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Friday, May 30, 2014

Why Westminster democracy will never work for you and me but random selection will

What with European Parliament elections over and having instigated the odd concern that all is not well, one may as well remind all these worry-warts that ‘democracy by election’ was doomed to failure from the very beginning. It is not, as Lincoln said, the best system we have even if it is not perfect, as it is a dismal failure precisely because ‘voting’ for or against anyone or any party creates winners and losers who will do almost anything to reverse the results, simply because everybody knows how elections are lost and won, namely by deceit, bribery, manipulation and above all ‘vote buying’, i.e. spending large amounts of money donated by interested citizens who want to further their very own interests (cf. election results from the Ukraine and Egypt). Modern election campaigns are large-scale media manipulations that result in often bizarre outcomes, what with power-hungry psychopaths relishing their electoral triumphs.

Even if we were to give some credence to the whole idea that the ‘majority’ has the right to rule as they see fit, one cannot escape the statistics that by and large it is only the minority that elects a majority which is then an even smaller minority. Take the 43% participation in the recent European-wide elections as an example. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to demand that the majority of the electorate actually votes, for the elections to have a legitimate outcome? Quite obviously the ‘majority’ of the so-called electorate (and that’s those ‘registered’ only) couldn’t care less about elections, and quite rightly so, especially if they think that their vote would be meaningless and/or even counterproductive.

Since the media as the ‘fourth estate’ is in charge of electoral manipulation, there are endless calls to vote as some sort of civic duty or  liberal citizens’ responsibility, and providing ‘proof’ that it can work after all. An informative example is an article by the Guardian that celebrates the electoral success of a Spanish political party:
Barely 100 days old, and lead by Pablo Iglesias, a 35-year-old political science professor with a ponytail, Podemos (We Can) emerged as the third largest political force in many Spanish regions, including Madrid. 
I am enamored by the realization that men with ponytails (like I have) can ‘win’ a seat in the European Parliament. We are even happier to learn that:
The soft-spoken, former Communist Youth party member may have stunned analysts with his party's performance, but it was not enough for him. The ruling People's party (PP) had won the elections, meaning that high unemployment and home evictions would continue, he said. "We want to build a political majority that reflects the social majority of Spain."
Thank God, he is a “former” communist as otherwise he might advocate a type of democracy that calls for the dictatorship of the proletariat. And how come the ruling PP won the majority vote if a putative majority of the electorate is ‘unemployed’ and has been evicted from their homes? They must be stupid! Or they must have been manipulated in the sense of the oppressed voting for the oppressor (the oppressed famously taking on the features of the oppressor). Either way it doesn’t make any sense. Or could it be that the remnants of the well-to-do Spanish middle-classes voted for Podemos because they are enamored of well-to-do academics with ponytails? And who are these people who vote for the fascists all over Europe – like they voted for Hitler and Mussolini a few decades before (and BTW, LOL, says bonnie Prince Charles, isn’t the elected Putin the new Stalin who was in league with Hitler?). It’s all a bit confusing, innit? Even a conservative Tony Blair (and potential war criminal) noted that Ukip is ‘nasty and unpleasant’.

And furthermore, didn’t our nice Señor Pablo Iglesias, as a savvy political scientist’ ever consider the most unfortunate name for his party? He must know that Obama won with the slogan “yes, we can”. Yes, we can screw you!

So what is the alternative, if there is one (contrary to Lincoln)? One should remember that the origins of Greek democracy are based on the procedure to ‘select by lot’ one of the citizens of Athens to lead them to glory if at all possible. The method of true democracy has all the hall marks to guard against the pathetic pitfalls of Westminster democracy, for even if the lot falls on a power-hungry psychopath, one can impeach him quickly on the grounds of insanity. In any case the statistical probability to ‘select by lot’ a normal citizen must be far above the statistical probability of ’voting’ for a normal candidate (let alone vote for a ‘winning normal candidate’). After all the American constitution boldly asserts that we are all born equal and as such it is our birthright to be selected by lot. If the lot falls on you or me, we will work tirelessly to make sure that social and economic justice will prevail, that private ownership of the means of production is outlawed, and that free beer vouchers are given to alcoholics in return for collecting rubbish on the streets of Amsterdam. You and I cannot possibly do a worse job than those who are elected by definition of means foul and unfair. Most likely we will do a much better job! We would give Senor Iglesias a job (not earning more than €1,930 per month) singing songs about the homeless reoccupying their houses while we send Farage and Le Pen into exile, to have fun on St. Helena. To be more lenient with breaking-bad politicians like Cameron, Merkel, Obama and Putin, they can make a living selling vacuum cleaners door to door (not earning more than a third of €1,930 per month) – yes, they can!

The point to make is that a truly participatory democracy cannot be based on ‘voting’ and the ‘majority’ ruling over the ‘minority’, especially if the majority is in the overall minority of the population (typically a ‘voting majority’ of less than a quarter of the total population ‘wins’ and so rules over the whole lot). True enough, under current conditions of media manipulation the idea of ‘selecting by lot’ a parliament and/or government sounds like a bizarre joke that might have worked in ancient Athens - but see where it got them to in the end. But think again: there are alternatives, there must be alternatives! Why don’t we give it a try for small-scale communal electorates? If the lot falls on the village idiot, so be it, for who knows, maybe the village idiot isn’t so idiotic after all. Chances are that the lot will fall on the average punter who will work for his village community without having plans to become lord-mayor of London town. Señor Iglesias too would know – as a tenured, reasonably well-paid political scientist earning around €1,930 per month – that there are many serious alternatives that have been discussed and described over the ages (from Plato to Chomsky). Modern forms exist in jury selection (random selection from the phone book, as it were), determining lottery winners, flipping the coin when election winners have the same number of votes, conducting opinion surveys, random breath testing – and isn’t there a famous story of ‘love being blind’? Life itself is a random event so why not rely on its implications a bit more and trust the notion that democracy too must be based on random selection.