Government by lottery?

In light of the growing discontent with establishment government around the world – the EU, the UK and the US have all had severe reprimands by voters recently – should radically different ways of governing be considered?

What about choosing a committee of ‘MPs’ by lottery?

Nicholas Reed Smith suggests this at The Spinoff: The Trump phenomenon proves that electoral politics has failed. Time to try something new:

An enduring problem is that our democracies are not really democracies. They are oligarchies masquerading as democracies. Any system which has elections as the centrepiece of its popular participation is inherently flawed and easily corruptible. The Classical Athenians knew this, which is why they preferred lotteries to elections.

There are flaws in any system of government as long as flawed people are involved. The New Zealand system using MMP has it’s flaws – in particular a repressively high threshold imposed by people in the major parties to exclude fresh new ideas and parties – but it generally works pretty well. It allows voters to restrain single party power.

Our inept democracies have produced a kind of “rational ignorance” amongst the masses. People have come to realise that they cannot effect change in our democracies and have gradually (rationally) disengaged from politics. This enveloping rational ignorance also helps explain why post-truth politics has found fertile ground in our systems, as people no longer have the knowledge or the desire to discern fact from fiction.

Because rational ignorance is a natural product of our flawed democratic systems, counteracting it has to start with trying to make our systems more democratic. Minimising our reliance on elections – which carry with them a cacophony of campaign-focussed politics – while bringing citizen deliberation back to the fore is a good starting point.

If ordinary citizens start believing they can influence decision-making on a regular basis, not just by voting every few years, then the rational ignorance which has taken hold will start to dissipate. To do this however, we need to break through the pervasive elitism which casts ordinary people as being too stupid to have any productive role in politics. This is an insidious view of the masses which has aided the rise of oligarchies all over the West.

We do not lack ideas about how a more deliberative system which minimises the influence of elections (and oligarchs) could work. For instance, University of Pennsylvania Professor, Alex Guerrero, has designed a system specifically for the United States called a lottocracy. In a lottocracy, not only would the presidential election be scrapped, the United States Congress, two bodies which broadly look at all issues, would be replaced by 20 to 25 single issue committees of up to 300 people all randomly chosen by lottery.

In a lottocracy, a president (or prime minister) would still exist, but they would be selected by a committee and mainly fulfil ceremonial roles as their executive powers would be almost completely stripped. Such a system seems radical because we have come to see democracy as solely being about elections and not about the direct involvement of the citizenry. Changing this perception is an important precursor to pursuing any kind of deliberative democratic solution.

In an age where post-truth politics is becoming more and more influential and our democracies more and more inept, a whole new way of thinking is required. As philosopher Alex Guerrero puts it, “we don’t just need to change who the captain is; we need a new way to travel.” Finding ways to bring the “demos” back into democracy is a necessary starting point.

One issue with government by lottery is that there is no guarantee of a representative committee – imagine the angst if a committee was dominated by rural white South Islanders, or urban Asians.

Regardless of the merits of this non-democratic approach I can’t see it happening. It would require a Parliament of established members and parties to vote to do themselves out of jobs and out of power. That’s the opposite of how they usually want to arrange things.

Post truth politics

Everyone knows, or at least thinks, that politicians tell lies, or at least state things that aren’t fully truthful, and promise things that they know they can’t deliver on.

Misleading and false claims were a prominent feature of Britian’s Brexit referendum success.

The US election brought politics and lies to a whole new level.

Hillary Clinton wasn’t truthful about things, and she admitted duplicity – telling one thing to those with power and money, and another thing to the plebs. The plebs have rebelled, or at least enough plebs didn’t vote for Clinton or voted against her to deny her the presidency.

Donald Trump took lying to a .new level. He seemed to simply not care about telling lies, untruths, making up accusations and repeating them despite them having been proven wrong. And he got elected, to the surprise of many and the horror of some.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Silvio Berlusconi  apparently played a similar game – @gtiso: “Berlusconi’s secret weapon leading into the 1994 elections was he worked out he could just lie all the time. The whopper the better.” – (and Berlusconi had a media background and may have been much sleazier than Trump) see Clinton v Trump, round 1.

