Inshallah

Our ongoing debate on Egypt got me thinking about the connection (or lack of it) between sortition and religion. Fustel de Coulanges’ 1864 account, that lot was the revelation of divine will, was discredited by Headlam in 1891 and nobody has sought to revive it. Similarly, as Conall Boyle points out in his edition of Gataker, lotteries were only acceptable in the Judaeo-Christian tradition in so far as they didn’t involve claims about divine revelation.

On the other hand Oliver Dowlen argues that the disappearance of lot may well be connected with religious factors, as sortition appears to have been a victim of the Reformation:

There are many reasons why the process of selecting nominators by lot might have been lost in the transition from Venice to the New World. . . The drawing of the lottery was very much a public process, witnessed by the whole community or reggimento. To the puritan settlers this could have seemed a very foreign, bizarre public ritual which smacked of superstition – even Catholicism. The secret ballot, on the other hand, conformed to the Protestant ideal that the private individual should be alone in his judgement and answerable only to God. (Dowlen, Political Potential of Sortition, p.163)

The question that I’m leading up to – and it’s no more than that – is would sortition-based politics be more acceptable to Muslim sensibilities than (Western) electoral politics, and might this possibly account for the failure of electoral democracy in the Arab world?

This is not to suggest that the Egyptian revolution was religious in origin, especially seeing as it was catalysed by a social network page set up by a Google executive. Nevertheless, if free elections were held in Egypt, it would appear that the Muslim Brotherhood would be the prime beneficiaries. Presumably this will be anathema to the ruling military elite, their US backers and also the young and primarily secular organisers of the revolution. So as well as (possibly) being acceptable to Muslim sensibilities, sortition might be the only way of retaining the inclusive diversity of the revolution. As Tom Atlee put it (please forgive me for duplicating an earlier comment):

If Egypt’s 21st century revolutionaries want their revolution to turn the world, they will make this supposed weakness — their inclusive diversity — into the greatest strength of their emergent democracy. They will cherish, develop and institutionalize their cross-section diversity AS a political platform AND AS the principle underlying their new forms of democratic leadership.

On the other hand:

We certainly don’t need to choose our public officials by lot

the point being that an allotted chamber can embody diversity, whereas a single public appointment (Minister of Whatever) cannot. Whilst it’s true that if you add up all allotted ministerial appointments they would be more diverse than at present; nevertheless the Minister of Whatever would still be a single person, the only difference being that she would not have had to demonstrate any prior competence for the post.

So why don’t we all combine behind Tom’s proposal for an additional allotted chamber (AC) as a way of overseeing government activity. Who knows the generals and their American paymasters might even like it, as diversity is the best way of ensuring that a single radical group cannot monopolise power. Such a group would need to have very real constitutional powers, including dismissing government ministers, investigating corruption, vetoing legislative proposals, approving budgets and approving (or otherwise) the decision to go to war.

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21 Responses

  1. Keith – this is a combination of baseless statements and non-sequiturs. Just to pick one at random:

    > seeing as it was catalysed by a social network page set up by a Google executive.

    What is your evidence for this except for the predictable and self-congratulating obsession of Westerners with Western influences on non-Westerners?

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  2. The key word in my baseless statement is “catalysed”. Not only did Wael Ghonim’s Facebook page provide the means for the coordination of the demonstration, but his appearance on TV after release from detention reinvigorated the protest.

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  3. CNN: Ghonim also spoke of the Muslim Brotherhood, which he said was “not involved at all” in the planning stages of the revolution. “The Muslim Brotherhood announced that they’re not going to participate officially.” When asked if “this is an internet revolution,” Ghonim answered, “Definitely… I’ll call it Revolution 2.0.”

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  4. “lotteries were only acceptable in the Judaeo-Christian tradition in so far as they didn’t involve claims about divine revelation.”

    What about http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+1%3A21-26&version=NIV? Seems like a claim of divine revelation to me. Of course, it could be that Peter had an intuitive understanding that Matthias and Joseph Barnabas were equally qualified, or at least that he was sufficiently in doubt that he didn’t want to judge.

