Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

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Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#1  Postby ZoneOfNonBeing » November 9th, 2017, 11:46 am

I am sick and tired of hearing that Donald Trump ‘is a threat to American democracy.’ The more I hear this argument, the more I am convinced that most people haven’t the slightest clue of what a democracy really is. It is not a buzzword that can be sprinkled throughout political speeches for good measure, or a justification for bombing black and brown nations. Democracy has a very precise definition.

When we study the history of democracy, it is traced back to ancient Greece. For them, the fundamental feature of a democracy was the use of sortition: the process of putting the names of all the adults into a hat and selecting those that came out to serve in government. There were no elections or political parties, just a process of random selection by lottery.

That is a far cry from what we have in America, folks. Every time a politician throws their hat into the ring for public office, voters are primarily concerned with their accolades and affiliations. People become fixated with their resumes: where they have worked? What kind of law degree do they have? Which big wig donors are financing their campaign? The result is that political offices are disproportionately held by rich, white males.

In a real democracy, no one would be concerned with who is an “expert.” Adults from all walks of life – whether they are teachers, plumbers, or preachers – have a legitimate opportunity to serve in government. As the late, great C.L.R. James said: “every cook can govern.”

If this idea seems outlandish, it is because the American political system has zero faith in ordinary people like you and me. Government officials scoff at the idea that the average person can make intelligent and informed decisions. Consider the fact that the Hillary Clinton Campaign stated that they wished to produce “an unaware and compliant citizenry.” The government goes out of its way to suppress our voices: felony disenfranchisement, demanding IDs at voting booths, gerrymandering our neighborhoods, and allowing politicians to be bought off by corporations. Adding insult to injury is the fact that civics courses are barely taught in schools anymore; so it is no surprise that a growing amount of voting-age people simply disengage from politics altogether.

America is not a democracy, it is an oligarchy: a society ruled by a few. Donald Trump cannot be a threat to that which does not exist.

Granted: the Greek democracy did not allow slaves or women to vote. This much is reprehensible and indefensible. But we can correct that failure and still appreciate that random selection is necessary for building a genuine democracy. Sortition is not the solution to oppression; but if we are to eradicate oppression, there will need to be sortition.
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Re: Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#2  Postby Greta » November 9th, 2017, 5:11 pm

From conversations I have had, one needs to have lived in countries that are truly not democratic to appreciate what you are taking for granted. Take away the checks and balances, which is what a leader who brooks no disagreement requires, and even the west's evolving democracy/oligarchy hybrid start to look pretty good.

Put simply, what we have in the west is vastly more free and reasonable than authoritarianism and dictatorships. I would class the west's governments as, not true democracies (and they perhaps have long been corrupted, given Murdoch's media control since the 50s), but I would say they appear to be the most civilised and reasonable feudal societies in history. It could be worse, much worse. I, for one, are not looking forward to impeding Chinese heavy-handed rule.

A focused and engaged US could prevent China from becoming completely dominant in the world, sparing their fellow westerners from culture shock. Unfortunately, the power of theistic anti-science movements has slowed the wests's progress in science and research. Any society that is not technologically competitive in the future will simply be subservient.
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Re: Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#3  Postby ZoneOfNonBeing » November 9th, 2017, 5:44 pm

Greta wrote:... one needs to have lived in countries that are truly not democratic


I live in the United States - which is not a democracy. I do not need to live anywhere else to develop an "appreciation." The word "democracy" has a very precise definition that has been perverted: the usage of sortition. If there is no sortition, there is no democracy. This is not a semantic or trivial argument - it is based on a concrete historical example. What I have written here has taken nothing for granted. To the contrary, your argument has taken a conflation of democracy and oligarchy for granted.

Greta wrote: what we have in the west is vastly more free and reasonable than authoritarianism and dictatorships


Says who?! Ask the indigenous people, who have suffered genocide and colonialism for 500 years, if the West is "free and reasonable." Ask black people, who have suffered slavery, mass incarceration, and poverty for centuries - if the West is "free and reasonable." Only the faces at the bottom of the well are qualified to render such judgments. When we add in your diatribe about "culture shock" and the need to retain Western hegemony - we arrive at the conclusion that your entire argument takes white supremacy and capitalist exploitation for granted.

