Imagine if you were charged with murder and upon completion of your trial, the judge said ‘right I want everybody rounded up within two blocks of the courthouse, brought in and added to the jury. Each of their votes will carry the same value as the jurors who sat in on the trial.’ Essentially your fate would be hanging in the hands of a mob. Only a small fraction of whom had been privy to the essential details of your trial. The mob was previously welcome to sit in the viewing gallery to learn about the trial but none of them bothered. It would be madness to decide to make such an important decision this way wouldn’t it?
And yet that is exactly what Western democracies do every time a new leader or national government is elected. This system has been used to great effect to facilitate people in the UK voting for Brexit and Americans voting for The Don. Luckily though I have an alternative suggestion and it doesn’t involve Communism or people biting each other. This is an alternative method to elected democracy called ‘sortition’ which was first used by the Ancient Greeks and is still used in some organizational structures today.
In ancient Athens, the Greeks developed a daring device called the kleroterion (http://agora.ascsa.net/id/agora/image/2008.18.0174) which would make random selections of citizens for appointment to political offices of state. Essentially people would put their names forward for inclusion in the machine and if luck shone upon them, they would be picked to represent society. They would then be drilled and educated on the issues of the day so that they could collectively make better-informed decisions. There were a whole load of checks and balances in place to monitor competency and after serving one year in a particular office, one could put their name back into the kleroterion for other positions but they could never hold the same position more than once in a lifetime. This has several advantages over elected democracy.
The American electorate understandably had trust issues with Hillary Clinton, partly because of her ongoing financial solicitation of big banks and other financial institutions. Unfortunately, as things stand in an elected democracy, politicians need money and media to stand a chance of being elected to high office and Hillary loves money so much she even married a Bill. Even prospective socialist candidates such as Jeremy Corbyn, need money to fund their campaigns albeit in his case much of this comes from worker-orientated sources such as trade unions and crowd-funding. Sortition in the 21st century would remove the need for fund-raising and instantly render lobbying as being a worthless endeavour.
In Politics: Book IV Aristotle opinionated “it is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.” An oligarchy is when the many are ruled by the few which is what happens in a parliament filled with lawyers, businessmen and bubble-wrapped inheritees. Fortune favours the brave and those with hedge funds. But it wouldn’t if we used sortition. You might well argue that in an elected democracy the MPs are our well-informed representatives but are the people electing them well-informed? Most people I know demonstrate zero interest in politics and we can argue all day about whether people should care or not but that is the reality of modern-day life.
Sortition ensures that decorators, bus drivers, bricklayers and dinner ladies would have literally the same chance of representing society as lawyers, bankers and CEOs. It would also mean an end to party politics so party loyalty would be replaced with more conscientious decision-making as the need for political allegiances would all but evaporate with the end of political parties.
In Ancient Greece, drawing representatives by lot also virtually eliminated corruption as nobody can really aim for power when the system is independent of human meddling. So since Ancient Greece where has sortition been successfully implemented?
A diluted version of sortition for putting people into public office was used by the Venetians from the 12th century all the way up until the late 18th century. It was considered so successful that Florence also adopted it for two-hundred years. More recent examples of usage include jury service in Britain and a Canadian company called MassLBP that works with governments to increase the participation of the public in deliberating on issues that directly affect them.
Should all votes really be equal in the absence of competency tests to go along with the ballot box? I would hazard a guess that most people would say vote-linked competency tests would be unethical and yet is it really right that a person’s medical treatment or educational prospects be put in the hands of people who know very little about the issues that directly affect that person?
I am not advocating the immediate whole-scale abandonment of elected democracy either. We could be brave and trial sortition in small areas as a social experiment to see how well it might work in the 21st century. Afterall, 21st-century problems require 21st-century solutions.
I think we should be open to alternative systems to elected democracy, at least until we evolve critical analytical thinking and human curiosity on a mass scale. It’s not so much that I think elected democracy is a bad idea (I actually think elected democracy has enormous potential), it’s just that I’m not sure that it’s the absolute best idea at this point in our human evolution. I love listening to Icelandic post-rock music (because it’s awesome), wear Muppets socks and sometimes eat a sausage with baked beans from a mug. Do you really want me voting on issues that affect your life chances?