The more I’ve thought about sortition or as I call it “representation by sampling” the more profound I find the ways it differs from representation by election. The latter is inherently competitive and performative and both these things tend to undermine the bona fides of people’s contribution to discussion. They minimise rewards for listening and maximise the rewards for assertive speech.
Performance, especially performance before those with greater power saturates our daily lives. This is illustrated in the opening of one of my favourite passages. It’s from an anonymous local government bureaucrat.
I spent 10 years of my life writing. I wrote neighbourhood plans, partnership strategies, the Local Area Agreement, stretch targets, the Sustainable Community Strategy, sub-regional infrastructure plans, funding bids, monitoring documents, the Council Plan and service plans. …
I have a confession to make. Much of it was made up. It was fudged, spun, copied and pasted, cobbled together and attractively formatted. I told lies in themes, lies in groups, lies in pairs, strategic lies, operational lies, cross-cutting lies. I wrote hundreds of pages of nonsense. Some of it was my own, but most of it was collated from my colleagues across the organisation and brought together into a single document. …
Why did I do it? …1ecause it was my job.
No matter who I read this to, it always elicits a shock of recognition including those who don’t work for bureaucracies. School kids recognise it in their endless performances of their capabilities.
The Greek political principle of parrhēsia is directed specifically against this kind of tendency — it is the taking of risk to speak truth to power and it is speech that is heedless of reward or punishment.
The Greek political principle of parrhēsia is directed specifically against this kind of tendency — in our language it is the taking of risk to speak truth to power. But it is a distinctly modern form of speech — in which the warrant for its truthfulness (whether scientific or political) is not its persuasiveness to others, but it’s truthfulness to the speaker — it is the speaking of one’s own truth, and that truth is demonstrated by the speaker’s heedlessness of the consequences of his truth-telling.
In any event, in the discussion recorded above I argue the scope for sortition to help us escape from this trap. The audio file is also available here.