Teleb: If Crowds Are Wise, Why Isn’t Congress?

Ahmed Teleb makes the wisdom-by-diversity argument against elections and more specifically against first-past-the-post systems:

We’ve all heard of the “wisdom of crowds” especially after James Surowiecki’s 2004 best-selling book by that name and Scott Page’s 2007 “The Difference.” […]

So why does the US Congress, a crowd of 535, seem so remarkably un-wise?

[…]

Leaving aside the more entangled issues of independence and decentralization for a moment, the case regarding lack of cognitive diversity is clear.

In the United States, members of both Houses are elected through large, single-member districts based on a first-past-the-post (FPTP) plurality method where the candidate with the most (not usually majority) votes wins. […]

This type of voting mathematically favors a single or dual-party system. It also happens to virtually shut out minority parties and, more importantly, minority opinions. In other words, our electoral system virtually eliminates cognitive diversity–what may be not just a prerequisite for a well-functioning legislature, but the very justification for democracy as a form of government to begin with.

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43 Responses

  1. I find the “Congress is stupid” argument misguided. The problem with elite government is not incompetence, but corruption. The elite quite capably promotes its own interests at the expense of those of the public.

    A powerful body like Congress can deploy resources in order to obtain competent analysis and advice and can therefore produce policy that matches its interests. This applies to an elected Congress as well as to an allotted Congress. The claim that, say, a group of rich white lawyers is not able to promote its own interests as well as a more diverse group would is as unlikely as the claim that women are better off having men control policy.

    (See here for a discussion of competence and corruption in government and the impact of the selection mechanism.)

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  2. The most important ‘lack of diversity’ is the fact that elected legislators all have the same #1 skill: getting elected.

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  3. Truthout is a rather popular American blog, and it’s nice to be included there; but let me put the article in context. The original is just over a year old and in hindsight it seems naive, although still relevant.

    It starts with two recent popular books on “collective intelligence,” Surowiecki’s “The Wisdom of Crowds” and Page’s “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies.” It then moves on to Landemore’s “Democratic Reason” and Woodruff’s “First Democracy.” These last two books played a big role in my beginning to post or blog at all, because I saw that other people were thinking about what I would call “deep politics.”

    In the article I suggest electoral reforms for the US and I only indirectly mention sortition. I refer to another article “Could a future election be a lottery,” http://filasophia.com/2012/12/10/a-future-election-lottery/
    that mentions “The Kleroterians” and links back to Equality by Lot. This brings my story back full circle, because that article is how I connected with you all in the first place.

    Thanks for posting Yoram and I appreciate all your comments everyone!

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  4. Yoram,

    You are, as usual, conflating (epistemic) judgment and interests. The wisdom-of-crowds and cognitive diversity literature deals with the former rather than the latter. This is not to suggest that interests will not cloud or compromise judgment, but to assume that members of congress are blindly following their own interests is materialist dogma. It’s perfectly possible for rich, white, middle-aged lawyers to pursue other political goals than those normally associated with their own socio-political class. The reciprocal claim — that a body that looks like America will automatically act like America — is equally untrue. If you continue to ignore the distinction between standing for and acting for then you will continue to make this conflation.

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  5. > You are, as usual, conflating (epistemic) judgment and interests.

    No, I am not. You are, as usual, making transparently false assertions.

    > It’s perfectly possible for rich, white, middle-aged lawyers to pursue other political goals than those normally associated with their own socio-political class.

    Yes, it is logically possible, but there is neither reason to believe this is the case, nor evidence that it is. I know that you are quite fond of rich, white, middle-aged lawyers, but asking us to believe that they are angels who are immune to the corrupting influence of power is a bit too much.

    > act like America

    What does this mean? How does a nation act?

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  6. Yoram,

    The literature that Ahmed cited deals entirely with epistemic issues, hence the use of words like “wisdom”, “stupidity” etc. You took issue with this, claiming members of congress are not suffering from epistemic failings, but are merely acting in their own interests, hence my claim that you are conflating epistemic factors with interests. The only way that this would not be a conflation would be to argue that it is possible to reduce all ideological factors to interests. This is a metaphysical position (traditionally called materialism) that you have frequently argued for, so I must apologise for accusing your of conflation, as this is entirely consistent with your (archaic) metaphysics. Unfortunately it’s entirely alien to the literature that Ahmed was citing.

