Demarchy and the ways of the world

1. Demarchy assumes that enough people will engage in the complex of serious activities it is supposed to work on to convince people that the outcome of those activities can claim to represent public opinion.

Looking at the way in which public opinion is in fact formed in our society that seems an absurd assumption.

Even if we go back to Habermas’s beloved 18th century coffee house it is utterly unrealistic. Public opinion emerges from a host of conversations in which what is going on or what is proposed is talked about in terms of familiar images. What is prized in conversation in all sorts of social contexts, from groups of labourers on lunch break to elite dinner parties is wit, the remark that encapsulates a way of looking at a subject in a new light that is at least in some respect plausible.

The cardinal sin in conversation is to insist on spelling out in detail just where that slant on the subject is misrepresented. People are not expected to take casual remarks seriously. That is utterly boring and destructive of conversation. Nevertheless there is overwhelming evidence that people are very strongly influenced by the cumulative effects of the caricatures that prevail in representations of ideas and states of affairs and come to be seen as expressing public opinion.

Even very sophisticated people succumb to this sort of conversation, because they are very aware that political affairs are usually so complicated that there is little chance of arriving at a rationally justified analysis and verdict on them. One just despairs or hopes that the obscure processes of social change will tend towards decisions one can live with. But there is no prospect of getting reliable decisions about political matters by discussion. So Demarchy is nonsense.

Reply: I concede there is a great deal of truth in this picture, but as a generalisation it is too sweeping. At the risk of being boring I shall try to explain why. There are several aspects to it.

The fundamental point is that practically everybody does understand rational discussion and use it and appeal to it in contexts where they realise that getting what they want depends on getting the relevant considerations right.

But not in all contexts. Not where they think that getting it right is important and achievable. And that is in matters people think they understand and can argue about, usually practical matters where the main issue is how likely certain possible consequences of an action are and how desirable or undesirable.

Faced with the claims of a religion that it has the key to eternal life, surely something it is important to get right, some of us think we are in a position to decide rationally whether or not to accept those claims. Very many others think that it is far too deep a matter to be decided by rational argument, perhaps settling for loyalty to the religion they have inherited or relying on some personal intuition. Others will view the whole matter with scepticism.

Similarly, faced with very sweeping political claims and asked to accept or reject them as a package, people are often reduced to treating them as demanding global faith or global scepticism. They may see themselves as perfectly capable of rational evaluation of certain components of the package, but most of the time there is no point in trying to do so, since one’s decision is insignificant . The influence one person’s decision can have in a decision process where millions of others are involved is so small that it hardly justifies investing the serious work needed to arrive at a considered decision on it.

What I am suggesting is that most of us most of the time must be content to leave many collective deliberations on many matters that affect us to a process of public discussion in which anybody can participate, but only relatively few will on any particular matter. We should see the process as identifying and sorting out the relevance of the various considerations people want to urge in favour of their own preferences hopes and fears about the matter. The hope is that the process can come to a consensus about how realistic those various hopes and fears are and how well grounded are the reasons for the preferences various people have.

There can be no conclusive rational process that weighs up objectively all the considerations advanced on any disputed practical matter. The actual shape of the proceedings in particular matters will need to be worked out in the light of experience and subjected to public appraisal.. Whether people can in fact arrive by public discussion at generally satisfactory solutions to certain problems they all share remains to be shown in practice. I is all very well to talk of deciding how realistic certain hopes and fears are, but hopes and fears often derive their force from deeply irrational sources. People in many instances are not going to be persuaded to downgrade their relevance on the basis of some rational assessment of how realistic they are.

Often such hopes and fear are big in scope. They affect a particular issue because it is seen as a particular instance of some pernicious force some people are inclined to see as pervasive. It is hardly possible to disabuse them of that fear, but it may be possible, by careful attention to the specifics of a particular problem, to convince them that the sort of proposals that seem to offer the best solution to the problem are not really pernicious or perhaps even that tackling the matter rationally weakens the forces they fear.

