do that even once and next election the entire system gets shut down in favor of something that’s just hilariously retrograde. Like, pick a random white male and make him decide in fifteen seconds -level of retrograde.
posted by aramaic at 7:50 PM on August 11


> RNTP, it seems to me that there is clearly a human psychological demand for celebrities. On the Internet celebrities are made constantly out of people who didn't ask to be celebrities, or want to be celebrities. What will stop those people from being randomly ostracized under your regime?

there is a commonly experienced human psychological demand for celebrity — both for being a celebrity, and for following celebrities. when celebrity enters into the political realm, it manifests as a cult of personality — the worst form of government possible.

just as it is relatively common for humans to venerate celebrity, it is also relatively common for humans to venerate murder and massacre. this doesn't make murder and massacre good. celebrity, murder, and massacre are all practices that are deeply destructive and that any reasonable preferred counterfactual societal structure must suppress.

there will be some unfortunate people who get society's gaze turned on them and who won't have the social aptitude to fade into the background before they became threatened with ostracism. the number of ostracized people per year must be set to a value low enough to keep too many of them from being caught up in the net.

fortunately, ostracism as configured in my preferred counterfactual is not that vicious a punishment when it's imposed on people who don't crave celebrity or power.

> If, by magic, God snapped his fingers and implemented your plan start to finish, and people then found your post, you would be ostracized. Isn't that ridiculous?

no, it's not ridiculous. it would be the correct decision. no one should have that much power. not me, not you, not thanos, not tony stark, not bey, not god. see footnote 1 of the original post, both because it explains that i understand that democracy is impossible and because everyone should watch speed racer. it's a great movie.

taking your point and running with it: i assert that metafilter would be a better place if each year the top twenty favorites-getters of that year were banned for the subsequent two years.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 7:55 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


Why is it ridiculous to pay a citizen council millions of dollars to become independent experts on this

Well, then you would have the difficult decision of establishing who teaches the council and what will be taught, because whoever is teaching would have a lot influence on the case. It would be ideal to find an independent group of teachers to teach them, right?

And if you happen to have this group of teachers, then the question becomes, why not just use them on the council instead?
posted by FJT at 8:25 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


> And if you happen to have this group of teachers, then the question becomes, why not just use them on the council instead

you are thinking in fundamentally technocratic terms. note that the "techno" in technocratic is derived from the greek τέχνη (techne), meaning craft or art. technocracy isn't about gadgetry or rule by computers; technocracy is about rule by the ones with the most skill. your argument is technocratic because you are proposing that the teachers should make the decisions rather than the council specifically because the teachers would be the ones most skilled at decisionmaking.

skilled decisionmaking isn't the point of sortition schemes. i'm going to repeat this: skilled decisionmaking is not the point of sortition schemes. democratic decisionmaking is the point. although it seems initially ridiculous to the modern eye to prefer democracy over technical aptitude, it's a reasonable preference to hold. if you put decisionmaking power in the hands of the folks with the most techne, the most skill, the technocrats will inevitably develop into a bureaucratic layer that acts in its own interests rather than the interests of the demos — regardless of their ability to identify correct decisions. in fact, the better they are at finding decisions, the more effective they will be at redirecting resources away from the demos and to themselves.

technocracy and democracy are mutually incompatible, and democracy (i'd argue) is in the long run preferable to the oligarchies that result from the establishment of technocracy.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:31 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


I would think it would be different teams of educators presenting their cases to the jury. I would absolutely like to see something like this tried. Juries try complex cases, and seem to often arrive at better decisions that judges alone do. It's not like what we're doing now is working so well...
posted by xammerboy at 8:36 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


okay i'll stop playing socrates now. nevertheless: everyone, please take ideas like sortition seriously. even if you ultimately reject them, or even if there's no way from here to there in our modern world, it's not possible to understand what democracy means or might mean if you allow yourself the lazy luxury of considering electoral methods as being compatible with democracy. an actual democracy would be something quite different than anything that exists in the world today. it might not be better than what exists in the world today, but nevertheless i would give my left leg to be able to live in a democracy — if even just for a little while.