    From what I’ve heard, Islam is more negative to deciding by lot. But as anyone can see, the fact that decision by lot is witnessed as the disciples’ very first means of making decisions in absence of Jesus nonetheless did not make Christians sortitionists (just as the apostles’ practice of having all property in common did not make Christians communitarians).

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  5. Sorry about the botched first link. Text should be Acts 1 : 21-26, link should be to NIV on BibleGateway:
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+1%3A21-26&version=NIV

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  6. Thanks Harald, I’ll try and bring Conall in to clarify this. Not sure how sympathetic Islam is to lot, but judging by the following, the notion of Inshallah is widespread in Egypt, even among those who would judge themselves secular:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/20/world/middleeast/20inshallah.html

    The point I’m trying to make is that sortition might go down better in a culture that places less emphasis on the sovereign individual and liberal mechanisms to aggregate individual preferences

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  7. Gataker (if I may summarise him) was making the case for non-divine lottery use, in the teeth of a blanket ban by religious authorities. Yes, he agreed, there are many cases of extraordinary divine uses of lotteries in both the OT and NT. But that does not makes the ordinary, non-religious use of lotteries sinful. So mild gambling and the agreed sharing goods by lottery is fine.

    It is wrong, says Gataker, to claim divine intervention in an ordinary lottery e.g. to decide guilt solely by coin-toss in a court of law, and claim it is God’s judgement.

    Oddly, although Gataker was happy for employment to be decided by lot — to pick the job-winner randomly from a short-list, he made an exception for priestly appointments. (This is not the case with Tibetan Bhuddists where abbots are picked by lot with the connivance of the Chinese authorities. See my website:
    http://www.conallboyle.com/ExsCurrent.html (under Jobs & Workers, 3rd down)

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  8. “We certainly don’t need to choose our public officials by lot”
    It depends on whether it is though to be a good idea to have single people heading ministries, rather than a committee. If the ministries were run by committees these could be drawn by lot.

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  9. Thanks for clarifying that Conall. It’s probably fair to say that (official) Islam has a similar attitude to lotteries as Judaism and OT Christianity, see:

    https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/it%E2%80%99s-ok-for-muslims-to-use-lotteries/

    What I’m curious to know is if, at the level of popular psychology, there is a congruence between Inshallah, Dia dhuit, que sera (Catholic equivalents), etc. and whether such a cultural mind-set might be more sympathetic to sortition than the liberal (Protestant) emphasis on individual self-determinism via rational choices. If you look at Irish voting behaviour, family and affective connections are as important as rational preferences, and I believe that is also true of Italy.

    If, say, a Middle-Eastern culture has no liberal democratic tradition, might sortition be a more natural form of democracy, especially given the failure of attempts to transplant the Westminster or Washington system in such cultures? I do think this might be an area of agreement between sortinistas and political theorists in general.

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  10. > The key word in my baseless statement is “catalysed”.

    Key word or no key word, your statement is baseless – you have provided no reason to believe that Mr. Ghonim’s Facebook page played any significant role in the Egyptian revolution. It seems that to you assertions by CNN’s “experts” are reason enough to believe just about anything.

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  11. Yoram, I really would be grateful if you didn’t clutter up the commentaries on my posts with this sort of personal attack. I’m not going to defend my point, other than by agreeing with you — I do indeed believe the mean average of what I read in the papers and watch on TV, whereas you clearly don’t. You’re entitled to your scepticism but you should be expressing it on a blog dedicated to media analysis, not on a blog for people who want to discuss sortition. I’m sure that the definitive history of the Egyptian revolution will be written in due course, but in the meantime we have to rely on CNN and other media reports. All I’m doing is reporting on the reports so, as they say in our country, don’t shoot the messenger.

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  12. > Yoram, I really would be grateful if you didn’t clutter up the commentaries on my posts with this sort of personal attack.

    You will have to excuse me if I write what I think are relevant responses to your posts. I guess I’ll just have to get along without your gratitude. Of course, I don’t think that pointing out that your post is based solely on the unsubstantiated say-so of TV “experts” is a personal attack.