2. Even conceding that most people are quite capable of rational deliberation where getting the decision right is important and they are in position to understand the relevant considerations, there is a second practical difficulty in the sort of discussion I am advocating. That discussion is supposed to be completely open, easily accessible to anybody who wants to have a say in it. If it is posted on a single well-known site, anybody can express an opinion on anything s/he takes as relevant to the problem under discussion.

The problem is that many people who are quite capable of rational discussion are not particularly good at saying precisely what they mean. In the context of face-to-face friendly interactions with others they can often rely on others understanding the reasons that they have for what they say. So, failing to arrive at the exact expression of their concerns, they can say confidently enough: You know what I mean. In public discussion among strangers that is not possible. It is hard enough to get people to give you credit for what you are actually saying. You cannot expect them to interpret correctly what you intend by some statement that fails to express what you intend. To do that with ease requires a mastery of language that not everybody possesses. So many of us are not equipped to take an active role in a public discussion of the kind I am advocating.

My main suggestion in response to this problem is that the discussion is likely to be better if submissions pressing particular views are made by informal groups of people who share those views rather than by individuals, and that in working together on a submission a group of people none of whom are very good at it are likely to arrive at a clearer and better formulation of it than any member of the group could achieve. People participating in or observing such public discussions will soon learn to recognise the differences between clear expression and confused ramblings., but that does no necessarily help them to achieve clarity on their own.

I have suggested that to expedite discussion it is desirable that their be editorial assistants who group together submissions that express a certain point of view and single out a few that they judge to be the best formulations of that point of view. This editorial process could well have a constructive aspect. An editor might suggest to a contributor that their submission might be improved if they collaborated with another contributor with similar views, at the same time explaining where such collaboration might eliminate obscurity or other weaknesses in their case. Of course, it is up to the contributors to decide whether or not to take such advice, or contest the editor’s judgement.

I believe that in our very complex societies, where everybody has to make difficult choices in most of their activities, most people will accept that in getting things right there is no substitute for deliberation about the relevant considerations. They deliberate privately all the time. They will easily be convinced that sound deliberation is the key to good collective decisions provided that they can be shown how to ensure that the considerations important to them get due consideration in public discussion. The best guarantee of that is that they themselves can, if they so choose, take an active part in that discussion.

If I am right about this the implications for our political culture are enormous. It is worth trying.

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26 Responses

  1. Looking at this text online I discover that it is full of misprnts and badly phrased sentences. I shall try to remedy it when I get the time. Meanhile I beg my readers’ pardon.

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  2. Song of Sovereignty

    We are the sovereign.
    We are the freemen.
    We stand together.
    We help each other.
    Everything’s all right.
    Everything’s just fine.

    We are the sovereign.
    We stand together.
    We are united.
    SOLIDARITY
    Everything’s all right.
    Everything’s just fine.

    We are the sovereign.
    WeRe our own doctors.
    WeRe our own lawyers.
    WeRe our own bankers.
    Everything’s all right.
    Everything’s just fine.

    We are the sovereign.
    We are common law.
    WeRe our own justice.
    We stand together.
    Everything’s all right.
    Everything’s just fine.

    We are the sovereign.
    Why don’t you join us?
    We change the world.
    We make it better.
    Everything’s all right.
    Everything’s just fine.

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  3. John,

    Even if the open access system that you propose works well and the “editorial assistants” are truly impartial public servants, ultimately the committee will have to make a recommendation. The committee will comprise around a dozen or so persons whittled down by sortition from a self-nominating pool of indeterminate size. Nobody chose them** or the private foundation sponsoring the operation and they have no credentials other than wishing to participate (and would thereby be immediately excluded from some utopian aleatory models). Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is my understanding of demarchic councils.

    I have only one question — why do you think everyone else will find their conclusions authoritative (given the other competitors in the public sphere), to the extent that elected governments will feel compelled by public pressure to convert their conclusions into practical policy?

    ** At least Habermas’s coffee drinkers could choose their favourite newspaper (the principal source of opinions to discuss).

