On Netiquette

A recent comment on this forum chided me for intemperate criticism of the Trinity Dublin report, to which I can only hold up my hands and plead guilty. It occurred to me, though, that a general post outlining some of the frustrations that led up to these remarks might possibly help prevent a future recurrence.

So far as I’m aware, Equality by Lot is the only internet forum dedicated to sortition, my sole research interest for over ten years. The value of such forums is the opportunity to discuss with other people with an interest in the field in order to develop and enhance one’s own understanding and correct one’s prejudices and misunderstanding. I’ve found this forum invaluable in this respect and my thinking on sortition is now completely different from ten years ago.

However, with the honourable exception of Terry, David and a few others, I often get the feeling that some folk are less disposed to understand different points of view and to modify their own views in the light of argumentation and evidence that might challenge them. This has got to the point that some commentators are refusing to engage in debate and merely add hyperlinks to earlier exchanges. This is not a practice that I would endorse as it would suggest that there has been no progress in the conversation, and that there is really no point in engaging in it if we are merely seeking to reference past arguments. Most new research areas undergo a number of paradigm shifts in their early years and we should applaud the dynamism of the sortition research community.

As for the Blind Breakers, the dominant position in this field (at least from the perspective of peer-reviewed publications), they are largely absent from this forum. I don’t believe Oliver Dowlen has ever made a post or commentary, even though his PhD and postgraduate research is purely on sortition. No doubt he prefers to debate with his own scholarly peers, but I’m puzzled that he has not even posted an announcement for the forthcoming QMUL sortition workshop, which is only a couple of months away. This might suggest that the Blind Breakers would rather talk amongst themselves, without having to deal with the awkward squad (those of us who claim that sortition could contribute to a new form of democracy, rather than just cleaning up electoralism). Peter Stone is a leading Blind Breaker and he does occasionally offer us a few words of wisdom, but it’s frustrating when he lays down a challenge, which is duly followed up by other respondents and then subsequently ignored. I’m sure Peter is very busy, but then I juggle PhD research with running two companies and an active sporting life and still find the time to participate actively in this blog. I would consider it rude not to reply to a question that resulted from an online post that I had made.

I can understand Yoram’s frustration with my argumnent for an ongoing role for what he refers to as ‘electoral dogmatism’. This sort of compromise is unsatisfactory for those who seek to overthrow the system. The debate on this recent thread might suggest to some that sortition was the latest weapon in the revolutionary socialist armoury; if that is the view of most participants then make that explicit in About the Klerotorians and I’ll go off and found a new non-partisan blog on the topic.

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75 Responses

  1. I’ll respond more substantively below, but first I want to acknowledge that this post is rather unusual in its personal tone. We have had personal exchanges in comments before, but not in posts. My modus operandi as an editor is publishing anything that is submitted (unless it is spam). I am aware, however, that this sort of post may be offensive to some. If there is a feeling among the readers that some sort of a filtering mechanism needs to be implemented, I would invite a discussion of this matter in the comments below or in a separate post.

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  2. Keith,

    As happens frequently, you are conflating in this post several issues, and at the same time striking a rather offensive (and self important) tone. Here are my responses to the different issues:

    1. You seem to be unable to tell the difference between openness for discussion and new ideas and receptiveness to your particular ideas and arguments. Those two are very different things. It may very well be that someone who is quite open intellectually finds your own ideas unconvincing.

    2. Repeating the same arguments over and over, or piling on increasingly contrived arguments for the same conclusions cannot be considered as an intellectually compelling way to promote an idea. You tend to do those things and then get frustrated when people ignore you or dismiss you with a reference to past discussions.

    If you feel that some progress on a particular point has been made since previous discussions, and you wish to revisit the issue, I would suggest that you create some sort of a recap of the previous discussions (together with links or citations) and then indicate what is the innovation that you believe you are making. This would make it much more likely that a new discussion would be fruitful. Even in this case, you should be willing to accept (as you seem unable to do in many cases) that what you see as an unanswered argument can be seen by others as a refuted argument which requires no further comment. In general, demanding that people respond to an argument you make is often (not always, but often) nothing more than an indicator of self-importance.

    3. Like you, I am quite disappointed that much of the activity in the field of sortition doesn’t get reflected and thoroughly discussed in Equality-by-Lot (this applies to both academic activity and non-academic activity). I am not sure why some active people do not contribute to the blog at all (in either posts or comments), and why others do contribute occasionally but still keep much of their work exclusively in other channels. In some cases I suspect a significant reason is a language barrier. In other cases, this is not an issue. I’d love to see this situation changed, but issuing demands for this to happen seems, if nothing else, counter-productive. A more productive attitude would be to try to identify the reasons and try to address them.

    4. Regarding overthrowing the system: To state the obvious, the theme for Equality-by-Lot is sortition (and to a much lesser extent in practice, distribution-by-lot of assets that are not political offices). It turns out that this theme is wide enough to include a range of ideas and positions. Some people, like me, would like to see sortition used to achieve a radical equalization of political power, others, like you, and like Peter, it seems, would not. I am unsure about the proportion of readers who are located at each point along this range. But that’s fine – you can relax. No one is expecting you to agree with everything that is written here. No one would interpret your activity on this blog as indicating allegiance to the radical democracy agenda. I am willing to go further, if the government ever prosecutes you for sedition against existing power structures, I’ll be willing to testify in your defense, pointing out to the general authoritarian mindset displayed in your posts and comments and to your deep commitment to preserving the power of existing elites.

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  3. >Some people, like me, would like to see sortition used to achieve a radical equalization of political power, others, like you, and like Peter, it seems, would not.

    Obviously I would disagree with your characterisation of my position (I can’t speak for Peter). It strikes me that a constitutional settlement that affords right of initiative to ho boulomenos and leaves the ultimate decision power in the hands of a representative microcosm is a radical equalization of political power. All we disagree on is the need for everyone to have a say in what goes on the menu.

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  4. As I understand it (and I admit that I often find your claims and proposals to be self-contradictory), your “mixed system” proposal is explicitly non-democratic, leaving significant power at the hands of certain elites.

    But suit yourself – how your horror of being associated with “overthrowing of the system” can be consistent with claiming to be in favor of a radical equalization of political power is just one of those mysteries that I am just going to avoid pondering.

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  5. I am typing on my smartphone so pardon my brevity. For my part I believe there is a basic chasm in the readership between those who see sortition as a complete replacement for representative democracy ala Burnheim and those who focus on selection methods for deliberative democracy that are intended to improve representative democracy. IMO the criticisms of the latter are made on premises and cynicism driving the former. I can write more later when I have more than my thumbs to communicate with.

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  6. Yoram, have you spoken the concern that there will always be a One, a Few and a Many?

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  7. Yoram>your “mixed system” proposal is explicitly non-democratic, leaving significant power at the hands of certain elites.

    If the design of successful political institutions required only the implementation of a single abstract principle (such as democratic equality), life would be very simple. However the real world, unlike the Platonic realm where such principles originate, is a whole lot more messy, so constitutional design is a question of balancing a number of incompatible factors. The first factor that we have to consider is the sheer difference between individual human beings. Bring together a small random selection and this will immediately become clear — some are more articulate than others, some more educated, some of higher social status and (most importantly) only a tiny minority will have any particular ideas on how best to improve our political arrangements (usually following the editorial line of their chosen newspaper). I’m sure you acknowledge all that but would claim that, given the necessary institutional arrangements, the group will self-organise into a body that automatically represents the interests of the whole citizen body, without the need for endogenous agenda-setting, information or advocacy. I pointed out that any two such bodies would likely come to very different conclusions (an empirically testable hypothesis), leaving a residual problem of which group would be the “representative” one. We have yet to hear your answer on this point (other than to claim that it is irrelevant). This makes me conclude that you are using the word “representation” in a different way from everybody else.

    My other point is (as David puts it in the previous comment) that the elites will always find a way back in to the system. My response to this is to quarantine them into an advocacy role, whereas you seem to think their influence can be removed by statistical fiat.

    In sum, I would claim that my constitutional proposal is suitable for the real world; yours only for Platonic heaven. Rousseau’s quip “Were there a people of gods, their government would be democratic. So perfect a government (i.e. democracy) is not for men”, is apposite. I can think of no historical example where a pure form of government was instituted without entirely disastrous consequences, irrespective of the benevolent intentions of the revolutionaries that implemented it. No doubt you will respond to the effect “this time it’s different . . .”

    rlubensky>there is a basic chasm in the readership between those who see sortition as a complete replacement for representative democracy ala Burnheim and those who focus on selection methods for deliberative democracy that are intended to improve representative democracy.