like, the athenians were misogynist slaver assholes and their vaunted citizen's democracy was effectively just a club for rich boys, but they put a lot of thought into the democratic-for-the-citizens processes they designed — more thought than most of us have ever put into our quasi-democratic or peri-democratic electoral-political systems.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:41 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


16. sortition serves as a way to push everyone up; anyone at any time can become a major decision-maker, and therefore everyone at all times is understood as worthy of the respect that should be accorded to all people.

I like that
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:56 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


skilled decisionmaking isn't the point of sortition schemes.

Okay, so this council should not become "independent experts", because that means they might be influenced by the technocrats. They should ideally make a decision only with the knowledge and time that they need and no more.
posted by FJT at 9:03 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I'd argue in the case of something essentially meaningless to the betterment of society, like two companies merging, if you cannot present your arguments for to a random group in such a way that it's immediately clear that a merger is a net good, you probably don't have a good case for it.

I'm onboard for RNTP's world. I would add to the requirements that private enterprises can only be of a certain size--a relatively small size, and that the can only be funded by the general public. Stock trading, as it is today, is now illegal. Being a rentier is illegal.
posted by maxwelton at 9:27 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


but they put a lot of thought into the democratic-for-the-citizens processes they designed

Waitaminute. You just spent a paragraph saying we shouldn't listen to experts just because they are "skilled at decisionmaking". So, we really shouldn't listen to those Athenians and just come up with our dumb system!
posted by FJT at 9:51 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


knowledge is good. skill is good. rule by the knowledgeable is dangerous. rule by the skilled is dangerous. see point 16 from the screed above for an explanation of why this might be.

if anyone needs me i'll just be over here scratching something or other onto a ceramic shard.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:15 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


just come up with our dumb system

The Venetians have quite a lot to say about this, as it turns out.
posted by aramaic at 10:23 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


"jay-z and beyoncé might be ostracized too, but maybe losing these talented artists for a decade would free up more space for a democratic art scene to grow, and maybe the example set by ostracized artists would encourage other artists to devote their lives to cultivating mentees rather than achieving fame."

Why does ostracism keep artists from arting? Seems like ostracism just keeps them from holding random public offices, presumably freeing up more time to drop sick beats...

Which raises the possibility of campaigning for one's own ostracism to allow focus on a specialized technos without the interruption of public office... Do we give up on having academics, or just put them in extra judicial spaces? In other words, can I live in the copy of Anathem sitting on the shelf next to your Lottery of Babylon?
posted by kaibutsu at 10:34 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


one of the quirks of ostracism is that every so often someone would get kicked out of athens just because everyone knew their name and was sick of hearing about them. citing wikipedia here, because that's what everyone does right?
In one anecdote about Aristides, known as "the Just", who was ostracised in 482, an illiterate citizen, not recognising him, came up to ask him to write the name Aristides on his ostrakon. When Aristides asked why, the man replied it was because he was sick of hearing him being called "the Just". Perhaps merely the sense that someone had become too arrogant or prominent was enough to get someone's name onto an ostrakon.
likely the "intended purpose" or whatever of ostracism was to allow the citizens to expel nascent tyrants and corrupt/inept officeholders. but because of the institution of ostracism, becoming famous was itself risky. i have chosen to treat this aspect of the system as actually being a pretty good thing.

provided one avoids getting too well-known for it, one can art all they want without getting into trouble.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:49 PM on August 11


oh right yes and someone with no particular interest in being known for what they make might end up preferring ostracism.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:22 PM on August 11