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  4. Yes, indeed, that’s what we all want to be able to think we have and celebrate, but the “we” is always changing as others get in or try to.
    The natural solution is Trump’s: kick the traitors and foreigners out, guard the frontiers.
    As I see it, the big problem is to establish ways of finding sound solutions to the problems those changes generate and get the people who would prefer not to acknowledge them to accept them, bit by bit. That’s hard and not nearly as exciting.

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  5. Keith> re Even if the open access system works…

    You give an accurate summary of my position, but not of the way I expect sensible people to regard its conclusions.

    When it comes to collective action it is necessary for people to agree for the most part on some way of deciding what to do, even though many differ about what that is. In current democratic practice wa settle for majority rule. Everybody who has thought seriously about it knows that is a very crude and dangerous way of choosing among the options. Certainly it has no great claim to be an effective way of getting things right,

    I think that we would make better choices if we agreed to adopt the conclusions of a certain process of open discussion, developed and facilitated by people who have no standing whatever except the reputation they earn for good sense and integrity. There can be no guarantee that that process will get it right, and, no matter how good it is in general, many will have their diverse reasons for disagreeing with its conclusions in at least some cases.

    What I postulate is that people will come to see the process as more likely to get good results than its practical competitors and so accept it as a basis of collective decisions in the present and of continuing review of those decisions in the future.

    Of course, not many are going to be persuaded by my arguments. I only hope that enough are to induce them to try to get my proposals up and running, and that most people will support them once they see what they come up with.

    Not likely. Sure. But the best hope we have.

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  6. John,

    A couple of reactions…

    1. I think it is important to make a clear distinction between “discussion,” which is a sort of conversation with few rules on the one hand, and “deliberation,” which should be strictly structured with turn-taking and time limits, etc., to avoid as many cognitive errors, bias and logic flaws as possible on the other hand. I think Bernard Manin’s paper on this is useful:
    [Bernard Manin, December 2, 2005, DEMOCRATIC DELIBERATION: WHY WE SHOULD PROMOTE DEBATE RATHER THAN DISCUSSION, New York University School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (Paris), Paper delivered at the Program in Ethics and Public Affairs Seminar, Princeton University, October 13th 2005 page 17 http://politics.as.nyu.edu/docs/IO/2792/delib.pdf

    2. You wrote:
    >”hopes and fears often derive their force from deeply irrational sources. People in many instances are not going to be persuaded to downgrade their relevance on the basis of some rational assessment of how realistic they are.
    Often such hopes and fear are big in scope. They affect a particular issue because it is seen as a particular instance of some pernicious force some people are inclined to see as pervasive.”
    These irrational hopes and fears will be most intense among those most affected. This seems to me to support the idea Keith and I favor of allowing impartial disinterested people judge the deliberation outcomes of those “most directly affected” people, rather than hoping the most directly affected people will come to optimal decisions.

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  7. Terry

    On your first point i agree completely. That need for debate to be structured is the reason why I propose a foundation with just that role, while insisting that it has no privileged status, but has to earn its place. We have lots of very good public discussion at the moment that is politically impotent, because it lacks clear focus and comprehensive representation.

    I do want to insist that what I am proposing is only novel, because until very recently it was practically impossible. Previously it was only possible for people to indulge in serious debate if they could meet in sufficiently favourable circumstances and allocate to each participant sufficient time to put a case and respond to the objections of other participants. That sort of debate could not possibly be open or accessible to everybody. Those very tight limitations on sound debate could be eased to some extent by exchanges on paper, but only to a limited extent.

    The internet enables anybody who can write to post a case and conduct an argument with anybody who cares to participate, as we are doing now. That is totally unprecedented. We can communicate rapidly, though we live on opposite ends of the planet in different time Zones, and anybody who is interested can butt in on our conversation and offer comments on what we are saying.

    If that debate is to be focussed on a specific problem and what is relevant be sorted out from the mass of verbiage it could generate, competent editing is going to be needed. How that can be handled in practice is something I can only guess at. Only trial and error can produce practical answers.