New York Times wrote about post-truth on August – The Age of Post-Truth Politics

Facts hold a sacred place in Western liberal democracies. Whenever democracy seems to be going awry, when voters are manipulated or politicians are ducking questions, we turn to facts for salvation.

But they seem to be losing their ability to support consensus.

For the Brexit referendum, Leave argued that European Union membership costs Britain 350 million pounds a week, but failed to account for the money received in return.

If the British government had spent more time trying to track public sentiment toward the European Union and less time repeating the facts of how the British economy benefited from membership in the union, it might have fought the Brexit referendum campaign differently and more successfully.

PolitiFact has found that about 70 percent of Donald Trump’s “factual” statements actually fall into the categories of “mostly false,” “false” and “pants on fire” untruth.

The sense is widespread: We have entered an age of post-truth politics.

Nicholas Reed Smith writes about this at The Spinoff: The Trump phenomenon proves that electoral politics has failed. Time to try something new

(Brexit and the US election) demonstrate that we are entering a new age of politics in the West, a post-truth age. Coined by the blogger David Roberts in 2010, post-truth politics denotes “a political culture in which politics (public opinion and media narratives) have become almost entirely disconnected from policy (the substance of legislation)”

The main catalyst for the emergence of post-truth politics has been the incursion of social media into the centre of our everyday lives. Originally, the internet was seen as a tool to liberate us, giving everyone access to information free from the hierarchies of everyday life. However, it has seemingly done the opposite, leading to the rise of misinformation and with it, the demise of expertise.

Social media is particularly key to the emergence of the post-truth age because thanks to the advanced algorithms at the heart of these platforms our lives online have gradually become echo chambers that echo our inherent biases back to us. The echo chamber effect means that our while our ideological convictions strengthen, our openness to critique and revision of these ideas is reduced.

This explains why so many of us have been shocked by Brexit and the election of Trump. We were told in both cases that neither outcome had any real chance of happening. The experts, the pollsters and the ordinary people we saw on our social media platforms all gave us an impression that these phenomena were fringe movements which would be soundly beaten by the masses.

A silver lining of Brexit and Trump is that our echo chambers are collectively shattering. Realising that we have become detached from reality is an important step to correcting the ills of post-truth politics.

The first lesson is that conventional campaign strategies do not succeed in a post-truth world. The Trump and Brexit campaigns found fertile ground because they embraced the idea of non-linear campaigning. In a nutshell, a non-linear campaign aims to make its movement undefinable through a never-ending shapeshifting of contradictory statements and actions. The idea is that if something is undefinable, then it is also uncriticisable.

This non-linear idea was created in Russia, the brainchild of one of Vladimir Putin’s more flamboyant advisers, Vladislav Surkov. Putin has used this non-linear approach for some time domestically and also used it in his intervention in Ukraine. The Ukraine example shows how the Kremlin has used misinformation to try and achieve their goal of destabilising the country, a strategy which has had some success.

While many are pointing the finger at Putin for directly interfering in the US elections, his greatest influence, in my mind, has been as an inspiration for Trump’s campaign. While few people are prepared to give Trump any credit, with many chastising him as a buffoon, Trump has played this non-linear role to perfection. Trump has continually contradicted himself while ignoring refutations, all of which created a bewildering and undefinable movement.

These tactics have proven to be both dishonest and successful.

Post-truth (political lying) has been around for a long time in New Zealand. Winston Peters is even openly claiming the ‘Trump’ tactics and successes as his.

There have been claims of dishonesty and Trump-like tactics in the Mt Roskill by-election – see Fight over Roskill which centred around accusations of attacks on the wife of Labour candidate Michael Wood.

Are we know going to see a rush to lie and abuse in the style of Trump?

If so this is likely to alienate the public further from the dirt of politics, given that the two combatants in the Mt Roskill incident were from long established parties rather than offering a break from the establishment.