Sunday, February 22, 2009

2009.02-22 - MP Election by Lot - Secondary Rumination Pt 2.

Re-reading and editing my submission on electoral reform to the BC Citizens' Assembly for this blog brought back memories of typical media misleading editorials — an example of which I will elaborate later.

And it renewed my inner ear's editorial concern that my
necessary elaboration fell into boring pedantic counterproductive preaching. This concern raises interesting philosophical and pragmatic issues around learning and teaching, and the problem of expressing contrarian thinking in society. I will elaborate on that, too.

And thirdly, with hindsight, it provides a great cautionary example of how ignorance helps inflate egoistic intellectual imagination. I learned that if I want to think I know everything about something, all I have to do is keep myself ignorant enough so that my little snot of knowledge will appear expansively erudite and infinitely wise. At least to me and those who rise to at best my level of ignorance. And this is where I'll begin today's blog, prostrating — or maybe just genuflecting — myself before the gods of humility and ask for their forgiveness.

So, I have three items I would like to explore. However, prudence has directed me to separate the items into separate entries so as to give the appearance of less verbosity. And so "Rumination Pt 2" is going to expand to at least two more parts beyond Part 2, with Part 2 being "Ignorance Inflates Egoistic Delusion." Part 3 is to be "Philosophical Issues Around Learning and Teaching," and Part 4 "A Misleading Media Editorial."

Ignorance Inflates Egoistic Delusion
I wrote a preliminary draft of the election of government by lottery essay in the mid-1980s. I wrote it to explore my feelings about what I saw as an increasingly corrupt electoral process. Writing helped me think about those feelings, and in the process I discovered that the corruption wasn't just money — even though that is the biggest problem. I concluded that the corruption included the media's role in legally manufacturing election results.

I was not content with just griping, and elaborated
a solution, my idea of (s)election of MPs by lot. And until recently I thought I'd come up with a novel, perhaps even unique, approach to creating a government. I was proud of that ideation, too! When a friend asked me from where or whom I'd got the idea, I snapped back a little testily "I thought it!" as if I had created something new. Well, it was new — new to me. And so I did think it, but... sigh. Thus it is that via these kinds of easy mental baubles are gassy inflated fat heads verbosely made manifest. Sigh. And yet how blissful it was, the joy I found in my perceived originality, bounded as it was inside the cramped hallways of my vast ignorance! It was so delightfully egoistic to think that if I thought it, it must be new! So when I got a chance to foist it upon the world, via the BC's Citizens Assembly, I leapt at the chance.

And there it is. My confession on how, in one easy synaptic burst of neuronal creativity, I became a fat head. And yes, I do love Peter Gabriel's
Big Time and also Big Head by Spirit of the West.

It wasn't until 20 years later that that gem of delusion was found to be made of glass. Thank you, Aristotle and
The Politics, where Aristotle comments on electoral lot systems many times. The amazing thing is that his comments are mostly matter-of-fact passing references to lots, as if the option to use lottery systems were a completely normal electoral option. For example:
Once more, the appointment to offices without salary, the election by vote and not by lot, and the practice of having all suits tried by certain magistrates, and not some by one and some by another, are characteristic of aristocracy (Introduction par 107).
... or although the appointment of them by lot from among those who have been already selected combines both elements, the way in which the rich are compelled by law to attend the assembly and vote for magistrates or discharge other political duties, while the rest may do as they like, and the endeavour to have the greater number of the magistrates appointed out of the richest classes and the highest officers selected from those who have the greatest incomes, both these are oligarchical features (VI Book II par 419).
      The Politics of Aristotle, trans. into English with introduction, marginal analysis, essays, notes and indices by B. Jowett. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1885. 2 vols.
      (Aristotle makes many other references to choice by lot in The Politics.)
And thus was re-confirmed that with rare exception it is only the delusional who think that they have stumbled into creating a 'new idea'. It is with some guilt that I find myself now quoting my self from a letter I wrote to a friend about this idea of whether or not there are new ideas in the realm of our civilized human experience or not: 'the historical evidence is that human nature hasn't changed much, even while its toys and tools of production, distraction and destruction have. ... And, typically, that kind of truth comes from our creators of poetry and fiction. Why? Because much of our non-fiction is fixated on the superficial changes of political borders, weaponry, and encomiums to the powerful and the wealthy whereas good fiction looks at the nature of being human' ('Dear Thomas,' August 27th, 2008 10:19 p.m.).

2009.02.22 - MP Election by Lot - Secondary Rumination Pt 1.

