What Democracy

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.


Our alphabet grew out of pictograms and in some letters we can still see that development. The Q came from a pictogram of a monkey, the m came from water, the letter O came from the eye. For many thousands of years humans have tried to prove themselves apart from nature, existing in nature rather than of nature. But we have language! We are not of nature! And then another layer was added. Not just separation from nature but also separation from other humans. Many elements of language were invented purely to show that the person who could properly navigate the grammar was educated. A plural form isn’t necessary… two chair works just as well as two chairs. Most creoles do just fine without plural forms. Or the endless variations of verbs and tenses!

Language separates us from the world. Which is why almost every religion or spiritual path advises to be silent. Pema Chodron said Slow down, look out, and there’s the world.… I think I would like to amend that to Slow down, shut up, look out, and there’s the world.

Left-Handed Commencement

I hope you live without the need to dominate, and without the need to be dominated. I hope you are never victims, but I hope you have no power over other people. And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where you live, where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the future is. Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did we look up for blessing — instead of around, and down? What hope we have lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but in the earth we have looked down upon. Not from above, but from below. Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourishes, where human beings grow human souls.
Ursula K. Le Guin — A Left-Handed Commencement Address

I came across this 1983 Mills College Commencement address by the great Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s a lovely address that is earthy and timeless and sounds just as relevant forty years later. I have read a number of books by Le Guin and her translation of the Tao Te Ching is a cherished part of my library.

COVID isn’t a cold

In photos of 2023’s World Economic Forum- or Davos as it is commonly called, after the Swiss resort town where it annually occurs- you might not notice the HEPA filters. They’re in the background, unobtrusive and unremarked upon, quietly cleansing the air of viruses and bacteria. You wouldn’t know- not unless you asked- that every attendee was PCR tested before entering the forum, or that in the case of a positive test, access was automatically, electronically, revoked. The folks on stage aren’t sporting masks (mostly), so unless you looked at the official Davos Health & Safety protocol, you wouldn’t be aware that their on-site drivers are required to wear them. You also might be surprised to learn that if, at any point, you start to feel ill at Davos, you can go collect a free rapid test, or even call their dedicated COVID hotline.
Billionaires at Davos don’t think COVID is a cold

Almost gives a person the feeling that COVID has been downplayed intentionally in order to get the economy going and creating profits for the people who are meeting in Davos? Or am I too cynical.


The Length of Now from Alicia Eggert on Vimeo.

It was about time, this week. First I listened to Time is way weirder than you think, a podcast with Ezra Klein and Dean Buonomano. If you listen to it you will hear the terms Presentism and Eternalism. Buonomano declares that he is a Presentist. I am leaning toward Eternalism, myself. (link to Wikipedia page on Eternalism). Eternalism makes sense with Quantum physics… It’s hard to feel this concept of time, but this is true for many things that are new and that we grapple with. All musicians know about this. A rhythm feels alien and strange and impossible at first. Then it becomes clunky and jagged. Given enough time, eventually we inhabit the rhythm and it becomes smooth and organic. Maybe, twenty years from now, I can get my head around Eternalism…

I didn’t plan this TIME related week at all. It’s like the end of the year conspired to make me think about time! Next I listened to a Long Now Seminar podcast with the artist Alicia Eggert. (Website)
Check out her Vimeo page for more video of her work.
One of her pieces “You Are (On) An Island” ties in with this photo I took in Lisbon last month:

Indeed I find that each of us is a world and is on a world, is an island and is on an island. We are never alone. For one, we carry several pounds of bacteria and other non-human beings in our gut. To those beings we are a universe.

From my universe to your universe, what do you hope for in the new year, 2023?

17 Years Ago

On 21 December 2005, near the end of the Winter Rose Holiday tour, I made this post:

I would like to leave you – for now – with this:
What is the purpose of millions of years of evolution?
Let me tell you a secret: it’s YOU! It’s all so you can experience this life.
Lots of animals have to die so you can live, many humans work to enable your life, and much energy is used up by you.
So, please, take a deep breath, hug a child or a friend, kiss a lover, enjoy a meal alone or with company, take in a sunset, take a deep listen to a piece of music, enjoy a walk… just a take a few moments during this holiday to enjoy this incredible, this unbelievable, this very precious experience – your life.