Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Lottery v Election

I am busy reading 'The Democracy Project' by David Graeber. One thing it turns out I have been completely wrong on is thinking the key to Democracy is elections. The vesting of power in a representative. It turns out that is more of a core concept behind Republicanism. I have always had a bit of an issue with elections for two reasons. The first is that I have never felt completely competent in putting my cross in the box. I have always felt like I am about to write an exam I haven't studied hard enough for. I haven't done my homework. The second problem is that I don't actually think having done your homework helps, it just provides the illusion you have voted with your head rather than your prejudice.

When it came to the British Elections earlier this year, it would have been my first opportunity to vote as a British Citizen. Two problems. First, I was down under pet-sitting, and second, my vote didn't matter at all. Putney, where I had lived, was safely blue. I diligently read the manifestos anyway and came away feeling even more despondent. Even if I did my homework, what was I looking for? The ideology that best represented my inherent beliefs? I have never met someone who represents my beliefs. I don't even always represent my beliefs or best interest. The writer who seems to say the least I disagree with is Steven Pinker, and that makes me feel very uncomfortable. Fortunately, another writer whose work (rather than his manner) I enjoy, Nassim Taleb, thinks Pinker is very wrong on something pretty fundamental. So the conflict leaves sufficient doubt to keep me happy.

Graeber makes interesting points regarding of the usefulness of lottery rather than elections. What you want is people who represent the general view, not the people who are best at convincing people that they represent the general view. Then you just get the dog show that is reality TV electioneering. It reminded me of a lesson in one of my early statistics classes at university.

We often don't tell the truth because we don't want people to judge us poorly. We are worried that if they know what we are thinking, they will walk away. So we couch what we say with what we think they want to hear. This is a problem for people looking for the truth. Statistics Class taught a neat trick using the 'Law of Large Numbers'. Everyone in the class took a coin out of their pocket and flicked it. If it was heads, they answered the question 'Have you ever used marijuana?'. If it was tails, they answered 'Are you born in the first half of the year?'.

The second question should be something very neutral that has an answer that splits the group in a known way. So if roughly half the people are born in the first half of the year, you can assume that roughly half of the people will be answering that question. If the group is big enough, you can get an answer that is close to the truth since the person answering the question knows that their identity has been stripped. This is similar to my quest to get people to talk about the things that really matter to them. One of the reasons we don't open up is we are scared of people's responses. We want our identity stripped from our stories. We only tell the stuff that is really worrying us to people we feel secure will stick around.

Instead of elections, we could hold a lottery. Only two things matter, a agreed basic level of competence and a willingness to be selected. If the group is big enough, just like a survey that is big enough... it will represent the people.  It would also save a lot of bother in terms of feeling incompetent and faking that your vote is more considered than it is. We could also do away with party politics, and lobbying, and instead build a bigger tribe.
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