    >What does this mean? How does a nation act?

    That’s precisely Pitkin’s point — I couldn’t have phrased it better. Although an assembly might look like America (Bill Clinton’s phrase), only concrete individuals engage in speech acts and these would be entirely random and could not be taken to represent anyone and anything other than the individuals who made them.

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  7. > You took issue with this, claiming members of congress are not suffering from epistemic failings, but are merely acting in their own interests, hence my claim that you are conflating epistemic factors with interests.

    It seems you do not understand the meaning of the verb “conflate”.

    > This is a metaphysical position (traditionally called materialism) that you have frequently argued for

    Yet another fabrication.

    >>> The reciprocal claim — that a body that looks like America will automatically act like America — is equally untrue.
    >> What does this mean? How does a nation act?
    > That’s precisely Pitkin’s point — I couldn’t have phrased it better.

    It is quite a impressive how you manage to make a confident, self-important claim in one comment only to assert with equal confidence and self-importance just one comment later that your original claim is based on a meaningless concept.

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  8. Yoram, we’re really getting nowhere. Either you were conflating epistemic judgment and interests or you were reducing the former to the latter; what other alternative is there? As for your last accusation, this is what I actually said:

    “The reciprocal claim — that a body that looks like America will act like America — is equally untrue”

    This isn’t meaningless, it’s just confusing the type of actions that individuals and groups can undertake. I strongly recommend you read carefully the section of Pitkin’s book that makes this distinction.

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  9. Perhaps Yoram was pointing out an aspect of (American) political reality that my article and the lit on collective intelligence does not at all address, or simply takes for granted. Both the article and the work on collective intelligence begin with the assumption of good faith on the part of deliberators and/or voters. And this may be a good assumption in most cases, over a large number, or over the long run.

    That said, there seems to be more than one definition of “interests.” Yoram’s objection could be not that Congresspeople are self-interested in the narrow sense, but that they are constrained by systemic factors, such as seeking reelection, raising campaign funds, the conduct of elections, from acting “intelligently” for the common good.

    Is that fair?

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  10. Ahmed,

    I think that’s an acceptable, although charitable interpretation (Yoram’s words, referring to the interests of rich white lawyers, were “The elite quite capably promotes its own interests at the expense of those of the public”. I don’t believe the electorate is mainly comprised of rich white lawyers). My concern was the conflation of judgment and interests and/or the metaphysical position that the former can be reduced to the latter.

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  11. > you were conflating epistemic judgment and interests

    Again, it seems you misunderstand what “conflate” means. To conflate is to regard different things as if they were the same. I on the hand was explicitly making a distinction between two things.

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  12. Ahmed,

    > Both the article and the work on collective intelligence begin with the assumption of good faith on the part of deliberators and/or voters. And this may be a good assumption in most cases, over a large number, or over the long run.

    I am not quite sure what you mean. Are you saying that Congresspeople are generally honest with their voters?

    > Yoram’s objection could be not that Congresspeople are self-interested in the narrow sense, but that they are constrained by systemic factors, such as seeking reelection, raising campaign funds, the conduct of elections, from acting “intelligently” for the common good.

    Congresspeople are very different from the common person, so it is only natural that their interests are not aligned with the common good. What the mechanisms at work here are is an interesting question (see, for example, a discussion in the comments section here). But regardless of the mechanisms, the point is that the theory that Congress is trying to promote the common good (as perceived by the common person) but failing is much less plausible than the theory that it is effectively promoting narrow interests that are antithetical to the common good.

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  13. Yoram,

    >To conflate is to regard different things as if they were the same. I on the hand was explicitly making a distinction between two things.

    Thank you for the clarification. Is your claim then that members of congress are deliberately making decisions that are epistemically unsound (ie not conducive to the general good) as they are consciously pursuing the interests of “rich white lawyers”. If so then that is a very serious claim and it also takes issue with the validity of the literature that Ahmed based his post on. The claim of the wisdom-of-crowds/cognitive diversity paradigm is, as you rightly acknowledge, that poor epistemic outcomes are the product of inadequate cognitive diversity. So it looks as if there is a third alternative, that you appear to be advocating, perhaps you would like to come up with a name for it:

    1. Conflation
    2. Reduction
    3. ?

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  14. On reflection the third alternative should be some variant of Machiavellianism. This would also fit in with Yoram’s model of political sociology — based on a sharp divide between the grandi and the popolo. The former are characterised by a desire to oppress and the latter by the will for freedom. This may or may not have been a useful model during the early-modern period but 21st century politicians might be a little surprised to learn that their motives are as cynical as this perspective would suggest. If I were a rich white lawyer I think I would be more inclined to hold on to my day job rather than trade it in for public opprobrium, low wages and poor job security (I’m speaking here of British Members of Parliament).