A I understand it the academics would still be part of the society and might even from time to time be put in office. There would just be no way for them to develop a technocracy. That is they would have to deal with everyone around them who was not of their field of learning and would have no way of insuring that their replacement was of their field of learning. Academics still participate, and are a vital portion of the people. They just do not get to take charge or ignore the interests of others in pursuit of their tunnel vision (e.g. business majors) of how the world should be run.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 11:29 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Finally, a situation where my hard to spell name is a positive.
posted by FJT at 11:38 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


though also the option of just saying "you know what, i'm going to vanish into my art/research/reclusive novel-writing/religious practice/whatever now, i henceforth don't expect to know enough about public affairs to responsibly hold office anymore, please ostracize me" seems like it could be a reasonable thing to have.

like, it might be long-term dangerous to have a category of people willingly or "willingly" exempt from public service and the dignity that comes with it, but it seems like the sort of question that should be put to the demos rather than derived from first principles or whatever.

but i think maybe this gets to something that people used to uncritically accepting that liberal bourgeois electoral democracy1 is actually democratic might find tremendously unsettling about the idea of democracy, like, democracy democracy. real democracy2 is a powerfully unstable practice, and so the implementation of it will change radically over time as the demos itself changes. sometimes people will think it's okay for people to step out of the process and become politically disengaged, sometimes people will think that allowing for that results in an underclass just waiting to happen. sometimes people will want to manufacture an underclass, and sometimes they'll get away with it.

i guess what i'm getting at here is that there's no way to pull any sort of francis fukuyama-style "end of history" narrative out of a genuine democracy by sortition. i think this makes the sortition idea actually more productively unsettling than even, like, marx's interpretation of the historical dialectic: whereas marx despite himself occasionally lapses into utopian musings about an endless future-present wherein one fishes in the morning, herds cattle at midday, philosophizes at night, etc. etc. whithersoever one may please, a sortition democracy is something that you have to go into with the foreknowledge that it is definitely going to fall apart at some point, and with the aim to contribute to the society such that the inevitable disintegration is either delayed as long as possible, or else results in a new social structure that is in some way better than the sortition democracy.

this sounds like a flaw, but maybe adopting a political system that you know will expire is healthier than pretending that it's possible to build societal structures that are actually durable across centuries. note how quickly fukuyama's arrogant claims about the strength of liberal capitalist electoral democracy were proved false: he thought it was going to rule the world forever, and two decades later it's already falling apart around us.

i guess i've argued myself into a position such that were voluntary ostracism put before a legislative assembly, i'd speak against it. as much as i'd like to hide under the bed all day and concern myself with reclusive noveling rather than public service, we all have a mutual responsibility to make our contributions to the demos in such a way that future generations will go on contributing to the demos.

if you want to get out of public service and just work on your art, i think you'll have to get obnoxiously famous enough for conventional ostracism. sorry.3

1: boy howdy you say those words together enough and they just lose all meaning, right?
2: and, keep in mind, a thoroughgoing democracy by sortition is something that goes well beyond the original article's thesis.
3: this thread turned into a game of nomic so gradually that i barely noticed...

posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:06 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Why is it ridiculous to pay a citizen council millions of dollars to become independent experts on this, if it helps make a good decision?

It's not (although there's potentially room for argument about whether they'd be paid "millions"), but there are definitely some problems with "let a group of randomly-selected citizens decide what medical procedures are real doctoring and which are quackery." There are problems with "randomly-selected citizens will decide school curricula."

Random citizens might be good at sorting out minimum wage, which offenses should be crimes vs civil violations, length of copyright law (yes PLEASE let's get some non-corporate influence on this), and public transit funding. I don't know that it'd be effective to have random citizens, especially chosen from "anyone inside the border" so that may include "not fluent in any language the rest of the committee speaks," deciding on climate policies.

...OTOH, I'm not sure that's any worse than what we have now, so. Yeah, I'm willing to consider sortition. I think it's got some serious problems, but I have doubts that Random Citizen Committee #232452 is going to start throwing toddlers in cages and bombing Syria.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:09 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


"sortition serves as a way to push everyone up; anyone at any time can become a major decision-maker, and therefore everyone at all times is understood as worthy of the respect that should be accorded to all people."