    On your second point. You may be right, but I don’t think so. The people who are most vulnerable to irrational fears in politics are those who are alienated from the political process and have no trust in it. The people who represent those most affected in my scheme are selected by lot from volunteers. I expect that they would volunteer for a role in the process only if they thought their participation was likely to be useful.

    My main reason for giving those reps the role of deriving a practical conclusion from the debate is that most of the contributors are going to be putting theoretical considerations. As Keynes said, those who think they are relying on practical common sense in economic matters are invariably just repeating what some dead economist has said. Ditto for other matters. My hope is that those most affected in their various ways will be very conscious of the practical considerations that both expert and amateur theorists can so easily fail to appreciate.

    My other reason is that good decisions on public goods are best arrived at not by deciding who is to win out of conflicting interests, but by an attempt to arrive by negotiation at the best way of giving as much as possible to each. Only those who are actually affected by those matters are in a practical position to engage in such negotiations.

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  8. A little irrelevance

    If it seems strangely improbable that the first person to appreciate the possibilities of participatory debate on a comprehensive scale should be a doddering old man from the bottom of the world, there is a reason why it isn’t so surprising. Not that it adds any reason to think him likely to be right.
    People of my generation are acutely aware of their escape from the tyranny of distance.
    When I was a boy in the thirties it took three months to send a letter to the uk and get a reply. In 1938 the first air mail service cut that to a month and soon after the war modern aircraft could do it in a week. Now it is almost instantaneous and costless. Think of the implications of that for academic or commercial and cultural life as they are practiced in the 21st century.
    Also, having wasted countless hours in committees listening to bores who failed to listen to anybody else, unable to check up on their dubious assertions or even reflect about various arguments beforehaving to vote on them, the idea of a committee that does not meet but circulates documents that you can read, argue with and check on when you have the time and resources at hand is enormously attractive.
    I think those advantages can be scaled up and put to very good use. But I’m very likely to be wrong.

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  9. John,

    >Everybody who has thought seriously about [majority rule] knows that is a very crude and dangerous way of choosing among the options. Certainly it has no great claim to be an effective way of getting things right.

    You should have entitled your new book Is Democracy Desirable? (answer: no). What you are proposing is epistocracy, the only difference from the Platonic version being the selection criterion (people who nominate themselves for office).

    >countless hours in committees listening to bores who failed to listen to anybody else.

    There’s no reason to believe that online deliberation is free from this sort of behaviour — the impasse between Yoram and “Sutherland” being a case in point.

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  10. John,

    Just as it is useful to distinguish between “discussion” and “deliberation,” I think it is helpful to distinguish how “negotiation” is yet a third very different animal. As used by me (and some others)… deliberation is about seeking common ground and optimal solutions with fact-finding and perspective sharing, perhaps even discovering entirely new options that had not been previously considered. But “negotiation” is about asserting, refuting and discovering relative power relationships to seek middle-ground compromise that accurately reflects the revealed (or believed) relative power of the different parties. My worry is that your demarchic design of putting the “most affected” interests in a negotiating position will NOT lead to deliberation at all. I think disinterested citizens selected by lot and given incentives, time and resources after hearing all of the arguments of the “most affected” are more likely to deliberate and seek win-win outcomes.

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  11. Terry,

    >I think disinterested citizens selected by lot and given incentives, time and resources after hearing all of the arguments of the “most affected” are more likely to deliberate and seek win-win outcomes.

    Agree, and it has the advantage of being a majoritarian decision mechanism, in so far as the target population is represented stochastically. John has made it clear that he is not interested in representation and this puts demarchy in the same camp as most forms of deliberative “democracy”. Terry and I differ on how best to “deliberate and seek win-win outcomes”, my argument being that this will be a property of the overall system (advocates will be incentivised to produce policies that appeal to the broadest coalition of interests), whereas Terry generally argues for a more active form of deliberation. But we agree on the principle involved.

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  12. Keith > re Is Democracy desirable?