    There is in fact a Third Way between those who seek to replace electoralism with sortition and the Blind Breakers (who merely wish to monitor and improve public standards in electoral systems), namely those of us who argue for a mixed constitution. In my proposal elections would play an ongoing role in policy initiation and advocacy, but decision making is by allotted jury. There are a few other books and articles making similar proposals (all scorned by Yoram as Sleeping with the Enemy). This makes us closer to the Burnheim/Gat camp (but not in it) than the Blind Breakers who struggle sometimes to find any practical implementation for their proposals. This is not unsurprising as, like Yoram, their starting point is a philosophical abstraction (Chapter One in the Dowlen book).

    If Peter finds the time to read this, perhaps he would like to persuade Oliver Dowlen to place an announcement on this forum for the next sortition workshop.

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  8. In response to Keith’s point that even within a sortition democracy, elites will find a way to exert power, and better to channel it than deny it…

    So long as elites with great wealth persist in a society, they will indeed seek to influence the policies and laws enacted by a sortition system. Formalizing this by letting them have undue power over a parallel electoral “advocacy” arm is one approach (Keith’s). If this option doesn’t exist, the wealthy elite will certainly resort to mass communications to influence the ENTIRE population that might be selected by lot…just a variant of what exists now in campaigns. The hope is that in smaller allotted bodies that have time and incentive to examine and rethink things, and giving attention to diverse points of view, this propaganda will have less effect.

    Elites of other sorts (without superior resources) will find it harder to influence an allotted body, except to the extent that the allotted body SEEKS their input.

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  9. TB> Elites of other sorts (without superior resources) will find it harder to influence an allotted body, except to the extent that the allotted body SEEKS their input.

    True, but won’t that inevitably be the case? Yoram acknowledges that allotted bodies will very probably (and quite legitimately) seek assistance from experts, and this is normally associated with elite influence (given that we are not just referring to economic power). My concern is that leaving this to happenstance (the random whims of a few members of a small allotted group) will not lead to reliable and balanced information,* hence the need, as David suggested, to ensure balanced advocacy by statutory means. But the influence would be quarantined (and subject to equal and opposite counter-influence) in that all the elites can do is seek to persuade, they cannot directly affect the outcome (as the secret vote will be restricted to allotted members). Of course what constitutes “balanced” advocacy is a contentious issue, but surely an attempt at balance is better than nothing? I continue to be puzzled as to Yoram’s claim that anything an allotted body does will, ex hypothesi, be representative. The chances of two allotted bodies choosing information/advocacy from the same, or similar, experts are slim, so which group would be the representative one? Is this not a knock-down argument against full-mandate allotted bodies? — at least from the perspective of democratic equality (as opposed to the potential epistemic benefits, that I would not dispute). I think you accept this point, by arguing the case for differing roles for allotted bodies at various stages in the legislative process.

    * For example an allotted group examining the benefits of MMR vaccination might have fallen victim to the (false) autism connection, or a group dealing with climate change might choose only to consult global-warming deniers. Why would we want to condone the possibility of such heavily-biased advocacy?

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  10. Fighting potential elite disproportional influence by granting elites disproportional influence makes about as much sense to me as fighting potential organized crime by setting up organized crime gangs as part of the legal system.

    This is just another example of a discussion we’ve had before (see here for example) – if you have something new to offer on this issue, please do. There is nothing to gain by repeating the old arguments.

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  11. > the wealthy elite will certainly resort to mass communications to influence the ENTIRE population that might be selected by lot…just a variant of what exists now in campaigns

    If this is perceived as being a problem, a democratic government will use its power to limit the ability of elites to use mass communication to achieve such undemocratic ends.

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  12. YG: Fighting potential elite disproportional influence by granting elites disproportional influence makes about as much sense to me as . . .

    I’m sure similar arguments were levied at the original proponents of immunisation. Elites will have disproportionate influence whatever you do; my proposal is a) to quarantine it and b) to ensure that it is well-balanced. I await your answer as to which of two ACs that consulted different elites and rendered opposing verdicts would be considered the representative one.

    Please don’t just hyperlink to old arguments, let’s try and move forward. Referencing a report indicating that 42% of the (UK) population admits to changing its mind about big issues such as religion and politics, an op-ed in today’s Sunday Times ends with the following statement:

    “Switchers are often viewed with suspicion, which is weird: the ability to see both sides of an argument ought to be cherished. Change your mind often.” Or, as Keynes put it, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

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  13. Once the facts change, I’ll be happy to reconsider my positions. Repeating old arguments doesn’t qualify as facts changing. You have even used the silly immunization analogy in the past. In fact, you have used Keynes’s aphorism (which, BTW, appears to be a misattribution) before as well. The same goes for your old question about two allotted bodies coming up with different decisions. Please refer to my point above about revisiting old issues.

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  14. Wouldn’t it be easier just to answer the question than to spend so much time searching the archives? You might even find that you see things differently now, or even (dare I hope) that the persuasive force of the arguments from the members of this forum might have had some influence on your thinking. If not, then it doesn’t bode well for deliberative democracy.

    Besides which I’d really like to understand what you mean by the word “representative”, as it completely baffles me how two ACs returning opposing verdicts on the same issue can both be considered to be representative of the whole citizen body (without explanatory recourse to multiple-universe quantum theory). I’m genuinely trying to understand your position. If you don’t want to answer any of the other questions, please just indulge me on this one — by all means cut and paste an earlier response if it still represents your considered viewpoint. In the absence of a response I will have to conclude that this is a knock-down argument against full-mandate sortition.

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  15. Searching the archive is much quicker, more interesting and more useful to the reader than endlessly retyping old arguments. Your hope that simply repeating an argument will make it more forceful makes you a rather tiresome discussant. It is also rather disrespectful toward the people you are addressing, since it gives a strong impression that you do not bother to read their arguments carefully and that you do not value their time and effort.

    Regarding representation, see here.

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  16. Oh well, that’s it I guess. If you’re not willing to deliberate with those with opposing viewpoints then there’s not much more to say on the subject.

    >: endlessly retyping old arguments

    Cut and paste is fairly quick (Ctrl/Cmd C; Ctrl/Cmd V). I wouldn’t do that myself as I like to think my position has changed as a consequence of the arguments. I’ve just discouraged Jeffrey Green (who liked my commentary on his book) from buying my own book as it no longer reflects my current viewpoint.

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  17. Keith,

    I agree that an allotted body should hear well-balanced, fact-checked, and challenged presentations from multiple perspectives…but this will rarely ever happen if elections are used to select these advocates… even in an adversarial party system. In my country (the U.S.) the two major parties are in total agreement on many, many issues, even while most citizens and most experts disagree with both party platforms. There is a misperception that the parties disagree on most policies simply because it is those (relatively few) conflicts and issues that get ALL of the media coverage. Things they agree about aren’t news.

    This (I suspect) is why both Yoram and I believe only a representative allotted body should design the advocacy process and schedule expert witnesses, etc. My disagreement with Yoram is only about which allotted body should do this (I argue it should NOT be the same body that will be making the ultimate decision, for many reasons, including separation of powers to thwart corruption.)

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  18. Terry,

    Yes. Even when elites do disagree, the range of policy they represent may be very narrow. One has to be thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that every issue has (at most) two sides. See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/08/17/the-tedium-twins/

    Regarding separate bodies: I don’t have a strong position one way or another. There are valid arguments both ways. This is a secondary issue that calls for experimentation.

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  19. Terry,

    Thanks for the clarification. I was using shorthand to represent my own view on advocacy — in fact I envisage three scenarios:

    1. Policy proposal by election: The majority party/ies have the right to introduce manifesto policies and will argue for them in front of an AC with decision rights.

    2. Policy proposal by citizen initiative: Individuals/groups who pass the 100,000 signature and public votation stages have the right to introduce their proposal and will argue for it in front of an AC with decision rights.

    3. Policy proposal by government department: Ministers will act as advocates for departmental legislative proposals in front of an AC with decision rights.