    So that would make the alternatives for the judgment/interests relationship:

    1. Conflation
    2. Reduction
    3. Neo-Machiavellianism

    The wisdom of crowds/cognitive diversity literature would suggest a fourth alternative — politicians, on the whole, are well intentioned but suffer from an epistemically-impoverished perspective. On top of this their options are severely constrained by the need to raise campaign funds and to secure re-election. No doubt Machiavelli, Marx and their modern disciples would consider this to be entirely naive — elected politicians are deceiving the popolo because a) it is in their nature to oppress and b) this furthers their class interests.

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  15. Your steadfast belief in the incorruptibility of the MPs is heartwarming if somewhat childlike.

    BTW, you were again too busy to check your facts. The MPs’ “meager” salaries put them deep into the top decile of incomes in the UK, and their job security is so poor that the average sitting MP has already spent over 10 years in office.

    http://www.parliament.uk/about/faqs/house-of-commons-faqs/members-faq-page2/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salaries_of_Members_of_the_United_Kingdom_Parliament

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  16. I would be very surprised if an MP’s salary were not in the top decile — after all it is (or ought to be) an important job. Regarding job security, redundant MPs don’t have the option of just switching to another company, they have to find a whole new career. And nobody is suggesting MPs are incorruptible, only that the pursuit of their own interests is unlikely to be the primary motivation — if it were then they would be better off pursuing an alternative career.

    A modern alternative to Machiavellianism would be Jeremy Bentham’s notion of “sinister interest” — a personal or class interest the maximization of which does not add to, but rather subtracts from, general happiness. Jon Elster has an interesting new book, Securities Against Misrule based around Bentham’s argument. But Elster denies that there is any way of uncovering the general will, arguing that the best democracy can do is reduce as much as possible the impact of self-interest, passion, prejudice and bias on the decision makers. I’m not aware of any historical examples, or serious political theory models, effectively abolishing elite power, except perhaps Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat. However, this is, as Aristotle pointed out, the rule of the poor (ton aporon) as opposed to government by the many (to plethos), so would be better described as the sinister interest of the poor. That’s why Aristotle considered democracy a corrupt form of government, unlike politeia (government in the general interest), which requires a mixture of democracy and aristocracy.

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  17. Keith and Yoram,

    We all regularly justify/rationalize/invent a reasonable narrative that allows us to see ourselves as good people. Why does it matter what internal story rich white male legislators tell themselves about their motivations? As outside observers, we can objectively confirm that they effectively serve the interests of rich white males better than the interests of any other group, or any “common good.” What does it matter if they BELIEVE they are trying to serve the common good, or if they believe they are successfully being tricky about deceiving the public? I expect some legislators fall in to each of these categories.

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  18. Terry – I completely agree.

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  19. > I would be very surprised if an MP’s salary were not in the top decile

    So “low wages” means “top decile” salary.

    You seem to be speaking a language whose resemblance to English is purely syntactic.

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  20. Terry,

    That is the standard trope of option 2 (reduction). Given that this thread is based around an article by Ahmed, let’s remind ourselves of his own comment:

    “Both the article and the work on collective intelligence begin with the assumption of good faith on the part of deliberators and/or voters. And this may be a good assumption in most cases, over a large number, or over the long run.”

    I’m no expert on American politics but your claim that Congress favours rich white males over the general interest strikes me as partisan. It would certainly not be true in a country like the UK. Ahmed’s attempt to find a conciliatory via media appears to have fallen on deaf ears and confirms my view that sinister interest (option 3) is the dominant trope on this blog. I’m grateful to Yoram for pointing out that this is not a conflation — he clearly believes that elected politicians deliberately take decisions that they know are not in the general interest. You appear to be more charitable, hence your reduction of cognitive factors (beliefs, judgments) to subliminal interests, although you also acknowledge option 3 as a possibility (successfully being tricky about deceiving the public). What you both rule out as “naive” is option 4, favoured by Ahmed and myself and the various authors (Page, Surowiecki, Estlund, Landemore etc) whose work you have used to underwrite your own reductionist argument. I think these authors might be less than pleased to see their work used in this way. The secret is in the term “cognitive diversity” (as opposed to plurality of interests).