    On the first point allowing for your penchant for provocative formulae, I agree. I do indeed want to move from Democracy as traditionally understood, which is focussed on giving people power to a regime focussed on sound deliberation in a context where if anybody has a special role it is because they have something special to contribute to getting a good result.
    Of course, I do not imagine that such a change can be made in one movement encompassing all our practices and institutions, but I want to make a small start.

    On the second point, of course the bores will still infest an online discussion, but i can cast a quick look at what they say and pass on, especially if the editor can be trusted to alert me to those posts that do have something to say.

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  13. Terry > deliberation and negotiation

    I agree that these are different. However I find a place only for the sort of negotiation that you see as part of deliberation, to wit a constructive effort to develop a win-win approach to certain aspects of a problem. Of course, negotiation is very often the reluctant effort of enemies to come to a compromise when they are in a stalemate. I have tried to explain all of this in the book, but nobody seems to get beyond the introduction. Never mind, I’m happy to learn from reactions of others and get the opportunity to defend myself.

    What I have in mind in assigning a role to negotiation is this. Debate and deliberation will necessarily be mostly in general terms about the relative merits of the various considerations different people appeal to in supporting a certain policy. It is often a matter of attempting to determine how likely it is that a certain policy will have the sort of consequences that we all admit are desirable or undesirable. We fans of deliberation all hope that in most cases that will lead to a broad agreement about the sort of policy we need.

    But there are two steps beyond that to a particular decision. In my view the last step the actual legislative and administrative measures needed to implement a policy have to be left to the people who are entrusted with that power by the procedures and practices that are already accepted. Ultimately I would like to see them challenged and probably changed, but I do not think that it is practicable to address those questions at this stage.

    Between an agreement largely on general grounds about the sort of policy we want and the problems of actual implementation, I think it is useful, if we are to hold the legislators to account to public opinion, to arrive at a more definite, practical and timely proposal that might “put flesh and blood” on the general considerations. Doing that often demands deciding just how much weight to place on different but competing considerations at this point of time in these circumstances. That depends on very careful attention to the concrete situation and what I see as negotiation between those who have different interests in the matter, but understand the live situation.

    The sort of thing I hope would happen in such negotiations is this. Joe is very concerned about the importance of better treatment of mental health, while Jill is concerned about better pediatric services. The budget is inflexible. They can’t both have everything they want. But they may be able to agree that improving mental health provisions is not something that can be done quickly, because competent personnel are not available, but pediatric care could be improve in certain respects quite rapidly if certain educational programs were well funded. So they agree that certain funding for training psychiatric practitioners coupled with adequate funding for the pediatric program constitute the best practical solution. My point is that only those who are close to the workface and the clients are in a position to arrive at optimal solutions in this sort of situation.

    One distinction that I think is relevant to sorting out cases where an impartial body is the best judge from cases such as I have just described is a distinction I make between competing considerations, where all who are seriously involve recognise the legitimacy and relevance of other considerations than those to which they give most weight, and conflicting considerations, where some reject the considerations advanced by others as pernicious or at best groundless. It is obvious that in such cases only a detached procedure can possibly solve the problem. (Of course there are all degrees of mixtures in between these cases.)

    Where individuals and united groups make up their mind on what they want and concentrate on defeating their opponents, it rarely produces an optimal solution. It tends to turn every issue into a conflict. The standard democratic process aims to reduce the differences to a single yes-no question and count the votes. I have argued at some length that this demeans public goods to a matter of “who gets what”. That approach fails to take account of the distinctive character of public goods as the basis of community and identity we all share.

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  14. John,
    I don’t know if any books or scholarly papers have been written about this… but I think a possibly relevant current practice for your vision of “a regime focussed on sound deliberation in a context where if anybody has a special role it is because they have something special to contribute to getting a good result” with expert editing to improve deliberation and seeking common ground lies in the world of Wikipedia and its unique cadre of volunteer mediators, super-editors, arbitrators, etc. I don’t know a lot about it, but this certainly seems to be creating a dynamic system of dispute resolution (in intense editing wars), that hardly anyone could have imagined evolving until it did. As you suggest for demarchy, this is something that couldn’t have happened until communications and the Internet reached this level, and is creating a system that never existed before in history.

