Sunday, February 22, 2009

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.

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