This. Whenever I tell someone I support sortition, they invariably bring up a hypothetical guy at 7-11 with meth teeth and multiple misspelt neck tattoos pouring Dorito dust into his Big Gulp of Mountain Dew, and ask "do you really want that guy to be president?!" I respond by asking if they've ever considered that the reason he's like that is because our current system affords him no opportunity to be anything more. Maybe he might rise to the occasion. Of course, maybe he won't, but, as the past couple of years have shown, that's a risk in the current system as well. And if the choice is between being governed by mere incompetence and actual active evil, the choice is clear.

"skilled decisionmaking isn't the point of sortition schemes."

For anyone having trouble understanding this, consider child-raising. You could raise children more efficiently by turning them over to trained educators at boarding schools immediately after birth, permitting them to visit their birth families only for short breaks a couple of times a year. But there's something human missing there, isn't there? We've (rightly) decided that sacrificing some efficiency in child-rearing is important because of the emotional benefits. Sortition/anti-technocracy is the same idea applied to politics. Also, it's getting increasingly difficult to argue that technocratic efficiency is actual good for society.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:18 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


From the piece: Rather, their role would be to force policymakers to demonstrate to a plausibly neutral audience how their decisions benefit ordinary people.

The problem isn't 7-11 guy with the neck tattoos, although I can see that becoming a classist strawman. The problem is that we are practically programmed to believe people who speak confidently about inside knowledge. Could a CEO explain to a layperson why a merger was necessary? Of course they could; they'd be bold, concise, convincing, and entirely wrong and evil. And the merger would go through, and the world would be worse off.

The whole history of our climate crisis has been that at every decision point, someone big white and trustworthy has nodded knowingly, patted the citizenry on the head and said, "don't you worry about it." And we've eaten that up. We, the same people who would be on those juries, have eaten it up.

We don't need a "plausibly neutral audience," we need an actively adversarial audience. The only way citizen participation works is if the citizens are given teeth, and something to bite down on. It's nice that they give the example of a group of citizens making a surprisingly liberal vote about abortion, but that's only one issue out of millions.

So: Sortition, yes, but the oath of office should make clear that every other power in the nation is your enemy.
posted by mittens at 6:20 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


we all have a mutual responsibility to make our contributions to the demos in such a way that future generations will go on contributing to the demos.

And when the demos decides to kill all the cocksuckers, as they periodically have, what is my responsibility to contribute? My blood? My arguments for just treatment? Both? Must I bare my throat for them? Expose my genitals for castration? Suggest which remote fence I should be tied to? What is my responsible contribution to my own murder?

You have nothing to offer those who are reliably hated by their own parents and siblings, and as such cannot even retain the fantasy of seceding to a separate demos.
posted by PMdixon at 6:40 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


y'all have this fantasy that the madness of the crowd is like a cosmic ray, or some kind of undetectable congenital illness, that will wreak its harm on the heads of all equally, independent of any quality we can now name, and that's just fucking stupid
posted by PMdixon at 6:44 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


A friend of mine back in high school used to like to propose a bicameral system wherein one house was made up of thousands of randomly selected citizens, and the other was made up of 100 seats that were literally and blatantly up for bid. The "House of Capitalism" as he called it would be not that much different from our current system, and might serve as a nice stabilizing element to the RNTP system above, in as much as the members of that House probably don't want to rock the boat as much as the wildly unpredictable demos would.