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  15. Terry > Wikipedia

    I’m grateful for your suggestion and I do think it is relevant. I am a great admirer of Wikipedia, even though I know almost nothing of how exactly it works, and I’m not very happy with the way that the entry on me has been tampered with. My half-hearted attempt to correct it failed, probably because they are very wary about people writing their own entries.Of course the procedures in the matters I’m talking about will have to be very different from those appropriate in an encyclopedia and much more difficult to assess.

    I recall in its early days one of my colleagues used to write on student assignments: Wikipedia is NOT an authority! Now it is probably more reliable on most matters than any of the classical encyclopedias ever were.
    I have no doubt that if there were any systemic distortion in its peocedures we would have heard by now. Wikipedia has its critics, but it is constantly updating itself.
    By contrast, when I developed tinnitus in the late 80s I consulted the latest Britannica, which told me it was usually due to wax in the ears, a view that was already superseded when the great 1910 ed appeared!

    I have little doubt that if my proposals got sufficient backing to get going they would soon establish themselves as sound practice. The difficulty is that people often do not realise they need a certain service until it becomes established. But it is very difficult to sell people an answer to a question they have never asked, especially if you are asking them to put aside the question that is uppermost in their minds. I want them to put aside forthe moment the question: who should exercise power and ask instead :how can we get agreement about certain choices of policy? Wikipedia had the advantage of offering people answers to questions they wer dying to ask!

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  16. John,

    >giving people power to a regime focussed on sound deliberation

    That certainly sounds like it involves considerable alienation, as the people choose (via some sort of social contract) to arrogate their democratic sovereignty to the guardians of the demarchic council. Not so in the case of stochation, as each different sample accurately reflects the preferences and beliefs of the target population, so they are each an ongoing proxy for what everyone would think under good conditions.

    >On the second point, of course the bores will still infest an online discussion, but I can cast a quick look at what they say and pass on.

    My question referred to how the “I” was constituted. If the sortition in based on those with a passionate interest in the topic, then the “I” itself will be “infested” by the likes of Yoram and “Sutherland” who appear to be unmoved by sound deliberation and unlikely to compromise in the way that you suggest.

    >I am a great admirer of Wikipedia

    Ditto, but it’s a false analogy as the remit of Wikipedia (in the case of controversial topics) is to present the competing arguments in a balanced manner, not to determine the outcome. Decision making is a political function, and orthogonal to how well informed the process is.

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  17. Keith giving people power…
    Now you are radically misinterpreting what I say. The Whole point of the deliberative process as I have spelled it out is that nobody claims power in it. They merely invite people to consider the soundness of their arguments and conclusions. That applies just as much to the council that attempts to draw a practical proposal out of the debate as to anybody who posts a submission. If somebody else wants t o try to do the same thing they can. In the end power come in when the legislators and administrators decide what to do.

    Representation is vital when a closed number of participants have an exclusive right to decide. In an open forum what matters is that any consideration that seriously affects the question is given a decent airing. The forum will only have any claim to epistemic value to the extent that it meets that requirement. It remains to be seen whether in practice such fora can do so convincingly.

    > On the second point. No doubt there will always be people who prefer power struggles or mechanical procedures to deliberation and compromise. I postulate that they will come to form an impotent minority as more and more people see the value of demarchy. But the odds are against me at the moment. People get stuck in the clutches of obsolete models.

    > Wikipedia. I agree with your remarks, except that they omit the crucial point that modern communications have made possible collective constructive activities that we could not have envisaged previously, because the range of exchanges they require could not have been made on the required scale. We stlll have along way to go to appreciate their potential. Wikipedia delivers free anywhere many thousand of time the information in the old Britannica, and is constantly revised and updated in a way that a hard copy could not be.

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  18. John,

    >merely invite people to consider the soundness of their arguments and conclusions. That applies just as much to the council that attempts to draw a practical proposal out of the debate as to anybody who posts a submission.