In the final analysis, your comment derails from the original content. The topic at hand does not call for speculations about which societies are more or less "free and reasonable". What is at stake here is this: what is a democracy - and can we imagine the ancient Greek model of democracy in practice today?
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Re: Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#4  Postby Steve3007 » November 9th, 2017, 6:10 pm

OP:
...When we study the history of democracy, it is traced back to ancient Greece. For them, the fundamental feature of a democracy was the use of sortition: the process of putting the names of all the adults into a hat and selecting those that came out to serve in government. There were no elections or political parties, just a process of random selection by lottery...


...but if we are to eradicate oppression, there will need to be sortition.


How often would you perform this act of choosing a government by random selection? Once every four years? Once a year? Once a month?

Would you apply this principle to other jobs too? Surgeons or airline pilots perhaps? I guess it would make life interesting.
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Re: Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#5  Postby Greta » November 9th, 2017, 7:57 pm

ZoneOfNonBeing wrote:... I do not need to live anywhere else to develop an "appreciation."
nism and dictatorships ...

Says who?! Ask the indigenous people, who have suffered genocide and colonialism for 500 years, if the West is "free and reasonable."


It's easy to complain about the world not achieving our overly lofty expectations.

I'd be interested to know about the superior societies that you wish to emulate, that are seemingly so much better than what you have now. Whom should the US emulate in your opinion?
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Re: Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#6  Postby ZoneOfNonBeing » November 9th, 2017, 8:55 pm

Steve3007 wrote: How often would you perform this act of choosing a government by random selection? Once every four years? Once a year? Once a month?

Would you apply this principle to other jobs too? Surgeons or airline pilots perhaps? I guess it would make life interesting.


Good questions. Given the large population, having 4 year terms would likely prevent every from having a chance to serve in government. So I would opt for shorter term limits. At this stage of the game, this is meant moreso as a thought experiment, so it is not necessary to pin down a timeline just yet.

And I think this principle could apply to some jobs. I think we need to rethink our current division of labor. Like Marx said: (paraphrasing) be a fisher in the morning, artist in the afternoon, and critic in the evening. However, I do think that being a surgeon requires an expertise that is not and cannot be readily found - so there will need to be some stability in the more expert positions.

-- Updated November 9th, 2017, 9:10 pm to add the following --

Greta wrote: It's easy to complain about the world not achieving our overly lofty expectations.


I understand the sentiment. However, I do not think it is an "overly lofty expectation" to have a system of governance that fosters a robust civic life. The United States has been passing laws for the past 150 years guaranteeing people the right to vote (the 14th Amendment, the 19th Amendment, the Civil Rights Bill, etc). These promises, so to speak, are yet to be actualized. Unless one is willing to admit that these laws exemplify "overly lofty expectations," one needs to concede that "complaining" about the present conditions is justified.

Greta wrote: I'd be interested to know about the superior societies that you wish to emulate, that are seemingly so much better than what you have now. Whom should the US emulate in your opinion?


Every society has its flaws, as I outline in the original post. Ancient Greece had the positive feature of sortition that we should incorporate moving forward. However, we need not always reference a "superior society" and "emulate" them. There does not need to be a precedent for our dreams. There does not need to be a pre-existing template. We can be trailblazers, not followers. All we need to do is understand the woeful conditions and imagine something better.
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Re: Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#7  Postby Greta » November 9th, 2017, 11:46 pm

ZoneOfNonBeing wrote:Every society has its flaws, as I outline in the original post. Ancient Greece had the positive feature of sortition that we should incorporate moving forward. However, we need not always reference a "superior society" and "emulate" them. There does not need to be a precedent for our dreams. There does not need to be a pre-existing template. We can be trailblazers, not followers. All we need to do is understand the woeful conditions and imagine something better.

Humans have aimed for this goal for thousands of years. If non-corrupt, egalitarian societies were possible we would have achieved them. However, tragedies of the commons are inevitable without strong international cooperation - as opposed to competition. That is not going to happen.