    In every case opposition advocacy will come from members of the permanent house of advocates. With the possible exception of case 2, all advocacy will be in the hands of elite groups, the role of the AC being purely one of judgment.

    I’m sorry that I misremembered your position on this. How would you respond then to the challenge that two allotted groups, each selecting their own advocates, may well arrive at different verdicts on the same issue? Which one of the two would you consider to be the representative one? Note that the same problem would apply to multiple allotted groups, as the criterion is representative consistency. My impression from your earlier proposal was that open epistemic input was a function of policy panels and that the final decision panels required formalised advocacy procedures in order to fulfil the representativity criterion.

    Yoram,

    Of course I agree that there are an infinite number of policy options. My concern, however, is with legislative bills to which there are three options: Yes, No, Revise/resubmit. Specific decisions are binary in nature.

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  20. @Keith:
    A very late reply.

    > “I pointed out that any two such bodies would likely come to very different conclusions (an empirically testable hypothesis), leaving a residual problem of which group would be the “representative” one. We have yet to hear your answer on this point (other than to claim that it is irrelevant).”

    > “as it completely baffles me how two ACs returning opposing verdicts on the same issue can both be considered to be representative of the whole citizen body (without explanatory recourse to multiple-universe quantum theory).”

    I gather that you consider that to be representative an entity must always produce the same answer as would the body which it is supposed to represent when asked the same question in the same circumstances, and that therefore the two ACs which return opposing verdicts cannot both be representative.
    I think this is false.
    Consider the following exchange:

    Flight attendant: “Duck or fish, sir?”
    Mr Smith (returning from his crossword): Ah? Oh, duck, please. No, fish. No, duck, er, wait a minute, what did you say the sauce was?
    Flight attendant: Duck with sweet potato and mushroom sauce, or fish with tartare sauce and onions.
    Mr Smith: I’ll have . . . oh, I don’t know, really. Perhaps I’ll have . .
    Flight attendant (who has had this before and doesn’t need it again): Left hand or right hand, sir?
    Mr Smith (humiliated, but firmly): Fish.
    The flight attendant serves him and moves away.
    Stewardess: What would you like with your meal, sir? Red or white wine, beer, cider, coffee, tea, fruit juice, or water?
    Mr Smith (overcome, but not ready to be convicted of indecision a second time ): Tea, please.
    Stewardess (relentlessly): Milk in your tea, sir?
    Poor Smith can only wave his hand in negation. She serves him.

    Why on earth did I order tea, Smith thinks, I never drink tea. And you can’t trust airline fish.
    He removes the aluminium foil to reveal three curls of onion beside a white substance that has clearly spent too long in the washing machine. Smith glances at his neighbour’s tray. The glass of red wine and the duck look very inviting. His own onion leers at him in contempt.
    Shit, thinks Smith, I’m not myself today.

    In spite of his last thought, I think you must agree that Smith represents Smith, in all possible ways, before, during, and after choosing his meal. Yet he has returned “opposing verdicts” five, perhaps six times, and, incidentally made two choices that in the end he considers bad.
    Smith is not alone in this, of course, I think we are all Smith at times. So, if it is possible for one man to be inconsistent, it is surely possible for an assembly to be inconsistent and yet representative. On a close issue, it might only need one person changing his or her mind to change the result. Hence two bodies might disagree, and yet both be representative.

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  21. Nice try Campbell:

    >I think you must agree that Smith represents Smith, in all possible ways, before, during, and after choosing his meal.

    My concern is not Smith, but the millions of other people that he is representing vicariously. As long as everyone is offered fish or duck and by the same flight attendants then the statistical average of choices would be the same between different aircraft. Were this not the case then airline profits would be even lower because they would be throwing out an awful lot of onion rings. Given the competitive model that I’m proposing it would be in the interests of all airlines to employ the best stewardesses (what a nice non-PC term) rather than ones that enjoy humiliating the passengers. And the original menu options would be based on careful market research.

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  22. Keith:
    Let’s forget the condescension and the waffle.

    Do you, or do you not, believe that “two ACs returning opposing verdicts on the same issue can [not] both be considered to be representative of the whole citizen body”?

    Most, if not all of us are like Smith at some time. And, since all groups are made up of men and women pretty much like Smith, what holds for one man and the choice of a meal applies to any number of people making any decision on their own behalf, ie where the group “representing” is identical with the group “represented”. (We might call this “perfect representation”.)

    Now, I believe that you must accept that people are quite able to be inconsistent from one moment to the next, and hence that groups made up of people may also be inconsistent, and that therefore “opposing verdicts” are to be expected both in “perfect representation” and in those cases (“imperfect representation” if you like) where a large group is “represented” by a smaller group, in whatever sense you take “represent”. Therefore, the statement that “opposing verdicts” _prove_ that one or more bodies are not representative, is false. The opposing verdicts are, in Yoram’s words, irrelevant to the question of whether the bodies are representative.

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  23. >Do you believe that “two ACs returning opposing verdicts on the same issue can both be considered to be representative of the whole citizen body”? [double negatives removed for the sake of clarity]

    Certainly not: inconsistency (beyond a minimal significance level) would be a clear sign of misrepresentation. (The electoral equivalent would trigger a new poll.) You are failing to allow for the law of large numbers — although individuals are, as you rightly point out, subject to inconsistency, the outliers would cancel each other out. But this can easily be tested by experiment, so it doesn’t really matter what you or I believe.

    Until Yoram chooses to break his silence we will not know whether this is the reason why he claims that inconsistency is irrelevant. My impression, though, is that it is because he is using the word “representation” differently from everybody else. He has said earlier that representation is *not possible* when citizens put their own personal interests ahead of the general good (ie the common interests of the 99%) — and this might well be the reason he claims that a statistical sample would “automatically” represent the interests of “the masses”. I would counter that this presupposes a Rousseauvian view of citizenship which has not worked out very well in practice.

    But it would be better for Yoram to defend his arguments himself rather than you or me having to second-guess him.

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  24. > “>Do you believe that “two ACs returning opposing verdicts on the same issue can both be considered to be representative of the whole citizen body”? [double negatives removed for the sake of clarity]

    Certainly not: inconsistency (beyond a minimal significance level) would be a clear sign of misrepresentation.”

    Well, I say that I have proved the contrary, and that you have not disproved my argument.

    The Law of Large Numbers has absolutely nothing to do with the case. Nor has Rousseau.

    As for defending Yoram, he is quite able to do that himself. I am simply pointing out a fallacy to which you seem to have an ideological attachment.

    > “I often get the feeling that some folk are less disposed to understand different points of view and to modify their own views in the light of argumentation and evidence that might challenge them.”

    I heartily agree with this, Keith. Unfortunately, here you give a prime example of it.

    > “some commentators are refusing to engage in debate and merely add hyperlinks to earlier exchanges.”

    And some, Keith, rather than address the issue raised by a previous commentator, prefer to drag a screen of irrelevant but ostentatiously erudite references and provocative red-herrings across the trail.

    You started this thread to complain about the rudeness of others in not replying to your arguments. It is another form of rudeness to ignore legitimate objections, and to attempt to baffle people with verbiage.

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  25. >The Law of Large Numbers has absolutely nothing to do with the case.

    Why not? There would be several hundred Smiths in an AC, so inconsistencies would cancel out (given identical input). Otherwise you appear to be saying that the democratic decision process is entirely random, in which case we might as well give up on representativity and decide every issue by killing a chicken and examining its entrails.

    What legitimate objections am I ignoring? Point them out and I will gladly address them — hopefully without hesitation, deviation or repetition (but it might take more than just a minute).

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  26. Keith,

    Perhaps this will help…Policies on issue X that are at least partially in the interests of the population being represented are options A, B, and C. Policies that are absolutely NOT in the interests of the population are options D, E, and F. The notion Campbell, Yoram and I seem to agree on is that if a representative body chooses any of A, B, or C, but NOT D, E, or F, indicates it has successfully represented the population. While one allotted body may vote YES for option A, and another body may vote NO for option A (direct contradiction), that does not prove lack of representativeness. We know that ELECTED representative bodies often will select D, E, or F. We can’t KNOW for certain if a well-structured sortition process would exclusively pick A, B, or C, but it seems likely to Campbell, Yoram and I.

