In a 13 minute speech on BBC Channel 4 radio,
Benet Brandreth argues that our current political discourse is bankrupt, so he proposes a novel solution: a legislature by lot.
Below is my summarized transcript of Brandreth’s talk:
- Important things are difficult to understand. They can’t be debated using Facebook comments. They require thought, consideration, research.
- Political rhetoric is no longer about persuasion or debate of the issues but cheerleading. This is a symptom and a cause of a fundamental failing of our system of democracy.
- The politician doesn’t wish to persuade people but to say something that is pleasing.
- The rhetoric tries merely to mobilize sufficient numbers of those who already share our prejudices. It’s about getting out the vote.
- Modern technology exacerbates cognitive biases. We are pleased to hear arguments which confirm our existing prejudices. Satellite TV and the Internet allow us to choose content that matches our opinions and we block the little that doesn’t.
- It is impossible to sort the accurate information from the biased and irrational noise.
- Politicians are not incentivized to educate or to persuade. They want to be re-elected – if nothing else their salaries and pensions depend on it.
- A political rhetoric that does not engage but divides is not the right way to make decisions.
- The solution to this problem (offered at least as a stimulus for thought) is for the lower house of the legislature to be selected by choosing 600 people at random to serve for 1 year, or maybe 4 year terms, staggered.
- Many other potential details will not be touched upon in this talk.
- Objection 1: the allotted chamber would not be representative. Answer: it would be representative in the way a jury is. It would not suffer from the self-selection bias of those who have the time and personality to seek power. It would not be made of professional politicians but of regular citizens.
- Objection 2: the allotted would be easily swayed by lobbyists and propaganda. Answer: to sway the allotted a persuasive argument would have be made rather than rely on sloganeering.
- There is no room for apathy or ignorance in a world in which at any moment you may find yourself dragged from obscurity and into the position of a member of parliament.
- For a policy or principle to succeed it would have to commend itself not by pandering to the prejudices and preconceptions of a narrow electorate but because its merits and necessity are made sufficiently clear to a disparate body of 600 people, who legislate without any thought of reelection or a lucrative consultancy to come but because they have been persuaded that it is best for the people, and who will in a short time return to live under the effects of that policy not shielded from it in the strange world of Westminster.
- Object 3: how could a body of amateurs be entrusted with coming to the right, the best decision. Answer: the is no right decision. Decisions involve balancing between incompatible principles. What is important is not that we come to the right decision but that we are prepared to live with it even if we disagree with it. Democracy provides not the right answer but the consent of the governed.
- A legislature drawn by lot guarantees consent. By being a truly representative body legislating without regard to perpetuating power it comes closer to Lincoln’s government of the people, by the people and for the people than any before.
- Current political rhetoric presents intractable politics issues as if they were questions of fact. In reality those decision making requires both educated guesswork and choices about what values to promote.
- Modern political rhetoric sees opponents not partners in the quest to discover the best course but an enemy that has to be stopped. To change such patterns of thought we need a revolution.