[EM] it's pleocracy, not democracy
Abd ul-Rahman Lomax
abd at lomaxdesign.com
Tue Mar 6 11:53:20 PST 2007
At 11:06 AM 3/6/2007, Jobst Heitzig wrote:
>Dear Abd-ul Rahman,
> > And the very core of my objection is that "the minority" is not a
> > fixed group, such that it is deprived by not getting its way.
>Raphfrk just gave us a very prominent example that this indeed can
>happen. So I don't understand you still insist that such a thing was
This occurs when a single issue is overwhelming, and when
representative systems are majoritarian. I've argued many times that
*representation* should not be majoritarian. It's an oxymoron. I'm
not represented if the majority can essentially shut me out.
Now, one might think there is an inconsistency here. What if the
majority decides that all elections for representative are to be
decided by majority vote? This is the majority exercising its right
of decision (which I support) in a quite foolish way. It is action
like this that leads to civil war, or prevents the resolution of civil wars..
What it actually does is to eliminate the "minority" from
representation, such that decisions made by the resulting assembly
*don't* represent true majorities, but rather skewed majorities,
i.e., a majority of the ruling party. This is *not* majority rule, it
is oligarchy. Has it actually be chosen by the majority? I've never
seen an example; rather, political parties and election environments,
established for historical or other reasons (such as the maintenance
of oligarchical power) have continued or set up such systems.
Majority choice has been avoided, actually.
I responded with respect to the Irish case, specifically. It is not
an example of majority rule.
In true majority rule, all decisions are made by majority vote, true
majority vote. This is only absolutely the case in a direct
democracy, but it can be approached by representative systems. The
system in place in Ireland was not such a system.
Majority rule is about decisions. The majority cannot decide that pi
is exactly 22/7 (though it could certain decide that certain
calculations would use that value, were it so foolish). Neither can
the majority decide that I'm represented when I'm not. If a majority
uses its power to exclude minorities from decision-making, from the
measurement of the majority which is essential in most deliberative
process, it has essentially decided against democracy. It is
"majoritarian" with respect to a narrow decision -- that of who gets
elected as "representatives" -- and oligarchical with respect to
everything else. And it is everything else that really matters.
I'm claiming that in a *direct democracy* where everyone can vote,
majority rule is totally appropriate. That is, the majority has the
right to make decisions, including the decision of what decisions are
to take supermajorities. This is, in fact, Robert's Rules, it is
Thus, as I've mentioned, under Robert's Rules the bylaws, which
ordinarily take a 2/3 majority for amendment, can be amended *at any
time* and *without notice* by an absolute majority. This is an
example of the complete and unrestrained freedom of the majority. It
can essentially decide the rules *at any time.* But it will wisely avoid this.
And the 2/3 rule is there, and notice requirements for amending
bylaws, are there with respect to *pluralities*. That is, absolute
pluralities, where not all members are available to vote. When an
absolute majority is present and voting for something, notice
requirements don't apply, because the opinion of the minority -- with
one exception -- is moot.
The exception is that the minority really should have an opportunity
to present its case. However, presumably, a majority will take that
into account and, by proceeding to decide, has decided that
sufficient opportunity has existed. Once again, who decides what is
sufficient and what is not?
The majority. An absolute majority.
Sometimes it is even less than that. The nuclear option in the
Senate, if I'm correct, involves a simple majority of those voting.
It would be difficult, but not impossible, to use this arbitrarily
without the cooperation of the presiding officer. And assemblies,
especially elected ones, may be chary of violating precedent even
when they have the power to do so. Do they have the *legal* power to
do so? Apparently, yes. That is, no court would overrule the
interpretation of the rules by the majority. But they are restrained
by the realization that, come another year when they are in the
minority, the precedent will have been established, and it *would* be
used against them. To my knowledge, the nuclear option has never
clearly been used, even though it is legally possible.
Once again, we see that the majority *has* the power to rule, but
that it will wisely avoid using this power in too blunt a manner. The
majority in the U.S. Congress often, in my opinion, does behave
foolishly in this respect, and the result is temporary victory and,
ultimately, a weak nation.
> > The thinking behind this proposal seems to be that every citizen
> > deserves to "get their way,"
>No, not at all. The thinking behind this is that voting systems that
>claim to be "democratic", i.e. let "the people rule", cannot be
>majoritarian since that confuses "the people" with "the majority". If
>we want everyone to have some (perhaps even equal) power, we cannot use
>a majoritarian system in which it can easily happen that 49% have no
>power. That's very simple, isn't it?
It can't easily happen, not with ab initio systems. It happens when
systems *exclude* minorities -- or even majorities -- leaving
decisions to be made by an *apparent* majority. This is not majority rule!
(If a minority is excluded from voting, then decisions are being made
by a majority of a majority, not by an actual majority. And, often,
it is not even the majority which is so empowered.)
> > yet "getting their way" is not the goal
> > of electoral choice systems, the goal is maximization of benefit,
>*Whose* benefit is the main question! We are going in circles, aren't
>we? How to define "benefit"...
The goal is to make decisions that benefit society. Yes, it's not
crisply defined, but healthy societies take care, reasonably, of all
their members. Carry around a lot of dead wood is not a formula for
success, and that's what you get when you systematically exclude people.
> > and
> > benefit is maximized by making choices which actually are the best
> > for society,
>Here we have another such term, "best" for society. Why are you so
>convinced there is such a thing?
You know, I'm not going to continue this. Think about it. Is there
such a thing as making the "best" decision *at all*? Why not just
toss a coin and avoid all this rigamarole?
>Minorities being in "error", minority opinion being "noise" -- I get the
>impression that you have a completely different way of thinking about
>group decision processes than I have.
This is a persistent misrepresentation of what I've written. Minority
opinion is not noise. Period.
Introducing random selection is noise. Literally. From an engineering
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