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  27. Terry,

    That sounds fine, until you attempt to cash it out with real-life examples. Yoram has previously opined that NHS-style healthcare is clearly in the interests of the 99%, whereas insurance-based systems privilege the interests of the 1%. I don’t know much about the debate over Obamacare, but do know a little about the NHS, which has been beset by scandals over poor standards of care. The changes in nursing policy appear to have been made entirely to benefit the occupational status of the professionals and patients are suffering as a consequence. Many people in the UK look enviously to the continent, where most countries operate a (compulsory) insurance-based system and privately owned hospitals. In addition to this there is the fear that the spiralling cost of medical technology, along with the ageing population will mean that a taxation-funded state monopoly, free at the point of delivery, is simply unaffordable.

    Whatever your views on this particular issue, I don’t see how it is remotely possible to carve up the decision space into policies that benefit the 99% (A, B and C) and those that benefit the 1% (D, E and F) in the way that you do. It would simply mean the end of politics — you wouldn’t need an AC as you could determine the right answer by computer. Politics is a contentious field (I don’t need to tell you that!) and there are no simple answers. Carving up the field into policies that benefit the few and those that benefit the many happens also to be the rhetorical strategy of the Labour Party, so you run the danger here of moving into partisan territory. And it gets even more complicated when you take into account the interests of minority groups and unborn generations. What happens if the majority interests of present citizens come into conflict with the interests of the unborn (as with global warming)? And what if the advocates for policies D, E and F were so persuasive that they managed to fool everyone into going against their own interests? This would appear to be quite easy to do, as Conservative governments were in power for most the 20th century. We do need to beware against our debate over structural issues being infected by partisan politics. As you know my own political inclinations are conservative and this would make me — in the eyes of the Labour Party — an advocate for D, E and F (a charge that I would vigorously deny).

    Campbell,

    Your example of in-flight catering is entirely apposite — a typical airliner carries 300-500 passengers and the decision is binary (fish or duck?). Catering managers work on the assumption, based on past experiences, that a “typical” sample of the population, flying the same route at the same time of day, will choose in a very similar manner. Airline profits are wafer-thin, yet only vegetarians are required to choose in advance. If there were more than (say) 10% variation between samples then I think we would all be obliged to choose in advance. I would be fascinated to learn what the actual level of variance is.

    Two factors would adversely affect the consistency of the decision outcome between samples. If a trend for, say, duck emerges early on, then passengers may well feel subject to peer pressure. This is what the Greeks would have called “thorubos”, and was commonplace in the assembly, so the 4th-Century reforms stipulated the secret ballot.

    The other factor (and here we have to deviate slightly from current cabin-crew policy): say if one flight attendant was offering fish and the other duck and the first one happened to be Rick Stein and the other Little Britain’s Vicky “yeah-but no-but” Pollard, I would hazard a guess that sales of fish would surge. So, for the sake of balanced advocacy, every Rick Stein would need to be offset by a Marco Pierre White (Gordon Ramsey would be deemed an in-flight hazard).

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  28. > “What legitimate objections am I ignoring? Point them out and I will gladly address them ”

    My argument. You have not addressed it, you have merely waved the red herring of the Law of Large Numbers in front of it.

    Proposition (yours, but my statement of it): “to be representative an entity must always produce the same answer as would the body which it is supposed to represent.”
    Observation: Mr Smith produces contradictory answers several times in quick succession.
    Conclusion: If the proposition is true, Mr Smith does not represent himself. Since this is absurd, the proposition must be false.

    To address my argument you must either
    1 Disavow the proposition. Since you have just said “inconsistency . . . would be a clear sign of misrepresentation” this would be a back-flip.
    2 Deny that Mr Smith could possibly produce contradictory choices. Since you have just said “individuals are, as you rightly point out, subject to inconsistency”, this would also be a back-flip.
    3 Show that it is not absurd to say that Smith does not represent Smith. I do not see how you can do this.
    4 Change your mind and agree that you were wrong. (Mr Smith and I have both done this in the past. It didn’t hurt a bit.)

    The Law of Large Numbers is a red herring because it applies to measurements, where we are dealing with choices (of a course of action in this example). If one man measures a cricket pitch with a metre rule, his measurement may well have a sizeable error. If 100 people do it honestly, the errors (if they are truly random, and not systematic) will tend to cancel out, and the mean will be quite accurate. Measurements are not subject to differences of opinion. Political choices are.

    It is perfectly possible to have a large assembly, or indeed an entire populace evenly divided on a certain issue. In a simple “majority wins” situation one or two people changing their minds or not voting will change the majority and hence the decision. And the change of mind or the failure to vote may well be after much thought and research; or it may be the result of too much lager.

    For the record, I am not “saying that the democratic decision process is entirely random”. Random events may influence it, however. Who knows where lightning will strike next?

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  29. >It is perfectly possible to have a large assembly, or indeed an entire populace evenly divided on a certain issue. In a simple “majority wins” situation one or two people changing their minds or not voting will change the majority and hence the decision.

    That’s certainly true of ANY democratic decision process. My claim regarding the law of large numbers a) assumes clear majorities and b) refers to Smith’s fluctuations only (the measuring of his choice, if you prefer). EITHER the sort of fluctuations that you mention are exceptional (in which case the law of large numbers will cancel them out) OR your claim is that his choices are entirely contingent.

    If the former, then a suitably constrained (ie voting only) randomised assembly would be representative. Your own example, in which Smith’s decision fluctuations are caused by the behaviour of his neighbours and advocates (flight attendants) indicates why the constraints are so important (see my ramblings on celebrity chefs in the previous comment).

    If the latter then this would only satisfy democratic formulists, who claim that all that matters is the procedure, not he outcome.

    I don’t see how you can have it both ways.

    Have I misunderstood your argument? (I’m certainly not trying to evade it). I’ve just been called into work to provide emergency cover for our manager’s paternity leave, so I’m a little pushed for time, so please let me know if I’m just being obtuse.

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  30. > “Have I misunderstood your argument?”

    My argument is a very simple reductio ad absurdum. If you have misunderstood it, that can only be deliberate.
    You haven’t answered it, and you haven’t attempted to answer it. As it refutes a favourite bit of your dogma, you simply refuse to see it, and drag in irrelevancies to try to paper over the cracks.

    > “Smith’s decision fluctuations are caused by the behaviour of his neighbours and advocates.”

    No. This can only be a deliberate misreading.

    Keith, you are all smoke and mirrors. With your kind of “arguments” I can’t see you convincing anyone, and I can’t see why anyone would waste their time answering you.

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  31. I’m sorry that you misunderstand my intentions; when someone fails to understand me I try to be more charitable in my interpretation of their motives.

    When I get the time I’ll re-read your original comment. Meanwhile, if Smith’s fluctuations were not caused by the behaviour of the flight attendants (flummuxing and humiliating him) then it must be a function of his own indecisiveness. Why would you want to use that as a basis for democratic decision-making? The assumption underlying most proposals for selecting legislators by lot is that ordinary citizens (Smith) are capable of rational judgment when presented with a well-balanced exposition of the facts/arguments. If Smith really doesn’t have a clue what he wants, perhaps the decision should be made on his behalf by a dietary scientist (the airline-catering equivalent of Plato’s wise statesman). But if Smith is atypical then the outliers will cancel each other out (if the AC is of a sufficient size).

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  32. Well, I am sorry if I have been unfair. But whether your failure to answer my argument, to wit:

    ” Proposition : “to be representative an entity must always produce the same answer as would the body which it is supposed to represent.”
    Observation: Mr Smith produces contradictory answers several times in quick succession.
    Conclusion: If the proposition is true, Mr Smith does not represent himself. Since this is absurd, the proposition must be false.”

    is deliberate, or you really are incapable of seeing that it refutes your proposition, I can’t put it any more clearly than I have, and I see no point continuing if we’re always going to be at cross-purposes.

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  33. Campbell

    I don’t usually give line for line responses as it makes for a very long post which anyone other than the interlocutors will find very tedious. But as you’ve asked me specifically to address your reductio, here goes:

    >Proposition (yours, but my [mis]statement of it): “to be representative an entity must always produce the same answer as would the body which it is supposed to represent.”

    I never made a general philosophical claim, merely that one sample of the citizenry selected at random to make political decisions in their name would have to return the same decisions as another sample (allowing for a small margin of error). These were my actual words:

    “it completely baffles me how two ACs returning opposing verdicts on the same issue can both be considered to be representative of the whole citizen body.”

