Sortition

Back in 1979, James Bovard wrote an op-ed in the New York Times proposing that Congress be composed of conscripts rather than volunteers who choose to run for office. This Independence Day, he revived the notion on his blog.

July 4th is my Independence Day, regardless of how depraved the government has become. Forty-two years ago, the New York Times printed a satire I wrote on the failure of the All-Volunteer Congress.  Some congressmen wanted to revive the military draft in order to have a higher quality army.  I showed that the same argument could be used for drafting members of Congress because “it is only the ego-starved who volunteer for Congressional duty now. These people are forced into Congress by their psychological or mental poverty, as no real alternative or treatment exists for their condition.”

Unfortunately, conscription is now fashionable – and the New York Times editorial and op-ed pages are leading the charge.  Two months ago, the Times editorialized on the benefits of forcing all young people to “serve.” Two days ago, NYT published an article by the president of Rutgers calling for “compulsory national service for all young people” in order to “make us more self-reliant” and to “secure the blessings of liberty.” NYT editorial page has apparently gotten rid of both its fact checkers and its BS radar.

The fact that the nation’s most respected media and many prominent officials are calling for imposing conscription epitomizes the growing contempt for individual liberty.  I’ll write more on that shortly.

Here are some excerpts from the original article:

The All-Volunteer Congress has proved to be a failure. Its cost is extremely high and there is not a proportional representation of minorities. There are also many doubts about the honesty and intelligence of the recent volunteers. Many of Congress’s recent failures are owing the low quality of its composition.

In a society with 50 percent women and over 10 percent black and Hispanic populations, these groups are very underrepresented in Congress. When we consider the injustice of these statistics, superficial objections against conscription are easily swept away.

A viable democracy needs to have a racially, sexually balanced set of representatives. The latest statistics issued last November proved that this lack of representation is worsening.

It is only the ego-starved who volunteer for Congressional duty now. These people are forced into Congress by their psychological or mental poverty, as no real alternative or treatment exists for their condition. Naturally, Congress is psychologically off-balance, because of the nature of the people who currently volunteer.

Most of the members of Congress are between 30 and 60 years of age. There is no group that enjoys the benefits of society more than this group. They have the highest salaries, the nicest homes, the largest cars, and the most power. However, this group is deeply entrenched in hedonism, and has thus far turned a deaf ear to the needs of the country.

Mr. Bovard explains how the new system would work.

With a service-oriented Congress, every man and woman would be required to register with the Selective Service Commission on their 30th birthday.

Every second year, everyone’s name would be placed in a giant basket, and the Secretary of Labor would pull out the number of names needed for that session of Congress.

The new members would receive a subsistence allowance (an honorable precedent established during the Revolutionary War), as it would not be right to overpay someone for what he owed to society.

The moral caliber of Congress would be improved by conscription. The environmental and personal background of many of today’s volunteers appears to be conducive to fabrication. Randomly picking people off the street would give a much higher level of honesty and responsibility.

Mr. Bovard wrote this article as satire, but the proposal that Members of Congress, and perhaps other government posts be selected by lot is not as crazy as it sounds. That is just what they did in ancient Athens and some other Greek city-states. Government by randomly selected individuals is called sortition, dymarchy, or stochocracy. Strange as it may seem, sortition has been used to select government officials of states in various times and places, with varying results.

We call ourselves a democracy here in the United States, but a citizen of fourth-century Athens would disagree. He would point out that the definition of a democracy is a state in which the people themselves make the laws and would state that our system of government by elected representatives is really a kind of elective oligarchy. Electing representatives is not all that democratic, as our Athenian friend would argue since the already wealthy and connected would be more likely to have the leisure and means for pursuing a political career, the elected representatives would not be representative of the citizenry as a whole. In time, an Athenian might argue the officeholders and representatives would tend to form a closed elite excluding outsiders from offices and political power forming political dynasties If he were of a philosophical bent, our Athenian friend might note that the people most likely to seek office and power are the very people who ought not to have it.

In contrast, our Athenian would point to his own city as a perfect example of democracy in action. In Athens, the laws and basic decisions of government were made by the people as a whole in the Ecclesia, the body of adult male citizens. A six thousand man body would be somewhat unwieldy so there was a sort of executive committee of five hundred called the Boule or council. This Boule was made up of fifty men over the age of thirty and selected by lot from each of the ten Phyle or tribes of Attica and ran the day-to-day affairs of the city. Members of the 501 man juries and many other officials were also selected by lot, though, notably, the ten Strategoi or generals were elected.

The Athenian system worked well enough, though it was not without its flaws and perhaps we should consider adopting certain elements of the Athenian constitution for ourselves. Of course, An ecclesia of a hundred million would be impossible to manage, and our Athenian friend would certainly argue that democracy is only possible on a small scale, but we could select Congress by lot, as James Bovard suggests satirically. The drafted members of Congress would be more representative of the Congressional districts they represent, the states the selected Senators would represent, and the nation as a whole. The people drafted for Congress would not become isolated from the needs of the citizenry, as politicians are wont to do in our current system and politics would be open to the people, not a self-selected elite.