Take climate change and carbon emissions. Every nation that makes a first move on behalf of the many is seen as a sucker and patsy by hundreds of other more self interested nations who will simply take advantage and not reciprocate. Game theory based on the Prisoners' Dilemma game makes clear that cooperative strategies fail in an environment where competition predominates over cooperation.

I think humanity has numerous visions for the future, certainly the smart ones do. It's very easy to see that many aspects of society are still dysfunctional, even after thousands of years of refining societies and rules of engagement.

However, what smart people can notice that is wrong with societies is not instituted for a very long time because most people are too busy surviving (or being impulsive) to think and their opinions are easily controlled by the powerful vested interests controlling the media. Whatever, the world is moving away from democracy. Increasingly people are attracted to the idea of authoritarian governments that "gets things done instead of messing around" (ie. consulting).

Watching the infrastructure paralysis in the west due to governments focused on winning the next election rather than nation-building has many westerners looking wistfully at the harsh efficiency of the Chinese, knowing that unless something changes they are going to be out-competed.

Desperately the US reaches out to a political neophyte, one of the more exploitative and less philanthropic billionaires out there, hoping to break the chain. Instead of finding a politician not beholden to corruption they elect one of the corrupters, one whose first action was to free up his own company's pipeline project, previously held up by environmental concerns. One who has refused to separate himself from his fortune (as if his children are independent) while in office and faced no consequences for it. That kind of behaviour is reminiscent of tinpot rulers in developing countries that use high office to further their family fortunes.
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Re: Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#8  Postby Steve3007 » November 10th, 2017, 4:09 am

ZoneOfNonBeing:
Given the large population, having 4 year terms would likely prevent every from having a chance to serve in government. So I would opt for shorter term limits. At this stage of the game, this is meant moreso as a thought experiment, so it is not necessary to pin down a timeline just yet.


It's quite easy to work out. Take the US as an example. Let's say it has an adult population of 200 million. We want them all to have a shot at being president at least once in, say, 30 years. If you do the maths, that means they're each in office for 4.7 seconds.

I guess it would be a form of government that we might call Warhol-lite.

And I think this principle could apply to some jobs. I think we need to rethink our current division of labor. Like Marx said: (paraphrasing) be a fisher in the morning, artist in the afternoon, and critic in the evening. However, I do think that being a surgeon requires an expertise that is not and cannot be readily found - so there will need to be some stability in the more expert positions.


Seriously though: If somebody was randomly chosen from the population to do your job, what are the chances that they could immediately pick it up and do it better than you? For my job, the chances would be very low. Not because I'm especially clever or anything. Simply because, like almost everybody, I specialize in a particular thing and have done for some time. I find it hard to believe that the thing which distinguishes running a country from every other job you can possibly name is that it requires no experience or knowledge whatsoever (although I am gradually being won around by recent geo-political events.)

We are a world of specialists. That's the main reason why such a vast number of human beings can live on this planet with hardly any of them starving to death. If you want to go back to an age before specialism, I can see the attraction. Being a small specialized cog in a big machine does sometimes make life feel a bit pointless. I think we'd all sometimes love to go and live in a log cabin and catch fish from the local stream for our dinner. But if we do that en masse, we will have to accept that most people will die.

As the comedian Alexei Sayle said: Can't make an omelette without killing millions of people.

-- Updated Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:13 am to add the following --

(I heard him say that in his stand-up routine when talking about his family background. His parents were committed Marxists who always defended the Soviet Union, even under the worst of Stalin's rule, pointing out that in a glorious revolution there will always be sacrifices that have to be made. "You can't make an omelette without breaking an egg.")
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Re: Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#9  Postby ZoneOfNonBeing » November 10th, 2017, 8:00 am

Greta wrote: Humans have aimed for this goal for thousands of years. If non-corrupt, egalitarian societies were possible we would have achieved them.


It amazes me how people in the West suffer from historical amnesia. We have achieved egalitarianism. It is not a question of if - it is a statement of when. The West has not achieved it, but human beings have. If you read the work of Henry Louis Morgan - an anthropologist - he captures the egalitarian structure of the Iroquois in North America in the 1800s. If you read "The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State" by Friedrich Engels, he elaborates on the fact that human beings were communal and egalitarian until the development of class society (the exploitation of slavery).