    Yoram,

    As always you are picking nits (as we say in the UK). “Low wage” is relative to the earnings of similar professionals (most MPs have benefited from a good education — hence your “rich white male lawyer” trope).

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  21. Yoram,

    I’m puzzled that you “completely agree” with Terry’s reduction of beliefs to interests (or, more accurately, that beliefs are merely a confabulation [a neuropysychological term] — a story we tell ourselves in order to maintain cognitive equilibrium). This is your original comment on Ahmed’s piece:

    “The problem with elite government is not incompetence, but corruption. The elite quite capably promotes its own interests at the expense of those of the public.”

    I’m struggling to understand what you mean by the word “corruption”. Are you suggesting that this can be an unconscious process? That’s certainly not the way the word is normally used in a political context. I’m also concerned in general at “psychoanalytic” approaches to politics wherein the analyst assumes a privileged perspective over a political agent’s “real” motivations (as opposed to her stated beliefs, which are dismissed as confabulations). Psychodynamics has not been very successful in improving our understanding of human behaviour, so it might be unwise to import a discredited methodology into the analysis of political behaviour. The cognitive diversity literature (the topic of this post), by contrast, assumes that people mean what they say and merely argues that their cognitions are impoverished by a lack of diverse input. Cognitive psychology (and its practical offshoot, CBT) is the dominant paradigm and Terry and yourself are defending a defunct model. Of course you are entirely at liberty to do so, as you are to rely on 19th-century theories of class interests, although these are now mostly the subject matter of students of the history of political thought.

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  22. Keith,
    Let me give an example (I probably have mentioned before) from when I was in the legislature…
    My committee was dealing with a bill amending the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants during a bankruptcy process. None of the committee members were tenants, and several were landlords. The committee as a whole was very sympathetic to the stories of landlords about tenants who had trashed an apartment, and tended to discount stories about landlords who had behaved irresponsibly. The Committee was non-diverse, non-representative, and biased in a particular direction. They genuinely believed they were pursuing the “common good” by leaning in the direction the landlords preferred. A lottery selected cross-section of the citizenry would have had far more diversity (including around 1/3 renters). Would the superior representativeness resulted in a better law? I think so. Would this be due to the cognitive diversity enhancing problem solving ability? Partly. Would it be due to better understanding of the common good? Partly. Would it be due to inherent tendency to pursue class interests? Partly.

    I think the cognitive diversity argument is valid and important when the common good is broadly agreed on (perhaps dealing with global warming eventually, or reducing unemployment), where PROBLEM SOLVING is the essence of the challenge. But when the core of the challenge is deciding who gets what money, when, then class interests may be more significant than any deficits in problem-solving ability.

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  23. > I’m struggling to understand what you mean by the word “corruption”. Are you suggesting that this can be an unconscious process?

    See the article and the comments thread I linked to above for a prolonged discussion. Corruption (in government) means using a government position for serving interests other than those of the public. The question of consciousness or intent is immaterial (and often impossible to determine).

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  24. Terry,

    You did give that example before and I responded that it was similar to J.S. Mill’s story about the need for working people to be represented in parliament (the issue in question was the right to strike). But Mill accepted this as a purely epistemic problem (lack of sufficient cognitive diversity), there was no suggestion that MPs were subject to sinister influence and just confabulating stories to justify their selfish class-based actions (Mill was writing before the Marxist/Freudian detour and didn’t share his father’s affinity to Bentham).

    >when the core of the challenge is deciding who gets what money, when, then class interests may be more significant than any deficits in problem-solving ability.

    That’s why Aristotle argued that democracy (the dictatorship of the poor) was a corrupted form of government. Politeia (rule in the general interest) requires a mixed constitution, hence my opposition to your proposals for a single principle of political representation.

    Yoram,

    >The question of consciousness or intent is immaterial (and often impossible to determine).

    I would counter that “the interests of the public” are equally difficult (if not impossible) to determine in a non-tautological way. You have stated before that a socialised healthcare system is self-evidently in the public interest and the only reason the US doesn’t have one is the sinister interest of Big Pharma and the congressmen it has bought. Conservatives and libertarians counter that the market is the most efficient way of distributing resources and that socialised systems provide a poor quality of health care. These are competing partisan positions — the only way of deciding which one is in the public interest is to ask the public and this is what democratic procedures are designed to do.

