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Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Mad pitbulls and manipulative experts

Dr Keith Sutherland has a job at Exeter University. His piece in the Speccie detailing the shortcomings of citizens' juries and of deliberative democracy is therefore supremely professional and details the myriad technical faults of the process that makes it unsuitable for important democratic decisions.

In my time I've done plenty of design charettes with local communities affected by development. I recall one dreary November evening; it was cold, it was dark, and freezing rain made sodden and hopeless the scruffy hall at the edge of a council estate affected by our plans. Sheltering under a tree in a vandalised play area were a group of teens; even on such a night, being out and together was better than being at home. I was told of one 16-year old lad highly skilled on a BMX bike that his mother and stepfather had given him notice to leave the house; no job and no post-16 education meant he earned nothing for them, was just a mouth to feed, and so got pushed out of the nest. It was that brutal.

Inevitably those that came to the meeting were, as Dr Sutherland describes, overrepresented by partisans and activists. Boy, they hated young people. They wanted a public realm equipped with the design equivalent of barbed wire and searchlights, with the painful silent shriek of 'mosquito' transmitters on every street corner (these satanic devices emit a painful noise at a frequency that can only be heard by those under about 20 - advertised as 'teen deterrents'. I guess dogs would hear them as well - possibly accounting for so many mad pitbulls in these places) When I challenged the 'community' plod on his repeated description of the kids that hung around outside the shops as a 'teenage nuisance' and suggested that as they weren't breaking any law and were as much citizens as the rest of us, it would be more accurate to describe them as a 'teenage presence', I was practically lynched.  

Our architect, a gentle and artistic man, was so horrified he never attended further. He sent instead a duffer assistant, a talentless gofer who was useful in the office because he could work the CAD system.

Sutherland points out that 95% of those invited to citizens' juries never turn up; "Out of the 30,000 invitations sent out for Rachel Reeves’ climate assembly, only 110 will receive the golden ticket. Would you have any confidence in an opinion poll that relied on 110 volunteers?" he asks. A citizens' assembly that reproduced exactly the 52:48 Brexit result would need a minimum of 6,766 participants.

But Sutherland understates, professionally, the key reason that deliberative democracy is never suited as a replacement for democracy - that those using it are themselves biased towards a certain outcome and will seek to run the process to produce that outcome. The RSA, for example, a strong advocate of deliberative democracy, suggests that the cattle are well-briefed by 'experts' before they are allowed to raise their hands - on the basis that decisions such as Brexit should be made by 'informed' voters rather than we ignorant, stupid, uneducated and inexpert citizens.

Beware all those who seek to use any method other than universal suffrage and the secret ballot for our most important decisions. They don't have democracy in their hearts. 


Stephen J said...

I wonder what Mr. Sutherland calls the kind of democracy that is ignored if the wrong decision is reached by the voters?

JPM said...

You make your own point. No system is perfect, and you hope to use the imperfections of the referendum to achieve a raft of ambitions which were not the subject of the vote, for instance.

But let's take an everyday case - trial by jury.

Here, the judges have the onerous task of getting twelve ordinary folk to grasp the central point, that in a criminal case the prosecution's claim must be established beyond reasonable doubt.

You only have to look at the certainty with which the objects of opprobrium are condemned here, and on the merest contrived suspicion, to grasp what a thankless task this must be, but school them the judges must.

Mark said...

"You only have to look at the certainty which objects of opprobrium are condemned here...."

I spy with my little eye something beginning with P...

Of course, we need the far superior european principle that you are guilty until proven innocent.

DeeDee99 said...

The purpose of Citizens Juries will be to endorse what the political class already want to happen. One-sided "expert opinion" will be presented; dissent will be suppressed.

They will become just another way that consensus politicians and technocrats impose their agenda, using the fig-leaf of a rigged committee which has "endorsed" them.

Anonymous said...

I worked in a government department and we had lots of staff surveys that posed a questions and then asked us to tick a box from a scale of boxes to indicate how we felt about that issue.

When the results of the survey were published all of the boxes bar one were totalled up in favour of the management-approved line. I tried to make my 'vote' count by only ticking boxes at the extreme ends of the scales.

I imagine Citizens' Assemblies would do the same.

Dave_G said...

Citizen juries will always be hijacked by the fringe extremists who have nothing better to do (or a Soros payroll number) except distort the result to their advantage. Which is why a country-wide referendum is much more difficult to manipulate the result of and why implementing its decision is so vital.

The results of the referendum were "established beyond reasonable doubt" and the conditions of the vote were spelled out by the lead politicians at the time so no arguing over what Leave meant.

So far so good. All we need is for the right people to implement the result. The Tories won't, Labour can't and the Lib Dems are pure shite.

John Brown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sackerson said...

@JPM: Having served as a juror, I worry for anyone tried by a jury, but I have even less confidence in judges. I saw the Bench's manicured thumb on the scales in one case but unfortunately I cannot go into details.

You should also spare a thought for Julian Assange and the way that his case has been and is being dealt with, by the courts. It's an open sore on the body politic. Could you take a little time off your goading here to support him and correct injustice and harsh treatment?

For all their faults, the people are best placed to decide whether their shoes pinch.

Anoneumouse said...

We live in the age of DiMocracy.

Span Ows said...

excellent images on your blog Anonemouse!

jack ketch said...

Of course, we need the far superior european principle

You mean “In dubiis benigniora preferenda sunt” ?

Span Ows said...

Indeed Jack, hence OUT. I suspect "better the Devil you know" would be more appropriate to what [I think] you're trying to say.

I reckon 'auribus teneo lupum' or even more perfect, 'imperium in imperio'!

No doubt the EU would prefer: '"Carthago [UK] delenda est"

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's simply a matter of common sense.


Doonhamer said...

Mr Hadley-Lennon would have have preferred a jury.
But our betters knew better.