Sortition – doing democracy differently | Brett Hennig | TEDxDanubia

I gave a TEDx talk on sortition a few weeks ago – the video has just come out…

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26 Responses

  1. >The End of Politicians

    Brett, when are you going to drop this counterproductive (and unnecessary) hyperbole? All the other bullet points are fine!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. >The End of Politicians

    It’s really important to drop this, despite the temptation to score with populistic slogans.

    Reason: The politician of the future will be not just today’s smooth talker, promising air or just plain lying. In the sortition/demarchic future they will be real doers, innovative social entrepreneurs installed by a mandate from a citizen jury on the quality and merit of their policy proposals.

    Future “real” heroes, like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk on the business side of things.

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  3. HJH

    Agree. They will be the modern equivalent of the rhetores kai strategoi (or at least I hope so!) The politicians or parties who are re-elected (by whatever mechanism) will be those who have advised the people well (in terms of outcomes). A Bayesian democracy. So let’s all drop the populist rhetoric . I’m the first one to eat humble pie, as I propose a book burning for my juvenilia work The Party’s Over. I would have loved to have published Brett’s excellent book, were it not for the damn silly title!

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  4. I don’t get it HJH and Keith, why are you both so up-front negative? Brett’s trying to take the discussion out of narrow circles of experts – I think he’s doing a good job.

    I’ve nothing against criticism, believe me, but I’m uncertain of the spirit in which these comments are given, or even why these would be your first responses to honest work by someone else.

    Talk of “Demarchic” and “rhetores kai strategoi” doesn’t really cut it outside, so what language would you both suggest for non-specialist audiences?

    Mine is not an academic query.

    I have a direct interest in this question of tone and response – I’m likely to be shooting a short film on the Irish Citizens’ Assembly in early July. It will be the first of a planned global series of nine reports on random selection and public juries. Striking the right tone for them all will be critical but tricky.

    I have in mind the goal of producing work that speaks honestly to both sides of Ireland’s debates on abortion, on climate change questions and gay marriage. These are sensitive and emotive issues, with legitimate positions held on both sides. The same will be true of populations split by Donald and Hillary, Brexit and Remain and so on.

    My sense of this blog right now, somewhere one might expect informed and insightful analysis offered in a constructive spirit, is that it’s a hostile environment all of its own.

    What’s that all about?

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  5. > The politician of the future will be not just today’s smooth talker

    You can call that person a politician, but they are obviously nothing like the existing elected politicians. So yes – end to [mass-elected] politicians and to their manipulative talk and self-serving policies.

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  6. Brett – thanks for the talk. I think you are hitting the right notes.

    One terminological change that I think would be useful would be to talk about statistical sampling instead of about random selection. The latter term is misleading and the former term is more accurate because in fact the aim of sortition, like that of statistical sampling, is not to get random variation but to use the law of large numbers to get a predictable outcome.

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  7. Patrick,

    The problem is Brett’s talk of the end of politicians (the title of his book). This is hostile and confrontational to both the political class and everyone working in political science departments.

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  8. Keith

    Fair point – politicians are people too (and no, I’m not being facetious).

    I’d never thought of Brett’s title as being confrontational to political science departments but then again, I’m not in one either.

    As a journalist myself – I’m somewhat immune to the pantomime villain music that accompanies most of what we do. I am very engaged in the question of how to navigate political differences, imagined or otherwise.

    Book titles are tricky – I think my own one is rubbish five years after the event.

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  9. Brett,
    This is the most excellent introduction to sortition I have ever seen! As for those who think your “end of politicians” theme is off the mark… I disagree with them. The word “politicians” to most people means self-important people who are battling each other for power. This may not be fair (many of them are NOT that), but that is what the word refers to in most people’s minds. Yes, under sortition there will still be people who are “thought leaders,” “community leaders,” or even “political leaders,” but they will rely on persuasion, because they won’t have a monopoly on political power.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Patrick

    >I’d never thought of Brett’s title as being confrontational to political science departments but then again, I’m not in one either.

    Well, it would put them out of a job (a good thing too, according to Yoram). Peter Stone’s paper, “Why I am not a Sortinista” at the PSA conference was diametrically opposed to Brett’s and my impression of the audience was that it was more inclined to agree with Peter (Dimitri and myself were somewhere in between). What is at issue is whether or not sortition can replace election tout court. As far as I can tell there are only four people in the world who believe it can — Brett, Yoram, Terry and Campbell Wallace — everyone else thinks the idea is completely mad (and irresponsible to promote on a public forum like this).

