ARGUMENTS TO WIN MINDS AND HEARTS TO SEMIDIRECT DEMOCRACY BY SORTITION

The hard truth is: in those advanced societies whose parliamentary/electoral mechanisms are long established , the immediate prospects of sortition are either next to nihil ,or very slight. The consensus still goes to passing sovereignty to elected, professional representatives. The technology to cancel such delegation to politicians is now available. It’s public psychology that lags.

Instead semi-direct democracy, either selective or not, is the intuitive alternative to both electoralism and autoritarian rule in countries that, in a definition of Oliver Dowlen, are “modern cases of extreme democratic breakdown”. If democratic breakdown is meant in a symbolic rather than strict way, then nations such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Argentina, many additional Latin American republics are places where sortition has some mid-term opportunities.

In these cases, the proponents of change should assign first priority to showing the failures of electoral democracy rather than to defending the superiority of any particular version of direct democracy. Sectarian infighting among advocates of sortition is worse than wrong, is self-defeating. So it’s perhaps pertinent that we list a number of common argumentations on the senility of the electoral process and philosophy.

 

Traditional democracies cannot be participatory. Active participation requires the trust that participating is likely to produce results. Over time democracy has been degraded to rule by career politicians. They do what they want and hold the people in irrelevance. The government has become so arrogant and overwhelming that we lack real liberty. People have literally nothing to say about public affairs.

It is now possible to contact and involve huge numbers of citizens who do not have access to the communication resources traditionally possessed by the established mass parties. The high likelihood of interactive links in all homes in the Western societies enhances the prospects of some kind of direct democracy. Sortition promises to be a very efficient mechanism for the selection of deliberators and of operational officers.

It’s not logical nor admissible that, 14 years into the Third Millennium, the political process stays unchanged as it was in the18th century. When Thomas Jefferson was president of the United States the trip from Monticello, his estate in Virginia, to the White House took three days on horseback. In 1831 the federal employees were in the U.S. 11,491; today they are several millions. And Internet is able to turn any giant nation into the cyber-equivalent of the Greek city-state. Rather than propping up tyrants, Internet can totally empower the citizens.

Direct democracy should be each citizen personally controlling the government from his home through a secure interactive network. Instead partisan politics, special interests and money behind them and behind candidates excavate beneath popular sovereignty. It empties it. In fact, direct (also semi-direct) democracy should be eliminating professional politicians, partisan politics, corruption and the role of money.

The enemies of change are used to warn that direct democracy is a highway to despotism. But history and political science suggest that common man, given the right circumstances, can be rational and discerning enough.

A geological change has happened in Western politics- the dramatic obsolence of the traditional institutions: political parties, establishment media, parliaments, lesser assemblies. Technology makes it possible to bypass them. Traditional mechanisms were deliberately designed three centuries ago so that popular passions were filtered before they could become legislation. Additional filters were added. Most filters are now superannuated. The parties are moribund, Parliaments are ponds of stagnant water.

 

The Fishkin theory

In 1992 James S.Fishkin, professor, Univ. of Texas, offered a scheme whereby randomly chosen citizens would be given the opportunity to deliberate. Fishkin proposed “a full-scale national random sample of 600 people gathered to a single site where they could question the presidential candidates”. In his opinion, that random sample would be a scientifically representative microcosm of citizens deliberating on issues. The precondition would of course be that a small group can be an accurate barometer of the public sentiment. Such a completely new form of semi-direct democracy supported by information technology would have randomly chosen average citizens doing the hard work of democracy that most of us don’t have the time, or will, or knowledge to do. It’s the way the jury system works. The 600 people could be described as a macro-jury, but the macrojury could be much larger, could be f.i. 600 thousand.

Twenty years ago, more or less, the American business magazine “Forbes” recapitulated: “Technology has rendered totally out of date the idea that authorities can control morality and culture. Politicians may still give speeches about everything noble, bur everyone knows that the talk is just reactionary gabble. The old political carnival, the old game of big promises on election day, soon forgotten in the enjoyment of power, is over”.

Futurologists Alvin and Heidi Toffler argued that “spectacular advances in communication technology open, for the first time, a mind-boggling array of possibilities for direct citizen participation in political decision-making. We the people must begin to shift from depending on representatives to representing ourselves”.