The major objection to drafting Congress is that the people selected might not be experienced or competent enough to serve in Congress. In response, I would point out that we are not exactly sending our best and brightest to Congress.

 

I’m sure a brief search could find many more instances of Congressional idiocy. Surely ordinary people off the street could do at least as well, without the greed for power that animates many people in politics. Besides we need not include the whole population in the lottery. Perhaps exemptions for physical or mental incapacity could be granted, just as they were when men were drafted to serve in the military.

No system of government is perfect and sortition has its own set of flaws, yet I think that on the whole drafting ordinary people to serve would make a better, more responsive government. The people selected would be more focused on doing the job of legislating so they could get on with their lives, rather than focusing on winning the next election.

Seriously, I think sortition is worth a try. The result couldn’t possibly be worse than our current system.

 

Dilbert and Gun Control

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, took some time away from praising Donald Trump’s abilities at persuasion to explain why “commonsense gun control” isn’t getting anywhere in America.

On average, Democrats (that’s my team*) use guns for shooting the innocent. We call that crime.

On average, Republicans use guns for sporting purposes and self-defense.

If you don’t believe me, you can check the statistics on the Internet that don’t exist. At least I couldn’t find any that looked credible.

But we do know that race and poverty are correlated. And we know that poverty and crime are correlated. And we know that race and political affiliation are correlated. Therefore, my team (Clinton) is more likely to use guns to shoot innocent people, whereas the other team (Trump) is more likely to use guns for sporting and defense.

That’s a gross generalization. Obviously. Your town might be totally different.

So it seems to me that gun control can’t be solved because Democrats are using guns to kill each other – and want it to stop – whereas Republicans are using guns to defend against Democrats. Psychologically, those are different risk profiles. And you can’t reconcile those interests, except on the margins. For example, both sides might agree that rocket launchers are a step too far. But Democrats are unlikely to talk Republicans out of gun ownership because it comes off as “Put down your gun so I can shoot you.”

Scott Adams is being humorous but his observations are essentially correct. Gun control has become yet another one of those intractable culture war issues. People’s opinions on this matter are a reflection of their own values and experiences and since different people have different values, this is not an issue that it is easy, or even possible, to come to any sort of national consensus on policy.

The people who support stricter gun control laws tend to live in urban areas. For them, guns are weapons wielded by the bad guys to commit violent crimes. They probably do not own any guns and have only seen guns used in the movies and on television. Gun use is not a part of their lives and guns are strange and alien to them. For some of the better educated, guns may symbolize the violence which they believe that they believe that they have evolved beyond, forgetting perhaps that they are protected from violence by armed policemen and soldiers and maybe even private security. Guns are “icky” for them and we would all be better off if they would all go away.

The people who oppose stricter gun control laws often live in rural areas and small towns. For them, guns are essential tools for self defense and recreation. In place where response time to emergencies may be many minutes or even hours, it seems foolish not be able to take care of yourself. They may have grown up around guns or may have a military or law enforcement background so guns are familiar to them. For many, guns may symbolize freedom and self-reliance and they reinforce their self image as rugged individuals descended from frontiersmen. They may have an instinctive feel for the medieval concept that a free man is an armed man so when someone says, “we must control guns to prevent crimes”, they hear, “we must take away your guns to take away your freedom”.

When two sides are talking past one another, speaking practically different languages, it is almost impossible to come to any solution that satisfies both sides. As Scott Adams puts it.

Let’s all take a deep breath and shake off the mental discomfort I just induced in half of my readers. You can quibble with my unsupported assumptions about gun use, but keep in mind that my point is about psychology and about big group averages. If Republicans think they need guns to protect against Democrats, that’s their reality. And if Democrats believe guns make the world more dangerous for themselves, that is their reality. And they can both be right. Your risk profile is different from mine.

So let’s stop acting as if there is something like “common sense” gun control to be had if we all act reasonably. That’s not an option in this case because we all have different risk profiles when it comes to guns. My gun probably makes me safer, but perhaps yours makes you less safe. You can’t reconcile those interests.

Our situation in the United States is that people with different risk profiles are voting for their self-interests as they see it. There is no compromise to be had in this situation unless you brainwash one side or the other to see their self-interest differently. And I don’t see anyone with persuasion skills trying to do that on either side.

If we had a real government – the kind that works – we would acknowledge that gun violence is not one big problem with one big solution. It is millions of people with different risk profiles voting their self-interest as they see it.

In fact, it is very difficult to come to a consensus on almost any really divisive issue in a diverse country that spans a continent and has a population of more than three hundred million. All of those culture war issues; abortion, gay marriage, gun control, etc might be more easily resolved if the people in each state or region were permitted to find their own solutions to these controversial issues. If California were permitted to enact strict gun control laws and Utah could ban abortion, while Massachusetts encouraged gay marriage and Tennessee forbade it than the residents of California, Utah, Massachusetts, and Tennessee might be happy with the outcomes, even if the people of other states might not. At least if such decisions were made democratically on the state and local level, people would feel that they had some say in whatever compromises were adopted. As it is, with the left insisting that every problem must have a national, one size fits all solution, enacted by the court if the legislature is not cooperative, people feel as if policies are imposed on them by a distant and unresponsive federal government.