    > I do indeed believe the mean average of what I read in the papers and watch on TV, whereas you clearly don’t.

    In light of the record of veracity of “the mean average” of what is reported in the papers and on TV about various matters, and in particular about the Middle East, your expression of trust is touching, even if ludicrous. (See, for example, http://www.fair.org/blog/?s=egypt)

    > You’re entitled to your scepticism but you should be expressing it on a blog dedicated to media analysis, not on a blog for people who want to discuss sortition.

    Your rejection not only of the content of my comments, but of the legitimacy of me even expressing my opinions fits perfectly with your authoritarian world view and political proposals. Again, you will have to excuse me if I express my skepticism in any context that I see as relevant rather than ask you ahead of time for permission to do so. Luckily for me and for other “non-experts” here (i.e., people who do not carry an official seal of approval winning them your trust for every baseless assertion they make), unlike mass media, this forum is not censored by interested parties.

    > All I’m doing is reporting on the reports so, as they say in our country, don’t shoot the messenger.

    You are not merely reporting the existence of those reports, you are reporting them as true and then asserting as true what you apparently think are inferences based on those reports. Thus, you are acting not as mere messenger but as judge of veracity.

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  13. “You are not merely reporting the existence of those [media] reports, you are reporting them as true.”

    I’m sorry if Revolution 2.0 doesn’t fit in with the Marxist-Leninist theory of popular uprising, but I’m afraid CNN and other such capitalist lickspittles are all we have to go on, until the history books are written. So I will just have to continue to rely on them for my “baseless” arguments.

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  14. > I’m afraid CNN and other such capitalist lickspittles are all we have to go on

    Another unsubstantiated claim – in this case demonstrably false. I do recommend Democracy Now!, FAIR and The Real News Network, and although I am not a regular watcher, I believe Al Jazeera is also not bad.

    Besides, even if one does watch CNN etc., one could still apply some sort of critical filters rather than child-like take anything one is told at face value.

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  15. I claim no expertise on monitoring media impartiality and have no ideological filter predisposing me towards alternative sites that few people have heard of. So, until the histories are written I’ll just have to go along with mainstream reporting, where there was a clear (ni-unanimous) consensus that the Egyptian revolution was catalysed by social media technology and predominately organised by young, educated males. The Muslim Brotherhood only played a small part, and it had precious little to do with the Israeli-Palastinian dispute. No doubt TV crews filter interviewees by their own criteria, but all the talking heads spoke perfect English.

    So if you want to criticise my post, focus on the content, not that it was “baseless”.

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  16. > I claim no expertise on monitoring media impartiality and have no ideological filter predisposing me towards alternative sites that few people have heard of.

    What could embody a more complete triumph of dominant propaganda, what could exemplify a more thorough trouncing of independent thought than a person celebrating his mindless acceptance of conventional wisdom as evidence for lack of ideological predisposition?

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  17. >would sortition-based politics be more acceptable to Muslim sensibilities than (Western) electoral politics, and might this possibly account for the failure of electoral democracy in the Arab world?

    electoral politics are antithetical to islam. one who desires an office or appointment is thought to be unfit to fill it. any of the first 4 succession scenarios are deemed acceptable. hereditary monarchy is not.

    the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, did not appoint his own successor. there was a round of nominations where individuals refused to accept the office of leader until so many people swore allegiance to one man that he became the leader.

    in another succession, the outgoing leader nominated a group of people to choose the new leader from amongst themselves. one outgoing leader said basically, choose anyone except my son as it is enough that this burden should fall upon one member of my household.

    those were people for whom political office was seen as a duty that was disliked. which is obviously not the case today.

    in islam, gambling is forbidden, putting up some property for the chance to win more. also divination is forbidden, as in casting arrows and from the results trying to divine the will of God.

    i’m not aware of any injunction against randomly selecting people to perform tasks or even randomly selecting winners who have not contributed to a pot or prize.