    You have chosen to extend the argument to Smith representing himself inconsistently over time, but my proposition was limited to statistical representativity and this applies to groups only. I’m not sure what you mean by “Smith represents himself” – this is meaningful in a courtroom situation, but I’m not sure in what other sense (certainly not statistical representativity, which is the subject of this post). In sum, if you are going to take the reductio route, you need to make sure that you are attacking the original proposition, rather than a straw man. Looking at my claim again:

    “it completely baffles me how two ACs returning opposing verdicts on the same issue can both be considered to be representative of the whole citizen body.”

    Why do you think I’m making a general philosophical argument on the nature of representation? It reads to me like an empirically-verifiable hypothesis regarding political decision making by an allotted microcosm – that was certainly my intention (bear in mind my PhD is in politics, not philosophy). General philosophical claims are not open to empirical testing; I’m keen for my hypothesis to be verified, so I’m not very keen to see it expressed as an abstract proposition.

    Let me know if you think I’m evading anything else and I’ll gladly respond.

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  34. Keith,

    The point is that just as an individual can waffle and make contradictory decisions (each of which is acceptable), so too can representative bodies. The test YOU propose (repeatability of the same decision by duplicate bodies) is unreasonable since the population ITSELF might make different decisions. The test is only valid if one of the bodies makes a decision that is contrary to the interests of the represented population (not merely different than the other body), that the population as a whole would NOT make (with full knowledge and good process).

    If duplicate bodies DID always make the same decisions, well that would be proof that they WERE representative, but failing such repeatability does not DISPROVE their representativeness.

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  35. Terry,

    I really don’t understand how, other than by the repeatability test, it’s possible to discern what is or isn’t in the interests of the the represented population. All sorts of paternalistic governments (both left- and right-wing) have made the claim that they are acting in the interests of the whole population and you have made the claim that it’s possible to tell the difference between A,B,C and D,E,F. I can understand that might be the case in extreme cases (eg, slaughter all the first-born), but what about ordinary day-to-day issues? Can you provide some examples? Yoram has in the past but all his claims are irredeemably partisan. Surely if there is some way of telling in advance what policies are in the general interest and what ones aren’t, then we don’t need to go through all the rigmarole of selecting political representatives (allotted, elected or whatever) in order to find out.

    Of course absolute consistency is impossible, but every step would need to be taken to reduce variation. My concern is always with the disenfranchised. I know Peter doesn’t like the word “consent” but it strikes me that the disenfranchised would not consent to the klerotocracy if it was clear that different samples returned different verdicts. If it was a fiscal bill and one group opted to raise taxes and the other to cut spending, which one would I deem to have consented to? If one group voted to legalise gay marriage and the other one didn’t, which one would be representative? Which of these policies are in the interests of the represented population? I don’t see how it’s possible, even in principle, to come up with a non-partisan answer to any of these questions. If it was then there would be no such thing as politics.

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  36. Terry:
    Thank you, your first two sentences have put my point well. I would replace the word “proof” in the last sentence with “strong confirmation”.

    “interests of the population”
    This is a terribly vague and elusive notion. I suppose we all want a form of government that would ALLOW the people, through their representatives, to make decisions in “the best interests of everyone”, whatever that may be. I think it is futile to try to ensure by constitutional means that they will, however.

    A man has a loaf of bread, and wants a slice. You hand him a knife. He may use it to cut a slice, or he may clumsily cut himself. You cannot ensure that he will use it carefully.

    Keith:

    > “Why do you think I’m making a general philosophical argument on the nature of representation?”

    > “inconsistency (beyond a minimal significance level) would be a clear sign of misrepresentation”
    This sounds like a general principle to me. So does your original statement “it baffles me . . . etc.”

    I had to stop in the middle of replying to you, and so missed your reply to me starting “Your example of in-flight . . .” It seems entirely off-topic.

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  37. Campbell

    I agree that people should make their own minds up, rather than well-intended, but paternalistic apriori judgments as to what is and is not in the public interest. I also agree that there is no way of knowing whether people will cut themself (and everyone else) a slice or cut their hand off, hence the need for constitutional safeguards in addition to democratic judgment.

    The consistency principle was clearly domain-specific. The reply that you missed is here: https://equalitybylot.wordpress.com/2013/08/03/on-netiquette/#comment-6684

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  38. Campbell,

    The question of how well defined the “interests of the people” (or, equivalently in my mind, “the common good”) are comes up occasionally in discussions here – see a recent example here. I don’t think this term is any less well defined than “interests of an individual”. Both are not trivially measurable, but both have well enough defined meanings that can be operationalized with some careful design and effort.

    In the case of a group, the question of whether the legislature, or any other political body, is acting in the interests of the people can be answered by an allotted monitoring body, appropriately empowered.

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  39. >I don’t think [the interests of the people] is any less well defined than “interests of an individual”. Both are not trivially measurable, but both have well enough defined meanings that can be operationalized with some careful design and effort.

    How would you define the interests of an individual? — in particular without reference to external standards of information and rationality (as opposed to the beliefs and preferences of the individual). Would an individual automatically know what was in her best interests?

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  40. *** The ideal democratic decision is the decision which would be taken by the whole people, in conditions of ideal deliberation (conditions which cannot be got, even approximately, in a modern society). The decision taken by a “representative” alloted body is an estimate of this ideal decision.
    *** A thermometer is devised to measure a temperature. But the measured value is not the “true value” of temperature, which we could know only through an ideal thermometer. It is an estimate. For a class of thermometers with the same design, we can study the reproducibility. In metrology we speak of “reproducibility ” if we use various thermometers of the same class, “repeatability ” for successive measurements by the same thermometer. An alloted body will be “representative” if the system allows for a good reproducibility of decisions.
    *** If in a democratic system different alloted bodies, given the same choice, result in different decisions, that means either that the system is poorly designed, or that different options – let’s say A, B and C – are very close in the ideal vote. In this second case we must accept a small amount of randomness ; which will exist in any political system in such a situation. Even in an autocratic monarchy, if the king hesitates between options – the final choice can involve a big part of randomness.
    *** This case of A, B and C being very close is possible. But will it be common ? We must not be led in false ideas by the arithmetics of electoral politics. If there is, for instance, a Right and a Left, each one will modify its propaganda until to have a reasonable chance of electoral success. Each side will target « at least 50 % », but not 75 % which usually would need to drop some things dear to important components of the camp. With both sides targeting « at least 50 », we will often get results with small difference between the sides. But it is an artefact of the electoral system.

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  41. Thanks Andre, I agree 100%. Given the goal is to design a system that will maximise reproducibility, this brings into conflict the epistemic and intrinsic case for sortition. The need to find policies with the best epistemic outcome would suggest open, unconstrained deliberation by a cognitively diverse group, whereas the need for reproducibility imposes tight constraints. In his earlier paper, announced on this forum, Terry arrogated the former function to “policy panels” and the latter to “decision panels”. I accepted this at the time, although I felt it would make for too much complication and that so much sortition was unlikely to be acceptable to the general public (who would be completely disenfranchised by the process). The struggle for universal suffrage has been a long and bloody one, and people are unlikely to throw it all away on the strength of a couple of political theory papers by unknown authors like ourselves, whereas the idea of building a mass movement of kleroterians strikes me as fanciful.

    Given that decision panels (juries) are already part of the judicial process, this would be the obvious place to start (there are no existing examples of policy panels). The judicial trial is only partially democratic, and is a good example of the mixed constitution, in which the one, the few and the many all play their allotted (sic) part. Yoram’s wish is to fully democratise the judicial system, the media, politics, the economy etc, but I think we would do better to focus on the political system and to accept that the trial analogy is a good place to start. Rome (and Aleatoria) were not built in a day.

    But I’m glad that we can all at least agree on the distinction between the epistemic and intrinsic case for sortition — I think we are making some real progress.

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  42. > Would an individual automatically know what was in her best interests?

    No – not automatically. Like group interests, individual interests are not self-evident. And like in the group setting, under the appropriate circumstances and with the availability of the necessary resources, an individual is expected to be able to understand their own interests.

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  43. Andre,

    > The ideal democratic decision is the decision which would be taken by the whole people, in conditions of ideal deliberation (conditions which cannot be got, even approximately, in a modern society).