    OK that’s fine, demarchic councils are just additional players in the competing domain of the public sphere. But as they have no power or responsibility and are comprised of volunteers from all the conflicting interests involved, I think it’s just as unlikely that they will come to any conclusions as the participants in the debate on this forum.

    >In the end powers come in when the legislators and administrators decide what to do.

    Yes, but your claim has always been that a) demarchic councils will act as a filter to “refine and enlarge the public views” and b) that elected legislators will react accordingly. I think (a) is highly unlikely on account of 1) Madisonian scepticism regarding the damaging effects of interests over judgment and 2) only the constraints of public office require the necessary compromises. If it’s your job to make sure the trains run on time then you’ll bite the bullet and get on with it, not so if all you are doing is seeking to influence the decision makers at two removes.

    >modern communications have made possible collective constructive activities that we could not have envisaged previously.

    Absolutely, but controversial decisions (a third runway at Heathrow, a new airport, or reduction in air travel?) have to be taken and this is a political rather than an epistemic matter that can be resolved by the likes of Wikipedia.

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  19. I see demarchic councils as a potentially useful element of a reformed democracy (by which I mean representative juries making final decisions). Like Keith, I doubt elected officials would feel any pressure to listen to such councils and the voters would ignore them…. However, a mini-public with no partisan nor re-election imperatives might be VERY interested in hearing a compromise proposal that the most affected members of society could agree on. I agree with John that a fundamental defect of current democracy is that policy “debate” is almost always reduced to determining winners and losers, with little incentive for finding common ground. Of course, some issues simply WILL have winners and losers, but many MIGHT be subject to optimal common ground findings, but we never discover them within the combative electoral framework.

    A side note about my Wikipedia example… The goal of the internal volunteer mediation and other processes is not to find a final truth, but to agree on what arguments (even contradictory ones) deserve to be included in an impartial overview of the subject. Some sort of similar editing process might be helpful in producing final presentation materials on a piece of legislation for a mini-public.

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  20. Terry,

    >However, a mini-public with no partisan nor re-election imperatives might be VERY interested in hearing a compromise proposal that the most affected members of society could agree on.

    Great idea, but there could be an lot of devilry lurking in the details. Remember that these bodies are constituted on a voluntary basis and that sortition only functions to reduce the pool to a working committee of 12 or so. It would be very easy for well-resourced lobby groups to flood the pool of volunteers (without necessarily being recognised) so that the final council was biased in one way or the other. If the decision is to counter this by some sort of stratified sampling then you’re back at square one (the committee would just be a numerically balanced microcosm of the warring parties in society). I don’t see how you can get past this problem with a group that plays an advocacy role.

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  21. Terry & Keith & all

    I have come to realise that in writing the book I had not yet grasped fully the relation I was relying on between demarchic councils and open discussion. The result is that I sometimes appear to think that the councils themselves constitute a reliable decision procedure. So people interpret my position as involving the sort of problem that attach to traditional committees to which non-members have no access, especially the legitimacy of their claim to decide as representatives of those affected and the adequacy of the procedures and information they use.

    The way that the publicity context works is not fully spelled out until the section on committees at the end of part one, although it is part of my summary outline of my proposals at the end of the introduction. I do repeat constantly that their only claim to attention is their claim to express what inf. ormed and articulate public opinion decides. They have to convince people of that in each particular matter. What I hope is that the foundation that organises the demarchic process will become a well respected institution, so that most people will think that it is worth examining the results of its attempt to address a specific problem.

    Of course, acquiring such a reputation depends on showing in practice that it produces good results. The chicken and egg problem is obvious, but evolutionary change constantly produces new things. Not every newly hatched bird turns out to have exactly the DNA of the fertilised egg. Outside forces change some strands of of the Dna in some cases. It remains to be seen what happens. All anyone can do is attempt to show how it could work, given a bit of luck. I’m trying to do a bit of genetic engineering on certain organisms. Most such experiments fail and some may prove very dangerous. One reason for persisting in these exchanges with people who steadfastly refuse to contemplate the possibility that I might succeed is that I do want to avoid any dangers that might be seen to glow from my suggested tinkering.

