Selection by lot is a simple idea, so it’s not surprising that it can be useful in many situations. Whenever I see institutional dysfunction or idiocy, I think “how could selection by lot improve things?” In a discussion last week with the Lowy Institute’s Sam Roggeveen – a person of unusually good judgement and thoughtfulness it seems to me – my mind naturally turned to the question of how selection by lot might be useful in international relations.
Imagine a treaty between two countries in which either side could bring about diplomatic mediation by way of a citizens congress. That citizens’ congress would take place between two groups of citizens, one from each country with all appropriate support from translators and if necessary meeting in an independent country etc. They would be chosen according to some methodology utilising randomness subject to any requirements of representativeness of the national citizenry – for instance as to gender, age, regional location etc – as supervised by some trusted third party country or supra-national body such as the UN or the ICJ. They would then deliberate on any diplomatic matters at hand. I wonder if Australian citizens would have been as ungenerous with Timor Oil as our government has been, though it’s nice to see that there’s an end in sight for that business.1
Imagine the possibilities in the worst possible situation – that of war. Wars are so terrible, so horrible that my guess is that most are just a mistake. Sometimes they flare up when there are big, difficult things to resolve. And some of the worst we’ve known flare up as the result of poor diplomacy and/or unstable international institutions – like WWI. In both situations various toxic forces powerfully reinforce each other: Human beings’ physical and cultural ‘fight or flight’ mechanisms, their groupishness – their preparedness to their own and other groups behaviour with very different levels of understanding and empathy – and structures of political and economic power.
Rearrange the architecture of the way these groups become a group negotiating on its future and that future could be much brighter, much less pockmarked by horrific events brought on by accidents that foreclosed the necessary amount of goodwill being developed. As we saw most tantalisingly, most movingly in the Christmas truce, 1914 when the picture above was taken.
- Declaration of (relative) ignorance. I don’t know a lot about this, so may need to revise my view as to our ungenerousness in the presence of any pesky facts. ↩