The Lottery as Democracy
  • CM
  • The lottery as democracy.

I only want to put this out there because it's worth thinking about and also it provides some justification for my deep distrust of the form of democracy that dominates Western societies—a form that at this moment leaves a good part of the public with practically no options other than political figures who are almost wholly committed to the concerns of those who possess an extraordinary amount of wealth/social power. What we on the left can find no way out of during election season is the situation of voting for politicians who provide huge tax breaks for corporations or support military Keynesianism, rather than social Keynesianism. What is to be done about this? We are told nothing because this how democracy works, and we have to live with it. The other options are a one-party state, a dictator, a theocracy—bad, bad, bad. But the thing made clear by the idea I'm about to share is that voting isn't the only form of democracy, in much the same way that capitalism is not the only form of economics.

Firstly, the idea is not mine. It comes from a 2003 book, Transcritique: On Kant and Marx, by a brilliant Japanese philosopher and literary critic, Kōjin Karatani. (I will have something to say about his new book, The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange, in another post.) Near the middle of Transcritique, and at the end of chapter "Transposition and Critique," Karatani writes:

There is one crucial thing we can learn from Athenian democracy... The ancient democracy was established by overthrowing tyranny and equipped itself with a meticulous device for preventing tyranny from reviving. The salient characteristic of Athenian democracy is not a direct participation of everyone in the assembly, as always claimed, but a systematic control of the administrative power. The crux was the system of lottery: to elect public servants by lottery and to surveil the deeds of public servants by means of a group of jurors who are also elected by lottery.

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True, this ancient democracy had its serious problems (for one, its economy was based on slavery), but you can't deny the intelligence behind its system of selecting public officials. What the lottery does is empty the center of politics of power. No one can stay there long enough to make it stick. No one can stay around long enough to be bought. There are no guarantees in this kind of democracy. The lottery throws "contingency into the magnetic power center." We use lotteries for jury duty or for making, in one instant, the kinds of citizens who buy political power; but it might actually be more useful for filling important political positions (mayor, president, senator, and so on). The voting system as it is only gives us mediocre and, in the case of Bush, downright dangerous results. This is because voting power is much weaker than economic power. But if we used a lottery system, sure we could get a Bush now and then, but we could also get a Neil deGrasse Tyson or a Yuri Kochiyama in a serious seat of power. This could never happen under the current system.

What about crazy people? What if the lottery selects a freak? Anyone who does not believe in climate change is plain nuts, and the voting system puts such people into power by the hundreds. Also, a lottery system coupled with a good education system might lead a society to the best of all possible worlds.

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