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  11. Patrick,

    > Book titles are tricky – I think my own one is rubbish five years after the event.

    Why? What’s wrong with “Fraudcast News”?

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  12. Not an ideal title for someone who wants to be constructive, rather than up-front negative.

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  13. Patrick,

    > politicians are people too

    Yes – they are people who habitually kill and immiserate (not merely verbally abuse) large number of people. The notion that we have to be careful not to offend them is ridiculous. Or – if you prefer – I find this idea offensive.

    In short, this “let’s all be nice” attitude is very fashionable, but it serves to buttress the status quo.

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  14. Brilliantly done – a cogent argument that shows everyday people a choice.

    (I liked it even before you gave us a plug..!)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Yoram,

    >politicians are people . . . who habitually kill and immiserate (not merely verbally abuse) large number of people.

    This sort of confrontational and up-front negativity demeans this forum. Does your observation suggest the inherent psychopathology of members of the political class or is it a structural consequence of “electoralism”? It’s worth bearing in mind that in the classical Athenian demokratia imperialism and warfare were in the interests of the demos, rather than the political class.

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  16. Sutherland,

    No – your pomposity, moral turpitude, and intellectual dishonesty demean this forum. Laughably and revealingly, you don’t even stick to your own (idiotic) rules of decorum when it suits you.

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  17. I didn’t mean to set off this style of exchange with my comment – I’m sorry for having done so.

    I don’t want to inflame where we’ve got to either.

    So, stepping back from individual comments, and even replies to them, I return to the idea that if we want peace, we have to practice peace ourselves, particularly in all things political. This is not an abstract thing, it’s totally personal.

    As a some-time angry person, I suspect this process can only ever be a work in progress but I do find I get less angry/frustrated etc. by practising being more peaceful and also respecting the notion that people may vehemently disagree with what I say or write. That is their right, though if they express themselves with anger etc. that’s not actually my problem (as long as they’re not threatening actual physical violence).

    There are many ways to try to put sortition-inspired ideas into real, direct political practice. For those who even know what sortition is, and let’s face it they’re still a tiny sample of humanity, there are ones who favour one or other approach over others. Nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s probably essential at this experimental stage of things and may always be the case.

    It’s crazy that we should end up with the style of exchanges we’ve seen on this thread, and others on the blog.

    I think Brett’s doing a great job trying to promote ideas that could greatly improve our existing political systems, which are plain not working. I see the work he’s doing, which I am also trying to do myself and so probably is everyone else who follows this blog, as a vital antidote to where electoral politics has brought us.

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  18. Patrick,

    Agree with all that. The trouble is there is a fundamental disagreement between a) those who want to overthrow “electoralism” and replace it with sortition and b) those of us who want to see existing political arrangements improved by the introduction of citizen juries. This isn’t just a strategic (thin end of the wedge) issue, but a fundamental disagreement over the meaning of democracy and the political potential of sortition. I, for one, agree with the vast majority of political scientists who argue that democracy in large states is impossible without political parties and elections. This view is dismissed by the blog convenor as “dogma” resulting from centuries of indoctrination, and that is, frankly, an insult to people who have spent their entire careers studying this topic.

    This disagreement has entailments for the activity on this blog. Those in the first group view it as a forum for consciousness raising, as there will be no transition to democracy without it being demanded by the masses. As a result people in this camp have no qualms about using phrases like “the end of politicians” and questioning the moral integrity of the political class and its lackeys in political science departments.

    Those of us in the second group are keen to engage with the political class and political scientists/theorists, as until we can work out the complementary role of elections and sortition then there is simply nothing to introduce. Brett is in the interesting position of wanting to engage with politicians and political scientists (his book includes some first-class political theory) but chooses to use rhetorical catchphrases like “the end of politicians”.

    So this is the fundamental disagreement. I agree with you that it’s lamentable that people on both sides of this debate feel the need to personalise what is, after all, an intellectual disagreement.

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  19. Patrick,

    > It’s crazy that we should end up with the style of exchanges we’ve seen on this thread, and others on the blog.

    No, not crazy at all. As I have pointed out many times, “not offending anyone” is (a) not a coherent standard since people can be offended by anything (including keeping silent), and (b) in practice means sticking to conventional discourse, which implies not challenging the existing power structure.