I sometimes feel like democracy is approaching some sort of Law of Large Numbers-like point where every election of consequence comes out 48% A / 47% B / 5% C and I'm not sure that is the best way to govern millions and millions of people.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:22 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I do not want this at all.
posted by pelvicsorcery at 8:23 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


(However it is interesting!)
posted by pelvicsorcery at 8:24 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


And when the demos decides to kill all the cocksuckers, as they periodically have, what is my responsibility to contribute? My blood? My arguments for just treatment? Both? Must I bare my throat for them? Expose my genitals for castration? Suggest which remote fence I should be tied to? What is my responsible contribution to my own murder?

the options available are to flee, throw a revolution, or drink the hemlock.

if you drink the hemlock, do remember to pay back your debt to asclepius.

the thing is, these are the options available when tptb decide they want you dead, regardless of how tptb are selected. the question to ask is whether selecting tptb by sortition makes it more or less likely for the tptb to decide to do a genocide.

i would guess it would make it slightly less likely, because there is less incentive to do a genocide. in electoral systems, whipping up genocidal impulses is an excellent way to win elections — here i gesture broadly toward the shit that we are in, and observe that every day we’re not outside the concentration camps protesting and/or monkeywrenching and/or waging war is a day that we are all individually and collectively failing to uphold our responsibility to the demos.

for those who would do a genocide for the sheer glee of it, we have ostracism, and we have whatever other punishments (banishment? confinement? madame guillotine?) that the randomly selected legislators and jurors might deem appropriate.

the “house of capitalism” idea is not good, because it gives some people more than one person’s worth of power. if some people have more than one person’s worth of power, all other people are thereby lessened in dignity.

here is the alternate way to provide a little stability. because it is good to provide as many offices as possible, we can make the legislative assemblies very large — a group of 25,000 randomly selected people are statistically less likely to be significantly more bloodthirsty or stupid than the demos itself than a group of 250 randomly selected people, and a group of 100,000 people are less likely still.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:00 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


(being a year behind means reduced earning potential over the next year or two so pay me for that as well).

That's not what you are losing. You are losing a year off the end of your career. Not the middle or the beginning. You still get to, and have to, do those parts.
posted by srboisvert at 9:08 AM on August 12


for those who would do a genocide for the sheer glee of it, we have ostracism,

Yes, and they would use this tool gladly to isolate their victims.
posted by stevis23 at 9:42 AM on August 12


> The problem isn't 7-11 guy with the neck tattoos, although I can see that becoming a classist strawman. The problem is that we are practically programmed to believe people who speak confidently about inside knowledge. Could a CEO explain to a layperson why a merger was necessary? Of course they could; they'd be bold, concise, convincing, and entirely wrong and evil. And the merger would go through, and the world would be worse off.

sortition needs ostracism. tall poppies must be cut down.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:44 AM on August 12


set the number of people ostracized per year below the threshold required to disenfranchise an entire class. note that the leaders of the genocidal tendency are themselves famous enough to risk ostracism.

according to extant scholarship (oh, who am i fooling? according to wikipedia), ostracism tended to reduce social tension, rather than increase it. it was seen as a way to prevent blood feuds and associated impulses to murder.

i am going to insist that objections to sortition as a methodology must be measured against actually existing social structures rather than against utopia. i see no evidence that the elites selected through election, through open oligarchy, through technocracy, through party bureaucracy, or through hereditary autocracy tend to be less bloodthirsty than democracy, and i see significant evidence that those elites tend to be significantly more bloodthirsty. elite status produces madness and bloodlust against the people who they consider lesser than themselves.

i admit that i am arguing against nearly all of the western tradition in making this argument. athenian democracy (which itself was a rich boy’s club rather than a democracy) was after a couple of centuries crushed by imperial autocracy, and the autocrat’s servant aristotle wrote love of elites and hatred for the demos so deeply into our cultural dna that we will likely never fully uproot those two diseases.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:15 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Seeing how well citizen juries do on copyright cases makes me, uh, not very excited to apply the same model to even more complex scenarios.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:53 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


RNTP, you left out the best part of the Aristides anecdote, which is that he faithfully wrote his own name on the ostrakon!
posted by nickmark at 10:57 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure that "Don't worry, it won't be noticeably worse than the status quo at handing over the tools of democide, but if that's too much you can always commit suicide en masse" is as reassuring/compelling of an argument in favor as you're hoping for. Admittedly, you wouldn't be the first to suggest such a response to organized destruction (See: Gandhi on the topic of the Holocaust), but given the reaction that tends to provoke when raised, I don't know that it's a good one.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:04 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


So: Sortition, yes, but the oath of office should make clear that every other power in the nation is your enemy.