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  25. @Terry, your last comment is excellent !It explains something subtle and important in simple language. And the example is one that people can remember. It would be great if it was included below the Truthout article. Do you mind posting it there or mind if I copy and paste it?

    Who is actually PRESENT matters as much as any good intentions. It does not preclude that a people can consider the view points and interests of others and the common good; but a tenant can surely express his/her own interests better than the best intentioned landlord.

    @Keith, your point about Aristotle only applies to proposals that would replace all current gov’ with an unrestricted allotted body. It seems that many on this form are only calling for a “mixed” system to balance the voices, interests, viewpoints of the aristos with that of the demos.

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  26. Ahmed,

    > a “mixed” system to balance the voices, interests, viewpoints of the aristos with that of the demos.

    This is no “balance” at all. This is just a polite way to say “a system that gives some elite disproportional power.”

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  27. Ahmed,

    >It seems that many on this forum are only calling for a “mixed” system to balance the voices, interests, viewpoints of the aristos with that of the demos.

    If only that were true. Unfortunately, in terms of the frequent commentators [Yoram, pls. note my careful choice of words], you and are part of a small minority. I agree with you completely regarding Aristotle, as democracy – vs – politeia is the difference between the rule of the poor (ton aporon) and government by the many (to plethos). The dictatorship of the proletariat would be no improvement on the dictatorship of a single person or an oligarchy, as Aristotle’s goal was limited government and right order (kata taxin). Unlimited government will always end in tears — I’m sure it would be possible to link this with the argument for cognitive diversity, as diversity would suggest some degree of agonism. In this respect Terry’s principal error is advocating cognitive diversity in instances where the general good has already been agreed — i.e. cognitive diversity has a purely epistemic role to play in problem solving, the common good having been predetermined by majority class interests. (Interestingly, Aristotle argued that the correlation between the poor and the majority was purely contingent, democracy would still be the rule of the poor even if the poor were in a minority [I confess that I don’t understand why this should be the case!].)

    Terry,

    Given that you are limiting the role of cognitive diversity to technical fixes (global warming, unemployment etc) and advocating class rule for politics (determining the general good), why are you so confident that full-mandate sortition is the answer? Fixing global warming is a highly technical matter where scientific expertise might well play the most important role. A similar case could be made for unemployment, although practitioners of the “dismal science” of economics would predominate. Note that the Athenians reserved magistracies where technical skills were required to an elite selected by preference elections. On the other hand a full-mandate allotted body (that would be dominated by ordinary folk who might not wish to give up their automobiles and air conditioning) might well decide that their common good was to sweep the global warming problem under the carpet and frack the shale as hard as possible in order to bring down the price of gasoline. According to Loren Samons’ 2004 book, the Athenian democracy fell because the demos was more interested in subsidised theatre tickets than fostering the austere and martial republican virtues required to defend the polis against Philip of Macedon.

    Rather than a magic bullet, sortition in both examples might well be a case of shooting ourselves in the foot. It seems to me you’ve got it precisely the wrong way round — Rousseau, for example, argued that the role of the general assembly (which was to be insulated from [class-based] factions and other partial interests) was to determine/uncover the general good — Aristotle’s argument for cognitive diversity is entirely apposite here, and sortition is the only way to sample this diversity in a statistically-representative manner. On the other hand the role of the delegated (elected) government is to use its expertise to make sure the trains run on time. Of course you could argue that Rousseau (and every other neo-republican theorist) is wrong and you are right; on the other hand you might be better advised to go back to the the drawing board.

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  28. > Unfortunately, in terms of the frequent commentators [Yoram, pls. note my careful choice of words], you and are part of a small minority.

    Heh. So if we use your conveniently gerrymandered definition, frequent commentators means Ahmed, Terry, Campbell, your humble self and my humble self. That puts the “small minority” at 40% and only one person away from a large majority. As usual your statements – even on basic issues of simple fact – bear very little connection to reality.