In conclusion, with most homes in advanced countries having a modem, the decline of the polling place is at hand. And when we can vote from home, it’s hard to believe that choosing candidates won’t be expanded to choosing politics.

A.M.Calderazzi and Associates of www.Internauta online 

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT PROVIDE DAILY BREAD

“Libya doesn’t matter as much as finding jobs for the young protesters in Egypt. The violence in Libya swept the far more consequential Egyptian revolution out of the news. There are times, as in the case of Libya, when gunfire obscures more important news. What happens in Libya stays there. What happens in Egypt affects the entire region”. This is the core of Joe Klein‘s reasoning (TIME, March 28, 2011). “The revolution in Egypt isn’t over. It has barely begun. What happens three months from now when life hasn’t changed in any  way for the hundreds of thousands of young people who took to the streets in Cairo?”.

Such Klein doctrine supports the unorthodox belief we tried to enunciate in the ‘Daily Babel’ at the beginning of the Tunisian (and Islamic) insurrection: that the Moslem youth’s crave for democracy, free elections, human rights, parliamentary rites is a fable the West invented; that wealth inequality is the central and deadly problem; that the demise of dictators does not create jobs nor announces any attack to social injustice. Joe Klein is right in singling Egypt out, so the attention of his readers will concentrate better. But of course Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Sudan and, why not, the whole of Maghreb (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco), not to say a word of other, much larger Islamic countries, share the same giant problem of poverty of the proletarians.

In grappling the question whether the U.S. can do something serious to alleviate overbearing destitution, Klein strongly denounces “the prospect of spending billions on (yet another) military campaign in an Islamic country, which would have far less lasting impact than spending those same billions on a well-planned development program for the countries in the region with the largest influence and population, starting with Egypt”.

Klein should have added that America will firmly resist diverting billions from warfare and  war chest. The addiction to arms (which began in Frontier times and inflamed in the Democratic presidencies of Wilson, F.D.Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson) is the Nemesis of such a great nation, better, civilization. Weapons are enormously expensive, and the malady of bellicism compels to perpetually spend for more powerful arms even when no war menaces, or when available weaponry is more than adequate for overkill. So the development programs that many invoke will never be adequate without substantial American contributions.

On the other hand, how could Washington fund civilian projects in the Mediterranean, when she lacks the money to heal, for example, the wounds of Detroit, Toledo and other decayed or moribund areas of Old Manufacturing America? Military supremacy is depriving the United States of the capability for effective leadership on a planetary scale. Apart from waging war, America is pennyless. Her people should hate, rather than be proud of, the easy victories, territorial acquisitions, even Manifest Destiny, of the 19th century. They infected Americans with the national obsession -arms, armies, fleets.

Back to Klein: “Is there anything that can be done, and quickly, to put young people in Tahrir Square, and elsewhere in the region, to work? The Obama Administration is constrained by a lack of foreign aid money and the lugubrious reality of economic reform”. Here comes the Klein proposal: “a Middle East Infrastructure Bank -pushed hard by the U.S. and funded by the lush sovereign wealth funds run by oil-rich countries in the region, as well as China and Europe- to move quickly toward paving roads and building housing, followed by larger projects like power plants. The cost to the U.S. might be about the same as two weeks of the Afghan war for the next ten years. But something must be done and soon, lest Tahrir Square fill again, six months from now, with protesters who are far less peaceful – and their radicalism catch fire across the Middle East”.

To paving roads and building housing it should be added, in my opinion, pumping water from extremely deep aquifers, so to irrigate arid land. Before going so dry North Africa used to be the granary of imperial Rome. At normal energy prices, such pumping would be prohibitively expensive. But if abundant sun and wind power is developed, and with no or low costs for transporting power, such deep pumping may be affordable locally. The right thing is the oil-rich Arab countries investing in gigantic projects in Arab lands. But Arab solidarity is historically weak.

If America wants to stay prominent, also to compete with China and others, she cannot escape contributing not only with arm-twisting and friendly advice, but with a lot of money. It can only come from huge cuts on monstruous Pentagon budgets.

Anthony Cobeinsy