Describing what a lottery can contribute to the process of choosing.
Sanitization, Arrationality or should it be called Super-Humanity?
Whatever it is used for, a lottery does something for the process. Sanitizing is Stone’s description; Arrationality is Dowlen’s.
I do not disagree with either definition, but feel that both are a bit lacking.
Sanitization implies a clean-up, removal of contaminating elements, but leaves open the question: Cleansed of what?
Arrationality, besides being a neologism, hence not easily understood, might also even be taken to mean some kind of crazy departure which abandons the only human attribute that truly sets us above the animals – the ability to use our brains to think about things.
So either incomplete or liable to be mis-understood; can I come up with something better?
Whether deciding or choosing, the deliberate use of a lottery is a means of excluding human judgement.
So sanitization should be seen as the act cleaning off the elements of human judgement
I have a more condign misgiving about the use of arrationality as a descriptor – it is incomplete. According to Khaneman the human brain uses thinking in two ways, which he calls it fast and slow. These two ways of thinking are more recognisable as intuition and rationality; the quick response reactions that we exercise all the time, and the slower, deliberate reflection which is sometimes needed. Of course these are not mutually exclusive and may overlap.
Quick intuitive judgements are vital, for example when driving a car. Sometimes as with car driving they can be practised and learned. But at other times we can be guilty of snap judgements which may be highly misleading. Some of the worst features about many of today’s systems of human selection (selection of humans by humans) stem from the use of intuitive judgements. How often have we heard: “I’m a good judge of character, you know.” (Studies have shown this to be highly delusional).
So a lottery as a mechanism will exclude rational thought based on the slow careful weighing of facts. A lottery will also prevent the use of intuitive judgement. Many of the worst features of current choosing, be it elections or job-selections stem from quick, intuitive, and as Khaneman tells us mostly invalid judgements. This is, I believe the most important reason for using a lottery.
If valid rational methods are available then it would be mad to forgo their use, hence my quibble with arrationality. But such validated rational techniques are quite rare, far fewer than most people think exist.
So what could be a one-word way of describing a process which excludes human judgement?
Calling such decisions ‘Super-human’ may sound a bit Nietzschean, but it correctly and completely describes the source of efficacy for the lottery process of choosing. But could this veer off into quasi-religious explanations, something that Gataker would abhor, and say that in its normal, everyday use a lottery calls on God to decide?
Either way, I’d say “It’s Super-Human”.
Daniel Khaneman Thinking, fast and slow AllenLane, London 2011.
Khaneman has written a heavyweight yet best-selling book reviewing the results of years of experimental economics. As a pshychologist who stumbled into the field of economics, he was appaled at the very poor (simplistic) model economists had of the human agent. There already existed some results from experimental economics. K added to these, and in the process showed how much of economics was plain daft, but also gained much insight into the way the human mind both on its intuitive side and its rational side works, and more importantly how good it is at making judgements.
Gataker T The Nature and Uses of Lotteries Imprint Academic 2008 originally pub. 1627
Thomas Gataker was the 17th Cent divine who divide lotteries into gambling (to be used in moderation), ordinary (to decide who gets what) and divinely ordained where God deliberately intervened. He was very strongly opposed to ordinary lotteries being seen as in any way divinely authorised.