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  29. Sorry, I should have said “minority”. It’s still remarkable that 60% of frequent commentators are advocating a political system (pure sortition) that has never been tried or even advocated by any serious political theorist.* Advocates of mixed constitutions might well expect to be in an overwhelming majority (even though they might well misdescribe the mixed constitution as “democracy”). This would suggest the advocates of pure sortition to be denizens of utopian dreamworlds (or cloud-cookoo land).

    * Barbara Goodwin, when she puts on her democratic theorist hat, has no interest in sortition as a form of political representation; she nails her colours firmly to the mast of the Stone-Dowlen paddleboat.

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  30. Crowds — wise; Congress — unwise. Why?

    Simple: a crowd consists of individuals, each making up their own minds independently of each other. Congressmen and women meet, talk discuss together. (‘Independence’ is a characteristic well-understood by sampling statisticians).

    So is a legal jury a ‘wise crowd’, given that they (unlike the ancient Athenian juries) discuss their verdict?

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  31. So whenever a group discusses an issue they become unwise and make poorer decisions?

    Should scientists stop communicating?

    Have we all become less wise due to our discussions on this blog?

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  32. >Have we all become less wise due to our discussions on this blog?

    A moot point. As Conall points out the “wisdom” of crowds presupposes, as Condorcet demonstrated, independence, and this is generally a casualty of in-group communication. Helene Landemore argues that there are two distinct cognitive mechanisms involved in the Argumentative Theory of Reasoning, one being the ability to persuade and the other being the ability to judge the persuasive efforts of others, and this would suggest a division of labour between the persuaders and the judges. Exactly why she believes that this privileges collective deliberation over silent deliberation within escapes me — possibly because she is confusing the latter with the classical view of reasoning as the (internal) correction of our own beliefs. This is clearly not the case when one is judging the arguments of others. If the ability to judge is an innate cognitive tool then the best way of implementing it is via the Condorcet method, certainly not by group discussion. Collective wisdom is, pace Habermas, the result of an arithmetic, rather than a communicative, process.

    As Terry has pointed out, the persuaders are rarely open to the persuasive powers of others as confirmation bias, from an evolutionary perspective, is a virtue in persuaders. The trial jury is an uncomfortable hybrid of the two, due to the felt need for unanimity (the Athenians were happy with a simple majority).

    Discussion between scientists can increase wisdom during the “normal science” phase of paradigm development (in Thomas Kuhn’s terminology), but during the revolutionary phase it generally reinforces the old paradigm. So what is the paradigmatic status of sortition studies?

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  33. There are two distinct elements of wisdom in this discussion. The benefits of cognitive diversity for finding solutions to problems is only realized when members share their knowledge and ideas…thus the need for external deliberation among a diverse group. However, due to the danger of information and status cascades in which members take the short-cut of relying on the opinions of others they respect, or simply the opinions that are expressed first or most forcefully, thus without independence, the judgmental wisdom of crowds is sacrificed. That is why I continue to advocate BOTH process in SEPARATE allotted diverse bodies.

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  34. I am pasting a part of Tom Atlee’s comments from a different context (discussion of the word “gov”) that are quite germane here and suggest a very interesting approach that synthesizes wisdom-deliberation-reflection-creativity:

    “As I step into this conversation, I must admit both that I am (a) not an academic and therefore not well versed in the many references to authorities that pepper this debate and (b) that I have trouble with very strange-sounding terms like “politdoche” and fear that having such a label for a vision that aims to privilege ordinary people, congenial relationships, and productive conversation is a sadly self-defeating step at a very fundamental stage, regardless of the brilliance of it as an original and encompassing concept. I wonder what we could craft from more familiar concepts and ideals that would help, rather than impede, its acceptance?
    /// Here are some more substantive additions to the conversation:
    /// 1. I’ve long thought that citizens juries and other such sortition-based citizen deliberative councils represent the “voice of the whole” from a “peer citizens in search of the common good” perspective. And I’ve long thought that stakeholder dialogues and consensus-motivated negotiations (like the principled negotiation approach pioneered in “Getting to Yes” or the needs-based Nonviolent Communication approach) represent the “voice of the whole (conflict or issue)” from a “diverse interests and needs” perspective. Both seem to be accessing “the voice of the whole”, each from its own angle.
    /// So I’ve long wondered if the two approaches could be integrated. For example, what would happen if three citizens juries were independently convened and carried out (all three using the same process) on the same issue and, at the same time, three stakeholder dialogues were convened and carried out (all three using the same process) on the same issue as the CJs – with all six undertakings carefully recorded (written and video records) for later detailed examination. If they came up with different results, it would be very instructive to track where the differences came from. If they came up with similar results, it would have profound implications for deliberative democracy’s capacity to generate a coherent “voice of the whole”.
    /// If the results were significantly different I’ve then wondered what would happen if six new groups were formed, each of which included members from all six of the previous groups – and they all underwent further independent deliberations – I believe that Dynamic Facilitation would be particularly potent for this purpose – to see how similar their final findings and recommendations would be after THAT process. I expect that either the results would be very similar or there would be an explosion of creativity in what they came up with – or both. Again, however it came out would be very instructive and potentially revolutionary.”

