[EM] An artist's view on voting methods

Kristofer Munsterhjelm km_elmet at lavabit.com
Wed Dec 5 09:10:09 PST 2012

On 12/04/2012 07:31 AM, Michael Allan wrote:
> Kristofer Munsterhjelm said:
>> One should be careful with election by story, though. The worst kind
>> of modern-day dictatorial regimes have often been backed by stories
>> or myths to lend the regime legitimacy. ...
> Yes, I agree.  The events of the 20th century effectively innoculated
> a generation against this particular disease, but younger generations
> aren't necessarily immune.  Under the right circumstances, propaganda
> can masquerade as a legitimate world view.  It can fool people into
> making terrible mistakes.
>> ... For instance, left-wing authoritarian rulers have claimed power
>> to have been given to them by the workers or the people, and that
>> the centralization of power through authoritarian measures is needed
>> in order to protect the system from vast external enemies that would
>> otherwise destroy it, and so that the rulers can direct the nation
>> towards a glorious future. Similar mythology exists on the right:
>> see, for instance, Gentile's description of the structure of Italian
>> Fascism: http://www.oslo2000.uio.no/program/papers/s12/s12-gentile.pdf
>> Among other things, he notes that totalitarianism provides a
>> single narrative, then seeks to "politicize" all of life so as to
>> pull it into that narrative.
> This trick depends on an un-elected narrative, of course.  There are
> moments in history when people make the wrong choices and are trapped
> by them, and come to regret them.  Examples are post-Periclean Athens
> and Weimar Germany.  But the basis of legitimacy for these mistakes is
> narrow (often a single vote) compared to the lengthy and elaborate
> election of a narrative world view.  Examples again are compilations
> such as The Iliad, The Mahabharata, Ramayana, Old and New Testaments.
> These are traditionally the work of centuries, and they stand for a
> long time, if not forever.
> Could such a "cultural election" happen in modern times, do you think?
> Or what might prevent it?

In the most strict sense, I don't think so. Modernity has too many 
aspects to be made into a narrative world view. You might see it in 
groups within some given society, though: those who hold a certain 
identity might agree upon the direction of some aspects of modern life - 
enough to provide such a narrative - but only for the parts that are 
relevant to them.

In the weaker sense, it is everywhere. Sets of values are often woven 
into a narrative, and politicians refer to the narratives to compactly 
state their values. A conservative may talk about "preserving the 
American dream", for example, while a liberal may tell the voters he can 
be part of a continuing change for the better.

The world-views and associated stories compete. Thus there's no single 
thread (because the views of the people, or those said to represent 
them, may shift from one side to another), but each "alternative" is 
pretty well delineated. In the sense there are many stories, each story 
is pretty clear, but because there are many, and each period of 
governance may have a quite drastic shift from one to another, there's 
no single narrative to frame the whole culture.

I think that more gradual systems would be more likely to produce a 
cohesive narrative of the form you mention. If each shift is more 
gradual, then the story can hold up as a whole. On the other hand, more 
gradual changes might also lead to a perception that politics is always 
"business as usual", and thus not something that could be put into a 
narrative form. Say, if a particularly responsive governmental system 
would anticipate challenges and act before they become problems, 
government would appear to "just work" and be nothing special.

Perhaps the common property is that a group has to have members that 
feel that they're "of that group" to a sufficient degree before 
narrative election works. If they don't feel there's much in common, 
then it doesn't - which would explain the variety of modernity leading 
to fewer such narratives on a larger scale but more on a smaller scale. 
But if they feel they're part of something greater, then that greater 
group may seek a story to represent themselves and their history, and 
that a narrative also makes that feeling stronger - which would also 
match that authoritarian states make use of narratives, because they 
need the people to consider themselves a unified thing working in 
concert with the authorities against external enemies.

If that is true, then one could adjust systems of government to either 
support multiple groups going in their own direction, or fewer but 
stronger groups finding a common decision. Representative systems would 
on the one hand support multiple groups (multiple stories), but on the 
other be less abrupt in the shift between frames. Majoritarian ones are 
the other way around. Consensus government... feels a bit like the "just 
works" example above, at least unless it has vast powers.

I'm mostly just thinking here, nothing rigorous. I could be wrong! :-)

(Maybe "we permit many stories" could itself be a story?)

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