    I don’t see what’s the purpose of defining and referring to “ideal decision” and “conditions of ideal deliberation”. I don’t see how those hypothetical (even self-contradictory, it seems) concepts bring us any closer to an understanding of what democratic government is.

    It seems to me that avoiding such concepts in favor of a more direct approach – defining democratic government in terms of serving the interests of the people (as understood by themselves) – is more fruitful.

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  44. >under the appropriate circumstances and with the availability of the necessary resources.

    That’s a little vague. Modern medical technology is widely available, yet an individual suffering a burst appendix may opt to consult the witch doctor and as a result suffer an agonising death. Is she understanding her own interests? This is an extreme example of a general case (choose smoking, obesity, excessive drinking or whatever for less dramatic examples).

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  45. I don’t think your witch doctor scenario has much to do with the addiction behavior scenario of your other examples.

    As regarding the witch doctor scenario, if the individual’s decision has not been made under some constrained circumstances, the only acceptable policy would be to assume that the individual is indeed representing their own interests and respect their decision. It would be extremely oppressive to assume otherwise and force undesired treatment upon the individual, merely because their decision defies convention.

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  46. Yoram

    OK so, in your view, an individual may choose voodoo over scientific medicine and still “understand her own interests”, but it gets seriously problematic if you seek to use this as a foundation for a political programme in which everyone else’s interests are protected by the extrapolation of this principle. Typically, moral philosophers would seek to apply external standards (reasonableness, felicific calculus or whatever), as opposed to a reliance on happenstance, whimsy and prejudice, but you continue to dismiss this as “oppressive”, “authoritarian”, “elitist” etc. A common-sense perspective on the ability of a randomly-selected group to judge issues on behalf of everyone else would presuppose balanced information and advocacy, so I’m glad that you have exposed so clearly the solipsistic foundations of your political programme for all to see.

    Preempting your complaint that it is more likely that a group decision would be persuaded by scientific medicine than voodoo, there are many examples of pseudo-scientific fads that have swayed the popular imagination. A few years ago in the UK there was a widespread (and erroneous) belief that the combined MMR injection led to autism. A well-informed jury would have been presented with opposing scientific evidence if the choice of advocates was left to the British Medical Association or the Royal Society (for the promotion of science). But there is no particular reason to believe that an allotted group, in the sway of the MMR/autism delusion should seek balanced information (or even know where to go to obtain it). A similar argument could be made for an allotted assembly dominated by a small group of eloquent climate-change deniers (who may, or may not, have been corrupted by Big Oil lobbyists).

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  47. We have covered this ground before – what you consider “happenstance, whimsy and prejudice” – that is, people’s informed and considered opinions – is in fact the only acceptable basis for policy in a democratic society. What you consider “balanced information and advocacy” is in fact simply elite opinion, and giving elite opinion privileged status in decision making is anti-democratic.

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  48. >people’s informed and considered opinions

    By chance, there was mention on the BBC news last night that some South London pentecostal churches had successfully persuaded HIV-positive people to give up their medical treatment in return for the laying on of hands and a bottle of holy water. I’m sure these people did consider their interests, but they were spectacularly badly informed. No doubt a free society should allow everyone to dig their OWN grave but, in your system, they would be empowered to dig everyone else’s. Pentecostal churches are expanding their congregations at an alarming rate and there is no reason, in principle, for an allotted assembly not to seek their information exclusively from pentecostal pastors, as opposed to the medical profession. This would be a particular problem for sortition at a local level and was one of the reasons for Madison to prefer large electoral districts.

    You label the clinically-proven evidence of the HIV antiviral treatment programme as “elite opinion” and would put it on a par with the world-view of (self-selecting) pentecostal pastors. This is taking postmodern relativism to a new level. Note that I am also seeking to privilege people’s “informed and considered opinions”; our only difference is the mechanism to ensure balanced information and advocacy. Only those taking the postmodern perspective to its (absurd) conclusions would consider this anything other than robust common sense.

    Thanks again for demonstrating so clearly the dangerous and illiberal foundations of your “democratic” political programme.

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  49. *** Keith Sutherland is afraid that in some cases an alloted body could be swept by emotional trends or corrupt/fanatical orators of very high ability, and would give up looking for balanced and diverse information and advocacy. I don’t think it would be so common as Keith apparently fears, but we must acknowledge it could occur .
    *** I think Terry Bouricius gave the solution (August 5) : the rules about information and advocacy must be set up not by the involved decisional body, but by a different alloted body (for instance the rules about criminal juries must not be decided specifically by each criminal jury, but by a legislative « jury »). I add that the decisional body must keep the right to supplement by some specific consultations. Yoram seems ready to accept these ideas, at least as a possibility.
    *** Therefore it seems that a model of democracy-through-sortition could be consensual enough.
    *** Maybe Keith is right, and a progressive way is better ; but anyway it is good to get some reasonable consensus (allowing for experimentation) about the model itself, and to settle the basic issues in a reasonable way.

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  50. Yoram Gat doesn’t like my presentation of democracy-through-sortition referring to “ideal decision” and “conditions of ideal deliberation”. He thinks better the approach “in terms of serving the interests of the people (as understood by themselves) ”. I have nothing against this direct approach, which can be useful to promote democracy-through-sortition. But, even considering the practical promotion of the model, we must not forget that the opponents of sortition will say that the people is disenfranchised by political lottery, that this would be a transition from democracy to a strange kind of aristocracy. To that discourse it is necessary to answer : « if we were in a society of general leisure and we had one political decision to take every year, direct democracy by referendum could work, because a good deliberation would be possible ; practically it cannot work, and sortition is the way to a practical direct democracy ».

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  51. Keith Sutherland is much worried by the reproducibility of political decisions of alloted bodies, and he is happy when I recall that in metrology reproducibility is an important criterion. But I will add that it is not the one criterion. « Trueness » is another criterion. If a thermometer give values without bias, it is « true » even if it has poor reproducibility. A thermometer with a systematic bias can give very reproducible results, but with poor « trueness » (for example it gives always almost the same value, but 5 degrees more than the true value). Accuracy = reproducibility + trueness. Transposing to democratic theory, where accuracy is representativity , if the alloted bodies given the same choice result in the same decision, we will have good reproducibility, ok, but if it is because of strong elite bias , as Yoram is afraid, we can have poor « trueness ». To get a good « representative » system, we must have both reproducibility and lack of systematic bias.

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  52. Thanks Andre, unfortunately my concerns are not limited to “some cases” and will not be addressed by purely procedural rules:

    1) I disagree with the foundational assumption (it is no more than that) that an individual must, ipso facto, understand their own interests. This leads me on to question the derivative assumption — that an allotted microcosm will understand the interests of the target population “automatically”. My choice of extreme examples (voodoo, pentecostal beliefs etc) was to make a general case.

    2) I accept fully the liberal assumption that an adult individual with a minimum threshold of education and mental competence must be assumed to be the ultimate judge of their own fate, when presented with the “facts of the matter” (subject to the current limitations of our knowledge). I also accept the derivative claim that an allotted assembly can be the ultimate judge on behalf of the whole citizen body, but only subject to the same provisos as in the individual case. I’m not sure why this leads to me being described as “authoritarian”. Most people would consider such a view to be at the radical end of the liberal spectrum.

    3) Where I differ is purely regarding how to obtain knowledge and advocacy. There is no particular reason to think that individuals are always well informed on most of the issues that affect them, and this is particularly true in complex modern cultures where we cannot decide issues on the basis of tradition, folk-wisdom, habit etc. The reason we have doctors, solicitors, dietary scientists, philosophers, historians, psychologists, engineers, ministers, relationship and spiritual counsellors, accountants, insurance advisors etc. is because of the mushrooming of knowledge in every domain. Most people would benefit from expert advice on most issues, even if they must be assumed, ultimately, to be responsible for the final decision.

    4) When it comes to an allotted assembly whose purpose is to decide on behalf of all of us, the problem is an order of magnitude greater. Most people have no particular knowledge of most political issues and would not even know where to look for relevant information. To leave the selection of information advocates purely to the whim of the minority of allotted members who might claim to have some such knowledge is entirely random (in the pejorative sense of the word). If the goal is consistency of decision output between different samples of the same population then information advocacy will need to be accounted for externally. I’m fully aware of the fact that this will facilitate the influence of elites, but would argue that this is infinitely better than the GIGO principle of information science (garbage in, garbage out).