    Furthermore, not calling out offenders – liars, manipulators, obnoxious people, etc. – means letting those offenders pollute the public space. Thus advocating “if we want peace, we have to practice peace ourselves” (at least as you seem to advocate this idea) means advocating a society disproportionately, even overwhelmingly, shaped by those who are willing to ignore the rules, or interpret them in a self-serving manner. (Sutherland here is a typical example.)

    No – peace means having an enforcement mechanism. Hopefully the mechanism is rarely needed, but when it is needed it must be effective. Otherwise offenders are encouraged and the rest become exploited.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Yoram,

    >No – peace means having an enforcement mechanism. Hopefully the mechanism is rarely needed, but when it is needed it must be effective. Otherwise offenders are encouraged and the rest become exploited.

    Guess then, as the key “polluter of the public space” I’d better expect the knock on the door in the early hours before getting dragged off to the gulag.

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  21. All this talk about gulags is just so much upfront negativity. Sutherland should be ashamed of himself for being confrontational. Gulag wardens and secret police officers are people too. Isn’t it so, Patrick?

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  22. Yoram,

    What then is your preferred enforcement mechanism against “offenders”? Ostracism would be appropriate, but it needs two candidates (do I hear you volunteer?) and how are we going to get the 594 followers of this blog to vote? We would need to set a minimum quorum of at least 50% participation. I am being serious here, and I think both candidates would need to publish a manifesto arguing why their opponent’s rhetoric is so harmful to the discourse on what is an increasingly important public forum. The clash between our two opposing visions** (and the attribution of bad faith to those involved) is, as Patrick has intimated, a real turn-off to anyone interested in sortition.

    ** to understand why this isn’t just a personal dispute, read the papers from Stone and Hennig at the PSA sortition panel back to back.

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  23. Yoram, Keith

    I’m not sure what the solution is and even if I did, I don’t consider myself either competent or qualified to propose it or oversee its execution.

    I do think it would be excellent to somehow salve your respective differences and to re-introduce some calm and mutual respect to these exchanges. I think both of you have been provocative of the other at times, quite frankly. Pardon me for stating it so baldly.

    Both of you have hugely valuable insights on this subject, and deep knowledge. I personally have learned a great deal from the posts and comments that both of you have made. I am grateful for that. I’m sure others feel the same.

    What plays out here is exactly what often plays out in politics – our human tendency to focus on the things that separate us rather than what we share in common and agree upon. Difference is legitimate – it’s a healthy relief even. A basic political skill we all need to learn is how to handle our emotional responses to those who disagree with us, and to respond peacefully as best we can. No one has a monopoly on truth or the right solutions – it’s absurd to imagine that anyone could do.

    This is something the facilitators of jury processes are trained to handle and to dissipate – I’m sure someone among the readers and contributors to EBL would know more about this than me.

    A final word, until the next ones I suppose, is that none of us knows the evolution of political processes inspired by lot. There is most certainly a re-emergence going on, it seems to me. Where that will take us is less certain, maybe nowhere or maybe towards one of the different end points envisaged by different posters here.

    As something like pioneers of this re-emergence, we should get busy experimenting, sharing ideas and comparing notes among ourselves and others rather than biting chunks out of one another. There’s plenty of aggression and violence going on elsewhere for us to want to reproduce any more of it here.

    I don’t plan on posting further to this thread.

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  24. Patrick,

    Many thanks for you well-intended suggestions.

    >This is something the facilitators of jury processes are trained to handle and to dissipate.

    One of the problems with using deliberative democracy as a template for a jury charged with making a binding decision is that monitors and facilitators would not be acceptable as there is no way of demonstrating their impartiality. However juries are dominated by loud-mouths and the distribution of such persons (and their associated views, beliefs etc) is just random (in the pejorative sense). That’s why its much better to make the conceptual separation of advocates and judges (loudmouths and voters) and take steps to ensure that the advocacy is balanced and well-informed. That way the jury will be able to determine the outcome of the shouting match in a manner that is both equitable and epistemically desirable. Whilst the distinction between advocates and jury appears to be elitist, it’s born out by the statistics of this very blog — out of the 594 followers only a tiny number are active posters and commentators. Most people have little to say on most issues (even one that they have opted in to) but that doesn’t mean that the outcome of the debate should not be determined by the aggregate judgment of the silent majority.