    i live in saudi arabia (which is said to operate under sharia law) and in the last 2 months, at 3 different grocery stores, i’ve entered drawings for cars. at one store there was no purchase necessary and at the other 2 you present your receipt and receive tickets to enter. (btw, i haven’t won yet :( but the drawing for the lexus is in march :)

    and, during the time that i lived in jordan the king gave away plots of land to judges, lawmakers and such types by allotment. i’m sure there are many examples in every muslim country of the use of allotment.

    also, i haven’t heard of any prospective muslim jurors declining duty because of the random selection process involved. in fact, as a new convert, i was called to jury duty and met a muslim there who gave me a copy of the quran the next day.

    >if free elections were held in Egypt, it would appear that the Muslim Brotherhood would be the prime beneficiaries. Presumably this will be anathema to the ruling military elite, their US backers

    sorry, keith, i don’t think that making sure the egyptian government suits the US is a good argument for sortition. sortition should not be seen as a better way to manipulate the system.

    >On the other hand:

    We certainly don’t need to choose our public officials by lot

    you’ve quoted this twice. is there any reason why? i don’t think that this unsupported assertion should be featured on a blog about sortition. if i say simply ‘we certainly do need to choose our public officials by lot’ is that a reason to support sortition?
    every time i read this quote i find myself asking ‘why not?’

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  18. sa’ada,

    >> We certainly don’t need to choose our public officials by lot

    > you’ve quoted this twice. is there any reason why?

    I think what Keith means by this sentence is that sortition is suitable for selecting large bodies (like a parliament) but not individuals (like a president).

    I tend to agree. If a population contains a small minority of evil people (define that as you wish), then the chance that that small minority would have a dominant influence in an allotted parliament is negligible, but there is a non-negligible chance that an allotted president would be a member of that small minority and in that case serious damage could result.

    My thinking on this matter is that single-person positions of great influence should be eliminated altogether if possible. To the extent such positions exist, however, then they should not be filled by lot. If I understand your position, you support having sortition among a pre-screened group of candidates. This makes sense, but leaves open the question of who does the screening and how.

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  19. > This makes sense, but leaves open the question of who does the screening and how.

    Isn’t that obvious? An allotted assembly does…

    By the way, you brought up the topic of organizational democracy in another thread. I believe principles of sortition aren’t so easily applied in voluntary membership organizations, because people differ so widely in enthusiasm. A nation’s government is important, and being allotted to one would be a chance few people will turn down (I believe). Not so for an organization – I am a member of many organizations, and I know that for most of them, I would turn down an offer of a board position. Organizations often have trouble finding people willing to serve at all, much less take part of competitive elections!

    But there is a way to deal with this, which acceptably empowers the members. In fact it is often used. This is to make the nomination committee drawn randomly. Thinking and talking about who would be good for the job, and making a couple of phone calls to ask around, is a much simpler task than doing the job oneself! In organizations I am part of, nomination committees usually nominate just one candidate, which is then “elected” (really, affirmed) by the general assembly.

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  20. sa’ada; “electoral politics are antithetical to islam. one who desires an office or appointment is thought to be unfit to fill it.”

    That’s great to hear! (especially as it parallels the argument for sortition as civic obligation, as demonstrated in Arthur C. Clark’s novel and elsewhere. What you say encourages me to think that sortition would be more applicable in countries that do not have an entrenched history of electoral democracy.

    My reasons for not choosing government officials by lot are partly for the reason that Yoram states (augmented by the fact that sortition is great for descriptive representation and this doesn’t work for samples as small as one). But also because government is not (or should not be) a political function it is administrative and what we want is competent adminsitrators. Sortition will not deliver this. We really need to take the doctrine of the separation of powers seriously.

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  21. “sorry, keith, i don’t think that making sure the egyptian government suits the US is a good argument for sortition. sortition should not be seen as a better way to manipulate the system.”

    Certainly not in principle, but we live in the real world, and the fact is that the generals and their US paymasters currently hold power, so it would be quite helpful (and would save a lot of blood from being spilt) if they liked sortition. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out because they might like it.

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