    You, my interlocutors, are focussed on different question than the ones I want to raise. So you can hardly be blamed for seeing my suggestions as most unlikely to get any attention because you think, quite rightly, that most other people who think about politics are asking much the same questions as you are and are unlikely to see my questions as of any interest.

    I just hope there are people out there who are ready to step outside the box. Not that thinking outside the box is in itself a virtue! It can be mere self-indulgence.

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  22. Keith > why bother trying to reach agreement?

    Because you van only hope to have any impact if what you say can appear to constitute a positive, generally acceptable to what at first appeared to be an insoluble problem. Also public goods fill the role of providing a common identity for a community to the extent that different people see them as enhancing their lives. If they are just what the majority imposes on the rest, they may be accepted as the lesser evil than having nothing at all. But they don’t do much for community. I think adversarial politics is responsible for a lot of resentment that is avoidable.

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  23. Keith > epistemic v political

    This a key point. Every political decision that pretends to be justifiable makes substantial epistemic claims. No politician ever says: That’s my decision. Just shut up and get on with it. The dictators devote enormous resources to ensuring that their decisions are seen to be uniquely well justified in the true interests of the community. They love war, because in wartime decisions must be kept secret from the enemy and reached and acted on quickly.

    No PM makes a decision on something like the Heathrow question without claiming to be acting on the very best advice obtainable. Of course we all know that in very many matters the real deciding factor is the advantages that a particular decision has in the particular power games she has to play and win. like it or not. A great part of the art of politics is to know how to dress up such decisions as supremely wise.

    Obviously there ill always be problems that our epistemic resources cannot resolve, but we still have to decide what to do. In the past people have been persuaded that nearly all common problems are of that sort, and have put their trust in popes or kings who had special supernatural guidance or in leaders who claimed to have some unique insight into the destiny of the people. Having been disillusioned from such pretensions we leave it to groups of politicians to decide the undecidable and kick them out at the next election if they make too much a hash of it.

    I think we can do better epistemically in many particular matters, if we care to take the trouble. We can make it much harder for politicians to get away with misrepresenting the issues. Whether I’m right….whether….etc

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  24. another irrelevance?

    In Australian journalism to describe a decision as “political” is to assert that it was taken as a move in the power game, with only so much attention to the merits of the case as was necessary to preserve an appearance of propriety. The assertion is not always derogatory of the politician in question. We all recognise that politicians cannot be expected to commit political suicide just ro preserve epistemic purity.

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  25. John,

    >What I hope is that the foundation that organises the demarchic process will become a well respected institution, so that most people will think that it is worth examining the results of its attempt to address a specific problem.

    Even if the foundation does get the respect it deserves, why do you think that “most” people will examine its results? Do you really think people have the time and inclination, given that elected governments will implement the results of the demarchic process and the vote of each citizen has only a miniscule influence on who gets elected? Your proposal does nothing to address the problem of rational ignorance as it still presupposes mass democracy as the link between demarchic councils and executive government.

    >In Australian journalism to describe a decision as “political” is to assert that it was taken as a move in the power game, with only so much attention to the merits of the case as was necessary to preserve an appearance of propriety.

    That’s certainly also true in the UK. But it presupposes either 1) a Marxist perspective in which politicians are only in it for themselves (and their class interests) and the “merits of the case” are just a smokescreen, or 2) a Platonist or Straussian perspective in which wise statesmen have to come up with noble lies to gain the support of an ignorant electorate. We all want to get away from that and the approach of stochasts like Terry, Naomi and myself is to leave the final decision in the hands of an informed and representative sample of all citizens. As the jurists’ votes will reflect both their interests and their informed judgement as to what is the “best” outcome it combines political and epistemic considerations. Given that your proposal still relies on mass democracy as the political factor, your demarchic councils will still need to come up with noble lies (and/or will be suspected of only being in it for themselves, given the opaque nature of the selection process).

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  26. Keith

    Your latest post about demarchy and democracy raises issues I would like to address at some length. So my reply will take the form of a new post rather than just a comment on yours.

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