If we had a government that works, it would leave people alone to live their lives as they see fit. It would allow us to cling to our guns and our religion.

Uppity Peasant

Here is a video of a rant by a  radical, extreme, anti-government teabagger who is undoubtedly a racist and a member of the Religious Right. Her family may even own guns.

How dare this peasant, this serf lecture her betters. Who does she think she is, a free American? If she had any education at all, which living in flyover country, she doesn’t, she would know that all of our rights and freedoms are granted to us by the government. Rather that fearing government tyranny, she should realize that government is everybody doing things together, all in one great collective village, as envisioned by our Dear Leader.

Anti government traitors like her should be put before a firing squad.

I am almost afraid to post this, since there are a large number of liberals who might read this and think I’m serious.

Seriously though, this woman says everything that needs to be said.

 

 

Doing Their Job

I have been wondering how the recent scandals involving the IRS, Benghazi,  and others were going to be spun by the Democrats who send me fund raising e-mails. At first I didn’t think they would mention the scandals at all, but then they sent this one the other day.

David —

Getting in President Obama’s way has been the top priority for Republicans in Congress since day one. But now they’ve gone too far.

They’ve been caught red-handed making up so-called ‘scandals’ out of thin air to stir up false rumors of vast ‘cover-ups’ happening in the White House.

Did they find a single shred of evidence to back up their outrageous claims? No.

But rather than let the truth stand in their way, Republicans actually doctored emails between administration officials about Benghazi. Then, they released them to the press, trying to pass them off as real in order to create their scandal. Fortunately, they got caught in the act when the White House released all of the actual emails.

Tell President Obama you’ve got his back right now, no matter what Republicans come up with next.

While Republican leaders were focused on stirring up controversy, Michele Bachmann was talking about impeaching President Obama for absolutely no reason, and Republicans in the House voted to repeal Obamacare — for the 37th time.

That’s how they think they should be spending their time and your money.

Make sure the President knows that you stand behind him and his agenda right now — and that you won’t let Republican games distract you from advocating for real change that will benefit all Americans.

Stand with President Obama today — and send the message to Republicans that it’s time to stop playing political games and get back to work for the American people:

http://my.democrats.org/Stand-With-The-President

Its time for them to do their damn jobs.

Thanks,

Brad

Brad Woodhouse
Communications Director
Democratic National Committee

They’re starting to use profanity in their appeals. I suppose Brad is trying to show that he is a tough guy rather than a typical liberal beta male wimp. (Science has shown that weaker men tend to be liberals while stronger men are more likely to be conservatives. You don’t want to deny the findings of Science, do you?)

In any event, I thought was the Republicans’ job to obstruct and investigate the president. They are the opposition party, after all. And, Congress, as a whole, is supposed to provide a check on the executive branch. I wonder if Mr. Woodhouse is really familiar with the concepts of opposition parties and checks and balances. Perhaps he, and people like him, would prefer a legislature that simply rubber-stamps the Leader’s policies like the old communist Supreme Soviet or of the Soviet Union, or the Chinese National People’s Congress. For myself, I prefer the government set forth in the constitution.

 

How to Fix Everything in America Forever

There are some people out there, mostly hippies, who believe that America’s best days are behind us, that we are no longer the best, most awesome country in the world. The solutions to our problems that are proposed by the politicians do not seem do not seem to work.

Fortunately, Frank J. Fleming has come to the rescue with his new book, How to Fix Everything in America Forever. In this book, he truly thinks outside the box with innovative yet commonsense solutions to the problems facing us and offers ways to make America even more awesome than it already is. These ideas include such proposals as requiring Congressmen to wear pain collars, banning whining, blowing up public schools and putting kids to work where they can learn marketable skills, punching hippies, and, of course, nuking the Moon. If we all follow Fleming’s proposals, we make America a nation to be feared and respected once again.

All joking aside, Fleming makes a number of very good points under the guise of satire, not least of which is that we have to get into the habit of solving our problems ourselves once again and not look to the government. Even at its best, the government helping people is like Godzilla rampaging through downtown Tokyo. As Fleming points out, relying on the government is like relying on Godzilla to save a baby from danger. Even if he does it successfully, there is still that trail of destruction he left behind.

This is why the epilogue of this book is about the most dangerous hippie of all, the one we see when we look in a mirror. It does little good to punch hippies all day long, if at the end of the day we listen to the hippie inside us that tells us we can’t do it on our own, we need to government to help and protect us.  We need to shut that hippie inside us up so we can go about the work of making this a country even better than our forbearers gave us.

I  hope that Frank J Fleming is successful in making his readers think a little while they are laughing, and I hope he writes more books like How to Fix Everything in America Forever. We need them.