Greta wrote: Watching the infrastructure paralysis in the west due to governments focused on winning the next election rather than nation-building has many westerners looking wistfully at the harsh efficiency of the Chinese, knowing that unless something changes they are going to be out-competed.


The "infrastructural paralysis" of the West is not due to "focusing on winning the next election" - it is due to a crude focus on competition instead of cooperation. We are often told that there is a housing shortage. This is false. In the United States, there are 500,000 homeless people and 3,000,000 empty homes. There are more peopleless homes than homeless people. But because the West is prefaced on competition, housing is not seen as a human need, it is seen as an instrument to accumulate profit. In a similar vein, we are told that there are people starving to death. But at the same time, we waste 40% of the food we do have, and people are obese while others are malnourished. The solution is obvious - but because we insist on competing than cooperating, people are dying.

Greta wrote: Desperately the US reaches out to a political neophyte, one of the more exploitative and less philanthropic billionaires out there, hoping to break the chain. Instead of finding a politician not beholden to corruption they elect one of the corrupters, one whose first action was to free up his own company's pipeline project, previously held up by environmental concerns.


I understand what is being argued here, but this argument employs a very thin definition of corruption. Capitalism, in and of itself, is corrupt. We need not burden ourselves in complaining about the excesses of corruption. There is no such thing as non-corrupt capitalism. The CEO who does not accept bribes or launder money is still corrupt. What we need to understand is that democracy and capitalism are incompatible. Democracy gives power to the masses. Capitalism gives power to the few. If you have a democracy, you have egalitarianism. If you have capitalism, you have an oligarchy/totalitarianism.

-- Updated November 10th, 2017, 8:40 am to add the following --

Steve3007 wrote: It's quite easy to work out. Take the US as an example. Let's say it has an adult population of 200 million. We want them all to have a shot at being president at least once in, say, 30 years. If you do the maths, that means they're each in office for 4.7 seconds.


You are distorting the reasoning here. The argument of C.L.R. James is not that "every cook will govern" - but rather, that "every cook can govern." It is a matter of possibility, not actuality. To say that every person will be in office for 4.7 seconds views this idea as a mandate as opposed to a suggestion. The main point is that every adult has a legitimate chance to serve in government. This does not mean they actually will or that they actually must.

One of the reasons this idea seems hard to fathom is because our populations are so large. There are 310 million people in the U.S. Every Congressperson represents 500,000 people. That is absurd and unwieldy. So maybe what we need to do is divide the country up into smaller subsets so that there is a smaller citizen:politician ratio.

Steve3007 wrote: Seriously though: If somebody was randomly chosen from the population to do your job, what are the chances that they could immediately pick it up and do it better than you? For my job, the chances would be very low. Not because I'm especially clever or anything. Simply because, like almost everybody, I specialize in a particular thing and have done for some time. I find it hard to believe that the thing which distinguishes running a country from every other job you can possibly name is that it requires no experience or knowledge whatsoever


Once again, we are not talking about random selection for ordinary positions. The title of this post, as was the title of C.L.R. James' book is "Every Cook Can Govern." There is a difference between government and other positions of employment. The idea that government requires superior knowledge or specialization is only the case under conditions of totalitarianism/oligarchy. At my job, I am a drug abuse counselor. The question should not be whether another person could easily do my job. The question is: can we change the structural conditions that would render my job superfluous? My objective is to create the type of society where people are not compelled to use drugs at all - thus meaning there would be no need for my current job.

Steve3007 wrote: We are a world of specialists. That's the main reason why such a vast number of human beings can live on this planet with hardly any of them starving to death.


I am going to tell you the same thing I told Greta: your perspective takes the West - and by extension, white supremacy - as its baseline. The claim that "hardly any" people are starving to death is woefully inaccurate. If you do a quick Google search on life expectancies in Africa, you will find that millions of people are starving to death. Close to half of the global population is living on less than $2 a day.

