[EM] Sociological issues of elections

Fred Gohlke fredgohlke at verizon.net
Fri Oct 11 09:26:34 PDT 2013

On 10/4/2013 4:19 AM, Kristofer Munsterhjelm wrote:

re: "... we shouldn't then be surprised that small scale
      direct democracy has its dynamics too. And I can
      definitely see situations where preexisting social
      oppression can spread into the social domain in a
      community where everybody knows everybody else.

     "As I also said in another post, we've had quite some
      history with that in the social realm in the small
      towns here (in Norway). It could get quite ugly: stand
      out from the crowd and you would find yourself shunned
      and nasty gossip would start to spread about you.
      Fortunately, this social conformity effect is no longer
      as strong, among other reasons since the people who
      live in such places can move more easily. (And as an
      aside, many do. Not just because of the oppressive
      small town effect, but because the jobs are to be found
      in larger cities -- though I imagine Norway is doing
      better than say, Sweden, in this respect: we have a
      deliberate element of decentralization in our policies.)

The nature of partisanship is that we seek out and align ourselves with 
others who share our views.  The circumstances you describe show why, as 
groups predisposed to a particular attitude coalesce into larger groups, 
party systems aggregate 'preexisting social oppression'.  That is why 
political parties are the antithesis of public interest groups.  They 
deliberately shut out those outside their parochial view.

Have any of us not met someone shunned by our acquaintances, only to 
find the person more sensible than we were led to expect?  As our 
understanding and appreciation of such individuals grows, our minds tend 
to blur our antipathy.  In time, our former opinion no longer clouds our 
minds and we find we have grown.

We would be well advised to recall such instances because they will help 
us grasp the wisdom of, and the need for, a political infrastructure 
that arranges for those predisposed to a given attitude to be exposed 
to, and interact with, non-partisans, a process that broadens the 
horizons of the participants.

In other words, instead of letting socially oppressive groups coalesce 
into solid blocks committed to confrontation, we must find a way to 
encourage disparate groups to join in the pursuit of their common interest.

re: "There's an intuition that direct democracy is the
      natural state, and that it is definitely better than
      representative democracy, in particular where the
      representative democracy does a bad job of actually
      representing the people."

The intuition that direct democracy is the natural state would be 
reasonable if we lived in a state of nature.  We don't.  We live in an 
era dominated by mass communications and behavioral science, which 
combine into powerful tools for mass manipulation.  To imagine direct 
democracy can exist under these circumstances is unwise.

Since modern representative democracies are party-based and "... 
representative democracy does a bad job of actually representing the 
people", ought we not consider the possibility that letting political 
parties name the candidates for elective office is an unsound practice?

Constructive resolution of political issues requires, first of all, 
lawmakers with the ability to recognize the value in various - sometimes 
competing - points of view, from the people's perspective.  That is 
impossible for legislators elected to represent a partisan interest.

However intuitive direct democracy may seem, it can not work when the 
means of exploiting public opinion are commonly used to gain political 
advantage.  The effect of such mass manipulation can only be minimized 
by reason.  If political power is to reside in the people, the political 
infrastructure must give the people a way to reason their way through 
the issues that concern them. Such deliberation has been shown, 
repeatedly, to be most effective in small groups.  There are countless 
academic studies that show this point.  Here are a few:

* Esterling, Fung and Lee show that deliberation in small groups raises 
both the knowledge level of the participants and their satisfaction with 
the results of their deliberations.  See Esterling, Kevin M., Fung, 
Archon and Lee, Taeku, Knowledge Inequality and Empowerment in Small 
Deliberative Groups: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment at the Oboe 
Townhalls (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:


* Pogrebinschi found that "... policies for minority groups deliberated 
in the national conferences tend to be crosscutting as to their content. 
  The policies tend to favor more than one group simultaneously ...". 
See Pogrebinschi, Thamy, Participatory Democracy and the Representation 
of Minority Groups in Brazil (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. 
Available at SSRN:


* A study by Patrick R. Laughlin, Erin C. Hatch, Jonathan S. Silver, and 
Lee Boh of the University of Illinois at Urbana-
Champaign, published 
in the APA Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, finds that 
group problem solving is more effective than problem solving by even the 
best individual expert.  See


* 'Teaching problem solving through cooperative grouping. Part 2: 
Designing problems and structuring groups' found that formal cooperative 
groups need to stay together long enough to be successful.  On the other 
hand, they should be changed often enough so students realize they can 
make any group successful -- that their success is not due to being in a 
"magic" group. Reported in American Journal of Physics, 60: 637-644.  See


re: "Maybe it would be better to say that direct democracy,
      while not perfect, is a good thing to try to emulate.
      Then we can deal with the problems of direct democracy
      when we get there - to the extent those dynamics also
      show up in whatever we're using to emulate it."

The observation that "those dynamics [i.e., personal discomfort in 
political meetings, pressure for social conformity, inter alia] also 
show up in whatever we're using to emulate it" is a powerful insight.

The dynamics affecting people's lives are what guide their individual 
decisions.  Behavioral scientists use these dynamics to inspire 
manipulated responses.  Reformers seeking to improve democracy must go 
in the other direction.  They must provide an environment that 
strengthens the people's capability for deliberation and individual 
decision making.  Attempts to change electoral methods, as in 
Burlington, Vermont, fail because they ignore the dynamics of human 
interaction.  Democracy is about people and the dynamics that allow and 
encourage people to reach rational decisions provide the spring from 
which successful democratic reform will flow.

re: "From a control perspective, voting happens too
      infrequently. It would be like trying to keep a
      temperature by adjusting the power to the heater
      once every four (or two) years."

By far, the best solution to this problem was outlined by Marcus Pivato 
of the Department of Mathematics at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, 
in his paper Pyramidal Democracy.  His article describing the process is 
published in the `Journal of Public Deliberation'.

Pivato moves beyond our common structures of political parties and 
periodic elections and outlines a permanent institution where the people 
can replace their representatives in the legislature 'on the fly', as 
the needs of the nation change.

The power of the system is vested in small groups of motivated citizens 
organized into a pyramidal hierarchy who participate in deliberative 
policy formation.  Each group elects a delegate, who expresses the 
deliberative consensus of that group at the next tier of the pyramid. 
The process is a powerful meritocratic device, which channels 
legislative responsibility towards the most committed and competent 
citizens.  It makes dynamic, responsive and democratic government 
possible.  See


Fred Gohlke

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