How could it be worse?
Why do we have politicians? Please just think about this for a minute. Couldn’t you just select random people off the street and have them do a better job, or at least a less professional job of looting? This is in fact how democracy was supposed to be. Ask Aristotle:
It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.
Athenian citizens — all being equals — literally drew lots for most positions. Athens didn’t have a semi-permanent political class because that would inevitably become a ruling class, AKA an oligarchy. Which is what we have today. We just vote on which branch of the oligarchy screws us, and call it a democracy. Aristotle would laugh. They didn’t have the same value judgements attached to systems of governance as we did, but based on what we claim to value, we’ve fucked it all up.
We’ve just ended up with minority rule like the enslaving Greeks, except we’re hypocritical about it. They at least said that only rich men could be citizens, but once in you were equal. We say that almost anyone can be a citizen, but still end up ruled by rich men. We’ve improved the spirit of democracy but fucked the process all up.
We shouldn’t be electing most positions at all. We should put our own names in the ballot box, and represent ourselves. We like to think that we practice self-rule, but we do not. Why then is a political class ruling and not ordinary citizens? What we call modern democracy is really the practice of self-deception.
The ancient Greeks, of course, were classist, patriarchal bastards, but at least they didn’t deceive themselves. Very few people (male, not enslaved) could be citizens, but once you were a citizen you were in. You had every right to power. You didn’t have to make a career of it, you didn’t have to put up statues of yourself to win votes, you just put your name in and you had the same chances as any other citizen to govern.
As Aristotle said,
Democracy arose from the idea that those who are equal in any respect are equal absolutely. The next is when the democrats, on the grounds that they are all equal, claim equal participation in everything.
The Athenians even built a fascinating machine for this, called a kleroterion.
Every citizen that volunteered had their name stuck in the kleroterion. Then colored ‘dice’ were slid down a tube, and where the white die came out, that column was your committee or whatever. Some positions, like generals, were elected, but these posts were literally called an aristocracy. Which is what we have today, for everything except jury duty.
The only thing ancient Greeks would admire about modern democracy is how thoroughly we’ve convinced the enslaved that they’re free.
The Athenians, of course, would be appalled at our idea of who was equal (women, poor people) but nod at who we actually let into power. Mostly rich, majority men. We produce the same elitist result as a literal slave state, just with more bullshit. The Greeks were trying to represent only their elites. We do this by lying.
What we have actually produced is a corrupt oligarchy (rule by the few). People literally buy seats, right in front of our eyes. Candidates make ritual sacrifices to the media priesthood every few years, paid for by wealthy donors. Every time you see a Facebook or TV ad, they’re laundering donor money right in front of you. What anyone would call corruption in the abstract has become a cultural blind spot.
Once in, incumbency effects are so strong that the same few people get re-elected, and even pass power on to their children. For example, how many fucking Gandhis does India need? They’re not even the right Gandhis. Across the world, including the western world (Trudeau, Bush II), politics has become an often hereditary aristocracy, with just enough give to make the enslaved think we have a chance.
But think about it, what are your chances? What are the chances of seeing someone that even looks like you, in a society where being a representative is a full-time career and class? We’re simply expecting rich, privileged people to empathize with the masses, rather than letting the masses — through random selection — rule themselves.
The Greeks called this system of random access democracy sortition. Think for a moment how sortition would look in the modern world. It would basically look like jury duty. You’d go to vote and instead of selecting the local lord or drug lord, you’d put your own name in, if you wanted. There’d be no campaigning, no advertising, just go home and watch the lottery results. Then you’d end up with a Parliament that literally represented the people.
You’d immediately get 50% women’s representation, no quotas required. You’d immediately get far more poor and middle-class people represented, and much fewer millionaires. You’d immediately get more minorities represented (still within the racist ways we define citizenship).
Sortition actually leads to a far more representative democracy than Representative Democracy. And representation matters. What we have now is a bunch of rich people maybe deciding to do something for the masses, whose lives they really cannot understand and who aren’t even in the room. Under sortition the poor, etc would simply be in the room, able to speak for themselves.
Imagine for a moment, then, that room. If someone proposes cutting taxes for the 1%, he would only appeal to 1% of the room. Literally 99% of the room would be like “shut up, cut taxes for us.” Then imagine someone proposing restrictions on birth control. He’d be proposing it to 50% women. This is why representation matters.
Furthermore, everyone in the room would be leaving in a few years. They wouldn’t be a permanent political class, glad-handing and back-slapping each other. They would not be a political class. Could random rulers take bribes? Absolutely, but then they’d be random citizens in a few years, open to prosecution like anybody else. It’s not that they’d be incorruptible, they just wouldn’t be unaccountable like the powerful class of politicians we have now (almost everywhere except South Korea and, like, Malawi).
The core point of sortition is the simple fact that IT COULD NOT BE WORSE. I mean, please, look at your ruling class and ask yourself. Are they really better than me? Are we not their equals, and do we not have every right to rule ourselves? At the very least, how could we fuck up it worse than them?
How Could It Be Worse?
Even the Athenians had elections for certain positions, like generals, jobs requiring expertise. Then the question is, doesn’t being a modern legislator require expertise? Look, it certainly wouldn’t hurt, but look around. Are we ruled by experts? This hypothetical is really not how things have worked out, and we’ve tried it for decades.
Today we elect the children of past rulers, which is straight feudal, and the people that scream the loudest, which is straight demagoguery, and people who simple have enough money to run, which is straight oligarchy. The only people that get there by pure merit are hard-working criminals and a few excellent speakers and true leaders. We act like the latter is the rule, when in fact it is the exception. We’re literally sending our worst.
The arguments against sortition are that we need educated, experienced people in Parliament, but these are fundamentally classist notions.
The whole idea of ‘education’ or qualification is based on the idea that a third-generation Harvard fuckboi is a better person than a plumber. It’s based on the idea that rich criminals must be doing something right, so why not run for office? It’s the idea that stay-at-home moms are dumber than lawyers, or that a poor person cannot possibly contribute to our democracy. The ancients would say yes to a lot of this, but they would do it at the citizenship level. Because they weren’t hypocrites. We need to drop the hypocrisy and look at our actual values, and if we’re living up to them.
Either every citizen is equal or they’re not. If you don’t think a high-school dropout is educated enough to be a Senator, how are they educated enough to choose one? If you don’t think a bartender is ‘qualified’ to be a representative, then why are they even qualified to vote? Either we’re all equals in a democracy, or we’re not in a democracy at all. Call it what it is.
This is why I call for abolishing politicians. Gradually, at the local and provincial governance level and then, if it doesn’t break everything, up the Parliamentary level. Up to actual self-rule, by our actual selves. It might sound crazy, but ask yourself this. How could it be worse?