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  35. Terry

    Where is the evidence that the sort of cognitive diversity established by sortition is the best way of finding solutions to problems (technical fixes as you referred to it earlier)? The evidence in Helene’s book strikes me as very weak. I think there’s a danger of confusing the value of left-of-field (outside the box) thinking and diversity. Why not use crowdsourcing, e-petitions and/or competitions with a cash prize? The received wisdom that design by committee is sub-optimal would also apply to a committee selected by lot. Cognitive diversity was certainly the key to cracking the Enigma code at Bletchley Park in WWII, but its hard to see how sortition would have contributed to the selection process. The wisdom of crowds literature would suggest that aggregate judgment of a jury selected by lot is the best way (both epistemically and normatively) of judging the outcome of anything other than a highly technical domain but we need some solid evidence to understand why we would want to select problem solvers by sortition. Surowiecki’s book is full of evidence for the former but not the latter.

    Tom Atlee:

    >If [3 citizen juries and 3 stakeholder dialogues] came up with similar results, it would have profound implications for deliberative democracy’s capacity to generate a coherent “voice of the whole”.

    Absolutely. But it would be unlikely to happen with open-mandate deliberation. Could someone explain what “Dynamic Facilitation” means and how it would help establish convergence?

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  36. Keith,

    I like the broad approach to gathering proposals you mention (including crowd-sourcing, petitions, expert witnesses, and even cash prize contests), but all these proposals need to be compared, melded, amended, etc. to present one final draft to a policy jury. It is this review process that needs a diverse, and reasonably representative body that engages in an exchange of perspectives and ideas to craft an optimal final draft. The work of Landemore, Page and others suggests cognitive diversity would be helpful at this stage as well, not only in the stage of idea generation. We can’t know WHAT information or perspective will be useful in advance, so we can’t pre-select “experts.” As I see it, one version of the democratic model of Athens, is deliberation by those who are willing to do the work (citizens who volunteered for the lottery pool, or the minority who chose to attend the Assembly on a given day )… though I would prefer an opt OUT system over an opt IN system.

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  37. Terry,

    You’ve made good progress in separating out the three aspects (proposing, reviewing and disposing). Sortition is the obvious democratic candidate for disposing but there are alternatives for the first two stages. The danger with floating all three at once is that most people will be confused at the very different functions that each body serves, that’s why I would prefer to focus on disposing. Helene’s book is not really concerned with disposing, so I think the title Democratic Reason adds to the confusion. If you really want to float all three at once I think you need to devise terms that are unique to each stage. Even then, from a practical point of view, I imagine most folk will find it too much sortition to stomach at once. If it’s confusing to those of us who have been studying the subject for years, imagine how non-sortinistas will view it. I know you want to establish a comprehensive blueprint but political institutions evolve on a suck it and see basis, rather than being the product of the master plan of the Great Legislator. Better to focus on the unique role of jury-style sortition as a way to establish informed and representative judgment. This is a tried-and-tested application of sortition, rather than a speculative project.

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  38. Keith,

    As you point out, I am trying to discover the North Star of democracy here, rather than figure out interim short-term proposals. Both are vital tasks, but I need to know which direction we should go, before I suggest how we can cross some particular chasm, which may not be on the path we should take.

    I know you are proposing a more open process of proposing, than just political parties, but without sortition in the AGENDA SETTING driver’s seat, have you really made a democratic breakthrough? After all, the non-democratic city state of Sparta allowed the citizens in assembly to DECIDE on proposals brought before them by the aristocracy. Merely allowing juries to decide yes or no on agenda items that sortition bodies do not establish might lead away from democracy, rather than towards it. I am not asserting that…I just don’t know yet. Perhaps (and again, I am not asserting this to be the case) giving allotted bodies control over the AGENDA of Congress would be a more significant step towards democracy than juries making final decisions.