    Yoram and myself represent the opposite poles of the sortition debate. We have a genuine disagreement and I doubt whether it is possible, or desirable, to paper over the cracks. Either we are seeking to improve current representative institutions by supplementing them with sortition or we are a consciousness-raising vanguard for the masses to rise up and overthrow “electoralism”. It’s a stark choice and until we resolve it, the slanging match between Yoram and myself will continue to put off everyone else with an interest in sortition. So my suggestion of an ostracism contest is deadly serious, so long as there is some way of ensuring that the vast majority of silent witnesses cast their vote. It’s up to all of us to decide what sortition is for — raging against the darkness or introducing a little more light.

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  25. I guess I am part of the silent majority of followers here, I have to say that so far I stand on Yoram and Bretts side of the discussion. I’d like to ask a couple of things:

    1. Keith wrote “I, for one, agree with the vast majority of political scientists who argue that democracy in large states is impossible without political parties and elections.” Could you provide a more detailed explanations for this statement or (better) some literature hints on this topic, as it seems to be the core of your argument. I am not a political scientist and I don’t feel that I fully understand your point of view, yet.

    2. Is there any video of the PSA conference?

    3. Was there ever a discussion about the idea to the change the parliament (as well as local administrations) the way that it would be drawn by lot each week, in order to undermine loudmouths dominating the discussion, since groups usually don’t establish a hierarchy that fast?

    I strongly suggest to keep the discussion on this blog alive, including all aspects of it.
    “Either we are seeking to improve current representative institutions by supplementing them with sortition or we are a consciousness-raising vanguard for the masses to rise up and overthrow “electoralism”. It’s a stark choice and until we resolve it, the slanging match between Yoram and myself will continue to put off everyone else with an interest in sortition.”

    I feel that this argument is more a strength than a weakness. Either of you could be right, we won’t know for sure until the experiment will take place in a couple of countries. From my point of view, speaking very idealistic, the most desirable situation on a global scale would be if a bundle of countries try the supplement way, a bunch of countries try the radical approach and both sides continue to communicate about their experiences and problems to themselves and the rest of the planet.

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  26. Maik,

    Great to hear from one of the silent majority! Unfortunately the PSA debate was a small parallel session so no video, but the papers can be downloaded from: https://www.psa.ac.uk/conference/2017-conference/participatory-and-deliberative-democracy-sortition-and-democratic-0

    >the vast majority of political scientists who argue that democracy in large states is impossible without political parties and elections.

    Of course most political scientists haven’t considered sortition. The reason that a sortinista like myself agrees with them is because the democratic mandate for sortition only pertains to actions that are subject to statistical aggregation, and I can’t see how this can extend beyond determining the outcome of a balanced argument via voting (as in other forms of jury service), as all votes count equally. This doesn’t, unfortunately, apply to individual speech acts, so there is no way that the active deliberations of randomly-selected persons can accurately reflect the views and preferences of the target population that they are supposed to “describe”. The original Athenian democracy distinguished between isegoria (equal speech) and isonomia (equal political power) and only the latter was amenable to jury-style representation. But in large-scale societies the former also has be representative and it’s hard to imagine how this might be possible without competitive political parties (along with a free press and direct democratic initiatives. What is clear, pace the confused thinking of many “deliberative” democrats is that the the verbal exchanges of a tiny randomly-selected microcosm will not necessarily reflect those of the target population, to the extent that the vast majority of people will accept them as a proxy for their own.

    >drawn by lot each week, in order to undermine loudmouths dominating the discussion, since groups usually don’t establish a hierarchy that fast?

    It’s not so much the problem of a hierarchy as just the fact that the silent majority tend to be . . . silent. Bear in mind that statistical representativity requires participation to be quasi-mandatory (as in jury service). Most people have little to say on political matters and there’s no good reason to believe that the speech acts of those who do pipe up will accurately mirror those of the target population.

    >the most desirable situation on a global scale would be if a bundle of countries try the supplement way, a bunch of countries try the radical approach

    Yes, that would be ideal, but rhetoric does count and this is the leading public forum for sortition-related debate. If existing politicians visit the site and read about The End of Politicians (the title of Brett’s book) and then have to listen to Yoram and his friends slagging them off as a bunch of self-seeking acolytes of the rich ‘n powerful then they are not very likely to want to engage with us.

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