    5) It would not be a superhuman challenge to ensure that the elite advocacy is well balanced. In my favourite UK example (the EU referendum) elite umbrella groups already exist for the “in” and “out” position and balanced advocacy could easily be achieved. I would agree with Andre that this should not prevent the allotted assembly from calling witnesses of its own (but am mindful of the potential danger to representative consistency).

    6) I’m fully aware that this limits the epistemic “brainstorming” potential of a cognitively diverse allotted panel with full deliberative powers. But I agree with Terry’s earlier argument that this is more appropriate for an early “agenda” stage in the legislative process, rather than at the point of decision.

    7) I’m a little puzzled that I have to keep making what is really just a common-sense point. This is probably because most of my interlocutors on this forum appear to be committed to the view that sortition is the only show in town, everything else being undemocratic. It strike me that my model would be viewed as reasonable (albeit a tad radical) by most people without a faith in sortition and (more importantly) would maintain a full place for political advocates and information experts. If we want to introduce political innovations it’s probably best not to start off by alienating all of the existing power-bearers. I don’t hold out much hope for Yoram’s alternative (a revolutionary mass movement for sortition) manifesting itself any time soon. Advocates for the radical left have been disappointed many times in the past and might be better served by setting their sights a little lower.

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  53. >To get a good « representative » system, we must have both reproducibility and lack of systematic bias.

    Absolutely agree, and very much like your equation (Accuracy = reproducibility + trueness). In my view the way to avoid systematic bias is via the juxtaposition of civil society elites with differing interests. For example, a debate on an employment issue would attract advocates from, on the one side, the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors and on the other side the Trades Union Council and the Work Foundation. Nowadays the media also use spokesmen from think tanks, so the Institute for Economic Affairs might rank on one side, with the Institute for Public Policy on the other. Media organisations, such as the BBC, adopt this approach when discussing controversial issues. It does have a rather crude dichotomising effect, but I can’t see any better way of ensuring balance. If we were dealing with important legislative issues, we can be sure that the media and the political parties will be watching the advocates like hawks and will pounce on any sign of systematic bias.

    The only people who would disavow this dialectical approach to “trueness” would be those who still claim a crude distinction between the elite (1%) and the masses (99%), and who might well claim that all the above organisations were little more than useful idiots conscripted by the Powers That Be. No-one is claiming that expert opinion is in any sense impartial, elites will always have their own agenda and interests, the important point being that there are a multitude of conflicting elites and the best way to arrive at “trueness” is via the dialectical exchange of views/information.

    Needless to say I also agree with your reply to Yoram on the issue of the conditions of ideal deliberation.

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  54. PS Although this thread got off to an inauspicious start, I think great progress has been made, and only wish Peter Stone had the time and inclination to re-engage with a debate that was initiated by the reception of his own post.

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  55. Keith wrote that some people (like Yoram) seem to believe “… that an individual must, ipso facto, understand their own interests.” This description is not exactly fair, I don’t think.

    The assertion is simply that an individual is the best judge of her own interests. This is not because they automatically or spontaneously KNOW their own interests, but rather they have the least risk of being corrupted in judging the information presented or sought out about their interests. Any individual may come to a wrong conclusion, but we shouldn’t allow for other guardians (whether expert or not), except for people with clearly compromised ability, such as children or senile.

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  56. >The assertion is simply that an individual is the best judge of her own interests.

    I have never denied that (subject to the provisos that you mention), and have always argued that JUDGMENT is not an elite function. But I dispute Yoram’s further claim that an individual must inform herself, as this will, of necessity, mean that the information sought will be limited by her present knowledge and inclinations. Education (the provision of information) has always been a didactic elite function and there is no reason to believe that this will, of necessity, end at the school-leaving age.

    While those towards the postmodern end of the liberal spectrum might well argue for some sort of equivalence of information sources and that competent adults should be left to decide how best to inform themselves, this argument fails at the collective level of an allotted assembly with legislative powers. Representative judgment must be well informed, and there is no reason at all to think that an allotted chamber will seek to obtain balanced information (or would even know where to look). This will lead both to variation between different allotted samples and poorer-quality epistemic outcomes.

    Yoram’s pursuit of “pure” democracy* requires information to be sought rather than provided, and this leads him to make the claim that an allotted assembly will automatically act in the general interest. But it’s not for Terry or Keith to explicate Yoram’s argument, he should do that himself. Or perhaps you’re explaining your own view, in which case I agree with you 99% (I’m a little wary about the “or sought out” element of what you previously called a “decision” panel, on account of the inevitable variation in outcome that will be a barrier to perceived representativity).

    *As a point of information there never has been and never will be a pure democracy: even Athens in the classical age was a mixture of the one, the few and the many, but that would be the topic for a different post.

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  57. > some South London pentecostal churches had successfully persuaded HIV-positive people to give up their medical treatment in return for the laying on of hands and a bottle of holy water.

    So you are really advocating forcing medical treatment onto unwilling people? Or merely exposing them to intensive “balanced advocacy” until they agree to undergo the treatment? And are you really basing advocacy of elite power on the (alleged) behavior of negligible groups in extreme situations? Your position is indeed desperately weak if this is the best you can offer, when the lethal consequences of elite power are on a dramatically larger scale.

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  58. Andre,

    > « if we were in a society of general leisure and we had one political decision to take every year, direct democracy by referendum could work, because a good deliberation would be possible ; practically it cannot work, and sortition is the way to a practical direct democracy ».

    I don’t quite agree with this statement, but in any case, you are now hypothesizing some unreal political conditions. This is quite different from hypothesizing “conditions of ideal deliberation”.

    Anyway, I don’t think that sortition advocacy would need to rely on either hypothetical concept. I think a straightforward argument based on the epistemic and organizational requirements of democratic decision-making should be effective.

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  59. >So you are really advocating forcing medical treatment onto unwilling people? Or merely exposing them to intensive “balanced advocacy” until they agree to undergo the treatment?

    My view is that adults exceeding a minimum level of education and mental competence, and benefiting from balanced advocacy (without the scare quotes), should make up their own minds. This would be true in both the individual and (more importantly) the group case, where the random sample of competent adults would be deciding whether or not everyone else should abjure medical science in favour of the witch doctor. Remember we are talking about a legislative assembly here, so the outcome of the deliberations would bear the full force of the law. Minorities (who might well prefer to continue with antiretroviral treatment) might well be forced to give it up in favour of the bottle of holy water and laying on of hands. But that wouldn’t be a problem to you, as the “lethal consequences of elite power” would have been put to rest.

    >And are you really basing advocacy of elite power on the (alleged) behavior of negligible groups in extreme situations?

    I’m simply choosing an extreme example to illustrate a general principle. Call it the practical equivalent of a thought experiment if you like. What I don’t accept is the (singular) notion of “elite power” — the simple dichotomy between the ruling class and the masses — which appears to be your chosen sociological model. This may have been true 150 years ago, but in modern pluralistic and multicultural societies there are many elites. The power of money and the hegemony of ideas are more often than not diametrically opposed — hence the widespread view that the right was victorious in the economic battleground but lost the culture wars.

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  60. @keithsutherland

    > If we want to introduce political innovations it’s probably best not to start off by alienating all of the existing power-bearers.

    Dear oh dear oh dear ….

    A cursory reading of history shows that “existing power-bearers” NEVER give up one iota of power willingly.

    Be under no illusion, any political change is a merciless fight for the hearts & minds of the people.

    If you have any ideas how to convince “existing power-bearers” that sortition is in their interest, I’m all ears.

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  61. >If you have any ideas how to convince “existing power-bearers” that sortition is in their interest, I’m all ears.

    Take a look at Fishkin’s last book for some preliminary evidence in several countries. The Labour government started some experiments with citizen jury panels (mainly Patricia Hewettt’s health department). But, more importantly, whenever there is a controversial issue, governments are keen to establish enquiries, commissions (Hutton, Leveson etc) — anything to enable them to wash their hands of the matter. All that is needed is to a add a jury to what is already a quasi-judicial process. Governments also hate referenda, and would likely welcome a chance to replace the knee-jerk reaction of the public with a considered popular verdict. I don’t think anyone should dismiss the concern that serving politicians have regarding the low esteem of the public for our existing political institutions. Politicians would like nothing better than to increase democratic legitimacy.