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  39. Terry,

    >After all, the non-democratic city state of Sparta allowed the citizens in assembly to DECIDE on proposals brought before them by the aristocracy.

    Yes, but if we are going to cite classical precedent, then we have to acknowledge that the ecclesia was at the heart of Athenian democracy, the allotted council was merely to protect the supremacy of the demokratia. That being the case then we need an analogue for large modern states, hence my emphasis on direct-democratic initiative (and/or citizens choosing indirectly via election). By all means have a modern boule to review initiatives, but the case for initiative by allotted body a) has no historical precedent and b) has only very weak support from the cognitive diversity literature.

    More importantly, given that initiatives are proposed by persons rather than statistical aggregates, I can’t see that everyone else would agree to sacrifice the tiny ability that they currently have to determine the political agenda. I think you acknowledged this when you said that the sortive initiative is for technical fixes rather than contentious political decisions, that need to be resolved by class-based partisan majorities. If you take that principle to its logical conclusion then you would have to admit that parties are the best way to represent class-based partisan politics, so the population that should be sampled by sortition for the agenda council should be paid-up members of the majority party. The only difference from politics as usual is that sortition would (in theory) generate a little more cognitive diversity than leaving it to party leaders, in practice it would mean policy making by anoraks and activists.

    Apart from the rotation of magistracies, “juries making final decisions” was the primary classical function of sortition and has extensive modern support from the wisdom of crowds literature. Helene, rightly, insists that the cognitive diversity and wisdom or crowds literature is distinct.

    As for the North Star, there is only one such celestial body, the problem with your multi-agency proposal is that it’s more like the Milky Way!

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  40. I believe a diverse, representative allotted body, having no pressure for elections, but with time to listen to numerous experts, and share perspectives is essential for good public policy agenda setting. There is a serious problem with leaving agenda generation to either politicians who face competitive elections, or petitions…Only certain kinds of issues will get to the head of the line, while other genuinely important matters are ignored. Some issues are “sexy” and others are either too long-term, or too boring, or too threatening to powerful interests to gain political visibility. In the U.S. there is a serious infrastructure deficit that no political party ever brings to the fore, not to mention the constant delay on dealing with global warming, etc.

    As for Athenian precedent…I know there is a commonly repeated theory that the allotted bodies merely were used to make sure they didn’t get too powerful and usurp the Assembly…but I think that theory has holes. For one thing…that ignores the decision by the Assembly to strip themselves of law making authority around 403 BCE, and transferring law-making authority to the allotted nomothetai.

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  41. @Terry, I pasted your anecdote on Truthout but left out your name and any identifying info. This is a public forum, but just because you posted here does not mean you want to it elsewhere. Let me know if that’s not alright by you.

    On Mon, Jan 6, 2014 at 11:41 AM, Equality by lot wrote:

    > Terry Bouricius commented: “I believe a diverse, representative > allotted body, having no pressure for elections, but with time to listen to > numerous experts, and share perspectives is essential for good public > policy agenda setting. There is a serious problem with leaving agenda gen” >

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  42. Terry,

    A compromise solution would be a low acceptance threshold for petitions and an allotted review committee to sift through them. Given the scale of modern societies that would be a reasonable functional analogue of the boule.

    >For one thing…that ignores the decision by the Assembly to strip themselves of law making authority around 403 BCE, and transferring law-making authority to the allotted nomothetai.

    Yes that’s true and the reason was the hasty nature of Assembly deliberation and the resulting erratic decisions. But the Assembly had to vote to establish its nomothetic committee, and appointed the “defence” advocates. The nomothetai had no initiative or advocacy powers and jurors listened in silence to the evidence before voting in secret –that’s why I use the nomothetai as the basis for my model of jury democracy — the argument being that it retains its status as a representative sample of the demos because it only performs an aggregate judgment function.

    The evidence that the boule initiated the Assembly agenda is a lot weaker (on anything other than housekeeping measures). They were more of a conduit for ho boulomenos and existed to protect the sovereignty of the Assembly from aristocratic influence. However you look at it the Assembly was the sovereign body and this is what requires a modern analogue.

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  43. Ahmed,

    I am fine with being quoted with attribution by name and credential (“a former Vermont State Representative”).

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