Write a note to George Monbiot

Update: Monbiot responded as follows:

Interesting: many thanks for this Yoram. G


George Monbiot is frustrated with government:

Most of the world’s people are decent, honest and kind. Most of those who dominate us are inveterate bastards. This is the conclusion I’ve reached after many years of journalism. Writing on Black Monday, as the British government’s full-spectrum attack on the lives of the poor commences, the thought keeps returning to me.

He asks:

So the age-old question comes knocking: why does the decent majority allow itself to be governed by a brutal, antisocial minority?

He is looking for inspiring, transfiguring ideas that will show a way out of this predicament. Please join me and write a note to Monbiot to offer sortition as such a crucial idea.

Here is what I wrote:

Dear George,

I am writing in response to your recent article in which you expressed your frustration with a situation in which the “decent, honest and kind” majority is being ruled by a group of “inveterate bastards”.

I would like to offer a radical idea that could help wrest power out of the hands of the ruling elite and put it in the hands of true representatives of the majority. That idea is called Sortition. It is the procedure of selecting MPs not via elections but rather as a statistical sample of population. A parliament selected as a sample of the population will mirror is makeup and represent its interests and worldview.

For it is the institution of elections that is the tool by which the anti-social elite maintains its power, and only by moving away from this mechanism can we expect to end its brutal rule.

More about sortition can be found on wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition). Please visit Equality-by-Lot (https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/introduction-to-sortition-government-by-jury/), the blog devoted to promoting and discussing sortition.

Best regards,
Yoram

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11 Responses

  1. >”Most of the world’s people are decent, honest and kind. Most of those who dominate us are inveterate bastards.”

    Do you agree with this manichaean perspective?

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  2. Kudos for seizing an opportunity. I would add a sentence or two about how elections, especially FPTP, are problematic. Introducing the idea as “selection by lot” first would make it easier to catch. I would gladly help with editing the letter if you wish.

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  3. Ahmed,

    I already sent my letter. Let’s make this into a campaign with each one of us sending their own letter. The more letters we send, the more chance we have of grabbing Monbiot’s attention. It seems to me that he could be open to the idea.

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  4. “… the procedure of selecting MPs not via elections but rather as a statistical sample of population. A parliament selected as a sample of the population will mirror its makeup and represent its interests and worldview.” That may be so, but in my opinion the main advantage of sortition is its speed of selection. You could have MP’s serve for a day or a few weeks, then go on to other work. No long election campaigns, just a quick spin of the dice to pick someone new. High turnover means reduced corruption, no MP would be beholden to anybody. Also, sortition needs to be made dramatic, as they do with lotteries. It would make political service fun to see your name turn up in the kleroterion.

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  5. >A parliament selected as a sample of the population will mirror its makeup and represent its interests and worldview.

    Is the use of the singular intentional? If so then that would suggest that the popolo is a single corporate entity, as opposed to an aggregation of persons. This would also be suggested by Monbiot’s original characterisation of the grandi as inveterate bastards and the popolo as decent, honest and kind. It’s hard to think of any more recent cases of such an essentialist perspective than Machiavelli. Why do we want to take this sort of nonsense seriously?

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  6. > in my opinion the main advantage of sortition is its speed of selection

    Selection of decision makers is only one part of the time requirements of decision-making. Other parts – selecting issues, collecting and understanding relevant information, holding discussions and coming up with proposals – all depend on cognitive processes and cannot be expected to occur quickly without drastically reducing quality. For this reason I believe that short service terms (anything that is not measured in years) are not the right way to do.

    > Also, sortition needs to be made dramatic

    I agree – public attention should be focused on the activity of high-powered bodies, and drawing attention to the selection process could be a tool for achieving this.

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  7. And how do you ensure that the decision makers don’t go native, that their cognitive processes are not subject to corruption by groupthink?

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  8. The people in power use all of the known ways of keeping people in fear and as slaves. Sortition will be blocked by them unless it is simplified, made a common household word, and started at the village level.

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  9. Newoutofthebox,

    True, but simplicity could be achieved in two ways: 1) Set up an allotted assembly with an open-ended brief to set their own rules, their own agenda and to oversee its implementation. This would certainly be simple, but most people would balk at the prospect of vesting absolute powers in a single body. The other alternative (2) would be to enable sortition to perform an analogous role to the Anglo-American jury in the trial of legislative proposals. This has the merit of both simplicity and proven efficacy. As for starting at the village level, in my country (UK) parish councils have no significant powers so the experiment would be unlikely to generate much interest (and most villages are so small, that sortition would not be necessary). But it would be relatively easy to transfer the results of Fishkin’s 20-year series of rolling experiments into the legislative arena. This would also have the benefit of not alienating the people in power as they would have an ongoing role as legislative advocates as opposed to being put on the political scrapheap, as those seeking simple solution No.1 would prefer. A mixed constitution is, of necessity, complex, but simple solutions tend to be Hobbesian in nature and we know what that leads to. Monbiot’s distinction between the grandi and the popolo is also simple, but is a severely impoverished way of understanding the complex motives people have for offering themselves for political service.

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  10. […] a year ago I wrote to George Monbiot about sortition. At the risk of becoming a nuisance, I have just written to him […]

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  11. […] Monbiot, a Guardian columnist and a regular critic of the status quo, has finally opined about the potential of the use of sortition to address the ills of the established […]

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