I feel like this deserves to be a named branch of anarchism. Aggro-anarcho-sortism, perhaps.

This also reminds me of one of my favorite-ever D&D characters, a bard-barbarian on a quest to destroy all hierarchies, with a plan to work his way up gradually from overthrowing governments to killing gods.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:10 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


And when the demos decides to kill all the cocksuckers, as they periodically have, what is my responsibility to contribute? My blood? My arguments for just treatment? Both? Must I bare my throat for them? Expose my genitals for castration? Suggest which remote fence I should be tied to? What is my responsible contribution to my own murder?

Yeah, these type of discussions on MeFi seem to always leave out the ".. and then the streets ran with 3 feet deep rivers of blood". I mean, if you aren't already making up lists for your roving death squads, why even bother typing all those words out?
posted by sideshow at 12:09 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Is this possible merger so complex that it will take a year to analyze it? MERGER DENIED BITCHES. Problem solved.
posted by freecellwizard at 4:13 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


This also reminds me of one of my favorite-ever D&D characters, a bard-barbarian on a quest to destroy all hierarchies, with a plan to work his way up gradually from overthrowing governments to killing gods.

Doesn't this just put him at the top of the new hierarchy
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:16 PM on August 12


in electoral systems, whipping up genocidal impulses is an excellent way to win elections

You don't say.
posted by PMdixon at 4:33 PM on August 12


the thing is, these are the options available when tptb decide they want you dead, regardless of how tptb are selected. the question to ask is whether selecting tptb by sortition makes it more or less likely for the tptb to decide to do a genocide.

You are repeatedly refusing to address the obvious flaw in this plan which is the same as the obvious flaw in American libertarianism which is the same flaw in all the flavors of anarchism: people will commit negative sum acts if they think it will benefit their children. What this means is that if there is a marked class that reproduces by other means than hereditary, they are going to be fucked. Over. Your cute little "flee or throw a revolution" options aren't options because if I do not have people I can trust my back, I cannot successfully do either. So no, I'm really not interested in living in your thought experiment in which the queers get to anxiously wait for the moment it's appropriate to go for the hemlock.

The status quo is monstrous and you're proposing to make it more so. If that's your bag, whatever, I guess, but don't expect respect for that.
posted by PMdixon at 4:47 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


if you have a better way to get to a rigorously enforced version of jante law, i’m all ears.

i cop to being fascinated with monstrosity — kaibutsu, upthread, outed this whole scheme as influenced by borges’s the lottery in babylon, and i admit that to my eye the society described in that story seems like a vision of heaven to me. i’m probably alone on that one, though.

another influence is bruno latour. he’s got a short piece in one of his collections wherein he discuses plato’s gorgias. in it latour argues that socrates and the aristocratic callicles (who would many centuries later become the model for nietzsche’s ubermann, the blond beast that bestrides the world) are essentially on the same side: both are interested in suppressing democracy and thereby reducing the world to ideal principles. for callicles the principle is individual power, individual ruthlessness, and individual excellence. for socrates the principle is abstract reason (manifest primarily as what socrates calls “geometry,” the facts derived from which no human can escape). both wield their principles as a cudgel against a demos they despise.

anyway. i continue to hold that the worst demons that human society has ever summoned have come from the following dark urges: the desire to have one’s name known, the desire for power over more than just one human body, and the desire to build a social system that will endure forever. aleatoric political systems undercut all of these things, by refusing to grant any schemer any illusion of certainty or stability here in our uncertain and unstable world.

the die will be cast, whether or not we want it to. let’s go watch speed racer. it’s a great movie.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:41 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


aleatoric political systems undercut all of these things, by refusing to grant any schemer any illusion of certainty or stability here in our uncertain and unstable world.