    What they won’t want to do is to relinquish the power of initiative (quite rightly in my view), on account of the fact that they have a democratic mandate. Although I find Olly Dowlen’s proposals for sortition a little on the weak side, I applaud his constructive approach of seeking to improve democracy, rather than taking the lazy option of assuming that all politicians are only in it for their own ends. And political power isn’t an either/or zero sum game.

    >any political change is a merciless fight for the hearts & minds of the people.

    Now where did I hear that before? Probably at a SWP meeting in the 1970s.

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  62. >> If you have any ideas how to convince “existing power-bearers” that sortition is in their interest, I’m all ears.

    > Take a look at Fishkin’s last book for some preliminary evidence in several countries.

    Exactly – Fishkin demonstrates how sortition can be used (like elections), playing a bit part in some sort of political theater, as a tool to legitimate elite policy and difuse popular discontent.

    The question then is not whether there is a way to convince the elite that sortition is useful for them. It could very well be useful to them. The question is whether sortition could serve the interests of the elite at the same time that it serves the interests of the masses. The answer to this question is “no”. Sortition is useful to the masses only as long as it serves as a tool of democracy. Enhancing democracy is, by definition, antagonistic to the interests of the elite.

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  63. >> any political change is a merciless fight for the hearts & minds of the people.

    > Now where did I hear that before? Probably at a SWP meeting in the 1970s.

    How droll. Your SWP comrades neglected to inform you that they were paraphrasing a revolutionary authority: “The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations…. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution”.

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  64. My concern was with the “merciless fight”, not “hearts and minds”, a concept that would not have appealed to John Adams (prior to the declaration of war). “Your salvation lies in merciless struggle” (Leon Trotsky).

    >Sortition is useful to the masses only as long as it serves as a tool of democracy. Enhancing democracy is, by definition, antagonistic to the interests of the elite.

    Many, or even most, elected politicians sincerely believe that they are working for the common good and would welcome anything that increases the legitimacy of the democratic process. But they won’t if there is no role for them to play in the Brave New World of Aleoteria (unlike in classical Greece where considerable power was held by the rhetores kai strategoi).

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  65. > Many, or even most, elected politicians sincerely believe that they are working for the common good and would welcome anything that increases the legitimacy of the democratic process.

    Noble sentiments.

    Unfortunately there is no evidence to support your assertions.

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  66. I would suspect most elected politicians actually DO sincerely BELIEVE they are working for the good of society. We are all prone to BELIEVE that those things that benefit US are inherently good. We are rationalizing creatures, more than rational. However, this belief only masks the reality.

    I remember when I was a legislator and my committee was dealing with a bill on the rights and responsibilities of landlords and renters. I discovered that none of my fellow committee members were renters, but several were landlords. I then researched a bit about the housing situation of the other members of the House of Representatives, and as far as I could find out, there was only one renter out of the 150 members. Needless to say, this poor descriptive representation helped feed an anti-renter bias in the bill we were debating. There were no renters participating in the deliberation as equals to present their point of view in a personal manner. The legislators genuinely THOUGHT they were being reasonable and fair…but few renters would have agreed.

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  67. Terry,

    Yes that’s a fair point — JS Mill said something very similar 150 years ago to describe a rather different society. But do you agree that you were a member of a “ruling elite”, imposing policies that were “oppressive” and “criminal”, as Yoram put it in a recent post. And even if you have since undergone a Damascene conversion and are now one of the 99%, do you think this is the sort of language that we should be employing if we want to improve our political arrangements, particularly if we agree that legislators are, on the whole, well-intentioned (but poorly informed)? Don’t you think they might be inclined to dismiss us as a bunch of old Trots, with our “merciless fight for the hearts and minds of the people”?

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  68. > JS Mill said something very similar

    Thank goodness we have JS Mill’s authority for confirming that people tend to take care of their own material interests.

    > Don’t you think they might be inclined to dismiss us as a bunch of old Trots, with our “merciless fight for the hearts and minds of the people”?

    Sure – no doubt if we just keep our conversation more polite “they” will be much more inclined to share their power. It is only our vulgar demeanor that makes the elite so power hungry.

    BTW, I would note that politically speaking there is no “us” here. Your political agenda has very little in common with mine, for example. Let’s not mistake our common interest in sortition for a common political agenda.

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  69. >BTW, I would note that politically speaking there is no “us” here. Your political agenda has very little in common with mine, for example. Let’s not mistake our common interest in sortition for a common political agenda.

    Absolutely. This is why I take issue with your elite/masses distinction. On which side do Terry, Yoram and Keith figure in terms of these two camps, and what are your criteria? Presumably I must be a member of the elite and you of the masses, but how do you determine this? Income? Education? Occupation? As a former legislator, Terry must have been a member of the ruling elite but has he now handed in his notice and gone over to the other side? Note: if your criterion is our very different political views then this is nothing more than a tautology (and the political rhetoric of the Labour Party).

    All I see is a wide plurality of interests — elite and popular, economic and culture — and no simple polarization of interests (and no a priori way of judging what policies favour what groups). And I certainly disdain the normative divide between the elite (“oppressive”, “criminal” etc) and the virtuous masses, who are only concerned with the general good/common interest.

    As for the appetite for power of the elite, if you’re not in power then you can’t get anything done. This is a political fact, not a psychological observation. And I can understand why a politician who was elected on the basis of a manifesto programme would be reluctant to cede the power of inititiave to a small allotted oligarchy, as this would be a betrayal of fundamental democratic principles. But I see no reason at all why an elected politician would not accept that her policy proposals should be subject to the considered scrutiny of a group of her peers. This would involve the sharing of power between politicians and the demos (exactly as in classical Athens), rather than just trading in one sort of oligarchy for another (your proposal).

    Even if you view this as a contemptable cop-out from “pure” democracy (the governance system of angels rather than men), I would implore you to hold your nose and put up with it. Just see it as foot-in-the door, Trotskyite entryism — i.e. purely a tactical move.

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  70. > Sure – no doubt if we just keep our conversation more polite “they” will be much more inclined to share their power. It is only our vulgar demeanor that makes the elite so power hungry.

    Spot on Yoram.

    If only our kind & benevolent masters could see the error of their ways …

    Another thing beyond the comprehension of KS et al is that sortition should be an incremental & iterative process. Similar to a successful open source project.

    The effects of placing decision making AND political process improvement within the remit of ordinary people is too terrifying a prospect for many.

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  71. > Presumably I must be a member of the elite and you of the masses, but how do you determine this?

    You do not advocate placing policy initiation, decision making & political process improvement in the hands of randomly selected citizens.

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  72. > rather than just trading in one sort of oligarchy for another (your proposal).

    I think you’ve really lost the plot here.

    The whole point of sortition is that it acts as a bulwark against oligarchy.

    One often wonders why your sole purpose on this blog seems to be to sow Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt.

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  73. > Just see it as foot-in-the door, Trotskyite entryism — i.e. purely a tactical move.

    Breathtaking naiveity. Politicians & power brokers are not stupid.

    If you want a “foot in the door”, start a political party with a manifesto to implement sortition.

    You don’t want a foot in the door – you want the threat of a good example; ie a fully functioning successfully implemented alloted system as an example for others to follow.

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  74. >The effects of placing decision making AND political process improvement within the remit of ordinary people is too terrifying a prospect for many.

    >The whole point of sortition is that it acts as a bulwark against oligarchy.

    Although it’s the case that sortition could put political power in the hands of “ordinary people” this is not a sufficient condition for democracy, unless you assume that “ordinary people” are identical proletarian clones that all have the same interests. If this were the case then it would make little difference which clone were selected, as the 99% would predominate. However, in a modern multicultural society this is far from true, hence the need to ensure representativity. Whilst aggregated decision making (ie voting) is a representative process, not so for the speech acts of individual citizens, hence the need for different procedures to ensure representativity in policy initiation (in order to prevent the establishment of a new, and equally unrepresentative, oligarchy — one that is chosen by lot)

    We’ve been over all this before, but Anonymous would appear to have his fingers in her ears. The only way to resolve this dispute would be for her to confirm her adherence to Marxist sociology (that carves up the political space into two distinct and homogeneous interest groups) or to redefine the word “representation” in a non-standard way. That would be more constructive than attributing unfounded psychological states (terror etc) to those that disagree with her.

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