For those of you who managed to read through my piece on an alternative to electioneering, I would imagine that I am in the eyes of many a complete nut bar. And a verbose fruit cake, at that. I am well aware that this idea, even terse versions of it, has little contemporary support. I have discussed it with others and I have suggested it to two different volunteer organizations, with which I was associated. I proposed the idea as a means of getting onto their executives new blood, and to minimize the few being endlessly re-elected, regardless competence or egoistic or self-serving motivations, simply because they are warm bodies willing to take on such thankless societal requirements.

But only two or three people have even cautiously thought that the idea had even a whiff merit — and one of them is a friend. The volunteer groups both found the idea laughable, by which I mean that they could not move past their incredulity to consider discussing it before unceremoniously dismissing it.

However, 'my' idea did receive grateful reception from someone in Quebec. He wrote "I was very elated to discover that there are like minds on the other side of the country," and "I have been discussing the "juror system" of MP selection and related ideas at every opportunity I have." I wonder if he and I are the only two 'minds' in Canada(!) because I've not received one query on the idea since posting it in 2005. (So, will this blog be any different? We'll see.)

And not only is this idea heard of elsewhere, but in various forms it has been and is being practiced. My favourite example comes from China, specifically the monks of at Kuei-yuan, who use an intricate and often protracted lottery method to elect their abbots.

As reported by Holmes Welch, and cited by Robert Hopcke,
these monks choose an abbot by drawing lots from among the [names of every member of the monastery]: after prayer and ritual, a senior member of the community uses chopsticks to pick out a name from a metal tube, and the person whose name is drawn three times in a row — from among the [scores] possible — is acknowledged as the abbot. As one might imagine, this time consuming process, which the community continues for as long as it takes unit the thrice-chosen name appears, can sometimes eventuate in the selection of a person whom the community initially perceives as a bad or problematic candidate. But even when almost universally acknowledged inferior individuals have been chosen, this method nevertheless seems consistently to have worked: to the community's surprise, such "inferior" individuals have proven themselves capable leaders, which points up the elegance of such a method in which pure chance — free from the influence of human prejudice, envy, malice, and ambition — is better at providing for the community's leadership than any mortal could have been (Hopcke p208).

(Hopcke doesn't quite do full justice to the transcription from Welch, because Welch describes an example of a monk who was selected but who refused the office because he'd been a monk for only three months. So there was a second name drawing, and after following the same process his name was drawn again. And when his five year term came to an end, his name was drawn yet again (pp169-70)).
And, as it turns out, out west Aristotle refers to lottery systems of selecting members of the various levels of government. For example:
There is a third mode, in which something is borrowed from the oligarchical and something from the democratical principle. For example, the appointment of magistrates by lot is democratical, and the election of them oligarchical; democratical again when there is no property qualification, oligarchical when there is. In the aristocratical or constitutional state, one element will be taken from each—from oligarchy the mode of electing to offices, from democracy the disregard of qualification (Bk IV);
... In democracies all things are decided by all, but there are various ways in which the democratic principle may be carried out. a) The citizens may deliberate in the assembly, but by turns; and the boards of magistrates may come into office by turns until every citizen has held office, while the body of the people meet only to hear edicts and to pass laws. b, c) In another form of democracy the citizens all meet, but only to elect magistrates, to pass laws, to decide about peace and war, and to make scrutinies. The ordinary administration is entrusted to the magistrates, who are elected either by vote or by lot. [This form of democracy is given under two heads, but the second appears only to be a repetition of the first.] Or again, d) the whole power of the executive is in the hands of the assembly, and the magistrates only prepare the business for them: — this is the last and worst form of democracy. In oligarchies some deliberate about all things. If a) the ruling class are a numerous body, having a moderate qualification attainable by any one, and they observe law, there arises a form of oligarchy which inclines to a polity. But b) when only selected persons have the power of deliberation, although they still observe the law, the state is a pure oligarchy; and is of necessity oligarchical when c) the government is hereditary or co-optative. On the other hand, d) when the whole people decide the most important questions, but the executive is in the hands of the magistrates who are elected by lot or by vote, there the constitution is an aristocracy or polity. And e) when the magistrates are partly elected by vote and partly by lot, [the whole people having still to decide about peace and war and retaining the power of scrutiny,] then the government is partly aristocratical and partly constitutional (Introduction, Bk IV).
      Aristotle. The Politics of Aristotle, trans. into English with introduction, marginal analysis, essays, notes and indices by B. Jowett. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1885. 2 vols. Vol. 1. Chapter: Introduction and Book IV.
End of Part 1 of rumination. To be continued.