The idea that we are "a world of specialists" is only the case under conditions of exploitation. Specialization is not an eternal truth or objective fact. We are a "world of specialists" because capitalism requires it in order to be marketable to employers in exchange for money. Once we abolish exploitation, specialization in areas of governance will wither away. We need to move away from a principle of "each according to their ability"specialization toward a society that privileges "each according to the needs" (cooperation).
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Re: Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#10  Postby Steve3007 » November 10th, 2017, 10:23 am

ZoneOfNonBeing:
The idea that we are "a world of specialists" is only the case under conditions of exploitation.


No it's not. It is the case in any group.

Are you seriously envisaging a society in which every individual person builds their own house, makes their own clothes, grows their own food, generates their own energy, writes their own books, etc?

If not all of the above, then you accept the need for specialists. You accept the need for farmers, plumbers, builders, joiners, writers, tailors etc. Specialists.

-- Updated Fri Nov 10, 2017 3:26 pm to add the following --

Have you ever tried plastering?
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Re: Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#11  Postby ZoneOfNonBeing » November 10th, 2017, 10:35 am

You keep shying away from the matter at hand. At stake is not whether positions of regular employment require specialists - that is moreso a question about the division of labor.

At stake here is whether GOVERNMENT requires specialists. I am saying no. Please respond to this question directly: does government require specialists? Why or why not?
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Re: Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#12  Postby Steve3007 » November 10th, 2017, 10:41 am

The reason I picked on your absurd assertion about specialisation was because I have to start somewhere. The temptation is (as I often do) to take each of your points in turn and write a great big reply dealing with all or most of them. Past experience has shown me that this is largely a waste of time. So I pick one of your points first, deal with that, and then move on to the next one.

So, are we agreed that specialisation is indeed a naturally occurring feature of the groups of people that we call "societies" and that it is not "only the case under conditions of exploitation"?

-- Updated Fri Nov 10, 2017 3:43 pm to add the following --

OK. Next question: Does government require specialisation?

First question we have to answer in order to answer the above question: What does/should government do?
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Re: Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#13  Postby ZoneOfNonBeing » November 10th, 2017, 10:49 am

No, I do not agree that specialization is a "naturally occurring feature of the groups of people that we call societies."

What should government do? : Government should ensure that the needs of all people are met, and protect against abuses. This means the government should ensure that everyone is housed, fed, clothed, employed, and in receipt of health insurance. Any government that does not serve these purposes is an enemy of the people and should be toppled.
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Re: Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#14  Postby Steve3007 » November 10th, 2017, 10:52 am

No, I do not agree that specialization is a "naturally occurring feature of the groups of people that we call societies."


So you built your own house?

-- Updated Fri Nov 10, 2017 3:54 pm to add the following --

What should government do? : Government should ensure that the needs of all people are met, and protect against abuses. This means the government should ensure that everyone is housed, fed, clothed, employed, and in receipt of health insurance. Any government that does not serve these purposes is an enemy of the people and should be toppled.


So, how does the government ensure that everyone is housed, fed, clothed, employed, and in receipt of health insurance when they have no knowledge of these subjects?

-- Updated Fri Nov 10, 2017 3:55 pm to add the following --

Suppose I am one of those people who's turn it is to govern. How do you propose that I setup a universal healthcare system when I have no knowledge of how to do that?
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Re: Democracy: Every Cook Can Govern

Post Number:#15  Postby ZoneOfNonBeing » November 10th, 2017, 11:05 am

For the last time: there is a qualitative various positions of employment and positions of government. Government should not require expertise. Government exists for the people. If the average person cannot participate in government, then government does not exist for the people. It is that simple. The fact that people think government requires specialization highlights the gulf between the needs of the people and the function of government. Government is elitist and esoteric in its current form.

Architecture is not government. Surgery is not government. Government represents everyone. Government establishes the parameters of architecture and surgery. The government decides if we can build houses, where we can build houses, and with what materials; and the government decides who is qualified to perform surgery and on who in the first place.

Your concerns are secondary to mine. So answer the simple question: does government require specialization? Why or why not? I will not entertain responses that circumvent an answer to this.

-- Updated November 10th, 2017, 11:05 am to add the following --

Edit: there is a qualitative difference is what the first line should read
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