[EM] Conceiving a Democratic Electoral Process
fredgohlke at verizon.net
Tue Jul 10 10:05:02 PDT 2012
Good Afternoon, Kristofer
re: "If we consider representative democracy as a proxy for
direct democracy, to make the latter managable, then we
could be even stronger: we'd want representatives that would
act as we would if we had sufficient information and time."
That's a good way of putting it. Could it be improved by saying we want
representatives that would act better than we act - by making rational
rather than emotional decisions?
re: "There's a problem, though: it's hard to separate the
categories (opinion and ability) from each other. If a
representative says that we can't do X, is that because
it's really a bad idea or because he's part of an oligarchy
that benefits from not doing X? Similarly, if a
representative says we should do X, does he mean that is a
good idea, or is he trying to manage perceptions?
Since it's hard to tell by the representatives' acts alone,
that leaves the system. In an ideal case, the system
discourages an oligarchy in the first place (rather than
trying to patch things up when the oligarchy exists), while
placing the good in positions as representatives."
As you say, it's hard to separate opinion and ability from each other -
and it's impossible to do so from a distances. That's why the system
must give us a way to gauge the judgment and integrity of candidates
before they're elected. Once they take office, their decisions affect
our lives. If we cannot conceive a system that lets us evaluate them as
well as we're able before we elect them we are doomed to an endless
repetition of our past.
Gauging the judgment and integrity of an individual can never be
perfect, but we can get better insight into a person's character through
face-to-face interaction than we can in any other way. If the
interaction takes place in a competitive environment, it will bring out
the vital distinctions needed to identify the better qualified candidates.
re: "If representative democracy is/should be a managable way of
direct democracy, then we can also note that it doesn't, by
itself, deal with the problem of opinions changing too
rapidly, or of populism. Other parts of the system should
handle that ..."
Therein lies the role of partisanship. Society is dynamic and people's
perceptions and anxieties change. As particular concerns arise, their
proponents will attract supporters. While the rabble-rousing effect of
the media cannot be avoided, that influence can be ameliorated if
partisans are given the facilities and encouraged to seek out their best
advocates to outline their concerns and develop alternatives. When
their views are shown to be in the interest of the community, their
alternatives will be adopted, in whole or in part.
re: "In an electoral context, that might take the shape of not
frequently re-electing the whole assembly but rather parts
of it, or having different term limits depending on support,
or requiring supermajorities or double majorities.)
Re-electing a portion of the assembly at each election provides a level
of stability to government. Term limits, while important, become less
so if the people have a mechanism to carefully examine candidates during
each election cycle.
When I think of the size of majorities, I think of the life of our laws.
At present, there is no provision for removing bad laws except by
legislative action. We will be better served when the life of our laws
depends on the size of the majority by which they are passed. Then,
laws which barely pass will have to be re-enacted when they expire.
This forces a re-examination of the law, after it has had an opportunity
to accomplish the purpose for which it was passed. If it is found to be
effective, it may attract a greater majority and a longer life.
re: "So the problem is not partisanship, but rather exclusively
The problem is that the parties are allowed to control the people's
access to their government. When the parties enact the rules by which
elections are conducted, they control the way the people can interact
with their government. Gerrymandering and school board elections (in my
state) are screaming examples, and are but the tip of the iceberg. When
the parties write the rules of engagement, democracy can not survive.
re: "It it were partisanship itself, the solution might have been
easier, but what you're saying means that we should try to
find a just-right spot instead: partisan influences not too
strong (which is the case now) nor too weak."
Not exactly. What I'm saying is that the people, all the people,
including non-partisans, must be allowed to participate in the political
process. This is difficult because non-partisans, as a group, are not
active in politics, "yet many of their most important concerns remain
very political." (quote taken from The Report of the Commission on
Candidate Selection - a board composed of the leaders of five large
political parties in Great Britain - that investigated why parties are
not representative of the people.) Conceiving a way to give
non-partisans a meaningful way to influence the political process is a
re: "What do you think of proportional representation systems?
Are they closer to that sweet spot than are majoritarian
systems?" Are they close enough?
They are almost certainly better than a two-party system, but they are
not close enough for a fundamental reason. Parties, by definition, have
a narrower focus than the people. They can never represent more than a
portion of the people's concerns.
re: "Still, if aristocracy (in the original sense) decays to
oligarchy too quickly, then sortition might be 'the worst
except for all the others'."
Sortition would be an improvement over what we (in the U.S.) have today.
It would at least raise the level of governance to average. I prefer
to set my sights higher. We have, among us, no shortage of superior
individuals. All we lack is a means of seeking them out and raising
them to elective office as our representatives. My hope is that we can
conceive a means of doing so.
re: (with regard to whether a hybrid sortition system would deny
us the benefit of partisan thought and action) "... perhaps
parties would become support organizations of opinion."
I think they would, but it would be frustrating because the chance of
achieving their goal would be severely reduced. Would it be possible to
include random choices from among those who identify themselves as party
members and random choices from among the non-partisans, with the number
of choices proportional to the size of the group?
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