What Democracy

02023-03-08 | Book, World | 2 comments

I am still reading Ways of Being. I am taking my time with it. Each page brings so much thought and data… easily one of the richest books I have ever read. I have been thinking about what I learned about sortition, which I mentioned in this post. The old Athenians used it and Aristotle claimed that sortition is democratic and voting is oligarchic.

I learned that for five hundred years the leader of Venice, the Doge, was elected by a complicated method that combined stages of sortition and voting. For the sortition stage they used a wooden ball called balotte, from which our word ballot derives.

I learned that in 2016 Ireland created a citizen assembly, by randomly selecting 99 people from the electoral roll. They were housed in a hotel outside Dublin. A hundredth person was the chair person leading the proceedings. And thorny subjects the 99 had to work on: abortion, fixed term parliaments, referendums, an aging population, and climate change.

Not only did ninety-nine complete strangers, from every walk of life and every conceivable social and education background, come together and reach a consensus on some of the thorniest issues facing contemporary society – an almost unthinkable achievement in our age of political distrust, tribalism and division – but the proposals they put forth challenged our common idea of what is politically and socially possible and led to real, unequivocal change in the lives of their fellow citizens, and potentially in the more-than-human world. The assemblies further demonstrated that there is both an appetite and a willingness on the part of a supposedly apathetic public to seriously address some of the gravest and seemingly most intractable issues that we face.


The mechanism which underlies this effect is called ‘cognitive diversity’, and is often summed up as ‘diversity trumps ability’. This is the theory, backed up by social and mathematical research, that the best solutions to knotty, complex problems are best found by starting from the greatest number of different viewpoints and experiences – that is, from as wide a selection of people as possible.

Diversity trumps ability. That’s the mantra we need.

We learned that, in addition to what we termed survival of the fittest, there is a HUGE amount of chance built into our genes. It’s as if the universe loves to play. Yes, Nature is all about play.

It has been found, in study after study, that random selection from a sufficiently large group of people – given the appropriate contextual knowledge – produces better answers to complex problems than the appointment of a narrow group of experts.

There, that’s important. A random selection from a sufficiently large group of people – given the appropriate contextual knowledge – produces better answers to complex problems than the appointment of a narrow group of experts. Politicians aren’t even experts in most cases. Take George Santos, for example. Would you trust that man with anything? And finally:

It’s tempting to wonder whether we have finally found a scientific argument for diversity itself, long argued from the social sciences, but often derided by those whose power subsists in competition and exploitation, in the maintenance of existing power imbalances and the promulgation of the myth of meritocracy. But really what we are saying is what ecology has told us all along: we exist by virtue of our ties to one another and to the more-than-human world, and these ties are strengthened, not weakened, by the inclusion and equal participation of each and every member of that network.

That’s it. Diversity will save us. Homogeneity is the death of things.

It’s pretty obvious that diversity has always been a theme that’s running through my music. I’ll gobble up anything and everything on the way to a melody and some chord changes that move me. Hunter/gatherer of music. A little bit of this and a little bit of that, lots of variety – that’s not just a good recipe for how to eat, it’s also good for the mind. And, as I learned, it’s also a good recipe for governing.

I’m not going to read this over now. Will just post it and then head out for a walk.

Oh, look at that… there is a YouTube on Ways of Being with Brian Eno and James Bridle. I will have to watch that when I return.

PS: Both the Venetian Republic and the Iroquois Confederacy used sortition for hundreds of years. The Iroquois Confederacy lasted for five centuries! Sortition was also used in Florence, where La Tratta, the drawing of lots, decided which ordinary citizens would occupy key positions in government. It was used in parts of Spain, and the king once said that cities and municipalities that work with sortition are more likely to promote the good life, a healthy administration and a sound government than regimes based on elections. They are more harmonious and egalitarian, more peaceful and disengaged with regard to the passions..
A form of sortition was used in rural areas of Tamil Nadu, the tenth largest state in India, where the names of committee candidates were written on palm leaves and then a child pulled palm leaves out at random. Sortition is not a panacea, the perfect solution for every situation, BUT whatever we have now is not working. We might as well try something new or, in this case, something very old.


  1. Lisi-Tana

    Okay – yes – this is a segue from the content of your blog post *but* there are other verbs that carry the same meaning as «to trump ». Consider the following: to best, to trounce, to prevail over

    Any of those would be better than using « trump » to mean something positive because (to me) this word just sounds awful now.

    The word « terrific » didn’t always mean what it does today. It comes from ‘terrificus’ or causing terror, so in fact, it meant the opposite.

    I’d like to start a movement where we begin to shift the meaning of ‘trump’ from what it currently means today. :))

  2. anne

    Yes, ..a mind that has no knowledge/ experience/ biases may in fact see clearer.

    “Diversity will save us”
    On a global level,…I wonder what results the world might see. Just imagine the complexity of climate issues, cultural differences, geopolitical issues , religion, laws etc

    ((Ireland has been struggling for years – needed breakthroughs on some key issues. (imo- should never be an issue ie abortion or gay marriages)


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