And this is why no one has ever heard of Herostrates.
posted by PMdixon at 4:54 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Honestly I'm really just grossed out at how excited you are to be able to give a classical justification for the premise of The Purge, but not so grossed out I can't appreciate the irony of someone telling me that after I am predictably placed in predictable danger of judicial murder in their preferred arrangement, well, I always have hemlock - but then complaining of others "wielding principles like a cudgel." That's some funny shit.
posted by PMdixon at 5:18 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


that’s the condition we’re in under every political arrangement. the strategies for avoiding it are similar in sortition democracy and electoral democracy, except in electoral democracy there’s incentive to use queer people (and black people, and indigenous people, and women, and *gestures at america* brown people) as scapegoats in order to win elections.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:09 AM on August 13


and moreover in contemporary electoral democracy there’s structural reasons that anyone outside the charmed circle of rich white cis male christian heterosexuality will go consistently underrepresented. in sortition democracy each identity category will statistically tend to be represented in proportion to their numbers in the demos.

sortition democracy is the most straightforward way to make zoe leonard’s poem real.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:12 AM on August 13


In a population 10% gay and 11% homophobe, who wins?
posted by mittens at 9:16 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Anybody got any ideas on something I've taken to calling 'bounded sortition'? IE, You have sortition, but within a more limited group bounded by a skillset, according to the needs of the particular office/duty/civic responsibility? I realize that this is one of those areas that could chicken-and-egg style really start reinforcing it's own power, but I'm just spitballing the idea, here. Assume theoretical term-limits or such. I'm trying to get the benefits of skilled decisionmaking (good decisions) and sortition (more real democracy) in one package.
posted by pseudophile at 9:19 AM on August 13


> In a population 10% gay and 11% homophobe, who wins?

whoever has the best story.

so, not bran stark.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:21 AM on August 13


you know, i can think of a way we can resolve this dispute. but we’re gonna need a good random number generator.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:28 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


A I understand it the academics would still be part of the society and might even from time to time be put in office. There would just be no way for them to develop a technocracy. That is they would have to deal with everyone around them who was not of their field of learning and would have no way of insuring that their replacement was of their field of learning. Academics still participate, and are a vital portion of the people. They just do not get to take charge

We academics are shocked to learn that we are in charge. That being the case, here is my list of changes y'all need to start working on...
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:51 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


"Anybody got any ideas on something I've taken to calling 'bounded sortition'? IE, You have sortition, but within a more limited group bounded by a skillset, according to the needs of the particular office/duty/civic responsibility?"

I like the idea of a cursus honorum. The pool of people eligible to be mayor are people who have already been selected as city councillors, for example. Prerequisites.

I don't like the idea of professional sortition, like "only economists get to regulate the economy", because the whole point of sortition is giving ordinary people a voice. Limiting the decision-making group takes it back to technocracy.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:07 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


> I like the idea of a cursus honorum. The pool of people eligible to be mayor are people who have already been selected as city councillors, for example. Prerequisites.

ooh, shiny. i think i like this, so long as each selection from the eligible candidates is done by lot, so long as at least some seats are set aside for unlucky plebes who've missed steps, and so long as we can ostracize out corrupt officers and charismatic potential tyrants.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:32 AM on August 13


"Guys how do we make our democracy stronger"

"What we need is the drawing of lots and roman offices, boys"
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 10:38 AM on August 13 [5 favorites]


"What we need is ... roman offices, boys"

Not the offices themselves; the idea of prerequisite offices. The inability of someone to hold the most powerful office in the world because they used to host a popular reality TV show and have a bunch of Twitter followers.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:15 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


okay but can we have some of the roman offices anyway? i've always wanted to be aedile of the plebs.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:21 PM on August 13


I'd rather be a quaestor myself. But it's not about what we want, is it?!
posted by kevinbelt at 12:58 PM on August 13 [2 favorites]


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